Wednesday, June 19, 2013

How to be a R.E.A.L. Man

There is a crisis in our culture.  Tony Evans terms it a “crisis of manhood” and he nails it when he calls it a theological crisis. That simply means we have abandoned what God says on the topic of gender, and in particular, on the meaning of maleness.  Because of that abandonment, we’re paying a huge price and we will continue to do so -- unless God’s men fulfill their calling.

The crisis of manhood began long before we were born and it influences every issue we’d name if we were to describe what it means to be a man -- what it means to be a man of God.  So today we’re going to hit four areas as we talk about what it takes to be a REAL man.  The R stands for a real man being responsible.  The E stands for a real man being evangelical.  The A stands for a real man being available.  And the L stands for a real man being a leader.

Women, what do you think about how we, as men, are doing as leaders?  Are we doing well?  Some people have different definitions of what it means to be a leader.  We need to see what God intends for biblical male leadership.  To do that, we need to go back to the beginning, back to Genesis, chapter 2, starting with verse 18.  “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a helper suitable for him.”  You might notice from Genesis chapter 1 that after each day in the days of creation, God said it was good.  This is the only time in all of that creating process that God said, “It’s not good” and that is when he created the man!  I’m just kidding!  Actually, it was when God knew that the man was alone.

But Adam didn’t know that.  So what did God do?  Read verses 19-20a, “Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air.  He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.  So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.”  Talk about a day’s work!  Naming every animal?!  Adam demonstrated his headship over the natural world by doing that!  But at the end of the day, Adam looked around and realized that he was the only human being!  It was then that he realized that he was all alone!   It was then that God performed the world’s first surgery and took a bone from Adam and made the world’s first woman and brought her to Adam.  I’m sure it was only after he picked his jaw up off the ground, because she was drop dead gorgeous, that he was able to say in verse 23, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, for she was taken out of man.

The observation we need to make from all of that is this -- at creation, man received headship from God.  Let me give you a definition of headship to chew on.  In a partnership of spiritually equal human beings (man and woman) the man bears the primary responsibility to lead the partnership in a God-glorifying direction.

What evidence is there of man’s headship?  The creation record tells us man was created first.  It also records for us that it is man to whom God looks as the leader.  That was man’s assignment.  Adam failed in the assignment.  Let’s move on into Genesis, chapter 3.  Look at verse 6: “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.  She also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate it.”  Now we can’t prove it beyond any doubt, but I tend to agree that the whole time Adam’s beloved was being addressed by Satan, Adam stood right there and he didn’t say anything!  He didn’t lead his wife with truth!

What we draw from that is simply this: As a man, as our first father, and as an influence in our lives through inherited sin, Adam abdicated and men have leaned toward abdication ever since.  But Adam’s abdication continued.  Genesis chapter 3:8-15 tells us that God finds them, confronts them and again -- zero leadership.  No ownership of sin.  No responsibility!  So what did we inherit from our first father?  Obviously, a sinful nature!  But when it comes to manhood, our sinful nature brims over with selfishness, with the urge to have my desires fulfilled!  I want what I want, when I want it.  I want to be served.  I run from responsibility.  I blame others for problems.  I ditch the truth.

Real men are Responsible!  That means that like Adam, we are responsible to God and we are responsible for our actions.  That means that we own up when we are at fault.  We confess our sins to our God whom we know took every one of them to the cross and the empty grave for our forgiveness.  But we’re not just responsible for ourselves.  We’re responsible to our families, our co-workers, our neighbors, and especially our significant others.  We’re responsible to lead them closer to Jesus.  That was God’s design for men right from the beginning!

Now that we’ve discovered what biblical male headship is all about.  Now let’s focus on the E of REAL men.  And that is Evangelical.  That’s not to be confused with a major branch of Christianity called Evangelicals.  No, an evangelical man is what that term literally means and that is gospel-centered.  In other words everything we say and everything we do is to be focused on Jesus, because He is our one and only Savior!

Listen to how Paul put it in verse 8 of 1 Thessalonians chapter 2.  He said, “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” (vs. 8)  Paul’s life revolved around Jesus.  Everything he said and everything he did was focused on Jesus and sharing Jesus with others.  Now thankfully we have many men who are like that here at St. Mark.  But I’d like to hold up one as an example.  He used to be on our Ministry Governing Board and served as our School Board chairman, but now because of cancer he is home with Jesus in heaven.  In the midst of his illness, he was an incredible example of being evangelical.  He pointed people to Jesus every chance he got!  He continued to remember and live Jesus’ love in everything he said and did!  Guys, it’s our job to be evangelical, focused on Jesus so that Jesus is evident in our lives and impacting everyone around us with His love!

Look at verse 9.  “Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.” (vs. 9) Most likely you don't know this about Greek culture in those days, but most Greek men didn't like hard labor.  In fact, they viewed it as something that only the slaves were supposed to do.  But Paul did the exact opposite.  He worked hard.  Most likely, he spent all day sharing the gospel.  And then at night he would work hard at making tents, which is what he grew up doing, so that he wouldn't be a financial burden to the mission congregations he started.

Paul served as an example to the men then and now.  Real men work hard.  But here's the difference.  Real men need to remember that we work hard not to make a great name or to make a lot of money, but real men work hard for our families and for God.  If our job becomes our god, that's no good!  If our job sacrifices our families, that's no good!  The job should always serve God and the family, not the reverse!  That’s what the A in REAL men is all about.  The A in REAL men is Available.  Guys, be available for the people around you!  Be there for the people who need you!  Don’t make your job or your hobbies an excuse not to be involved in your family’s life!  They need you!

That brings us to the L of REAL men and that is Leadership.  The most dramatic impact of our culture that leads to confusion about male leadership is what’s been called the “fatherless” generations.  Listen to this quote: The trend likely began with WW II -- first fathers went off to war -- those who returned, returned to work away from home 50 or more hours a week; they powered the engine of the economic miracle of the 1950’s.  What was the result of dads being gone?  What do you think?  Divorce became acceptable, materialism ran rampant!  Families were being sacrificed on the altar of success.  Sadly in this present generation 60-70% of children spend part of their childhood without a father present.  1/3 of live births are to unmarried women.  Over a million men with children under 18 are in prison.  Every year, thousands of children lose their fathers to accidents or illnesses.”  Where do you go to make up for the absence of a father’s love and influence? 

Now for those who are in single mom families, be thankful for the mom you have.  And don’t panic!  Obviously, you still have a heavenly Father who can and does help you in those moments when a dad would really be nice to have around.  All is not lost just because you are in a single parent family!

A few years back I had a man arrive in my office who was completely broken.  His wife threw him out of their house and out of her and their children’s lives.  He was an addict of every kind, addicted to alcohol, drugs and more.  He was broken because he had pursued only his own sinful desires, not once thinking about the consequences for himself and his family.  Instead of being responsible, he was reprehensible.  Instead of being evangelical, he was egotistical.  Instead of being available, he abdicated his role as a leader!

I had the privilege of pointing him to these verses in 1 Thessalonians 2.  Specifically verses 10 to 12.  “You are witnesses and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.  For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.”  Before I could finish, he said, “How can I be that?”  You know what I said?  “You can’t!  But Jesus can!  The whole reason why Jesus came to this earth was to sacrifice himself to pay the penalty for our sins of abdicating, egotistical behavior!  That man broke down sobbing in the office.  He had failed.  Failed God, himself and his family!  But right then and there I had the privilege of pointing him to the bloody cross and the empty grave!  He had failed.  No denying that.  But Jesus didn’t.  He had screwed up big time.  But Jesus saves.  He was forgiven.  So are you.  So am I. 

His logical question of course was this: “How can I possibly put things back together again?”  You know what I told him?  “Be a REAL man!  Be a leader like Jesus!”  And then I pointed him to Ephesians chapter 5, verse 25, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her.” (Ephesians 5:25) Guys, let me ask you, what does that verse mean for you and me?  It means that we are to lead, love and sacrifice for our families, just like Jesus did for us!

Do you sometimes feel like you are a failure with that?  I do!  Thank God for Jesus!  And then take his cue!  He’s the leader we should be following!  By the way, that’s exactly what Paul said in Ephesians 5, verses one and two, "Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up us.” (Ephesians 5:1-2)

Real men know how to follow Jesus so that we can lead everyone else to do the same!  Our number one responsibility as men is to lead our families closer to God and we can’t do that without following Jesus!  Real men lead by following!  Our families and our culture depend on it!  The women around us need to have REAL men who encourage them, not dominate them; who love them, not desire them; who urge them to live lives worthy of God’s calling and who train our children to become who God wants them to be!

By the way, the man I referred to before, by God’s grace, has become a REAL man!  He’s a sacrificial, loving, God following leader!  He’s back together with his wife.  They’ve had another child together.  He’s the vice president of their congregation and he has become a REAL man!  I thank God for the REAL men in my life – my dad, my father-in-law and some of my best friends.  If you are a man, it’s time to be REAL.

-Pastor Chris Johnson, Outreach and Young Adult Pastor

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Back From the Dead

If you were looking for the place in the Bible that summarizes the hope of Christianity, look no further than 1 Corinthians 15. Here is Paul’s great resurrection chapter. (Read: 1 Corinthians 15:1-7)

This chapter and really this whole book of 1 Corinthians addresses the issues he had heard were challenging the fledgling congregation of Corinth. After spending a year and a half with these people and then moving on to preach and teach news came to Paul that they had certain issues in their congregation. They had issues with public, persistent sin, factions among their leaders, Christians unable to resolve matters on their own- they had to take it to court, and getting drunk at the Lord’s Supper. There was a case of a man sleeping with his stepmother and the congregation was turning a blind eye to it. There were even some in the congregation who were denying the resurrection.

Disagreements happen, people can be selfish, they can get drunk, and they can get wrapped up in all sorts of sexual sins. I can understand that since we’re not perfect sins sneak in (even for Christians) but I have a difficult time trying to comprehend why some people in Corinth were denying the resurrection. I just want to ask them if they understood what it meant if the resurrection was not real. Think about it. If there is no resurrection… then Jesus just died – no different than any other criminal of the time, then there is no Easter, then all the eyewitnesses were fabricating stories, then we are not forgiven, then we are left in our sins, and we are completely guilty and are separate from God and he hates us. And if Jesus stayed in the grave and decomposed we too will go to the grave and it will be the end. A sad ending to a sad story called our life. (Read: 1 Corinthians 15:16-19)

On paper, I know and understand the reason for Jesus coming back from the dead. Paul’s reasoning is sound. In my mind I believe his resurrection is for me. However, one question makes me stop and consider again as if for the first time whether or not I really get it. Does the way I live my life in public and private take the empty tomb seriously? Does this fill my life with joy or am I overflowing with stress… papers, behavioral issues, concern over money, helicopter parents that tend to swoop down and rescue their child instead of letting them learn from the bumps in the road. Are we full of joy over the thought of where we’re going or are we stuck in the rut of where we are now. To be honest I think we get the head knowledge but so many times our lives do not present a picture of the reality of the resurrection. Here is a reminder from Paul’s resurrection chapter; to rekindle the Spirit who dwells in you:

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:54-58)

Jesus has taken care of you. He has a magnificent inheritance prepared for you. Take these three words of encouragement to heart: Stand firm, be unmovable, give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord. You will be shaken, torn down, beat up, and emotional worn down. There is a reason it is called the labor in the Lord. Yet this labor is not in vain. He gives us the victory so make the stand. Spend some time personally listening to God’s Word for the message and not simply the information. Spend dedicated time actually talking to God, thanking him, praising him, and asking him for help and guidance. Take time with your family bringing up God at the teachable moments. Finally, when you have been fed and nourished by the river of God’s grace that flows to the deepest parts – share what has deeply impacted you with the families, the children, and the people that God has placed in your life both those inside and out of your church walls.

Do not forget about Jesus’ resurrection or your resurrection. It is not just about some moment far off in the unknown future. Your resurrection impacts your life today. Your life is his. He paid for it. Surrender yourself to his tasks. Your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

What does it mean to you that Jesus physically came back from the dead?

-Pastor Eric Hansen, Discipleship Pastor