Warrior Class #2

On Saturday mornings, men in our church gather for “The Warrior Class.” It’s a simple breakfast, simple (one principle) lesson, and simple mini-group discussion. If you missed this week’s lesson, or want to revisit the principle again, here’s what we covered:

Principle: A godly warrior always follows orders.

Passage: 1 Samuel 15:1-35

Knowing:  God’s idea of right and wrong is better than mine.

Is your sense of right and wrong influenced more by God’s Word or by your own ideas and values?

In what ways are you tempted to lead by your own values?

What missed opportunities or consequences has sin caused in your life?

Believing:  My failed life and leadership must be redeemed by Jesus.

Do you believe that God’s Word is always right and good?

What areas of your life and leadership need to be redeemed by forgiveness?

What is God calling you to painfully surrender for the sake of obedience?

Doing:  When I trust God, my actions reveal it.

Are your actions always consistent with your stated beliefs?  Why or why not?

What have you been bargaining with God instead of obeying?

What is one thing that you know you must do to obey God immediately?

Each week we report back with success stories from applying the previous week’s lesson. Feel free to comment below, too.

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Warrior Class #1

Warrior Class for men

On Saturday mornings, men in our church are gathering for “The Warrior Class.” It’s a simple breakfast, simple (one principle) lesson, and simple mini-group discussion. If you missed the first week, or want to revisit the first principle again, here’s what we covered:

Principle: A warrior must know whom he fights for.
Passage: 1 Samuel 17 (see especially v.26, 37, 45-47)

Knowing: Jesus is King; we submit to Him and are loyal to Him. Jesus defeated evil, sin, and death. He fights battles I can’t win.
Do I see Jesus as a conquering King? What doubts do I have? Am I loyal to Him in every way? Do I answer to Him? Do I ask Him for instruction?

Believing: I need the Gospel because I want to be king; I need forgiveness. Jesus gives this forgiveness; He is a king worth fighting for. Real manhood means trusting Jesus as King.
Why do I want to be my own King? What fears cause this? Have I surrendered to King Jesus? Have I asked for His forgiveness? Do I believe Jesus is a King worth fighting for? Whose approval matters most to me?

Doing: A warrior looks for areas of life that lack loyalty. He brings all under his responsibility and influence into war mode. Real manhood means discipline. Real manhood means sacrifice, just like the King we follow.
(Hands) What areas of my life display loyalty to Jesus the strongest? How am I showing loyalty to Jesus in front of my wife? How am I showing loyalty to Jesus in front of my children? What areas display loyalty to Jesus the weakest? What changes do I need to make immediately? What habits need to change/end/begin to better receive instruction from King Jesus?

Each week we’ll report back with success stories from applying the previous week’s lesson. Feel free to comment below, too.

Formula For Friendship

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Is there a formula for friendship?  I think so.

On the one hand, it seems silly to capture the essence of relational chemistry in rational terms.  It might just reveal that my natural emotional intelligence is a bit on the low side.  But on the other hand, my formula isn’t very formulaic at all: I don’t suggest inserting numerical values into any part of it.  It’s just my way of trying to understand how and why friendships form, endure, or expire.  So here it is:

Friendship = Time Frequency x Time Duration x Common Interest

Let’s push some examples through this formula to explain.  Have you noticed the way close friendships form at camp or college?  When we spend time with someone every day (frequency) for several hours (duration) and share a unique common experience (common interest), a special bond of friendship forms.  That kind of friendship seems to endure even after departure or graduation (no more frequency or duration) because the common interest is so high.  When reunion happens, stories of common interest abound.

What about the classic conversation at a alumni reunion that awkwardly runs out of steam?  That’s probably because there is less common interest now than there was back when you attended school together.  Or what about those special friends that you see far less often (frequency) than you desire, but the friendship just seems to naturally pick up where it left off?  You probably have had a high level of common interest for a long time (duration).

Have you noticed the way friendships form at work?  You spend all day (duration) together every day (frequency) with shared goals (common interest).  But when the conversation ventures outside of work-related topics, the relationship begins to diminish until some other area such as family or a hobby (common interest) is discovered.  And that co-worker you just can’t stand?  The common interest is so low, it functions as a negative value that overpowers everything else.

Do you want to grow closer to someone?  Spend time with them more often (frequency).  Or set aside longer amounts of time (duration).  Or find something that you enjoy doing together (common interest).  I’m sure the friendship will grow.

Jesus was concerned with friendship too.  But his friendship was based on something entirely different:  Himself.  He said that those who obey His commands are his friends and this friendship can’t be based on our own effort because we have failed and will fail.  We betray Him in our sin.  But the obedient love Jesus has for us, having laid aside His life for our sake, enables our obedience to His command; loving others by laying aside our lives for them.  We can’t work that with some formula.  Jesus has chosen us as friends, and our joyful response to His friendship is to live and love after His example.  The commitment and sacrifice needed to love like Jesus is more powerful than any area of common interest.  We love others not because of what we have in common, but because Jesus loves us.

What do you think?  Can friendship be expressed in a formula?  Have you found it difficult to love someone that didn’t share your common interest?

Wearing or Bearing?

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I have a gold cross.  Many people do.  Many people wear them openly and proudly.

The cross is a cherished symbol.  We should wear one, if we choose, with gratitude for what it symbolizes: Jesus knowingly, willingly, laid down His life to pay the price for rebellion against God (what the Bible calls “sin”).

But I have a question for you: Are you just wearing one or are you bearing one?  I think there is a difference.

What I mean is that wearing a cross is making a statement about ourselves.  Wearing a cross is the result of our will, our desires, our plans, our agenda.  We are declaring part of our identity:  We are communicating what we believe.  But the focus is still on us.

Bearing a cross is making a statement about Jesus.  Jesus told those who would follow, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) Bearing a cross means dying to our will, our desires, our plans, our agenda.  We are declaring that our identity is not what matters: We are communicating that we believe in Someone.  So the focus is on Jesus.  Because He took up His cross for us, we take up our cross and follow Him.

Is there anything wrong with wearing a cross?  Not at all.  I’m glad if you do.  We all need a little reminder now and then.

Sometimes, though, we need more than a reminder.   We need to hear someone tell the good news about Jesus and back it up by following Him.  If we need people who follow Jesus to wear crosses, we need even more people who follow Jesus to bear crosses.

If you’re going to wear one, let me encourage you to bear one as well.

So, how about you?  Are you just wearing your cross or are you bearing it too?

Love is why.

I mentioned this video in my message this morning.  Powerful!  How does it change the way you look at life?

Christmas Gratitude

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[Image Credit]

Yesterday, we had some friends over for breakfast and – of course – we showed them our Christmas tree.  It was fun to talk about some of the decorations and to answer questions they had about some of the more unusual ornaments.  I imagine that our tree is decorated like others in our stage of life; lots of crafty ornaments the kids made over the years, some keepsakes that commemorate milestones like marriage and babies, and some lovely gifted ornaments that remind us family and friends.  Our Christmas tree is full of memories!  The more I thought about this, the more I realized just how grateful I should be.

I am grateful for my family.  I have a beautiful, talented, industrious wife who works hard to meet the needs of her family.  We have built a wonderful life together over the last 14 and a half years.  I’m also blessed with wonderful, talented, healthy kids.  They are a source of joy as well as a means of revealing how much I need to learn and grow.

I am grateful for my extended family and friends.  My biological family helped plant and nurture the seeds of the Gospel in my young heart.  I am rich with friends from every stage of life, including friends who are tried and true though seasons of loss and difficulty.  I’m also glad to live in an era when technology, such as social media, helps me keep in touch with those who live far away.

I am grateful for my ministry.  I work and serve as pastor of a local church.  It’s rich with the joys and heartaches of life, and the people are generous to let me walk through this particular season with them.  We’ve seen many people’s lives changed – amazing stories – and they offer encouragement despite my many weaknesses.

But there is something more for which I must be grateful.  As I reflect on all these blessings, I realize just how undeserving I am.  I’ve been saved completely by God’s Grace; I deserve none of the many ways in which He has blessed me.  But it’s even more than that.  Possessing a nature that loves to rebel (sin) against Him, I am constantly in need of His mercy.  Any desire I have to love others more than myself is the result of His spirit at work in my heart.  Realizing this, I see how God blesses me despite my unfaithfulness.  I’ve been given much, am still faithless on my own despite the mercy given me, and yet am blessed all the more abundantly and daily.  All this is because Jesus came to earth, lived perfectly, and died for me.

So my heart is full this Christmas.  I hope that, as you reflect on the ways in which you have been blessed, your heart will be full too.  Most of all, I hope that you will come to know the Savior who gave His life to give you life.

How have you been blessed?  In what ways do you experience God’s mercy?  How might you express your gratitude?

Permission or Forgiveness?

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I’ve heard it said that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.  I’ve also found it to be true in practice.  It is easier.  A lot easier!  Maybe you’ve found that to be true too.  Perhaps you’ve also observed others who seem to operate by this principle in virtually every matter.  We can easily accept this principle as a universal truth and so shape our actions accordingly.

It’s certainly easier to do something without the accountability or approval of others.  People ask questions or make suggestions – how annoying!  If taking the path of least resistance is appealing, then asking for forgiveness instead of permission can become a way of life.  We rationalize that some opportunities are time-sensitive.  The input of others could prevent important things from happening.  If things work out well, take the credit; if not, just ask for forgiveness.

But over time I have come to realize a single, massive problem with this philosophy: It isn’t rooted in the Gospel.  In fact, it’s the very opposite of the Gospel.  Here are three reasons why:

#1 It’s self-centered.

Easier?  Yes, but…easier for whom?  Obviously, it’s easier for the person doing the asking.  Not for the person who is being put in a position that will soon be asked for forgiveness.  The implications of the Gospel are that loving others will directly correlate to loving God (Matt. 22:38-40).  The essence of living in light of the good news about Jesus is to treat others as we would want to be treated (Luke 6:31).  To willingly act in such a way as to disregard the reasonable objections or questions from the people God has placed into our lives is self-centered.

#2 It’s deceptive.

This is obvious.  To anticipate asking someone for forgiveness in advance, while hiding an action, is deceptive.  Deception is characteristic of the old self (Col. 3:9-15) and is fundamentally a failure to love (Rom. 13:8-10).  If a decision impacts others, and their expectation for input is reasonable, then knowingly avoiding them is equivalent to a lie.

#3 It takes advantage of others.

This way of thinking assumes that others will – or should – extend forgiveness when asked.  But believing the Gospel means a call to use our freedom to serve, not to be served (Gal. 5:13-15). Living this way doesn’t others build up; it only deteriorates relationships.  Instead of honoring the good intentions of those who would genuinely offer forgiveness, we cheapen their Grace-fueled kindness by taking advantage of it to suit ourselves.

How should we live instead?  Lean into relationships.  Listen to others.  Don’t assume we know enough on our own to make decisions affecting others without listening to their perspective beforehand.  Treat forgiveness as a gift – not as an entitlement.  And, above all, tell the truth.

What do you think?  Is there ever a situation in which this principle is valid?  Can it ever be reconciled with the Gospel?