“Abraham, when hope was dead within him, went on hoping in faith …. He relied on the word of God.” (Romans 4:18 Phillips)
Losing hope is easy. It takes a lot to be a hopeful person—trust, faith, and an acceptance of living on after what you hoped for doesn’t come to be.
Hope is a matter of time. It tests your lengths of trust and faith, waivers in dark moments, but it is what can pull you through any daunting situation. Abraham was a master of hope. When he and his wife had reached an age where babies were no longer earthly possible, God told him he would have a child. The game of waiting incurred and like the verse says, even when he had lost hope, he still kept hoping, but not in earth, not in himself, in his faith, which was in God.
This process for Abraham was not pretty. He slipped up a time or two, questioned God and his tactics, but he stayed true through the tests and the time, and he finally had his son, Isaac.
In today’s world, we lose hope quickly because we don’t like letting time pass us by. I don’t know very many hope filled people anymore who stand the tests of time like Abraham did. My grandma would probably be the closest thing to it—she holds that innocent nature that fills her with goodness and the hope for things to always be good again.
I watch students in school become frustrated when someone doesn’t text them back within seconds, I watch young adults hopping from job to job because they aren’t getting the dream they wanted as quick as they thought, I watch middle aged adults shrug off any wait time and do it themselves simply because they can.
Hope is a difficult trait to have and to hold because we always want things now.
I think hope fails so quickly today because when we lose faith within us we assumingly lose faith in God. But that’s where Abraham was different. When he lost faith in his human understanding, he held on to his faith in God, because in his mind he knew that was the only place to put his hope.
People will fail, situations won’t work out, life will be pure chaos—so it makes a lot of sense to put all hope in a God that never fails, always works things out for the good of his kingdom, and is a natural peace maker.
Where do you place your hope? Is it in yourself or in the world? If so, you will be let down time and time again. Reroute your passage of hope to be only in the Lord—then, as time ticks on, you will not be anxious but patient in what God has in store for you. And it will be good, so good that you will thank him for the timing of it all.
Philippians 2:25New International Version (NIV)
25 But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs.
The Bible is full of examples that reveal the immeasurable value of godly friendships in lives of other men. Paul finds this in his friendship with Epaphroditus, a man who was spiritually healthy and balanced.
Too often as men, we find ourselves pursuing one or two things in our friendships. We can make it all about the fellowship, or we make it all about defending the faith of the gospel.
Healthy brotherhood has both. Our friendships take us to talking about our cares and our successes. It will also take us to being involved in advancing the gospel in our friendships.
I will never forget the time that several brothers chose to go to Baja, Mexico to pour concrete. We were all across the board in what we did for a living back home, but we were united in the cause. We worked hard and poured concrete. At the end of our week, we feasted. We had great food, great fellowship, and great spiritual time.
This, my good friends, was true brotherhood. None of us knew a year later we would lay one of our brothers in a grave due to cancer. I miss my good brother, but our brotherhood will stand the test of time.
I like the quote from Martin Luther King Jr., “We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
Men, brotherhood is a journey. Vital Men is a tool in that journey that connects us to other men. Stay the course in this journey. Choose this day to be strong and very courageous.
Strength and Courage
Pulling into the parking lot in my four-door ’96 Chevy Blazer, I found most spaces currently occupied by the typical fleet driven by the rest of the driving-aged teenagers of my rural Iowa high school. Family sedans and compacts peppered the lot, but the majority of vehicles consisted of pickup trucks and four-wheel-drive SUVs.
It was just a short walk up to the main entrance and through the doors where I’d pass by the administrative offices making my way to my locker situated two-thirds of the way down the first row of what had been reserved for the ‘seniors’. See, at my school, lockers were segmented by grade first and then alphabetical by last name.
Opening my locker to stow my bag and the books I wouldn’t need until periods later in the day, a glance at the inside of my locker door I’d find it adorned with the handmade ‘spirit posters’ crafted by the school’s cheerleading squad from past games with their bedazzled slogans that ranged from “Trample the Tigers” to “Crush the Cardinals”.
With dozens of lockers open at that same moment, a person’s observation from the end of the hall would quickly recognize how different each individual was. Some students had pictures of souped up trucks and hot rods, others their favorite singer or band. Some guys had swimsuit models while some girls had photos of boyband dreamboats. A few had their idolized professional athletes or a whimsically inspirational quote. A few of the farm kids even had photos of their tractors or prized steers.
As in most schools then and even today, the diverse sets of interests amongst the student body trickled beyond locker doors and continued to become part of the definitive storyline narrating their social groups. Whether it be jocks, band-campers, mathletes, potheads, valley girls, or rednecks, rarely ever did one cross over to integrate into another. Thankfully, there were few if any rifts between groups at my school, and everyone seemed to coexist peacefully, but it always seemed strange to me the unspoken separation that existed. Once you were in a group, that seemed to be where you stayed, and a merging into another would likely result in exclusion from the former.
Now as an adult, although many of these boundary lines from my youth have become blurrier or torn down completely, I still notice the castes we develop in our own communities. We still create our own segments based on our perception of merit, value, status, education, race, morals, or religious affiliation. Yes, we’ve become more open and accepting, but rarely do we choose to immerse ourselves much into an alternative ‘clique’ outside our own beyond the superficial state.
Mark 2:16-17 [NLT]
16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Delving into the Gospels, we see a much different model set as our example by Christ himself. Saying He crossed over into socializing with ‘undesirables’ would be a drastic understatement. His main objective? To demonstrate to the stiff religious scholars of His day the love our Father has for all His people. Nowhere does it say that He had to abandon His morals or His beliefs, nor are there demonstrations of Him jumping on a bandwagon to gain a more diverse fan base. He instead sought to show love to all people and bring His message to a wider audience.
Men, if we are truly seeking to share His Good News with as many people as possible and view our lives as a way to positively impact others, we have to be willing to step outside the comforts of our own social norms. Forever confining ourselves to the safety we feel within our cul-de-sacs, church small groups, or city limits hinders our potential to spread the life changing transformation Christ’s message offers. Let the Spirit guide you on who He’s calling you to reach, and then be willing to be vulnerable. Be courageous enough to make that step. Go and get beyond your clique.
Set a Fire Down in Your Soul,
Let’s face it, we all have moments where we let the things of this world get the better of us. Something you saw, something someone said, the list goes on and on. Sooner or later we have just a moment to slow down and take an inventory of how we reacted to that situation. Most of the time in these cases we chalk it up to letting our emotions get the better of us. Recently I heard a message that challenged everything about that. What if it is not your emotions? What if the real source of the problem is something deeper inside you? What if it is revealing a heart matter? This idea makes sense because as it say in the book of Proverbs, Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. -Prov 4:23. As Andy Stanley once said in discussing the enemies of the heart, “we are far better at monitoring our behavior than we are at monitoring our hearts.”
Self help books will show you behavior control techniques, but as we see in this Proverb, our thoughts in turn shape the way we speak and live. As Andy continued in his observation, “sooner or later the condition of our hearts will out pace the ability to control our behaviors.” The worst offenders of this in Jesus’ day were the Pharisees. People who on the outside had it all together because perhaps they learned the best way to control their behavior in public, but inside the condition of their hearts were far from God. In one particular encounter Jesus makes this very clear of what defiles a person. 10 And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” – Matthew 15:10,11. After “offending” the Pharisees, which was something Jesus was pretty good at mainly because he could see right through them and their intentions, he explains his meaning. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person. The point being that we can be the very best at behavior modification but unless we deal with the root of this issue and seek heart transformation, we are not going to make any progress whatsoever at “not letting our emotions get the better of us.
So the next time that we get into a situation where we feel ourselves losing our grip, let’s challenge ourselves to ask the question, not if I am angry, sad, or scared, but what is my heart revealing. Then find someone who you can trust to share what you have discovered. Confession is the best way to start getting to the “heart” of the matter. Continue to pray and feel the transforming power of God that can help us overcome what we ourselves have been trying to control for years; because control really is an illusion, and one that none of us can master – including self control. Only our Father in Heaven can really do that.
Strength & Courage
We have had a nice mix of weather these past couple weeks in Southern Iowa including our fair share of storms. When the Western sky starts turning dark, it is usually a good sign that rain, or more, is in the near future. I recall a few times this past week seeing the sky start to cloud over and then checking the radar to see what was in store for us and how many minutes I had to finish up whatever outdoor project I was working on. I remember fishing with my siblings when I was about 10 years old as dark clouds rolled up over the hill. We got things put away and into the car just as a rotating wall cloud passed over us. I was just a little worried our car would be blown into the lake, but we were fortunate that day.
For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. Romans 8:13-14
Do you listen to other warning signs around you before it is too late? When we have pain in our body, it is an indicator that we are injured or something is not working right. The temperature gauge drifts right or turns red before the radiator hose blows. Damaged relationships don’t normally turn south overnight, as there are usually signs that something is wrong leading up to a break-up. In fact, there are usually warning signs leading up to problems in most areas of our life, but whether or not we choose to heed these warnings can make a big difference in how things play out.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Proverbs 9:10
How does God get your attention? Are subtle hints effective, or does it take a near knockout punch before you realize what is going on? Often, before getting into a bad situation, we may get a gut feeling, or a sense that something is not right. In the same way, if we can heed these warnings, we may also be able to help others in a way we could have overlooked when we listen and are sensitive to God’s leading in our lives. The same awareness that helps us avoid danger can guide us to go above and beyond the call of duty in other areas of our lives.
There are warning signs all around us, but what we do when we hear/see them is up to us. Like most men, we can ignore them and pretend they don’t exist or pertain to us and then wait to see what happens. The other end of the spectrum is hypersensitity where we are overwhelmed or in fear of all that is going on around us. Developing a healthy practice of listening to God’s Spirit and your surroundings can help you develop discernment about what to do in any given situation. Granted, we won’t get this right all the time and will often be humbled in the process, but seeking God’s counsel in any situation is usually a good default setting. Also, having a trusted Christian brother who will speak the truth to you is a good resource person to act as a sounding board and give you feedback when you question what you are hearing.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. I John 4:1
So, today and through the week, take a few moments to listen and reflect when things are not going as you would like or when you start to question if you are on the right path when facing a difficult choice. We can make ourselves believe anything when we are hiding in the dark. Hold everything up to the true light, and the truth will be evident to all. Even me.
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12
Living in His Light,