Category Archives: mens ministry

Being Imitators of God (continued)

If our Father GOD is a “Father to the fatherless” a “defender of widows” who “places the lonely in families,” then we, as his children, his imitators, should be mimicking these traits in our lives.

Is this line of reasoning born out elsewhere in scripture?  I believe it is.  GOD gives specific instruction for treatment of the fatherless and the widow.  His law, as laid out for us in the Old Testament, is chock-full of commands to care for the fatherless and the widow among us.  James repeats these calls in the New Testament when he makes this radical statement.

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27

In the following chapters we will explore what this might look like in your life.  We will hear testimonies of men and their families who are engaged in the fight in very real and practical ways and hopefully encourage you to step into the fray.

Being Imitators of God

Be imitators of GOD, therefore, as dearly loved children”

Ephesians 5:1 (emphasis added)

 The Sincerest Form of Flattery

I am a simple man, not a great theologian, and I tend to read and understand scripture in a straightforward way. The Bible makes plain that, when we are reborn in Christ, we are called to be “imitators of GOD,” that is, imitators of his communicable character attributes, those attributes GOD “shares” with his adopted children. We can know the character of our GOD because it is clearly revealed in scripture. God is loving, patient, kind, good, joyful, faithful, forgiving, generous, courageous, and holy just to name a few. These are traits we should strive to imitate.

As “dearly loved children” we are also to imitate the things the Father does. Jesus says in John 5:19, “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”  Does this carry over to the adopted sons (believers) as well? Jesus implies that it does when he goes on to say in John 14:12, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”

A GOD size assignment

Be “imitators” of GOD.  Now, if you are like me, that is an amazing and yet frightening command.  To be honest, at first glance it sounds like yet another impossibly high bar to jump and frankly a little burdensome. For me it ranks right up there with, “Be holy as I am holy,” in terms of potentially discouraging expectations. But at closer examination, it really is the promise of living in the presence and power of our Father, enjoying his company and learning while working at his side.

Notice what Jesus did not say.  He did not say, “anyone who has faith in me will be required to do what I have been doing. Or be required to do even greater things than these.” Instead, Jesus uses an affirmative statement, saying that anyone who has faith in me “will” do what I have been doing and “will” do even greater things.  The idea here is that, as adopted children of GOD, walking in the Spirit, we will want to be imitators of our Father, not forced, and that we are empowered by Christ himself, to do these things.  That should be exciting and encouraging news. What dearly loved child doesn’t want to imitate dad?

Dad is at your side

Let’s look even more closely at part of that statement.  Jesus said, “Whatever the Father does the Son also does.” If you were blessed with a good relationship with your father perhaps you recall “working” alongside him in the shop or singing with him in the choir or pushing the lawn mower with him.  You might remember that no matter what you did, Dad always seemed to make the work you did together turn out well. You might recall the sense of being stronger and more capable with Dad by your side.

If you’re a dad then you’ve seen the other side of the coin. One spring Saturday several years ago, I stood preparing to stain the deck and backyard fence of our townhouse.  I had borrowed our neighbors paint gun to make things move along a little faster.  All was going according to plan until my oldest son Michael, then just four years old, showed up and, with his most earnest and eager face on, asked if he could help me paint.  I was all too familiar with this kind of “help” and I knew it was going to make my job a lot more difficult, but I couldn’t say no.  I didn’t want to say no.  I wanted to give my son a chance to work with his Dad just as I had with mine.  So, after several hours, we succeeded in painting the fence, the deck, the grass, part of our aluminum siding and one of my neighbors’ trees. Was it the easiest way? No. Could I have done it better alone? No doubt. But it was a day that neither of us has forgotten.

Be of good cheer, GOD isn’t loading another expectation on you; He is inviting you to participate with Him at his work.  It’s a heavenly “take your child to work day” invitation.

So what?

So how does all of this discussion impact the knock-down drag-out fight for the souls of the worlds children?

After reading Psalm 68:5-6, the answer should come into focus.

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,

is GOD in his holy dwelling.

GOD sets the lonely in families”

Psalm 68:5-6a

Continued…God is in your corner: Come out swinging!

Continued… (click for part one)

There is a place beyond our church walls where the fight is even more intense, a bare knuckle place where the potential for heartbreak and frustration are only off-set by the enormous blessings to be enjoyed.  It is a place of a most Christ-like sacrifice where the object of your gift is powerless to give anything in return.

Prepare your Heart

We have analyzed the dire situation the children are in and developed intelligence regarding our enemy and the damage he has been able to inflict, now what? If you are committed to the fight, you must equip yourself for the confrontation, because, make no mistake; Satan will not give up this ground easily. Thankfully, in addition to the Bible, there are some excellent resources available to us. The following books have influenced my journey profoundly and I trust that they will prepare your heart as well.

For the man who is seeking to become what GOD designed him to be, I recommend, “Tender Warrior” by Stu Weber as a great place to start. For parents and church leaders wishing to do better at raising a generation that knows the Lord, I would suggest, “Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions” by George Barna, “Sacred Parenting” by Gary Thomas, “Shepherding a child’s heart” by Tedd Tripp, “Bringing up boys” and “Bringing up Girls” by Dr. James Dobson and “Parenting Beyond your Capacity” by Reggie Joiner and Carey Nieuwhof. These are just a few of the many amazing books, written by gifted, godly men who have looked deeply into scripture regarding these subjects. I have read them each at least once and recommend them all highly to those of you who are now awakening to some of the shocking information we’ve just reviewed together.

Moving Beyond

From here on out we are moving into uncharted territory. As I have said before, it isn’t enough to simply care for, physically and spiritually, our children and the children in our church family. These roles of course, are biblical, foundational and well established throughout Christian literature and the Church in greater or lesser degrees since the resurrection of Christ. But is that where our responsibility ends? I believe GOD’s answer is no.

The fact is that the fatherless outside the church far outnumber our own children and the majority of the children born in the world today are born into non-Christian homes.

Everything we have learned about children in our families and the church leads us inevitably to the children in our community and the world. Circling the wagons to make a stand leaves the majority of the world’s future generations outside the circle.  Are you willing to give them up without a fight?  Is that how we operate, as the Church of Jesus, the “Last man standing?”  I hope the answer is no because if you think Satan puts up a fight when we start spiritually leading our own children, you haven’t seen anything.  The moment we move beyond the boundaries of the church family we enter into hostile territory indeed. But that is exactly where I believe God is calling us. If not us, then who?

God is in your corner: Come out swinging!

From Chapter Four of, “Last man standing”

“You are coming to fight against me with a sword, a spear and a javelin. But I’m coming against you in the name of the Lord who rules over all. He is the God of the armies of Israel. He’s the one you have dared to fight against.

1 Samuel 17:45

Let’s come up and take a breath for a moment. Are you feeling a little overwhelmed? Take heart, I have been where you are.  It’s a lot to take in.  We have learned of the special place children hold in the heart of GOD and how He has commanded his people to take seriously the task of teaching them.  We have explored the very unique way we as GOD’s creation are “wired” and why that “wiring” makes it critical as parents and the church to reach all children early with quality, relational discipleship.  We have exposed Satan’s strategy for leaving the children in your family, church, neighborhood and around the world vulnerable to his plans by tying up the “strong man.”

So now is the big moment when we should be asking ourselves, “What do I do with this information?” Will I reorder my priorities so that I am fully engaged in discipling my children? Will I engage my church leadership to encourage them to make our biblical instruction and treatment of children more robust and effective? Will I get more involved in encouraging other men in the church to follow me in this?  I pray that the answer to all of these questions is a resounding “Yes!”  But there is more.  There is a place beyond our church walls where the fight is even more intense, a bare knuckle place where the potential for heartbreak and frustration are only off-set by the enormous blessings to be enjoyed.  It is a place of a most Christ-like sacrifice where the object of your gift is powerless to give anything in return.

to be continued…

 

Strong man down (the conclusion) – “Who is the last man standing?”

“By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. Then I moved on toward the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was not enough room for my mount to get through; so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate. The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work.

Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” I also told them about the gracious hand of my GOD on me and what the king had said to me.

   They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.” Nehemiah 2:13-18

    Our assessment is complete and the news is not good.  It is downright discouraging to be exact.  I echo Nehemiah when I ask, “Do you see the trouble we are in?”

You may be asking yourself now, “Why did I pick up this book?  There is enough bad news in the world to wallow in and now this!” That could not be further from my intention here but I believe it is important to not understate the gravity of the situation, and to make clear the truth that the answer lies with us, the body of Jesus Christ, the Church.

The body of Christ is the “last man standing”

While leading a team from a church in Brazil on a mission to work with children in a neighborhood that had grown up around the city trash dump, one of our team members and a dear friend, upon seeing the poverty, unsanitary conditions and widespread fatherlessness, commented, “Where is our government!? Why is this allowed to go on?” My answer to him, and others that might think that the government, or any other institution, holds the key, is this, “The root of the problems of fatherlessness, poverty and crime are not only, or even primarily, physical, educational or financial, but spiritual, and the church of Jesus alone is capable of answering all of these needs.”

Civil Servants of the Kingdom

The responsibility for addressing these needs does indeed belong to the government, but not the earthly one my friend had in mind.  The job belongs to the civil servants of GOD’s Kingdom and that means you and me.  If you are a man reading this you might be thinking, “Here we go, another thing I am responsible for.” But let me assure you, this is not another hammer to pound men over the head with.  We have enough of those today.  These are GOD sized problems that no one of us alone, man or woman, can completely remedy.  The answers lie with the whole family of GOD empowered by the grace of God through Christ.  Nehemiah did not call only on the men to stand in the gap and rebuild the walls, but rather for the men to lead their families in this great endeavor.

“Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows.” Nehemiah 4:13 (emphasis added)

We have done it before.  Just consider this excerpt from an article written by Timothy Larsen for the web site Christianhistory.net about the early Sunday school movement.

“By the mid-19th century, Sunday school attendance was a near universal aspect of childhood. Even parents who did not regularly attend church themselves generally insisted that their children go to Sunday school. Working-class families were grateful for this opportunity to receive an education. They also looked forward to annual highlights such as prize days, parades, and picnics, which came to mark the calendars of their lives as much as more traditional seasonal holidays.

Religious education was, of course, always also a core component. The Bible was the textbook used for learning to read. Likewise, many children learned to write by copying out passages from the Scriptures. A basic catechism was also taught, as were spiritual practices such as prayer and hymn singing. Inculcating Christian morality and virtues was another goal of the movement. Sunday school pupils often graduated to become Sunday school teachers, thereby gaining an experience of leadership not to be found elsewhere in their lives.”

Far from gloom and doom, my hearts desire is to hear the Church of Jesus Christ say with gusto, “Let us start rebuilding,” and begin the good work of reestablishing our defenses and going on the offensive for the hearts of children in GOD’s Kingdom.

 

“I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land…” Ezekiel 22:30a

Strong man down, continued (part 3)

We are losing ground in…

The Church

Where should we find a bulwark against the plan of Satan to take down the “Strong man” defense system? Who is the “last man standing,” that GOD put in place if not the Church of Jesus Christ?  The Church and its men should be an impenetrable fortress, protecting their children from the enemy of their souls.  Beyond that it should be a source of reinforcements for the families and communities who are losing their fathers.  Certainly in the Church we should find men, followers of Christ, committed to fulfilling their role of provider, protector, teacher and friend.

So where are they?  Again, some recent sociological research provides less than encouraging news for those children suffering on the front lines of fatherlessness.  It is not my purpose here to theorize on the causes (that is one bull’s-eye I do not wish to paint on my back), but the reality is stark as it regards men in the Church.

“Are males really less religious than females? Most of the studies made on the question seem to indicate that they are, and this appears to be true for all the Christian churches, denominations, and sects in western civilization.” [1]– James H. Fitcher,

“women are twice as likely to attend a church service during any given week. Women are also 50 percent more likely than men to say they are ‘religious’ and to state that they are ‘absolutely committed’ to the Christian faith.” – George Barna,

“Church attendance in the United States is about 60 percent female and 40 percent male. The more liberal the denomination, the higher the percentage of females.”[2]      – Leon J. Podles,

“Women, more often than not, take the lead role in the spiritual life of the family,” “Women typically emerge as the primary — or only — spiritual mentor and role model for family members. And that puts a tremendous burden on wives and mothers.” – George Barna[3]

 

The news out of Western Europe is much the same, and in Brazil the numbers are almost identical, with the ratio of Christian women to men at roughly 57/43% according to the IBGE – Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatístic in their 2000 census report.

While good people can disagree as to the cause of the masculinity deficit in the church, whether it is the feminization of sermons, worship and teaching in the church, liberal theology, a lack of vision driven churches or a generally feminized view of Christ and Christianity dating back to before the Reformation, there can be no disagreement over the plain fact that many Christian churches in the world today are not producing “strong men,” and those that are, by and large, are not sending them out into the world to stand in the gap for children who have been left defenseless by Satan’s schemes.


[1] James H. Fichter, “Why Aren’t Males So Holy?”Integrity (May 1955): p. 3.

[2] Leon J. Podles, “Missing Fathers of the Church”

[3] George Barna,Index of Leading Spiritual Indicators(Dallas: Word Publishing, 1996),p.87.