With Friends Like These . . .

My brothers show no partiality
as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ—James 2:1

We men tend toward bias. Sometimes with forethought, many times with no thought, we give or withhold based upon characteristics of the potential recipients. We can, therefore, find ourselves directing all our time and attention, our kindness and generosity, toward only those who live, look, sound, spend, sin . . . like we do. This plays out in many areas of life and, therefore, many areas of faith—in service, giving, worship, and indeed in brotherhood.

But James, brother of our King, Jesus Christ, cautioned us to oppose this tendency:

“For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there,’ or, ‘Sit down at my feet,’ have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:2-4).

So, what’s wrong with partiality? Well, intending to or not, we harm people. We hurt them by disregarding them, those whom God wants us to impact or serve or befriend, but who don’t quite make our cut (Proverbs 28:21). God put us here for one another (Matthew 22:39). Partiality means we forsake people who need us. And if that’s not bad enough, we harm ourselves. We cut ourselves off from relationships—and often the weightiest. You see, those were meant to impact are expected to influence us, right back.

Okay, so what do we do?

How’re you doing with this, brother? The test is simple—look around. Who are you spending time with? Whom are you serving? There should be people in your life who’re nothing like you. Are there?

Prepare for Battle

. . . on this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it—Matthew 16:18

We’re designed for battle by our Father God; we’re led into battle by our King, Jesus Christ; we’re aided in battle by God the Holy Spirit. These battles are waged “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). The places where we meet our enemies have names like “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Galatians 5:19-21). Though perhaps less dramatic than battles fought on the ground or in the air or on the sea, their outcomes are more momentous. They determine not only how we spend our lives, but our eternities too (Galatians 5:21).

We have enemies. They’re real. They’re powerful. They’re cunning, relentless, scheming always against us—scheming right now. We too, brother, must be cunning and relentless. We too must be prepared.

Okay, so what do we do?

Create a battle plan. Resist any “this isn’t necessary” or “do it later” tendencies. Create a plan to bring the fight to our enemies. They’ve brought it to you long enough. Write it out today. Make it explicit. Make it practical.

  1. Definition of Battle . . . what problem would you like to finally overcome?
  2. Definition of Victory . . . what’ll victory look like?
  3. Lay of the Land . . . what external factors contribute to the problem?
  4. Points of Weakness . . . what aspects of your lifestyle contribute too?
  5. Plan of Attack . . . how will you counter or minimize or eliminate the external factors and contributing aspects of your lifestyle?
  6. Sources of Strength . . . how’ll you stay connected to God and community?
  7. Brothers-in-Arms . . . whom will you tell about this plan and keep updated, as to victories and defeats?

If these words impacted you today, send them on!!!

Rallying Cries

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith,
act like men, be strong—1 Corinthians 16:13

When we men gather, our gatherings should be about something. Without a something, brotherhood doesn’t last. There are, of course, plenty of possible such somethings: we gather to watch sports, play sports, talk sports, talk politics, discuss philosophy, drink coffee, drink wine, drink beer, hunt, fish, golf, bike, hike, and many other things. Some of us, though, believe there’s one something that stands well above the rest—a great cause—to follow our King, Jesus Christ, which includes fighting for ourselves, our loved ones, our friends, our neighbors, and engaging an enemy that “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

It’s an honor that we’ve been called to such a cause. But, just as men are apt to allow their attention to drift and to lose focus over time, so are groups of men. We must, therefore, be intentional about maintaining purpose, about maintaining alignment with one another, and about maintaining morale and increasing mettle toward opposition and hardship. One approach is to borrow an ancient technique: the rallying cry. It requires we simply consecrate, and then adopt, a few well-chosen words that capture what we stand for, words that reflect our agreed upon priorities, and that rally us always back to God’s (and now our) great cause.
Okay, so what do we do?

Decide today what you and your brothers are about . . . decide your something. Ask yourselves, what brought us together? What’s our purpose in being together? What are our priorities toward one another? What do we care about? What makes us unique? If you’ve never thought about these things, now’s the time, brother. Keep it fun. Set aside some time to pray together and to listen. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you. Then collaborate and iterate and formulate your group’s rallying cry.

One Word to Start Over

. . . for by your words you will be justified,
and by your words you will be condemned—Matthew 12:37

Men sin. We all do. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Fortunately, it’s not our sin that keeps us from God’s forgiveness. It’s our unwillingness to recognize it, to deal with it, which does that. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). We must, therefore, confess . . . and regularly.

That is easier to say, of course, than to live. Confession is hard. Giving voice to words describing our sin is hard. We often think that just saying them, naming our sin, will somehow make it more real. We think naming our sin will put more of its taint upon us. Brother, it’s real. Its full taint is upon us already. And there’s no path to forgiveness and taint removal, except first through confession. But it’s not actually confession if we never say the words—if we obfuscate or talk around the sin. Naming it, simply and plainly, pulls it up and out of the tangle of denial and confusion. It places our sin in the open, where we can see it, where we can paint a target on it, where we can finally bring the power of the Holy Spirit and community against it.

Okay, so what do we do?

Reduce your struggle with sin to one word: Pride. Self-centeredness. Hard-heartedness. Indifference. Resentment. Rage. Greed. Dishonesty. Lust. You choose your word. Be honest. Once you have it, say it aloud. Gather some brothers. Pray for courage, then go around, each man saying only their one word. Pray again, this time againstthe words spoken. When the time is right, go deeper and explain the meanings behind the words.

Trust No One

 

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts—Psalm 28:7

The Apostle Paul set a challenge before us: “having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor” (Ephesians 4:25). No small thing, that one. We men have such a hard time with transparency, with vulnerability. “I don’t know you guys that well.” “I have a hard time trusting other people.” “I don’t know everyone here.” These and objections like them surface naturally in men facing the prospect of being transparent and vulnerable with brothers in community. We’ve all said them, in some version or another. But, this approach, of hesitating and waiting to open up, waiting to tell our brothers what’s really going on, what we’re afraid of, what we’re struggling with, until we have complete trust of the men we’re opening up to, is foolish and based upon misplaced trust.

You see, we can trust no man completely. All “have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). So, waiting for complete trust means waiting for something that’ll never happen. We’re all broken, capable of wickedness even toward those we love most. God, however . . . God is not. So, in him and in him only, brother, should we put our trust (Psalm 118:8). He calls us to be transparent, vulnerable with others, so we must. Now, it might not always go well (at least from our perspectives). That’s okay. It’ll go well from God’s perspective—our obedience to him always does. And, he knows better than we.

Okay, so what do we do?

Next time you meet with a brother or two or three, look around. Which of them do you trust more than God? In that moment, tell yourself: “I trust God. So, I know what I must do” No more lies. No more pretending. No more posturing.

Emerging from Isolation

 

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them—Matthew 18:20

Imagine, for a moment, a man ever isolated, living alone in the mountains, perhaps. Imagine him living a vigorous, adventurous, spiritual life, but lacking community. The knowledge this man would have of God, the knowledge he’d have of himself, would be modest compared to the knowledge he’d have of both, were he to have full access to relationships, friendships, brotherhood.

You see, the isolated man may know about God. But, no matter how much he might read and study, he cannot know God. That takes community. We get to know God by seeing his Holy Spirit moving in others. We encounter God, we experience him, we understand him when he works through the love and sacrifice of other people. In brotherhood, we get to show God to one another. And, the more we’re in community with brothers, the deeper our understanding becomes.

The isolated man may also know about himself—his talents, his likes, his dislikes. But, he cannot know himself. He cannot know the man God intends him to become. That too takes community. It takes others around him, who know his story, who spend time with him, who watch him, to discern and affirm and call forth things true and eternal in him, things God longs for to emerge. It takes brotherhood to call forth the true man.

Okay, so what do we do?

Though we live in cities and towns, many of us are yet like the man isolated in the mountains. We know about God, but we don’t knowhim. We know the men we’d like to be, but we don’t know the men he created us to be. This message, right now, is another call for brotherhood. It’s a call for you, brother, to get into community with other men. Find some brothers; find your place.