Category: Self-sacrifice

The Banner That Unites Us. Session 2—From Highway D to Hope

The Banner That Unites Us. Session 2—From Highway D to Hope

Having grown up in northern Illinois, I have a permanent memory of certain highway route numbers and the roads they pertain to: Rt. 68, Dundee Road; Rt. 83, Elmhurst Road; Rt. 21 Milwaukee Road; Rt. 45, River Road, and so on.

Wisconsin apparently has a different system, which is based largely on letters rather than numbers. I don’t know why. I suspect there’s a good reason for it; I just don’t know what it is. In any case, I want to make some observations of what I call Highway D.

In the past half-year, virtually all of us on the planet have encountered shock, bewilderment, confusion, and emotional strain. Perhaps we can acknowledge having been on a journey with the following waypoints: Disappointment—Discouragement—Depletion—Depression—Despair. I can. I confess that due to high expectations for myself, (“Hi, I’m Craig. I’m a recovering Perfectionist.”), I’m vulnerable to disappointment. Every now and then that disappointment leads to discouragement; which every few years or so can lead to depletion.

Certainly, all of us can relate to that sequence on some level, perhaps more recently than ever before. Those in the therapy and counseling field report very significant increases in levels of depression and anxiety since the outbreak of the Coronavirus. Some of you also know that depression can eventually lead to despair. These are the waypoints on Highway D.

In these exceptional times, how do we avoid this highway, or at the very least, how do we recognize the waypoints and turn away from the next one before we enter its territory? There are 3 options for us to avoid getting stuck on this downward path:

1. Change our circumstances.

As we have choices, we must protect ourselves from physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual factors that are depleting us. We can draw boundaries against stressful or unhealthy behavior, in ourselves or in others close to us, when we run into it. In those cases, we must change our circumstances to remain healthy and avoid a downward spiral of emotions.

But more commonly, the issues we wrestle with most deeply are not simply external, they are our own inner struggles with the difficulties of everyday life. Those conditions, and our reactions to them follow us, no matter the marriage, church, business, or state we are in. Like an imaginary backpack into which we stuff anger, resentment, shame, fear or isolation, those destructive emotions follow us around.

The common denominator we carry into all the “Change our circumstances” options is our backpack. We bring it with us wherever we go. When we show up, our backpack shows up.

So, men, rather than automatically assuming that the best solution to trials or disappointment in our lives is to change circumstances— change our spouse, job, church or zip code— sometimes the better step for us is the deeper, inner transformation of changing our expectations and beliefs.

2. A 2nd option for getting out of the downward spiral of Hwy. D is to Change our expectations. Often our disappointments with life are based on unrealistic expectations of how we think life ought to go. For example, we Americans, in particular, have a built-in expectation (we might even say demand) for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That might sound familiar.

The truth is, the world doesn’t always offer those options. Not only do many Christians in other nations rarely experience these values, there are millions of Americans who would say their existence does not feel like the life they long for, or the freedom to live without fear, let alone the pursuit of genuine happiness. For many of our brothers and sisters those familiar values of American life are far from realistic expectations.

We need to ask: Do we sometimes need to change our expectations of how life ought to go for us? While life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness might be fine aspirations on which to build a nation, they aren’t values on which to build Christian character. The apostle Paul wouldn’t have come up with that list as expectations for the early Church.

His list might have been more along the lines of self-sacrifice, humility, and the pursuit of Christ-likeness. I know, that list doesn’t sound like as much fun. But in fact, in Phil. 2:1-11 this is his list:

  • “…in humility value others above yourselves…”
  • “…have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…”
  • “…he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

These are expectations Paul gave the Church, and gives us, as Christ-followers.

If our expectations, let alone demands, are for life to be a non-stop run of the American dream, free from illness, loss, hardship or sorrow, we are setting ourselves up for great disappointment. Perhaps even depression.

Some Christians think our lives should be defined by unending provision, health, riches, and acts from God that serve our wants. In my opinion, this expectation is more reflective of our cultural values than of biblical values. If that describes us, we may well need to revise those expectations.

How might we change our expectations? By revising our assumptions that life will always go well for us. The descriptions of the life of the early Church, as well as Paul’s letters of exhortation to us, make it clear that we Christ-followers should expect difficulty.

  • Acts 14:22 “…we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God…”
  • Heb. 12:7 “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children.”
  • I Peter 1:6 “…now for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”

Our expectation should be that we will have hardship in life. This might be especially true for those of us Christians who no longer feel at home in the World.

3. Changing circumstances may help us when we struggle emotionally or spiritually, as many of us have been. But that doesn’t work very well when the struggle is global. Changing our expectations, and acknowledging we will have struggles in life, is a very helpful 2nd option. But there is a 3rd approach that goes even deeper: Change our beliefs.

When “bad things” happen to us, our beliefs and assumptions about life automatically rise to the surface:

  • I lose my job; I believe my boss has no clue what he’s doing. That’s a belief revealing itself.
  • My friend is dying; I believe God must be teaching him a severe lesson. That’s what some fellow Christians believe.
  • My child is pulling away from the church; I believe it’s the church’s fault. And specifically, that lame youth pastor’s.
  • Everything that was going so well in January, has now turned to chaos. I’m not sure God is paying attention, or that he plans to do anything about it.

Blame directed at others and anger directed at God, often come from our deeply felt beliefs that we carry around with us, again, like a familiar customized backpack, regardless of our location or circumstances. The common denominator again, is…us. We may need to transform those beliefs.

How might we change our beliefs? By embracing the fact that God redeems trials and hardships for our benefit:

  • II Cor. 1:4 “…[God] comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble…”
  • II Cor. 12:10 “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
  •  James 1:2-4Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
  • Romans 5:4 “…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Scripture reminds us, over and over, that our foundational belief should be that God uses our hardships for our good, and for the good of others.

10 years ago, I had an occasion when this happened to me. I had traveled down the waypoints of Highway D. Due to what felt like a non-stop series of financial, ministry, relational, and health pileups, I was running on empty. I was way past Disappointment; I blew by Discouragement, and had landed well into Depletion. I was about burnt to a crisp.

A mentor urged me to use his condo in Florida to rest and start to recover by myself. What a gift! And God met me there and began to restore my thirsty heart and soul. One of the biggest things that happened to me in those days was a change in my beliefs.

If you ask 100 counselors what one of the most important factors in overcoming Depression or Despair, it’s likely that somewhere around 99 will say, Hope. There needs to be Hope in order for healing to begin. A light at the end of the tunnel. Some assurance this downward spiral will come to an end

When I say Hope, I don’t mean crossed-fingers, wishful thinking, the way the world uses the word hope. I mean a heartfelt, rock-solid confidence in the nature and character of God. That’s Hope.

And here is the verse that changed my beliefs about life and God:

Rom. 15:13 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Several truths stood out to me about every phrase in that sentence:

  • “May the God of Hope”— God has authority over Hope. He created it, controls it, and grants it. And God is defined by Hope. The power to bring about what is unseen is a central part of God’s nature.
  • “Fill you with all Joy and Peace”— We get huge quantities of Joy and Peace from the hand of God. They are by-products of Hope
  • “So that you may overflow with Hope”—As if filling us wasn’t enough, God pours in so much Hope it spills over the brim. He is not stingy with Hope. Men, what if he were to use that overflow of Hope so that it sloshes over from us onto others?! Our Hope overflows onto others. We become Hope-bringers to others.
  • “As you trust in him…By the power of the Holy Spirit.” None of this is from us, or through our effort, our piety, or our creative attempts to concoct it. It’s evident that the source of this influence is not us; it’s the power of the Holy Spirit at work through us.

The journey down Highway D is a well-traveled one, but it leads nowhere anyone wants to go. The next time we find ourselves struggling with the disappointment and discouragement that life so often brings, let’s consider a re-route that plugs the above set of expectations and beliefs into our emotional GPS system.  

We can Change our circumstances; Change our expectations or Change our beliefs. The first option can be helpful, but is often superficial. The third one changes us to the core.

It’s a refreshed route that prevents a return trip to the dead-end destinations of Depletion, Depression and Despair. It leads instead to deeper peace and joy and hope despite our circumstances.

Men, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope, by the power of the Holy Spirit.” God bless you.

Miracle Within The Miracle

Miracle Within The Miracle

Would I have acted as Joseph did?

We’re so familiar with the Christmas story that it’s easy to overlook an essential part of that miracle- Joseph’s amazing response to confusing and embarrassing circumstances.

To summarize, the key parts of the story as told in Matt.1:

  • After his fiancée Mary becomes pregnant, Joseph’s first reaction is to avoid embarrassing her publicly. V. 19
  • Rather than accusing her, or raging at her apparent unfaithfulness, he decides to separate from her quietly. V. 19
  • When told by an angel that the child is from the Holy Spirit, he does exactly what the angel commanded, he took her home to be his wife. V. 24
  • Even then, he held off from sex with her until the baby was born. V. 25

I’m not certain that, if the same kind of circumstances happened to me, I would have responded as nobly as Joseph did. In fact, I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t have.

Joseph was:

  • Humble– he accepted the apparent unfaithfulness of his fiancée
  • Loving– his response was to have her best interests in mind, even before he understood the whole story
  • Trusting– he believed what the Lord led him to do, though it probably seemed unbelievably illogical
  • Patient– he waited for understanding to sink in; he let the whole story unfold before jumping to conclusions

We’re familiar with the rest of the Christmas miracle story. In celebrating Jesus’ birth let’s not lose site of the miraculous behavior of this man.

When we face embarrassment, hurt or confusion, may we respond with the same qualities Joseph showed.

Keeping Score

I know a lot of men who get wrapped up in performance—work, sports, even community service or church attendance; competitiveness in any arena. This hard work can reveal an admirable sense of drive, responsibility and commitment. It can also reveal an underlying belief that our performance defines our significance. Or earns us points. For some […]

Passion!

Passion!

When some of us men hear the word Passion, we think of sex, or some vaguely feminine emotion, or…sex.

I think visceral, gut-level, profoundly stirring. The word brings to mind a challenge we are so committed to we will attempt it all costs; win or lose, we will put our best effort out there. It’s something we must do something about. We can’t NOT do it.

The recent London Olympics gave us so many images and stories of passion. I realize that they are already receding to the rear view mirror of the news cycle, but before we move on, would you please take 5 minutes and watch these clips from the Games that just took place. I watch these and I see Passion.

The efforts of these men and women remind me of the words of Teddy Roosevelt, taken from The Man in the Arena:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Do you have an issue you are passionate about? What is it? In all likelihood, the world needs you to do it. Will you?

It Takes a Hero

Shortly after the recent fires in Colorado Springs I met with a group of about 150 men who had the honor of hearing from 3 firefighters who told us of the ground level impact of fighting what experts called “a firestorm of epic proportions.” I was profoundly impressed by the selfless attitude these men and […]

“Pity the Fool”

“Pity the Fool”

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Those are the memorable words found in the journal of Jim Elliot, one of the men killed by Waorani warriors (known as Aucas at the time) in Ecuador in 1956. Their sacrifice was memorialized in a Life magazine spread, numerous books including Through Gates of Splendor, and the 2006 major motion picture End of the Spear.

I was reminded of Elliot’s words as I read this passage this morning: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” Matt. 16: 25,26.

In what ways do we men try to save our lives? By believing our significance is based on the gaining of Power, the accrual of Possessions, and the earning of Prestige. All of us who have pursued any of these knows the truth: they cannot lead to true significance and joy.  Just watch those men who continue to give all of their effort to get just a little more of each. These goals do not satisfy.

What is it that we cannot lose?

Inner joy. Joy that is based on inner confidence rather than outward striving; joy that is deeper than external circumstances.

A lasting legacy. A life lived for the benefit of others; a life that brings outward blessing rather than selfish gain; a life impact that lives on after we are gone.

An eternal reward. The reward of knowing that our significance rests in who God is and what he has done; an eternal reward from the hand of God that is based on faith rather than effort.

The man whose life is based on these truths is no fool.

How Do You Define Masculinity?

In a culture that tries to blur the God-designed differences between women and men, the question above isn’t as easy to answer as we might think. Christians might disagree with non-Christians, Baptists might disagree with Catholics, men might disagree with women. Take a look at this link. In about 1 minute Doug Wilson gives as […]

Wisdom From a Spartan

Wisdom From a Spartan

I can’t say that I’m a Michigan State fan, but now I’m a fan of this guy. Listen to what football quarterback Kirk Cousins, son of an early Willow Creek Church staff pastor, has to say about entitlement and responsibility.

These are his comments at the Big Ten Football Kickoff Luncheon. Cousins speech. A lot of wisdom from a young man.

Why Guys Love Sports

In a previous post, I raised the question of the benefits of Competition in sports, or any arena, versus the benefits of Community. Sometimes competition can seem so self-centered; while community is so other-centered. Why is it then, that when I recently came across an article I tore out of an airline magazine, that I […]