Son of Encouragement

A Man Named Joseph

Joseph was a Jewish Christian who lived in the first century. While he wasn’t extremely rich, he was a landowner. He lived in a time and place in which many of the early Christians were greatly persecuted.

One of the things Joseph did to help his fellow Christians was to sell his land and give the money he made to the group of believers in Jerusalem. However, not only were the early Christians being stripped of their money, their very lives were being threatened for following Jesus. Therefore, Joseph traveled the land to encourage those believers and to persuade them to keep on keeping on in their commitment to Christ.

He was much loved and though you’ve probably never heard Joseph’s name, the early church knew him well. He was highly regarded among them. In fact, he was so highly considered that the leaders of the early church assigned him the job of teaming up with a recent convert to the faith, a fellow who had been known for stirring up a great deal of trouble against the early church.

This new convert had been a great persecutor of the early church, but now, seemingly out of nowhere, was a disciple of Jesus. Understandably, the men and women of the early church found it difficult to trust this man.

What this new convert needed desperately was for someone greatly loved and trusted to come alongside him and help him build bridges to the rest of the early church. That’s exactly what Joseph did. In fact, Joseph did such a thorough job that he was eventually eclipsed by the mighty work God did in and through the life of this new disciple. This new disciple of Jesus became one of the most influential missionaries and theologians the Church, in any age, has ever seen.

Perhaps you have figured out who that “new convert” was. It was Saul of Tarsus who became the Apostle Paul. However, you may not be quite as sure of Joseph’s identity. Maybe you know him by his nickname: Barnabas. The name “Barnabas” meant, “Son of Encouragement,” and that’s exactly who Barnabas was. He was a great encourager.

Come Alongside Of

One of the primary definitions of the word, “encourage,” is “to come alongside of.” That’s exactly what Barnabas did.

He came alongside those in the early church when they needed money. He sold his land and gave the profits to the early church in Jerusalem.

He came alongside the persecuted believers and lifted their spirits with the message of the Gospel and by reminding them of the hope they had in God.

He came alongside Paul when he was distrusted and disliked by so many folks and helped to bring reconciliation and trust between Paul and the early churches.


Stay tuned for Part 2

Daily Surrenders

The Dilemma

No person fails on purpose. Yet, spiritual, and moral failures abound. A few years ago, I taught a lesson to my church’s men’s group which focused on temptations men face. The workbook we were using quoted C.S. Lewis on this subject and was a turning point for many in the group. Lewis wrote,

It does not matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the person away from the light and out into the nothing… Indeed, the safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

The truth communicated by Lewis rang true. It reminded me of something a former mentor of mine once said. He emphasized repeatedly that compromise comes through the smallness of our daily surrenders.

It’s giving up that little bit of personal conviction each day. It’s the little piece of candy no one will ever know you ate. It’s watching that program or visiting that website when you are all alone. You get the picture.

Usually the first surrender to “small, insignificant sins” makes it easier to fall prey to them again and again. The damage comes from the “cumulative effect” Lewis was pointing to. Few people wake up in the morning planning to sin spectacularly later in the day. Yet those daily surrenders build up over time. Give a little ground here and there and before you know it, you’re in trouble. In fact, you become practically unrecognizable, even to yourself. You didn’t plan for this to happen, but those daily surrenders were enough to do the trick.

The Solution

Therefore, we must be vigilant. We need to work from the foundation of knowing who we are in Christ. We need to count ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11). Those “daily surrenders” needn’t reign over us. The same Spirit who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead dwells in us as well.

Yet, we also need to exercise the self-awareness that recognizes those areas in our lives wherein we are weak. Every person ought to ask himself or herself: Am I being less watchful in some areas of my life than others? Even the small, seemingly insignificant areas? Am I overly confident I would never again fall prey to that particular temptation? A member of my church used to remind me often, “to be forewarned is to be forearmed.”

If you want to avoid those small daily surrenders, then pray for God to deliver you from temptation. But don’t forget to do your part. Name those temptations in advance. Talk with a godly person you trust and ask them to hold you accountable. Renew your mind daily in God’s Word. The Apostle Paul shared God’s wisdom on this point when he wrote in Philippians 4:8-9,

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

What are you thinking on?

Walking Points

  • What are those areas in your life that tempt you the most?
  • How do they usually “sneak up” on you?
  • What are some ways you can see such temptations before they get to you?
  • What are some practical things you can do to resist them once you’re confronted with them?
  • Set an appointment today with a Christian brother or sister and ask him to pray for you and to help keep you accountable.

Prayer

Merciful and patient Lord, I don’t want to sin. I don’t want to “fail on purpose.” Yet I confess to you that I have not always put in place or practiced those wise spiritual disciplines that would draw me ever closer to you and protect me from the snares of the devil and my own fleshly weaknesses. Please forgive me and renew me. As David cried out, put a right spirit within me. Give me such a desire for you that turning away from you would be the last thing on my mind. Give me greater Spirit-enabled self-discipline and self-control to practice those means of grace you have given to your children to help us conform more and more to the likeness of your Son, our Lord and Savior. For it’s in his name and for his sake I pray. Amen.

12 Point Profile of a Holy Person

J.I. Packer’s book, Rediscovering Holiness, is an extraordinary book. Holiness is a topic that is near and dear to Wesleyans (at least, it used to be… and still ought to be). It certainly was to John Wesley, and Packer “tips his hat” to both Wesley brothers throughout the book.

Of particular interest in the first chapter was Packer’s distillation of J.C. Ryle’s “12 Point Profile” of what a holy person looks like. It’s fantastic! I thought I would share bits and pieces of his list with you below. The Apostle Paul encourages us in 2 Corinthians 13:5 to examine ourselves to see if we are “in the faith.”  I can think of no better list with which to measure yourself than the following excerpts from Ryle. 

I pray the following truths will bless, encourage, convict, and lead you to greater holiness in your daily life. Print this out or write these on an index card and prayerfully reflect upon each one. You don’t get extra credit for hurrying through this list. So, take your time and let the Spirit do his work as you meditate upon each one. Let the truth of it really sink in and move in and through you.


1.) Holiness is the habit of being of one mind with God, according as we find his mind described in Scripture. It is the habit of agreeing in God’s judgment, hating what he hates, loving what he loves, and measuring everything in this world by the standard of his Word…

2.) A holy man will endeavor to shun every known sin, and to keep every known commandment. He will have… a hearty desire to do [God’s] will, a greater fear of displeasing him than of displeasing the world…

3.) A holy man will strive to be like our Lord Jesus Christ. He will not only live the life of faith in him, and draw from him all his daily peace and strength, but he will also labor to have the mind that was in him, and to be conformed to his image (Romans 8:29).

4.) A holy man will follow after meekness, longsuffering, gentleness, patience, kind tempers, government of his tongue.

5.) A holy man will follow after temperance and self-denial. He will labour to mortify the desires of his body, to crucify his flesh with his affections and lusts, to curb his passions, to restrain his carnal inclinations, lest at any time they break loose…

6.) A holy man will follow after charity and brotherly kindness.

7.) A holy man will follow after a spirit of mercy and benevolence toward others…

8.) A holy man will follow after purity of heart. He will dread all filthiness and uncleanness of spirit, and seek to avoid all things that might draw him into it.

9.) A holy man will follow after the fear of God. I do not mean the fear of a slave, who only works because he is afraid of punishment… I mean rather the fear of a child, who wishes to live and move as if he was always before his father’s face, because he loves him…

10.) A holy man will follow after humility. He will desire, in lowliness of  mind, to esteem all others better than himself. He will see more evil in his own heart than in any other in the world…

11.) A holy man will follow after faithfulness in all the duties and relations in life… Holy persons should aim at doing everything well, and should be ashamed of allowing themselves to do anything ill if they can they can help it… They should strive to be good husbands and good wives, good parents and good children, good masters and good servants, good neighbours, good friends, good subjects, good in private and good in public, good in the place of business and good by their firesides.

12.) Last, but not least, a holy man will follow after spiritual-mindedness. He will endeavour to set his affections entirely on things above, and to hold things on earth with a very loose hand… He will aim to live like one whose treasure is in heaven, and to pass through this world like a stranger and pilgrim travelling to his home. To commune with God in prayer, in the Bible, and in the assembly of his people – these things will be the holy man’s chief enjoyments.  He will value every thing and place and company, just in proportion as it draws him nearer to God…


Lofty standards indeed, but biblical ones all the same. How are you doing when you compare yourself to this list? I always feel the need to counsel people who read such lists that if you are squirming as you compare yourself to a list like this, let the conviction you feel do its work, but not condemnation. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). But that verse is not a “get out of jail free card” that relieves us of our pursuit of holiness.

Instead, like Pilgrim learned in Pilgrim’s Progress, the crushing experience he had as he climbed Mount Sinai was more than he could bear. He needed the Cross. He needed his enormous bag of sinful burden to roll off his back and into the empty tomb. So do we. Let Ryle’s list, and others like the Sermon on the Mount, some of the Apostle Paul’s lists, etc., encourage you to run to grace and the forgiveness and strength available to us there in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God.

One Hundred Godly Men

The Mission

I’m on a mission. I’m searching for one hundred godly men.

John Wesley once wrote in a letter…

“Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen, such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven upon earth.” (From a letter by John Wesley to Alexander Mather in 1777)

For Wesley, “preachers” didn’t have to be what we call professionals. Instead, the proclamation of the Gospel and the witness of and for God’s Kingdom was to be done by every person who follows Christ. The undergirding biblical witness of Wesley’s words inspires and provokes in me a strong desire to see one hundred godly men in my community fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God. If such a faithful fellowship of one hundred brothers in Christ could be cultivated and encouraged, it would transform our little corner of the world for Christ.

A Grand Vision

Is this too grand a vision? Thomas Chalmers once said, “No matter how large, your vision is too small.” In other words, nothing is impossible for God and therefore, we must dream big. I believe this vision for one hundred godly men is well within the reach of a sovereign and gracious God. Of course, my desire is not only for my community. Instead, my prayer is that bands of one hundred godly men will spring up in countless “little corners of the world.”

The Nature of the Call

This is not a call to nominal or cultural Christianity. It is a call to what John Wesley described as Scriptural Christianity (what I have referred to as Kingdom Discipleship). Following Christ in such a way steers clear of halfhearted and mere intellectual belief in Jesus. Instead, it’s the terrifying and exhilarating call of discipleship our Lord warned must be responded to first by counting the cost of following him daily. This does not produce a privatized or compartmentalized faith. Instead, it develops a faith that is passed from one person to another, from one generation to the next. As salt and light, this faith permeates every sphere of a person’s life, in homes, workplaces, communities, cities, and, ultimately, the world.

The Real Counterculture

I once heard pastor and writer, Tony Evans, preach these words,

  • As the man goes, so goes the family
  • As the family goes, so goes the church
  • As the church goes, so goes the community
  • As the community goes, so goes the city
  • As the city goes, so goes the state, the nation, finally the world

This, I believe, is nothing less than Scriptural Christianity, than Kingdom Discipleship.

Our world is in great need of such men of God, for they are truly, in our day and age, the real counterculture and one of God’s primary provisions for a lost and hurting world. Such men are ambassadors of the King of kings, and therefore, minister and bear witness to the kingdom of this world under his authority and according to his agenda. They have no message but his. And not only are they called to proclaim this message, but they must also live it out before a watching world. The motivation of their mission is love for their Lord and their neighbor.

Join Me

This mission to find such men is part of God’s call in my life. Through Bible studies, small groups, one-to-one discipling, mentoring, spiritual direction, counseling, and writing, I am prayerfully working to help and encourage available and willing men become the kind of men God has created, redeemed, and called them to be. I believe God is calling you to be such a man. Join me on this journey.

What’s Your Reputation?

He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap. (1 Timothy 3:7)

You have probably heard the definition of character as, “who you are when no one is looking.” You could also say that character is who you are when those who know you best are looking.

In the second chapter of The Measure of a Man, Gene Getz looks at what it takes to build a good reputation. This is rather a tricky area because some folks may enjoy a good reputation superficially because they’re able to reasonably fake it before people they don’t know well and with whom they associate only on an occasional basis. But living a life that builds a good reputation is hard to fake on a regular basis with those who know you best… such as the members of your family.

Let me hasten to add that the expectation here is not perfection. As one person I recently read put it, the idea here is direction, not perfection. The question is: Are you moving in a Christlike direction in your life? Is that your intention?

In our Scripture, Paul recommends to Timothy that the kind of person he should be looking for to exercise leadership in the church ought to have a good reputation. Christians are charged with hypocrisy enough as it is. And even if the charge isn’t always accurate, the mere perception can derail a life or a ministry. Worse still, we don’t want to misrepresent our Lord before a watching world.

Getz suggests that Timothy was such a person… a man with a good reputation. He highlights these three  indicators…

1. People were saying positive things about Timothy.
2. More than one person was saying these positive things about Timothy.
3. People in more than one location were saying these positive things about Timothy.

It seems wherever Timothy was and whomever he was with, Timothy was a godly man living above reproach. Thus, he enjoyed a good reputation.

Ask Someone

Getz suggests that if you really want to know your reputation (as it relates to your genuine character) ask someone who knows you best. This might sting a little, but it’s a good way to get an honest and accurate perception of who you are… and it will go a long way in helping you become the godly person you want to become.

Ask Yourself

Just as important, we occasionally need to conduct a personal assessment of who we are and what we’re about. Getz suggests asking yourself the following questions (these are great questions, by the way)

1. Do more and more people select me as a person to share their lives with?

2. Do people trust me with confidential information?

3. Do my relationships with people grow deeper and more significant the longer they know me and the closer they get to me? Or do my friendships grow strained and shallow as people learn what I am really like?

4. Does my circle of friends grow continually wider and larger? Do an increasing number of people trust me?

5. Do people recommend me for significant or difficult tasks without fear of my letting them down?

The point in all of this is not to build a reputation by duplicity and manipulation. To be sure, there are plenty of people doing that. Instead, our goal should be that as we grow in godliness, the authenticity of our increasingly Christlike character will be made evident to all. And that’s how we can represent our Lord well in this world.

Ultimately, those of us who are in Christ are seeking to advance the glory of our Lord’s reputation, and not our own. But we can’t avoid the connection that our reputation will be linked to his, so let us live lives above reproach and for his praise and glory.

Godly Manhood: The Real Counterculture

A Definition

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines counterculture as…

a culture with values and mores that run counter to those of established society

I was taught that you shouldn’t define a word by using the word you’re attempting to define in the definition… but what do I know? Yet there you have it: A counterculture is a culture with values and mores, (customs) that run counter to those of established society.

If that’s our working definition, then I have a question: Can you think of any group or culture more “countercultural” than men pursuing godliness? This is not a group or category of people that gets good press in today’s world.

Stepping Up

About ten years ago, our men’s ministry used a fantastic curriculum entitled, Stepping Up to Courageous Manhood. It’s a 10-week study that seeks to answer the question of what it means to be a godly man.

One of the things that seemed to connect with the men, continually throughout the ten weeks, was just how counter to our popular culture, godly or biblical manhood really is. From the basic values we hold dear, to how we seek to love and serve our families, to the ways in which we desire to care for our communities, it became clearer and clearer throughout the course of the study who the real counterculture actually was… and is.

Within the wider culture there are many subcultures, of which godly manhood is only one. I’m sure there must be a good number of these subcultures that are also countercultural. But certainly, men pursuing authentic godliness must be ranked among them. And the reason is, this godliness runs counter to the “established society.” It operates according to a different standard. And men who pursue this godliness, this view of manhood, are slandered from top to bottom. The hermeneutic of suspicion is through the roof. There must be some ulterior motive why men would champion such a worldview. It must be a power-play… and on and on it goes.

Its unpopular and unwelcomed status as a life worth pursuing makes the journey that much more difficult to travel. Who needs that headache? It will just be easier to live as an undercover Christian, with personal faith convictions hidden from the rest of the world. Yet that’s not an option for men (or women) who follow Christ. In fact, Jesus told his followers they should expect such a response from the world (John 15:18-20).

If you want to join a real counterculture, then give yourself to Christ, follow him, worship him with others, get connected with men who study his word and pray together, who watch over one another in love, and serve others in need and distress. These characteristics have distinguished God’s people for two thousand years and will continue to do so. And know in advance that such a way of living, which seems like such a blessing for the common good, will not always be received as such. And that’s ok.

Going along with the world, like drifting with the current, is easy. The problem is, you won’t like where you end up and you’ll have little say in the matter. Therefore, let me encourage you to get connected with a group of Christian men at a church near you, and join the real counterculture today. The world needs you… and so does your family, church, workplace, and community (Matthew 5:13-16).

Finding Your Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy

One-On-One Discipleship

In my reading over the years I’ve been often reminded of how important one-to-one ministry is in the course of one’s Christian journey. In working with men in particular, I’ve observed that as a man invests his life into the life of another man, real growth can occur in remarkable ways. This is one of the key ways our faith has been passed down through the centuries. And I can certainly attest to the power and influence such a ministry has played in my own walk with Christ.

A helpful way of thinking about one-on-one ministry is to think about three names: PaulBarnabas, and Timothy. Below is a description of what each name represents as we think in terms of ministering to other men.

Paul

1.) Paul represents that person in your life who mentors, leads, and directs you. This is the man who comes along side you to disciple you on your pilgrimage of faith and life. This is someone who has traveled further down the road of faith and life than you. He doesn’t have to be a great deal older than you, but it probably ought to be someone who has walked faithfully with God long enough and far enough for you to profit from his wisdom – his reflected-upon experience, study of God’s Word, etc. And it usually is the case that, though not exclusively so, this man will be older than you as well. But, as I said, sometimes this simply means, “older in the faith.”

I hasten to add that you must beware of someone who says he has been a Christian for 25 years when in reality, he has been a Christian for only one year, 25 years in a row. In other words, there has been no growth and maturation over that 25 years. My own observation as a pastor is that this sort of person abounds in the church. There are many people who, by their own admission, haven’t learned much more about God’s Word and walking along the road with him, than when they were children in Vacation Bible School. And so brothers, you must be careful about this. Pray for discernment.

Also, just because a man is at the top of his game in his profession, does not mean he is likewise mature and advanced in his faith. Success in one field of endeavor doesn’t necessarily mean success in another area of life. As I heard one person describe it, a man may have a Ph.D. in psychology, but have a second grade Sunday school degree in Bible. This is not the sort of man you want to have as your Paul.

Barnabas

2.) Barnabas is someone who encourages you and holds you accountable in your faith and life. This is more or less a mutual friendship, or what’s called in the world of spiritual formation, a “spiritual friendship.” In the book of Acts, Paul and Barnabas traveled together side by side. Barnabas was a key person in Paul’s life, especially at the beginning of his walk with Christ when he introduced Paul to the Christian community. Their relationship then became one of mutual encouragement, ministry, and accountability.

There are men I have discipled for years who have gone from being a Timothy in my life to becoming a Barnabas to me. And while I can still disciple them, they also minister to me in many ways.

Timothy

3.) Timothy is that man you help guide along the road of faith and life. This is generally someone who has not traveled as far as you have in your walk with Christ. Such a man is marked (or should be) by an eagerness to grow in his relationship with Christ and is humble and teachable enough to receive what you have to share and to interact with you on the things of faith and life.

This “mark of a Timothy” should not be ignored just for the sake of having a Timothy. There are many smart guys out there who don’t have teachable spirits. They feel they have nothing to learn from another man. So too, some are indifferent to the things of God. Timothy, Paul’s “son in the faith,” as Paul called him, was humble, teachable, and eager to know, love, and follow God through Jesus Christ. So too, a “Timothy” shouldn’t expect to only receive guidance and wisdom from his “Paul,” but should plan on becoming a Paul himself one day so he can begin the whole process over again with another man.

This is a process in a man’s life that ought to last a lifetime and be produced, reproduced, and multiplied over and over again throughout the course of the man’s lifetime, as well as in the lives of the men in whom he invests. We are Christians today, humanly speaking, because those who went before us were faithful to this process.

In sum, we need to be a Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy and we need to have a Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy. Such men in our lives are gifts from God. And we have the blessed opportunity to be such gifts to other men.

Walking Points

·         Who is your Paul? To whom are you a Paul? Describe those relationships.
·         Who is your Barnabas? To whom are you a Barnabas? Describe those relationships.
·         Who is your Timothy? To whom are you a Timothy? Describe those relationships.
·         If you drew a blank on any of those questions, begin praying for God to bring men into your life who will invest in you, or who will be open to you investing in them.