Daily Devotional from David Niednagel. David uses the S.O.A.P. method in his time of daily meditation and study. (study, observe, apply, pray)
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 We never give up
2 Cor. 4:16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. NLT
“We never give up!” Never? Isn’t there a time to give up? No! Why? Because when someone with Christ living inside is “broken”, the light of Christ shines out. Paul’s life was Christ (Phil 1:21) and his message was Christ. And the message was so unusual, it took more than words. Jesus’ life of humility, serving and brokenness must be displayed, not just described. So Paul gladly endured the rejection and violence because he was confident that it was a necessary part of evangelism and discipleship. (Col 1:24) And rather than getting more discouraged and depressed, his spirit was being renewed more every day. How did he do that?
He kept reminding himself that the persecution wouldn’t be too severe (they could only kill his body and Jesus would raise it back up) and it wouldn’t last too long (seldom more than 70 years). He also claimed that he would share in Christ’s glory when He comes with his angels (Rom 8:17-18; 2 Thes 1:7-10) and it would more than make up for whatever disrespect and shame others tried to dump on him. Everything visible (our clothes, cars, houses, bodies, etc) is temporary, so he was thankful for them and used them and cared for them, but he could let them go. Life was more than things.
But there were things that would last, and they were not “things”. They were the souls of humans and the glory of the eternal God. Paul taught himself to fix his vision on those things that were invisible.
Lord of Glory, You humbled Yourself, gave up everything, but were raised up and will receive everything back for eternity. I praise Your humility and Your majesty! And thank You that You have chosen to share it all with us. Help me consider it as much a privilege to suffer for You as to believe in You (Phil 1:27-29), and be as faithful as Paul was. Help me fix my eyes on the glory You will share with us, more than on the cars and things of this world. Lord, may my spirit be renewed every day even as my body wears out, and may Your life shine out through me. Amen!
Article by Joe Rigney, Professor, Bethlehem College and Seminary
I’m not necessarily aiming to win you to my joy in baseball. What I do hope to do in focusing on my particular joy in baseball isillustrate how to enjoy God himself through his created world.
I’ve selected baseball as the case study because it’s a thick joy, a complex joy, with many layers. Some joys are simple and direct. You eat honey and then you go straight to God. Honey is good. God is good. But other joys are complex and interwoven and take us deeper into the world first, before they take us Godward.
Psalm 19 shows us that the heavens declare the glory of God in a thick and indirect way. The sun moving across the sky is like a bridegroom on his wedding night, and like a mighty warrior running into battle (Psalm 19:4–5). So, if you want to hear the glory of God in the heavens, you have to first dive deeply into weddings and marriage and battles and manhood and the sun. You have to explore the thickness of creation in order to know and enjoy God clearly in it.
Enjoying the Perfect Game
That’s the kind of thick joy that baseball is for me. First, there is the physical aspect. Running, throwing, hitting, catching, coaching — all of these require physical effort and skill, which engage us as embodied beings.
Second, there’s the recreational aspect. Baseball, like many forms of recreation, provides a respite from the cares and burdens of life.
Third, there’s a philosophical aspect. Baseball is “a perfect game” — so claims David Bentley Hart in his essay by that title. Hart says that baseball may be America’s greatest contribution to the history of civilization.
He rightly notes that baseball is distinct from most other sports, which are basically about moving a ball from one end of the court or field or pitch to the other in order to score more goals or points than the other team before time runs out. Baseball is different. There’s no clock, only 27 outs, which means, as Yogi Berra famously said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” As long as there is one out, one strike left, anything can happen.
There’s the exact fittingness of the dimensions — ninety feet between the bases, and sixty feet and six inches from the rubber to the plate. Everything so exquisitely timed that a ball fielded cleanly in the infield is almost always an out, but a slight bobble is almost always a hit.
It’s a team sport with a decidedly individualistic bent, as pitcher and hitter stare each other down with little to no help from anyone else. There are the tactics and strategies that change from inning to inning and pitch to pitch. There’s the seasonal movement from the promising brightness of spring training to the dog days of summer to the intensity of autumn (and the knowledge that all good things come to an end).
As Hart also notes, baseball recalls the innocence of Eden, as well as the intrusion of evil into paradise, whenever the Yankees come to town. These be deep matters, and the philosophically inclined among us have much to ponder in America’s pastime.
Fourth, there’s a social dimension to the enjoyment — the teamwork, the shared training that builds brotherhood and camaraderie.
Fifth, for me, there’s a multifaceted familial dimension. My grandfather played and managed in the majors. My dad worked in the front office for minor league teams. My father-in-law has been an Astros fan since the sixties and got to experience, in person, the greatest game in Astros history (Game 5 of the 2017 World Series) with his wife and two children.
There’s the bonding with my boys as I practice and play with them. And there’s a nostalgic dimension for me now, as I coach my boys, and remember my childhood when my dad taught me to throw and hit, and I played in the front yard with my brothers.
Finally, there’s a bittersweet dimension, because five years ago, we buried my dad after a seven-year battle with dementia, and I miss him most on the baseball diamond. I wish he could see my boys play. In short, for me, baseball is a thickly woven thing of earth.
How Natural Joys Become Joys in God
But joy in baseball is a natural joy. There is nothing spiritual about it. So how does my joy in baseball become a joy in God? That’s the question Christian Hedonists ask. There are hundreds of answers to this question. I’ll give four.
1. Baseball trains future men.
Joy in playing and coaching baseball becomes joy in God when I recognize that physical training has some value, including value as a picture of training in godliness (1 Timothy 4:8). A significant part of that value is in raising boys to become men.
Baseball, like many sports, creates the opportunity for channeling masculinity in fruitful directions. Baseball awakens ambition, competition, the drive for excellence, intense emotions in victory and defeat. These are all good, but dangerous. Coaching my sons in baseball is an opportunity to train them to master these emotions and to cultivate humility, patience, diligence, perseverance, and joy in all circumstances. Such habits of natural virtue and self-mastery are a crucial part of growth in maturity and are of great use in cultivating spiritual virtue and godliness.
2. Baseball allows me to express God’s heart to my sons.
Joy in baseball becomes joy in God when I share joy with my sons and therefore love them by showing them what God is like. We know the distinct delight of introducing another person to one of our favorite pleasures. The pleasure of sharing is distinct in kind from the pleasure of the object or activity. It’s one thing to enjoy reading a book that I love; it’s another flavor of joy to give that book to my son whom I expect will also love it and find that he does. The anticipation of sharing that story with him, of seeing him light up at the same parts, of entering into the joy for the first time, is its own reward. This is what parents are: the bringers and introducers of joys.
God is like that. He is a hedonist at heart, as C.S. Lewis wrote. He loves to be the bringer of joys. One reason he made the universe is so that there could be some third thing which he could bring to us, eyes aflame with knowing expectation, and say, “Here you go. Try it.”
We catch a glimpse in the creation of Eve — Adam’s solitude, God’s recognition that it’s not good, the failed attempt at finding a helper among the beasts, and then the deep sleep, the awakening, the triumphant “At last!” I can’t help picture God with a sly grin as he builds the woman from Adam’s rib. He pictures the scene when Adam awakes; he anticipates the euphoria, the way that parents anticipate their children’s joy on Christmas Eve as they place the presents around the tree.
I know it’s an analogy; God is, after all, simple and timeless, without shadow of turning (or anticipation). Whatever likeness there is between my experience as the bringer of joy to my sons and God’s experience of bringing joy to us, there is also a great unlikeness, because God is not in time, God is not complex, God does not anticipate, God does not change. But despite that unlikeness, I believe that the likeness is real. My joy in sharing baseball with my boys is something like God’s joy in sharing everything with me, including baseball.
3. Baseball helps me toward holiness.
Joy in baseball becomes joy in God when it helps me to kill sin and pursue holiness. When I’m on the field, burdens lift. There’s a much-needed respite from the pressures of life and ministry, an echo of Eden, which I deliberately wield in the fight of faith. When I’m shaping my boys into men and sharing joy with them and showing them what God is like, I’m doing what I was made for.
And so, in coaching, I feel God’s pleasure. And in feeling God’s pleasure, I put my sin to death. I’m a better husband, a better father, a better pastor. When I wield baseball in the fight for holiness, joy in baseball becomes joy in God.
4. Baseball points me to the world to come.
The bittersweetness of my dad’s absence brings a note of earthly sorrow and heavenly hope into the present joy. In other words, my sorrow on the field points me forward to the day when sorrows and sighings flee away. My sadness because of my dad’s absence on that baseball field is a reminder of the coming day when, as Tolkien said, everything sad comes untrue.
I sometimes imagine heaven as a little-league baseball game, with my boys playing, me coaching, and my dad watching. It’s a joy I’ll never have on earth. I don’t know that I’ll have it in heaven. I have no idea how the distinct joy of playing catch with a 7-year-old while being watched by a 70-year-old could be there. How old will we be in heaven?
A mother knows that the pleasure of holding her newborn is one of the highest joys of her life. But how can there be newborns in heaven? And isn’t my heavenly baseball game just like a barren woman who pictures herself in heaven rocking her newborn to sleep? What is the point of imagining such impossibilities?
But in my case, the heavenly ball game is not what I really want. The ball game is a placeholder for something. It’s a way of reaffirming my belief in Revelation 21:4: “he will wipe away every tear from my eyes.” It’s my way of believing the promises of God.
But God didn’t promise me the baseball game with my sons and my dad. That’s true. But he did promise, “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).
All things, including the baseball game and the barren woman’s child. Either heaven will have my ball game, or something better. Either heaven will see the barren woman with her baby, or something better. But since I have no clear picture of what the “something better” might be, I project my greatest desires (which are often the converse of my greatest earthly sorrows) and then say, “Even better than that.”
Make Imagination Serve Your Joy
So you see, the exercise is not in vain. The fact that the mind of man has not conceived what God has prepared for those who love him doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t exercise our mental muscles, just as the fact that the love of Christ surpasses knowledge doesn’t mean that we should cease trying to know it. Pushing the limits of our conceptions (provided we remember that they are only our conceptions) doesn’t threaten the joys of heaven. No one will be disappointed, least of all me. We work out our imaginations here so that we can, metaphorically speaking, give God’s omnipotent goodness a workout there.
Joy in the things of earth become joys in God when they are
received and recognized as pictures of spiritual reality and on-ramps to spiritual virtue,
shared with others as a way of loving them,
wielded as a weapon in the fight of faith, and
enjoyed (or grieved) as a way of anticipating the joys of the new heaven and new earth.
And that’s just a sample. There are countless variations and combinations of earthly joys, custom-made for each one of us, all designed as invitations from God to know and delight in God. Each joy individually, and all earthly joys together, are calling us to go further up and higher in to the life of the God of all pleasure.
When enjoyed rightly, they transform the idolatry and ingratitude of Romans 1 into the thanksgiving and adoration of the renewed heart. Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father, and every good and perfect gift is designed to lead us back to the Father of lights, in whose presence is fullness of joy and at whose right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Friends: The ‘reason’ that people cannot see or know the beauty and glory of God ‘is because’ they are unable to do so. It is not that they are unwilling…no. It is that they are unwilling because they are unable. Today, please pray for 2 people who are in your circle of relationships who are unable to see our glorious God. Pray that God will remove the veil that the dark side has placed over their spiritual eyes ‘so that’ they can come to know and see Him who is our God and King.
2 Corinthians 4:1-4 Spiritual blindness
Today’s devotional is from pastor David Niednagel. David uses the S.O.A.P. method in his daily devotional time (study, observe, apply, pray).
4:1 Therefore, since God in his mercy has given us this new way, we never give up. 2 We reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don’t try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this. 3 If the Good News we preach is hidden behind a veil, it is hidden only from people who are perishing. 4Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.NLT
Paul’s message of the New Covenant was “veiled” to some. They didn’t understand it and rejected it, but Paul did not change it to get more people to accept it, because he knew there was nothing better! This New Covenant where God met all the requirements and offered people all the benefits sounded too good to be true. It was so different from the Old Covenant where the Jews had to be obedient to everything first before they received the blessings. Here the blessings came first, and obedience was the heart response of all those who understood what God had done.
The “veiling” was not lack of intelligence, but spiritual blindness. Satan did not want people to know who Jesus really was/is, or to understand grace. I don’t think any other religions, then or now, have a God who is both righteous and gracious. Some have a god who forgives, but there is no record of any other God who humbled Himself and took the punishment of the people, where He maintained His righteousness and paid the price for forgiveness.
Lord Jesus, You are amazing! Thank You for Your sacrifice for us while maintaining Your righteousness. Thank You for removing the veil from my eyes and giving me the privilege of telling the message to many others. I pray You would give me many more opportunities to declare that, and in every case, for You to go before me and remove the veil and blindness from the hearts of those who hear it, so they can call out for Your grace and forgiveness. Amen
Do Human Technologies Ever Threaten God’s Sovereignty?
Article by John Piper
Story of Babel
Before I try to answer that question, let’s look at the story from the bible about the Tower of Babel. It’s a really interesting story, and let’s see if addresses this articles question:
“I think the point of the text is that man’s efforts to compete with God are pathetically weak and futile.”
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. (Genesis 11:1–5)
I think that’s sarcasm. This tall tower that’s going to reach into the heaven can’t even be seen from heaven. I love it. The story continues,
And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. “Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth. (Genesis 11:6–9)
A Small Tall Tower
Now, Noah is saying that it sounds like God was threatened by these humans getting out of hand, and he wonders if God is threatened today by a far superior technology than burning bricks and putting them together with bitumen. If Noah is asking, “Does the text teach that there are, resident in human nature, ingenuities and abilities that, left uncheck by God, would frustrate God’s purposes and thus vie for the very place of God?” then there are two ways to answer it.
First, observe that the first point of the text seems to be that this effort on man’s part to build a tower with its top in the heavens was ridiculously futile. God had to, so to speak, come down in order to see it. I think the point of the text is that man’s efforts to compete with God are pathetically weak and futile.
So, the first answer to the question seems to be that even if God doesn’t intervene the way he did by confusing the languages, the human race is never going to attain the upper hand over its Creator by building its way to God’s throne by any technology whatsoever. That’s the first answer, which I think is implied in the text.
God Is God
The second answer is more important. I think we see it when we ponder the very nature of Noah’s question. The more I think about this question, the more it sounds like this: Would God be threatened by man — man’s ingenuities and man’s abilities — if God were not God? In other words, would God be threatened by man’s action if God could not sovereignly counter man’s actions at any time and in any way he pleases? The answer would be “Well, yes. God would be threatened by the glory of men if God were another creature like man rather than being the all-glorious, all-powerful God.” But he is God.
“God would be threatened by the glory of men if God were another creature like man rather than being the all-glorious God.”
God calmly puts man in his place. God is not threatened by any of man’s ingenuity or capacities because he can and does frustrate all of them at any moment, in any way he pleases, which is what he did in Genesis 11:7. He confused the language.
In other words, the point of the story is precisely that God cannot be threatened by man’s designs or actions because God is God. God is sovereign over all man’s designs and actions. If man begins to achieve things that God does not want them to achieve, God simply stops them. He takes the steps necessary to frustrate their designs. That’s the point. They were taking steps to do things that were highly damaging to the human soul, and highly dishonoring to God. So God just stopped them.
He could have stopped them in one hundred ways. They could have gotten sick. They could have had opposition. I mean, good night, he had a hundred ways he could have stopped them, and he chose to do it by confusing their language.
There are two answers to whether God is threatened today by the amazing technology and ability of the human race. First, he’s not threatened because all our most advanced technology is simply child’s play as far as God is concerned. Our most advanced physics and artificial intelligence is a kindergarten primer in God’s library — at best. We’re talking about God here.
Second, he is not threatened because at any moment in one hundred ways, he can simply thwart the plans of science, business, technology, and nations. That’s what Psalm 33:10 says: “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples.” That would apply to all science, all business, all education, all technology, all industry, all military. “The Lord brings the counsel of man to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples.”
Now, both of these answers, I think, are implied in Genesis 11. The great achievement of the tower is pathetic in God’s eyes, and he can frustrate any pathetic human plan he pleases.
God’s Sovereign Plans Behind Our Most Unproductive Days
Article by John Piper
How is God at work in our most unproductive days, when it feels as though we’ve accomplished nothing and fallen far short of our own plans and expectations? Those days are frustrating to us, but they are not outside of God’s sovereign power. It leads to today’s question on what efficiency looks like in the first place, a very good question from a listener named Melinda.
I will explain what I mean by “God’s priorities for efficiency in this life are not ours.” But let me say first, right off the bat, that the reason I want anybody to know that is not so that they can get more done, but so that they do what they do in the right spirit. That’s preface over everything I have to say.
Now what do I mean by saying, “God’s priorities for efficiency in this life are not ours”? I mean that our priority may be that between 10:00 and 11:00 this morning I planned to run to the bank and get some cash so that I can be back in time to pay the teenager who is cutting my grass while a neighbor watches my two- and four-year-old for me. That’s the plan.
“Frustrating human efficiency is one of God’s primary means of sanctifying grace.”
You feel good — I’m making this up — that you very efficiently worked. You feel good that you worked it out. You worked it out so that the neighbor was available, the teenager could come, and you could get to the bank and get back before both of them had other engagements.
Those are your priorities, and you have an efficient plan: cut grass, kids watched, bank trip made, boy paid, everyone off to their next engagement. Victory. Efficiency. That’s what I mean by “our efficiency.”
However, God in this case has a totally different set of priorities.
Your neighbor was scheduled to be at a real estate office at 11:30 a.m. so she could join her husband to close on a new house — a house which, unbeknownst to them, has a flawed foundation. The teenager was planning to take his money from cutting the grass and pool it with some of the guys and buy some drugs that they shouldn’t be using. You hit a traffic jam caused by a rollover of a semi (which has another story behind it). You’re locked up on the freeway for an hour. You never even get to the bank.
You rush home as fast as you can, but you get there an hour late. You have no money to pay the boy, and your neighbor has missed her appointment. You are frustrated almost to tears.
Your efficiency proved utterly useless to accomplish your priorities. You failed, but God’s priorities totally succeeded. He wanted to hinder that boy from buying drugs, he wanted to spare the neighbor from purchasing a house that’s a lemon, and he wanted to grow your faith in his sovereign wisdom and sovereignty.
Now, that’s what I mean by “God’s priorities for efficiency in this life are not ours.”
Joseph’s Slow Journey
In my view, this isn’t happening just now and then; it’s happening all the time. When you read the Bible, you see in virtually every book the story of God doing things that are not the way humans would do them or want them done. God almost never takes the shortest route between point A and point B.
“You’re not being measured by God by how much you get done.”
The reason is that such efficiency — the efficiency of speed and directness — is not what he’s about. His purpose is to sanctify the traveler, not speed him between A and B. Frustrating human efficiency is one of God’s primary — I say primary, not secondary — means of sanctifying grace.
The story of Joseph in Genesis 37–50 is one of the clearest examples, right? Joseph is hated by his brothers, thrown in a pit, sold into slavery, sold to Potiphar, accused of sexual harassment, thrown into prison, forgotten by Pharaoh’s butler, then finally — seventeen years in? — made vice president of Egypt so that he could save his family from starvation.
The moral of the story comes in Genesis 50:20. Joseph says to his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” God had an agenda. God had a plan. God meant it for good.
It’s as if he said, “You guys, you rascals, were the ‘traffic jam’ that kept me from getting to the bank for seventeen years. But God was positioning me to be the savior of my people, and he was in no hurry. I was being tested at every single point. Would I trust him with his seemingly meaningless inefficiency? It wasn’t meaningless.”
Paul’s Change of Plans
When Paul was trying to get to Spain, he did so with a good plan. He had a plan — he had a really good plan. He basically said, “I’m going to go to Jerusalem and deliver the money. Then I’m going to get on a boat, go to Rome, gather some support, and end my life in Spain.” What a great plan. But then he found himself in prison in Rome. What did he say?
He says it in Philippians 1:12–13: “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.”
His priorities for efficiently getting to Spain were shattered, but God’s purposes to evangelize the imperial guard in Rome stayed right on track.
A Daily Plan
Here’s the implication for all of us:
“Efficiency of speed and directness is not what God is about. His purpose is to sanctify the traveler.”
By all means, make your list of to-dos for the day. By all means, get as good at that as you can get. Prioritize the list. Get first things first. Make your plan. Do the very best you can. Go ahead and read a book about it.
Then walk in the peace and freedom that, when it shatters on the rocks of reality, which it will most days, you’re not being measured by God by how much you get done. You’re being measured by whether you trust the goodness and the wisdom and the sovereignty of God to work this new mess of inefficiency for his glory and the good of everyone involved, even when you can’t see how.
Article by Greg Morse, Staff Writer, desiringGod.org
I can still remember being startled by the thought: Jesus doesn’t seem very nice.
Unquestionably compassionate, gracious, and patient, Jesus also said and did things that, as I read through Mark, surprised me. The kind of things that today would get him trolled on Twitter and flagged on Facebook.
It was then that I began to think that if Jesus was not “nice,” if he — the one to whom all Christian women also look (2 Corinthians 3:18), and yet, the epitome of a godly man — did not fit within my vision for manhood, then it, not he, needed to change. The more I considered him — the more I considered the long lineage of godly men in the Scriptures — the more I stood confronted: Could these fit within my current conceptions of masculinity?
What about your conception? When you consider a good Christian husband, an upstanding churchman, a godly man, what qualities come to mind?
Traits such as generous, thoughtful, agreeable? Is this man slow to impose, quick to listen, ready to sympathize? Does he speak gently and serve graciously? Does he routinely defer to others’ preferences? Something about this ideal seems unquestionably right — but if this tender side is all, it also should strike us as uncomfortably wrong.
Godly men will indeed emanate compassion, humility, service, and love. This is true. But is this the whole truth? Has the ideal of manhood in the modern church become just a gentle shadow of what God made it to be?
Not Safe, but Good
When we teach about masculinity, do qualities like strength, initiative, zeal, and courage make our list? When we assess men for church office, and when we look for small group leaders and godly mentors, do we commend men who would make good shepherds — industrious, passionate, resilient men, able to corral sheep and willing to combat wolves?
Do we celebrate male strength, courage, zeal, and initiative because we know these are required in order to guard, protect, subdue, and lead? Such men of God who are gentle exactly because they are first strong? Men like Gandalf, who, after exuding his strength of presence, could then softly say to Bilbo, “I am not trying to rob you. I am trying to help you.” A tiger, not a kitten, can exhibit gentleness because he is first strong.
Endangered is that species of lionhearted masculinity that bears Aslan’s description: “not safe, but good.” Our present ideals, like the ones I once held, do not require goodness to make men safe, because they ensure that men are safe regardless of goodness. The man reborn in this image says nothing uncomfortable, rallies no charge, and shows little, if any, initiative. He is goaded to be convictionless, passionless, perhaps even Christless, if but subdued.
But such is not the vision of he who made man. Instead of blunting his sharp edges, God has a different solution for creating good men: rebirth, looking to Christ, and training in righteousness. Godliness must balance his natural perils. He achieves mature manhood through adding the fruit of the Spirit, not subtracting his God-designed nature. Kindness, self-control, compassion flavor his strength, courage, determination — not eclipse them.
Where Have the Men Gone?
Such men — gentle and strong — present a paradox to the world. His hands build up his household, wrestle with his boys, sip tea with his daughters, and grip the hilt of his Sword against the agents of darkness (Ephesians 6:10–20). He is a godly warrior who sleeps in his armor — fierce and meek and good wherever he finds himself. The description can, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, be redeemed: “Thou wert the meekest man that ever ate in hall among ladies; and thou wert the sternest knight to thy mortal foe that ever put spear in the rest” (Le Morte D’Arthur).
We err when we divide the two: brutal on the one hand, soft on the other. While our society increasingly chooses the latter, some wonder: Where have all the men gone?
We can read, as of an alien species, about men who “through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight” (Hebrews 11:33–34). Men who actively sought for glory, honor, and immortality. Men of faith who hoped for a better country than the one they had. Men who risked much, lost much, and gained more. Men who lived by faith in the living God.
Lukewarm religion, let’s never forget, makes for lukewarm masculinity. And lukewarm masculinity allows too many men to pass by church doors in favor of Islam, Jordan Peterson, or simply ESPN on the road to destruction.
Dying Flame of Masculinity
As I surveyed the lineage of godly men, I honestly wondered how many saints of old would feel discomfort with the feminization, not only of our society, but also in some of our churches.
Would we emasculate men of old? Would we not chide Abraham for wandering, Jacob for wrestling, Joshua for fighting, Elijah for mocking, Noah for madness, Job for arrogance, Daniel for incivility, Nehemiah for violence, Nathan for high-handedness, John the Baptist for name-calling, Paul for divisiveness, and the Son of God for brandishing a whip and turning over tables in the temple?
Have we chosen the conveniences of niceness over the discomforts of godliness? I fear someday lying comfortably beneath the inscription, “Here lies a father, husband, churchgoer — just a really nice guy.”
“Nice” says nothing of spine, of edge, of valor, and thus it can say little of righteousness or purpose. Nice requires no courage, no conviction, and no willingness to make enemies with the wicked. Jesus warns against such palatability: “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26).
Now, we may be tempted, where we have swerved off the road, to overcorrect the error. This would lead us into the other ditch of parasitic strength. Such abominations endure in our day, in all their cruelty, abuse, and cowardice. We must not exchange “good, but not strong” for “strong, but not good.” We cannot charge forth in the flesh instead of being led by the Spirit. We must not settle with feeling like men in our own strength; we must become better men through divine power and self-sacrifice.
Men Set Ablaze
One step on the road to recovery is to reemphasize that unnerving trait of many men of old: godly jealousy. We must reclaim the pulse and convictions of a godly man, not just his actions.
Our God is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5). He will not share his glory, or bride, with another. And he fashions men who increasingly burn with his own righteous jealousy. These men, ablaze with zeal for the glory of God, for the health of the church, and for the souls of the lost, will, in certain circumstances, erupt to shatter the status quo. Zeal for the glory of God — not cultural civility or secular sensitivity — is the proper harness for biblical manhood. Godly jealousy makes good men dangerous — to the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Consider Moses, the meekest man on the earth (Numbers 12:3). Enraged by his people’s idolatry to break God’s tablets, he melted their golden calf, and made them drink it (Exodus 32:20). His love for his people and God’s glory acted resolutely against their idolatry.
Consider David, the poetry-writing shepherd-boy who could not simply stand by and watch an uncircumcised Philistine defy the armies of the living God — no matter how menacing he stood (1 Samuel 17:26). He could not listen quietly while his God’s name was defamed.
Consider Phinehas, an African whose name meant “the Negro.” Jealous with God’s jealousy, he turned away God’s wrath by impaling two high-handed sinners in the climax of their romance (Numbers 25:6–13).
Consider Elijah, a man tormented by the unbelief of Israel. He called a public showdown with the prophets of Baal and mocked them for hours (1 Kings 18:20–40). He longed for the people to know the true God and follow him alone.
Consider Paul, a former persecutor of the church who sat provoked as he saw the city full of idol-worship instead of Jesus-worship, and publicly lifted up his voice to challenge the great philosophers and rulers of Athens (Acts 17:16). He lived for kingdom business while many laughed at, opposed, and beat him.
All the King’s Men
Consider Jesus Christ, who grabbed whips, named names, and promised to return with weapons drawn. He is the Lion of Judah who knelt down and played with children (Mark 10:14). And the Lamb from whom men shall run, unsuccessfully begging mountains to crush them rather than face his wrath (Revelation 6:16).
He destroyed “arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5), crushed the dragon’s skull, and yet did not break a bruised reed (Isaiah 42:3). And he went to Calvary, not because niceness led him outside the camp to die among thieves and garbage, but because he burned with a passion for his bride, his Father’s name, and his own glory (John 17:4; Romans 3:25–26; 1 Peter 3:18).
Spurgeon’s last words in the pulpit portray the proper ideal:
[Jesus] is the most magnanimous of captains. There never was his like among the choicest of princes. He is always to be found in the thickest part of the battle. When the wind blows cold he always takes the bleak side of the hill. The heaviest end of the cross lies ever on his shoulders. If he bids us carry a burden, he carries it also. If there is anything that is gracious, generous, kind, and tender, yes lavish and super abundant in love, you always find it in him. (Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers, 288)
The King’s men will be found, with Christ, in the thickest parts of the battle. They will eschew wasting their lives venturing nothing, growing warm for nothing, exercising no initiative, taking no stands, building no fortitude of faith, engaging in no spiritual battle, carrying no burdens, planting no flags on unconquered hilltops. The men of this King, for the very reason that they despise playing with foam swords against the forces of evil, create the safest culture for their women and children. Dangerous men under God, holding one another accountable, will not stand idly by as the bears maul those they should rather protect and nourish.
Meek and fierce. Tough and tender. Leaders and servants. Not safe, but good.
I have waited my whole life to read The Lord of the Rings to my kids. Last night, we hit my favorite scene, in which the shield-maiden Éowyn confronts the Witch-king of Angmar: a terrifying agent of evil, before whom all, but she, have fled.
When Éowyn challenges this undead King, he mocks her with the words of a prophecy. “Thou fool! No living man may hinder me!” But Éowyn, who has gone into battle disguised, laughs at the line. She pulls her helmet off, her hair flows free, “No living man am I,” she says, and kills her foe. What looked like a promise of victory for the enemy only prophesied defeat.
After nine years working with Christian professors at leading secular universities, I believe we are on the edge of a similar reveal. If we look beyond the secularizing West, which prophesies Christianity’s demise, to the global stage, we’ll discover that Christianity is thriving and growing, while the proportion of people without religious affiliation declines.
If we look more closely at each seeming roadblock to faith, like the three examples below, they turn out to be signposts to Christ.
Christianity is an exclusivist faith. We claim Jesus is Lord, regardless of race or place or culture. But rather than pulling against diversity, as many assume, Christianity is the greatest movement for diversity in all of history. Jesus tore through the racial and cultural barriers of his day (John 4:5–29) and commanded his followers to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Two thousand years later, Christianity is not only the largest global worldview (and expected to remain so) but also the most racially and culturally mixed.
To be sure, Christians have sinned time and again in this respect, and turned the love-across-differences (to which Christ calls us) into hatred, racism, and xenophobia. But the New Testament texts and the global church are the two greatest rallying points for diversity in all of history. Indeed, far from stamping out diversity, Christianity insists on it.
Christianity proclaims an all-powerful Creator God. But far from that belief pitting us against science, it aligns us with the very origins of the modern scientific method.
The first empirical scientists believed that the God who created the universe is rational, and so they hypothesized that he built the universe according to rational laws. But they also believed this God is free, so the only way to find out what those laws are was to go and look. These two beliefs laid the foundation for empirical science, the project (in early astronomer Johannes Kepler’s words) of “thinking God’s thoughts after him.”
To be sure, science can raise complex theological questions, but Christians have been at the forefront of science from the first, and today, there are Christians at the cutting edge of every scientific field that is thought to have discredited Christianity. Rather than conceding science to atheism, we should be thrilled to discover more about God’s world — not because we don’t believe in a Creator, but precisely because we do (Revelation 4:11).
Believing that sex belongs only in marriage between one man and one woman puts us at odds with unbelieving friends. Indeed, we may find ourselves accused of hatred and bigotry. Rather than being a tiny candle in the wind of progressive morality, however, biblical sexual ethics are well supported by the data around human flourishing.
When it comes to same-sex sexuality, we are utterly at odds with our immediate culture. But in this area as well, Christianity has more resources than most think. Some of the first Christians experienced same-sex attraction and came to Christ with homosexual histories (1 Corinthians 6:9–11). The same is true of the church today, as increasing numbers of same-sex attracted Christians are standing up for biblical sexual ethics on a costly platform of personal sacrifice.
The Bible calls us to firm boundaries around sex. But these are not hateful barriers designed to keep people out. Rather, they are marks on the playing field of human life, designed to create space for different kinds of love, each mirroring a different aspect of God’s love. In light of this, the Bible calls us to a particular model of marriage, a high view of singleness, and deep intimacy in friendships, where we are brothers and sisters (Matthew 12:50), one body (Romans 12:5), “knit together in love” (Colossians 2:2), and comrades in arms (Philippians 2:25). Indeed, Paul calls his friend Onesimus his “very heart” (Philemon 12) and tells the Thessalonians he was among them “like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7).
In true Christian community, no one is left out. So, our response to the secular mantra “Love is love” need not be hostility or defensiveness. Rather, it can be our single Savior’s radical claim: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Best Answer in Apologetics
In the area of sexuality, as in every other area of apologetics, Jesus lies at the heart of the answer. We believe that marriage is one man and one woman for life because it models Christ’s love for his church (Ephesians 5:22–33). We believe that the scientific method works because the universe is sustained by the all-powerful word of God (Hebrews 1:3). We believe in love across racial and cultural difference because one day people from every tribe and tongue and nation will worship Jesus in fellowship together (Revelation 7:9–10).
Just as Éowyn’s revelation of her sex spelled death for the Witch-king of Angmar, so time and again, when we look more closely at supposed obstacles to faith, they point us to Christ. So, let’s not sound the retreat. Instead, let’s arm ourselves with love, prayer, and humility — and with the best insights we can glean from God’s world through careful study — and let’s meet our unbelieving friends where they are.
Christ’s love compels us to embrace the hardest questions, knowing his truth will surely win the day.