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IS YOUR GOD JOYFUL?

June 25, 2012 — 3 Comments

On the road with the family, we stopped at a hotel. Not a great hotel, but a recently opened and reasonably priced chain joint just off the highway. We crowded into the room–Nan and me with our two nine year old boys, our six year old boy, and our two year old little gal. After ten hours in the car, the kids did the most logical thing they could, which was to jump on the beds. This game was followed by stacking every pillow, chair and sofa cushion in the room to create a tower high enough that they could reach the ceiling. It was sort of a miniature tower of Babel right there in our room. With all the fun going on, little Kate yells over her brothers’ laughs and asks, “This our new home? This our new home?”

Apparently, Kate thought this was where we would live. This was home, and she was as excited as she could be about it. It made us all laugh, but it also got me to thinking. In Kate’s young mind, the highest value was being together. To share a single room with mom and dad and her brothers was the best possible world. Jumping on beds and building pillow towers put it way beyond her greatest dreams.

After a full-day of driving and unloading all of our stuff, I had been a little on the grumpy side. The room was fine for our one night stay, but it definitely did not feel like “home.” Kate’s perspective reminded me that sometimes I need to rethink the way I am looking at things.

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been thinking deeply about what it means that we have a joyful God. It’s been a good reminder for me that is shifting my perspective. I’m not talking about the theological categorizing of God in my mind. If you would have asked me several weeks ago if God was a God of joy, I’m sure I would have thought about it and answered in the affirmative, but I wasn’t fully appreciating the joyfulness of God in my day-to-day outlook.

There are many verses about joy in the Bible. We are commanded to “rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice” (Phil 4:4). He says it twice just in case we are a little slow. We are even told to “Count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). The Psalms tell us to “make a joyful noise to the Lord” (Ps 95, 98). You will find joy throughout the Bible. I could list verse after verse here, but I decided instead that I wanted to point you immediately to the place where joy may be found and then share a few implications for us to consider.

When God Enters the Room, Joy Comes with Him

The Bible tells us that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5). These are the character qualities that are produced in us when the Spirit of God invades our lives. Just as a particular kind of seed will only yield fruit that is appropriate to that seed, we yield the fruit of the Spirit that has been planted in us. One aspect of the fruit is “joy.” Each aspect of the fruit of the spirit is important, but I’m going to focus only on joy.

What this means is that when God the Holy Spirit is present, joy will also be present. When God enters the room, joy comes with him. Think about that for a minute: wherever God is, joy is. When you let that truth take root in your heart and mind, it ought to shift your perspective.

People have all kinds of thoughts about God–some good and some bad. Part of maturing in the faith is casting off false thoughts about God and replacing them with true thoughts about God. However you tend to feel or think about God, you must now consider him to be a joyful God.

Faith in the Joyful God Makes Us Joyful

We also need to understand what this means for us. When we believe the joyful God, we are made joyful. Scripture says (1 Peter 1:8-9):

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Are you overflowing with inexpressible joy? When you are convinced that the most beautiful and glorious and good and holy and joyful and eternal being in the universe has come to you in love and grace, you can’t help but laugh at the joyous comedy of your good fortune. To make it downright hysterical, our God of Joy will eventually shove sorrow out of the way and shower us with a forever kind of joy: “Everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isaiah 35).*

Though this joy is open to all, far too many people will not know this joy. We live in an often faithless, sarcastic and cynical time. The harsh reality is that those who snub, reject and deny the Joyful God will miss out on his forever joy. Rather, they fill their lives with temporary mini-joys that fade as quickly as they spring up. Giving testimony to the law of diminishing returns, they live in search of the next fix of mini-joy to bring a smile to their face. This is joy with a short shelf-life. But there is a stronger and deeper and better Joy.

For followers of Jesus, our spiritual development is in learning to exchange the mini-joys with the Ultimate Joy. Augustine described his journey from mini-joys to True Joy in his Confessions:

“How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose…! You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place, you who are sweeter than all pleasure…O Lord my God, my Wealth, and my Salvation.”**

This joy is a gift that God gives in his grace to us. Our God specializes in bringing the light of joy into dark places, and even when tough times come, our faith gives us hope for the ultimate vindication of joy (Psalm 30:5,11):

Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness.

When Joy Has Its Way

This brings to mind so many thoughts about the implications that faith in a joyful God might have for us. What would this mean for our churches? for our blogs? for our songs? for our testimonies? for our marriages? for our parenting? for our friendship? I’ve even wondered about how our embracing God’s joy might change the chemistry of our brains.

Ancient wisdom from Proverbs reminds us: “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Prov 17:22).

Would you stop for a minute and identify one arena where you need to let the God of joy disrupt your life? What is one thing that would change if your perspective shifted to faith in the Joyful God? Where should God-given joy begin to burst into your world?

Reminders of Joy

I recently came across a line in a book that stuck with me: the writer spoke of a man who received “another chance to face the sky.”*** I love the optimism and openness of this image. It is helping me to think differently about my days. A day is not something to be unwillingly trudged though or unwittingly trifled away. Today is a unique gift to be enjoyed, and there will never be another day just like it. When I wake, I remind myself that today is another chance to face the expanse of the sky. This helps divert my eyes from the troubles and details of the coming hours. It directs my attention to a universe that is bigger than I can comprehend, and more than that, it directs my attention to the God who made it all.

Each day is an opportunity to look with eyes of faith on the God who paints the sky blue and drops migratory puffs of white across its canvas. In case we are tempted to miss his glory in the sky, this Joyful God begins and ends each day with a warm soup of feathery yellows and blood reds and butterfly oranges and eggplant purples all blended together perfectly. The sky cries out to us morning and evening: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalms 118:24).

Of course, you could keep collecting mini-joys only to discard them as yesterdays toys; you could hold on to your hurt or bitterness or cynicism; and you could let your doubts rule the day.

Or, you might try a change in perspective.

As for me, I want to live for the Joyful God, squeezing joy into every minute I can. I want to enjoy every chance to face the sky that my Lord gives to me until the day I come face-to-face with Joy himself. My hope is fixed on that day, when the torrent of goodness and glory that washes me will overwhelm me with indescribable joy.

-jdl

* For a wonderful look at the God who brings joy, read all of Isaiah 35.

** Aurelius Augustine, Confessions, trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin (New York: Penguin Books, 1961). Quoted in John Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2000) 19.

*** Timothy Egan, The Worst Hard Time (New York: First Mariner Books, 2006).

In the world, you will have trouble.
But take heart; I have overcome the world.
– Jesus

The Coming Storm - Winslow Homer (1901) Source: http://oceanworld.tamu.edu/students/elnino/index.html

I was preaching recently on the topic of trials, and I was reminded of how frequently and honestly the Bible speaks to us on the hard seasons of life. This is a quick post to share with you one very important truth:

Some trials were meant to be so hard that
no one but God could get you through them.

Trials are unavoidable. We live in a broken world inhabited by broken people, and sooner or later that kind of world drags us into difficult days. This doesn’t mean that we seek them out, they find us on their own. People who seek out trials are usually in need of psychiatric care. Trials are not necessarily our fault either. Sometimes, it is our sin that brings hardship upon us, but the hardship of life comes to all of us apart from whether we’ve done anything good or bad. Storms blow in with the wind no matter what we do.

I am certain that some of you are fighting for your life, whether literally or figuratively, right now. I hurt for you that are suffering or struggling in this season, and this season may have no end in sight. The cruelty of people, a failed adoption, an incurable illness, a foreclosure on your home, a wayward child. Tough things happen to all of us. If you are not experiencing pain now, you will.

In no way am I minimizing the pain. It’s real. You might feel like you’ve had all that you can handle. In fact, it might be more than you can handle.

But maybe that’s the point.

C. S. Lewis famously said that pain is God’s megaphone.* He speaks loudly and deeply into our souls through hardship. In God’s work to renovate our hearts, it seems as though some places can only be strengthened by pain.

When we experience trials, it is like the scaffolding of our lives falls away so that we no longer can prop ourselves up with temporary supports. Pain forces us to the end of ourselves so that we have no where else to turn but to God.

One of Jesus’ followers named Paul described his trials this way:

8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10  He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 11  You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. (2 Corinthians 1:8-11)

Let me make a few quick observations on these verses.

When we face a trial, people are helpful, but God is better. Our friends and families and pastors can empathize with us (v.8), pray with us (v.11), and remind us to set our hope on God (v.9-10). But they can’t actually deliver us from the trial. As much as your mother wants you to have a child, she can’t overcome infertility. As much as a spouse wants her husband not to suffer, she can’t make him well. As much as your boss wants you to keep your job, he can’t change the economy.

Why is this Acknowledgment Necessary?

Over the last few years, I’ve experienced how tempting it is to stop short of the ultimate finish line of trials. I sometimes look first to those around me to help me when life goes bad. Some of this is healthy: I’ve learned to receive God’s grace extended through people he’s placed in my life. For a guy who wants to be resilient and strong, this has been a healthy correction to false self-sufficiency.

But it’s not enough. Paul shares his struggle with others, but he realizes that they can’t meet his deepest needs. When we look to others not just for help but for rescue, we put a weight on them that they cannot bear. It is unhealthy for them and for us. We ought to share our journey with others, but we need to do so in a way that encourages us both to seek Jesus more than anyone else.

If we don’t allow our trials to drive us all the way to desperate dependence on God, then we aren’t learning what God wants us to learn. Unless we turn our gaze to God, we fail to get enough out of our hard times. In a crisis, cultural christianity doesn’t amount to much. People will sometimes depend on their parents’ faith or the faith of a spouse, but trials teach us to look to God personally.

How Desperate Dependence Becomes a Place of Strength

Fact is that a life of great faith may also be a life of great pain. Sorry to the prosperity preachers, but, sometimes, your best life now is really hard.

I want to point out two phrases that Paul used in the verses above to describe his life and the lives of those with him:

  1. Burdened Beyond Our Strength. Some may take this as hyperbole, but I think it was straightforward. In his own strength, this was too much to handle. Paul was excessively weighed down. It was too much to bear.
  2. Despairing of Life Itself. I love that Paul was so honest. He is not just making a theological or theoretical statement. This is real struggle. Despairing of life means “I want to quit.” He wants to throw in the towel, to give up. This is suicidal language: I would rather be dead than face what I am facing.

This is what I mean when I say that “some trials were meant to be so hard no one but God could get you through them.” What this means, of course, is that trials are not meaningless. They have a purpose–they teach us to rely on God more than anyone or anything else.**

Look at Paul’s bold confidence in God (v.10): “He delivered us, he will deliver us, on him we set our hope that that he will deliver us again.”

Past, present and future: Paul trusts God in it all.

We mature and grow through our trials. We do not cease to hurt in tough seasons, but we grow more and more confident in the God who is with us. He has shown up in our trials and delivered us before, and we come to believe that he’ll do it again. Maturity is not the end of struggle; rather, it’s the confidence that God is with you in the midst of your struggle.

Are You Making the Most of your Pain?

Some people fail to redeem their suffering. My hope for you is that you will not waste a trial. Trust God now. In this moment. And in the next moment. And in the one after that. Until you reach that last great trial at the end of your life.

As you trust him in trials both great and small, you will have learn to trust him with it all. I think that’s the goal.

For it is only God who can “make all things new.” It is only God who can “wipe away every tear from their eyes.” It is only God who can be certain that “death shall be no more.” It is only God who can deliver on the promise that we will have no “mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” ***

Trials are not forever. God is. Let’s trust Him now. And let’s trust him whenever the next storm blows in.

How has God deepened your faith through the experience of trials? Are you in a trial right now? Let me know, and I’ll pray for you. 

-jdl

* C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain.

** I am not saying that all of our circumstances are good. The point here is that one of the ways that God brings good out of the bad is to grow our faith and teach us greater reliance on him. Anything more is beyond the scope of this post.

*** Revelation 21

RUGGED ROMANCE

February 7, 2012 — Leave a comment

I was editing a video recently and came across the predictable “Romantic Effect” video editing tool. You know the one. It puts a dreamy blurry weepy air around the person in the shot. The effect tries to give the impression that you are viewing the world through tears of joy. It’s the look that you (you, not me) see on Hallmark movies in the middle of the day when you are sick and no one else is home.

Confession: The video I was editing was a short clip of me talking into the camera, so I put the Romantic filter on myself just to see what it looked like. Creepy.

But the “Romantic” special effect annoyed me for another reason. A more important reason. The very fact that we’ve created such this special effect and given it the title “Romantic” is bothersome. Romance is not a fuzzy fluffy furry moment of spontaneous affection. Our definition of romance needs an upgrade.

Romance isn’t a Relational Special Effect

One of the reasons that so many relationships fail is that they are built upon the “The Romantic Effect.” When a relationship begins, a couple strings together a series of “romantic” moments: first date, first kiss, first birthday gift, first time to watch Gladiator together, first Christmas. As long as they have a fuzzy film moment once a month or so without major interruption, things are good. Or seem to be.

Adolescent relationships are built on this stuff. That’s why we call it teenage romance. In those years, your life is filled with open spaces and open calendars. You have time to unintentionally wander into romantic moments.

The problem with teenage romance is that you have to keep the romantic effect moments happening in new and fresh and different ways. But life just doesn’t allow for a never-ending number of these types of experiences. Far too often, when the newness wears off and the “romantic” moments slow, people trade one partner in for another. Then, they start the romantic filter cycle all over again.

Growing older doesn’t necessarily mean growing up. We find ourselves in a nation of adult adolescents, growing older but still seeking teenage romance.

Fast-forward a few years into marriage for those who make that commitment. If we are lucky (and disciplined), we manage a long weekend away each year where we can create a few moments that are truly special moments as a couple. But there are 361 other days in the year. Try simply adding the Romantic Filter to the picture once you’ve added a few kids, a few sleepless nights, and a few budget line items that are way out of whack. It is going to take more than spontaneous sweetness to maintain the romance as you move through the seasons of life.

We need a stronger love, a more rugged romance.

Fighting for a More Rugged Romance

This is a blog post and not a book, so I don’t have time to go into all the complexities of relationships and marriage. I’m not trying to cover it all. For the sake of this post, I want to offer a single encouragement to you: be tenacious.

Ephesians 5 instructs us about marriage: “a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife” (italics mine).

I love the phrase “hold fast.” To hold fast means to secure a thing in place.* It is to bolt something in place so tightly that it can’t be loosened. We are told to make our wives secure in their relationship to us, so secure that you can never be separated from them.

If we are to hold fast to our spouses, we must fight for our togetherness. When I conduct a wedding ceremony, I always tell the couple to “guard the oneness of their relationship.” We go to battle to protect the union we were intended to enjoy.

Or, at least we should.

John Piper wrote, “When historians list the character traits of America in the last third of the twentieth century, commitment, constancy, tenacity, endurance, patience, resolve, and perseverance will not be on the list…We all need help here. We are surrounded by, and are part of, a society of emotionally fragile quitters.”**

We are now a decade into the next century, and we are no better off. In fact, I think the pace of rapid fire technology and constant digital play has further deteriorated our ability to focus on the important things and deliver day-in and day-out with determination. When we face difficultly, we assume “there’s an app for that” and hope the problem takes care of itself. And our marriages suffer for it.

That is why tenacity has become an increasingly important part of the conversations I have about marriage. In fact, I would list it as the number two requirement behind the gospel.*** Communication is important. Learning to appreciate differences is helpful. Being able to work out a budget makes a big difference. But tenacity trumps technique. Tenacious couples stick it out when things stink. They work on things when things aren’t working. Tenacious couples find romance in both the peaks and valleys of life.

Men, we are called to love our wives as Jesus loved the church (Ephesians 5:25). That means that we should love with the strongest, most tenacious love imaginable.

One of the most profound and most comforting statements in all the Bible, speaks of the  tenacious love of Jesus:

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39)

Let me restate these verses and relate them to marriage…

Since we are called to love like Jesus, let me ask you: what shall separate you from loving your wife? Shall success or debt or dishes or laundry or hobbies or television or hardship or unemployment or cancer or kids or lust or anger? I am sure that none of these things, past or present or future, nor anything else in all creation should be able to separate you from loving your wife.

Husband, hold fast to your wife. Do not let anything separate you from her. Be tenacious about togetherness.

Our world does not need more short-lived scenes with romantic filters applied. But we do need more couples holding fast to one another with a rugged romance that lasts.

What God has joined together, let no one separate.

Is there anything that is driving a wedge between you and your spouse? Is there anything you need to repent of and confess to your spouse? Is there any activity you need to initiate to foster togetherness? Is there a routine of dating and time together that you need to protect as vital?

-jdl

* Random House Unabridged Dictionary

** John Piper, The Roots of Endurance: Invincible Perseverance in the Lives of John Newton, Charles Simeon, and William Willberforce

*** By gospel, I mean the acute awareness and belief that you are broken and in need of God’s love and forgiveness that is only available through the finished work of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

WHEN SLOW WINS

January 27, 2012 — Leave a comment

My preference is fast. I like to drive fast. I like fast internet connections. I like to work fast. I wish I could read fast. But fast isn’t always best. Sometimes, slow wins.

For someone who prefers to go fast, this reality is a necessary realization (even if it annoys my go-fast preferences). Slow is important in lots of ways, but let me first give you an example of why slow sometimes wins.

A Cutting Reminder That Faster Isn’t Always Better

I’m learning to shave again. It was one of my new year’s resolutions. I know, I know. That’s not very ambitious, right? But for a go-fast guy, this was a way to remind myself that slow wins. So, I got rid of my disposable junk, and invested in a new safety razor. The old school kind like my grandfather used. Metal, not plastic, so it’s got some weight to it. It holds double edged razor blades. I’m told that the classic wet shave is better for the environment and that it’s cheaper in the long run. But the real deal is that it’s just a much better shave.*

Fact: fast shavers end up with little patches of bloody toilet paper on their chins. On average, my new way of shaving takes about twice as long as my old way. But it’s twice as enjoyable and twice as good a shave. And my wife likes it (which is a very good thing).

Shaving is a relatively insignificant change in the big picture of my life, but it serves as a daily reminder that sometimes slow wins.

You may not be sold on a shaving upgrade, but what about the rest of your life?

When Slow Wins in Parenting

I know that none of you struggle with this, but sometimes my children act up. Of course, “act up” is a socially acceptable way of saying that they are depraved little people that disobey God and deserve to be disciplined. Meaning, they are a lot like their parents. We all agree that parents must discipline children. Otherwise, the monkeys are running the zoo. The only question is how we should discipline.

I don’t want to give a complete how to guide for parenting here, but I do want to suggest that discipline of children is one of the areas where slow wins.

Here is what normally happens in fast discipline. Your kid runs through the house with muddy shoes or screams while his sister is napping or dumps her milk on the floor. Clearly, these are things that would happen in your house, not mine (ahem…wink, wink).   When said criminal activity occurs, mom yells for kid to stop. Again, note that I said mom rather than dad, because dads don’t do this stuff (ahem…). But the parent yells stop at the child, the kid freezes in his or her tracks, and then the parent hurriedly threatens an unrealistic consequence like “clean that up or you’ll never eat dessert again” (which we know isn’t going to happen because dad likes hot chocolate chip cookies and it’s too much work to refuse a child a cookie on a regular basis).

What’s the point? Fast discipline involves only two steps: name the issue, name the consequence. Those are both necessary steps, but they are not enough. Fast discipline focuses on behavior modification but neglects the heart. It’s efficient in the short run, but deficient over the long haul. If you discipline fast, you end up skipping the most important stuff.

I’m trying to remind myself that, when it comes to discipline, slow wins. I want to shape my kid’s character, not just his or her behavior. I want them to love Jesus, not just love a clean house. This takes time. It takes time to talk things through. It takes time to talk about disobedience against God and repentance. It takes time to train your child how to talk to his siblings and ask forgiveness. It takes time to celebrate the grace and forgiveness that awaits them in Jesus.

I don’t always do this the right way, and there are moments (like rushing out the door on the way to school) when it seems almost impossible. So, we may have to be creative in those instances (delay the real conversation until later but then follow-up and talk things though). It takes at least twice as much time to discipline slow, but the benefits are infinitely greater.

When Slow Wins in Technology

Another way that I’m trying to slow down is in my use of technology. I live connected. Between twitter, facebook, email, and phone, it is easy to be connected all the time. The problem is that being connected to technology may mean that you are disconnected from everything else. Sometimes, our tech toys cause us to miss opportunities to connect with God, connect with our spouses, connect with nature.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dumping all of that stuff. I’m just managing it better. I’m turning it off sometimes. I’m creating a routine of leaving it behind in certain sections of my calendar (if you check yours regularly at family dinners, your wife should drop it in your chili).

For example, we got a puppy at Christmas. Puppies have to be walked. A lot. Sometimes in the middle of the night. One way I’m slowing down is to leave my cell phone inside when I walk the dog. I feel silly saying it, but it’s amazing to me how hard it is. But when I do, I enjoy the puppy more, and I notice the beauty of creation all around me. Without the light of my cell phone, I see the light of the night stars that God put in place to remind me of his glory and greatness. When I slow down to recognize that I have so many messages from God all around me, my twitter messages can wait a little while.

When Slow Wins in Ministry

I won’t take a lot of time to expound on this one, but two recent conversations also reminded me of how this applies to ministry. In one phone call with a fellow pastor, my friend said, “We’re growing, but I wish it was faster.” I know this friend well, and he’s an evangelist who loves to see people meet Jesus for the first time. He believes in a big God who can bring 3,000 people to faith in a single day, and he longs to see that happen. We have a world full of people who don’t know Jesus, so I hope it happens too. I pray that God moves in a remarkable way to bring people to Jesus through his church’s ministry. But I know that there are some seasons of ministry where slow wins.

In another conversation, some friends encouraged me to slow down. In my passion to see ministry happen, I wanted to get moving as quickly as possible. My friends wanted me to “move slow, go deep, dream big.” That stuck with me.  It takes time to build the right foundation, to instill the right DNA in the church, to get the right people on the team. You can start a ministry fast, but it takes time to launch a movement. When you are building something to make a significant impact over the next 25-30 years, there are some important areas where slow wins.

A Concluding Thought

For people who like to go fast, going slow is an act of faith. It can lead to a more rewarding life, a more significant life, and a greater enjoyment of the life God gave you–a life made up of fast and slow moments strung together to make up days and weeks and years. May we make the most of all our moments, and may we make some of those moments slow ones.

What are some other ways that slow wins? What helps you slow down in disciplining your children? Is it as hard for you to turn the cell phone off as it is for me? Any of you dudes enjoying the glory of a classic wet shave?

-jdl

* For a great guide to a classic wet shave, see “How to Shave Like Your Grandpa.”

I recently finished reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. Hillenbrand has turned an amazing story into a profound book. Hillenbrand also penned Seabiscuit, which was turned into a film, and I can’t imagine it will be long before Unbroken finds it’s way onto the big screen.

I wanted to share with you a few thoughts I had as I read Unbroken. If you’ve read the book, I hope that it will resonate with you (I’d love to hear your thoughts about the book in the comments at the end). If you have not yet read Unbroken, I hope that this will encourage you to add it to your “need to read” list. Or, perhaps this can serve as a discussion guide for your book club or reading group.

Spoiler Alert: I am going to provide a thematic overview of the book, so you will get a sense of the significant turns in the story by reading this post.

1. Turnarounds aren’t predictable.

Louis “Louie” Zamperini was an angry young man headed for trouble. Smoking at 5, drinking by 8, stealing things just to get away with it. In every way, he was heading nowhere good. But the beautiful thing about life is that course-corrections are possible.

We too easily overlook or even discard people who seem like they are just too much trouble. But some things that have been used for bad purposes may also be used for good.

“In a childhood of artful dodging, Louie made more than just mischief. He shaped who he would be in manhood. Confident that he was clever, resourceful, and bold enough to escape any predicament, he was almost incapable of discouragement. When history carried him into war, this resilient optimism would define him.” (pg 7, italics mine).

2. Everyone needs a mission.

Louie’s course correction was a quick one, primarily because he was fast…really fast. Urged, encouraged and trained by his older brother, Zamperini discovered that he could outrun almost everyone on a track. No longer wasted his days getting in trouble, he began to experience the joy of giving his life to something with a sense of urgency.

We all need the internal confidence that our lives matter and that we have a mission to which we should give ourselves.

At 16, he ran a two mile race against college competition in UCLA’s Southern California Cross Country meet, and he won by more than a quarter of a mile. Hillenbrand rightly notes that what was more important even than the win was “the realization of what he was” (pg 18).

This reminds me of Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire: “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”

3. People are capable of greatness.

Photo credit: Louie Zamperini (http://laurahillenbrandbooks.com/photos/)

What Louie accomplished in a very short a time as an athlete is remarkable. At the age of only nineteen, after only four attempts at this distance, Zamperini ran the 5000 meters in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. These games were made famous by the great Jesse Owens and the horrible Hitler. In 1938, still young by miler standards, he ran the fifth fastest mile ever. People began to speculate that he would be the first man to break the 4:00 mile mark and would be a lock for the Gold Medal in 1940.

Louie’s accomplishments inspired his family, his town, his state and his nation. Human beings, as God’s greatest creatures, can run or sing or sculpt or write or invent in ways that infuse our daily struggles with awe.

4. People are capable of monstrosity.

I remember asking my grandmother if she wanted to see Saving Private Ryan. Her answer: “Why would anyone want to experience that again?” Her brother had served in France during WWII. After reading Unbroken, I have a better understanding why she felt that way.

These numbers stood out to me in the book: 594. 0. 220. First, 594 was the number of bullet holes through Zamperini’s plane, Superman, on a single mission. Zero (0) was the number of survivors Louie anticipated when his plane, the Green Hornet, went down. 220 is the number of punches that Louie endured at the hands of his fellow POWs, who were lined up and ordered to strike each officer once as hard as they could.

Fact is that no number could measure the monstrosity that is carried out in war. Unbroken is a harsh and heart-rending look at the faces of evil unrestrained. [I intentionally say faces of evil rather face of evil, because I am not talking in abstract; I am talking about individual men and women who commit horrific evil against others.]

Mike Cosper writes, “Jesus taught us to pray ‘on earth as in heaven,’ inviting us to look at the world through the hope-filled promise of reconciliation…There is nothing so liberating as the news that we have a better King and an eternal hope…every tyrant’s days are numbered. A King was born in Bethlehem who will one day bring justice and peace” (italics mine). *

5. Relationships are essential.

Photo credit: Louie Zamperini (http://laurahillenbrandbooks.com/photos/)

Throughout the story, people are at the center of it all. There is the mom who prayed constantly and waited hopefully for Louie’s return. There are the band of brothers that manned the bomber along with Louie. Pilot Phil who survived the plane crash and lived on a life-raft fending off sharks and starvation and insanity for weeks. The fellow POWs who suffered unimaginable cruelty together. The Japanese guard who introduced himself as a Christian and did what he could to protect Louie and others. Photos became treasures because they represented a distant connection to friends, family or a girl back home. Even diaries were kept in secret as a relational link to one’s true self.

“We were created for community” is more than a tagline. Relationships are essential to our survival. Our hearts naturally give themselves to others, and when we cease to connect with other people, we become less than human. Jesus described hell as a place of eternal torment and a significant part of that suffering is to be left alone, forever. Heaven is something we enjoy together with God and with others. **

6. When stripped of everything else, God is still there.

During the ghastly ocean journey on the life-raft, Phil and Louie experienced a moment they would always remember. Hillenbrand wrote:

It was an experience of transendence. Phil watched the sky, whispering that it looked like Pearl. The water looked so solid that it seemed they could walk across it. When a fist broke the surface far away, the sound carried to the men with absolute clarity. They watched as pristine ringlets of water circled outward around the place where the fish had passed, then faded to stillness.

For a while they spoke, sharing their wonder. Then, they fell into reverent silence. Their suffering was suspended. They weren’t hungry or thirsty. They were unaware of the approach of death (Pg 160).

This is no accidental world. Louie would conclude: “Such beauty…was too perfect to have come by mere chance. That day in the center of the Pacific was…a gift crafted deliberately, compassionately, for him and Phil” (Pg 160).

In his address, “The Weight of Glory,” C. S. Lewis says that moments like these give us a taste of the eternal, but the transcendence is not in the ocean or the wind or the beauty or things like these. He writes, “It was not in them, it only came through them.”

Lewis continues: “It is not the physical objects that I am speaking of, but that indescribable something of which they become for a moment the messengers.” *** These experiences point us to something beyond themselves.

It would be years before Louie Zamperini would connect the dots between this experience on the open ocean and the Christian faith, but he would finally realize that God in his grace had both implanted in him a desire for transcendence and granted him a taste of transcendence.

7. Dignity is linked to hope.

Photo credit: Louie Zamperini (http://laurahillenbrandbooks.com/photos/)

In one of the more profound sections of the book, Hillenbrand remarks, “…the guards sought to deprive them of something that had sustained them even as all else had been lost: dignity. This self-respect, and a sense of self-worth, the innermost armament of the soul, lies at the heart of humanness; to be deprived of it is to be dehumanized, to be cleaved from, and cast below, mankind. Men subjected to dehumanizing treatment experience profound wretchedness and loneliness and find that hope is almost impossible to retain.”

When reading of the torture and humiliation, I cannot grasp the depth of loss they endured. In this tragedy, I know of no where else to turn but the suffering of Jesus, who endured the same at the hands of people he had created. Though I have only experienced a bird bath of suffering next to oceans of suffering endured by these POWs, knowing that Jesus is one who understands, cares, and enters into our suffering brings me comfort. I’m told, from others who have suffered much, that the realities of Jesus’ struggles comforts them too.

8. Defiance is a virtue.

A chapter titled Farting to Hirohito provides some comic relief. In the POW camps, the men invented all manner of ways to defy their captors. One of my favorite lines reads, “A fragrant favorite involved saving up intestinal gas, explosively voluminous thanks to chronic dysentery, prior to [roll call]. When the men were ordered to bow toward the emperor, the captives would pitch forward in concert and let thunderclaps fly for Hirohito.”

From timely expulsions to hidden escape plans to under-their-breath insults, these men managed to oppose evil by whatever means they could. We should all join the fight against injustice, and most of us have much greater opportunity than they did.

A wise friend once told me, “When my kids are teenagers, I just want them to be angry about the right stuff.” I agree. When fighting against evil, tyranny and injustice, rebellion is right. In our world, compliance is too often considered the highest value, but in many instances defiance is a much greater virtue.

9. The road to redemption is always surrender.

When Zamperini returns home, he struggles with reentry to a non-war world. Still fighting the horrors of his experience, he, understandably, drifts into a life of recurring nightmares, constant drinking, and vengeful desires. He descended into himself and seemed unable to find a way out.

But God specializes in hopeless situations.

Through an invitation of a neighbor and the coercion of his wife, Louie attends a Billy Graham crusade. At first, he is angry and resists Graham’s invitation. But at his wife’s prodding, he agrees to attend one more preaching session. Graham had extended his trip and was preaching several hours a day, seven days a week. In Billy Graham, Louie may have met a man who could match his stubbornness (being stubborn about the right things is a good thing).

At last, Louie surrendered and finally found freedom. He had been physically free from his captors for a long time, but now his soul was also free. He was free to sleep, to forgive, to live, to love.

God uses significant moments of crisis to change our lives, and Louie’s story is no different. But you’ll have to read the book to know more about his amazing journey.

9 Thoughts from Unbroken:
1. Turnarounds aren’t predictable.
2. Everyone needs a mission.
3. People are capable of greatness.
4. People are capable of monstrosity.
5. Relationships are essential.
6. When stripped of everything else, God is still there.
7. Dignity is linked to hope.
8. Defiance is a virtue.
9. The road to redemption is always surrender.

So, which of the above most resonates with you? Do any of these speak to your current life situation? And who is going to play the part of Louie in the movie?

-jdl

* Mike Cosper, All Oppression Will Cease, Even in North Korea, http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2011/12/23/all-oppression-will-cease-even-in-north-korea/.

** For more in this line of thinking, see C. S. Lewis’ fantastic fantasy novel, The Great Divorce.

*** C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory. Quotes taken from pages 30, 40, 42 in the Harper Collins Edition 2001.

Note: The “Some Thoughts on ‘How to Talk to Little Girls'” post has generated a lot of interest and brought new people to the blog. I thought I would repost a previous favorite to share with all the new readers. Enjoy…

I recently read Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel made famous by the television miniseries many consider the greatest ever (starring Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall). McMurtry’s story follows a group of men on a cattle drive from Mexico to Montana. In many ways, the book is about men, their internal drives or passions, and the friendships they share along the way. This motley group assembled over time, but the core of the group served as Texas Rangers during the days when they fought real battles throughout the region. Through many eventful, often difficult, years together, the men had become “compañeros.”  These relationships weren’t perfect, but they were characterized by intense loyalty, sacrifice, honesty, and memories. Every guy needs relationships like these, but few have them.

As I’ve observed guys who become real compañeros, I’ve discovered four things that create movement toward meaningful relationships: props, plans, risks, and laughs.

GUYS NEED PROPS

Women seem to get together with other women and start talking deeply without effort, but guys aren’t like that. You put them together and all you get is something along the lines of “how’s work?” or “you playing fantasy football again this year?” Those two conversations can fill an entire evening.

In general, guys don’t talk openly and freely without an external prop. It may be a task, a mission, a hobby, a shared history or some other event that brings them together. Men become close on a three-thousand mile cattle drive. They open up during a long winter in the trenches of wartime. They are brought together by an adventurous road trip. It isn’t always something grand. It may be something as simple as a regular hunting trip, a golf foursome or mission trip. It may be group of friends from your college dorm or a church small group. There is not any “magic” prop, but there is almost always some kind of prop that brings the guys together initially.

My group of friends and I came together as friends during college, but those friendships expanded through a college road trip to bury a “time capsule” on the Texas-Mexico border (modeled loosely on the movie, “Fandango”). We each included something of great personal value and a list of spiritual commitments and life goals in the bottle. Ten years later, we returned to dig it up. That event become an annual long weekend together that has become a highlight in our lives.

If you want to find real friends, I suggest you grab a group of guys and initiate some unique activity. In male relationships, activity opens the door for conversation. Men start talking deeply after they’ve worn themselves out, made fun of one another or blown something up in a bonfire.

GUYS NEED PLANS

Past performance does not guarantee future success. Just because some prop brought you together for a unique time of relating as friends, you may not continue in that kind of friendship in the years ahead. Most guys who have not found life-long compañeros reflect on certain friendships with a nostalgic longing to go back, maybe even with a tinge of sadness. They are sweet memories, but they are just that: memories of something good that once was but is now gone. Friends rarely intend to lose touch with one another. If your experiences together are going to grow into deep, lasting relationships, you need to commit to a plan.

With my group, we decided to take an annual trip together. We pick a destination and a date, and we all fly in for a long weekend each year. My “Fandango” trip with this group of 6 men helps me hit my annual laugh quota in single weekend. This takes a real commitment, but it’s worth everything it takes to make it happen. Our wives sacrifice on the home front to allow us to go. We take time off work. We split the costs evenly to make it fair (sometimes, we pick up the tab for one another when finances are tight). This commitment propelled us from being college friends to becoming life-long friends.

The bottom line is that you won’t become compañeros without regular time to laugh, play, and goof off together. This usually takes one person in the group who initiates an ongoing plan for being together and gets a commitment from the group. A plan creates a path for deepening relationships as you journey through the ups and downs of life together.

Most of the time, a particular place or activity becomes a big part of the group’s identity. Guys seem to have a desire for a tradition that makes this time special. As men move from the free-wheeling college years to the responsibility of their 30s and 40s, they need time “away” from the normal routine of life. I’d encourage you to try something that allows for a break from your normal responsibilities and demands some real commitment from one another.

GUYS NEED RISKS

The third element I see is risk. If there is no risk, you will settle into a cycle of conversation that repeats itself over and over without taking you anywhere. Think about your relationships with your father or brother or co-workers for a minute. I bet you could write a script for most those conversations as they revolve around the same topics with each phone call. This is just what guys do. We are strange beings. We privately long for a deeper relationship but we almost never acknowledge it.

Friends must continually take risks by sharing life at a vulnerable level. It amazes me how risky it feels to share what is happening in my heart even with my most trusted friends. We’ve been sharing life together for twenty years, but it still feels threatening to let them see my hurts, my unhealthy desires, my anger, my dreams, and my joys. It also brings freedom. The more I share, the more I’m freed up to be myself around them.

Most groups need a guy with the guts to be honest in front of others. Sometimes, it means saying, “You know what guys? I struggle with ______.” Or, “You know what hacks me off about my life right now? It’s ______.” In our group, it seems to be a different guy who leads out each year with an honest and bold statement about his life. Each time someone opens the door to his heart, I think to myself, “OK, here we go.” It’s become my favorite part of our trip. I find out that I’m not that weird, or maybe that I’m just as weird as everyone else. Somehow, that’s one of the things guys need to know: we are all jacked up. That kind of vulnerable sharing is relational fuel for men. Like a car, you have to refill the vulnerability tank regularly or the friendship runs out of gas.

GUYS NEED LAUGHS

With men, laughter both precedes and follows relational risks. Guys need to laugh, and I’ve found that guys won’t share openly until they have laughed freely. If you want guys to open up, you’d better crack one another up first. Some men don’t know how to laugh. Because of this, people will rarely feel comfortable enough around them to be honest about what’s in their hearts. Be careful sharing too much of yourself with men that can’t laugh. The other side of this is that men who have shared openly laugh even harder. The trust and confidence gained in deep relationships lead to uncontrollable laughs that roll out until they bring tears.

For guys, friendship never happens as spontaneously as we’d like. It takes props, plans and risks, but the investment leads to a kind of laughter that is only shared by true compañeros.

-jdl

As a father of a little girl who will have her second birthday in January, I was interested in the recent article titled “How to Talk to Little Girls.” The excellent Huffington Post piece by Lisa Bloom has created a buzz, with nearly 400,000 people “liking” the article on Facebook.

Bloom points out the dangers of highlighting a little girl’s physical beauty before or above other things. This is typified by the normal practice of strangers, or friends, who lead off a meeting with a little girl by saying something along the lines of “aren’t you the cutest thing ever?”

Kate, at the Beach this Summer

My daughter, Kate, is beautiful. I’m completely biased and entirely certain that she is adorable by any standard. When people meet her for the first time, I can affirm that they generally comment on how cute she is. Of course, I wouldn’t argue with their assessment at all, but I also see how this emphasis on her external beauty could shape her thinking over time. I would never want Kate’s joy in life or sense of self-worth to be dependent on man’s praise of her outward beauty.

We are a visually obsessed culture. I also have three boys, and I find myself flinching routinely during televised football games at the flaunting of female beauty on the sidelines and in the commercials. While I believe God created physical beauty to be enjoyed (God made female and male bodies unique for a reason), our society has obviously over-indulged the physical. This is a serious problem that most pastors and churches hesitate to address, usually because church-going folks are just as influenced by beauty-worship as non-church people.

The Bible signals a warning to us about overemphasizing physical attractiveness. Proverbs 31:30 warns, “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain.” One of more blunt verses in Scripture, Proverbs 11:22 says, “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion.” These warnings tell us that this is not just an issue for American women of the 21st century. There is something universal in this struggle that isn’t going away in our time.

I am thankful that Lisa Bloom sounds the alarm for us about how our words impress unhealthy values on our littlest ladies. But I also want to issue a warning of my own about Bloom’s solution to this problem.

The Mind is Not Better than the Body

Bloom’s answer to our beauty-obsession appears to swap physical beauty for intellectual capacity. She writes:

Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything. It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23. As our cultural imperative for girls to be hot 24/7 has become the new normal, American women have become increasingly unhappy. What’s missing? A life of meaning, a life of ideas and reading books and being valued for our thoughts and accomplishments.

While this sounds like a helpful corrective, I think it introduces a new problem. Notice what is important to Bloom? She directs us to the life she values more: ideas and books and thoughts and accomplishments.

Here is my question: Are these really better than beauty?

Perhaps they might make one more financially secure or more independent or more academically successful. It is certainly true that the life of the mind tends to outlast youthful beauty which inevitably sags with time. So, maybe it is better to some small extent.

But it is not enough.

Beauty and Intelligence and Performance and Morality Are Not Enough

So, here is my problem with Bloom’s solution to the beauty-worship problem: the mind-worship problem isn’t any better. A little girl does not need to hear that her value is determined by her boob size, but neither does she does need to hear that her value is determined by her brain size.  Intelligence and success and independence do not meet our deepest needs.

In fact, when we seek to find our value in our performance, it may be even more dangerous. It’s easy for someone who has accomplished much to take pride in their intellect or ingenuity or toughness or determination. A person who performs well may even demean beauty as “something you are born with” as opposed to accomplishments which they have “earned.” Dependence on performance can be just as crippling as dependence on beauty.

Of course, Religious people have their own spin on the performance problem. Rather than stressing beauty or intelligence or success, they put the emphasis on morality. Girls are taught that their value or goodness depends on their ability to keep the rules. This may be the most insidious kind of performance idol. Religious types construct their performance idols on the foundation of Scripture, which makes them even harder to detect. To the religious person, this moral performance trap feels righteous.

Why Little Girls (And Boys) Need the Gospel of Jesus Above All Else

I must recognize that I cannot control all of the voices that my daughter will hear. She will always live in a world that overvalues her beauty. She will also have to deal with pressures to measure up intellectually and educationally and financially. Countless voices will praise, or criticize, her according to unhealthy standards.

I cannot control all of the voices that my daughter will hear, but I do know which one I want to be the loudest in her ears. It is not the voice of her boyfriend, or the academic advisor at her college, or the CEO of her company, or even my voice as her father. It is the voice of Jesus.

Her deepest longing is not to be loved for her beauty, praised for her intelligence, or admired for her performance. No, the deepest longing of the human heart is to be loved, and this longing is so deep that only God can fill it.

The gospel, or good news, of Jesus says to us, “You are loved as you are. Regardless of how beautiful and smart and successful you feel, you are so broken that life on your own merits will never be enough. And regardless of how ugly or dumb or unsuccessful you feel, you are so loved that Jesus gave his life so that he could be with you forever.”

Most of us spend our lives working to prove ourselves. We exhaust ourselves as we try and try to convince people that we deserve to be accepted.* There is a cost to this kind of acceptance. It takes something out of us in the process and must be continually earned. The gospel frees us from this compulsion. When we operate from a place of gospel-security that is grounded in the love of God rather than in her own ability to measure up, we are truly free. Only then can we enjoy beauty and intellect and performance in freedom rather than compulsion.

I think that is part of what the Bible means when it says, “Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Rev 22:17).

If you find yourself thirsty, come as you are to Jesus who offers you acceptance and love and life at no cost to yourself. He gave his life to free you from the beauty trap and the intelligence trap and the performance trap. It cost Jesus everything, but you were worth it.

So, how should we talk to little girls?

When I talk to Kate, I will say:

“I love you. I love the way your hair rolls into ringlets and falls into your eyes. I love the way you read yourself books, even though you can’t read. I love the way you dance and twirl around the kitchen. I love the way you wave at cars that pass on our walks. I love the way you scream “Dad” in the middle of the night. I love the way you  say “do it again” when we do something fun. I even love the permanent marker custom design you put on my new Mac. But as much as I love you, Jesus loves you more. I sacrifice a lot because I love you, but Jesus sacrificed everything because he loves you. So if somewhere along the way you fail a test or love a boy who does not love you back or have a mastectomy or develop Alzheimers or gain some weight or lose a job, you will still hold infinite value because Jesus loves you. No matter what. You are loved exactly as you are. Always.”

I’d love to read your comments…
What in this post resonates with you? Do you find yourself fighting against the beauty trap or intelligence trap or performance trap? How do you talk to your little girls about these things?

-jdl

* Thanks to Tim Keller for this thought, which I once jotted down and then was unable to find as I wrote this post.

A friend sent me this link in an email with the subject line that read: “It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time.”


Hilarious. I’m guessing the end result was not what this dog had in mind. Actually, I’m guessing the dog had very little in his mind at all. I imagine that Colt or Ranger or Montana (or whatever this dog’s name was) had one thought on his mind: “PLAY!” He saw a potential new friend running alongside the vehicle and wanted to join the game. So he jumped.

I don’t expect a lot of strategic planning from a dog, but I do expect more from myself. Still, I do things all the time that, once it is too late, I wish I hadn’t done at all. Have you ever been there? You grab hold of something only to feel regret later.

It happens every Thanksgiving. Turkey. Stuffing. Gravy. Pumpkin pie. Extra Cool Whip. [Sigh.] Regret. Nap. And then I do it again with leftovers.

Of course, eating too much once a year on a holiday is the easy stuff. We do things all the time that bring more pain and deeper regret into our lives.

The Bible warns us with questions like these: “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched?” (Proverbs 6:27-28).

Most fail to realize that they are quoting the Bible when they say, “You’re playing with fire.” It’s a nice way of saying, “If you don’t stop what you are doing, you are about to bring some serious hurt into your life.”

Almost no one intends to bring pain into his life. We seek pleasure or escape or companionship or security. We think we are going to get something good, only to find out the thing we’ve chosen leads to something bad. That’s the problem with bad decisions: consequences. Our decisions matter. Even decisions we don’t realize that we are making.

I hear people all the time say, “This wasn’t something I planned; I didn’t mean to get into this mess.” Or, “I didn’t try to fall in love with him; it just happened.” Someone else might say, “I was going through a hard time, and this is what got me through it.”

Scripture warns us against this silliness: “The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps. One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless” (Proverbs14:15).

These verses are meant to wake us up to the fact that we are making decisions all the time. We can act in wisdom and live in way that honors God, or we can be fools who grab hold of something that ultimately brings us pain.

Provebs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”

This is the dangerous thing: sin is rarely obvious. In our minds, sin appears as a logical option, a reasonable risk, an enticing opportunity, a moment of pleasure. But that is the short-sighted view. In the long run, sin = death. Every single time. There is no escape.

“Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” These are God’s warnings to Cain in Genesis 4:7. Cain ignored the warning and suffered for it.

It makes me ask: Am I ignoring the warnings of God? Where is sin crouching at my door? Am I being ruled by sin? Or am I, through Christ, ruling over sin?

I will close with some reminders from the book of Romans:

…consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions…present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life…Sin will have no dominion over you…But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

-jdl

As Thanksgiving nears, I was thinking about things I’m thankful for. The first thing that came to mind was the men that God has used to sharpen my life over the years. We are shaped by those around us, and I have been blessed with great relationships with great men. Scripture says, “To whom much is given, much will be required.” I have been given much, and that privilege brings a weightiness to life that is a joy to carry.

A few observations as I surveyed the list of men:

  • Many people have a role to play in our lives–some big, some small but all are significant.
  • God uses different kinds of people in different times of life.
  • Dudes need other dudes to invest in them. Positive masculine influence is essential in the development of men. Iron sharpens iron.

At the end of this post, I included several questions for you to reflect on personally.

Homer Duane Lawrence
My Dad inhabits one of the coolest names possible and likes to fancy himself a rapper named HomerDee. He taught me what it means to laugh and to love and to live. From throwing footballs to bike rides to ski trips, he made growing up fun. I know of no man more faithful in doing the right thing in the right way at the right time. He taught me how to have a backbone and do what is best, even if nobody sees. He showed me that loving people means sacrifice. I’ve never heard a bad word spoken about my father.

Kenneth Lay
Pastor Lay was the pastor that prayed with me when I first trusted Jesus. He baptized me and welcomed me into Christ’s church. I was young, but I remember a gracious man who loved God and loved people.

John Lanata
John was a leader in our youth group. Lanata was a 5’8” inch cannonball of a man who lived like he was set on fire. He would shake your hand like a meat grinder and then slap you on the back with the force of mule kick. In my memory, he weighed 220 and ran 7 miles a day. He was an F.B.I agent. You heard that right – F-B-I. When I was 16, he told me I had what it took to be FBI too. I don’t know if he was just a dad with a slew of daughters looking for ways to escape a household of estrogen or not, but he invested in me and believed in me. Some days, I still want to be an FBI guy.

Ken Surritte
Ken was a youth pastor who showed me what it was to invest relationally as a shepherd. He loved kids. At 3 A.M in the morning, he still loved kids. He let us do stupid stuff like have Nerf gun fights in the church late at night when things tend to spontaneously break. He let students learn to lead in ministry, even though it got messy (figuratively and literally). Ken let me get my first taste of using my gifts to serve Jesus in the local church.

Kim Bearden
Kim was my youth minister and the first guy to hire me for a ministry job (which he paid for out of his own pocket). Kim made hard decisions to buck tradition in order to create the best ministry for reaching and teaching students. I learned from Kim about spending time with the Lord, telling my friends about Jesus, and listening to the preaching of the Word as though it was the key to life.

Terral Bearden (For those that were wondering…yes, they are brothers)
Terral looked like Grizzly Adams, filled his own bullets with powder, and ate things like bear and elk. He didn’t shoot deer from a stand positioned 25 yards from a corn feeder either; he trekked up snow covered mountains and picked them off at great distances. We once shot 96 prairie dogs in about 90 minutes, and I’m still proud of the fact that I got three with a single bullet. He pastored a small church that paid him very little. He often installed carpet to make ends meet. I had the honor of living in his basement and serving his church as youth minister for two summers during college. I got to see how he loved his wife and his kids. My time with him marked me so much that I asked him to be the minister at my wedding.

Louie Giglio
Louie taught me how to worship. In my college years, 1000+ sudents would gather on Monday nights to experience passionate worship and great teaching. Louie repeatedly told us that if we could only make a part of the event, we should come to the worship rather than the talk. As a pre-med student studying long hours in the library, I would run from the library for the worship time and then, often before Louie preached, return to the library. Worship was the most important part of the night because Louie was not the focus, God was.

Tommy Nelson
I first got to know Tommy via cassette tape sermons that his church mailed every other week in packets of two. I listened to more than 500 sermons on tape. After college, I invested a year in Tommy’s “Young Guns” discipleship program, which met each morning at 6 AM. We started Day 1 in Genesis 1:1 and went verse-by-verse as far as we could go each day. Tommy had memorized the entire New Testament. On drives in his car, we would play “stump the preacher”: we’d read a verse, and he’d quote the verse before and after it from memory. His teaching through the Song of Solomon changed my dating and marriage. Lessons from Tommy about life, theology and ministry continue to direct my steps.

John Hannah
Dr. Hannah helped me laugh deeply and think deeply, usually at the same time. We’d sing a hymn before each class, and he’d intro the song with “here’s a horrible little ditty with awful theology, let’s sing it with all our hearts.” He would rub his hand through his unkempt hair and offer humble wisdom like: “the best of us are only right eighty percent of the time.” His willingness to keep things real in a class of uptight seminarians was a salve for my soul. He taught me that the Reformed doctrines of depravity and grace give us the freedom to laugh and the confidence to rest in God’s sovereignty. He introduced me to John Owen, Jonathan Edwards and the Puritans.

Bob Pyne
Before I ever met Dr. Pyne, a close friend told me, “If you were ever a professor, you would be like Bob Pyne.” Bob taught me how to think. He demonstrated fairness and honesty and balance in theology. I graded for Bob at the seminary, and was given the privilege of teaching for him when he was gone. We co-taught a class on Science and Theology in Kiev, Ukraine. When we were there, we filled large jugs of water and tied them to a pole so that we could lift weights in our dorm room (and on the last day or our trip discovered that the school had a legit weight room that we could have used). Bob helped me to see God’s love for the poor, the handicapped, the suffering and the overlooked of this world.

Jeff Bingham
Dr. Bingham was a tall man with a small head that rested on broad shoulders from which protruded long arms that culminiated in skinny fingers. God created Dr. Bingham to be a professor. Even though he insisted, I struggled dropping the “Dr.” from his name. I can’t do it in writing as a type this notation. I never use the word notation either, but I feel like I must when speaking of Dr. Bingham. I purposely took more classes from him in seminary than anyone else. His “Life and Worship in the Early Church” was my favorite course. Classes in Church History, History of Doctrine, Augustine, Barth, and more were foundational for me. He was first reader on my Masters Thesis, which I turned in a day late because I wanted to get it right. His passion for the the Word of God expressed theologically still lights my path.

Mike Monroe
My father-in-law, Mike, is a master of one-liner wit delivered at unexpected moments. He is steady-as-they-come no matter what happens in the course of a day. Mike has taught me a lot about relationships lived without pressure or guilt. He’s a fair-minded man, who treats people well. He’s an open-handed man, who gives freely. I’m grateful for the ways he loves his daughter and loves his grandchildren.

Neil Tomba & David Fletcher
Neil and David offered me a job at the church I was attending while in seminary. Then, they offered me more responsibility to lead on the team just a few months later. These men invested finances, time, energy and relationship in my development. They trusted me, challenged me, and encouraged me as a young pastor and friend. Under their watch, I grew as a preacher, leader and servant during our years together.

Brian McCurry
Brian is a faithful friend and partner in the gospel. McCurry is a “get ‘er done” servant-leader who loves Jesus. He was a great teammate, whose strengths often made up for my weaknesses. Brian makes disciples of Jesus and may be the best small group leader I know. He was willing to do what was right in a tough time at great personal sacrifice. That is true character.

Yancey Arrington, Jason Ganze, Craig Hasselbach, Scott James, Andy Kerckhoff, & Mitch Kramer
Six friends that began as an accountability group meeting Wednesdays at 11pm at a dock on the Brazos River near Baylor University. These guys are my “Fandango” guys, named after the movie and the time capsule we once buried and returned to dig up up ten years later. We still get together each year to share laughs and life. I won’t take time here to tell you about them individually, but I cannot imagine a group of higher quality men with whom I could walk through life. These guys have my back, no matter what. My wife has full permission to call these men if I ever stop loving Jesus, loving her, or loving our kids. Three pastors, a social entrepreneur, a junior high school teacher, and a dentist who will be pall bearers at my funeral, unless they beat me to the finish line.  [You can read more about how to develop friendships like this here.]

What men or women have influenced you? How can you express your gratitude to them this week? Who is God calling you to pour your life and influence into this year?

-jdl

Thanks to EdStetzer.com for pointing this video out.

-jdl