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You need a Nathan

One of my favorite blogs—The Resurgence—recently posted an entry called You Flat Out Won’t Make It Without These Two. I thought it was very practical, very insightful, and very challenging. Please take a moment to read it:

Jonathans and Nathans

The challenging part is to make sure that I’m open to Nathans. We would all probably claim that we want to have Nathans in our lives, but I doubt that’s the case. While in the Air Force, I’ve often encountered leaders who claimed they had an “open door policy” and if you ever needed to bring anything to their attention then they would be open to it. Yet, it was sometimes the case that when I took them up on their offer, even slightly, they didn’t respond well.
I’ve seen the same with myself and other Christian brothers. We claim we want that Proverbs 27:17 experience of “iron sharpening iron” but we don’t really consider what that might look like. We don’t consider the fact that we might actually get called on foolish or sinful behavior! I remember when I first became a Christian and got confronted about some foolish behavior. I really liked a girl named April and we were studying alone in my dorm room. Out of nowhere, my pastor called me; turns out that God had prompted him to. He told me I needed to be more careful, that it was unwise to spend time alone, in my dorm room, with a girl I was attracted to. He was right and I knew it, but I secretly resented him for months.
Truthfully, at that point I was too immature to appreciate how much he was trying to love me. He was trying to be a Nathan to me and I failed to submit to his authority or even appreciate the courage and integrity he demonstrated by confronting me about an area in my life that was not “above reproach” (Col 1:22). I realize now that my reaction to his confrontation  was prideful and rebellious and I’m still ashamed of how I responded. I was a fool (Pr 12:15; 15:12, 32; 19:20; 23:9; 29:1 and many others).
In fact, in the last year or so, this is an area where I’ve deliberately tried to grow and God has blessed me with at least one Nathan who I know isn’t afraid to speak hard truth into my life. It’s been a tremendous blessing and, by the grace of God, has challenged me to grow in several areas. I’m grateful for our relationship and truly appreciate his honest words.
But the point of sharing this is to challenge you to consider if you want a Nathan in your life. Are you willing to be confronted in areas where you’re immature or need to grow? Are you willing to be held accountable? In our individualistic culture, this is not a popular idea. We believe that no one has the right to tell us what to do; “you’re not the boss of me!” We’re a very rebellious culture and I think it’s cost us dearly.
It’s wise to actively, humbly seek council from others and to actually listen to their advice (Pr 17:10; 19:20; 27:9). It will require humility and a willingness to be honest with others. It will require the integrity to actually repent when you’re confronted about unwise or sinful patterns in your life. And it means you’ll need someone to love you enough to put up with you if you respond like a jerk…like I did. I pray that God will bless us all with wisdom, humility, and a Nathan!

“No man is an island…”

Coming_Tempest
Today I read Jonah as part of my reading plan. I think Jonah is one of those stories that many people like, particularly because we can relate to his tale. Many of us have run from God. Perhaps we ran because we were afraid of what God would ask of us. Perhaps we didn’t want to submit to His calling on our lives. Perhaps we fail to see God’s authority over our lives so we run away from His will. Or, perhaps, if we’re as honest about ourselves as Jonah was, we don’t want to see certain people come to know Christ. Earlier this year, I did a couple posts on The Storms of Life, and I thought I’d add another one that really jumped out to me today.

Not Alone

In 1624 a man named John Donne wrote that “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…” Too bad these words were written long after Jonah ran from God. Today, perhaps for the first time, I really understood that when Jonah ran from God, he wound up on a boat with a whole crew (Jonah 1:3). Jonah, in the midst of his rebellion and folly, was not alone. There were lots of other people on the boat with Jonah! Now, all the other people who are on the boat are about to have an encounter with God they’ll never forget.
I think it’s easy for us to focus on Jonah. We seldom think about all the other people what were on that ship, too. They were terrified and lost many of their possessions (Jonah 1:5, 10); they were in anguish over whether or not they should throw Jonah overboard (Jonah 1:12-14). They even fought to save Jonah (Jonah 1:13)! They tried to save the guy that almost got them all killed!
We all know what happens:  they throw Jonah overboard (Jonah 1:15) and the fish swallows Jonah (Jonah 1:17). The rest is history…
Our Folly, God’s Glory
But what about the other dudes? I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anyone talk about them before. Particularly, I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anyone mention the fact that, after their night with Jonah, they starting worshipping God (Jonah 1:16).
I think it’s important for us to realize that when we rebel against God, we seldom do it without causing others to suffer in our storm. No man could have an addiction to porn that doesn’t affect his entire family as a result. No divorce doesn’t affect the children for the rest of their lives. No one could commit suicide without leaving a permanent mark on their family and loved ones. Even smaller sins, like stealing a candy bar from a 7/11, can have secondary and tertiary effects on other people. This is why it’s important for us to walk blamelessly before God and men, because when one Christian sins it affects the entire Church (1 Cor 12:26).
I also think it’s amazing that God will use our folly and rebellion to draw innocent bystanders to Him as well. God is able to use man’s rebellion to bring glory to Himself (Gen 50:20). Our God is an amazing God and I pray that I won’t be rebellious; but I pray that even if I am, He will still use me for His glory.

(For some great content about Jonah, check out the Jonah series at The Resurgence.)

Two Dimensions to Freedom

Today is the 4th of July. For us Americans, it’s a pretty big deal. There will, no doubt, be lots of families gathering, grills cooking, and fireworks exploding. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the idea of freedom for the last month or so and it all started when I listened to a sermon by Tim Keller called “Absolutism: Don’t we all have to find truth for ourselves?” I’ve also been reading The Reason for God, in which Tim Keller shares some of the same thoughts. Finally, yesterday at church, our pastor—Jered Rothwilson—gave a really great sermon about freedom.
Those three messages have been swimming around in my head and have really given me a lot to think about. Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to:  modern Americans have no clue what freedom means nor do we have an appreciation for how to keep it. We only know freedom with width, but for the most part I feel like we do not know freedom with depth; there are two dimensions to freedom. Allow me to elaborate.
According to dictionary.com, freedom is defined as:
1. the state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint
2. exemption from external control, interference, regulation, etc.
3. the power to determine action without restraint.
The general idea of these—the top three—definitions is that freedom is a complete lack of constraints, the ability to do whatever you want. I think this idea is reflected in our art, too. I did a Google image search on the word “freedom” and here are the top 8 results:




Notice all of the images (expect one) depict a wide, open area. Over half of them feature just one person. All of them envision the people with their arms spread wide or lifted to the heavens. These are all depictions of a one-dimensional freedom:  a freedom with width.
In his sermon, Keller argues that freedom is a lot more complex than you think, and I agree with him. He gives the example of a fish; a fish is only truly free when it embraces the boundaries of staying in water. Later he uses the illustration of a musician who forgoes many of their freedoms to become a world-class musician; they gave up some of their freedoms to enjoy a richer, deeper freedom. Here are some examples I came up with:
  • A single person can enjoy a wide dimension of romantic freedom, whereas a married person will enjoy a deep dimension of romantic freedom.
  • Someone who spends all their money however they want, whenever they want will enjoy a wide dimension of financial freedom, whereas someone who saves and invests will enjoy a deep dimension of financial security and freedom.
  • A person who eats whatever they want, whenever they want, and however much they want will enjoy a wide dimension of dietary freedom (as well as a wide waist-line), whereas someone who eats healthy foods in moderate proportions will enjoy a far healthier freedom.
Thus, freedom is not exclusively concerned with width, but also depth, and you cannot have both. There is a trade-off required. I can’t just go out with any woman I want because I’m married, but I enjoy a degree of intimacy and love with my wife that I could never have with a superficial girlfriend.
The same is even true for our great nation, which is why our founding fathers wrote the Constitution. Did you know that the Constitution was actually a follow-up to something else? Initially, the U.S. was loosely governed by the Articles of Confederation, which gave all the independent states a very wide dimension of freedom. In fact, the Articles gave a freedom that was so wide that it was useless, which is part of why the Federalist Papers were written and the U.S. Constitution was later adopted.
Freedom demands boundaries. Either we will place a boundary on how deep our freedom goes and we will enjoy a wide freedom, or we will place a boundary on how wide our freedom goes, and we will enjoy a deep freedom.
Jesus did the same thing when He came to earth. Philippians 2:8 says that Jesus came in human flesh and humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of dying on the cross. In this, we find Jesus limiting the width and even the depth of His freedom in order to grant us the deepest of all freedoms possible. Jesus talked about slavery and freedom in John 8:34 where He says “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” Sin is an oppressive master that holds us under an oppressive and shallow freedom. But Jesus follows up by saying that if He sets us free we “will be free indeed.” To get a better idea of what exactly Jesus meant in this passage, I looked at the Greek and found out that the word for “indeed” in this passage is ontōs, which means “truly, really, or in truth.” By embracing the boundaries that Christ places on us we can know true freedom with real depth. Could this be what Jesus was describing when He said He came to give us “life to the full” (Jn 10:10)?
My prayer is that all who read this have a wonderful 4th of July and come to a deeper appreciation of our freedom. God bless and happy 4th!

My Testimony (A time to brag…)

It was the middle of September and I was despondent. I felt like I was drowning; I felt like the Psalmist in Psalm 69:1-3. I was in way over my head and I knew it. How could I have been so foolish? I had bit off more than I could chew. Every day after work, from 6-10, my weekly night routine looked like this:  during on Monday nights I would do my online OT Writings class homework, on Tuesday nights I would do my online Theology class homework, on Wednesday night I would do homework for my theology class, on Thursday night I would go to my theology class, on Friday nights I would tie up any loose ends (message boards from my online classes, things I didn’t get done earlier in the week), and then I would spend all day Saturday and Sunday doing research for the three papers I had due at the end of the semester. After 5 weeks of this, and still not being finished with my first (of three) paper, I realized there was no way I could do this. I was taking a 9-hour course load of senior-level classes while still in active duty. More than one person told me I was insane…and for good reason.
Rewind back that summer. I had just returned from a deployment and sat down with my education counselor, Tom. I had almost exactly a year left in the Air Force and I needed to finish my bachelor’s before I got out; that would allow me to start seminary as soon as I separated. Looks like I had 48 hours of classes plus a 1-hour senior exit seminar to tackle. That’s right, 49 hours in one year…while on active duty. God had given me a vision and I knew that He would be with me as I labored to do His will. Things started out pretty good. While on R&R from my deployment I took a 2-week, condensed math class; I followed that up by taking a math CLEP. I had only been home three weeks and had already knocked 6 hours off of my degree; only 43 more to go! I was going to study for the American Government and Computer Sciences CLEPs during August before the fall semester started. I had a pretty good plan, but then something horrible happened.
On July 28th, I got an email about a routine job:  someone needed to stay late to videotape one of our C-17’s doing its air show routine. That footage would then be sent to our MAJCOM so they could demonstrate competency and then be cleared to perform their routine at the Air Show that weekend. I volunteered because I had just gotten back and thought it would set a good example. I decided the best place to get my footage from would be the air traffic control tower. I remember being up there getting some great shots of all the different aircraft as they taxied, launched, and landed.
Pretty soon, the group I was up there for taxied onto the runway. The co-pilot called me to let me know that they were going to do a test-takeoff, check out the weather, and then they’d do the real thing. After they finished their test-flight, they landed, did some last minutes checks, and called me to say they were still good to go. Little did I know that I’d be the last person they ever talked to on the phone. Less than a minute after they took off, the aircraft took a sharp, sharp right bank. I remember watching through my viewfinder as they gained speed and disappeared behind the tree line. In an instant I thought it was both strange that they would go so low and wondering where they’d come back up from behind the tree line; after all, I needed to make sure I got a good shot!
I still remember being shocked and horrified when I saw a ball of fire rise up from behind the trees. Many people—myself included before that night—claim that people are desensitized by our media today. I’m not sure I agree, because nothing I had ever seen could prepare me for that moment. It was honestly too much to handle so, without a thought, I reverted back to simple muscle memory and started manning my camera. I did a slow, smooth, steady zoom out as the explosion grew in size. I knew that investigators would want to see all of these. I documented as much as I could. I called Connie—it was hard dialing with my hands trembling—and told her I was okay.
For the next few weeks it was impossible for me to concentrate. I didn’t study for the CLEP but I knew that I still had to finish my degree. I could still catch up. So I signed up for three of my senior classes and started. I had a pretty steady routine, but I felt like I was slowly and surely getting more and more behind. It was the middle of September and I was despondent. I knew also knew that, even if I managed to finish that semester I still had 11 more classes to finish. I honestly felt like I was drowning. I remember at one moment burying my face in my hands as I listened to Storm by Lifehouse praying to God for the strength to do what I knew was His will.
God is good, and He gave me strength—His strength—to make it not only through that week, but through the entire semester. By the grace and power of God, I got straight A’s that entire semester. In between the semesters I managed to study for and pass my American Government CLEP thanks to some help from a close friend, many prayers, and God blessing the time I put into studying.
I only had two more senior-level classes to finish over the course of two 12-week semesters, so I decided to split my efforts across three fronts:  I would take my theology classes in the remaining 12-week semesters I had while simultaneously taking my general education classes online through a university that offered 8-week semesters (thus giving me three semesters with them to complete everything) while simultaneously knocking out CLEPs when I could fit them in! So I had 6 hours of theology classes, 9 hours of 8-week classes, and 15 hours in CLEPs… assuming I didn’t fail any of the CLEPs because then I’d have to take the class in its place!
It sounds crazy doesn’t it? It sounds impossible doesn’t it? And truthfully, I think it would have been impossible if God had not been with me. My prayer was that God would help me and that He would reward the effort that I put in to all my studying. He has blessed me with an amazing wife to take care of me while I’ve been neck-deep in homework and many amazing friends who have prayed for me and encouraged me along the way.
I have passed all my classes with A’s and aced every CLEP along the way. This afternoon I passed my final CLEP. I only have the Senior Exit Seminar to complete and I will be finished with my bachelor’s just in time to start seminary this fall. I can’t even put into words how excited I am about what God has been doing in my life. Through God’s power I have completed 48 hours in 10.5 months while on active duty. I feel like I have finally crossed a monumental finish line!
This is part of my testimony and I share it with you to show you that nothing is impossible for my God. He is a mighty God and I hope you know Him!
“I love you, LORD, my strength.
The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”
Psalm 18:1-2