the call is coming for all of us…

Sometimes, a single phone call can change the entire trajectory of your life.  Oftentimes, that call is a crisis.

Storms are going to come.  One day, a phone call will come for you.  One day, news will rock your world.  When the call comes, it will find you in one of two conditions – either mostly in isolation, mostly disconnected from other people, largely on your own emotionally and not sure if there is anyone that you can reach out to.

Or … it will find you living in community, surrounded by people who know you and love you.  You will eat together, laugh together, cry together and pray, play and struggle together.  You’ve done life together.  And when that storm comes, they will hold you up and strengthen you and support you and keep you together as if by an invisible force, because it is.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor; if either of them falls down, one can help the other up.  But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up … though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

Harvard researcher Robert Putnam – “People who are socially disconnected are between 2 and 5 times more likely to die from all causes, compared with matched individuals who have close ties.”

The Church in Acts “devoted themselves” to community.  Devoted is a powerful word.  They learned together, had fellowship, got real, took off their masks, prayed together, ate together, suffered together and shared daily with each other.  God hates aloneness.  He loves community.  It is how He made man.  “It is not good for man to be alone”.

Robert Putnam – “People who don’t attend church are significantly unhappier than the norm.  Those that attend church 20x a year are average happy but those that attend weekly are the happiest people on earth.  Bottom line of these studies – if you belong to no groups but decide to join one, you cut your risk of dying over the next year in half”.

The key to this – the time to build community and friendship and connection and spiritual bonds is now.  Because, if you wait for the phone call, it will be too late.  When the storm comes, when everything falls apart, people who live isolated lives feel too awkward to ask for help.  They don’t have the energy at that point to do the work to build community.  They actually will become more and more isolated.  The time to build community is before the call comes.

Maybe you’re not in a crisis.  Maybe you’re feeling pretty self-sufficient right now and that life is going well for you, but I’ll make you two promises.  One, the phone call will come for you.  The day will come when you realize, you need community.  Two, even if you don’t think you need anybody, somebody needs you.  Someone needs your prayer, your touch, your encouragement and your perspective.

YOU NEED COMMUNITY.  YOU NEED TRIBE.  Jesus modeled it.  He taught it.  He walked with Tribe.  Please, don’t try to do this life alone.  Come into community.  This is why we do Manschool.

Here is John Ortberg talking about this … https://menlo.church/series/because-life-is-better-in-community#/modal/message/5448/mlo

 

Fight Club – this is how we fight

here are the slides from this morning … Which Kingdom 13 – fight club 3

here is the video – we started at 13 minutes into the talk …

When you play football, you understand what fight club is all about.  You’re out of the stands.  You’re committed.  You have invested and sacrificed.  And you’re extraordinarily vulnerable because every play, every move, every block is graded and evaluated in the open.

It is completely different than the people sitting in section 304.

It can be like that in church – we can sit in church, watch from a distance, know 3-4 guys who seem to be Jesus guys and worship at a distance – or – we could get on the field, get some guys of our own, make the commitment and say, “I don’t want to be a spectator, I want to be a participant in what it is God wants for my life.”

 We fight in 4 arenas

We want to fight for our walk with God –  The enemy is going to try and destroy in every man, his relationship with God.  He doesn’t want us to be come a man of the Word and a man of prayer.  You were created for relationship with God.  The best gift we can give to the next generation is to become a “man after God’s own heart” = a man of the Word and a man of prayer.  That is going to take a fight because no one is rewarding us men carving out time to become students of God, becoming immersed in the Word, to learn the Word of God so we can live it and pass it on to our children.  Our call is to raise up our children in the Word of God, not default that to our wives.

We want to fight for our heart and our character –  Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is more desirable than great riches.  To be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”  Survey humanity and culture and you’ll see that silver and gold is way more important than being esteemed.  For most men, great riches would be an easy choice over a good name.  We know we must fight for our heart and our character.  David honorable but he was still subject to temptation and so am I.  If you don’t believe that, you’re deceived and very vulnerable.  Bathsheba came along, and every man knows exactly how David fell.  James 1:14 – “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.  Then, after his desire has conceived it, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death.”

Lust is in the heart of all men – lust for her, for power, for money, prestige, vengeance.  In this fight, there is something about having other men around you who can help you overcome these temptations when they come towards you.

We want to fight for our family –  We are providers and protectors.  We’re good at.  It’s what we do but we are also the fountain for the approval and worth that our family so desperately need.  Ephesians 5 – “Love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” At the heart of every woman is a desire for a man that is a protector and provider and a source of approval for her and encourager in her life.  Our families need more than financial deposits.  They need emotional deposits as well.  They need to know we love them, we like them, we think about them, we want to be with them and we want to help them fulfill their dreams.

We fight for our brother –  Ecclesiastes 4:12 – “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves but a chord of three strands is not easily broken.”  Help your brother fight to become the man he wants to be.  Brothers in war.  Transparency is crucial.  100% honesty.  Your success is dependent on how transparent and honest you will be.

It won’t work to get together to talk about work, talk about our family, talk about temptation, talk about lust … and not be honest.  You hold all the cards.  Unless you’re willing to put all your cards down on the table, you’re not going to make it to the ultimate destiny.

There hasn’t been one book ever written about the lone, one man who won the battle, by himself, against all the enemies coming against a man’s heart.  But there are enough books to fill this room of all the men who fell trying to fight against all the enemies in a man’s heart.

It’s going to take brotherhood and it’s going to take vulnerability.

Fight club – A man after God’s own heart

Here is the video.  We started at about 24 minutes in…

A man after God’s own heart.

It’s OK to be a man and still have a heart.  You can be tough on the outside and tough mentally and tough about the things you set your mind to and to still be sensitive to the things going on around you and shed a tear every now and then.

David was a musician, brave, warrior, gifted speaker, Lord was with him, rancher, leader, bold, crack shot, poet, good looks, dancer but we also know he was easily distracted by temptation.  He was tempted to decisions that would be massively detrimental to his life.

You can be a man’s man and have your life summed up as a “man after God’s own heart”.

You can be a skilled fighter, but you must know when to fight and when not to fight.

Fighting is a man’s DNA.  Fighting brothers.  Wrestling Dad.  Football.  Fighting to win business.  It’s our nature to fight but we’ve got to know when to fight or else we can risk gaining the whole world and forfeiting our soul.

When the conflict arises, do I deflect, or do I say, “I’m sorry”?

It’s hard for us.  We’re sinful, proud, stubborn, arrogant fighters.  So, it’s hard to say, “I’m sorry” because that phrase brings with it a freight train of other things i.e.  “I’m not right about everything”, “I’m not right about this thing” or because I reacted this way to this, it shows there is something deep inside that just isn’t wired right.

We must know when and where to fight.  We will fight – no question – but to have it said about us, “he was a man after God’s own heart”, we’re going to have to know “when” to fight.

Some of us are still fighting with our Dads.  We fight against him daily even if he’s not around or no longer living.  You’re fighting that “thing” stuck between you and him.

Some of us are still fighting against a wrong in our past – a decision made, an unfair situation, something that wrongly went against us.

We’re fighting against what we can’t resolve, or we fight for things that ultimately won’t satisfy us.  We fight for success and fame.  They don’t satisfy.  Money doesn’t.  Winning the deal, having your name on the building, being first, being best, being most powerful … they don’t satisfy a heart that was made for God.

How can we be men who can have it said about us that we were men after God’s own heart?

How can we know when to fight and what to fight for?

It happens when we move out of isolation and insulation and we move into relationship with other men for the purpose of achieving the ultimate win which is being a man after God’s own heart.

Isolation is a chief skill of men – we’ve perfected it.  Insulation = nobody is getting to me.

I can’t do this alone or at least, I know I’m not getting the amazing outcome I sought doing it in isolation and insulated from others, so I need help to do this.

Fight Club = contending for what matters most.  It’s not what we’re fighting against but rather what we are fighting for.

Paul said (2 Timothy 4:7), “I’ve fought the good fight”.  I’ve contended for the right things in the right way and I’ve gained them.  I didn’t just fight fights, I fought the good fight.  I’ve finished the race, kept the faith.

The question we seek to dodge with our isolation and insulation is “How are you doing?”.  That deep, at the core, no-BS question – cut through the pose, the “I’m great” answer and peel back the layers and expose the real answer … how are you really doing?

Fight Club intends to fight for 4 key areas

  1. My walk with God – am I fighting for my walk as much as I fight for my career, my workouts, my hunting, my yard?
  2. My heart and my character
  3. My family – fight for my wife, not with her.  Fight for my kids.  My dad.  Will I stand up and be the spiritual leader of my home?  Yes or no?
  4. My brothers – will I get into what he is fighting against and get up in his face over it?

I’m going to fight for the disadvantaged and for those who cannot fight for themselves. I’m not going to live a self-focused life, a self-serving life, stacking up what I need, isolating and insulating myself from what I don’t want to feel.  I’m not going to do all these things chasing after a false prize I think will satisfy my life.

The enemy wants you to fail in all 4 of these areas.  So, you need a fight club around you that knows the real you, the honest you, not the church-answer you.  You need men around you where it is safe for you to say, “You know, I am not doing well”.

You have a heart.  Peel back the layers of isolation and insulation until you can get to where you know you’re a son of God.  Feelings, hurts, anguish, loss, anger, etc. are all stuffed down deep – we’ve got to peel those back to get to the covered-over heart, so you can know God at a heart to heart level.

Fighters that we are, real men and all that, we cannot approach God on a strength to strength basis.  It’s only on the heart-to-heart level where we can be fathered by God.

agreements

here are the slides from this morning > Which Kingdom 7 – transparency and agreements

As we’ve discussed all fall, life can be pretty hard on us – we had broken parents who hurt us deeply or siblings that left lasting impacts on us, broken marriages, failures in business, addictions, etc.  We turn to money or things or porn or booze to medicate our pain.  We’ve discussed that in great detail.

But something else happens out of all of this – we form agreements with the lies.  The enemy shows up in your battle and tries to convince you that your failures are you.  “You’ll always be a ____”.  

Eventually, after enough convincing, we agree with the enemy and form an agreement with his lies.  “You know, I will always be a ______”.

Relationships which had been good, break for some reason and we say, “Yep, you see, there it is.  I cannot sustain meaningful relationships”.  Or perhaps we were betrayed by a parent or a coach or an old girlfriend way back when and when a current relationship breaks, you tell yourself, “You see, I can’t ever trust anyone”.

I can’t attach the clip from this morning because it is from a paid subscription at Ransomed Heart but in that clip, we saw those four guys unpacking how agreements formed in their lives and how they still surface today.  What you also saw is how they have learned to identify them and break them down before they take root as “truth”.  In part, they do that because those were four guys who knew each others stories inside/out and were willing to probe and listen and do the heavy lifting of fighting for one another.

What is coming this fall at manschool is the plead, the push, the encouragement for you to form your own tribe like we saw displayed this morning – that group of 2-3 other men you can go deep into life with.  Your own “Fight Club”.  More on that later but it rings true to a core belief of our LiveUP Tribe … that if a man tries to do this life alone, he’s going to get taken out.  I don’t believe you can do it alone.  Form a group and fight for one another.  The rewards of this are immense.

here is a transcript of the key things they said …

Morgan – I have a very poor filter of what battles to take on and what to pass up.  I’m very scared to ask God, “Is this battle for me?”  It feels noble to just take it on.  It takes far more courage to ask God and be willing to say “no” to others.

You see a need you can meet, and your good heart can get you in trouble.  That lure is strong to help meet the needs of others, but it can come at a great cost.  What is it in me that is unwilling to take the question to God and to be unwilling to not come through for someone?

I have to break a pretty deep agreement of “I am loved if I achieve” – striving gives me some false life, false validation that feels something like the Kingdom of God – but – it doesn’t last, it doesn’t work, and it doesn’t bring the fruit.

Craig – Do I orchestrate this, or do I let God?  I have a battle to trust God.  It goes to an agreement.  The old wound shows up of being a seagull and this agreement forms of, “I don’t have anything to say, anything of worth, anything to add” – that God gives me lots of stuff but the way I view it that it is all just wasted on me.  The talents are wasted on me.

Bart – temptation.  Enemy comes in this agreement of, “that’s what you are.  You have nothing to offer.  You are totally disqualified.”

Warfare, yes.  But there is repentance in there I need to offer up.  I must make a choice.  I committed a sin and I need to repent.

Morgan on his brother’s illness – numbness, anger, discouragement, hope, profound sense of sadness – you lose the ability to BS in that kind of environment.

The healing we wanted didn’t come and yet, God has been bringing so many miracles through this situation – not the miracle we asked for, but the miracles we needed of restoration of relationship, of authenticity, more of the Kingdom coming from a network of people.

In the suffering, it is God, or it is understanding – but you don’t get both.  Something deep in my heart is choosing God.  While I profoundly sad and angry, I feel like I am staying true “I am choosing God. I choose to walk in integrity and strength and receive the miracles He is bringing”.

I must break the agreement of “I have to come through”.  How I’ve walked this situation is vastly different of how I walked my wife’s illness three years ago.  Back then, I was the hero, Superman.  “I must come through.  I am her husband, her counselor, her psychiatrist, her girlfriend, her father” … and I suck at all of those things other than being a marginal husband.  And I decided to let go and I literally collapsed on the ground and God began to father me – that began the fathering process – and in that, I took the superman cape off and I burned it in the spiritual realm and said, “I am done with that story, I’m going to just be her husband and trust God to come through in all these other roles for her”.  It took courage to say, “I’m not going to be her savior”.

Now, with my brother, I offer in strength, offer in being present.  Then, I release them, I bless them, and I bring the Cross of Christ between myself and their battles and I let it go.  It’s the same suffering but a very different experience for me in not carrying it.

Do you see it?  Do you see how the old wounds, the old lies weave their way into each of these men’s stories?  Do you see how the agreements resurface?  But more importantly, do you see how adept they’ve become at identifying the agreements and deconstructing them?  For some of you, this is brand new material, a brand new concept.  Welcome to a deeper layer of the battle you face!  This example this morning hopefully gave you a picture of what agreements are like and how you can combat them.  Again, you’re far better to do this with a close-knit band of brothers helping!

As frank a conversation as you’ll hear at church … next Wednesday’s Manschool

Join us next week at Manschool as we continue to unpack this study on Goliath Must Fall and this section on addiction.

We’re going to continue to push hard into this area.  We are not holding back.  You will hear from three of us as we share our struggles in this area.  It will be candid and frank and very real.  We won’t pull any punches.

There is such power in testimony.  As the listener, it is freeing to hear another man open up and share his heart and his struggles.  That frees you up to realize, “Hey, I’m not in this alone” … and there is power in that.  As other men bring their struggles into the light, it will help you consider doing the same.

I hear frequently from you how valuable Manschool is to you.  I’m frequently told, “I am hearing things here that I’ve never heard at church before.  I’m experiencing transparency and authenticity like I’ve never experienced with a bunch of church men.”  Amen!

What we have is truly quite special.  If you’re reading this and not coming to Manschool, all I can tell you is that you are missing out on something very unique and special.

Join us this coming Wednesday.  I think you will be glad you did.

Comfort & Brokenness – Hugh Freeze

Today, we heard from Coach Hugh Freeze (former Head Coach at Ole Miss) as he shared his story of his fall and the grace he has experienced in his brokenness.  Like a lot of us, Coach Freeze went to comfort and complacency.  He had “it all” and took a lot of things for granted.  Worldly comforts provided him no true reward but he let his guard down with devastating consequences.  Through God’s grace, he is being restored and he took this opportunity to stand up in front of the family of faith and ask for forgiveness.

Even more powerful is the follow on later in the video from his wife, Jill Freeze, about how this season has impacted her and her walk with Christ.  When this was revealed to her, she immediately went to her pain, her offended self and quickly, God steered her to “Jill, do you want to stay in the pain or go to the healing” and she made a shift.  And, the more she went to God, the more it became about her sin, not Hugh’s.  God had things He wanted to deal with in her through this pain which is usually the way it is in these broken times – God is usually up to something far more vast than we could have every imagined.

Coach Freeze says in here –

What I found in 2017, when my world fell apart, is that the faith I stand on in Jesus Christ as my Savior is a solid rock, a solid foundation.  His love never changes.

There will come a point in life when you’ll need something bigger than self.

Integrity is not about “doing what is right”.  It is when something is not done right, then owning it.  It is being accountable for it.  It is seeing it for what it truly is – my failure, my sin, my pride, my shortcomings.  That integrity leads to confession and brokenness.

As you go along, and things go well, some false pride comes in, false security.  Comfort.  The lie I bought into was, “I can white-knuckle my way through it” and “I can be isolated”.  It’s a lie.  Don’t do it alone.  That will take you down a road you don’t want to go.  Confess it.  Own it.  Be willing to be broken.

and later he says –

The Devil wants you to stay where you are in defeat and as a “failure”.  But failures are not final.  You can move forward by the grace of God.   You can have the mental toughness to get up every day and surrender again.

I cannot change what other people think or say about me.  But, I can make up my mind.  My mind is set.  My eyes are clear.  My heart is full.  My feet are pointed forward and I look forward with thanksgiving for what God has given me.

You can finish well.  You may have stumbled or failed but you can get up and finish.

Pride wants to keep you from that broken spot.  Isolation from community does that too.  It’s a sign of pride to say, “I can’t talk about that”.  A lot of us were raised in churches where it was never really OK to say, “I’ve got a problem with this and I need some help.” And then guilt and shame set in and the only true way to freedom from that is brokenness.  

I’ve struggled with why this private matter between Jill and I, that I thought I was dealing with in the right way, had to go out into the public eye.  And the answer was so I could experience true brokenness and then use it for the Glory of God.

Brokenness is agreeing with God daily that anything that is outside the boundaries of me following Him, breaks His heart.  That brokenness leads you to obedience.

Amen!  Some of you reading this need to come clean.  There are things in your heart you are hiding.  There is a judgmental spirit, an offended self, resentments you’re carrying, unforgiveness that is eating you up or secrets you never want exposed.  Those are breeding grounds for destruction via the enemy.  He thrives in these dark places.  It’s time to come clean and confess.  For some of you, it may be you need to sit down with your spouse and open up.  Maybe you’re not ready for that step and so, it may be you need your closest friends to hear what you’re struggling with.  Certainly, it needs to go to the Father.  Stop and confess.  Open your heart and be willing to be totally broken.  Give it to the Father.  Leave it at the foot of the Cross where all mercy, grace and forgiveness were laid out for you.

Incredible freedom lies on the other side of brokenness.

Here is the actual video from our session this morning …

and here is the version from Liberty University.  Fast forward to about 15 minutes in through the end of his talk and Jill Freeze starts talking at 41:50 in…

the giving tree …

slides from today > Goliath 2

The giants we face – fear, rejection, comfort, anger, addiction, self – all are designed to knock us into an “inward life”.  That wrapped up in our fear or our desire for comfort, we are curving in upon ourselves.  It’s exactly what the enemy wants you to do.

It’s a small life.  It may be safe to be wrapped up in seeking your comfort in the safety of your four walls – but it is a very small life.  There is an old saying, “A ship in the harbor is safe but that isn’t what ships are built for” … your life has a grander purpose than “self”.  As a believer in Christ, the call upon your life is very much a call outward.

We are going to spend this fall going after the giants in our lives.  Jesus has already slayed all the giants.  The work is done.  It is finished.  That said, we don’t live in Eden.  We live in a swamp and the enemy is still trying to take you down and one of his worst tricks is to hammer you with fear, rejection, addiction, etc. to try to defeat you and drive you into hiding.  You are made for more.

First point – It starts with what you’re worth.  From Todd White’s talk at Gateway Church …

Accepted into the beloved means you can never be rejected by man.  The enemy is trying to dominate your thoughts, your thinking, your mind, will and emotions to keep you from seeing your creative value and seeing the price that heaven paid for you.  The Cross isn’t just the revelation of your sin, it is the revealing of your value.  That song “I’ll never know how much it cost to see my sin upon the Cross.”  No.  I need to know the cost because that price determines my value.

If God paid it all for me, then I am valuable.  If I see my value, I will never look in the mirror and say “worthless” again.  No, I am worth the blood of Jesus.

Jesus didn’t pay the price for me to then go hide in four walls.  He paid a price for me be a warrior and conduit to destroy hell.

You need to be reminded of your worth.  Think of your wife – think of how she looks at herself in the mirror every day or what scrolling through social media does to her heart.  She hears the whispers of “worthless” daily.  You battle this in your fight for her heart.  She isn’t worthless … she is priceless.  God paid it all for her.  The same is true for you.  God doesn’t see you as worthless, He sees you as HIS beloved son.  It’s going to be very hard to do all you can do for the Kingdom if you’re walking around constantly repeating the lies of the enemy that you have no value.  You do.

Erwin McManus reminds us from his new book, The Last Arrow

We can become so afraid of death that we never live, so afraid of failure that we never risk, so afraid of pain that we never discover how strong we really are. Too many of us believe the lies we have been told; that we’re not good enough, we’re not strong enough, we’re not talented enough… that we’re just not enough. But one of the facets of God that makes him extraordinary is his ability to do the impossible through ordinary, everyday, common people.

You cannot follow Jesus into your future if you’re holding onto your past.

From there, we flow to the second point – it’s time to lead

We frequently hear men can’t have authentic, real, deep relationships with other men.  We hear that women do community better than men.  Men will often say, “My wife knows Scripture, I don’t” and “She prays, I don’t”.   Men, those giants MUST fall.  It is time to lead.  Those statements are lies from the enemy.  I’m going to tell you that as good as women are at community, frankly, I think men can actually do it better than women.  We can actually go deeper, be more frank/candid and we can warrior for our brothers in ways women can’t.  We need to stop believing true “Tribe” can’t be done.  I’m telling you from personal experience, real, deep, authentic Tribe is doable and it is rich and it can change your life.

Maybe you don’t read the Bible or journal Scriptures.  Maybe you don’t really pray.  Maybe she has been to every Beth Moore Bible study ever held (!) … but … that doesn’t mean you can’t do this.  You can.  Today should be the day you turn this the other day.  Today is the day you pick up your Bible and start.  Today is the day you can go home and tell your wife that you’d like to pray for her and your kids.  Don’t hesitate.  This isn’t about perfection, it is about progress …

William Lawrence wrote, “On the plains of hesitation bleach the bones of countless millions who, at the dawn of victory, sat down to wait, and waiting … died!”

Don’t hesitate.  Do it.  Spiritual growth is about progress, not perfection.   Take the step.   Make progress.

Understand this, Satan will try to discourage you and defeat you by making you feel overwhelmed by the problem. You may not be able to overcome your addiction or anxiety or fear for the rest of your life, but with God’s help you can win the battle todayYou CAN lead your family today!

And to the third point – not what God can do [for] you but rather [through] you

“If you’re not where you want to be, why do you keep choosing to stay where you are? If you know there is a future waiting for you, why do you choose to stay in the past? It is time to move past what God will do for you and to what God will do through you.”          Erwin McManus – The Last Arrow

Which leads us to The Giving Tree.  Will you live incurvatus, curved in upon self?  Or will you live Excurvatus … that is a “life lived outward” for others?  Jesus didn’t die for you to be safe and comfortable.  He died that you might “die”.  Consider this from Brennan Manning’s The Furious Longing of God …

Jesus Christ has irreparably changed the world. When preached purely, His Word exalts, frightens, shocks, and forces us to reassess our whole life. The gospel breaks our train of thought, shatters our comfortable piety, and cracks open our capsule truths. The flashing spirit of Jesus Christ breaks new paths everywhere. His sentences stand like quivering swords of flame because He did not come to bring peace, but a revolution. The gospel is not a children’s fairy tale, but rather a cutting-edge, rolling-thunder, convulsive earthquake in the world of the human spirit.

By entering human history, God has demolished all previous conceptions of who God is and what man is supposed to be. We are, suddenly, presented with a God who suffers crucifixion. This is not the God of the philosophers who speak with cool detachment about a Supreme Being. A Supreme Being would never allow spit on His face.

It is jarring indeed to learn that what through in His passion and death is meant for us too: that the invitation He extends is “Don’t weep for Me! Join Me!” The life He has planned for Christians is a life much like He lived. He was not poor that we might be rich. He was not mocked that we might be honored. He was not laughed at so that we could be lauded.

Once or twice in a lifetime, you hear a story that leaves an indelible mark on your heart and mind. Such is this story I first heard in 1967. It is Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree.

“Once there was a tree… and she loved a little boy.” And so begins the story of a tree being happy because she is able to make the boy happy. At first the boy desires nothing but to climb on her branches, eat her apples, and lie in her shade.

But as the boy grows, so do his desires. But because of the tree’s love, she gives her apples for him to sell for money to have real fun; her branches that he might build a house for a wife and family; and her trunk so he could build a boat and sail away from the boredom of life.

And then one day, the prodigal returns to the tree that loves him. By now, she has given him everything; all that remains of her is an old stump. The boy, now an old man, needs only a quiet place to sit and rest. And the Giving Tree gives once more.”

Ever since hearing that story many years ago, I’ve loved Silverstein’s parable. It reminds me of Jesus, of whom Paul wrote in Philippians, “He emptied Himself”. He cried from his heart, nails in His hands, and poured out His blood that we might believe His love for us. Significantly, Jesus chose the giving tree, His cross, as the demonstrative sign of His absolutely furious love for us.

How is it then that we’ve come to imagine that Christianity consists primarily in what do for God? How has this come to be the good news of Jesus? Is the Kingdom that He proclaimed to be nothing more than a community of men and women who go to church on Sunday, take an annual spiritual retreat, read their Bibles every now and then, vigorously oppose abortion, don’t watch x-rated movies, never use vulgar language, smile a lot, hold doors open for people and get along with everybody?

Is that why Jesus went through the bleak and bloody horror of Calvary? Is that why He emerged in shattering glory from the tomb? Is that why He poured out His Holy Spirit on the church? To make nicer men and women with better morals?

The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creations. Not to make better people with better morals, but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friends, is what it means to be a Christian. Our religion never begins with what we do for God. It always starts with what God has done for us, the great and wondrous things that God dreamed of and achieved for us in Jesus Christ.

And lastly and most importantly, this reminder about our Savior as the role model for our lives …

“Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death – even to death upon a cross.”

2 Philippians 2:5-8

MORE ON ALL OF THIS NEXT WEEK as we’re going to unpack this in greater detail.  Please do all you can to go hard after this material this week.  Read it.  Pray it.  Have many conversations with Father about it.  Some amazing things are about to happen.  Men in our midst are right on the verge of a breakthrough.  Come Lord Jesus, come.