Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Men of our word

Honesty is important to God. Most obviously, this is made clear to us in number nine of the Ten Commandments. But there are many other examples where God expects His people to be true to their word. In the ninth chapter of Joshua, Israel foolishly makes a pact with the Gibeonites without consulting God on the matter. And even though Israel was tricked, God still held them to their pact in 2 Samuel 21. Again, in Ecclesiastes 5:5, we are told that “it is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it.” Without a doubt, there are other examples throughout the Bible, but these three are sufficient to make clear that God takes this business of integrity seriously. And so as we strive to become Christlike in our dealings, this business of integrity should become important to us, as well.

A large part of integrity, as we’ve already seen in scripture, is the practice of keeping a promise, no matter what the cost. This can be a small promise (like dinner plans with a friend) or something far greater. Many men have made a great promise, yet have failed to keep it in it’s entirety, myself included. The promise takes many forms, but you may have made it in a way quite similar to this: “I promise to take you as my lawfully wedded wife: to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health, to love and to cherish 'til death do us part” (emphasis mine).

It’s time for that painful moment when you have to hold that mirror up and ask yourself the hard questions. How well do you love and cherish your wife?  How many times, and in how many ways, have you failed to love and cherish her? Of those times, how many have been willful and intentional?

Men, I know we don’t like these hard questions, but a diagnosis must be made before we can implement a cure. If your arm is broken, a cast will do you no good if it’s placed, however skillfully, on your leg. In the same way, we must look in the mirror, as painful as it is, in order to move forward and be the husband that God wants us to be.

I know the pain that is caused by pornography in a marriage. I know how much worse the pain becomes when, after confessing the sin to your wife and promising that it won’t happen again, it happens again. And again. It is with great regret that I admit to you that I know how it feels to be a dog who returns to his own vomit (Proverbs 26:11). Life is hard, but it is much harder when you have to live with the knowledge that you have broken the heart of your beloved.

So why do I tell you this? To increase your faith. After all, there is hope. Jesus can and will set you free from the bondage that comes with pornography. God commands that we be pure, and He has provided for that purity in the work of Christ on Calvary’s cross. We have been forgiven and made whole. As the bride of Christ, God has promised to be faithful to us, and longs for us to be faithful to our own brides.

Men, it is time to move forward. It is time to not only strive for purity, but to achieve it. After all, we’ve already made a vow that we would be faithful to our wives. We would do well to follow through. I’m not going to pretend that this is going to be easy, but I have no hesitation in telling you that the victory is already yours in Christ. If you are reading this, I am praying for you.

Ryan Saffer

Saturday, August 11, 2012

How Bad Can You Be?

I have hesitated to post this for a while for several reasons. First, I don't want to be the kind of person who takes advantage of a tragic situation for personal gain. Second, everyone else is already weighing in, and I have to wonder if what I have to say is actually worth saying. And last, I really don't want to sound cold and heartless, because deep down, I'm really a decent guy!

That being said, here we go!

In case you haven't noticed, people are sinners. Every last person you have ever met is a sinner, and every person who has ever met you has met a sinner. Yes, you are a sinner too. Just like me. We're all a bunch of dirty sinners. This sin that we have committed is exactly the thing that separates us from God. Even the tiniest amount of sin is enough to leave us estranged from a perfect and holy God, and no amount of sin can move you farther away from God that a tiny bit. Estranged is estranged. Can a person be "more estranged" from God? I would say no. There is no enemy worse than a mortal enemy, and sin makes us mortal enemies with God.

I hope you're following so far, but I'll try and recap. Sin separates us from God, and even more true, the tiniest amount of sin completely and entirely separates us from God. There is no great sin that can leave you more separated from God than the tiny sin that left you entirely separated.

So the question really is this: why do we make one sin out to be worse than another? In this world, yes, some sins are worse than others. Of course it is worse to kill someone than to lie to them. But this is temporary. Whether you kill someone or lie to them, you have done enough to be separated from God for all of eternity, and I guarantee you that once you enter eternity, this life will not seem like such a big deal. After all, it only lasts a lifetime. Eternity will run for a million lifetimes and still be no closer to an end than it was a million lifetimes ago. Eternity matters infinitely more than your life. But if you are like me, you probably suffer from a faulty perspective at times.

During the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), Jesus addresses this very line of thinking head on. He tells them (and I'll paraphrase): "Of course we all know that a murderer is subject to judgment, but if you call your brother a fool, even if you just hate him, you too are in danger of hell fire. And of course we know that you really shouldn't commit adultery, but listen here! If you so much as look at a woman and get yourself excited, you are no better." This bit of scripture has been used many times as a witnessing tool to point out sin in someone else (like "You are an adulterer and a murderer, so of course you need Jesus!"), but we don't generally like that way the verses look when the light shines on our own hearts. Maybe you try and excuse your own behavior. Maybe you hide behind the fact that God loves you and will forgive you so what does it matter. Maybe you ignore the Bible completely. I don't know what works best for you, but I've used all three of these before, and I'll let you in on a little secret: none of them work.

Quite contrary in fact, as a Christian, my sin should disgust me just as much as it disgusts God (that's completely, utterly, and entirely, if you haven't been reading along). I should be as separated from sin as God is separated from sin, and again, that is entirely separated. No longer can I live my life subject to it. Paul said that I am not to give place to the devil (Eph. 4:27), and sin does just that. It's bad stuff, and a little is just too much.

Now fro some grace before you close this window, if you are a Christian, your sins are washed away by the blood of Jesus. His blood is entirely sufficient for all your sin: past, present and future. One slip up doesn't mean that God will cast you off like an old sock. Now, if you are not a Christian, don't let me discourage you, either. Yes, your sin is vile, and it disgusts God so much that He cannot even look at you. But Jesus blood is enough for you, too. Apart from Christ, you are entirely separated from God, and you cannot get farther away than that. But Jesus blood is tougher than all your sin, and I do mean all!

Sin is a big deal, probably far bigger than I even realize. Those three little letters are enough to send literally billions of people to a real and literal hell that has room enough for all of us. But Jesus, our solution, is far more powerful than I can begin to understand, too. As big and nasty as sin is, He is bigger. While sin can send the world to Hell, Jesus can break the power of death and set the world free.

Let me be crystal clear here. My God is big enough for me. My God is big enough for you. His power cannot be outmatched, and His forgiveness cannot be out-sinned. So I'll close to my two audiences:

Christian, Jesus didn't die so you could flounder through this life, just barely getting out alive. He paid your penalty on the cross, and He overcame sin and death. Everything He did, He did for you. There is no excuse for us to languish in sin any longer. We are commanded to overcome, so let's start the march today!

Sinner, Jesus died on the cross for you. His life was poured out so that you could pick it up and live. Apart from Christ, you can only look forward to an eternity in Hell, entirely separated from God, but what a waste! God sent His Son because He loves you. He wants so badly to spend eternity with you. Surrender your life to Him today. Don't wait, because you can't afford to wait another day.

Ryan Saffer
Community Site Coordinator

Friday, July 27, 2012

Can you follow me?

"Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ." (1 Corinthians 11:1).

This is a bold statement, and no doubt one often used to portray the apostle Paul as an arrogant man. But these arguments must be thrown out, as all Scripture is inspired by our unerring God and is therefore good for our instruction and guidance (2 Timothy 3:16). In light of this, I do not believe that Paul could have said something sinful (ie: prideful) when writing this letter to the church at Corinth. After all, the word is inspired. God couldn’t possibly have inspired Paul to sin, could he? That being said, Paul was so good at following Christ that people could follow Him and thereby, follow Christ. I’m not suggesting that Paul was messianic in any way here, but that he was setting a fine example of what a man of God should look like. Truly, Christ was alive in him.

But look at this teaching through the eyes of Paul. When he said that he beat his body into submission, I’m sure he meant it. When, near the end of his life, he said that he had ran well and finished the course, he knew within the depths of his soul that it was true. For him to be able to advise a church (and over the course of time, every follower of Christ) that he was a worthy example to follow, he had to walk it out, every day, without fail. Paul didn’t say follow me as I follow Christ, except when I fall, or maybe just not on Friday night. Every moment of every day Paul set the example. As a Christian, people are watching you every day, waiting for you to slip so that they may accuse you. How much more Paul after a statement like that? The world loves to discredit a Christian, and Paul all but dared them to do it. And because the word of God is true, he never gave them the chance.

What a testimony! Can you tell your friends, your children, your congregation to follow you as you follow Christ? I have thought long and hard over this and a few things are clear: I’m not able to say this, and I’ve only met a small handful of men who could. But if Paul could instruct believers to follow him as he follows Christ, then it has to be possible that, when the people follow Paul, they will be able to one day say “Follow me as I follow Paul as he follows Christ.” And then cut out the middle-man, where they too may say “Follow me, as I follow Christ.” This is not merely possible, but required if we as men expect to lead our world. What good is it to follow Christ, after all, if doing so doesn’t change you? The world is watching, and if we don’t show them something worth seeing, they will want no part of it.

This generation, maybe more than anything else, needs the zeal of Paul to see Christ glorified in all things. Your children need you to catch this zeal. Your co-workers need you to catch this zeal. Your lost and dying world needs you to catch this zeal. For some, the fate of their eternal soul depends on you. Are you willing, by your own apathy, to condemn someone to Hell? It is past the time for men to stand up and be men. The church has worn out its welcome. Religion as usual no longer cuts the mustard, and the world doesn’t see value in us anymore. And why should they? What do we have to offer? Most churches do not say “Follow me, as I follow Christ,” but rather “Follow me, and we can be nice.” There is little value in being nice. Nonbelievers can be nice. It’s time, brothers. It’s time we stop being nice and start being real. People don’t need to be spoon-fed the secrets to living their best life now. They don’t need to learn how to be a better person. They need to be like Jesus. And the only way they will ever be like Jesus if we are like Jesus.

Step up, men. This is your call to action. Stand up, and shout it from the rooftops: “Hey world! Follow me, as I follow Christ!”

Ryan Saffer
Community Site Coordinator

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Playing with Fire

Right now, my wife and I are in the process of redoing some things in our bedroom, and it has turned into quite the project. I joked with her about revisiting an earlier post (Unlocking the minivan, just like God would) but instead, calling it "Remodeling the bedroom, just like Satan would." She didn't think it was near as funny as I did, but I thought I had a point.

After all, Satan tries to get us into sin through small things. He never suggests we outright murder someone, but plants seeds of anger and hate that, left unchecked, will grow into murder. That's a lot like this project. It started as a simple "paint the walls" kind of deal. Now, after a few steps, we've tore up carpet to restore the wood floor buried underneath. But since this project was my wife's idea, she felt that maybe I was referring to her as the devil, which is not something I'm able to do while maintaining a happy marriage.

Instead, she suggested that I should write "Remodeling the bedroom, just like God would" and talk about how God will restore our old beauty to us, and though it may take lots of blood, sweat, and tears, the end result will be much like this finished wood floor: beautiful and worth all the effort. Go figure, huh? So rather than debate with my wife which it should be, I'll shut my mouth and move on to something entirely different.

Instead, I will blog about my new favorite tool: the heat gun. For those of you who have never used one before, it's not quite a flame thrower, but it's way better than a blow dryer. I will say that using it makes me feel kind of like the guy in the picture. There is a very real sense of power and destruction when using one of these things. Now if you've ever used a heat gun, you know I'm dramatizing a bit here (or a lot...), but it is a pretty fantastic tool. Truth be known, it's an awful lot a blow dryer, only more powerful. Currently I'm using it to heat the glue that is on the aforementioned wood floor so that it may be scraped up easily. Unfortunately, it is a difficult process, but it is the best I've found yet. Let me detail my anguish for you:

First, we tried sanding the glue off with one of those high-powered floor sanders that you have to rent from a hardware store and throws your breakers, leaving you standing quietly in the dark. Yeah, good times. This thing actually created more problems for me. Sanding the floor got the glue hot, which made the glue sticky again, and then hardened it more than it was before. So, after a rental fee and lots of sweat (and also gluing a sheet of sandpaper to my floor), we tried something else. Namely, mineral spirits.

They sound so elegant and lovely, don't they? Mineral spirits. It brings to mind something that fancy people drink in France after a high-dollar dinner with cheese and snails. No. No. No. It's more like turpentine. The jug warns of the burns you will receive if you touch it, but promises to be a beast when it comes to removing adhesive. From experience, the answer is no. While no glue came up, I did manage to get a dizzy feeling that reminded me of high school (where lots of bad things happened). So, forget the solvents.

Remembering how the sandpaper was glued to the floor, the next thought was to get the glue hot and scrape it up. Except I still hadn't heard of a heat gun, so I used a clothes iron instead. All I had to do was get a rag wet, lay it on the floor, and then put the hot iron on the rag. And you know what? It worked! Slowly. Also, the glue managed to work it's way through the rag and coat the iron. It will never touch clothing again. Finally, someone suggested the heat gun. I'd love to say the rest is history, but it's still a work in progress.

Anyway, all that being said, I've learned some pretty valuable lessons that cross over into the spiritual realm. First and foremost, when you're getting into uncharted territory, it is okay to ask for help. Video tutorials on YouTube do not count. Find someone who has been there and let them help you. Had I done that, the sander would not have been rented until after the glue was off the floor, and the glue would have likely come up with some light scraping. In the same way, you are not the first person to walk the road you are on. You have 2,000 years worth of experience ahead of you. Your first line should be to pray about whatever difficulty you are facing. After all, God knows. Second of all, ask some men in your church, maybe your pastor, or any other man who has been there. Your situation, however difficult, is not unique.

Second, you may never get the job done until you get the right tool in your hand. It doesn't matter how long you keep your nose on that old grindstone, you will just end up without a nose. Try something different. Change your approach. Stop beating your head against the wall. So many times, a church will say that they do things a certain way because they always have. People change, both inside and outside the church. Try a different approach. I will agree that the gospel never changes, but the packaging can. Just like Jesus used parables on farming when talking to farmers, you can be relevant, too. Prostitutes and drug addicts probably don't get the farming stories.

And probably most important of all, fire makes any job easier. Just like the heat gun is really doing wonders on this stubborn glue, the disciples learned on the day of Pentecost how vital that Holy Fire really is. You have simply got to have the power of God behind you if you expect to be effective. Sure, you can do some things without it, but if you really want to set your world on fire, you'd better bring the flames. Otherwise, you are all talk and no spark.

That's it for now. If you need me, I'll be on the bedroom floor, trying not to burn my house down.

Ryan Saffer
Community Site Coordinator

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Jesus saves, and also recycles

Since I'm not going to post 1,000 words for you, let's just get this over with.

There. This is the world-renowned Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil. And yeah, it's green. Not like an M&M, not like the Grinch, but more like Al Gore (without the slimy haircut...).

Jesus turned green after the Rio+20 summit in Belo Horizonete, Brazil. At this summit, Jerusalem's deputy mayor for planning and environment, Naomi Tsur, suggested that such religious icons worldwide could be utilized as vehicles to push the "eco-agenda." In addition to the above statue turned lime jello, Bethlehem, Calvary, and the grave of King David were discussed.

Before one of you start verbally-pummeling me for hating the Earth, that is not the case. I am adamantly against littering, wastefulness, and other nature hating behaviors. I recycle when I can, and usually bring my own coffee cup to refill at gas stations. Also, I only shower once a week to conserve water. Okay, the last part isn't true... You're welcome.

I would even go as far as to say that it is my duty as a Christians to be a good steward of the planet that God has given to me, but that is where the bus stops. This is going to far. While I would be willing to bet that if Jesus were walking the earth today that He would recycle, I don't think He'd spend much time pushing the issue. Rather, He would be preaching the gospel to the lost and encouraging and building up His people to do the same. He'd be healing the sick, raising the dead, and setting the captives free. As they say, He's got bigger fish to fry, and I think using Christ to push an environmental agenda (or any other agenda for that matter) is an attempt to cheapen God Himself.

I've heard that Jesus is a Republican. I've also heard He is a Democrat. However, the Bible says that a double-minded man is unstable in all of his ways, so Jesus can't be both. Some of us (probably all of us) are wrong about His politics, although I know He would've been good at them, because He was always kissing babies. I've seen bumper stickers that tout Jesus as a Denver Broncos fan. After all, aren't sunsets orange? Depending on who you ask, Jesus was gay. He was also straight, and married with children. Jesus is better than super heroes, drugs, and Santa Claus, but He isn't as tough as Chuck Norris (if you ask the right, or wrong people).

You know what? Jesus is the Son of God. He was born of a virgin, lived without sin, died on a cross so I wouldn't have to, and offers us life everlasting. Jesus is so much more than a political tool: He is King! Jesus isn't green. He is God. Any attempt to turn Jesus into something that He isn't is an affront to Him and is a surefire way to prove that you don't really know Him all that well.

Ryan Saffer

Community Site Coordinator

Monday, June 18, 2012

Unlocking the minivan, just like God would

It has often been said that, as a father, it is my responsibility to portray the image of God to my children. While this may sound like a blasphemous statement to some, that really isn't the case. Quite contrary, in fact! It is my duty to exhibit unconditional love, patience, justice, and mercy at all times with the utmost fairness. No doubt, this is a tall order, and apart from the grace of God, an impossible task. But sometimes, whether we know it or not, we are doing just this very thing for our children.

Not long ago, my family and I were preparing to leave the house, I told my five-year old daughter Rachel to go out to the van and get in her car seat. And as children that age often do, she protested. But to her credit, her protest was thoughtful and quite reasonable. She told me: "But Daddy, the van is locked!"

In this great big world, a five-year old can feel pretty small sometimes. And as if to add insult to injury, my daughter is small for her age. To tell her to gain entry to the locked minivan would be the same as telling me to go climb Mount Everest in Bermuda shorts: a desperate impossibility for several reasons. As I often do, my daughter struggled to get her perception beyond herself. Her focus was on her problem, and when viewing it in light of her ability, she was faced with a grave impossibility.

But she failed to recognize a third piece of the puzzle. She did not even begin to consider the intervention of her father. The conversation went much like this:

"Rachel, just go out to the van."  
"But it's locked!" 
"What did I say for you to do?" 
"But it's locked!!"
Our discussion went much like this as I followed her up the stairs, out the back door, down the driveway, and right up to the van. You can probably guess what happened next: Daddy, superhero extraordinaire, unlocked and opened the door for the pint-sized damsel in distress.

I won't try and convince you that I can provide for my family in the same way that God can, but because God provides for them, I too must provide. And I'm not going to say that I can lead my family better than God can, but as God shepherds us, I too must shepherd my family to the best of my abilities, continually trusting Him to equip me for the task.

Sometimes as fathers, we struggle to see the big picture. When the bills are piling up, we don't see God’s provision. When the kids are acting up, we don't see the fruit of patience in ourselves. When the pressure is on, we ignore the presence of God and trust our own judgments to overcome, or at least get by. More often than not, we focus on the problem, but ignore the solution. But just as Rachel neglected to see that her father held the keys, so often we forget that our Father is also holding the keys.

Rachel learned a valuable lesson that day: a loving father will never send you do that which is impossible, but will always provide the means to finish the task. In the same way, your Heavenly Father isn't going to ask you to do that which is impossible for you to do, but only what is impossible for you to do without Him. After all, if all we do is act in our strength, God is never glorified, but we are. But we know that God will get His glory, so He wants us to depend on Him.

My challenge to you is this: Ask God to open your eyes to see something that He wants you to do, and when He reveals it, don't look at the problems surrounding your situation. Focus on your solution. Don't say "I can't do anything without your help, Jesus." Instead, settle yourself down, take a deep breath, and say: "Jesus, I can do anything you set before me when I trust you to strengthen me!"

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." --Philippians 4:13

Ryan Saffer
Community Site Coordinator

Monday, June 4, 2012

Thorns of lust

First, an update. In my pursuit of Jesus, I'm through Matthew and partway into Mark. It has also come to my attention that Jesus said a lot more in Revelation than I had previously thought. I knew about the seven letters at the beginning, but there is quite a bit at the end, too. Check it out!

And now, a question. Will men ever be free of sexual sin this side of Heaven? I would guess that anyone who has ever struggled in sexual sin has asked this question, and usually asked it in a moment desperation. A man reaches that point where he feels like there is no hope, and sometimes like there is no God. We turn to Scripture and find little comfort. While there are those who suggest that this sin is our "thorn in the flesh," we find no peace or rest on a God who wants us free but keeps us bound (presumably for humility's sake).

Man, if this is you, be comforted. No sin will ever be your thorn in the flesh, just as no sin could have been Paul's thorn. How does a man say that he no longer fulfills the lusts of the flesh subject himself to that same flesh? While I do not know with any amount of certainty what Paul's thorn was, I am most certain of what it was not: sin.

As a man who has walked that dark road, I know that it is not merely practicing sin, but is rather walking under the bondage of sin. And Christian, if you are a child of God, you ought not to serve two masters. Now before you click me off, I'm not saying that anyone who struggles with sin of any kind is not truly saved. That would be stupid. But I'm telling you this: You do not have to be bound up in your lifestyle. While I am talking specifically here about sexual sin, the same can be said to the alcoholic, to the hot-tempered, or to the gossip. You are no longer required to be a slave to that sin.

I know it's not always popular to say so, but it isn't God's fault that we struggle. Most of our readers here would not question Christ's victory over sin, so let's follow that line to it's logical end. Christ wouldn't expect you to stay under an enemy that is already defeated. Jesus has set us free. Our chains have fallen to our sides in clanging heaps, our long-sealed prison doors have begrudgingly creaked open, and our cruel warden has been bound up by our King who has pardoned us. So what do you do? It is within your power to remain in jail where you will receive "three hots and a cot" just as you always have, but it is also in your power to stand up and walk out of prison and into the freedom which has been provided for you. Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? Trust me when I say that it is.

Yes, I've shifted all the blame from God onto you. Hurts, doesn't it? I know. But look on the bright side. While you may say that I've placed blame, there is also responsibility. And where there is responsibility, God has given you and I the authority to deal with our problems. So the question isn't what is God going to do about our sin, because He already did all that He could on the cross. Instead, what are we going to do about our sin? Allow me to offer a bit of practical advice.

1. Call it what it is. Don't make any more excuses for it. You do not sin because you are a man. It is not merely a natural response to your increased levels of testosterone. It is sin, such as will separate you from God. It is activity unfit for a Christian to participate in, and it's a cancer slowly eating away at your soul. Yes, you are tempted, and yes the pressure is great. But greater is He that is in you than He that is in the world, and God will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear. Do you know what that means? You are stronger than you think. As I have, you have probably felt like you "had to" sin at some point. I don't buy that anymore, and I don't think you honestly can either.

2. Don't tolerate it, don't accept it. While we can often minimize our aberrant behaviors as "normal" or "not that big of a deal," we cannot deny that sin is sin. Remember Dr. Seuss's elephant Horton? "A person's a person, no matter how small." Sweet sentiments, but let's make it nasty. "A sin is a sin, no matter how small." How much manure will you tolerate in your pie? What about just a little bit? I promise you won't even taste it! Disgusting!! And yet we treat sin the same way. Only a little bit, no one will notice. Or maybe a lot, as we've gotten used to it. Treat sin as that manure pie: spit it out and don't touch it again. Doubtless you don't like to admit it, we oftentimes enjoy sinning. That has to change.

3. Knock it off. Simple, right? Like I said, it can be. When Jesus healed the blind men in Matthew 9, He asked them "Do you believe I am able to do this?" Their answer, of course, is "Yes, Lord." So He said to them "let it be according to your faith." Basically, He said "I will give you exactly what you are expecting to receive from me." The same is offered to you. If you question whether God wants you bound in sin or not, read the Bible. I am sure that you will see a God who has provided for our absolute freedom, if only we would accept it. Proverbs 23:7 says that "As a man thinketh, so he is." If you think you are a slave to your sin, you are correct. But the get that Bible in you. "When the Son of Man sets you free, you are free indeed!"

So will men ever be free of sexual sin this side of Heaven? Men will be as free as they want. The question I ask instead is "Will men ever want freedom more than they want sin?"

Ryan Saffer
Community Site Coordinator