Shaping a Men’s Ministry

I’m not a men’s ministry guru.  I’m not even a neophyte.  I have been able to, by God’s grace, serve with a small team to invest in the men at my church over the last several months.  Here’s a few of our decisions we’ve made about ministry to men.

  1. It should exist to help men be better men elsewhere.  That should seem obvious, but for us, it means that it only happens quarterly.  It isn’t a weekly breakfast.  It isn’t even a monthly class.  At Mercyview, our missional communities are the context in which most ministry happens.  That’s the place we want men to spend most of their time.  We want them to be great men to their families, their friends, and their missional communities, so why would we create anything that vies with those things for their time?  We wouldn’t.  Another thing this means is that we are addressing manhood holistically.  Have you noticed how facets of manhood that are often brought up are things you’d do with other men (hiking, hunting, fighting, arrgh!)  What good is that in the workplace or at home.  If they are great fishermen, but lousy fathers, we’ve failed.  What would it profit to gain a 1-handicap and lose your marriage?
  2. It should be Gospel saturated, Bible soaked, Trinitarian shaped times of intentional interaction.  Another “no duh!” right?  But what that means, then, is that we don’t spend time playing games, chatting, watching sports, or simply eating together (though we usually have coffee and light snacks).  We also don’t expect a 5 minute devotional to really get the job done either.  We spend almost 3 hours digging into God’s Word together, hearing teaching that is deep, challenging, and pointed, and looking each other in the eyes and asking hard questions.  Life’s too important to not do serious work together like this.  None of us need other men who will share a hobby or passion for football…but I’ve not met a man, yet, who doesn’t need other men who will get face to face and/or shoulder to shoulder with them to move away from darkness and towards light.
  3. It should include wisdom and witness from as many as possible.  While there are a few of us shaping the ministry and, especially in the beginning, doing a big chunk of the teaching, more and more we are pulling in guys (young and old) to minister.  We don’t want to give the impression that one guy (or 3 or 4) has it all figured out…we don’t.  We don’t want to give the impression that God isn’t at work in every life there…He is!  Sometimes it’s a testimony, sometimes it’s leading a large group discussion, sometimes it’s facilitating small group interaction, sometimes it’s participating in a panel or Q&A, and sure, sometimes it’s teaching.  And more and more, we want every man there to speak to other men on behalf of God.  There is wisdom in our collective experiences.  No man can be silent or we all lose something.  There is also wisdom in preparing more and more men to speak and lead.  For some, this is their first taste of that at Mercyview, but we are committed that it won’t be their last!
  4. It should target the heart.  Of course we teach, and that hopefully engages their minds.  Sure, we quote Calvin, Spurgeon, Piper, Lewis, Goodwin, Luther, Sibbes, Edwards, Athananius…you get the point.  We want to think deeply, but we are AIMING for the heart.  We believe, with Jesus, Peter, Paul and with our beloved reformers, that the HEART is crucial.  So, when we teach on being “Men of the Word,” we don’t just talk about memorizing it or studying it, we also talk about delighting in it!  When we ask, “how can we help guys understand the Theology of Adoption,” we answer by not only giving them well-reasoned content, but craft activities that help them see themselves as adopted sons of God, over whom their father dances and sings and weeps with joy!

So, how’s it gone?  I’m hearing men talk about what they are learning, what is challenging them, and how it’s affecting their lives.  By that, I’m encouraged.  Even weeks later, guys are talking about what we learned together or an intense small group interaction they had at the quarterly gathering.  That’s fruit!  It’s getting into their bones and into their hearts.  I’m seeing guys apply something they learned on one topic to another topic, seeing how Biblical manhood is integrated.  Hallelujah!  I’m seeing guys slough off passivity and start serving.  Praise God!  Is it perfect, absolutely not.  But it is intentional.  I don’t have time to lose…I’m desperate for real life, real interaction, real faith, real joy.  And as it turns out, so are a lot of other men.

What about you…what does it look like for men to do life together at your church?  I’d love to hear!

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What does Jesus think/feel about you?

That’s a $1 Billion Dollar Question (actually, an eternal question!).  What does Jesus (and therefore the Father!) think/feel about you?  Lots of ways to answer this, but I’m going to totally steal an answer from 2 other people.  The answer will come from Thomas Goodwin, who I’ll introduce below.  But it will come through Mike Reeves who introduced me to Goodwin, borrowing many of his words and more of his ideas below.  So, if anything sounds great, it’s Reeves.  If not, it’s me.

So, Thomas Goodwin. What do you need to know about Goodwin? Well, he was born in the year 1600, three years before the death of Queen Elizabeth. He grew up in a home of committed believers, he spent some of his younger years “making merry” as they use to say and literally seeking to become a celebrity preacher, and then something scary happened. He became REALLY religious.

He later said that, at this time, his preaching was a ministry of battering consciences. He’d use the Word of God to mercilessly beat up the congregation. And internally, he was experiencing the same thing. He began to fear that he wasn’t truly born again, and for 7 years, he was looking inside for some sign of grace on his life. Seven years!!!

SO, in Goodwin, we have someone with some experience in doubting the goodness of God.  Finally, he had an old pastor pull him aside and said, “Don’t trust anything in yourself, whether performance or feelings. Look out and rest on Christ alone.” And that was the turning point. Seeing Christ clearly and rightly made all the difference.

Well, eventually he wrote a little book called The Heart of Christ in Heaven Unto Sinners on Earth, and he wrote this, he said, because he found so many Christians who, like himself, struggled to know who God was and trust his goodness towards them.

So, he hoped the book would, “take our hands, and lay them upon Christ’s breast, and let us feel how his heart beats and his bowels yearn towards us, even now he is in glory.” That he might “hearten and encourage believers to come more boldly unto the throne of grace, unto such a Saviour and High Priest, when they shall know how sweetly and tenderly his heart is inclined towards them.”

We’re going to have Goodwin guide us through 3 scenes that will unpack Christ’s heart for us.

First, in the upper room (John 13-17).

John 13.1-5 – Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

FIRST, notice that he knew he was going away and that all things had been given to him by the Father, and yet his thoughts were on his disciples. Instead of (or perhaps BECAUSE of) thinking of the glory he’s headed back to, He washes their feet…he does this to show them how he is and will be towards them, even when he’s gone.

SECOND, notice also that he already knew they would betray him. He already knew…yet, he washed their feet and loved them to the end.

Really, this whole section of John from chapter 13-17, he is preparing them for his departure. He’s taking pains to make sure they know his heart. That they know he’s arranged everything so that they will be cared for.

At one point, he says, “I will not leave you as orphans,” And a major part of that is that he promises to send the Holy Spirit to them…Look at John 16.7, “it is to your advantage that I go away.” It’s good for you. Why, because the Spirit will be a better helper for you in the days ahead.

Goodwin riffs on this whole section from chapter 14-16 to unpack in a beautiful way, what Jesus says the Spirit will do in His place…

All the comfort he shall speak to you all that while will be but from the expression of my heart towards you…he will tell you nothing but stories of my love. He will tell you that there is as true a dearness of affection in me towards you, as is between my Father and me and that it is as impossible to take off my heart from you, as to take my Father’s from me, or mine from my Father.

Second, after the resurrection

The first people to encountering the risen Christ weren’t his disciples. Some women go to the tomb, and Mary encounters Jesus, and he gives her a message for his disciples…

Now, what would you say to those no good, spineless, traitors? Those men who deserted you in your hour of need. Who, at the very least need to show some major gratitude for what you’ve just done for them?

What does Jesus call them in John 20.17 ? – “go, to my BROTHERS”  (reminds us of Hebrews 2.11) and what message does he send them? In 20.17 – “I ascend to My Father and YOUR Father…to my God and YOUR God!”  They are still his brothers and the Father still belongs to them!  Despite what they’ve done.

And 2 verses later, he appears to them, and what does he say? Does he rebuke them? Chide them? Rip into ‘em really good? No, in John 20.19 he says “Peace be with you!” And he breathes on them and says, “receive the Holy Spirit.”

And in all this time, he never brings up the past. He never scolds them or reprimands them for their behavior before the Cross.

Goodwin notes that during this time: NO SIN OF THEIRS TROUBLED HIM BUT THEIR UNBELIEF.  Isn’t that amazing.

Well, after 40 days with them, he is leaving, ascending into Heaven. What’s the last thing he does as he is leaving…even as he is ascending into the sky: Luke 24.50-51 says 50 And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.

Third, seated at the right hand of the Father

-So, once in glory, He pours out the Spirit

-Then, he begins a ministry of interceding for his people, and this is where we want to turn our attention to the book of Hebrews. Hebrews 7.25 says, “He always lives to make intercession for us.”

I know people that live for college football. Or who say “I live for Doctor Who. I know the actors, I follow their lives, I watch the shows, I have the action figures. I LIIIIIIIIIVE for Doctor Who.”

Friends, Jesus lives for you. He EVER lives to intercede for you.

And a major theme through Hebrews is this: Jesus became the perfect high priest for us THROUGH suffering for us. A high priest comes to God on behalf of the people. And if you’re going to represent broken, suffering, hurting people…well, you have to be broken, to suffer, to hurt.

And Goodwin wants to draw out attention to, “two things, in particular, that stir Jesus’ compassion for us as our High Priest: our afflictions and – astonishingly – our sins.”

Hebrews 4.15 says He can sympathize with our weakness, that is, our suffering and all that is hard in this life.  All things that show how WEAK we are.

What about you?  Is your suffering terrible?  Have you had more than you can bear?   We’ve struggled with sin, hurt, heartache and loss.  And maybe you’re wondering, “Did he really suffer everything as I have? Did he experience betrayal? Excruciating Pain? Did he ever weep over the grave of a dear friend? Injustice? Loss of family?  The answer to all of those is YES!  What about Sin…did he suffer under sin?  Not his own…but yours and mine.  He was CRUSHED under it.

But, it’s not only our suffering and affliction that moves him…it’s also our sin. Look at Hebrews 5.2 – He can deal gently with the ignorant and the wayward (literally…those out of the way), that is, those in sin!  See what Goodwin says…

“your very sins move him to pity more than to anger… yea, his pity is increased the more towards you, even as the heart of a father is to a child that hath some loathsome disease… his hatred shall all fall, and that only upon the sin, to free you of it by its ruin and destruction, but his bowels shall be the more drawn out to you; and this as much when you lie under sin as under any other affliction. Therefore fear not, ‘What shall separate us from Christ’s love?’” TG

Mike Reeves comments on this passage by saying:

Jesus’ first reaction when you sin is pity. Where you would run from Him in guilt, He would run to you in grace. It makes all the difference when your heart feels cold. Right then in your very coldness, you can know it is your joylessness that stirs His compassion. In our guilt we’d never want to face up to some cold, pitiless God. But the tender kindness of Christ woos us.

Isn’t that amazing. Isn’t Christ good to us? And remember…the heart of Christ is the expressed image of the heart of his Father. This is our Father’s love being shown through our Savior Christ.

This is what transformed Goodwin’s life, and one of the best places to see this is to read his final words. Listen to this, these are the words of a man who for 7 years wrestled over whether he could be SURE of his salvation, SURE of God’s love for him.

I am going to the three Persons, with whom I have had communion…I shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye, all my lusts and corruptions I shall be rid of, which I could not be here; I could not have imagined I should ever have had such a measure of faith in this hour; no, I could never have imagined it. My bow abides in strength. Is Christ divided? No, I have the whole of his righteousness. Jesus Christ, who loved me and gave himself for me. Christ cannot love me better than he does; I think I cannot love Christ better than I do. I’m swallowed up in God.

Isn’t that amazing? The assurance we have in His love! This is our God! So that brings us back to the beginning: how does knowing all this transform prayer? Well, where to start?!?!?! In our final post, we’ll compare our God, the Triune, true and living God, to the god of the Koran that we looked at a few posts back.

Does Jesus Rescue God?

We saw in our previous posts in this series (1, 2, 3) that what we believe about God, his character, his heart towards us, shapes everything else in our life and faith.  In this post, because of that, let’s draw our eyes towards the Lord and see what He is really like. Let’s see what he thinks about you. Is He just putting up with us, tolerating us?  Is he just watching from Heaven, waiting to jump on us after every little mistake? Let’s find out.

How do we know what God is like? John 1:18 tells us: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” So, how do we know what God the Father is like? Jesus reveals Him! We cannot know God apart from Jesus. He is the exact representation of His nature. That is a very important point for us.

That means there is not some unkind, ugly god lurking in the dark somewhere who is only holding back his hatred for us because of Jesus. No! God is, as I first heard from Glen Scrivener, “Jesus-shaped” from first to last. The famous poet, Lord Byron once said, “If God’s not like Jesus, He should be!” But, HE IS! That’s why Jesus has said, “if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father,” meaning you know what the Father is like because you see what I’m like. I’m the image of the invisible God. I only do what I see the Father doing…so when Jesus is loving us, he’s just doing what the Father is doing! He doesn’t have to rescue a cantankerous God…no, the Father is all loving!  I think this is where we get into a lot of trouble…

If you try to imagine God without Jesus, you are thinking of an idol. LET ME SAY THAT AGAIN. If you try to imagine God without Jesus, you are thinking of an idol. Michael Ramsey, former archbishop of Canterbury, put it this way, “God is Christlike, and in Him there is no unchristlikeness at all.”  God is Jesus-shaped!  In fact, let’s start to use that title “God” a lot less.  Instead, let’s talk about our loving Father and our brother and husband, Jesus, who has come to save us, and the Holy Spirit who makes all of the Father’s promises, which are YES in Jesus, true for us!

So, if we want to know what the Father thinks of us, and how he feels about us, how he is towards…we look to Jesus.  And that’s just what we’re going to do in the next post.

Christians who don’t know God

Of course, after the previous post, you may be thinking, “I’m not Muslim,” so my view of God is just fine. While I hope so, I wanna push back. Do you know God? And by KNOW, I don’t mean a superficial, Sunday school awareness of a few stories from the Bible. It’s not a “I grew up in a Christian family” type of faith. Those kinds of faith are washed away when suffering comes, like a house built on sand.

And this is why I think this is SO SO SO important. If our faith isn’t truly our own OR if it’s inaccurate, then when sin prevails, when suffering comes, when our prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling, what do we do? What happens when shallow faith meets deep suffering?

What happens if deep down we don’t believe that God is 100% good.  If we think he’s a “contract God,” who will only be good to us if we’ve first satisfied his demands.  If we wake up in the morning and think, “I better have a quiet time and pray or God won’t be pleased with me.”  Friends, that’s not the Gospel.  That’s not Christianity.  That’s not our God.

And, when suffering comes, it’s normal to hear statements/questions like, “If God were really loving, this wouldn’t have happened.” OR “What kind of God would do this, allow this?” Or as Woody Allen said, “If God exists, I hope he has a good excuse.” Do you see it: The question at the center of each of these statements is “what is God like?”

And for Christians, maybe we haven’t walked away from the faith, but maybe we’ve just decided to partition our lives. What I mean is that we still believe in God, but we’ve made sure to guard the precious things in our lives from Him…because we’re just not sure we can trust him with our kids, our work, our calling, our finances, our ___________. And I think there are probably a lot of us here today living in that reality.

We say, “I just can’t handle it if that happens again. I can’t do that again. Please, not again… please.” And at that point, God isn’t even in our thoughts…at that point, he’s somewhere, we still believe, but we almost dare not ask again where He fits in all this. That feels like it would just make it all harder, it would hurt just a little bit more…This is the danger of Shallow Faith colliding with Deep Suffering.

Can we really say with the hymnist, “…when all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay”?  I think this is a question with eternal ramification and for some of us, it’s a life-and-death issue.

Do you remember that our view of God will determine our life with Him?  It will shape our faith, our prayers, our mission, our view of the Bible, our view of the Church.  If we Christians are walking about with this amount of ambiguity about the character and goodness of God, then weep for the world!  Weep for the Church!  What a sad situation we find ourselves in.  It must change.  In the next post, we’ll turn out eyes to the one, true and living God, and it WILL make all the difference.

What about you?  In the comments below, please share where you’re at with God.

Your prayers to a false god

So, to help us understand how important it is to rightly understand our good God, we’re going to look at a false god.  We’re going to ask, “How does that god’s character affect the lives and prayers of his people?”  And what we’re going to see is that it makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE.

We’re going to look at the god of Islam.  We’ll use the name Allah even though that name was first used by Christians in the Arab World before Mohammad was born and still used by Christians today.  Just know that I am speaking about the god revealed in the Koran, the god of Islam.

The God of Islam/the Koran – Allah
What is he like? The first thing most Muslims will tell you about Allah is this: You cannot know Allah, you can only know his will. You cannot know him…only what he wants from you. If you somehow get to paradise, he will not be there. Relationship with you has never been on his agenda.   Before he created, Allah was a solitary monad, a lone deity. He was utterly alone. So, at his core, he’s not a relational deity…only after creating did he even have someone with whom to relate if he wanted to…but he doesn’t…that’s not bashing Islam…that’s classic, orthodox Islamic teaching.  This is Allah.
What is his mission? The all-consuming idea of Islam is that Allah has a sovereign will for the world and eventually all must submit to him. Islam literally means “submission”. Muslims literally means “one who submits”. So, Allah’s mission is Sharia law. That every country on the planet would be under his law.
What, then, does godliness look like? Obedience. Pure obedience. Having said that, in another sense, if we ask, what would it be like to be like this god (what would godlikeness look like for humanity), it gives us another window into how important this is? To be like Allah would mean we dominate, we rule as many others as possible, we cause others to submit to us. So, it shouldn’t surprise us to see that this view of god results in these kinds of behavior.
How does that shape prayer/ communion with Allah? Muslims are supposed to pray 5 times a day. These prayers are scripted for you. They must be said in Arabic even if you can’t speak Arabic. So, is prayer for relationship? No. Would you ever call this god “Father” or “Friend”? No, and he wouldn’t want you to. Is this the god of all comfort? No.   Is this a god to whom you can claim his promises? No, actually, one of his names in the Koran is the Deceiver. The man who took over leadership of the Muslim community after the death of Mohammed, named Abu Bakr, said this, “I would not feel safe from the deception of Allah, even if I had one foot in paradise.” Will you plead his promises to him? No. In prayer, will the peace of this god guard your heart and mind? No.

Do you see how the god you pray to makes all the difference? And we could look at any god and do this…we could look at Zeus, we could look at Shiva, we could look at the false god of Mormonism or the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  The shape of the god you believe in determines everything else in your religion (prayer, scripture, mission, fellowship, community, etc.) and your life!  The next post will ask us, “Christians, do you know your God?”