Author Archives: Family Christian
Posted on March 17, 2014 by Family Christian
We live in a world of fakers. Rather than being real with each other, we present a carefully crafted persona that hides our faults and magnifies our good qualities. But inside we long to be loved, warts and all.
We long to stop hiding from each other--and especially from God.
In the book, Be Real, Pastor Rick Bezet clearly calls us to lives built on authenticity, showing that the way to true freedom lies through reclaiming our hearts, reviving our souls, and renewing our minds in light of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. Through biblical stories and often-humorous personal examples, Bezet encourages us to live with passion, integrity, and perseverance. He releases us from the spiritual death that comes with pretending and leads us into a new life characterized by transparency rather than fear.
"Get ready for some gut-wrenching self-examination. Rick will help you discover the powerful truth: You can't please everyone--but--you can please God!"
from the foreword by Craig Groeschel
"There are few things in life more freeing than living a life of authenticity and sincerity--and I can't think of anyone better than Rick Bezet to show you how. With candor, clarity, biblical truth, and a bit of Cajun humor, this book will put life back into your soul and take you on a journey to a closer walk with God."
Chris Hodges, pastor of Church of the Highlands; author of Fresh Air
"As humans, we can waste a lot of time and energy pursuing our own plans in life, only to wind up frustrated and disappointed. With humor and transparency, Pastor Rick challenges you to throw off every hindrance and embrace change so you may step into all that God has purposed for you."
Christine Caine, founder of The A21 Campaign; bestselling author of Undaunted
"Why do people wear masks? Why is authenticity such a challenge for Christians? These are important concepts that my friend Rick Bezet addresses in Be Real. I'm convinced that if pulpits and pews were filled with honest people, the church would be healthier. We must learn to be real--with God, ourselves, and others. Only then will we walk in true freedom."
James Robison, founder and president of LIFE Outreach International
"Pastor Rick Bezet delivers a bold and thought-provoking message to be real and to overcome the fears and social pressures that prevent us from achieving greatness. In his new book Be Real: Because Fake Is Exhausting, Pastor Rick encourages the reader to stand proud and unashamed of their imperfections so that they can walk into the destiny for which God has called them. There is so much pressure on the body of Christ to appear perfect and without fault, but the only true strength comes from acknowledging one's weaknesses and calling upon the Lord for guidance and grace. We as believers should welcome an open and honest dialogue of the daily challenges that try to bring us down, so that we may lift each other up and grow as a whole. I recommend this book to believers new and old who are looking to shed their masks and live a life of unshakable confidence and unending potential."
Matthew Barnett, cofounder of the Los Angeles Dream Center
"People like Rick Bezet who find a need and fill it and who find a hurt and heal it are always going to be special to me. While working tirelessly to turn his world around for the kingdom of God, Rick has remained humble, not taking himself too seriously, yet taking God's vision for him to reach the unchurched, the forgotten, and the hurting very seriously. I recommend Be Real to anybody who is unsatisfied with where life is going and is ready for a change. I recommend Be Real if you are tired of living your life without purpose or direction or if you feel stuck in a dead-end job or trapped in superficial relationships. And I recommend Be Real if you've fallen into the danger zone of focusing on your own needs or on finding someone to love you, when the best thing you could do for yourself is to notice other people, love others, and take the attention off yourself for a while. Be Real hits hard, and it hits home. But true to form for Rick Bezet, he shows a way out, and it's do-able--but you have to be willing to take the first step."
Tommy Barnett, senior pastor of Phoenix First Assembly; founder of the Los Angeles Dream Center
"How much time do you spend trying to manage how others perceive you? Most of us like to think that we're able to keep up appearances, but the truth is that we probably aren't fooling anybody. Even if we do fool some people, we can't keep it up forever. Have you ever wished that you could just be you? My friend Rick has written this book as a powerful reminder that knowing God means having the freedom to be real. Check out Be Real, and stop faking it for good."
Greg Surratt, senior pastor of Seacoast Church; author of Ir-Rev-Rend
"Be Real is an honest, challenging, and inspiring look at what it means to live an authentic life. In a world that measures value and success largely by performance and appearance, Rick shares a refreshing reminder of God's unconditional love and grace in a lighthearted and life-giving way. Be Real dares readers to stop hiding behind the facades and fears that hold them back and to start walking in the freedom God intends for us."
John Siebeling, lead pastor of The Life Church of Memphis; author of Momentum
"Rick has an easy-to-read style that is humor-infused yet straight to the point! Like watching a compelling movie from your easy chair, Rick's stories and words will pull you in, in a comfortable and easy-to-absorb way. This is a book you'll want to buy three copies of and give to your closest friends!"
Matt Keller, lead pastor of Next Level Church, Ft. Myers, FL; author of God of the Underdogs
"'Real' is what describes Rick Bezet. I have known him, observed him, pastored him, and now admired him for almost thirty years. He and Michelle simply live the life they expound. Their children are blessed, their marriage is blessed, and the great New Life Church is blessed by their example. I don't know what other people call 'real,' but that what I call it! Out of that 'real' comes 'rest.' Rick knows who he is and communicates that with authenticity every time he ministers. Grab on to 'real' and hang on--it may shake you, but it will shape you. You can start being real today, and your life and ministry will be totally redirected!"
Larry Stockstill, pastor emeritus of Bethany World Prayer Center; director of the Surge Project
"Rick Bezet is one of those guys you always want to hang out with. He is funny, easygoing, and genuine. He is true to who God has called him to be. Be Real will inspire you to live the same. This book will free you up!"
Stovall Weems, lead pastor of Celebration Church
"When we were first introduced to Be Real: Because Fake Is Exhausting, we were intrigued by the concept. Our interest quickly turned to excitement as we explored the content on these pages. We can assure you that this book is not full of worn-out clichés about being 'real.' Sharing from Scripture and personal experience--examining what he did wrong as often as what he did right--Rick presents a compelling and empowering case for authenticity. Get this book today."
"If we are going to fulfill our God-given potential, we will have to be the 'real' us. If we are going to have friendships that last, we have to be 'real.' In an era where authenticity is rare and pretense is the norm, Rick Bezet has written a book that will give all of us hope as well as practical steps for living an authentic life. You will laugh and be encouraged as you read through the pages of this great book! It will take courage to be the real you, and this book will help you as you walk it out. This is a great book for small groups to use to encourage genuine community!"
Holly Wagner, author of GodChicks; founder of GodChicks women's ministry
"Every time I'm around Rick Bezet, I get inspired. He is the kind of encourager who makes me feel like I'm the best pastor in the world. In his book Be Real, Rick inspires each of us to take action. Whether you need to grow in your faith, begin to dream again, or learn the irreplaceable quality of encouraging others, this book is for you! Don't ask yourself, 'Should I buy this book or not?' Go ahead and buy six or seven copies and give them to those you love. You will be investing greatly in their lives."
Philip Wagner, lead pastor of Oasis Church, Los Angeles; author of The Marriage Makeover
Posted on March 14, 2014 by Family Christian
THE NAMES OF THE LORD
– DAY ONE –
The muffled, distant sound had broken the quiet reverie of his walk across the meadow. The sharp barking of a dog almost irritated him. It was abrasive in that tranquil setting. As the barking grew louder, his eyes scanned the meadow, looking for the culprit. Suddenly a small doe broke through the edge of the woods. Now he understood. Leaning against the fence post, the man watched with compassion as the doe cut across the broad expanse of meadow. She was running straight toward him. He stood motionless, not wanting to add the fear of man to the animal’s frustration. As the frightened fawn leaped the fence, she staggered. The chase had taken its toll. Her wet coat gleaming in the sun, the doe stopped, took a few steps in one direction, then, ears held high, looked back toward the sound of the barking. The dog had broken through the woods.
Eyes wide with fright, confused, worn out, panting wildly, the doe surveyed her surroundings, quickly discovering the man standing beside the fence. Glancing back for an instant at the dog in hot pursuit, then viewing the expanse of open field before her, she turned weakly and wobbled straight toward the man. She approached him without fear and buried her head in his tummy. Compassion flooded his heart and filled his eyes. She had found a protector.
Beloved, where do you run in time of need? When the hounds of trouble, worry, and fear pursue you; when the dogs of temptation, corruption, and evil seek to overtake you; when your energy is spent; when weakness saps you; when you feel you cannot run any longer, where do you turn?
Do you turn to your protector, the One who stands with arms opened wide, waiting for you to come and bury yourself in the security of all He is?
“The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe” (Proverbs 18:10).
For these forty-two days we are going to study the names of the Lord so that you will know where to run to find help in time of need. The Father longs for you to know more of who He is, that you might more fully “trust in the name of the LORD and rely on [your] God” (Isaiah 50:10). Remember Jesus’ prayer on our behalf just before He went to Calvary: “that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent” (John 17:3). The goal of Paul’s life was “that I may know Him” (Philippians 3:10). How I pray it will become the goal of your life!
If someone were to ask you to describe God, what would you say? Write down the words that come to your mind when you think of God.
– DAY TWO –
“Some boast in chariots, and some in horses; but we will boast in the name of the LORD, our God” (Psalm 20:7).
Where do you run for help? When you are in trouble, what is your first instinct? Do you run to others or to God? Is it usually the counsel of another rather than the counsel found in waiting upon God in prayer? Why is this the way it is? Why do we run to man before we run to God?
In Old Testament days chariots and horses were means of protection and escape. Today our “chariots and horses” come with different labels, shapes, and forms. Even so they are still a visible means of help, escape, or protection. Yet are these really a source of safety? No. “The horse is prepared against the day of battle: but safety is of the LORD” (Proverbs 21:31, KJV).
What’s the problem? Why don’t we run to the arms of our all-sufficient God? I think it’s because most of us don’t really know our God. Why do many collapse in the day of trouble and testing? Why are they immobilized? Why don’t they take an aggressive stand in the face of fear? Because Christians, for the most part, can’t boast in the name of their God.
What do I mean when I say, “boast in the name of our God”? In the Hebrew language the phrase to boast in means “to have confidence in, to trust in.”1 Therefore, to boast in God’s name means to have confidence in His name. In biblical times a name represented a person’s character. God’s name represents His character, His attributes, His nature. To know His name is to know Him. To boast in His name is to have confidence in who He is!
We find several different names of God in the Bible. You are about to embark on an exciting study of these names!
In the day of trouble or need, we are to run to our God, to put our trust in Him. That is why He says, “Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me” (Psalm 50:15, KJV).
Is your heart troubled? Is fear lurking in the shadows of your consciousness? Do you feel insecure about anything at all? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, list your fears, insecurities, and troubles below. Then ask God to show you one of His names that will meet your need. When He shows you, tell Him that you will boast in that name.
– DAY THREE –
Let’s begin with a day of meditating on Psalm 20. As you look at this psalm, consider what we have talked about these past two days. At the end of the psalm you will find a brief assignment. I urge you to participate fully in this study. Don’t just read this book. Do the assignments. Write out your answers. This exercise will help cultivate the seeds of truth sown in your reading. The harvest can be bountiful, and you will grow!
1May the LORD answer you in the day of trouble!
May the name of the God of Jacob set you securely on high!
2May He send you help from the sanctuary,
And support you from Zion!
3May He remember all your meal offerings,
And find your burnt offering acceptable!
4May He grant you your heart’s desire,
And fulfill all your counsel!
5We will sing for joy over your victory,
And in the name of our God we will set up our banners.
May the LORD fulfill all your petitions.
6 Now I know that the LORD saves His anointed;
He will answer him from His holy heaven,
With the saving strength of His right hand.
7 Some boast in chariots, and some in horses;
But we will boast in the name of the LORD, our God.
8 They have bowed down and fallen;
But we have risen and stood upright.
9 Save, O LORD;
May the King answer us in the day we call.
1. Go through this psalm and put a around every
word that has something to do with trouble, need, or help.*
2. What are the Lord’s promises in this psalm?
3. Are there any conditions that need to be met in order for the promises
to be fulfilled?
4. According to this psalm, what sets a person securely on high or in a
place of security above the circumstances of a situation?
5. On what basis can we set up banners of victory?
6. What does the answer to question 5 tell you about the name of God?
7. Why are they boasting in the name of the Lord?
Turn your heart’s desire into a prayer. Tell your Father what you need. Thank Him that He wants to be known by you in greater depth!
The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous
runs into it and is safe.
PROVERBS 1 8 : 1 0
SMALL-GROUP DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
1. Before the study of these first three days, how did you picture God in your mind?
2. What was so significant about a name in biblical times?
3. Why is it important that we know the name of our God?
4. In Psalm 20, God talks about men who boast in chariots and horses and men who boast in the name of the Lord. Did you see a contrast between these two types of people? What is the contrast?
5. What does trusting in horses and chariots mean? How does that apply to today?
6. Can you remember a time when you trusted in “horses and chariots”? What was the result in your life?
7. Can you remember a time when you boasted in the name of the Lord? What was the result?
– DAY FOUR –
One of the names of God in the Old Testament is Elohim. This name designates God as God. Deuteronomy 10:17 says, “The LORD your God [Elohim] is the God of gods.…” El means “mighty” or “strong” and is used for any reference to gods, including Almighty God. Elohim is the primary Hebrew word translated “God” in the Old Testament. (Sometimes Jehovah is translated “God” rather than “LORD.”) The him ending of Elohim is very significant. In the Hebrew language it is a plural ending indicating more than one. Elohim is the name for God as Creator. It is used in Genesis 1:1 and could be translated, “In the beginning Gods created the heavens and the earth.”
Does the construction of the Hebrew word mean that there is more than one God? No! “The LORD [Jehovah] is our God [Elohim], the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit–the blessed Trinity–created the heavens and the earth. One in essence, in character, yet three persons united as one.
As you read various scriptures, you can see references to the different persons of the Godhead participating in the work of creation. In Genesis 1:2-3 we read, “The Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God…” (Hebrews 11:3). God spoke and the Spirit moved. Then Colossians 1:16 tells us that in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, “all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth.” Thus, we see that each person of the triune Godhead had a part in creation.
Even in the creation of man we see the Godhead working. In Genesis 1:26 we read, “Then God [Elohim] said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image.’ ” The Us refers to more than one!
But of what practical significance is this name to us? How can the name Elohim serve as a strong tower to us?
If God is the Creator of all things, who has given us life? Elohim, of course! And why were we created? For Him! You are a unique creation of God, one of a kind, created for His glory. He “didst form my inward parts.” He “didst weave me in my mother’s womb.… I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13-14). Have you ever thought of yourself as being fearfully and wonderfully made? Or do you look at yourself and despise what Elohim has created?
I have a friend who is probably not more than three feet tall. Her head is of normal size, but her body is dwarfed. To me she is lovely. Julie spends all her days in a sling, much like a baby’s walker. In order to move anywhere, her legs must propel the rolling frame. Julie is radiant, a delight to all who meet her. She knows her Elohim, and she realizes that He created her just the way she is for a purpose. Now please don’t tell me God had nothing to do with her physical condition. If I were to believe that, I’d have to deny His sovereignty, His Word, and His name.
Remember when “Moses said to the LORD, ‘Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since Thou hast spoken to Thy servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue’ ” (Exodus 4:10)?
What was the Lord’s reply? “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him dumb or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?” (Exodus 4:11).
But why would God create people who are different from His normal pattern of creation? Why would He ever permit a sperm to penetrate an egg when it would produce what seems to be a genetic disaster?
Remember when the disciples saw a man blind from birth, “and His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?’” (John 9:2)? How did Jesus answer? “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3).
Oh, Beloved, if you are unhappy with yourself, with your child, or with a loved one, run into the strong tower of the name of your Elohim (Proverbs 18:10). You may not understand how your situation could ever bring Him glory, but you can trust in the name of your Lord. “Who is among you that fears the LORD, that obeys the voice of His servant, that walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God” (Isaiah 50:10).
“I will give thanks to the LORD according to His righteousness, and will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High” (Psalm 7:17). “For the LORD [Jehovah] your God [Elohim] is the God [Elohim] of gods [Elohim] and the Lord [Jehovah] of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God…” (Deuteronomy 10:17). Write out a prayer of worship to your creator. Sing praise to your God and Father as Elohim.
“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36).
– DAY FIVE –
You have heard the song. The words go, “Why was I born? Why am I living?” They are more than words to a song, aren’t they? They are the heart’s cry of every human being who seeks to know the reason for his existence. Why were you born? Why did Elohim create you? Why did He form your inward parts and weave you in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13)? Search out the answer to these questions, and you will know the purpose for your life.
In Isaiah 43 we read, “Thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel.… I am the LORD your God [Elohim].… you are precious in My sight.… everyone who is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory, whom I have formed, even whom I have made” (Isaiah 43:1,3-4,7).
According to Isaiah 43, Elohim, the one who made man (male and female, Genesis 1:27) in His image, created you for His glory. One day I was studying what God’s Word says about the husbandwife relationship. I decided that since “woman is the glory of man” (1 Corinthians 11:7), I should look up the meaning of the word glory. In the Hebrew language it means “to give the correct opinion or estimate of.” I saw that as a woman I am to treat my husband in such a way as to give a correct opinion or estimate of him as a man.
Can you see how awesome it is to know that you have been created for God’s glory? That you are to live in such a way as to give all of creation a correct opinion or estimate of who God is? What does that mean to you, O child of God, who is called by His name? Think about it. How would you live if you were to live for His glory? Give yourself time to meditate on this truth, and then record below those things that God brings to your mind.
Let’s look at one other scripture that tells you why you were born. “Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed, and were created” (Revelation 4:11). According to this scripture, you were created for His will. The King James Version says “pleasure.” In essence, they are the same. If I live for His will, that is His pleasure, or if I bring Him pleasure, it is because I have done His will.
His name is Elohim, the Almighty God, your Creator. You have looked at two scriptures that have answered the questions, “Why was I born? Why am I living?” You have seen that you have been created for His glory, for His pleasure. Your life is to be lived in such a way as to reflect Him, to show the world the character of God–His love, His peace, His mercy, His gentleness. You are to live for Him, to accomplish His will. To miss this purpose is to miss fulfillment. It is to have existed rather than to have lived.
Go before your God and evaluate the course of your life. What do you need to do? Will you? Answer these questions honestly in the presence of your Elohim.
Are you fulfilling the purpose of your creation? What is keeping you from being or doing what you were created for?
What do you need to change? Now write out a prayer of commitment.
Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory
and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things,
and because of Thy will they existed, and were created.
REVELATION 4 : 1 1
SMALL-GROUP DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
1. Elohim identifies God as Creator. From your study, why do you think
it is important to know Him as Creator?
2. What did God create?
3. How does Elohim as Creator show us the triune God?
4. What role has God had in your life?
5. What is your responsibility to Him as your Creator? How are you fulfilling
6. How have the insights into God as Elohim helped to clear up your
thinking regarding children born with Down syndrome or those born
without a limb, etc.?
7. What is currently happening in your life or circumstances that is easier
to deal with now that you know God as your Elohim?
Excerpted from Lord, I Want to Know You by Kay Arthur Copyright © 2000 by Kay Arthur. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted on March 13, 2014 by Family Christian
Why you need a new map of the female universe.
Like some guys I know, you might be tempted to skip this introduction and jump right to the sex chapter. And if you’re chuckling right now, it probably means you already did it. Or were about to. It’s not a bad choice, actually. Just a little self-defeating. If you’ve been in a committed relationship with a woman for more than, say, a day, you know that going just for what you want isn’t actually going to get you what you want for very long.
A week, maybe?
But let’s be honest—one of the main reasons you’re looking at this book is because you are trying to get something you want. Not sex (well, not just sex), but a more fulfilling, harmonious relationship with your wife, one that isn’t quite so hard or confusing. And the back cover gave you the wild idea that understanding her might actually be possible.
Either that or for some reason the woman in question just handed you this book.
Well, either way, take a look at the revelations we’ve uncovered. We think you’ll be convinced. Each chapter explains things about the woman you love that may have often left you feeling helpless, confused, or just plain angry. Each chapter points out simple, doable solutions. The only genius required is that you make a decision up-front that you’re willing to think differently. This is a short book, but if you read it cover to cover, you’ll walk away with your eyes opened to things you may have never before understood about your wife or girlfriend.
Each chapter points out simple, doable solutions.
That’s what happened with me—Jeff. And I’m just your average, semi-confused guy. (Actually, sometimes totally confused is more accurate.) And since we average, semi-confused guys have to stick together, that’s why, even though Shaunti and I are both authoring this book, I’ll be the one doing the talking.
First, Some Background
In 2004 Shaunti published For Women Only: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men, which quickly became a bestseller. Based on nationally representative surveys, focus groups, personal interviews, and other research with thousands of men, it opened women’s eyes to things that most of us guys had always wished our wife or girlfriend knew. Things like most of us need to feel respected even more than loved. Or that men, besides just getting enough sex, also have a huge need to feel sexually desired by their wives.
I’m not sure exactly why, but women everywhere were shocked. And by the flood of letters from around the country—from both women and their grateful husbands—Shaunti and I have seen how much good can come when the opposite sex finally has their eyes opened to things they simply didn’t understand about us guys before.
In this book, the shock is on the other foot. Now it’s their turn to exclaim to us, “I can’t believe you didn’t already know that!”
When Shaunti’s publisher first approached us about doing a companion book to For Women Only to help men understand women, I had two major concerns. First, I didn’t think guys would read a “relationship” book. For most of us, the last relationship book we read was in premarital counseling—and only because we were forced to. But more to the point, I doubted that women could ever be understood. Compared to other complex matters—like the tides, say, or how to figure a baseball pitcher’s ERA—women seemed unknowable. Random even.
I’m not sure exactly why, but women everywhere were shocked by how men thought.
I explained my skepticism to one early focus group of women:
Jeff: Guys tend to think that women are random. We think, I pulled this lever last week and got a certain reaction. But when I pulled that same lever this week, I got a totally different reaction. That’s random!
Woman in group: But we aren’t random! If you pull the lever and get a different reaction, either you’re pulling a different lever or you’re pulling it in a different way.
Shaunti: What men need is a sort of map to their wives or girlfriends. Because we can be mapped. We can be known and understood—firm ground.
Jeff: Uh, no. See, guys think of a woman as a swamp. You can’t see where you’re stepping, and sooner or later you just know you’re going to get stuck in quicksand. And the more you struggle to get free, the deeper you get sucked in. So every guy on the planet knows that the best thing to do is just shut down and not struggle and hope somebody comes along to rescue you.
When I came to, Shaunti and the other women in the focus group assured me—and I have since seen for myself—that guys don’t have to live in a swamp. That realization led us to the eventual subtitle of this book: A Straightforward Guide to the Inner Lives of Women.
We have been astounded and humbled at the reaction to these simple, eyeopening truths. In fact, the book you are holding is actually the second edition of this book—which is needed because there was clearly a desire for this ongoing research.
Both For Women Only and For Men Only sparked a huge wave of encouragement and hope among ordinary men and women just like me and Shaunti, selling more than 1.5 million copies in twenty-two languages. We were flooded with e-mails and comments from men and women at our marriage conferences, saying things like “This saved my marriage” and “After ten years together, I finally know how to make my wife happy” and even “Jeff, I owe you one, buddy.”
But since we’ve continued to learn new things, we also wanted to keep the book current. For this new edition, we have included some fascinating new findings, including the brain science behind why women sometimes think as they do. Plus we’ve added a new chapter—“She’s Not Making Sense”—that decodes those unpredictable reactions that she thinks of as, uh, normal. After seeing the impact of this research, I realize that we really did uncover life-changing insights. Surprising truths that average guys like me need to hear from an average guy and be encouraged that if someone like me can learn it and do it, they can too.
Excerpted from For Men Only, Revised and Updated Edition by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn Copyright © 2013 by Shaunti Feldhahn. Excerpted by permission of Multnomah Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted on March 12, 2014 by Family Christian
There’s a time-honored code that almost every male I’ve known has followed. I’m positive that my father and my brothers followed what I call the “Sexual Code of Silence.” The code states that it’s okay to joke about sex or even lie about it, but other than that, it’s your solemn duty—as a male—to keep silent whenever a serious discussion about sex takes place.
Since everyone is determined not to talk about this, or maybe is embarrassed to do so, you probably don’t have a clear picture of what healthy sex is all about. In fact, you’re probably thinking that some very wonderful things are not normal and that some very normal things are pretty weird. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to write this book for you. We wanted you to have accurate information about a wonderful subject that’s prone to misinformation and ignorance. You’re a sexual being and deserve to know what’s right and true about your sexuality so you can have the greatest chance possible for a fantastic sexual relationship with the person you marry.
It’s sad that in the Christian community, where we have access to God’s truth, we operate with so many lies and myths about sex. Some teens and young men with a low sex drive think they’re not real men, when in reality they may have a chemical or hormonal variance that lowers the drive. Some teens and young men with a strong sex drive may view themselves as slightly crazy and in need of major help to squelch their urges.
You may be vacillating between those two extremes, especially if you’re in the middle of your adolescent years. Because your body is in a constant state of growth, you feel driven one minute and almost asexual the next. Don’t let this concern you. You’re right on schedule, and everything you’re experiencing is normal.
One of the most difficult assignments you’ll ever have is to integrate your sexuality with the emotional, spiritual, social, and relational person you want to be. Many have the tendency to see their sexuality as something shamefully separate and distinct from themselves, but that shouldn’t be the case at all.
Let me illustrate by using a good old hypocrite as an example. You probably know some people who are very religious when they go to church on Sunday, but you’d never know they were Christians by the way they act during the rest of the week. Sure, they say all the right words and go through the right motions on Sunday, but that part of their lives is reserved for Sunday. Come Monday morning, they sound more like they went to hell on Sunday rather than church. Those people haven’t fully integrated their spiritual life with the rest of their lives.
The same could happen to you in the area of sexuality. This is an area you want to fully integrate with your Christian walk. When you do, you’ll have a much healthier outlook regarding relationships with the opposite sex, premarital sex, and even what your marital relationship will be like in bed.
I have a friend whose son turned twelve a couple of years ago. He’s a great dad, and he has a great kid. When the boy turned twelve, it’s as if the spigot labeled Hormones was turned wide open. Stuff was happening inside his body, but he didn’t understand why he was experiencing certain feelings. All he knew was that he had some urges that were difficult to control. The young boy then did a very courageous thing. He approached his
father and said, “Dad, I just feel like taking off my clothes and standing in front of a girl naked.”
That was an honest expression of feelings and an accurate description of what it felt like to be a twelve-year-old boy. The fact that he could comfortably talk with his father about his feelings indicated that he wanted some answers to what was happening to him. All of us would benefit from a similar attitude.
In fact, attitude is everything when it comes to winning the battle for sexual integrity. If there’s a single Bible verse that captures God’s standard for sexual purity, this is it: “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity” (Ephesians 5:3).
For teens and young adults, this is a scary verse that prompts more questions. What does a “hint” mean? How far can I go with a girl when we’re alone? How far can I go with myself when I’m alone? Is masturbation okay?
These are great questions, and we’ll answer them straight up. That’s why you’re going to find Every Young Man’s Battle to be the most honest and forthright resource on teen and young adult sexuality out there. Ready to get started? So are we. We’re going to begin by letting Fred tell you his story and, as we say in Texas, it’s a humdinger.
When Football Was King
FROM FRED: THE START OF MY STORY
Growing up amid the Iowan cornfields, I made football my god. The sport dominated everything about me, and I happily played and practiced year round. I even liked two-a-days in hot, muggy August. Football was such a big part of my life that I let the noble sport dictate what I did off the field. After the games, I never joined my teammates at Lake McBride for the kegger parties. Drinking beer, I believed, would weaken my focus and soften my drive. As for girlfriends, I viewed them as high-maintenance commitments
that would distract me from my goal—becoming an all-state quarterback.
Like any red-blooded football player, however, I had more than a passing interest in sex. I’d been hooked on Playboy centerfolds ever since I found a stack of the magazines beneath my dad’s bed when I was in first grade. I also discovered copies of From Sex to Sexty, a publication filled with naughty jokes and sexy comic strips.
When Dad divorced Mom, he moved to his bachelor pad, where he hung a giant velvet nude in his living room. I couldn’t help but glance at this mural-like painting whenever we played cards during my Sunday afternoon visits. On other occasions, Dad gave me a list of chores whenever I dropped by to see him. Once, while emptying the trash can in his bedroom, I came across a nude photo of his mistress. All this caused sexual feelings to churn deep inside me.
Hollywood movies filled me with lustful curiosity and burning passion. In one film, Diana Ross poured a bucket of ice on her boss’s belly just as he orgasmed, which seemed to intensify the experience. My mouth dropped open. What’s up with this? I pondered such scenes in my mind for days upon days. On those rare occasions that I went out on a date during the off-season, these deep churnings often stirred and bubbled over. Too often, I’d push a girl’s boundaries while I tried to get a hand under her bra.
Still, my passion for football kept my sexual yearnings in check. I performed well on the gridiron and was named “Athlete of the Year” at Thomas Jefferson High School—a 4-A powerhouse in Cedar Rapids. I received full ride scholarship offers from the Air Force Academy and Yale University.
I had bigger dreams, however—PAC-10 football, even if it meant trying out for the team as a walk-on. I wouldn’t settle for anything less. Soon I stood before my locker at Stanford University, staring in awe at the familiar white helmet with the red S and the name Stoeker taped across the front. Strapping on my helmet and chin strap, I proudly raced onto the field in my attempt to win a spot on the team. Before long everyone in the country would know my name when I tossed long rainbow passes into the end zone. I was living my dream.
In one afternoon, that dream shattered into a thousand pieces. I was one of eight quarterbacks warming up that day. From the corner of my eye, I saw Turk Shonert, a blue-chip recruit from Southern California, throwing thirty-five-yard bullets! Three other quarterbacks zipped the ball through the air as if it were on a string. These QBs were so good that all four would later start at Stanford and play in the NFL.
I, along with Corky Bradford, an all-state quarterback from Wyoming, and my dormmate at Wilbur Hall, stared in disbelief. There was no way either of us had the skill level to compete with these blue-chippers. When my football dreams died that afternoon, I turned my attention to…women. Pictures of naked women.
As I settled into normal college life without sports or dreams, my churning sexuality broke through every dike, and I was soon awash in pornography. I actually memorized the date when my favorite soft-core magazine, Gallery, arrived at the local drugstore. I’d be standing at the front door at opening time, even if I had to skip class to do it. I loved the “Girls Next Door” section in Gallery, which featured pictures of nude girls taken by their boyfriends and submitted to the magazine for publication.
While I waded into porn waters up to my neckline, I somehow kept sexual intercourse on some higher moral dry ground. From where I stood, making love was something special for when you were married. I still felt that way after I returned to Iowa following my freshman year. I got a summer job on a roofing crew to make some quick, big cash, and I began dating an old friend named Melissa, entering a relationship that quickly mushroomed into a heavy love affair. When I wasn’t pounding nails on someone’s roof, Melissa and I spent endless hours together. Just before I got set to return to Stanford for my sophomore year, we decided to spend a secluded weekend together at Dad’s property on Shield’s Lake in southern Minnesota.
Beneath a bright, full moon on a crystal-clear night, we lay down to sleep with a cool breeze blowing gently over us. The setting was romantic, and I was getting more excited by the minute. I quietly reached for Melissa, and she knew exactly where I was headed. Melissa looked up at me with a deep sadness in her big brown eyes, the moonlight framing her innocent face. “You know that I’m saving myself for marriage—hopefully ours,” she said. “If you push forward with this, I want you to know that I won’t stop you. But I will never be able to respect you as much as I do right now, and that would make me very sad for a very long time.”
Laying her virginity on the line, she had delivered the ultimate pop quiz. How would I answer? Who did I love most—her or me? My head spun. My desire and passion pounded away as I gazed into that sweet face glowing softly at me. We became silent for a long time. Finally, I smiled. Snuggling in next to her, I dozed off to sleep, passing her test with flying colors. Little did I know that it was the last test I’d pass for many years.
When I left Melissa behind on my drive back to Stanford University, a deep loneliness settled in. Far from home and with few Christian under-pinnings, I wandered aimlessly through my days, feeling sorry for myself. Then one day during an intramural football game, my eyes caught sight of a female referee. She looked like a grown-up version of my childhood sweetheart, Melody Knight, who had moved to Canada when we were in
the third grade.
I was in love! Since there was nothing holding us back, it wasn’t too long before we were in bed making love. I justified it because I was having sex with the girl I knew I would marry. It seemed like such a small step away from my values. Sadly, the flame of our relationship burned out as quickly as it began, but sadder still: This small step led to many more steps down the hill.
The next time I made love, it was with a girl I thought I would marry.
The time after that, it was with a good friend that I thought I could love and maybe marry. Then came the pleasant coed I barely knew who simply wanted to experience sex before she left college.
Within twelve short months, I’d gone from being able to say no in a secluded camper on a moonlit night to being able to say yes in any bed on any night. Just one year out of college in California, I found myself with four “steady” girlfriends simultaneously. I was sleeping with three of them and was essentially engaged to marry two of them. None knew of the others.
Why do I share all this?
First, so you’ll know that I understand the fiery draw of premarital sex. I know where you’re living. Second, if you’re already sleeping around but know that you shouldn’t, I bring you hope. As you’ll soon see, God changed my whole mind-set about having sex before marriage.
Excerpted from Every Young Man's Battle by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker with Mike Yorkey Copyright © 2009 by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker with Mike Yorkey. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted on March 12, 2014 by Family Christian
Acclaimed pop band MIKESCHAIR will release its highly-anticipated third studio project, All or Nothing, April 1. The album will be available exclusively at Family Christian.
“I’ve always been a fan of what MIKESCHAIR has done from a music and ministry standpoint. With the release of All or Nothing, they challenge us to be fully engaged in our walk of faith,” says Family Christian Senior Music Buyer, Dan Hubka. “I am thrilled that Family Christian can come alongside them as we go ‘all in’ together.”
Since its 2009 major-label debut, MIKESCHAIR has become a core artist at AC and CHR radio with hits like “Let The Waters Rise,” “Keep Changing The World,” “Someone Worth Dying For” and “All For You.” All or Nothing is the band’s first studio project in three years and builds on the trademark pop sensibilities MIKESCHAIR has maintained since the beginning, but also introduces more organic instrumentation for a fresh sound. Fans have already gotten a preview of what they can expect from the full-length album through popular single “All I Can Do (Thank You),” which released last year, and current radio single “People Like Me,” already a Top 10 hit.
Produced by Matt Bronlewee (Plumb, Jars of Clay), All or Nothing is a clarion call for believers unsatisfied with lukewarm faith to completely surrender every part of their lives to the cause of Christ. The anthemic title track was the first song lead singer Mike Grayson wrote for the album, and it immediately became a creative foundation for the record.
“Throughout the span of the whole project, the goal is to inspire people to be sold out, to be on fire for God, to choose the ‘all’ side of the phrase ‘all or nothing,’” Grayson shares. “It’s the first time where I actually wrote a song and then followed a theme throughout the whole process of writing the record… I feel like this is a season of challenging our fans to really take that step with us and say, ‘Hey! This is it! I’ve made a choice, and I want to see it through.’”
MIKESCHAIR will join Aaron Shust, Jonny Diaz and Lauren Daigle on “The Morning Rises Tour” in support of the band’s new project. The tour will visit 20-plus cities throughout the spring, beginning March 14. Moreover, this summer, the band will perform at a variety of festivals across the country. A full list of tour dates can be found at www.MIKESCHAIR.com/tour.
Posted on March 11, 2014 by Family Christian
On a blustery October night in a church outside Minneapolis, several hundred believers had gathered for a three-day seminar. I began with a one-hour presentation on the gospel of grace and the reality of salvation. Using Scripture, story, symbolism, and personal experience, I focused on the total sufficiency of the redeeming work of Jesus Christ on Calvary. The service ended with a song and a prayer.
Leaving the church by a side door, the pastor turned to his associate and fumed, “Humph, that airhead didn’t say one thing about what we have to do to earn our salvation!”
Something is radically wrong.
The bending of the mind by the powers of this world has twisted the gospel of grace into religious bondage and distorted the image of God into an eternal, small-minded bookkeeper. The Christian community resembles a Wall Street exchange of works wherein the elite are honored and the ordinary ignored. Love is stifled, freedom shackled, and self- righteousness fastened. The institutional church has become a wounder of the healers rather than a healer of the wounded.
Put bluntly, the American church today accepts grace in theory but denies it in practice. We say we believe that the fundamental structure of reality is grace, not works—but our lives refute our faith. By and large, the gospel of grace is neither proclaimed, understood, nor lived. Too many Christians are living in the house of fear and not in the house of love.
Our culture has made the word impossible to understand. We resonate to slogans such as:
“There’s no free lunch.”
“You get what you deserve.”
“You want money? Work for it.”
“You want love? Earn it.”
“You want mercy? Show you deserve it.”
“Do unto others before they do unto you.”
“Watch out for welfare lines, the shiftless street people, free hot dogs at school, affluent students with federal loans—it’s a con game.”
“By all means, give others what they deserve but not one penny more.”
A friend told me she overheard a pastor say to a child, “God loves good little boys.” As I listen to sermons with their pointed emphasis on personal effort—no pain, no gain—I get the impression that a do-it-yourself spirituality is the American fashion.
Though the Scriptures insist on God’s initiative in the work of salvation—that by grace we are saved, that the Tremendous Lover has taken to the chase—our spirituality often starts with self, not God. Personal responsibility has replaced personal response. We talk about acquiring virtue as if it were a skill that can be attained, like good handwriting or a well-grooved golf swing. In the penitential seasons we focus on overcoming our weaknesses, getting rid of our hang-ups, and reaching Christian maturity. We sweat through various spiritual exercises as if they were designed to produce a Christian Charles Atlas. Though lip service is paid to the gospel of grace, many Christians live as if only personal discipline and self-denial will mold the perfect me. The emphasis is on what I do rather than on what God is doing. In this curious process God is a benign old spectator in the bleachers who cheers when I show up for morning quiet time. We transfer the Horatio Alger legend of the self-made man into our relationship with God. As we read Psalm 123, “Just as the eyes of slave are on their masters’ hand, or the eyes of a slave-girl on the hand of her mistress,” we experience a vague sense of existential guilt. Our eyes are not on God. At heart we are practicing Pelagians. We believe that we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps—indeed, we can do it ourselves.
Sooner or later we are confronted with the painful truth of our inadequacy and insufficiency. Our security is shattered and our bootstraps are cut. Once the fervor has passed, weakness and infidelity appear. We discover our inability to add even a single inch to our spiritual stature. There begins a long winter of discontent that eventually flowers into gloom, pessimism, and a subtle despair—subtle because it goes unrecognized, unnoticed, and therefore unchallenged. It takes the form of boredom, drudgery. We are overcome by the ordinariness of life, by daily duties done over and over again. We secretly admit that the call of Jesus is too demanding, that surrender to the Spirit is beyond our reach. We start acting like everyone else. Life takes on a joyless, empty quality. We begin to resemble the leading character in Eugene O’Neill’s play:
“Why am I afraid to dance, I who love music and rhythm and grace and song and laughter? Why am I afraid to live, I who love life and the beauty of flesh and the living colors of the earth and sky and sea? Why am I afraid to love, I who love love?”
Something is radically wrong.
Our huffing and puffing to impress God, our scrambling for brownie points, our thrashing about trying to fix ourselves while hiding our pettiness and wallowing in guilt are nauseating to God and are a flat denial of the gospel of grace.
Our approach to the Christian life is as absurd as the enthusiastic young man who had just received his plumber’s license and was taken to see Niagara Falls. He studied it for a minute and then said, “I think I can fix this.”
The word itself, has become trite and debased through misuse and overuse. It does not move us the way it moved our early Christian ancestors. In some European countries certain high ecclesiastical officials are still called “Your Grace.” Sportswriters spoke of Michael Jordan’s “easy grace,” while business mogul Donald Trump has been described as “lacking in grace.” A new perfume appears with “Grace” on the label, and a child’s report card is called a “disgrace.” The word has lost its raw, imaginative power.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky caught the shock and scandal of the gospel of grace when he wrote:
At the last Judgment Christ will say to us, “Come, you also! Come, drunkards! Come, weaklings! Come, children of shame!” And he will say to us: “Vile beings, you who are in the image of the beast and bear his mark, but come all the same, you as well.” And the wise and prudent will say, “Lord, why do you welcome them?” And he will say: “If I welcome them, you wise men, if I welcome them, you prudent men, it is because not one of them has ever been judged worthy.” And he will stretch out his arms, and we will fall at his feet, and we will cry out sobbing, and then we will understand all, we will understand the Gospel of grace! Lord, your Kingdom come!
I believe the Reformation actually began the day Martin Luther was praying over the meaning of Paul’s assertion that the gospel reveals the righteousness of God to us—it shows how faith leads to faith. In other words, the righteous shall find life through faith (see Romans 1:17). Like many Christians today, Luther wrestled through the night with this core question: How could the gospel of Christ be truly called “good news” if God is a righteous judge who rewards the good and punishes the evil? Did Jesus really have to come to reveal that terrifying message? How could the revelation of God in Christ Jesus be accurately called “news” since the Old Testament carried the same theme, or for that matter, “good” with the threat of punishment hanging like a dark cloud over the valley of history?
But as Jaroslav Pelikan notes:
Luther suddenly broke through to the insight that the “righteousness of God” that Paul spoke of in this passage was not the righteousness by which God was righteous in himself (that would be passive righteousness) but the righteousness by which, for the sake of Jesus Christ, God made sinners righteous (that is, active righteousness) through the forgiveness of sins in justification. When he discovered that, Luther said it was as though the very gates of Paradise had been opened to him.
What a stunning truth!
“Justification by grace through faith” is the theologian’s learned phrase for what Chesterton once called “the furious love of God.” He is not moody or capricious; He knows no seasons of change. He has a single relentless stance toward us: He loves us. He is the only God man has ever heard of who loves sinners. False gods—the gods of human manufacturing—despise sinners, but the Father of Jesus loves all, no matter what they do. But of course, this is almost too incredible for us to accept. Nevertheless, the central affirmation of the Reformation stands: Through no merit of ours, but by His mercy, we have been restored to a right relationship with God through the life, death, and resurrection of His beloved Son. This is the Good News, the gospel of grace.
With his characteristic Robert Capon puts it this way:
The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellarful of fifteen- hundred-year-old, two-hundred proof grace—of bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly. The word of the gospel—after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps—suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started... Grace has to be drunk straight: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale; neither goodness, nor badness, nor the flowers that bloom in the spring of super spirituality could be allowed to enter into the case.
Matthew 9:9–13 captures a lovely glimpse of the gospel of grace:
As Jesus was walking on from there he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. Now while he was at table in the house it happened that a number of tax collectors and sinners came to sit at the table with Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your master eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When he heard this he replied, “It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. Go and learn the meaning of the words: Mercy is what pleases me, not sacrifice. And indeed I came to call not the upright, but sinners.”
Here is revelation bright as the evening star: Jesus comes for sinners, for those as outcast as tax collectors and for those caught up in squalid choices and failed dreams. He comes for corporate executives, street people, superstars, farmers, hookers, addicts, IRS agents, AIDS victims, and even used-car salesmen. Jesus not only talks with these people but dines with them—fully aware that His table fellowship with sinners will raise the eyebrows of religious bureaucrats who hold up the robes and insignia of their authority to justify their condemnation of the truth and their rejection of the gospel of grace.
This passage should be read, reread, and memorized. Every Christian generation tries to dim the blinding brightness of its meaning because the gospel seems too good to be true. We think salvation belongs to the proper and pious, to those who stand at a safe distance from the back alleys of existence, clucking their judgments at those who have been soiled by life. In the name of Grace, what has been the verdict of the Christian community on the stained life of the late Rock Hudson? To the disclosure (the $4.5 million settlement to his lover Marc Christian notwithstanding) that he called a priest to his deathbed, confessed his sins, and cried out to God for forgiveness?
Jesus, who forgave the sins of the paralytic (thereby claiming divine power), proclaims that He has invited sinners and not the self-righteous to His table. The Greek verb used here, has the sense of inviting an honored guest to dinner. In effect, Jesus says the kingdom of His Father is not a subdivision for the self-righteous nor for those who feel they possess the state secret of salvation. The kingdom is not an exclusive, well-trimmed suburb with snobbish rules about who can live there. No, it is for a larger, homelier, less self-conscious caste of people who understand they are sinners because they have experienced the yaw and pitch of moral struggle.
These are the sinner-guests invited by Jesus to closeness with Him around the banquet table. It remains a startling story to those who never understand that the men and women who are truly filled with light are those who have gazed deeply into the darkness of their imperfect existence. Perhaps it was after meditating on this passage that Morton Kelsey wrote, “The church is not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners.”
The Good News means we can stop lying to ourselves. The sweet sound of amazing grace saves us from the necessity of self-deception. It keeps us from denying that though Christ was victorious, the battle with lust, greed, and pride still rages within us. As a sinner who has been redeemed, I can acknowledge that I am often unloving, irritable, angry, and resentful with those closest to me. When I go to church I can leave my white hat at home and admit I have failed. God not only loves me as I am, but also knows me as I am. Because of this I don’t need to apply spiritual cosmetics to make myself presentable to Him. I can accept ownership of my poverty and powerlessness and neediness.
As C. S. Lewis says in “Grace substitutes a full, childlike and delighted acceptance of our need, a joy in total dependence. The good man is sorry for the sins which have increased his need. He is not entirely sorry for the fresh need they have produced.” As the gospel of grace lays hold of us, something is radically right. We are living in truth and reality. We become as honest as the ninety-two-year-old priest who was venerated by everybody in town for his holiness. He was also a member of the Rotary Club. Every time the club met, he would be there, always on time and always seated in his favorite spot in a corner of the room. One day the priest disappeared. It was as if he had vanished into thin air. The townsfolk searched all over and could find no trace of him. But the following month, when the Rotary Club met, he was there as usual sitting in his corner. “Father,” everyone cried, “where have you been?” “I just served a thirty-day sentence in prison.” “In prison?” they cried. “Father, you couldn’t hurt a fly. What happened?” “It’s a long story,” said the priest, “but briefly, this is what happened. I bought myself a train ticket to go into the city. I was standing on the platform waiting for the train to arrive when this stunningly beautiful girl appears on the arm of a policeman. She looked at me, turned to the cop and said, ‘He did it. I’m certain he’s the one who did it.’ Well, to tell you the truth, I was so flattered I pleaded guilty.”
There’s a touch of vanity in even the holiest men and women. They see no reason to deny it. And they know that reality bites back if it isn’t respected.
When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.
To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side, I learn who I am and what God’s grace means. As Thomas Merton put it, “A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.”
The gospel of grace nullifies our adulation of televangelists, charismatic superstars, and local church heroes. It obliterates the two-class citizenship theory operative in many American churches. For grace proclaims the awesome truth that all is gift. All that is good is ours, not by right, but by the sheer bounty of a gracious God. While there is much we may have earned—our degree, our salary, our home and garden, a Miller Lite, and a good night’s sleep—all this is possible only because we have been given so much: life itself, eyes to see and hands to touch, a mind to shape ideas, and a heart to beat with love. We have been given God in our souls and Christ in our flesh. We have the power to believe where others deny, to hope where others despair, to love where others hurt. This and so much more is sheer gift; it is not reward for our faithfulness, our generous disposition, or our heroic life of prayer. Even our fidelity is a gift. “If we but turn to God,” said St. Augustine, “that itself is a gift of God.” My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.
In my ministry as a vagabond evangelist, I have extolled certain saints and contemporary Christians, speaking of at what cost they have struggled to surpass lesser men and women. O God, what madness I have preached in sermons! The Good News of the gospel of grace cries out: We are all, equally, privileged but unentitled beggars at the door of God’s mercy!
Besides, as Henri Nouwen notes, the greater part of God’s work in the world may go unnoticed. There are a number of people who have become famous or widely known for their ministries, but much of God’s saving activity in our history could remain completely unknown. That is a mystery difficult to grasp in an age that attaches so much importance to publicity. We tend to think that the more people know and talk about something, the more important it must be.
In Luke 18, a rich young man comes to Jesus, asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. He wants to be in the spotlight. It is no coincidence that Luke juxtaposes the passage of Jesus and the children immediately preceding the verses on the young aristocrat. Children contrast with the rich man simply because there is no question of their having yet been able to merit anything. Jesus’ point is, there is nothing that any of us can do to inherit the kingdom. We must simply receive it like little children. And little children haven’t done anything. The New Testament world was not sentimental about children and had no illusion about any pretended innate goodness in them. Jesus is not suggesting that heaven is a huge playground for Cajun infants. Children are our model because they have no claim on heaven. If they are close to God, it is because they are incompetent, not because they are innocent. If they receive anything, it can only be as a gift.
Paul writes in Ephesians, “Because it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit” (2:8–9).
If a random sampling of one thousand American Christians were taken today, the majority would define faith as belief in the existence of God. In earlier times it did not take faith to believe that God existed—almost everybody took that for granted. Rather, faith had to do with one’s relationship to God—whether one trusted in God. The difference between faith as “belief in something that may or may not exist” and faith as “trusting in God” is enormous. The first is a matter of the head, the second a matter of the heart. The first can leave us unchanged; the second intrinsically brings change.
Such is the faith described by Paul Tillich in his famous work:
Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life... It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything, do not perform anything, do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.” If that happens to us, we experience grace.
And Grace calls out, Never confuse your perception of yourself with the mystery that you really are accepted.
Paul writes, “The Lord said, ‘My grace is enough for you: my power is at its best in weakness.’ So I shall be very happy to make my weaknesses my special boast so that the power of Christ may stay over me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Whatever our failings may be, we need not lower our eyes in the presence of Jesus. Unlike Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre Dame, we need not hide all that is ugly and repulsive in us. Jesus comes not for the super-spiritual but for the wobbly and the weak-kneed who know they don’t have it all together, and who are not too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace. As we glance up, we are astonished to find the eyes of Jesus open with wonder, deep with understanding, and gentle with compassion.
Something is radically wrong when the local church rejects a person accepted by Jesus—when a harsh, judgmental, and unforgiving sentence is passed on homosexuals; when a divorcée is denied communion; when the child of a prostitute is refused baptism; when an unlaicized priest is forbidden the sacraments. Jesus comes to the ungodly, even on Sunday morning. His coming ends ungodliness and makes us worthy. Otherwise, we are establishing at the heart of Christianity an utterly ungodly and unworthy preoccupation with works.
Jesus sat down at table with anyone who wanted to be present, including those who were banished from decent homes. In the sharing of a meal they received consideration instead of the expected condemnation. A merciful acquittal instead of a hasty verdict of guilty. Amazing grace instead of universal disgrace. Here is a very practical demonstration of the law of grace—a new chance in life.
Any church that will not accept that it consists of sinful men and women, and exists for them, implicitly rejects the gospel of grace. As Hans Küng says:
It deserves neither God’s mercy nor men’s trust. The church must constantly be aware that its faith is weak, its knowledge dim, its profession of faith halting, that there is not a single sin or failing which it has not in one way or another been guilty of.
If the church remains self-righteously aloof from failures, irreligious and immoral people, it cannot enter justified into God’s kingdom. But if it is constantly aware of its guilt and sin, it can live in joyous awareness of forgiveness. The promise has been given to it that anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.
The story goes that a public sinner was excommunicated and forbidden entry to the church. He took his woes to God.
“They won’t let me in, Lord, because I am a sinner.”
“What are you complaining about?” said God. “They won’t let Me in either.”
Often hobbling through our church doors on Sunday morning comes grace on crutches—sinners still unable to throw away their false supports and stand upright in the freedom of the children of God. Yet their mere presence in the church on Sunday morning is a flickering candle representing a desire to maintain contact with God. To douse the flame is to plunge them into a world of spiritual darkness.
There is a myth flourishing in the church today that has caused incalculable harm: once converted, fully converted. In other words, once I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, an irreversible, sinless future beckons. Discipleship will be an untarnished success story; life will be an unbroken upward spiral toward holiness. Tell that to poor Peter who, after three times professing his love for Jesus on the beach and after receiving the fullness of the Spirit at Pentecost, was still jealous of Paul’s apostolic success.
Often I have been asked, “Brennan, how is it possible that you became an alcoholic after you got saved?” It is possible because I got battered and bruised by loneliness and failure; because I got discouraged, uncertain, guilt-ridden, and took my eyes off Jesus. Because the Christ-encounter did not transfigure me into an angel. Because justification by grace through faith means I have been set in right relationship with God, not made the equivalent of a patient etherized on a table.
We want ever-sharp spirituality—push, pull, click, click, one saint that quick—and attempt to cultivate a particular virtue at a given point in time. Prudence in January, humility in February, fortitude in March, temperance in April. Score cards are provided for toting up gains and losses. The losses should diminish if you expect to meet charity in May. Sometimes May never comes. For many Christians, life is a long January.
According to an ancient Christian legend, a saint once knelt down and prayed, “Dear God, I have only one desire in life. Give me the grace of never offending You again.”
When God heard this, He started laughing out loud. “That’s what they all ask for. But if I granted everyone this grace, tell Me, whom would I forgive?”
Because salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands (see Revelation 7:9), I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son. I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives; the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last “trick,” whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school; the deathbed convert who for decades had his cake and ate it, broke every law of God and man, wallowed in lust, and raped the earth.
“But how?” we ask.
Then the voice says, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
There they are. There are—the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life’s tribulations, but through it all clung to the faith.
My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the gospel of grace.
Exerpted from The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning Copyright © 2002 by Brennan Manning. Excerpted by permission of Multnomah Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted on March 10, 2014 by Family Christian
NEW ENGLAND, 1835
Alex Stafford was just like Mama said. He was tall and dark, and Sarah had never seen anyone so beautiful. Even dressed in dusty riding clothes, his hair damp with perspiration, he was like the princes in the stories Mama read. Sarah’s heart beat with wild joy and pride. None of the other fathers she saw at Mass compared to him.
He looked at her with his dark eyes, and her heart sang. She was wearing her best blue frock and white pinafore, and Mama had braided her hair with pink and blue ribbons. Did Papa like the way she looked? Mama said blue was his favorite color, but why didn’t he smile? Was she fidgeting? Mama said to stand straight and still and act like a lady. She said he would like that. But he didn’t look pleased at all.
“Isn’t she beautiful, Alex?” Mama said. Her voice sounded strange…tight, like she was choking. “Isn’t she the most beautiful little girl you’ve ever seen?”
Sarah watched Papa’s dark eyes frown. He didn’t look happy. He looked angry. Like Mama looked sometimes when Sarah talked too much or asked too many questions.
“Just a few minutes,” Mama said quickly. Too quickly. Was she afraid? But why? “That’s all I’m asking, Alex. Please. It would mean so much to her.” Alex Stafford stared down at Sarah. His mouth was pressed tight, and he studied her silently. Sarah stood as still as she could. She’d stared at herself in the mirror so long this morning, she knew what he would see. She had her father’s chin and nose, and her mother’s blonde hair and fair skin. Her eyes were like her mother’s, too, although they were even more blue. Sarah wanted Papa to think she was pretty, and she gazed up at him hopefully. But the look in his eyes was not a nice one.
“Did you pick blue on purpose, Mae?” Papa’s words startled Sarah. They were cold and angry. “Because it brings out the color of her eyes?”
Sarah couldn’t help it, she glanced at her mother—and her heart fell. Mama’s face was filled with hurt.
Alex glanced toward the foyer. “Cleo!”
“She’s not here,” Mama said quietly, keeping her head high. “I gave her the day off.”
Papa’s eyes seemed to get even darker. “Did you? Well, that leaves you in a fix, doesn’t it, darling?”
Mama stiffened, then bit her lip and glanced down at Sarah. What was wrong? Sarah wondered sadly. Wasn’t Papa happy to see her? She had been so excited that she was actually going to be with him at last, even for a little
“What would you have me do?” Mama’s words were directed at Papa, so Sarah stayed silent, still hoping.
“Send her away. She knows how to find Cleo, I would imagine.”
Pink spots appeared on Mama’s cheeks. “Meaning what, Alex? That I entertain others in your absence?”
Sarah’s smile fell in confusion. They spoke so coldly to one another. Neither looked at her. Had they forgotten she was there? What was wrong? Mama was distraught. Why was Papa so angry about Cleo not being home? Chewing her lip, Sarah looked between them. Stepping closer, she tugged on her father’s coat. “Papa…”
“Don’t call me that.”
She blinked, frightened and confused by his manner. He was her papa. Mama said so. He even brought her presents every time he came. Mama gave them to her. Maybe he was angry that she had never thanked him. “I want to thank you for the presents you—”
“Hush, Sarah,” her mother said quickly. “Not now, darling.”
Papa flashed Mama a thunderous look. “Let her speak. It’s what you wanted, isn’t it? Why are you shushing her now, Mae?”
Mama stepped closer and put her hand on Sarah’s shoulder. Sarah could feel Mama’s fingers trembling, but Papa bent toward her now, smiling. “What presents?” he said.
He was so handsome, just like Mama said. She was proud to have a father like him.
“Tell me, little one.”
“I always like the candies you bring me,” Sarah said, feeling warm and proud beneath his attention. “They are very nice. But best of everything, I love the crystal swan.”
She smiled again, glowing with joy that Papa listened to her so carefully. He even smiled, though Sarah wasn’t sure she liked his smile. It was small and tight.
“Indeed,” he said and straightened. He looked at Mama. “I’m so pleased to know how much my gifts mean.”
Sarah looked up at her father, thrilled at his approval. “I put it on my windowsill. The sun shines through it and makes colors dance on the wall. Would you like to come and see?” She took his hand. When he jerked away, she blinked, hurt, not understanding.
Mama bit her lip and reached out a hand toward Papa, then stopped suddenly. She looked afraid again. Sarah looked from one parent to the other, struggling to understand. What had she done wrong? Wasn’t Papa pleased that she liked his presents?
“So you pass on my gifts to the child,” Papa said. “It’s good to know what they mean to you.”
Sarah bit her lip at the coldness in Papa’s voice, but before she could speak, Mama touched her shoulder gently. “Darling, be a good girl and go outside and play now.”
Sarah looked up, distressed. Had she done something wrong? “Can’t I stay? I’ll be very quiet.” Mama couldn’t seem to say more. Her eyes were moist and she looked at Papa.
Alex bent down to Sarah. “I want you to go outside and play,” he said quietly. “I want to talk to your mother alone.” He smiled and patted her cheek.
Sarah smiled, utterly enchanted. Papa had touched her; he wasn’t angry at all. He loved her! Just as Mama said. “Can I come back when you’re done talking?”
Papa straightened stiffly. “Your mother will come and get you when she’s ready. Now, run along as you’ve been told.”
“Yes, Papa.” Sarah wanted to stay, but she wanted to please her father more. She went out of the parlor, skipping through the kitchen to the back door. She picked a few daisies that grew in the garden patch by the door and then headed for the rose trellis. She plucked the petals. “He loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not.…” She hushed as she came around the corner. She didn’t want to disturb Mama and Papa. She just wanted to be close to them.
Sarah dreamed contentedly. Maybe Papa would put her up on his shoulders. She wondered if he would take her for a ride on his big black horse.
She would have to change her dress, of course. He wouldn’t want her to soil it. She wished he had let her sit on his lap while he talked to Mama. She would have liked that very much, and she would have been no bother. The parlor window was open, and she could hear voices. Mama loved the smell of roses to fill the parlor. Sarah wanted to sit and listen to her parents. That way she would know just when Papa wanted her to come back again. If she was very quiet, she wouldn’t disturb them, and all Mama would have to do was lean out and call her name.
“What was I to do, Alex? You’ve never spent so much as a minute with her. What was I to tell her? That her father doesn’t care? That he wishes she had never even been born?”
Sarah’s lips parted. Deny it, Papa! Deny it!
“I brought that swan back from Europe for you, and you throw it away on a child who has no appreciation for its value. Did you give her the pearls as well? What about the music box? I suppose she got that, too!”
The daisies fluttered from Sarah’s hand. She sat down on the ground, careless of her pretty dress. Her heart slowed from its wild, happy beat. Everything inside her seemed to spiral downward with each word.
“Alex, please. I didn’t see any harm in it. It made it easier. She asked me this morning if she was old enough yet to meet you. She asks me every time she knows you’re coming. How could I say no to her again? I didn’t have the
heart. She doesn’t understand your neglect, and neither do I.”
“You know how I feel about her.”
“How can you say how you feel? You don’t even know her. She’s a beautiful child, Alex. She’s quick and charming and she isn’t afraid of anything. She’s like you in so many ways. She’s someone, Alex. You can’t ignore her existence forever. She’s your daughter.…”
“I have enough children by my wife. Legitimate children. I told you I didn’t want another.”
“How can you say that? How can you not love your own flesh and blood?”
“I told you how I felt from the beginning, but you wouldn’t listen. She should never have been born, Mae, but you insisted on having your own way.”
“Do you think I wanted to get pregnant? Do you think I planned to have her?”
“I’ve often wondered. Especially when I arranged a way out of the situation for you and you refused. The doctor I sent you to would have taken care of the whole mess. He would’ve gotten rid—”
“I couldn’t do it. How could you expect me to kill my unborn child? Don’t you understand? It’s a mortal sin.”
“You’ve spent too much time in church,” he said derisively. “Have you ever thought that you wouldn’t have the problems you do now if you had gotten rid of her the way I told you. It would’ve been easy. But you ran out.”
“I wanted her!” Mama said brokenly. “She was part of you, Alex, and part of me. I wanted her even if you didn’t.…”
“Is that the real reason?”
“You’re hurting me, Alex!”
Sarah flinched as something shattered. “Is that the real reason, Mae? Or did you have her because you thought bearing my child would give you a hold over me you otherwise lacked?”
“You can’t believe that!” Mama was crying now. “You do, don’t you? You’re a fool, Alex. Oh, what have I done? I gave up everything for you! My family, my friends, my self-respect, everything I believed in, every hope I ever had.…”
“I bought you this cottage. I give you all the money you could possibly need.”
Mama’s voice rose strangely. “Do you know what it’s like for me to walk down the street in this town? You come and go when and as you please. And they know who you are, and they know what I am. No one looks at me. No one speaks to me. Sarah feels it, too. She asked me about it once, and I told her we were different from other people. I didn’t know what else to say.” Her voice broke. “I’ll probably go to hell for what I’ve become.”
“I’m sick of your guilt and I’m sick of hearing about that child. She’s ruining everything between us. Do you remember how happy we were? We never argued. I couldn’t wait to come to you, to be with you.”
“And how much time do I have left with you today? Enough? You’ve used it up on her. I told you what would happen, didn’t I? I wish she had never been born!”
Mama cried out a terrible name. There was a crash. Terrified, Sarah got up and ran. She raced through Mama’s flowers and across the lawn and onto the pathway to the springhouse. She ran until she couldn’t run anymore. Gasping, her sides burning, she dropped into the tall grass, her shoulders heaving with sobs, her face streaked with tears. She heard a horse galloping toward her. Scrambling for a better hiding place in the vines about the creek, she peered out and saw her father ride by on his great black horse. Ducking down, she huddled there, crying, and waited for Mama to come fetch her.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Excerpted from Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers Copyright © 2005 by Francine Rivers. Excerpted by permission of Multnomah Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.