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A Field of Hedges: Men and the Fight for Purity

Through the years I’ve seen men struggle with their personal purity, many to victory and freedom. But sadly, some to their own demise. As I reflect on their struggles, I notice many battles are lost by a simple lack of discipline. Proverbs 5:23, “He dies for lack of discipline, and because of his great folly he is led astray.”

The Puritans used to say, “The devil comes over the hedge at its lowest point.” That’s vivid imagery that should capture our attention. Hedges are good. They are meant to shield and protect. Yet many men have holes in their hedge. This post is meant to help patch those holes.

Allow me to make two qualifiers: First, I am writing to men, in particular younger men. Second, my wife has read, approved and endorsed the content below. I’m sure yours will as well.

Men, I’ve listed below seven “high hedges” deserving of our consideration.

Seven | Discipline your solitude.

Solitude is good. It’s a spiritual discipline. And yet, undisciplined solitude can lead to great folly and sin. Let’s be honest – being alone is a vulnerable place and time for many men. A switch is flipped when no one knows where we are or what we are doing. If you must be alone, whether at home or in the hotel, have a plan. Spend time in the lobby, shoot basketball outside. Guard against sloth and sensuality. Our private and public lives must match.

Six | Shorten your conversation.

Generally speaking, men are visual and women are emotional. Thus, casual conversation is often a trap. The longer you talk the more emotion. Details can lead to intimacy. Keep your verbal exchanges brief and above board. Be careful about emotions, details, and body language.

Proverbs 10:19, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”

Five | Keep your distance.

I appeal to Billy Graham’s “Modesto Manifesto.” Never be alone in a car, at lunch, in a meeting at work, etc., with a woman that is not your wife, mother, sister or family member. If you’re traveling, drive separately. If you’re meeting for lunch, invite a third person. If you have a meeting, open the door, invite a secretary. Bottom line: keep yourselves in the eyes and ears of the public.

Let me take it a step further: Young man, you have no business giving another woman a hug. You know what I’m talking about. Shake hands, fist bump, etc. If you feel like your distance makes it slightly awkward – good. I’d rather be awkward than the alternative.

Four | Tailor your texts.

I have seen more mess come from texting than anything else. It is the gateway to disaster. Texting is like whispering in someone’s ear. It’s a discrete conversation between two parties, without tone or context. It’s the devil’s playground. You’d type things on your phone that you would never say in person, nor maybe even have the opportunity.

Let’s ask the question — would your wife be ok if you repeatedly whispered in another woman’s ear? Of course not. Then stop texting. Don’t be stupid. (How’s that for being spiritual?!)

Three | Limit your social media.

Social media is far from social. It is augmented, mediated reality. The word “media” (plural of “medium”) is the means by which something is communicated or expressed. Translation: What you are viewing on your screen is not real. That’s why we can have thousands of “friends” and still be alone.

What we view on social media are the human experiences of real life, yet coming to us by way of a filter, a medium, able to contort the images and information we view. Thus, we are to keep our heads about us. We are to understand and respect the medium. Behave yourselves, men. Mediated reality is not real reality.

Two | Know your bedtime.

Create the habit of going to bed at the same time as your wife. For some, your work schedules simply don’t match. But for most, it’s simply a matter of getting on the same rhythm. Strive to close out the day together. Benefits will abound. It will shore up your schedule through the day. It will build intimacy and accountability in your marriage. Most of all men, it will not leave you alone in the late hours of the night (see above, “Discipline your solitude”). Your wife is a hedge. And so is your bedtime. Don’t miss that.

One | Kill your phone.

I’ve intentionally saved this one for last. I’ve found the cell phone to be the biggest hole in the hedge. Let me be crystal clear: Turn. Off. Your. Phone. I mean — off, like “slide to power off” off.

You have likely been on your phone all day. It’s now time to get off the grid and be present with your family. At the very minimum, let your mind cool. Emails can wait. Work will be there in the morning. Communicate with your work and cooperate with your wife in order to make this happen. Have a plan, work the plan. As a word of personal testimony, I turn my phone off regularly at 8:00p.m. If people need me, they can call my wife. To this date, I’ve missed very few calls. I’m not that important. My guess is, neither are you.

 

Jesus told his disciples to get radical—real radical— with their fight against sin, “if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away,” (Matt 18:8). His metaphor is meant to communicate the severity of the sin and gravity of the fight. Men, do what you have to do. That will look different for each of us. It may mean you have to be a little awkward. Or you may have to be inconvenienced.

Men, in all the matters listed above, you must know yourself. A healthy sense of distrust is in order for us all. Not to make us live in fear, but to make us lean in boldly to the grace of Jesus Christ. We must live lives of dependence on him. He is in your corner, fighting your battles. He suffered the cross to make you pure. Set your eyes on victory and freedom, by his power alone.

Here are some resources that may help you with your hedges:

Disciplines of a Godly Man by Kent Hughes

Point Man by Steve Farrar

Finally Free by Heath Lambert

Being a Witness in a Virtual Age

Last week, our family took a trip to the mountains. We wanted to rest, reset, and refocus as we began a new year. We also sought to take a pause from technology.

Currently, students work on computers daily, college students participate in zoom meetings all day, and much of the world works from home. I am thankful for the advances in technology that facilitate our activities, but with technology comes two major obstacles: distraction and an absence of new relationships.

I was in my last semester of seminary when the pandemic started. One of the requirements for one class was to share the gospel with at least one person a week. Ever since then, I have wondered how we can faithfully build relationships and share the gospel in the virtual season we are in.

Have you ever thought about the impact technology has on our witness?

Over Christmas break, we had missionary friends from another country come visit. They explained the laws in their country. They are literally not allowed to have anyone else step foot their property. They have had very limited face-to-face interaction with others for months. I was left wondering, how can we faithfully build relationships and tell others about Jesus when face-to-face interactions are so limited?

These questions remined me of a book I read a couple of years ago called Disruptive Witness by Alan Noble. This book has helped me wrestle with our witness in this virtual age.

Here are a few take aways I have tried to implement in my own life:

  • Identify distractions: To be a faithful witness, I must first take time to evaluate what distracts me. What is preventing me from contemplating the majesty of God? You might be surprised at how long this list can grow. A multitude of things can grab my attention in a minute: a text, an email, work, social media, a to-do list, a news headline, dinner, kids, my spouse…
  • Consciously approach God’s Word: Now the list above is not full of bad things, just things that can distract me from God’s Word, especially if they are always at the forefront of my mind. I must habitually and intentionally take steps to silence those distractions so that I can consciously approach God’s Word. For me this means turning off my phone for a set portion of time, being intentional in planning my time alone with God, and relying on my spouse to help me get that uninterrupted time alone in God’s Word.
  • Rest in silence: Noble explains “It’s not just that this technology allows us to stay “plugged in” all the time, it’s that it gives us the sense that we are tapped into something greater than ourselves.” We are so comfortable with the distractions around us, to the point that silence makes us uncomfortable and rest makes us feel unproductive. To hear God’s Word, we must be able to sit in silence and listen. We must re-learn how to rest and how to be silent in our loud culture. This will take practice. Try spending 20 minutes alone in silence once a week, and then increase the frequency and length of that time each week.
  • Prioritize my time in worship: I love how Noble describes worship. He explains that worship is a time when “we are joined together through Christ across time and space in a way that simply is not true of any business team. Through singing together, we enact this mystery in worship.” Technology is a large part of our worship experience now. Whether you watch online or attend in person, technology is at our fingertips. Noble suggests that as a church we make intentional decisions to encourage healthy cognitive habits. That may be encouraging one another to bring a physical copy of the Word instead of relying on our phone, where notifications can grab our attention. It could be longer periods of time for self-reflection and prayer. As a family, I encourage you to evaluate ways to encourage a focused worship experience.
  • Encourage contemplation: They are few opportunities to meet new people in this season, and many of our interactions are virtual now. Intentional relationships are key to sharing the gospel in this season. I am also learning to be more intentional with existing relationships through activities like checking in on those at home, being a better listener, and asking question that encourage reflection. One way that Noble suggest we do this is through participation in our cultural works (tv, music, movies…). Nobles explains this when he says, “We participate in stories when we receive them charitably and dialogue with other about how to interpret them.” Use everyday conversation about the events and works around you to encourage others to contemplate the majesty of God.

Technology will only grow louder as the years pass. I would encourage you to take time to evaluate how you can silence those distractions in your own life and how you can disrupt the noise in other’s lives.

Gifts of the Heart

Hanging on my office wall is a cardboard, cut out heart. The 6″ x 6″ note is rather unceremoniously hung with a paper clip. Three simple words, “I Love U”, are generously accented with 25 hearts and six exclamation marks.  I absolutely adore it.

Hanging not far away, there’s a beautiful, framed reproduction from Impressionist painter, Claude Monet. The acclaimed work of art is really pretty, but it gets little attention.

The cardboard heart is a note from our daughter, Breanna. She was only eight when she made it. We have other little tokens of love from Bree, some placed by the bed, others on my desk.  The handwriting has improved, the conversations are more sophisticated, the presentation more polished, but the expression could never be better.

There are other gifts around the home, some handmade, some handpicked. One of our sons gave me a rock. He was excited to give it. I’m excited to keep it. The love of a child is pure and precious.

Children, of course, make mistakes; they aren’t perfect. Yet, their imperfect expressions of love hold far deeper meaning than perfect obedience without heartfelt commitment. That is just as true for us as children of God as it is for the children of human parents.

God desires our love far more than perfect obedience. Obedience, yes, but He’d rather have our love.

We expect obedience from our children for their safety and for their good. But, obedience is ultimately a demonstration – an expression – of their love for us.

When children are immature, obedience is taught as something that is simply required, regardless of the child’s level of understanding. Children could not understand, nor would we want them to deeply contemplate, the consequences of touching a hot stove or walking into the street. They obey because of who we are: the authority figure in their life.

As they mature, they have a greater capacity to choose. They discover that more options are available to them. They’re better at making excuses, they’re more skilled at skirting the edges of obedience, and they’re better able to hide non-compliance. Or so they think.

More importantly, they grow in the understanding of the consequences of their choices, both good and bad, as well as the reasoning behind it. What’s at stake is much deeper than strictly an act of obedience. Let me explain.

As the relationship grows, so does the meaning behind the behavior. Obedience is not simply a matter of compliance. It’s now a matter of respect and love. As the child grows, and as the relationship matures, obedience is much more of a demonstration of love.

God expects, even demands, our obedience, but putting on an act of Christian character or behavior without true devotion to Him is hypocrisy. The only acceptable ground for obedience to God is love for God. Jerry Bridges, in his book The Practice of Godliness, elaborates on this point: “Devotion to God … is the mainspring (chief cause) of godly character. And this devotion is the only motivation for Christian behavior that is pleasing to God.”

Jesus instructed us to come to Him as little children. He adds, “whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:13-21; also Matt 19:13-22; Luke 18:15-23). It’s no coincidence that this instruction comes just before the rich young man asked, “what good must I do to have eternal life?”. The young man wanted to earn his way, through good behavior, into God’s presence and blessing. Jesus, in essence, explained that sincere relationship came before acts of obedience had any meaning.

As the good Father that He is, God desires a heartfelt commitment more than heartless compliance. Give Him your full attention and your full devotion. Spend time with Him in prayer. Love Him for who He is and what He has done. As simple and childlike as you may think it is, give God the gift of your heart. He’ll help you with the rest.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Recent events are the latest in a long line of happenings over the last several months that expose weaknesses in our culture, our nation, and our churches.  As Christians, how do we respond?  Where do we go from here?

In some ways 2020 really began in March last year.  That is when COVID came to the USA.  Since then, all our lives have been affected.  March 2020 began a rollercoaster of events.  To make it worse, this rollercoaster had multiple parallel tracks.  It was not “just” that our work and school life was affected.  It was not “just” that businesses and jobs were lost.  It was not “just” that racial tensions seemed to worsen.  It was not “just” that cracks and division appeared in churches.  All these things happened and more.  All since March of 2020.

These things have always been with us, but they just seemed to bubble to the surface after March 2020.

As we approach the one-year mark since this roller coaster began, we had one of the most dramatic events in the history of the USA occur this week.  We saw people invade, for lack of a better word, our capital building.  No matter our political views, we can all agree what happened was a travesty.

So, what are we as Christians to do?

We have been given a mission.  The objective for this mission can be found in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

This mission is not political or tied to any government.

This mission is to be our primary focus.  Imagine a nation whose people exhibit the fruit of His Spirit, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control” and not, “conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:22-23,26).  This will only happen when each Christian first seeks God with all their heart, and then asks, “how can I tell my neighbor about Christ?”

Politics will never build a Godly nation.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:13,14 that we are the salt of the earth and a light on a lampstand.   What does this mean?  It means the light of Christ should shine through us to those around us.  It means the witness of our lives and the gospel we share will preserve the lives of people.

Does this mean Christians should not take political stands?  The answer is complicated.  It depends.

Those last statements may be disturbing but please consider the following.

If our primary job is to bear witness of Christ and all He has done, how can we accomplish this if our actions, unrelated to the gospel, prevent those who need the gospel from hearing us?  Another way to ask this is, does the world know who we stand for, or only what we stand against?

As it says in John 3:17-18, “For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God.

Jesus did not come to condemn the world.  Why should we?

Thinking through Jesus’ ministry in the Gospels, He always approached sinners with love, compassion, respect, and humility.  He associated with sinners in ways that offended the religious folk of His day.  In fact, the only people Jesus treated harshly were the religious elite who protected their own power rather than accept the truth of His words.  And they did that in the name of the Jewish religion.

It has also become evident in the last few months that church goers have differing opinions regarding where Christians should stand.  We will never reconcile these differences through arguments or social media postings.

1 John 1:8 tells us, “If we say, ‘We have no sin,’ we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”  Let that sink in.  John did not write this to the unsaved, he wrote it to the church.  The body of Christ is comprised of repentant sinners.  Broken people who constantly rely on Him to sustain them.

Our churches will never have unity because they decide to.  Unity will come as each of us humbles ourselves at the foot of the cross and allows Christ to remake us in His image.  Unity is a by-product of our submission to Christ and does not come from the strength of our conviction to be united.

God has given us a great opportunity in 2020, and now in 2021.  We have a chance to stand with Him when it is difficult.  We have an opportunity to love our brothers when we find loving them hard.  We have an opportunity to pray for leaders we might not want or respect.

If that sounds difficult, then praise God!  Because the only way we can do this is in His power and by His Spirit!

Great things happen when God’s people humble themselves before Him and seek His will above all others.

Many Christian leaders are predicting a future in our nation where being a Christian is hard.  It may cost us something.  This is not something to fear or run away from.  Persecution should be embraced by the Christian as a sign of obedience.  God used persecution in the first century to plant His churches all around the Mediterranean, and then the world.

So, what would God have us do in the face of all this uncertainty?  This is God’s word.

Rejoice always!  Pray constantly.  Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  (emphasis mine) 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18

It is impossible to give thanks and be discontent at the same time.

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