March 18, 2005
A few things. First, a logic check for the guy who tried to muscle his way into my lane this morning. Despite plenty of opportunities to merge like the rest of us, you chose to wait until the last possible second and then jerk your car at me like we're jockeying for position in the Daytona 500. You're driving a shiny new Porsche Boxster. I'm driving a 1992 Honda Accord that I've driven so long I can thread it between the lies in an Al Sharpton speech. Who did you think was going to win that battle?
Second, if any of my readers are ever feeling low on hope and energy, I encourage you to acquire a copy of Third Day's Offerings, and crank up the live version of "Consuming Fire." A warning -- it's not soft and soothing. But do you think in Heaven we're going to be singing "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus" like a bunch of bloodless white Methodists?
Yes, I'm feisty today. But in a righteous, let's-burn-this-motha-down way.
So while I'm in this mood, let's talk about something, Christians. My agnostic friends, please just come along for the ride -- it may offer a little insight into this wacky cult of minivan-driving, homeschooling, getting up early on Sunday morning tribe that horrifies yet fascinates the sophisticates at the New York Times. Plus it helps us Christians remember that the world is watching.
A popular reference in evangelical Christian circles is Proverbs 27:17: "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." We want this, for the men in our community to help one another stand strong in the face of a world that either mocks our faith or demands that we mute and mutate it into a harmless hobby.
But consider this, Christian men, as you think on your small groups, your book clubs, your mentoring relationships. What are you sharpening for?
Here's the thing -- we spend a lot of time reading the right books, learning the right verses, having our 6 A.M. accountability group meetings, all of it to get razor-sharp for . . . what? If you believe that the scriptures are truly theopneustos -- "God-breathed" -- then you have to consider why the Almighty settled on this particular imagery. Iron sharpening iron. Why do we sharpen iron?
To cut something. To kill something. To separate one thing from another.
It seems to me that too many of us -- and I am at the top of this list -- spend our precious free time diligently sharpening, sharpening, sharpening, and we never look up from our grindstones to ask where the battle is.
I've got a terrible secret to share with you. The battle is right here in our midst. It's the child who has been seduced into believing that his self-worth comes from the praise of the ungodly. It's the single mother who feels only the scorn of the very same Christians who would have cursed her had she aborted. It's the wife who reads the end of the fifth chapter in Paul's letter to the Ephesians, and wonders why her husband is blind to the words. It's a world that equates our worth to our income, and to evaluations from people who won't be singing "Consuming Fire" beside us in Heaven.
But we're too busy sharpening to fight.
Here's another secret: if we wait until we're sharp enough, we'll whittle away the years until there's nothing left. We have armor, and we have a sword.
You know of what I speak, and you know that this sword is sharper than anything we could manufacture. It is the sword that separates light from dark, truth from falsehood, clean from unclean. It's been granted to us, and it should be an awe-inspiring gift. So why don't we use it?
Try this today: look at the world as a raging battle. Now survey the tragedy of an entire army of men professing to be on the side of light, yet all of them too busy earnestly sharpening their swords to engage the enemy. So are we surprised that our churches have become places that bore our young men to sleep and distraction? They are hard-wired for battle, and we give them a safe, perpetual training camp. No wonder they turn their passion to sports, one of the few remaining idols not only tolerated but nurtured in Christian circles.
Isn't it better to be beaten down than never to fight? Do we really believe that when we are weak, He is strong? Do we really believe any of the things we hear on Sunday morning? Beyond belief, are we convicted?
Don't talk to me about sharpening iron any more. Tell me about your battles.
Posted by Woodlief on March 18, 2005 at 08:34 AM
I battle what should be a fatal wound, given me by the church that I grew up in, that excommunicated my family because they were in the way of a power struggle. I have my own family now, and I take them to church (a different one), and I sing the songs, and I plead with the Lord to heal my broken heart, or to give me a new one, since I doubt there is anything at all left of mine. Every Sunday, I battle to get up and go to where I feel unsafe, where I still dare not accept the love they offer me, and to smile and tell my children about a good and loving God that I truly believe in but have no heart left to feel.
I think healing will only come when I can truly forgive the men who committed this horrible crime in the name of God, who still have no remorse and would gladly do it again. I have asked the Lord to give me the strength to do it. I have asked the Lord to forgive them. But I haven't; I have tried, and I can't. So here I sit, battling myself.
Posted by: Deoxy at March 18, 2005 10:05 AM
For the first time in a while, I feel hope again. I have grown up in what I lovingly refer to as the "Christian Ghetto": Christian school, church twice a week, youth groups, missions trips. And yet, as an adult, when 'real life' hit me with realities of pain, loss, unexplainable trials, etc, I kept doing the things I thought I should. I attended the Bible meetings, said the right things, prayed what I thought were the right prayers - all to no avail.
I kept sharpening. Nothing happened. I suppose you could say that rather than use my sword, or vainly keep sharpening it, I dropped it. Because I forgot what it was for, what my purpose is for. I was walking blindly in the midst of the battlefield wondering why things weren't working. Why God wasn't working. I haven't got it all figured out yet. But I am picking up my sword again. And when I start to sharpen - it will be to use it.
Posted by: Anonymous at March 18, 2005 10:38 AM
"We battle not against flesh and blood..."
Yet the Christian "Army" is the only one that punishes and kills it's wounded. And seems to have as many casualties from "friendly fire" as from the enemy. We need battlefield aid stations to minister to the wounded and return them to the fight. And yes, some have self-inflicted wounds, intentional or not, that still require attention.
Some are self-inflicted not out of cowardice or fear but because they are fed up, unsupported, weary of the fight; seen as the only avenue of relief...some (many?) mishandle their weapons shooting themselves in the foot or worse (My people perish for lack of knowledge...) Just some rambling thoughts...
Posted by: Tom at March 18, 2005 10:44 AM
Since I wear the label of God's Law Abiding Renegade Girl, I take the role of Eowyn, in LOTR:
"The women of my people learned long ago; those who don't know the use of swords can still die upon them."
If no one else around me will pick up the sword, then dammit, I will. And I will use the blasted thing, even if it's to cut off my right hand, just so I make it to Heaven.
That's my battle. Battling period. And battling in the face of people who tell me I should be "dainty" and "delicate" and "protected".
I'm a fighter, dammit. I fight for Him by protecting those who appear to be smaller, weaker, and more in need of help than me:
Mommies and daddies, I bet you relate. Would you protect your children with your own delicacy? Or would you warn them that sometimes parents have to fight and bloodily, and that they are doing it for two reasons: one, they love their children, and two, the evil ones do not?
Try to take my sword from me, and I'll cut off your hand as a lesson to you.
(returns to anvil)
Posted by: MMM at March 18, 2005 12:10 PM
Awesome writing, even from an atheist I find it both fascinating and intriguing.
Of course, the whole battle, swords, MMM cutting off his right hand for some reason, well, it's all very interesting.
But in a theoretical sense (and it certainly seems like this is the sense in which we're speaking of), the Christian right seems like its doing just fine. G.W. Bush is still in power, Republicans hold majority in all major legislative government bodies, and Supreme Court justices against abortion are getting nominated and elected.
Did I miss something? Sounds like the bloodshed is on the wrong side.
Unless of course you're speaking of gangs, violence, sex on TV, random rage-against-the-dying-of-the-light stuff. I'm not really clear about it at this point.
(Disclaimer: I went to church for 13 years or so, twice weekly, so I certainly know the dogma and the mindset. I asked too many questions and was mocked/ignored, so I dug deeper into the history/past of Christianity and, after finding out the truth, my analytical side took over.)
Keep up the great writing. You're definitely in my "Must Read" Onfolio folder (and have been for some time) :)
Posted by: Evan Erwin at March 18, 2005 12:24 PM
Brother! Whoa! I don't know if God somehow meant it specifically but that was exactly what I needed this morning and I mean spot on. Just Wow!
Although I prefer Offerings II and the Supertones are my pick me up music. I do look forward to belting out the Third Day version of Creed originally by Rich Mullins with my brethern.
I had been in a funk this morning and this really picked me up. I switched from Jets To Brazil to the Supertones on the sound system and Escape From Reason is blowing through the house right now. My church feels stagnant and you have put into words what I have been thinking and unable to express. We sit in the comfort of Sunday school and worship service and when push comes to shove we are just another guy at work or at home with our family. I don't how to start turning my church around but I think that's where the battle is right now. We need to get the churches out of the comfort zone and the people in those churches out fighting the war. It's sad that so much of our battle is right here in our midst. I don't know what I am going to do but I certainly need to rock the boat right here in my congregation. Say prayer for me 'cause I am likely going to need it...
Retrun of the Revolution
There ainít no stopping us now
Iíd like to say that from the outset
Not up in this business just to get what we can get
But bet that
We gonna bring it to you loud and clear
How loud I gotta say it ífore you people start to hear
I can name our problems
But I know a solution
Bring back the revolution.
The revolution comes and we all stand as on
Rises from the darkness and shines like the sun
As the sun gets higher, our church catches fire
Down from our pride and up from the mire.
Itís a dream that Iíve had and I hope it comes true
I forgot to say the revolution starts with you.
See wisdom and knowledge is one thing that we lack
Youíve been a christian how long and youíre still on similac
So I call on martin luther and all the reformation back
Then the common people couldnít read godís revelation
You had to be a monk or a priest or read latin
That was all before the revolution happened
But the fire cooled down ever since that generation
We put down the Bible and pick up the play station
And we canít defend our faith ícause we donít even know it
We say we love his word but pick a funny way to show it.
The world walks by and we donít have a thing to say
I call íem as I see íem
And thatís what I see today
The revolution returns
The reformation lives on
The great awakening is now
Sleepers open your eyes
A war is on, our rally cry is no compromise
No compromise, yeah, no compromise
A war is on, our battle cry is no compromise
So throw your fist up and pray the revolution rise
A war is on, our rally cry is no compromise
Our hearts have grown so cold
And weíve such numb souls
But shirts and bumper stickers
Man we got íem by the truckload
Is true religion what you have around your wrist
What does the scripture say of this
They honor me with words
But their hearts are far away
I call íem like I see íem
And thatís what I see today
So I call on john edwards
Who preched us all awake
We try to be emotional but here is our mistake
As a church we lack repentance and we lack true affection
Not only in our minds but our hearts need correction
And man thatís true religion, resignation and contrition
To love each other so much that weíd die before division
So what about you
Will you join us
Will you admit that the waters around us have grown
You better start swimming or youíll sink like a stone
Do you stand with us or do we stand alone
Itís time that we stand up, enlist for the war
Iíve tasted battle and now I want more
Iíve known the truth and been cut to the core
But Iím back in the game to even the score
And I mean to go out with both my guns blazing
Amazed at a God whoís so truly amazing
To triumph in battle as the spirit enables
Canít turn back the clock but we can turn the tables
Posted by: flesh99 at March 18, 2005 12:58 PM
Gideon would not have been found in the wine press if he would have seen this !! (Judges 6)
Thanks for the trumpet blast….
Posted by: Nick at March 18, 2005 2:30 PM
Thanks Tony, that was genuinely challenging. We need to be sharpen for battle. And we need to be sharpened after battle but all too often we do nothing but sharpen.
Sadly, we also are too quick too criticize those whose blades have been bent, dinged and dulled in battle--doing what they were meant to do. So, while we're at it, lets allow grace and healing and resharpening for the battle weary ones in our midst.
Good post, as always.
Posted by: Teem at March 18, 2005 2:36 PM
Yo. Evan. I'm a SHE, dude. ;)
Posted by: MMM at March 18, 2005 2:40 PM
Battle is all well and good, but there's a lot more work in war than just smacking people with your sword. Long marches, supply lines, etc.
I'll tell you about MY personal war: Every tried to find nursery volunteers? Or Children's Church volunteers? Or Awana volunteers? Apparently all those strong Christian men are too busy sharpening their swords to be bothered digging the trenches.
Battle is dramatic, the nursery is boring. Atheists seize the imagination, Children's Church bores you to tears. Converting the un-Saved offers immediate spectacular results, working Awanas offers ... nothing. At least nothing immediate.
And I'm sick of hearing about maternal instinct, like that excuses men from volunteering in any children's programs. Let the women do it, they've got that patient maternal instinct thing. Bah! Remember when Jesus was tired, and the children wanted him, and the disciples tried to turn them away, but Jesus said to let them come. Todays Christian men would do well to pay attention to that, as they strive to be more Christ-like.
Sure, Jesus got to agressively and justifiably throw the merchants out of the temple. But he also put aside his own exhaustion and discomfort to deal with the children. I wonder if some sword-sharpeners are working on their swords to keep from having to do the tedious part of war.
(Wow, I sound bitter! Off to go think happy thoughts. lalalalalala ... )
Posted by: Lucy at March 18, 2005 5:23 PM
Good Stuff, Tony. Here's a report form the front.
My wife and I shelter a single mom and her baby, with the full support of our church. Mom was a mess, but in the ensuing year, she has done very well to get her life on track, not to mention giving us a chance to be aunt and uncle to a sweet little girl.
If anyone feels called to serve like this, I can tell you it's not easy, but it is rewarding.
Posted by: Tim McNabb at March 18, 2005 6:24 PM
Tony, didn't you have the same problem last year with another driver wanting to merge over when a lane ended? Funny, that person was driving a Porsche too. Is there a pattern here? You seem to have a problem with Porsches.
Posted by: AC at March 18, 2005 8:30 PM
"If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for the battle." C.S. Lewis says the battle is for every square inch in the universe. Satan claims it as his. God claims it as his. We decide the battle inside us. We give ourselves, our time, our lives to one or the other.
Edmund Burke said, "All that is necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing." Groucho Marx said that "The only trouble with doing nothing is you never know when you're done." So much to do, so little time.
The reverse of what you've said is the conventional wisdom: we're too busy sawing to sharpen the saw. You've said we're sharp enough. It's time to enter the fray.
Posted by: Barney at March 19, 2005 12:39 AM
Posted by: dilys at March 20, 2005 1:25 PM
As always Tony, great post.
We have raised three daughters in the last 25 years. In July the last of the three will be married. Each choosing a God fearing man dedicated to a lifetime of serving the Lord and his family. We spared nothing in this battle. We were mean when we had to be mean, loved with such an outpouring, and were so strict our daughters swore our pictures were with the definition in the dictionary. What worked? Teaching them that the word discipline was from the root word disciple. They needed to learn how to be disciplined of thought and action. It has been quite a journey, one I'd surely do again to get these results!
Parents, the first sword: Your scriptures. A child cannot become who the Lord would have him be without knowing who has given him or her life. Also why they should choose, of their own accord, to serve Him.
Posted by: cooper at March 20, 2005 11:07 PM
You're all very kind, and thank you to those who reminded us that the battle is often unglamorous.
Yes, AC, I believe the last time was a Porsche as well. Perhaps I'm projecting onto them, perhaps the odds of Porsche ownership go up with the propensity to be a traffic jerk, or perhaps it's coincidence.
Evan, your thinking is unfortunately similar to that of many Christians, who equate political power with societal conviction. The real measure of Christian influence in our culture is not whether we can outlaw the murder of the unborn, but whether we care for the unwanted. It's not whether ostensibly Christian politicians reduce marginal tax rates, but whether Christians can somehow overcome the deep shame of giving no more of our income to charity on average than do non-Christian families.
Our scriptures are full, in fact, of evidence that outwardly God-serving societies are often inwardly dead, like "whitewashed tombs." A pernicious lie is that one is a "doer of the word" because one attends church and gives money to putatively Christian Republican candidates, perhaps with a little sprinkled in for groups like Focus on the Family.
To be more than a hearer only is to give a cup of water to the thirsty, to proclaim hope to the lost, to pour out oneself. I'm not sure if the Christian Right even understands that kind of language -- they certainly don't use it.
Posted by: Tony at March 21, 2005 7:50 AM
I just started reading last night and I can't seem to stop. You have an amazing talent and way with words. Plus, you're a brother in Christ and your thoughts on faith are truly inspiring to me. I just had to comment and say that you're right on with this post, and also that the Third Day: Offerings album has pulled me through several rough times in my life. I love it when Mac Powell says, "I didn't mean to mislead anybody, but we're gonna have church up in here tonight!" whoohoo!!!
a new reader :)
Posted by: Sondra at April 1, 2005 10:35 AM
Thanks! I've just today started reading Christian blogs and forum postings. I'm a 30-year believer with a web programmer background. Ironic maybe. Interesting that your "Sharpening" is the first thing to hit me on the web as useful encouragement. I have been writing lessons for my class at church about why we, as "Ambassadors of Christ", make such a minimal impact in the world. There is so little passion, commitment, desire in the church to go make a true impact in the battle for Christ and against Satan. We see a train loaded with people that is heading to their death because the track is out up ahead...but we don't frantically try to persuade them off the train. I'm guilty too. It's pathetic. What can we do to really make a difference in the battle? Your words are inspiring. Is that enough? Writing blogs and getting kind comments? I truly want to see revival. I pray God will do wonders and raise up leaders. What are people like us prepared to do about it? How much is on us and how much is waiting on God to move with His power? What does your heart say is the action Christians should take? You have a gift with words. Now what?
Thanks again for the kick in the pants,
Posted by: Scott at April 13, 2005 7:19 PM