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Men's Spiritual Renewal Gathering

Power Living - [Romans 1]

When I was in seminary, I had a history professor who wanted to teach us about early church theological controversies. Gnostics and arians and that kind of stuff. And to do that, he gave us this idea that he called the Principle of the Pendullum. The principle of the pendulum is that this present moment is on a trajectory from one side to another, and which way we are swinging is determined by the previous generation. And this idea has rippled outward from that one little history class into almost every single area of my life. For example - in the early church, it was a question about the person of Jesus. Is he human? Is he divine? Now, if you’ve been a Christian for a while - you know that the answer is “Jesus is fully human AND fully divine.” And we call that a divine mystery, because we don’t know how to explain it logically. But before we knew how to say that - people would argue back and forth and the pendulum would swing back and forth. There was a group who would say, “No, Jesus was just a person. An amazing person, but just a man after all.” And they would minimize the divinity. But then the next generation would come along and say, “yeah, but boy there’s all this stuff in the bible about Jesus’ divinity” and so they would emphasize his miracles and divine power and the pendulum would swing back. And then the next generation would say silly things like, “Jesus was never really human. He was like a ghost or an angel or something” and so the next wave of thinkers pushed back on that and emphasized the humanity of Jesus. He was a man. Born of a woman, who bled and ate and died. And so you can see how the pendulum works, moving back and forth through history emphasizing whatever the previous generation did not. 

And this is not just limited to church arguments. All throughout history, social groups have had a back and forth - pushing and pulling with the generation that came before them. This is the principle of the pendulum. And here’s the thing - I think each generation is trying their best. Most of us when we think about our parent’s generation - we want to keep what is good, but we also want to change what was bad. We want to improve and do better. You can see it in parenting. If you go back two generations, as many of you probably know, large families were the complete norm. 4 kids? 5 kids? That’s a small family! Most of them back in the day had seven or 8 or 12. (How many of you had a big family or knew someone who had more than 5 kids? See, that’s crazy - because I have five kids, and I will tell you we get a LOT of comments on how nuts we are) And large families often had fairly strict and at times violent forms of punishment. Children would be spanked or hit with a belt or a switch. Even in school, teachers would do this - smacking a kid with a ruler was not unheard of. And of course, as many of you know - the excesses and abuses of corporal punishment was really devastating. Child abuse is a horrible thing. And so the next generation resolved to crack down on child abuse. We like some of the things our parents did, but we want to do better, and a new trend called gentle parenting was born. Gentle parenting, if you’re not familiar, is a commitment to raising kids in a way that is primarily verbal and very emotionally connected way. There’s no spanking in gentle-parenting. We saw where the pendulum was, saw people getting hurt, and so we pushed the pendulum in the other direction. But we pushed it too far. Gentle parenting got ahold of some steroids or something and has beefed up into this helicopter mom type monstrosity, where a kid can be full on melting down in the middle of the store and mom is just standing there helpless, “I just have to respect his truth” And now we have this generation of parents, their kids are teenagers and college students and young adults - and it’s almost as if the parents are begging the children to respect them. Come on! Please give me respect and love, I raised you the NICE way! You didn’t go through what I went through and you should be so grateful. 

So let me ask you - where is your life on the pendulum? What are you swinging away from? Think back over your story, your family, your job, the life you have lived, the history you have - where are you coming from? What are you trying to hold on to? What was good? What did you want to keep for your children? What are you running away from? What was bad - or not even bad, just something that could have been better - what piece of your life do you wish on no man? There’s a story about a famous rock star - Nikki Sixx of the band Motley Crew. His dad being missing was a major part of his story, of why he spent filled his life with sex, drugs and rock and roll. And part of his journey to get clean was for his son. He had this commitment, “I may not be a good person, but there is one thing that happened to me, and I will make sure it does NOT happen to my son - his father is going to be there when he grows up.” Maybe our stories aren’t so extreme - but there are things in our past that are driving where we are aiming our future at. The pendulum of history swings back and forth

But you know there is one more really good example of the pendulum in the last 100 years - and that is on the role of men in society. You go back 100 years ago, men had a place of respect and honor in society. I want to read you a quote from a TV show called The Newsroom. He says, “We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons, we passed and struck down laws for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were, and we never beat our chest. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advanced, explored the universe, cured diseases, and cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars. We acted like men. We aspired to intelligence; we didn’t belittle it; it didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identity ourselves by who we voted for in the last election, and we didn’t scare so easy. And we were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed. By great men, men who were revered.” That’s where we were 100 years ago. But there was a shadow side to men 100 years ago. The world was not as safe for women or children or for people who weren’t white - and so we made some changes and a lot of those changes were good. But somewhere along the way as the pendulum swung, men forgot how to be men. We started out by saying “abuse is wrong” and we swung the pendulum over to a place where we say ‘Strength is wrong” - and men didn’t know what to do with all their strength. We started out by saying “Arrogance is wrong” and we sung the pendulum over to a place where we say “confidence is wrong” - and men didn’t know what to do with all their confidence. And so now - like gentle parenting, we have a generation of men who are floundering. We have over-corrected, and swung too far. Depression rates in young men are skyrocketing, suicide rates in young men are skyrocketing. Because God has wired men to be a certain way, and the world has been telling them, “you are not allowed to be that way.” And when we find ourselves in this impossible situation, where we don’t know where to turn - there is only one place I can turn. And that’s to God’s word. If you brought a bible, or you’ve got it on your phone - why don’t you open up with me to Romans chapter 1 - that’s where we’re going to be spending our time today. Now I know this is not a sermon, but I am at heart a teacher, and this is the book I teach - and this book just happens to have incredible good news for us today. And we’re going to need it if we’re going to figure out what to do as men in the modern world. 

So I’m going to start right at the beginning, Romans 1, verse 1 [read it], and then just down to verse 7. What we need to know in order to understand is that Romans is actually a letter written by a guy named Paul to the underground church in Rome. There were other leaders, people like Peter, who went to Rome to watch over that church - but Paul had always wanted to visit. Verse 8. [read v.8-12]. What I want you to hear in those words is how much Paul loves the people of this church, and he’s never even met them. He says, “God KNOWS how often I pray for you.” And I read that, and I felt so convicted. Paul has this simple, yet amazing idea that churches are all on the same team. If they preach Jesus as the son of God - he is praying for their success. So let me ask you - how often do you pray for the success of other churches? (Well, first of all - do you pray for the success of YOUR church? That your church would reach people with the message of Jesus?). But when you hear that the church up the road is building a new expansion or launching a new campus or reaching people with the good news of Jesus - are you overjoyed? Or jealous? Are you focused on the kingdom of God or on the building of your preference? Paul didn’t build that church in Rome, and yet he constantly lifted them up in prayers at all times. Paul thinks to himself, we are on the same team, God’s team - this is about God’s kingdom, not building up this church building or that church denomination. If we are going to be men who follow God, men who build the KINGDOM, then we have to rise above our personal sand castles.

Verse 15, [read it]. Now, I might want to assume that at a men’s spiritual conference, everybody in this room probably already knows Jesus. But if it’s in the text - I never want to lose an opportunity to share the gospel. He says, “I’m eager to preach the gospel” - so what is he telling people that is such good news. It’s back in verse 2. Chapter 1, verse 2 [read v.2-5]. Basically, the gospel is the story of what Jesus did. How Jesus came and died for our sins, rose from the dead so that we could be reconciled to God. All of us start out away from God. This broken world has kept us away from God, we are so far away from God - but Paul brings good news that through Jesus we are brought back together with God. Through faith, through believing in Jesus, we are called to obey God and live in harmony with God. Jumping back to verse 16, [read v.16-17].

In the gospel, in the story of what God has done for humanity in the world - we see how good God is. That he would offer us salvation the way he did. Verse 18, [red v.18-20]. Alright, now this is really important so we’re going to walk through that slow. They know the truth because he has made it obvious to them. Paul is saying, “what we need to know about God is super obvious.” Since the world was created - from the beginning of time - God’s invisible qualities - stuff like his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, through everything God made. Basically, what Paul is saying is that creation points to the creator. From what has been made, from the stuff God has made - we see his qualities. His eternal power and divine nature are OBVIOUS if you pay attention to his creation. So if you want to know and understand how powerful God is - look around! Watch a sunrise. SPending time looking at the stars or marveling at the testimony of the flowers. Witness a mother with her child and give praise to the one who made them both. All of creation surrounding you in this life witnesses to God’s awesome power, if you’re paying attention. 

But here’s the problem - we are not paying attention. [read v.21-23]. Humans are built to worship. We are built to give praise. To lift up and exalt something. Look at the modern world - we create idols. We share viral videos and click “like” over and over. We cannot help ourselves - we treat movie stars and musicians like gods and then wonder why they all have ego problems. We treat politicians like heroes and saviors (of villains if they’re on the other side). We worship so amny things with our lives, and absolutely none of it is deserved. Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God, or even give him thanks. Verse 23 just hits me in the gut, [read v.23].  Instead of worshipping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to LOOK like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. What I want you to realize this morning is that there is only one thing in the universe worthy of worship and we have a habit for swapping it out for lessers things. We exchange the glory of the immortal God for mortal things.

You remember the pendulum swing, yes? We did it with parenting. We did it with men. But we also did it with God. You go back 30-40 years and there was this push. The God of the bible seems a little aggressive. That whole “punishing sins” bit, and “having consequences for your actions” - that seems a little bit much. So we pushed the pendulum the other way. Jesus is my best friend. My buddy. Verse 25, [read it]. We gave up the truth for a lie, we swapped out worship of the creator, for worship of a created thing. And when Paul lays it out like that, it just seems so… dumb! What were we thinking? The glory of the immortal God, exchanged for mortal things. This is like having a bank account that has a little infinity sign in the dollar amount. Like an unlimited, never-ending supply of money, and trading that for a hundred dollar bill. How could we be so stupid? We took our eyes off of God, and have settled for something much, much less. When you contemplate the incredible majesty of God’s glory, how valuable that is in our lives - the power the Holy Spirit gives us, how could we trade that truth for a lie?

The good news this morning is that God claims the glory. All the glory and honor is his, and he alone will claim it. I think for a long time, the modern church has been trying to limit God. To make him more relatable. As people left the church the prevailing wisdom was that you need to make God cooler, make God more understandable. Don’t freak people out by talking about his glory and infinite power and wisdom. Make him more like a genie, or like a vending-machine-santa-claus best friend type God and they’ll come back to church. Little side note: it didn’t work. They limited the picture of God, they made God smaller, and then young people said, “Well, why would I worship that? In trying to make Jesus everybody’s best friend, we sold them a picture of something that is not worth their time.” There’s a teaching out there, called “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” you don’t have to remember that title, but basically, it’s this idea that people have created a false God in their minds to give them a moral framework and to make them feel better about themselves. It turns God into a butler-slash-genie, rather than the creator of the actual universe. One of the best ways to tell if someone has slipped into the modern trap of moralistic therapeutic deism is if they start using personal pronouns in front of God. Like, have you ever heard someone say, “well, MY God isn’t like that.” or “MY Jesus would never do that?” Oh. He’s YOUR Jesus? I didn’t realize, did you create him? Or did he create you? [pause] When we put limits on what we will allow God to be like, what we will allow God to do - that is humans making up a false god in their heads. And the scary part is that it has almost nothing to do with what is actually going on out there. But the reality that we have forgotten is that God is so much bigger than created things. God is so much bigger than the idols of this world. The real God, as found in scripture, is so much bigger than the personalized god we made up in our minds. God claims the glory, because all that glory is HIS. He’s the only thing that deserves it. 

God claims the glory and so our response is to give glory to God alone. Give glory to God alone. Ask yourself, “how big is my God?” Most of us only care if God is big enough to solve my own personal problems, and then we stop thinking about it. But the majesty of a God who created the heavens and the earth cannot be lost on us if we are going to trust this thing that is out there with our entire lives. A lot of us in the modern American church want to know what God can do for US> We have a consumer mentality, how is my life going to be improved by including God? We try to make God a created thing, not a creaTOR worthy of praise. Rather than asking, “what can I do for the GOD? (as a moral should ask before an immortal) - we, in our arrogance, try to switch the roles - what can the immortal God do for me? Challenge yourself with this - If God came into your life, like burning bush style, showed up and started talking directly to you - if God asked you to do something you don’t want to do, like quit your job and move to another country or sell your vacation home and give the money to an orphanage, or become a foster parent as soon as your biological children leave the home - if God asked you to do something you don’t want to do - would you do it? And if you hesitated, is it possible you don’t understand just how big God is? Have you given up worship of the CREATOR of the universe for worship of something you created in your mind, that’s a little more convenient? God claims the glory, and so we must give glory to God alone. 

So I have a couple of challenges for you, if we are going to be men who worship the true God of the universe. First - throw away your idols. Now this can be tricky because a lot of us worship things without realizing that what we are doing is worship. Romans chapter 1 gives us three big areas to search for idols in our lives. First (from verse 23), exchanging the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. Now, in ancient Rome they were probably talking about statutes and literal idols - but for us in the modern world, I think the best comparison is the way we treat famous people. With the way they can edit and update pictures, with AI and photoshop software - magazine covers are not even pictures of real people anymore. We have created gods and used them to sell products. Politicians, musicians, movie stars, models, social media influencers - people that have become, in our minds, more than people - images made to look like mortal human beings. 

And I think we see this all the time targeted to men. Superhero movies with these guys who are perfectly sculpted. I actually read a story from one of the Thor movies. And there’s this shirtless scene, and these actors work out all the time, they chisel their bodies to perfection - but even that’s not enough. In order to get the muscles to pop, the men dehydrate themselves. They lose water weight to look better on screen. And the story from the thor movie was that he passed out at one point during filming, because he was starved and dehydrated. He looked so strong, but he was actually so weak. These pictures of men we hold up as examples for ourselves - they’re not real people. They are images we have created. And we do this with church leaders too. We see these massively successful men and we say things like, “he built a church from 100 to 10,000” - but if you think about it for more than ten seconds, you know that’s not true. Every single mega church pastor ever had help doing that ministry. A great leader is just a talking head, they are nothing without the systems of support. And yet we are so drawn into turning them into gods.

Actually, let me spend a minute on this - because this is important. The pendulum swings back and forth - right? A long time ago, we saw God very differently - the dominant metaphors were terrifying. Sinners in the hands of an angry God. God was vengeful and aggressive and punishing. And as time went on, the role of men in society has changed and so we started to view God differently as well. Rather than focusing on God’s glory and power and justice, we focused on his mercy and compassion, his kindness and gentleness. Men’s ministry became softer. Friendlier. But not everybody liked that. The pendulum swung too far, and you end up with people like Mark Driscoll. If you don’t know, Mark Driscoll is a famous pastor over in Seattle and he built a big mega church out there, and then it all fell apart and he has a new church down in Arizona now. Now Pastor Mark is extremely intelligent and a brilliant communicator. Nobody falls asleep during Mark Driscolls sermons. And his church, at it’s peak, he was reaching men from a generation that no other church could reach. GenX men. While most churches have a big gap in their men’s ministry - Mark’s church was stuffed with men. He had an extremely aggressive style and he made fun of “Soft” churches, feminine churches. People ate it up. They turned him into a god, tens of thousands of people would turn out for his conferences. Until they realized he was a bully. He got in some trouble for plagiarizing a book, and then all the stories started coming out, of how he treated people in private. And everything unraveled and his church fell apart. There’s a whole podcast “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” detailing the destruction of the image that people had built. And some people would hold up Mark Driscoll on one side and hold up a different leader on the other - someone like Tim Keller. If you don’t know, Tim Keller was an amazing pastor in New York, he passed away recently but he had a really soft manner. Almost professorial, he rarely raised his voice, he was a very calm, winsome presence. And this has been a conversation in men’s ministry for so long - swinging back and forth between aggression and compassion and which side are you on and which idols are we following and nobody stopped to ask - well who are we glorifying? We get so caught up in the question of “is Mark Driscoll our model of a man” or is “Tim Keller our model for manhood” and nobody stopped to ask, ‘what if it’s neither?” What if both of these men are created… and we are supposed to be worshiping the creaTOR? Our model of a man is not one of these images that we have created - but only, ever the person of Jesus Christ, the son of God. A God who is strong, and compassionate, and full of justice and full of mercy. The first idol we need to throw away is the images made to look like men. Trade those for giving all the glory to Jesus.

The next verse, verse 24 gives us the next idol: the sinful desires of our hearts. One of the things I love about the book of Romans is that it makes it very clear that what our heart often wants is not good for us. You see a lot of nonsense in the modern world that says, “follow your heart’ - but trust me when I tell you, that’s terrible advice! The human heart can be really dumb sometimes - so do not make an idol of the sinful desires of our human hearts. Verse 25 gives us the third idol, and honestly it sort of captures all the other idols, “the traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the CREATOR himself, who is worthy of eternal praise. Amen” The key to throwing away idols of your life is to make sure you’re not worshiping created things, rather than the creator. Let created things point you to the creator. 1.) Don’t worship images made to look like human beings - people who seem like they are more than people. 2.) Don’t worship the desires of your heart and 3.) honestly, to capture it all - just don’t worship ANY created things, only worship the creator. We don’t get our model for manhood from the latest and greatest trend-setting church leader - we get it from Jesus. First thing I want you to do -  throw away the idols. 

THEN, after you have thrown away the idols, the second part of giving glory to God is to reclaim that Glory. Throw away the idol of worshiping created things, and reclaim the glory of the CREATOR, who is actually worth worshiping. Throw away the idol of a god you made up in your mind to make yourself feel better (the best friend-slash-butler who always agrees with you, and reclaim the truth of the actual God who revealed himself in scripture. Throw away the idol of following the desires of your heart and doing whatever YOU think is best, and reclaim the knowledge of God, the righteous way he has shown us how to live. For a lot of us, this takes a mental shift. We have to shift away from a me-centered religion to a God-centered religion, but here’s the best part: when you reclaim the glory of God, and how awesome and incredible God really is - it actually increases the value of what we do in this place.

It’s pretty simple actually. We substitute worship of the creator for worship of the created. We substitute the glory of God, for something less - and so let me leave you with this. May you pay attention to the creation that points us back to the creator. May you throw away your idols and reclaim the glory of God in your life. And when you see the majesty of the God who created the heavens and earth - may you respond by giving glory to God alone. Amen.


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