For the past three years, I have served in leadership under SEBC’s men’s ministry. It is a ministry that meets often for prayer, preaching, accountability, and worship. Leading the ministry the past few years has taught me the value of “doing” theology as a community, the role of men in the family and church, and also the grace God offers for accountability within the community. The ministry has definitely been one that has caused “iron to sharpen iron.” There is value in coming together as a community of men longing to be filled with the Spirit for daily ministry. It has been a means of grace also to help with my own struggles and sin habits. Recently, a good friend of mine gave a devotion to the men of the ministry concerning what he had learned over the past five years. Senior Josh spoke to freshman Josh in hopes of waking him from his slumber into an affectionate commitment to Jesus. Josh Raley is a good friend, a husband to a wonderful wife who also loves the LORD (Tiffany Raley), and a man committed to the beauty and supremacy of the Gospel. For those who don’t know, we all (Tiffany, Josh, and Myself) have been accepted to NOBTS and will be working towards what the Lord has for us there. Below is Josh’s exhortation to the men of SEBC. May God richly bless you with deep, cavernous pits of love for Jesus that results in hell-closing, gospel-preaching, sin-denouncing obedience to the truth of the Gospel!
For those of you wishing to hear a passage of scripture picked apart and mined for all the wisdom and theological tidbits it has to offer, I apologize in advance for the disappointment. This does not mean that the words I will say are unimportant, however. It means that I do not claim absolute authority as the Word of God, but I do think what I have to say is true and that it will be of great benefit to you if you receive what I have to say. What I am going to talk about came about not as I studied the Word of God, nor is it the result of my picking a passage of scripture relevant to the lives of Bible college men. What I have to say is the result of time spent reflecting on lessons learned the hard way over five years spent trying to live the Christian life well in an environment that can be, on the one hand, an oasis from which we can drink and find refuge from the harsh wilderness that lies outside of these walls, and on the other hand a wasteland where one goes to die in self pity and inconsolable cynicism brought on by the apparent barren hopelessness of the land scape. Though two extremes on the spectrum, both are very real possibilities for the young Christian seeking to prepare to pour himself out in a life ministering of to others. My hope is that through sharing some of these lessons I learned the hard way, you might see and avoid the pain of learning the lessons the way I learned them.
In writing this piece, I spent much time reflecting on one central question: “If I could, what would I go back to 2007 and tell myself?” If I had one hour to tell him all of my most important exhortations for him, how would I do that? There were many years ahead of this young man, many decisions to make, and it would seem that he would seldom make the right ones. What would I say to him to ease his time? What would I tell him to ensure him that even through his failures God is working all things for his good and God’s glory? Would I point him to a passage of scripture? My initial reaction is a resounding, “Of course! What else is there? What else could nurture his soul?!” But with the benefit of hindsight, it seems no one passage, save something generic such as Proverbs 3 “Trust the Lord,” would say all the things I would want to say. But even that would be lacking as the question is not so much whether or not to trust the Lord, but what does trusting the Lord look like in every day life? No, I would not point him to a single passage. It seems far more likely that I would wish to be far more specific on far more issues than any one passage would allow me to be. I would simply sit down with him, warn him of the struggles to come, and tell him in advance some of the things I have learned the hard way. What follows is a collection of those exhortations.
These exhortations can be grouped into four categories, though they do bleed into each other and some could be in more categories than one. The first is my own spirituality; the way I nurture, or not, my relationship with my Lord. The things I choose to do, or not, which will deepen my love for the Lord. The second in my sin; how I have triumphed, been ruled over, and the ways I have chosen to check and safeguard myself, or not. The third is the way I have dealt with the opposite sex both before and after marriage. The ways I have prepared myself well for marriage, or not. The ways I could have prepared myself better. The fourth is community. How to facilitate it, its importance, etc.
Tonight will not be completely devoid of scripture. Each of these topics I will discuss finds a home in scripture either in the mouth of Jesus, the apostle Paul, or David in the Psalms. Before each category’s following exhortations, I am going to read a short passage, and I would like you to spend just a few seconds reflecting on it. I will point out the thrust of the passage relevant to the conversation, then move into the exhortations. This may sound almost topical, but bear with me. These are passages that came to mind as I reflected on the exhortations.
First Category: My own spirituality, Ps 63. What leaps off the page in this Psalm is David’s pleasure he finds in the Lord. He desires the Lord and he understands that it is only the Lord who is truly fulfilling.
Establish now a consistent time for being with the Lord. I don’t mean consistently the same time everyday. I simply mean every day. Things will not get easier as your progress through school and add things like more bills, more time spent at work, and possibly a significant other. There are many things vying for your time now. They will not lessen any time soon so if you are to build a strong relationship with the Lord, you have to be in the bait of making time for it.
Right thinking about God can lead to right feelings towards God, but it doesn’t have to. Don’t get me wrong, 100% correct thinking about God would lead to right feelings toward God as only a regenerating work of the Holy Spirit can lead to right thinking about God. I mean here, though, that right thinking about theological issues does not lead to right feelings about God. I think we sometimes blur the line between knowing God and knowing things about God. You might be a Calvinist and not understand grace. You might be a complimentarian and not understand how to live a Christ exalting life in your marriage. In your pursuit of knowledge about God, do not neglect the pursuit of right affections for God.
Allow your time in study to become time spent with the Lord. This is an exhortation that I did receive as a freshman at SEBC, and I mention it here because I wish I had listened. This man, who was a recent graduate, came and spoke in chapel. He told us that he had been urged to keep his sermon preparation time separate from his time with the Lord, but he encouraged us to let it all be time with the Lord. This may not be a problem for you, but it has been for me. Too often I slip into student mode and my Bible becomes a text book merely to be analyzed but which in the end has little affect on the way I live my life. Strive to not compartmentalize your time in this way. Whenever you approach God’s Word, whether for parsing verbs or devotion, allow that to be time spent with God.
Don’t simply pursue God by attempting only to learn about God, this will lead only to frustration. Pursue God as your greatest joy. (Ps. 63:1; 5-8)
Second Category: Sin, Mark 9:43-47. Sin is deadly serious with eternal consequences.
Do not be afraid to admit your sin to others, you’re not strong enough to beat it on your own. Sin will eat you alive, especially private sins. A little embarrassment can save an eternity of heartache. Piper said in a recent article that the only reason to keep your sin a secret is so that you can return to it later whenever you wish. When the pain and guilt you feel has subsided enough for that thing to look glorious and fulfilling once again, you can go back to it with few immediate repercussions. Tell others about your sin, make it difficult to go back to.
Find accountability. This is slightly different that just admitting your sin. By this I mean find someone who is going to seek you out and ask you about your struggles. Someone to pray with you when things are hard and rejoice with you when you have victory. This needs to be someone who you both trust and who is not afraid to confront you. Those friends are hard to find, make finding them a priority.
The best way to live victorious over sin for long periods of time is to know and to hold Christ as your highest and most valuable treasure and to understand that sin brings separation from that which you most desire. Third Category: The Opposite Sex, Ephesians 5. What kind of man is this?! He loves like Christ loves. We gloss over this, but that is saying a lot! Christ loves sacrificially, even to death. He is always gentle with us, full of grace and mercy.
View dating and relationships as wife try outs. Anything else is a waste of time and a quick way to fall into sin. You are infinitely more likely to fall into serious sexual sin with a woman you don’t care about than with one you do simply because you understand the repercussions that sin will have on them as well. I’m not saying that dating someone you really care about is a sure fire way to avoid sin, but it makes it more difficult to lead them into sin if you understand that that person may be the mother of your children one day.
Try to understand now the weight of the role you are called to as a husband. Loving as Christ loved, living sacrificially for the sake of another, love them as much as you love yourself: none of these things is something you have time to wait to learn. By the time you are in the situation where you need to understand them, it’s too late to learn.
Don’t fall into the trap and buy into the lie that you can grow up when marriage comes. Start living as a good husband NOW! You can’t just wake up one day and decide now is when you will start loving someone as much as you love yourself. You don’t just decide, “You know, I think I’ll stop putting my own desires first and live sacrificially now.” The rings you put on and the vows you say do nothing for your attitude towards others. They have no magical power. I guarantee, speaking from experience, if you have trouble loving others like Jesus loves the church you will have trouble loving your wife like that. Being a good husband starts with loving others now in your daily life and living sacrificially must become the norm if it is to be the norm in your marriage. Fourth Category: Community, A running theme in the book of Ephesians. Throughout Ephesians, we see that the church community is intricately involved in the way God will be accomplishing his purposes in the world. The church, as the new temple, is how God is going to be present with his people through his spirit in believers. The church will also be how God is active in the world as the hands and feet of Christ empowered by the Spirit of God.
For the love of God, go to church. I worded that intentionally. Let the love of God (both your love for God and God’s love for you) spur you on to serious participation in a local body. I’m sure you’ve heard time and again that we, as the church, are the body of Christ. I’ve often heard it preached that since you are part of the body, to not be a part of a local body will be to the detriment of both you and the local body. I’m sure that this is true, but when you consider God’s plan for his church, the thing you are missing is not simply you own good or a lack of your gifts in the local church. You are missing out on participation with God to be his representatives both to his people and to the world. It took me a long time to find a church in Birmingham to be a part of, partially my fault and partially theirs. But I will say, find a local body. Even if you go home every other weekend, find a local body here near the school. I think there are two reasons for this.
Churches will benefit from the SEBC students. You can’t be the body with your church back home Monday through Saturday. If church is not just a Sunday thing, as we all like to say it is, you must be connected with the local body where you are Monday through Saturday.
Enjoy community here at SEBC. This is in fact where I have been weakest in my time at SEBC. Be a part of it, embrace it, live it well. Spur one another on to holiness. This is often the way that God is present with us here, and it is often through one another that he speaks into our lives. Understand that even though this isn’t a “church,” this is the Church and is in large part how God is going to be with you and you with him.