Seems with each passing year, its harder and harder for me to put coherent thoughts together down on paper. I’ve written here and there, but not like I have in the past. I’m really struggling right now wanting to say something about Christian brotherhood or if you’d like to broaden the term, “fellowship”. Who knows…maybe this is just about plain old friendship? Maybe it’s because, in some ways, I don’t feel have any. How about I just jumble some words together on a page and see what comes out and you can make up your own mind.
However this blog post eventually shakes out, what’s true is that there is something about being able to be raw and honest with someone your close with that is extremely therapeutic. Not in the sense of getting an answer to your problems. We can all admit that some, if not the majority of our problems can’t be fulfilled with a simple, “just do this”. May of our issues are internal wrestling matches. Sometimes, it’s just being able to say it out loud that helps, acknowledging a realness to it, once it gets on the outside of us. It’s similar to hearing spoken words of absolution from your pastor. You know in Christ you are forgiven, but sometimes you just need to have that thing verbalized to you. It makes it real and tangible, either for you or someone else.
This is not an easy thing for me.
I’ve tried it over the years in various settings, but it always fell a little flat. I was looking for similar sojourners, people who may have their own internal struggles with sin and depression, being good dads and husbands, heck… just humans. I was looking for those like-mined who may have external struggles as well. It wasn’t an exact science. I’m wasn’t looking for carbon copies strugglers. To be honest, I thought I’d find that in church among the believers of God who knew they were forgiven. Despite that thought, it was much harder to find than I expected.
Church culture doesn’t really allow for it. It’s doesn’t allow for things like depression, failure, sin. Sure, they say all the right words at times, but it’s only “truly” meant to serve the purpose of being a point of reference as we move from sins to virtues. We Christian “veterans” think we are in a kind of reclamation business for the Lord. In reality, we should know better with all our little secrets tucked away in the corners of our lives outside the view of our fellow believers. I think we, and I said we, because I‘m included in that, think that if we keep it hidden from other Christians it’s somehow beyond the scope of God’s reach. We know how wicked and dark we can be at times.
“But God knows my heart…”
That’s true, but do you?
With a honest internal knowledge of ourselves, of our own hearts, our own struggles and sin. we still carry on with this reclamation program. This is what some of Christianity, maybe a lot of it has become. We got to get these people looking the part, speaking in tongues, towing the line. They can’t say, or look, or do anything that embarrasses the name of Jesus.
Because of this we adopt Proverbs 27:17 as our mantra:
“As Iron Sharpens Iron, so one man sharpens another.”
(Woman have the Proverbs 31 problem. This one however is that singular focus of many men’s ministry)
Whatever the scripture actually means, you can’t help but get that sense of heroicness, of forging, of building up. I can see Hollywood sized explosions in the background as we talk about manliness and steadfastness. Blue paint covering half our faces, kilts blowing in the breeze, among other things! Metals clanging together, creating friction and heat. Rough edges being smoothed out until you have usable construct designed to be effective in whatever it’s made to do. Naturally, at least to me, I think of a sword, I think that’s what most people think of.
Us guys love this stuff, don’t we? We want to talk in these terms, “sharpening swords, readying for battle” “I’ve got to prepare my brothers to resist the enemy, resist evil, resist the devil.”
My first foray as a co-laborer into a Men’s Ministry, I literally named the church men’s ministry “IRONWORKERS!” I know… real original. I used to talk about men chipping away the sin from each other, to shape us into something worthy of God, before him and others. We can be men of honor, respect, encouraging each other along the way, all the while chip, chip, chipping away the stray jagged-edged rocks of sin we still had.
I was all in, I made efforts to call the men in church, have conversations, encourage them, I think I could say I loved them, if not with my whole heart, with at least half of it. But in much of it, I was failing. I was failing because I didn’t want to help them really, I wanted to conform them. I wanted them to be like me, at least on the outside. (More on that later). It seems that was the way in church. I’ve seen it in at least two places I was part of.
We had prophesying people trying to get people to prophesy like them, we had tongue speakers, trying to get people to speak in tongues, and we had guys like me with whitewashed tombs, trying to get people to scrub the outside of their tombs. Look the part, speak the part, act the part, that’s what it was about. If you had doubt, fear, uncertainty, just get rid of it. We literally had someone there marry an abuser, because we couldn’t (or wouldn’t) see his faults or her sincere concerns. We chalked it up to a nervous bride. Include me in that as well. For the record, the bride is very much safe from that situation now, very many years later. We’ve had people shunned, because someone told a better tale woe to the right people.
This is all to say, that idea of iron sharpening goes on in a lot of churches, but no one seems to take the time to see if the edges were smooth. I think we were more concerned that we could see ourselves in the polished-up side of the blade, or whatever it was we were trying to create. Again, I’m guilty as charged.
Another problem? If sharpening doesn’t happen quick enough or in a proper manner, then something’s wrong with the metal. (that means you, if I haven’t confused you yet.) The metal these Christian reclamation engineers are working on may have too many flaws in it to fix so it’s best discarded. This is both a profound truth, but also a sad reality. I know there are times to part ways. I get that. But it’s the easy way out when someone may need a little more “refining” than what your used to. It may be a lifelong process. Full results payable on death.
If we are that iron that is so often depicted, then for sure we’ve got flaws, and these flaws will never be completely smoothed over. Oh, I understand the refiner’s fire and the lovely image scripture give us about it, removing the dross and all of that. I know the church likes to depict that process going on in our lives. The idol factories that we can be, even in our new lives under Christ, guarantee those fires would be constantly at our feet, licking at perpetually sore and already charred skin.
But here is something to consider. Something to hope in maybe. Something to encourage you further along.
Consider the great exchange:
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” – 2 Corinthians 5:21
Our sins for Christ’s righteousness. It’s not just a future promise, but a past guarantee. All those prior to Christ human incarnation, by faith, wear his righteousness. By that same faith, he takes all sin, past present and future on himself and wears it as filthy rags. Is our faith only real because its tested in a purifying fire? Who honestly would pass that test with the furnace set to the highest standards of God?
Jesus enters in. He steps in for us and takes the full fury of death’s flames at the cross. This man who knew no sin, became sin for us so we might become righteousness. On the cross, the sins of the world have burned up, in a just punishment. Jesus was the only one who could have walked out of the tomb three days later, fully cleansed of all the dross he took on in that exchange.
Here’s second thought to consider. Maybe Iron Sharpening Iron is not about a kind-of preparing for battle over sin. Or maybe it is. But maybe the battle is less the struggle over our flesh and more the rest we find in Christ’s flesh. Maybe the sharpening is reminding brothers and sisters of Christ work, his life, his death, the resurrection, the great exchange. Maybe the edge that needs to be sharpened is a reminder, yes, you struggle, yes, you even sin, but also, yes, you’re forgiven, yes, it’s still fully paid for, yes, you are still the righteousness of Christ once and forever. Maybe, the sharpened edge is there to cut away the doubt and fear, DAILY, if needed.
Just something to consider.
Maybe men’s ministry needs to adopt a different mantra, a different scriptural focus. Maybe we should adopt a scripture verse like Proverbs 18:24:
“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”
And maybe… I’ll talk about that next time.
*Today, I talked about church experiences. I tried to do it in general terms, but I don’t know any other way to make my points except through my experiences. This means inevitable a church is being called out in some way. This doesn’t mean they don’t have any redeeming qualities. It means whether institution or individual, we are all learning and there’s a huge learning curve. While I do have my frustrations, this was written to make points about true encouragement within the church universal. We all know there are no perfect churches, pastors, elders, board members or attendees. They are sinners, every last one of them. They are also forgiven, every last one of them, for their past and their futures as well. That great exchange applies to all.
I’ve also been extremely cognizant that I have been a pain in the ass in nearly every church I’ve been a part of, making the job of the officiating sinners around me that much harder to show grace. You’ll have to ask my current pastor, if I’m more or less, “a pain in the ass”. He’ll be honest, and probably a little sarcastic. It’s why I like him.