Sunday, August 18, 2013

Some Reflections From A Summer I'll Never Forget

Tonight, I am reflecting on the summer I've had the night before year 3 of seminary begins. I am so grateful for the powerful ways the Lord has moved in my life the past few months. In case you didn't know, this summer has seen me:

Let go of past regrets.
Repent of hidden sins I had carried for years.
Find my place in my small group and my church body.
Realize who my true friends are, and that th
ey love me something fierce.
Become a better communicator and servant to my beautiful wife.
Develop a desire for people.
Begin a consistent prayer life with God.
Destroy the habit of needing to gain others' acceptance.
Begin the process of healing and restoration in broken family relationships.
Finally yield to the wisdom and humility of Godly men who are investing in my life.

By the grace of God, I'm learning what it means to work out my salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13). I am blessed and in awe that my God would choose to take dust from the ground, and make it beautiful.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Who Are We?: An In-Depth Look at The Bible's Definition of Manliness

"Boy". "Adolescent". "Young-un". "Little man"

Males all throughout culture hear these terms and cringe. For some, anger is ignited at their very mention. For others, the journey to begin proving themselves is born out of a need to justify masculinity. No matter which way we take it, we're convinced these words emasculate us at some level. The fact is: We don't like them. And we don't think they are an accurate representation of who we are. I've begun to consider what this means. To phrase this thought in the form of a question, "What does it mean to be a man?" 

Upon first glance, this appears to be an easy question to answer. So allow me to disclose what my male brain is tempted to start with. If it were left up to me to decide, being a man would probably look something like this

- having great physical strength
- being able to beat other people up
- having a high skill level in violent combat
- knowing how to demand a woman to give you respect and submission (regardless of how you do it)
- possessing a lot of money
- having a high-paying job
- leading without the advice of a woman and, instead, forcing her to accept your decisions
- being able to make others fear you
- never showing weakness
- giving no mercy
- refusing to show sensitivity, and instead choosing to reject emotions
- knowing how to sweet-talk a girl into sleeping with you
- competing for multiple sex partners with other males, and winning

Even though the list could indeed continue, I think that about sums it up. Though probably not the best comprehensive list, this is the message culture is sending out to men- the kind of man they should be becoming. This is how we ought to behave. This is not only how we need to view ourselves, but this is how we should expect others to look at us. Well, let me be the one to throw a rock in your lawnmower. I'd like to stop you dead in your self-confident tracks for a moment. What if I told you the aforementioned idea of manliness is not only utter foolishness, but entirely nonsensical. That, at its fundamental root, this concept is actually quite immature, juvenile and selfish. For so long, males have been led to believe that manliness resides in the bosom of strength and brutality. After all, a man must be powerful and un-emotional. He must be self-confident and eager to prove himself. He must be cold, calculating and boisterous. Women must bow down before his rightful superiority and boys should look to him for guidance.

I believed this idea. Many of you probably still do. Please hear me out on this: It is a lie.

Discard it out of your mind. Remove it from your way of living. To pursue this notion is not the way to true manliness. It is merely a timeless, replicated brainchild of arrogant men from ancient times to modern day. Tragically, it is a concept still alive and well in the hearts of young boys who have been taught to find it inspiring. Like a diseased carcass to a hungry wild animal, this idea of manliness is unfortunately too alluring to resist. It is an insatiable desire to even the most resolute men of noble intentions.

If there is one thing I have come to believe, it is this: Real manliness cannot be found in the ideologies and promises of this world. For they are empty and hollow attempts to give a man meaning. Their efforts to instill within man a firm sense of masculinity have been in vain. Why? Because they were never able to in the first place. There is only one place real manliness can be found. There has only ever been one true example of manliness in the history of mankind. His name is Jesus Christ. Scorned and rejected for His teachings that exposed the hypocrisy of religious zealots, bruised and beaten because His presence posed a threat to the political powerhouses of the day, and eventually murdered because of his claims to be the everlasting God, Jesus revealed to the world what true manliness is.

Buckle up and sit tight. Because when it comes to being a man, what I’m about to show you is going to drive a monkey-wrench straight into the heart of what you’ve always thought you knew. I do not intend for this to go down easy, let alone be comfortable. It wasn’t for me. Then again, truth has never been concerned with the type of response it may receive.

 So, what does it mean to be a man? Well my friends, in short it means this:

- real men know strength doesn’t come from them [Psalm 18:32-24]
- real men are willing to suffer for what is right [1 Peter 3:14]
- real men always do what is right, regardless of the cost [Matthew 5:10-12]
- real men are gentle, not harsh [1 Timothy 6:11]
- real men are not afraid of being vulnerable [Matthew 5:5]
- real men fight only when they need to [Psalm 18:47]
- real men sympathize with the poor [Proverbs 14:31]
- real men show compassion [Colossians 3:12-13]
- real men give mercy [James 2:12-13]
- real men are characterized by their humility [Matthew 23:12]
- real men don’t welcome pride, they kill it [Proverbs 16:18]
- real men do not seek notoriety [Matthew 6:16-18]
- real men do not fear sacrifice [Matthew 10:39]
- real men are servants to all before they are leaders to any [Mark 9:45]

I have arrived at the point in my post where I must confess the state of my heart to you during the completion of this endeavor. For I know that to not do so would mean I was a walking contradiction to everything I have just written. I have spent the greater part of my life struggling to live out everything I have just shared with you. I have fought this battle. Sometimes at great cost. Throughout my attempts to preserve what I believe to be true manliness, I have lost countless friends, reputations, and even possible job opportunities. As a grown man, it is a battle I still fight. Most days, I fail. Even on my weaker days, I feel defeated. And on my better days, I’m sad to say I nearly forget it all entirely. My purpose in all of this is to offer hope to the aspiring men out there who may be feeling pressured to grow into the type of man that I know they should never want to become. My fellow men, I groan alongside you. My heart is heavy with the temptation to please the world and submit to the attractive lies it beckons me to believe. However, I beg you: Do not give in! Come to the man named Jesus Christ. Discover what it really means to become a man of honor. A man of purpose. A man of virtue. A man of noble pursuit. A man among boys.

My fellow men, I encourage you to surrender your pursuit of self. Walk away from selfish ambition. It is not too late to become the man you’ve always wanted to be. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Put Another Dime In The Jukebox Baby..

"California Dreaming" - Mamas & the Papas.
Released in 1965 during a time when anti-war protests were gaining ground, a sexual revolution for the ages was exploding all over the country, and civil rights disputes divided the economy.

"Stairway to Heaven" - Led Zeppelin. 
Released in 1971 during a time when traditional moral structures were being re-defined, personal experimentation was glorified, and society as a whole was struggling to find meaning and purpose in the wake of a decade ridden with war and social unrest.

"Don't You Forget About Me" - Simple Minds.
Released in 1985 during a time when a younger generation began attempting to dictate social mores, adolescent and teenage angst strove to fight the system and find a voice in the crowd, and the search for love, relationship, and purpose burst forth like a battle-cry for meaning in a confused, disoriented culture.

"Out Of My Head" - Fastball. 
Released in 1999 during a time when an apathetic outlook on life characterized the hearts of many, love had been reduced to something merely erotic and self-pleasing, and whimsical desires guided the wanderlust.

Fast-forward to today. Fill in the blank. You can insert whatever you'd like, but I think the pattern is clear now. Though the choices themselves are debatable, the theme remains the same: These are songs that defined generations. Though times have changed, and musical genres have been both broadened and expanded, American society has not lost its grip on the power of self-expression through the medium of music.

But look deeper. Pause for a moment, and reflect once more. Notice the discontent. The outrage. The desperate cry for belonging. The last-man-standing refusal to back down. The demand for answers. The shouts for acceptance. The passion for purpose. The never-ending search for more. Yes, times have changed indeed. Social institutions can no longer remain the same. Morality has been reduced from something that is true at all times, to a list of principles that can only be true in certain times. Truth is viewed as relative. You can decide for yourself what you think is true, and what isn't. Individual interest is the new standard for what is constitutionial and what is unjust. If it seems right to you, it needs to be recognized as law, otherwise it's unfair. Love is seen as self-seeking. If it's not about furthering your own agenda, it's probably not worth "falling into". Marriage is condoned for personal happiness, not unconditional, self-sacrificial love. If it's not making you happy, it's okay to back out of the relationship, and discard the person. I don't know about you, but when I look at the songs that have defined their generations, I don't see peace. I don't see order. I cannot find a spirit of unity. I don't see people who feel complete. I cannot sense a feeling of satisfaction. I cannot find people who are at rest.

Far and away, music has always been one of the best ways to communicate the deepest parts of our hearts. The things we don't know how to say. The thoughts we wish we knew how to vocalize. The groans too painful for words. But look closer. It also reveals something else: the tragedy that people are hurting inside. The reality that people are lost in a world where they engorge themselves with things they're convinced will fill the void they recognize is there. My friends, music hasn't just defined generations. It has uncovered something beneath the surface we've always known was there: There's something else we're missing. My only question is: Are we really convinced that this "something else" can be found in us?

It's worth pondering.