Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Real Men

As a follow-up to “The Missing Fathers”, I’ve collected some tidbits of conventional wisdom about what it is to be a man and thought I’d compare them with what I’ve come to believe. Like Descartes in his Meditations, I tend to doubt everything, building upon the truth that I do know. I also have a general rule that I follow: when conventional wisdom doesn’t match what I see in the Bible, I throw out conventional wisdom. I’ve found the Bible to be true and reliable. Yes, there are paradoxes in Scripture, apparent inconsistencies that challenge us to pray for greater understanding, but I’ve found that God is faithful to grant wisdom and insight when we turn to Him for it. (Proverbs 2:25, James 1:5, Colossians 1:8-10)
 “Real men don’t cry.” – Conventional Wisdom 
“Jesus wept.” – John 11:35 (NIV)
It’s okay to cry in sympathy with others. It’s okay to cry tears of joy. It’s okay to cry, especially to cry out to God. It’s good to feel and to understand what’s behind our feelings, and it’s good to know that our God feels, that He feels our pain and understands it better than we do. God is both rational and emotional… and so much more than we can ever understand. Scripture has many references to God’s feelings, and if He can feel, and if man is made in His image, then man was made to feel. Feelings are like indicators on the dashboard of a car, telling us when things are going well or when there may be an issue, but unlike God’s feelings, ours can sometimes be faulty and in need of repair. Awareness of our feelings and understanding what is behind them is one of the first steps to real healing, and real men have the courage to seek healing.
“Real men are powerful.” – Conventional Wisdom
“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:10 (NIV)
Now I won’t argue that a particular woman may be stronger than the average man, but males are generally stronger than females. Strength is a characteristic of men -- we were made to be physically strong, using that strength to protect and provide for our families and communities. But real strength is not simply physical; it’s mental, emotional and spiritual. I believe that one of the greatest strengths is knowledge and a humble assessment of our limitations. In that humility we see and understand that all strength, power and wealth flow from God. (See Deuteronomy 8:16-18 and 1 Chronicles 29:12) Nehemiah understood this and prayed for the Lord to strengthen him for the task ahead. (Nehemiah 6:9) Paul understood that his own limitations provided proof of God’s power to work through him. Real men acknowledge their limitations, but they refuse to let their constraints limit them. Instead, they allow God to work through them, despite their imperfections. 
“Men can’t help themselves when it comes to pretty women.” – Conventional Wisdom
 “It’s okay to look at the menu so long as you don’t take a bite.” – Conventional Wisdom
 “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” – Matthew 5:28 (NIV)
“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.” – Ephesians 5:3
This is perhaps the easiest lie to believe from Conventional Wisdom. It’s easy because our society has placed such low expectations on men, and it’s so easy to just give into something that takes the responsibility off of your shoulders. But Jesus’ definition of adultery doesn’t leave us with such a low expectation, and Paul’s admonition to the Ephesians is a standard that every Christian man needs to take up on his own as a personal commitment to his God, his family, his community, and himself. The reality is that boys refuse to take responsibility while a real man picks up the burden. Boys, even grown-up boys, will come up with an excuse; men will refuse to excuse a failing and strive to do better. Eventually, if we keep fighting for sexual purity, we start to see some victories. They are hard fought, and I can say from personal experience that I was surprised when I first started to see some success this this area. There’s a good book on this topic that I’d recommend for anyone willing to become a man. It’s called “Every Man’s Battle”. Real men refuse to stop fighting for what is good. 
“Real men are self-sufficient” – Conventional Wisdom
 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3:5
The original sin: to be like God. It was the sin of Lucifer and the continual pull at a man’s sinful pride: the claim of self-sufficiency. But we are such limited creatures. We feel and we think with imperfect understanding. No matter how intelligent, regardless how powerful, we have limits. One of the greatest of these limitations is our own conflicting set of desires. Holiness, purity and righteousness vs. pleasure, convenience and reward -- which shall win out in the moment? No matter how much will power a person has, they cannot win against themselves. As Paul expressed it: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15) The lifelong battle to become a real man is done one step at a time, and it’s not possible to do it in your own power. It’s only possible to do in the power of Christ working in you. 

Now, what exactly is “Christ’s power working in you”? Aside from a cliché in Christian circles and something that makes absolutely no sense to the non-Christian, I spent years trying to figure this one out. But it’s actually pretty simple; it’s just two things: trust and obey. Trust that when God tells you to do something that He knows better than you and has your best interest at heart, no matter how stupid or silly or foolish it feels like at the time. And then obey. He’s God and you’re not.

If God says: “Spend some time with Me instead of watching that TV show”, we should do just that. If He says: “Don’t take your smart phone into the bathroom” then leave it outside every time. If He says: “Flip that magazine upside down” or even “Tear the cover off of that magazine and throw it away” then don’t delay or argue the point with God (how dumb is that anyway?), and obey. There will be a reward in that obedience. If you aren’t sure that it’s really God leading you, then take a leap of faith; He will not slam you for Him incorrectly and you will find a reward in that risk. Real men recognize their dependence upon God and thank Him for His goodness. 

To all the real men out there: “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1Timonthy 6:12)

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