Men in Their Own Skin–Chapter 2

So the journey continues. The journey of discovering Biblical manhood. Chapter 2 of this book explores the subject of what every man wants.

I’ll not beat around the bush and I will cut straight to the chase of what Dudley is saying. He claims that there are three things that every man desires to do:

1. Show up.

2. Stand up.

3. Speak up.

By showing up, he means that every man wants to be a part of something significant. Men don’t want to miss their moments in history. They want to be a part of something significant, something bigger than themselves. I agree with this statement. No man wants to spend his life on the couch. When we look back on our lives from the front porch rocker, we want to know we did something. Even now as I look back on my life, I want to know I’ve been doing something. This comes out in different ways. In my opinion, an easy example of this is men’s ability/opportunity to work. There’s a conception of young men as being lazy and irresponsible, but ultimately, I believe every man is born to put his hand to something that he sees as significant. Believe me–I see serving people coffee as very, very significant. Simply put–men want to do something important: whether it’s for God, or for his family, or friends, men long for significance.

When Dudley explains the portion about standing up, he makes a statement that has resonated in my heart for a long time. He writes:

“Being a follower of Christ has never been about what a man is against, but what he is for.”

[emphasis mine.] In our culture, and even sometimes within the church, the tendency is to be anti-this or that. Anti-abortion. Anti-gun. Anti-Obama. Anti-death penalty. The list goes on and on. But after making a fool of myself trying to argue against gay marriage in an English class of mine in my freshman year, God said a word that has stuck with me: “Jeff, I haven’t called you to be against the world. I’ve called you to be FOR My Kingdom.” Men have a longing to defend what they believe and what they value–faith, morals, etc. Dudley says that we’re called to stand, according to Ephesians 6:10-12. Here’s what I believe that looks like.

Let’s say someone offered me some sort of drugs. I would simply say no. It’s not about putting them down for their actions. People see your own values by the way you deal with this kind of thing. They may ask you why not, they may not ask you that. If they ask you why not (or at least if they asked ME why not,) I’d say it’s because I’ve never been involved with that, and I don’t see a point in it. I don’t need it.

Dudley says it a lot better than I can:

“Notice that our greatest act of courage is simply ‘to stand.’ Bowing or kneeling always represents submission. But standing in the face of the enemy is a defiant declaration that your allegiance lies elsewhere.”

Finally, Dudley’s third point is that men have a desire to SPEAK UP about things that matter. “When this need is not met properly,” writes Mr. Hall, “a man will either say what he thinks people want to hear or nothing at all.”

Men want to speak about things they are passionate about. Both inside and outside of the Church, this is exemplified in things like music, movies, or sports. Some men like all three, some men like one or two of them–and all men who are REALLY passionate about them can talk your ear off about their favorite symphony, favorite Western or war movie (I’m trying to be manly here) or their favorite sports icon or team. Inside the church, this is exemplified in our speaking up for the truth of God. Dudley says that “when [a man] is intimidated into refusing to speak up for Jesus, he feels compromised and again slinks back into the spectators bench” and that God truly backs up His Word. We speak confidently about the truth of God when we spend time learning it and studying it via His word.

What I want to leave you with is this statement:

“…the man who knows and walks with God is always ready to speak of the greatness of his God. Some men are intimidated and slow to speak because they don’t have all the answers. Or they’re afraid that they’re not eloquent or gifted enough to say the right thing. The excellence of the message should be matched as much as possible with excellent presentation, but God will use our bumbling but sincere efforts as He confounds the wise of the world system.”

 

 

 

[Note: It’s reeeeeeeeeeally hard to write about this book without quoting it. So much good stuff!]

Disappointment, Heartbreak, and Missed Opportunities.

This is going to be one of those raw honesty kind of blogs. I’m not going to have crafty segues into my next thoughts. It’s…well, it’s exactly what the title implies.

It has been a long time since I have done any exciting traveling. The last place I went out of state (that I recall) is Tennessee in 2009, but it was a one-day trip for Thanksgiving. Before that, who knows when the last time was that I saw something new I’d never seen or traveled for fun. It’s really starting to bum me out, especially when I have friends who get to go to France, or even just other states for their vacations. I really want to see some new stuff. I was going to plan to go to Illinois this Summer, and see Chicago, but I’m not sure if that’ll happen or not. There are variables.

A few weeks ago, when I was meeting with my pastor and going through the book we’re going through (Men in Their Own Skin,) a question came up: what do you think is holding you back from being a fully spiritual man? I realized at that point that something I’ve been missing for a long time is a friend to be beside me, a battle partner of sorts. Now, don’t start telling me about all of the friends I have–I am aware that I have a lot of friends. But a lot of my friends are married, or in a relationship, most are college graduates or still in high school. Also, a lot of my friends are women. All of this has been okay with me for the most part, but it’s one of those things that starts wearing on you after a while. I have men in my life that I “report to,” and I have male friends that I hang out with, but I don’t feel like there’s been anybody that I am on the same page with–where I am in my walk with the Lord, my age, my occupational status, etc…I feel alone. I feel like there are folks in boats ahead of me, encouraging me along, and there are folks in boats behind me, who I can encourage and spur along. But I don’t feel like there is anyone in my boat, or beside my boat. I’m sure there are some, but friends must be made–I can think of at least one instance in which I am trying to be more deliberate about cultivating a deep, godly friendship. Still, right now it’s hard.

Along those lines, there have been soooooooooo many people I’ve missed out on meeting. A group of people known as KWAM (Kingdom Ways and Means) came to my church last summer, and I wanted to go. At least I think I did–I know that in retrospect I would have killed to be a part of it. It was about redefining church–what is the church, what makes a “church service,” how to have a home church service, etc. I know that a portion of it had to with planting churches. At the end of the week or weekend or however long it lasted, there were home church services held at different people’s homes within the church. Someone led worship, someone preached, there was childcare, etc….it was a really good time, even being a part of one of the home churches. I wish I could have done it. I missed out on being around Kelly and Nicki(?) Tshibaka, Bill and Harriet Mouer, Daniel Brown–I am nearly bawling just thinking about it. I wish I could have gone, and it really breaks my heart that I couldn’t be a part of it.

I was also in nearly perfect position to go to the Foursquare district conference–I had the money taken care of, I was STOKED, and ready to go…but that’s when I started my new job. It was the second week of training, and the night I was called about accepting the job, my boss asked me about any scheduling conflicts, and I said that I was registered for this conference, and I really wanted to go, and I told her it wasn’t a dealbreaker. I wish I hadn’t. I didn’t get to go. I missed out on a session with Bill Mouer about sermon preparation. I missed out on a night with Glen Burris, talking and drinking coffee. I missed out on meeting all kinds of young leaders my age and making friendships that would have lasted for years and years to come.

Here lately,  I have been thinking about this and last night I was thinking about the upcoming camp for the youth at our church this summer, and I felt the Lord telling me to save money and provide a scholarship for one youth at our church. I felt this because I realize how much going to camp changed my own life and I wanted to provide that opportunity for someone.

So, all of this to say that I have to confess that I am slightly frustrated right now. Don’t think that I’m not all for giving a youth a life-changing opportunity. I AM. I absolutely am. But I am also bummed out that I wasn’t able to do these amazing things, and now my traveling funds are going on a back burner until I get enough money to cover one teenager’s cost of camp. It can be frustrating.

Lately I feel like I am getting less and less motivated. It’s to a point where I just want to ask, “what about me, Lord? When am I going to be able to do something amazing and extraordinary? When am I going to get an opportunity that I’ll actually be able to take?”

I know that God’s not punishing me for all of the mistakes I’ve made with money. Money is the reason I missed KWAM. I don’t believe God is like that. He’s not the type to say, “you don’t get any good things until you get your life in order.”

But in all of this, I still feel like everything is going to be okay. Eventually, I’ll go see something amazing, maybe New York City. I’ll develop a relationship that turns into a best friendship. I’ll get to meet some amazing leaders in the Foursquare movement, and some young people who have been doing what I’ve been doing (and more, I’m sure!) God just keeps saying: your day is coming.

Lord, I’ll take it. Help me to be where I am.

On Romans 6

Paul doesn’t seem to stop in the book of Romans. At least three verse 1’s in the whole book are fairly popular: Romans 5:1–Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through out Lord Jesus Christ…

Romans 6:1–What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?

Romans 8:1–There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus…

Paul wastes no time. He has a lot to say, and he says it quick. There’s something I notice about every one of these verses: it references something said before. Therefore, therefore, and what shall we say then? Anytime you see something like that, you have to read the passage (or at least the verse) through the lens of whatever the therefore is there for.

When I began studying Romans 6, I found that there is one big question to be asked, so let’s restate verse 1:

“Does that mean that we should continue in sin so that grace will abound?”

That sets the stage for us to ask: Does what mean that we should continue in sin that grace may abound? Then we look back to the end of chapter 5 and find that Paul explained that through one man [Adam]’s offense sin entered the picture, and abounded. He says, however, that “is by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.” And this discussion sets itself up as a premise to argue that we should continue sinning so that God’s grace can abound. But Paul seems to have this uncanny ability to know what questions would arise. So he rhetorically asks it and immediately shoots it down…

 

Certainly not!

 

“Gee, Paul, why not?”

“Well, I’m glad you asked. Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?”

From there, Paul lays out all of the parallels of our new life in Christ.

Vs 4. We were buried with Him through baptism into death, so as Christ was raised from the dead, so we should walk in newness of life.

Vs 5. We were united in His death, we shall be in the likeness of His resurrection.

Vs. 6. We were crucified with him, the old body of sin is done away with, and we are no longer slaves of sin. (because vs 7. “he who has died has been freed from sin.”)

Vs 8. We died with Christ, we shall also live with Him.

Vs. 11 is, to me, the crux of the chapter:

“Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

To this point, Paul has layed out everything that we have in common with Jesus to this point: (spiritually, not physically, of course)

We died. We were buried. We were resurrected.

Then Paul lays out one more similarity, the one that maybe we’d be reluctant to accept. Jesus, he says, “died to sin once for all, but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I read over this passage about 100 times during my time of study, and always got caught up on the word “to.” Alive TO God. What does that mean? I’ve heard that I should live FOR God, but never paid attention that I am to live TO God. So my research partner and I looked up some different translations to try to shed a little light on the subject. The only two translations that used a word different from the NKJV were the NLT, which said that ‘alive to God’ means “living for the glory of God.” Okay, that’s a little bit helpful. But even that is an overused phrase. Living for the glory of God could mean several things–glorifying God in everything you do, living so that others glorify God when they see your life…it’s not a completely definitive term.

The other translation was the Amplified Bible, which said, “alive to God [living in unbroken fellowship with Him…]” which caught my attention. Being alive to God means to live in unbroken fellowship with Him. That’s a good segue into the next approach we took. We took a step back and asked, “what does it mean to be alive?”

Then the Holy Spirit did what only the Holy Spirit can do…He revealed truth to us (first to my pastor, who shared with me) through an episode of The Big Bang Theory. There’s an episode in season 2 when Leonard is supposed to be taking Howard’s girlfriend home because Howard got into a situation at work, and instead of taking her home, they start making out and eventually sleeping together. Now through a series of events, as Leonard is going to talk to Howard, she calls Howard and tells her himself. Howard hangs up the phone, looks Leonard dead in the eye and says, “you’re dead to me,” promptly slamming the door in his face.

It’s actually a great way to explain our new relationship to sin. Howard broke off his relationship with Leonard because he was so deeply hurt and betrayed. He refused to acknowledge Leonard’s existence (until it did him any good, which is something else entirely…) and in his mind, Leonard was neither present nor relevant. Now, it’s not a perfect metaphor, because I think it may be dangerous to pretend that sin doesn’t exist. But it is a good way to think about the power of sin–sin’s power is broken, plain and simple. We can’t afford to go around thinking that any or every time we sin, we are re-condemned to hell.

Verse 11 is really a call to a new mindset to be God-conscious instead of being so sin-conscious (once again, don’t pretend like sin doesn’t exist, BUT) so often we are focused on sin that we end up thinking that there is more wrong with us than there is right with us, which is not the case. We are ultimately and fully redeemed, so there is a LOT more that is right with us than there is wrong with us! It’s a call to move forward in maturity with God, not looking for excuses to sin, and not keeping our eyes on sin but realizing that our goal in life is to become more like Jesus and live in response to the Gospel!

Men in Their Own Skin–Chapter 1

I am going on a journey. Several men in my church and I are going through a book by Dudley Hall entitled Men In Their Own Skin. The subtitle (because all good books have a subtitle, right?) says “answering the call to confident manhood.” I bought this book last summer and started it, but like other books, I found myself putting it down after a few chapters. Since we’re going through it as a group, however, I find myself more motivated to read it…kind of like running, you know? Everything is better with someone else doing it with you.

Anyway, I am excited to read through this book and study it with these men for several reasons:

1. They are all a little further along in life than I am

2. They come from different walks of life

3. We all can contribute insights and opinions and

4. We’re all going to learn what it means to be a confident man of God.

That said, I would like to dive into the discussion!

When I think about a book on manhood, I tend to think of the polarity on the spectrum between masculinity. I feel like sometimes it is encouraged to be as reckless, wild, and crazy as possible in order to NOT be “domesticated” or “feminized.” (I spelled that last word wrong, but I think you know what I mean.)

That has been my experience, probably because I’m a young man. Young men inside the church (as a whole) are sometimes encouraged to YELL OUTSIDE AND RIDE SKATEBOARDS AND GO MOUNTAIN CLIMBING AND JOIN THE MILITARY AND GO HUNTING AND GO HIKING AND TALK ABOUT VIOLENCE AND WATCH FOOTBALL AND BOXING AND OTHER WILD SPORTS, BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT MEN DO! To me, that’s simply avoidance. It’s avoidance of being the person (and by person, I mean fulfill the personality) that God made them to be. Not every man is a hunter, not every man likes football (I know you’re gasping, but it’s true!) not every man likes to go mountain climbing. Some men like to cook. Some men like to read books and drink hot tea (and instantly you think of a weirdo hippie, right?) Some men are extroverted, some men are introverted. This book isn’t about being crazy versus being reserved, it’s about being God’s definition of a man. From what I gather so far, that means being responsible, being a leader, being strong, being confident, being God-fearing, etc. That can look several different ways.

(I digress, now I REALLY get into the book.)

Dudley begins with the point that a lot of ministry heads in his day were women. All of his experiences in church up through youth group were ministries led by women. He explains that the only men who taught him were behind the pulpit, and that important ideas and concepts that were central to the man God created him to be could not be conveyed. He shares a story from a man who explains that the men he worked with were confident and strong and joked and worked hard herding cattle were intimidated and confused at church on Sunday morning.

This story set the stage for Dudley to bring up his three points which he believes make men feel uncomfortable in church, which are:

1. Men are paralyzed spiritually

2. Men are feminized socially

3. Men are demoralized religiously.

I will try not to copy and paste a lot from his points, and largely share my own perception, but I would like to get his basis first.

Men are paralyzed spiritually.

Mr. Hall says that men are plagued by their failures. They feel like they can’t measure up to be the men of God they are supposed to be, and they are told what they’re not allowed to do. Their fear of failure keeps them thinking that they can never “be as spiritual as their wives or minister at church.” He writes that men eventually find themselves locked out of spiritual leadership in the church and eventually resign themselves to the “non-spiritual” work that just “has to be done.” men are seen as funders, or otherwise individuals who don’t do the “spiritual” work. The guys who give money, or paint walls, or or help move equipment–they’re not capable or called to do the ecclesial work like worship or missions, and that those who are enjoy some sort of special position with God. Any non-ecclesial work is just stuff that has to be done, it’s not sacred or holy.

My take: I completely agree with Dudley. I recall an old church of mine where I remember women doing a lot of the ministry work and a lot of men just coming to church. Even if I didn’t see it within four particular walls, I have seen the way men relate to their families, for instance. They bring home the bread and they help with the kids, but the mom is responsible for the kids and she’s the one who’s special to God. I’m not saying this is always the case, but I am saying that I have seen it and there is no doubt in my mind that this happens. My only question: how’d we get this way? How did we get to a point at which women seem to have a more comfortable, favorable position with God? At what point did society or even the church begin to perceive men as simply breadwinners?

Men are feminized socially.

Dudley talks about the resurgence of women’s rights over the past century or so, and that sometimes it leaves men confused. Is it okay to be a real man? What is a real man? Men have seemingly been redefined to be sensitive and caring and passive. Dudley makes a statement that resonates in my own heart: “It doesn’t have to be either or….God has created the masculine and the feminine to compliment and complete His image in mankind.”

That goes back to what I said earlier, that most books or insights on the subject of masculinity swing to the opposite side of the spectrum–where men are wild and crazy and irresponsible and reckless. This is not so for men of God! Dudley also moves on to how this affects the church. The church has gotten into a habit of being feelings and nurture based, and that some people are frustrated or upset if they leave church and they haven’t gotten their emotional, “felt needs” met. The environment has to be right. The decoration has to be right. “Men…wonder why it takes a year to plan the church ‘drama’ and why so much of the budget is spent on decor. they even feel guilty that they don’t see such things as important,” writes Hall.

I agree with this point, as well. I have gotten into the mindset at times that church is meaningless if I don’t “feel” anything. Which, if that were the case, our church must be struggling because I haven’t had a good, cathartic cry in over a year! (I’ve gotten out of that kind of thinking, don’t worry.) But really–how often do we concern ourselves with emotional relevance and efficency and not theological truth? The fact of the matter is this: if you present the Gospel of Jesus Christ, people will respond.

This is somewhat extra to the text of the book, but it’s something that’s been on my mind lately. I recently bought a worship CD, and I found that in almost every song, God was referred to as the King of Love. True. God is love, the Bible tells us this. But I wonder (and I’m not trying to say it’s 100% true) if we focus too much on that. I think what we need is a balance of God as loving and God as disciplining, because the Bible also says He treats us as sons and disciplines us because He loves us as sons. Just a thought.

Men are demoralized religiously.

The things Mr. Hall says about religious demoralization somewhat piggyback on the part about spiritual paralysis, where men feel like they are resigned to a position of funder because they feel like they can’t measure up to the role of nurturer, or let me add leader that the Church sometimes seems to pressure. Men respect the church, but they feel as if it’s not a place where they can experience genuine, life-giving relationships with God and with others. “They…feel somewhat used,” writes Mr. Hall, segueing into a story about a man named Jeff who came into his office to talk to him. Jeff felt like the church saw him as a cash cow, and felt like he didn’t have a place in the decision making as to what was done with the money he was giving. This is as religiously demoralizing as anything. He feels as if he doesn’t get a say in what’s done and he has trouble trusting his church because he feels misrepresented. He feels as if there is more he can be doing to serve God than just tithing, but he feels as though his church is not equipping him to do those other things.

After reading the first chapter of this book, I realize that it is not 100% descriptive of EVERY man within the church, but it definitely sheds some light on the problems that men face today. As a man within the church, I can say that I have felt at least one of these things in my time. When I first got plugged in and really involved myself, I sometimes felt as though ministry was something for people who were special in God’s eyes and who had some special abilities. It took me a long time to realize the truth that “God does not call the equipped, He equips the called.” I feel in my spirit as if the solution to the problem of spiritual paralysis and religious demoralization begins with men, frankly, like me, but not because I’m special. Simply because I have had people, men, take me under their wing so to speak and train me and equip me and disciple me. Men who have taught me to study scripture. Men who have taught me financial wisdom. Men who have seen and developed the gifts God has placed in me. That’s what I think would help so many men. That as well as a clear emphasis and focus on eliminating the discrepancy between “laymen” and ministers. Breaking the notion that pastors are more special.

The final words in chapter one are “we will…find solutions that will train and empower men to be who God made them.”

Amen. I am looking forward to it.

 

(Note: It took me about four days to write this blog, so forgive my sporadic thinking and probably obvious trainwreck of thought.)