Boys to Men

Every year in my history classes I use what I consider to be a witty journal topic to talk about our culture’s crisis of manhood.

“All women should know how to take care of children. Most of them will have a husband some day.”   -Franklin P. Jones

The students often misinterpret it at first, but it doesn’t take long before one sharp student gets it:  “Men are like children.”

Yes, indeed.   Why is it that our culture is producing so many old boys and not very many young men?  We are becoming a nation of kidults.

You know how sometimes you don’t understand something until you hear yourself say it?  As Charles Swindoll says, “Our thoughts untangle themselves over the lips and through the fingertips.”  I felt like the Lord helped me to hit upon something in our discussion that I had not thought about in this way before—that one difference between boys and men is how they understand pleasure.

Boys seek to pleasure themselves as a way of life, while men understand what true pleasure looks like.  God designed us to build, create, develop, design, dream, organize, transform, beautify and grow.  There is another word for these things…work!  A primary source of true pleasure is to go about our God-given tasks and bring life to our God-given callings.

A character in Despicable Me 2—young, confident, tweeny Latin charmer Antonio—epitomizes this distinction.  When introducing Antonio, his father says smoothly (Nacho Libre accent on), “This is my son Antonio.  When he grows up he wants to play video games for a living” (Nacho Libre accent off).   Perfect!  This is a boy.  And while I think tween-age boys are the perfect age to begin leaving childish ways behind them, pleasure-seeking as a way of life is not surprising for boys.  But what about for adult males (“men” avoided intentionally)?

For too many males, becoming a legal adult simply means finding more sophisticated ways to pleasure ourselves.  When I asked some of the students to start dreaming a little about what they can build, create, develop, etc., one student shared his dream of playing in the NBA.  To accomplish this goal requires a tremendous amount of hard work and determination—qualities to be admired and a glimpse of what it means to grow from boy to man.  But how many NBA players have simply used this dream as a more sophisticated way to pleasure themselves? How many have left behind numerous unfathered children, broken relationships and other moral messes?

Just working hard to accomplish something is not enough to become a man.   I would argue there also needs to be a vision for furthering a cause bigger than your own pleasure.  If my student’s goal is to play in the NBA so he can be a blessing to others and give back to society in some specific way, then he will become a man in the process of pursuing that dream (I would argue that he will become so even if he doesn’t fully accomplish it).  But if playing in the NBA is simply an avenue toward fame, wealth and women, I predict he will remain largely an adolescent.  A man has learned that strength is to be employed in a life of service, and this service is a counter-intuitive path toward joy.  And until we get that, part of us never grows up.

Sadly, how few fathers today are modeling and leading their sons to grow into men?  How many fathers teach their sons to dream, build, create, organized, develop, and design?  May God “Turn the heart of our fathers to their children, and the heart of the children to our fathers.”  And thank you heroic single moms (whether married or not) who are doing your best to stand in the gap for your sons.  May God reward your sacrifice.

And Lord, please help me to teach my daughters to develop their God-given gifts in order to accomplish their God-given callings.  I have so often failed to be intentional in this.  And if they are to marry, may you be preparing young men to love them.  Give them discernment to distinguish godly men from boys. In Jesus’ name.

Day of Purity

In recognition of last Thursday’s “Day of Purity” campaign, abstinence was my journal topic for my high school history classes.    Today, I am grading my journals.  This is what one student wrote:

Thank God that we had this conversation in class, because it really changed by point of view of sex.  Now I’m really thankful because now I’m going to wait till marriage to have sex.  My mom and dad have told me a lot of times to wait and I’m going to wait because I really want to have a really good relationship with whoever I marry.

We not only talk about unplanned pregnancy, STDs, emotional trauma, etc, but also what a priceless gift it is to save yourself for that precious person God gives you to marry.  I think that part caught her imagination.  Thank you Lord.

A lost generation of men

World-renowned psychologist Phillip Zimbardo recently published The Demise of Guys: Why Boys are Struggling and What We Can Do About It.  It was recently profiled on CNN.

The central thesis is that addictions to video games and online porn are devastating a generation of young men.

Dr. Russell Moore from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary writes poignantly, with spiritual discernment, about this crisis:

Pornography promises orgasm without intimacy. Video warfare promises adrenaline without danger. The arousal that makes these so attractive is ultimately spiritual to the core.

Satan isn’t a creator but a plagiarist. His power is parasitic, latching on to good impulses and directing them toward his own purpose. God intends a man to feel the wildness of sexuality in the self-giving union with his wife. And a man is meant to, when necessary, fight for his family, his people, for the weak and vulnerable who are being oppressed.

Moreover, these addictions foster the seemingly opposite vices of passivity and hyper-aggression. The porn addict becomes a lecherous loser, with one-flesh union supplanted by masturbatory isolation. The video game addict becomes a pugilistic coward, with other-protecting courage supplanted by aggression with no chance of losing one’s life. In both cases, one seeks the sensation of being a real lover or a real fighter, but venting one’s reproductive or adrenal glands over pixilated images, not flesh and blood for which one is responsible.

Zimbardo and Duncan are right, this is a generation mired in fake love and fake war, and that is dangerous. A man who learns to be a lover through porn will simultaneously love everyone and no one. A man obsessed with violent gaming can learn to fight everyone and no one.

I have seen these h0llow, shriveled young men in my classes.  It is the young women who are assuming the vast majority of the leadership roles on campus.  Male leadership among the young generation is largely absent.  Those few that are emerging leaders are so attractive to the young women, particularly the insecure, that I am seeing more and more examples in my classroom of these insecure young women verbally throwing themselves at these young men.  Given the shrinking population of strong men, I can sympathize with their desperation, though they are called to a higher standard.

Meanwhile, those young men spending hours playing video games or looking at online porn are in a downward spiral.  They are not developing the kind of social skills and character necessary to be successful and to have real relationship.  So when they experience the resulting rejection, it drives them back to their addictions as a place of comfort and solace.

Lord Jesus, rescue this generation of men!  Lord, give parents of these young men wisdom and firmness.  In this generation, “Turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6).  Lord, raise up the men in your church to discipline themselves, to come together for encouragement, and to stand against the enemy.  May we be so caught up in your kingdom adventures that these kinds of addictive behaviors aren’t even tempting. Consume us with your love and passion.  Give a vision to our men that you have called them to love passionately and to fight aggressively in your kingdom.  Lead us in repentance and restoration, in Jesus’ name.

54 minutes

From Jim Cymbala, in Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire:

The services have to be uniformly positive, and the services can’t go longer than 60 minutes.  Even then, church is inconvenient for some, especially during football season…

One minister told me recently that two families left for another church because his parking attendants didn’t direct cars out of the lot fast enough.  What would these people have done the night in Troas when Paul preached until midnight? (Acts 20:7)

Can you imagine someone handing Peter a microphone on Sunday morning and whispering, “Okay, now, you’ve got twenty minutes. We have to get people out of here promptly because the chariot races start at one o’clock”?

The truth is that “user-friendly” can be a cover-up word for carnality.  The same people who want sixty-minute worship services rent two-hour videos and watch NBA and NFL games that run even longer.  The issue is not length, but appetite.  Why the misplaced desire?

Seriously, what will our children and grandchildren grow up experiencing in church?  Extended times of waiting on the Lord will be totally foreign to their experience.  There will be no memory bank of seeing people reach out to God.  All they will recall are professionally polished, closely timed productions. (p. 132-33)

And then we wonder why 80% of our children and almost all of our young men leave the church when they become adults!  Why do people watch the 2-hour movies and the 3-hour football games?  Because they are a source of thrill and excitement.  We were born for that, and if we don’t find it in the Lord, we will find it elsewhere.  And that’s the reason we are loosing our men.

What if we trained all of our teenage boys how to cast out a demon?  What if we trained them to listen for words of knowledge and act on them?  What if we trained them to seek the Lord for as long as it took to know His presence?  Pretty soon, the NFL wouldn’t seem so exciting.

But instead, our churches and youth groups have largely bought into the idols of entertainment and comfort.  I recently heard another father brag about how, during a building program when space was constrained, his church had gotten their service down to exactly 54 minutes.

Of course 54 minutes or 3 hours is not the fundamental issue.  But just as Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” I think we could add, where your time is, there your heart will be also.

Lord, give me the determination to surrender my time to you and to seek you with all my heart.  I confess that too often I chase after entertainment and comfort.  Lord, whet my appetite for the things of the Spirit.  Draw me into your word and your presence.  I want the exciting life of faith, where I get to see your miracles.  Give me the strength to press into it!  In Jesus’ name.

How did I get here?

I came home from Embracing Life tonight full of the love of the Father, and I feel like He asked me to write this. I hope it ministers to you.  It’s a little embarrassing.  He must increase, I must decrease.

I’m not sure how I got here, but it’s wonderful.

I can remember often being embarrassed to pray in front of my wife, as if I was supposed to have all the answers or be able to solve all the problems.  I was afraid to seek God with her.  Maybe I wouldn’t do it right?  Maybe it would be awkward?  What if I didn’t pray as well as the pastor or other ‘spiritual’ people?  As I write, the Lord is reminding me of countless times when I had to make an intentional decision to step out of my embarrassment and do it anyway.  There were more failures than successes.  But I feel like each decision I made to step out in faith overcame a hundred times when I retreated into my fears and shame.  And I still have to make this choice constantly.  And it’s still hard.  And I still fail.  A lot.

And now the Lord is reminding me of the many times where I did turn to him, but could not discern his answer.  There is an inherent betrayal in this.  Everything I know about God says it is not a betrayal in reality, but when you pour out your heart to God in desperation and hear no response, it sure feels like it.  I am left with nothing to offer to my wife.  Sometimes “I don’t know, we’ll have to trust that God will lead us” is all I can offer to her.  I used to feel defeated when this happened.  Now I know this is an invitation to press in and trust.  He is faithful to answer.  But sometimes not in the way or at the time we want.  Answers come more often now, but not all the time. Probably not even most of the time.  But peace while waiting for an answer does come more frequently.

My Father is now brininging to mind the times when I took risks to have new experiences with him.  When I began to type a question to God in my journal, and then on the next line typed “God:” and continued by typing whatever his still, small voice seemed to be saying.  Often I heard nothing.  But occasionally wisdom way beyond my own poured out through my fingertips. These are sacred moments.  I remember when I was first willing to kneel, or raise my arms, or walk up to the front during worship at church, when the position of my body affected the posture of my heart.  He is reminding me of the first time I tried to give someone a “word” while praying for them up front.  I feel like I fell flat on my face. ‘I’ll just stick to sharing bible verses next time!’  But I tried again.  On another try, I felt led to ask someone about unconfessed sin in their life.  It was scary and I was timid, but I risked.  And God moved.  His neck and back problem was healed after 10 years of consistent pain.

Now God is showing me how I used to see my “quiet time” as a religious activity I performed (inconsistently) in order to feel good about myself and check it off my “good boy” list.  Honestly, I still struggle here.  But now?  Oh my.  He is teaching me how to have relationship.  So this is what intimacy is!  My constant friend and loving Father, with me, waiting to reveal himself at any and every moment, with a heart of love toward me!  The joy of the Lord has taken up residence in my heart.  Each day is an adventure in seeing how His Kingdom rule is going to break in.

Yes Lord, my attitude used to be, “tell them the truth and let the chips fall where they may!”  I didn’t care about hearts; I cared about being right.  In my insecurity, I needed everyone to agree with me and acknowledge my wisdom.  But something undeserved has happened.  The Father has allowed me to feel his heart for some of his precious ones.  To love them with his deep, passionate, redeeming love.  To rejoice when they rejoice, and to weep when they weep.  To cry out for them in prayer, to grab their hand and lead them before His throne of grace.

I’m not sure how I got here.  And there is so much further to go.  All of these weaknesses still hang around to some extent.  When will I stop whoring after the approval of others?  When will I stop chasing false loves that won’t satisfy me?  I don’t know, but I am filled with hope!  “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.”  That is his promise. He loves me and He is able to do exceedingly more than we ask or imagine.

But I have to say yes.  I have to risk.  I must decide to choose Him over my embarrassment, my shame, and my weakness.  What is character?  What is spirituality?  What is maturity?  It is the result of the countless choices to say yes to God even when we are afraid.  Father, forgive me for the even more times when I have caved to and made false peace with fear.  I want to say yes to you with all of my heart.  Expand your presence in my heart.

How did I get here?  I don’t deserve it.  I didn’t earn it.  I took the risk to say yes a few times when it was scary.  He did the rest.  And it’s wonderful.  May His name be praised.

Elisabeth Elliot on Amy Carmichael

In Elisabeth’s Elliot biography of Amy Carmichael, called A Chance to Die, she writes:

“The preoccupations of seventeen year old girls—their looks, their clothes, their social life—do not change very much from generation to generation. But in every generation there seem to be a few who make other choices. Amy was one of the few.”

Amy gave up the comforts of western culture to rescue girls from becoming temple prostitutes in Hindu temples.  She ended up caring for hundreds of orphans in India and showing them the love of Christ.

Today we are having a promotion ceremony for my daughters for their homeschool.  This quote reminds me of my oldest daughter, Kaylynn.  Other girls her age idolize musicians or other pop culture idols.  Kaylynn’s heroes are missionaries like Rachel Saint (and Elisabeth Elliot and Amy Carmichael).  I am very proud of her.

Would rather have a grandchild

Just came across a quote by Herbert Spencer, who first posited the theory of Social Darwinism and coined the term “survival of the fittest.”  Spencer never married, but devoted his life to study and writing.  Much of his later years were consumed with the publishing of the epic Synthetic Philosophy–18 volumes which essentially represented his life’s work.

A few days before his death, “Herbert Spencer had the eighteen volumes of the Synthetic Philosophy piled on his lap, and… ‘as he felt their cold weight wondered if he would not have done better could he have a grandchild in their stead.” (from A Treasury of the World’s Great Letters, p. 360)

Ouch.  May I put into practice what I tell my students–relationship is more important than anything else.  And no other relationship is more important than the one we can have with the Lord.

Various Fall/Winter Pics

My son was dead, and now he’s alive!

On Sunday after worship I went to a lunch meeting for those on the ministry team, meaning those who pray for people who walk forward for prayer after the service.  A man named Peter told his story about Josh, one of his 11 children.  I took notes, and here it is.

Josh first noticed his headache after church one Sunday at lunch.  By Wednesday, he had to be taken out of a high school baseball game because he couldn’t see the ball.  His parents made an appointment for Friday to see the doctor.  But Friday morning, Josh wasn’t even able to get his clothes on, so he was rushed by ambulance to the hospital.  By the time he was examined, he was paralyzed on the left side, and disoriented.  He knew who his mom was, but did not know her name.

A partial diagnosis came back: his immune system was producing antibodies to the white matter (myelin) in his brain, leaving lesions.  They put him on a steroid, and he seemed to improve.

But a few days later, something  changed.  Josh became combative and began throwing things.  He was put on a medication to calm him down.  An MRI revealed that his lesions had grown.  They did a brain biopsy, but the strange thing was they couldn’t find anything wrong with the tissue (no pathology) other than the tissue was dead.  They were sending samples all around the country for second opinions and expert analysis.

Josh slipped into a coma.  But  his brain was losing the ability to control his temperature and blood pressure, resulting in frequent intervention by the medical staff.  He was put on a ventilator and a feeding tube.  The doctors were now sure he was going to die.  The family even had a ‘do not resuscitate’ order placed on him.  Doctors called it “vanishing brain disease” for lack of a better name.  Approximately 1/3 of his brain was now gone.   Peter explained to us that the gray matter, the structure of the brain, remained, but the white matter, the myelin, what makes the gray matter work, was gone.

Doctors ceased treating Josh because they didn’t know what to do.  Still in a coma, he was now under 100 pounds, and the presence of death was heavy in the room.  The insurance began to run out as treatment stopped and options were narrowing.  So the family decided to take Josh off the ventilator and feeding tube.  To everyone’s surpise, Josh began to breath on his own and drink from a straw.  The doctors observed, “he won’t die,” but he couldn’t be kept at the hospital anymore because he was not being actively treated.

The family began to try to find a place for him to essentially go and die.  But in words that the Holy Spirit used to minister to me, Peter said “there aren’t any places good enough for Joshua.”  So they rented a hospital bed and prepared to take him home, unsure of how his mom was going to be able to care for him during the day with 10 other children, mostly younger.

Peter said that the Holy Spirit said three things to him during the crisis.  In the beginning, he said, “Calm down, wait and see.”  Later, when Peter was frustrated by the lack of progress, the Holy Spirit said, “I haven’t forgotten Joshua.”  And now, sitting in his hospital room, essentially waiting for him to die, the Holy Spirit said to Peter, “there is someone in those empty spaces in Joshua’s brain.”  Peter got up and in the name of Jesus said, “get out, you have no place here.”  In response, Joshua had a fit and got stiff, and fell out of his bed.  Whatever enemy/demonic presence that was there had been discovered and fled.

When Peter got him back in bed, Josh opened his eyes, and Peter could see in them, “the boy was back!” Still not well, they brought him home.  A few days later, Joshua said “hi” to one of his sisters, and they knew they had won.  By the next day he was asking for his cell phone and hamburgers.

The doctors still don’t know what it was.  At one point they said that Joshua, if somehow he doesn’t die, will be lucky to learn to operate an electric wheelchair and learn 15-20 words.

Today, Joshua is back in high school and playing baseball, although not quite as well as he used to.  Recovery is ongoing.

Listening to this story, the Lord did much to heal my heart regarding the loss of my son, Michael, over 5 years ago.  Why did Joshua live and Michael die?  I don’t know.  But in those moments of grief for Michael I experienced on Sunday, the Holy Spirit whispered to me a promise too intimate for me to share here, but healing to my heart.  And He pointed out that the words “no place good enough for my son” is how the Lord feels about us in this fallen world.  That’s why he is preparing a place for his sons and daughters.  Praise be his name.

Fireproof review

I took Elizabeth to see Fireproof last night.  It was wonderful, painful, joyful,…emotional.  Similar to their previous film, Facing the Giants, it was well done, had limited cheesiness (those who have seen a lot of Christian films know what I mean) and was so powerful.  

When you see the film, I would encourage you to pray beforehand this way:  “Lord, I pray that you would open my heart to what you want to teach me, even if it’s painful.  Quicken my spirit to scenes and characters that you want to use to instruct me, correct me, bless me, or bring up wounds that need healing.”  

If you have been married, and likely even if you haven’t, God will bring stuff up in you.  I ended up deeply connecting with the father of the lead character, and I think God used this movie to help me grieve wounds in my own life and to surrender more fully to the Lord for healing.  (sorry if I sound like a therapist!)

Men in general are going to have a tough time with this movie, as it so widely exposes many of the sins we so often fall to.  Wives, this isn’t a movie to manipulate your husband into seeing you with you.  It may just exacerbate his feelings of failure (“My wife already thinks I’m a failure, and now she brings me to this movie to prove it!”).  The change portrayed in the lead character doesn’t happen quite so fast in reality (try a lifetime!), but that’s a movie for you—everything wrapped up in a couple hours.  Instead, pray fervently for him!  

Husbands, initiate with your wives to see the movie and then plan to spend time with her afterwards.  It will raise issues. Don’t get defensive. Love her by identifying with her emotions. You might want to see it before so you are prepared.  Seriously.  

Bottom line: almost everyone is going to be challenged, but also encouraged, if they don’t get defensive.  That’s why seeking the Lord and going in with an open heart may be so important.  It will be easy to hear the voice of the accuser, “see, you’re just like that, but worse!”  But remember, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).  The Lord does not condemn you if you are in Christ.  He doesn’t pile on and call you names.  The enemy does that.  The Lord is gentle, and draws you closer to Him.

And every Christian teenager or single adult needs to see this.  I don’t know of a better spent two hours to prepare one for marriage and to dispel the Disney Romance understanding of it.  Most teenagers do not understand that love is not an emotion that you fall into or out of (though often wonderful emotions come with it!), but a commitment to act—to choose to love even when we don’t feel like it.  When two people understand this and love each other this way, something beautiful happens.  We get to experience a taste of heaven on earth where we are loved for who we are, not for how we perform.  

Praise God for this movie and may it bring restoration, repentance and revival to our marriages, our churches, and our nation!

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