The Summer Challenge of Community…

Today we concluded our Spring series of Manschool with the last segment of the movie “A Story Worth Living”.  You can buy a copy of the movie here … https://store.ransomedheart.com/collections/video/products/a-story-worth-living?variant=22869610118

It is bitter sweet to end our sessions and break but we do so by design.  One, it is for rest and refreshment but more importantly, it is to challenge you to fight for community. Manschool makes it easy in that we meet each week but now that we’re taking a break for the summer, if you want community, you’re going to have to fight for it.  We’ll be posting more about this but many of our small groups are already making plans to continue to meet over the summer.  This is a challenge – will you pursue community? Will you find 2-3 men and push into each other’s stories, going deep into each other’s lives?  Tell your story – all the gory details – and then let the next man tell his.  Don’t hold back.  Don’t hide.  Get it all out on the table and let other men speak into your story.  If you do this, you will see some amazing things happen.

The only question is … will you do it?  Will you?

Here are the notes from today…

Darkness tries to assault us.  “Can we do this?”  “Can we get off this mountain?”  The feeling is, “No.  We can’t do this.  We won’t make it through this”.  That sustained assault against your story is real.  Fear is the thief of joy.

The turning point in every good story is the rescue.

This is the hope of the larger story – that your story can turn out differently.  In this age, the belief is that all of life is an accident and when it ends, it’ll be an accident that takes it out.  You don’t want your life to be an accident.

Whatever our story has been, whatever darkness we have known, we’re all looking for redemption.  To get to that place where the old shame has no power – that it is no longer a prison but rather we see it as the doorway for your heart to be revived.

Because there is this larger story at work, there is hope, there is healing and there is redemption.

God can rescue your story.  “I am no longer fishing alone” — “My brother’s words spoken against me, they no longer have any power over me”.

When living in the larger story, you live in a sense of anticipation.  “How will this story end?”  A really good celebration remembers the losses and the hardships but it also savors the victory.  As story is only as good as its ending.

We are made for restoration and every good ending has something of evil being addressed and vanquished and something of those being divided being brought back together again.  (think Gladiator)

This complexity of justice and mercy and goodness really is the core of the sweet desire every one of us has when all things are put well and good again.

At the restoration of all things, there will be nothing in between us, no misunderstandings, no envy.  We will know and we will be known.  And it will be good.  Everything we’ve lost will be returned.  There will be no goodbyes.  You’ll never lose anything or anyone ever again.  There is no heartache, no opposition, no hatred.  Nothing evil or confusing or negative will ever come at you.  All that will come towards you will be good.

This life here is partial at best.  Good things always come to an end.  Though the age has become cynical, deep in our hearts, we all long for the happily ever after.

Are you living with a sense of anticipation?

What are you looking forward to?

How do you want your story to end?

And then this final challenge from AW Tozer that goes right at this Summer Challenge – what kind of soil as a man will you be?

There are two kinds of ground: Fallow ground and ground that has been broken up by the plow.

The fallow ground is smug, contented, protected from the shock of the plow and the agitation of the harrow. Safe and undisturbed, it sprawls lazily in the sunshine, the picture of sleepy contentment. But it is paying a terrible price for its tranquility: Never does it see the miracle of growth … nor see the wonders of bursting seed. … Fruit it can never know because it is afraid of the plow and the harrow.

In direct opposite to this, the cultivated field has yielded itself to the adventure of living. The protecting fence has opened to admit the plow. Peace has been shattered by the shouting farmer and the rattle of machinery. The field has felt the travail of change; it has been upset, turned over, bruised and broken, but … the seed shoots up its miracle of life. All over the field the hand of God is at work in the … ever renewed service of creation. … Nature’s wonders follow the plow.

There are two kinds of lives also: The fallow and the plowed. . . .

The man of fallow life is contented with himself and the fruit he once bore. He does not want to be disturbed. … The spirit of adventure is dead within him. … To be has taken the place of to become. He has fenced himself in, and by the same act, he has fenced out God and the miracle.

The plowed life has, in repentance, thrown open the protecting fences and sent the plow of confession into the soul. … Such a life has put away defense, and has forsaken the safety of death to the peril of life. Discontent, yearning, contrition, courageous obedience to the will of God: these have bruised and broken the soil till it is ready again for the seed. … Fruit follows the plow … as God “rains down righteousness.”

Breaking out of inward living – Excurvatus Ex Se

There are many ways to break out of the cycle of inward living.  The more you “medicate”, the more inwardly you will turn thus requiring even more medication and a deeper turn inward upon self.

Medicate?  Scrolling through Instagram or Facebook.  Just cruising around the internet.  A few glasses of wine.  That need to just go buy something so you’ll feel better about yourself.  Indulging on Chipotle.  Chocolate.  Ice cream.  Shutting off from people, plugging in your ipod, opening up your laptop – listening and watching what will make you feel good.  Pornography.  Pure and simply, porn is simply medication.  Shopping for women.  A new car.  There 100s more forms of medication.  1000s.

The root of all of these is “self”.  It is sin.  You are hurting and your flesh cries out for comfort and after all, “you deserve it”.  So you dive in.  And as we discussed Wednesday, as that cycle feeds on itself, the man underneath curves inward upon himself.  He becomes domesticated.  Indoors.  Behind a screen.  Weak.  Physically weak.  Nothing strenuous.  Nothing to push him.  Just give me the meds.  Remember what Hugh Freeze said – life is going to beat you up and you’re going to want to run to the training room.  They have hot tubs and ice packs in there.  They’ll rub you down and tape you up and make you warm and you’re not going to want to get back out on that cold, rainy football field.  But you have to get back into the game.

Sadly for Americans, we’ve turned inwardly in our wealth and privilege and are consuming medication at the fastest pace in history.  It only serves to dig our holes deeper.  We’ve embraced this in the church.  We’ve adopted a Country Club Christianity where we come to church to get our needs met, to hear the kind of music we want to hear, to have our kids perfectly attended by volunteers (“someone else does that”) … we come to church to be served.  We don’t like the style of music so we walk in when the sermon starts.  Or we even leave the church because we miss those traditional Baptist hymns.  We run in, consume what is there, take communion and walk out the door before its over without having to engage in community.  We leave the church because our 10-year old isn’t happy with how kids church is going.  We’re letting our children make the family decision of where we will worship because their comfort and happiness is paramount.

It is the self-obsessed tendency we all have.  The “me, me, me” of life being there to meet all my needs.  The more we curve in on ourselves, the less prepared and equipped we’ll be for when the inevitable hard times come and isn’t that what we’re teaching our kids?  When life doesn’t go exactly “our way”, we won’t have mechanisms in place to deal with it.  As a result, we’ll make poor, me-centered decisions.

Incurvatus is our sin nature.  It must be fought.  You must be aware of it.

Because, it comes on subtly.  It takes root.  We lose our bearings.  We lose our worship of the Father.  We lose the passion of our early faith.  We settle.  We crave comfort.  In the radical transformation of your life when Jesus knocked you off your horse and said, “I’ve chosen you. Follow me” … in that … how have we now gotten to a place where our personal comfort is paramount?

What part of Jesus is “safe”?

He loves us, adores us, died for us and all He asked was “Do you love me?  Do you love me?  Then follow me.”  “Follow me” doesn’t mean a life that is safe nor one that is inwardly curved upon itself craving comfort.

Do you see what’s happening?  We are consuming and consuming and consuming and in so doing, we’re turning in on ourselves.  Listen to this challenge from Erwin McManus …

“If you are a follower of Christ and you have allowed yourself to be domesticated, you have lost the power of who you are and who God intends you to be.  You were not created to be normal.  God’s desire for you is not compliance and conformity.  You have been baptized by spirit and fire.”

“Asleep within you is a barbarian, a savage to all who love the prim and proper.  You must go to the primal place and enter the presence of the Most High God, for there you will be changed. Let Him unleash the untamed faith within you.”

“The original call of Jesus was so simple, so clean, so clear: “Follow me”.  He wants us to surrender our lives to Him and follow Him into the unknown.  If it means a life of suffering, hardship and disappointment, it will be worth it because following Jesus is more powerful and more fulfilling than gaining everything of the world without Him.”

“To claim we believe is simply not enough.  The call of Jesus is one that demands actions.  Jesus began his ministry with a simple invitation, “Come, follow me”.  His closing words to His disciples could be summarized in one word, “GO”.  The invitation of Jesus is a revolutionary call to fight for the heart of humanity.”

YOUR CALL IS ONE OUTSIDE OF SELF.  IF YOU ARE A BELIEVER, THEN AT SOME POINT IN YOUR LIFE, CHRIST CAME ALONG AND KNOCKED YOU OFF YOUR HORSE.  LAYING THERE, BROKEN, FACE DOWN IN THE DUST OF THE DESTRUCTION OF YOUR SIN, YOU WERE AWAKENED BY CHRIST.  “NOW GET UP” HE SHOUTS.  “WAKE UP!”  “I HAVE A DIVINE PURPOSE FOR YOU AND YOUR LIFE.  IT IS WAY BEYOND SELF.  IT’S WAY BEYOND COMFORT.  IT IS RADICAL.  FOLLOW ME”. 

Lastly, from Teddy Roosevelt.  Weak as a child and sickly, his father told him, “You’re smart but your body is weak.  A weak body will take a smart mind only so far”.  Teddy started weight training and exercising.  It served him well throughout life.  Later in life, he lost his wife and mother in one 24 hour period.  Crushed and despondent, he knew he had to zero back in and get healing in his life.  He gave his young daughter to his sister for her to care and he headed West…

Why did he go?  Why such a dramatic move?  The answer seems to be that Roosevelt needed to restore and rebuild and he knew only one way to do it: return to the strenuous and the difficult.  Perhaps those hours of lifting weights and balancing on horizontal bars had surfaced forces of soul he needed to summon once again.  Perhaps a return to the arduous physical life was the only way he knew to quell the turmoil of his heart.  Obviously, he needed space, wilderness, difficult tasks, and looming danger.  He knew this was the key to healing.  He had experienced this truth in his life before.

After arriving in the Dakotas, Roosevelt did not spend three years in a comfortable chair by the fire with a brandy in one hand and a book in the other.  Instead, he became the western hero of his dreams.  He herded cattle and broke bucking horses.  He stood down grizzlies and fought off desperados.  On one occasion, he tracked down thieves for three days across 300 miles in subzero temperatures.  Once he took the criminals captive, he then traveled another six days and 150 miles to surrender them to authorities.  And the wilderness healed him.  He tamed the wilderness around him by way of taming the wilderness of his own soul.  He grieved and got through it.  He lived in the moment, in the physical, and in intimate connection with nature.  It forced him from living entirely in his thoughts to living a rooted, earthy life in which thoughts come only after work is done.

All men need what Roosevelt found – a strenuous physical life, the possibility of harm, challenges to face, enemies to oppose, land to conquer.  Our lives push us away from this.  We work in cubicles or comfortable vehicles.  Technology serves us and keeps us from exertion.  We live in opulent blandness – overfed, over-tended, over-entertained, and overly preoccupied with ourselves.  But men need aggressive, physical lives.  They need contest and conquest, strain and struggle.  Otherwise, we lose ourselves to softness and effeminacy.  It is not much of a surprise that a New Testament world that is translated effeminate from the original Greek actually means “soft through luxury”.  It is a warning. 

Roosevelt reminds us we are not disembodied spirits.  We are souls sealed into bodies.  We need to work the machinery, be alive in both body and soul.  It will awaken the masculinity in us.  It will help us untangle our inner knots.  It will remind us we are men.   (from the book Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men)

 

Is this you?

Do you feel trapped?  Is your world a desktop PC, committee meetings and duty?  Is your world pre-fabricated, modular, non-fat, zip-locked, franchised, online and microwavable?  Does your heart long for adventure?  For wildness, danger and pushing boundaries?  Do you dream of a life without deadlines, cellphones or committee meetings?  Do you dream of a place where there is room for your soul?

Are you trapped?

Are you thinking – who am I?  What am I made of?  What am I destined for?

Eldredge says in Wild at Heart, “Deep in a man’s soul are some fundamental questions that simply cannot be answered at the kitchen table.  It is fear that keeps a man at home where things are neat and orderly and under his control.  But the answers to his deepest questions are not to be found on the television or in the refrigerator.

Your soul longs for passion, for freedom, for life.

As D.H. Lawrence said, “I am not a mechanism.”  A man needs to feel the rhythms of the earth; he needs to have a hand in something real – the tiller of a boat, a set of reins, the roughness of rope, or simply a shovel.  Can a man live all his days to keep his fingernails clean and trim?  Is that what boys dream of?

This is what is coming against us as men – “Some women want a passive man if they want a man at all.  The church wants a tamed man – they are called priests (or deacons or committee members).  Universities want a domesticated man – they are called tenure-tracked.  The corporation wants a sanitized, shallow, hairless man.”  It all comes together as a westward expansion against the masculine soul.  And thus the heart of a man is driven into the high-country, into remote places, like a wounded animal looking for cover.”

Men, you must ask yourself if this resonates with you in any way.  Does it?  Is something stirred within you?  There are about 175 men that follow this blog and frankly, most men don’t really follow it.  In a sense they are checked out and far more interested in espn.com.  Men in our midst at Christ Community are sleep-walking through life.  Marriages are under assault, pornography rages, our kids are in their rooms on their iPhones and we’re sitting on the sofa thinking about how we’re going to make it to Friday.

Manhood is under assault – especially in the church.

We’re going to go hard after this next Wednesday morning February 4th at 6am in our Wild at Heart study.  Everyone is welcome.  If you’ve never come to ManSchool and any of this tweaked something in you, stirred something, then perhaps God is calling you.  Wives have told me “My husband won’t come because he thinks the crowd is too old” – or – “I want my husband to come but you need to invite him and hold him accountable to coming”THIS is symptomatic of the THE reason we are doing Wild at Heart.

Men, the time for excuses is past.  There are dozens of reasons to not engage in ManSchool and we will assure you the enemy doesn’t want you joining us.  He likes you just where you are.  If you’re ready for something radical, if you’re ready for an awakening as a man of Christ, you really need to pray about committing to joining us and leaving the excuses on the couch.  We’re all in this together.  We’re all under assault but there is a brotherhood of men fighting together for each other on Wednesday mornings.

Will you join us?

“What do I do with this?” part II

“I’ve got to get this promotion…”
“If only I could…”
“If only she would…”
“Why can’t my child get out of this funk?”
“Why has my marriage grown so cold and distant?”

What do you do with this?  What do we do with desire?  Is it wrong or selfish or sinful to desire?  When we live with these unmet desires for a long time, they begin to take on a life of their own.  They begin to possess us.  We start to obsess over them.  We talk about them, strategize over them, take pills to fix them, engage counselors to work us through them…and they persist.

We exhaust ourselves trying to fix them, conquer them, make them go away.  And they persist.

We all have crosses to bear.  Why is that?  Why won’t God “bless me” and just take away this one stubborn, nagging thing that sticks in my side like a needle?  Is God holding out me?  What have I done wrong to miss this blessing?

Can you relate to this?

At dinner the other night, a brother essentially said to me, “You know I get all this John Eldredge, Men’s Fraternity, ManSchool stuff.  I get the “father-wound thing” and all that but I am never taught what I am to do with it.”  In other words, it persists.

So as we said in last night’s post, there are two usual paths we take with these desires – one, we dive into desire head-first.  Go “all in” and give ourselves over to the desire and things don’t go so well.  This is where addiction comes in.  The second choice is we just simply kill desire.  Kill it.  Stuff down any inkling of desire when we first feel it.  “Been burned once, not going there again.”  And we harden our hearts.  We harden our exterior.  We don’t allow anything in and we become a numb, Christian zombie walking about feeling nothing, able to give nothing.

These are the two extremes.  There is a middle and this is what we are to do with all of these things we’ve been talking about.  This is why the John Eldredge/ManSchool/Men’s Fraternity stuff doesn’t work for us…

What we need to do to make it work is simply —– invite God into this.

Invite Him into your most poignant struggle.  Stop obsessing over it.  Give it up to Him.  You see, if you do this on your own, here’s what you’ll do (back to the sex example) – there is no frequency so you begin talking about it with her.  You buy books.  You read everything you can get on the topic.  You go back some more to her with this “new knowledge you have” and the frequency falls off even more.  You talk to Keith about it.  You talk to your small group about it.  You start getting angry.  The frustration grows.  Nothing you are doing is working and, in fact, the more you think about it, the worse it gets.

And I believe God is lovingly saying, “Ummm…no kidding.  That didn’t work out too well for you?  Really?”. 

You see God gives us this freedom.  He gives us the freedom to choose the path we take and when we tell him, “Thanks God, give me the wheel, I’ve got this”, God will back off and let us drive off into the sunset of our own making.

Man takes this issue – be it sex in our marriage or money or saving my business or restoring a broken relationship with our Dad or our own child – and wrests control of it from God and goes down all these paths (books, blogs, talking to others, counseling, etc.) trying desperately to fix it.

And all along the way, God is there and He is waiting.  He awaits the return of the prodigal son.  He waits for the fool to come to his senses and see the wreck he has let his life become.  “You shall have no other gods before me…”

It is pretty darn clear.  No other gods before.  You… shall… have… no other gods before me.  So as I re-read this very familiar passage, I was struck by the finality of it.  I believe He is telling His Chosen that He will thwart their efforts to have other gods.  Yes, it is a commandment – no other gods – but I think it is deeper than that.  I think God is telling us…

1) you are going to turn from Me

2) you will chase other gods/idols

3) I will NOT let you have them

4) Something out there that you are trying to possess will become a cross you must bear

In other words, for all of us, we will not get all of our desires.  We will face short-falls and set backs.  God blesses us.  We have hard times.  We have hard times.  God blesses us.  Hard times.  Hard times.  Hard times.  Hard times.  Hard times.  God blesses us.  He blesses us again.  Hard times.  Hard times…

We desperately want God to take those hard times away and we just want the blessings.  When we’ve taken control of the wheel, invited God out of the car and driven off into our sunsets living our lives as we think we deserve to live, how can we expect God to bless that?

No, I think God allows each of us to have these crosses to bear for a reason.  He radically desires intimate relationship with you.  That’s it.  That’s the solution to why “all this John Eldredge stuff” doesn’t actually work.  That’s why your sex-life isn’t as fulfilling as you think you deserve.  That’s why God hasn’t blessed your business in the way you think you should be being blessed.  You haven’t invited God into these areas of your life.  Books…counseling…blogs…chasing deals…trying to hit homeruns…more counseling…more talking to your pastor/friends…

(Aside – I am not saying good Christian counseling is not helpful – it many cases, it is extremely effective.  Deep struggles, addictions, etc. need professional help and I endorse that but even in these, we must invite Jesus into these struggles)

We chase after all these “solutions” to get what we want but we never invite God into it.  You see, I cannot “fix” my wife anymore than she can fix me.  I cannot make our sex life ideal.  That may be something that always remains weak and sub-par.  I cannot “fix” my money problems.  If I make $80,000 a year and need to make $200,000 to have the life we need, I just can’t magically fix that.

What I can do is invite God into these areas.

I can give up control of this cross I carry and hand it to Him.  What He desires is intimacy with you.  An “Abba Father” type relationship.  “You matter God.  Sex doesn’t.  Money doesn’t.  Power doesn’t.  Respect doesn’t.  A healed relationship with my Dad doesn’t.  You matter Jesus.  I want you Lord Jesus.  I trust You.  You know what is best for me.  I invite you into this struggle I am having.  I am through trying to solve it myself.  I’m tired of reading about it, talking about, worrying about it.  I trust you Lord Jesus.  You take the wheel.  I need you to lead me.  I desire a daily walk with you.  I want conversational intimacy with you in all things but especially with ______.  When the thoughts come to mind Lord, I am going to be asking you what to do with them.  I release ________ to you.  It’s yours.  I cannot fix it.  I can’t solve it.  I cannot heal it.  Come Lord Jesus, come.  Show me your plan, your path, your direction for my life.  I need you right here, right now.”

That’s it men.  Stop trying to fix life.  Invite Jesus into your most intimate struggles.  Give it over to Him and I believe when you do, you will begin to see a radical shift in your thinking about this “must have” thing that’s out there.

LiveUP!

“What do I do with this?” part 1

That deep, unmet longing you have.  That desire.   What do you do with it?

It may be a job you’ve always dreamed of – or – a wife – or – just someone to truly love you – or – financial freedom – or – a great relationship with our Dad.  We all have “something”.  There is this “something” out there that just seems to be out of reach.  No matter how hard we try, it remains illusive.

why is this?  Is God holding out on us?

dangerous thinking.

For many men — just to be totally open with you — it is sex.  The desire for a deep, fulfilling sex-life with our wives.  For her to want this as much as we do.  And, by the way, the desire ultimately isn’t about the sex.  No, the desire is for intimacy.  There is that word again…desire.

But what if that is illusive?  What if she just doesn’t have the desire?  She’s too tired, frustrated with the kids or just isn’t interested.  This persists for quite some time.  You talk about it.  She says she’ll pay more attention.  But nothing changes and the frequency falls off even more.

What on earth is a man to do with this?

What typically happens is one of two things but before those emerge, hostility grows.  Resentment.  Bitterness.  Isolation.  Heartache.  And the more we focus on it, the larger the issue becomes.  We start to focus on “it” – be it money or sex or position or that job or that car – and we begin to believe “My life would be complete if only I could have _____”

Have you ever felt this way?  Is there something right now, this very second that comes to mind that is this “it” for you?  The thing that steals your attention.  The thing you seem to obsess over?  The thing that no matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to shake it?

We all have a cross to bear.

So what do we typically do with this cross?  One of two things.  One, we dive head-first into it.  We give ourselves over to the desire.  We pursue the desire with reckless abandon and it leads to addiction and damage.  Follow me on the sex thing – so it isn’t happening.  We talk about it.  I buy books on the subject.  I read blogs.  I start to focus on it.  The more I dig, the more apparent it is that she isn’t going to come around.  The more I dig, the more I crave it.  The more I crave it, the less it happens.  It feeds on itself.  This desire becomes a monster that grabs all my attention.  I begin to shift from wanting this or desiring this to believing “I have to have it”.  And very easily, we turn to porn or another woman…“If I can’t get intimacy with my wife, I’ll get it on my own.”  And then the real problems set in.

It reminds us of Adam & Eve – there was this one thing they couldn’t get that they came to believe they “had” to have and so they took matters into their own hands.  We know what happened.

So option one is, we dive into it.  Option two is, we deny desire.  We shut it off.  At the first hint of a desire for something, we slap it down as “self” taking control and we do everything we can to kill desire…“To be truly Christ-like, I must kill all desire”.  Ummm…no, that isn’t the idea.  If we follow this path, we’ll harden our heart.  If I decide in my marriage to kill all my desire for sex, I will shut down all intimacy completely.  We’ll become roommates instead of husband/wife.  Any twinge of desire I feel for her and I’ll slap my own hand away and say, “No, desire is wrong and selfish, I shouldn’t have these feelings” and so I will harden my exterior and put up walls lest I be tempted to desire for her.  What kind of marriage would that path produce? I shudder to think.

Change the topic on this to dreaming and success.  If I dive into it no matter the cost, I will lose myself in the pursuit.  Success will become my only reason for living.  The world will suck all of me away as I chase success.  I might get it but what else will I lose in the addiction to success?  Conversely, if I shut down my dreams and my drive…what becomes of me?  If I live my life killing off all my dreams, creativity and all my desires for success…what then?  What kind of person results from that?  Is that really why God put this desire in me so that I can kill it off?  Did he create me with this desire and creativity and ability to innovate just so I could kill it off?

No, listen, desire is good.  I believe God gave us these desires for a reason.  My physical desire for my wife is good.  It is good!  God gave me a sex drive for a reason.  He gave Eve to Adam for a reason.  Intimacy, a help-mate, a companion, someone to tend to the garden alongside him.  What is this a picture of?  This intimate relationship model that is marriage?  It is a picture of the kind of relationship God wants with you.  He radically desires (there is that word again) intimacy with you.

So the answer isn’t in diving head-first into desire and making desire your “God”.  Nor is the answer to kill off desire as some evil sin.  The answer is in the middle.  Stay tuned for the next post.

LiveUP!