A Few Good Men

One of the key things about understanding the Genesis Man is that we are tasked with living out, and living in specific relationship Roles.  We may be husbands, fathers and Mentors, but also important is our roles as friends.  I would argue that just as boys need the influence of men to grow and be healthy, men need other men in their lives.  We need real friends that influence us on deep, personal levels.  God has commissioned each of us to speak into, and build onto the lives of other men.

In the last 12 months, other than my father, there are three men who have had a significant impact in my life; Gerald, James and Richard.  During the last 12 months, I have gone through the season of sickness and death of my older sister, crossing my own personal Rubicon of ministry, life and the future.  I have to admit that it was a time that I couldn’t see God, but clung desperately to His hand in the darkness.

When I sat back to reflected on this, Gerald -a friend and minister at my church (Abundant Life Gospel Centre), came to mind.  What I remember the most was that he embraced me as a son at a specific moment in time when I needed that physical contact.   I didn’t need a hi-five, fist bump or encouraging word, I needed an embrace.  Even as adult men, there are times when we feel alone and isolated by life circumstances and emotions, and we need the comfort of a trusted male figure.   Even without his knowing, it left a lasting impact on me.  (It is also comforting to know that he constantly lifts me up in prayer, and thinks highly of me.)  When we as men allow God to influence our actions and choices, it is simply amazing the kind of influence we can have on one another.

James has always been a kindred spirit, and perhaps is the most relatable male in my life.   We talk movies, comics and strange scientific theories.  There was a specific moment when I needed a presence in my life and he was there.   I was at the altar praying, shell-shocked by the deteriorating future of my sister’s existence.   I asked God for his comfort, but secretly wanted more than a spiritual experience.   (Sometimes Christians have a way of making everything super spiritual…)   So, I told Him that He didn’t have to send someone to pray with me because I had faith, and He was enough… but if He did send someone…  Well before I knew it James appeared out of nowhere behind me.   I don’t know what he said to God on my behalf, but a greater presence was never more needed.  Being there for someone has more of an impact than we can ever realize, but it’s hard to know when you actually need to be there…  Therefore, we should avoid the dangers of social hibernation and spend time with each other.

Richard has been a high school buddy since forever.  He has been the longest and sole surviving relationship from that part of my personal history.   Occasionally we get together and talk… I mean, really talk.   Even though he lives a distance away we keep the physical connection when we can.  We break bread, watch the odd movie and provide a nostalgic link to a life that once was…  (when he had better knees, and I didn’t have to take my glasses off to see my cellphone…)    We’ve always talked and hung, and I’m pretty sure that I could admit things to him that I couldn’t to anyone else.

After my sister’s funeral, we met for dinner.   In my maze of confusion and alien emotions (I didn’t even know what grieving was), he truly was a lifebuoy.    When I didn’t know whether God would make life go “back to normal”, or if he was transforming me somehow… without a shadow of doubt he knew it was the latter.   (That truth is still being unpacked even right now.)   We need friends who can see things clearly, especially when our own vision is impaired by the blows and jabs of everyday existence, and unprecedented experiences.

What am I saying?   We need a few good men in our lives, even if we have wives or girlfriends.

The image of a Greek phalanx formation has always struck me as the way we should live our lives as men.  This army advanced in lines of soldiers with shield in left hand and spears in right.   Your shield protected the man on the left, and the guy on the right protected you with his.   Together they were a successful victorious fighting force the ancient world had never seen.  I use this analogy only to show the inter-dependency and strength of men when they move together and support one another.  When we are alone (if you would allow me another analogy) we are sitting ducks, in danger from sniper attacks…  How many of your friends struggle with addictions and the constant threat of family implosion due to the pressures they face?  God never meant  for us to go it alone.

I encourage you to find and rely on a few good men.  They are out there.  We are out there.  Whatever you may be facing -good, bad or ugly- have the courage seek out and accept support.  Open avenues of communication and make a positive impact in someone’s life.

 

Israel

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Let Sleeping Giants Lie..

There’s a movie I watched -admittedly much to my embarrassment- about a man who experienced the late onset of puberty due to a medical condition.   One of the most disturbing things about the film was that it highlighted the self-obsessive, self-gratifying, self-debasing nature of uncontrolled sexuality of the teenage male.  Maybe the movie was intended to be satire, nevertheless, it was a pitiful depiction of reality.

Sexuality may be the most potent force in the life of a male.

Jerry Seinfeld, in one particular memorable episode of Seinfeld made a comment something to this effect: “A man will watch a movie no matter how pointless, if there is a slight chance of frontal nudity.”   We laugh at this line because it’s funny, but deep inside we know it’s true.

Your sex drive is called a drive because, well…it drives many aspects of our lives – maybe even every aspect.   For some it resembles a 2.2 Litre Chevy fourbanger, and others a Tuatara 6.9 Litre V8 Twin Turbo -they both drive…   As a matter of fact, you may have driven your life, integrity, reputation and precious family relationships right over a cliff into a spectacular fiery carnage of infidelity, pornography and broken commitments.  (Or maybe you’re in the process of doing that…)

Sexuality, in spite of being an amazing, wonderful gift from God, is a giant that can cause wreckage and havoc in our lives and those around us.

In high school, I experienced a growing sexual awareness.   I wanted to have a girlfriend, but felt quite a bit of frustration because things just never worked out.   (In retrospect, that was a great blessing.)  I was well liked and popular, but nevertheless with my shyness and the self-consciousness of my –what I thought at the time– big ears…  (which I now think are perfect), I just never really had the confidence to commit to the single-minded pursuit of a relationship.

In today’s setting teen relationships and sexual exploration are encouraged, supported and accepted.   More young men desire to wake the “sleeping giant”.   Why such a rush?  Do high school aged young men need to have girlfriends?  Do they need to be in relationships?

In a Discussion Club of high school males, we tackled that very question.   Surprisingly, in their minds, having a girlfriend equated to having experience with females.   They rationalized that if they didn’t have those intimate relationships, how would they ever know how to understand and relate to women and grow from the hurt and loss that may occur?

It seemed that having girlfriends (to them) were noble, necessary life lessons.   Personally, I suspect it had to do more with the unrestrained, sexuality of the hormonal teen aged impulses, cranked up in a fallen, lustful world.

It’s interesting though, on one hand, those young men all agreed how easily girls could be a distraction, (some boys have torched whole semesters…) yet somehow, they felt they should be able to handle relationships…

Well… intimate relationships lead to intimacy.   It all leads to sex, eventually.   (What’s the point of just holding hands or kissing?)  I supposed it doesn’t matter -if you believe that premarital sex is fine…  But, if you don’t believe it is, why not avoid the temptations?   Why poke the bear of your sexual drive?

A close Christian friend told me that he lost his virginity in high school.  One of the most painful things he had to do was tell his fiancé (now wife) that she wasn’t his first time.   (Can you imagine that conversation?)

Young men sometimes view women as objects of sexual conquest, and the mindset is to “take” so that “I feel good…”  It’s all about personal gratification.

I want my three daughters to know that a man is supposed to add value to a woman’s life.  (It’s the kind of value that comes with maturity and spiritual depth.)  It’s not about taking, but giving.  Married men take a large chunk of their early marriage life learning about sacrifice and unselfishness (with their wives being in the safety of a committed matrimonial relationship).  Those lessons are  intensified ten fold with the introduction of children.  We (present company included) learn that sex is more than sex, but part of intimacy and relationship and commitment.

What kind of value can a grade 9, 10, 11 or 12 add to young woman?  Listen, if I were running things, I’d ban guys from dating… at least until their 2nd year university.  (Can you imagine how many young men would then pursue post-secondary agendas?)

Young men, your sexuality, your sex drive will be there your whole life, wouldn’t it be better to wait on God’s timing before you wake that giant?  As a matter of fact, you must put him (that giant) under the influence and guidance of a really big God.  We’re lying to ourselves (big time) if we actually believe that we can handle things in our own strength.  (Ask King David about that…)

What’s my  counsel?  Don’t pursue intimate relationships, avoid pornography like the plague, and (for the love of Pete), figure out who you are before you even think of joining yourself to someone else.

One more thing…

My strong recommendation is a pre-teen program which fathers and close male mentors can participate in together, called “Passport to Puberty.”  (By Family Life Today -check out the link… Passport to Puberty)   This powerful resource can help your preteen boy (if I can continue with the metaphor) to scope out the giant before he awakes.

Thanks for reading, and as always, feel free to comment.   (It would be nice to know if anyone is out there.)   We share the same struggles and walk a common road.  I encourage you to share your thoughts and experience with someone else.  Start a conversation, you would be surprised how valuable that may be to another person.

Israel

Whose Your Daddy?

As a man,  your greatest testimony is probably not so much what your neighbor,  work colleague,  or church brethren surmise.   I believe it lies in what your family concludes about you as a father or a husband.   That’s where the ‘rubber hits the road’ for compassion,  grace,  and spiritual consistency.  This is where at your weakest, the strength of the Saviour must shine through.

It’s not to say that we are to required to be perfect humans,  but family life is an opportunity for the Lord to make up the slack, and our character shortfalls.   We should reiterate -like the bridge in the song “Lead Me” by Sanctus Real…  “Father, lead me with strong hands so I can lead them…”   (Check out this link to a real man song!)   Sanctus Real “Lead Me”

My mind always goes back to step-father Joseph.   Can you imagine how his son (Jesus) felt,  knowing that His  dad stood by His mother (when any self-respecting Jewish man would have bailed from that relationship -with far less soul searching)?  He chose to listen to God,  and loved Mary as his own flesh.   Joseph was kind,  compassionate and not a jerk.

He was also an individual of sexual integrity.   In Matthew 1:25, the Bible tells us that he did not consummate their marriage till after Jesus was born.  His desires did not flounder in the swamp of selfishness,  which as men we’ve all struggled to free ourselves – present company included.   He chose first Mary’s physiological and psychological well being and deeply respected God’s mysterious will.  Men,  we could take a page from Joseph’s book.

This New Year,  even though our children may not be members of the Trinity,  and our wives’ names don’t rhyme with “airy”,  let’s strive to live a testimony to the people whom we can most effectively influence to create a lasting, positive legacy.  Let’s be the kind of Daddy and Husband God wants us to be!

Happy New year,  and may you abide in redemptive peace and spiritual prosperity.

Rubicon

The Rubicon was the name of a little stream with huge significance.   It marked the border between the will the General Julius Caesar and that of the Roman Empire.   Rome had recalled Caesar from his military conquest to come back to Rome without his army.   It didn’t take much for the power hungry general to convince his adoring army to come with him back to Rome to defend his honour.  With the crossing of the Rubicon Caesar joined the notorious group of generals who turned the Roman army against Rome.  Therefore, the Rubicon has become a historical boundary that signified “the point of no return.”   Once Caesar and his army went past that little stream, his imperialistic intentions were crystal clear.

There are times when we all approach our Rubicons and we are forced to make a decision whether or not to cross…   But what happens when the Rubicon comes to you when you’re standing still?   The death of my sister from cancer (earlier this year) was my own personal Rubicon.  It came to me, and I was forced to cross.

A lot of my life systems came “off line”, and to a grinding stop.   Family routine, work life and ministry function all became collateral damage of this personally unprecedented event.   When time started moving again family routine commenced – my kid’s lives needed to get back to normal.   I returned back to work after some time off – I needed my income.   However, ministry function seemed to fizzle like sails without a whisper of wind.

However in reality, although things seemed to be slowly getting “back to normal”, there was nothing normal about it.   I felt impatient with my family, unmotivated at work, and still ministry appeared shell shocked.

So, what is a man to do when he faces life shaking events?  I thought that perhaps I needed someone to talk with…

Before deciding to see a professional counselor, I was surprised at how my own cultural, male and spiritual biases pushed back at me.  As someone from a Caribbean background, how could I talk “my business” to a complete stranger and further more pay a decent amount of money to do it!?  (When the counselor asked, “What brought me here?”  I felt like saying, “Not my health coverage!”) 

Spiritually, I wrestled with the (mistaken) notion; Aren’t you suppose to “pray it through”?  Isn’t it just supposed to be between you and God?   As a man, how could I possibly be so vulnerable and “share my feelings”?  Isn’t that so… weak?  Shouldn’t I already have it figured out?  Regardless, I ignored those questions because, well…mental health is…health.  Besides, how could I be the man God wants me to be if I wasn’t firing on all cylinders?

So, a man has got to do what a man has got to do…

Amidst the push back from my own cultural, spiritual, and male biases…  I did see a counselor a few times.  Do you know what?  I’ve not regretted it.  Proverbs 11:14 says, “in a multitude of counselors there is safety”, and that reality has never been more true to me as it is now.

Sexual Integrity

Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only (Christian) guy to have struggled with lust, and the only guy (even now) that needs to be careful of what is consumed (lest it leads to places of failure).

 

Of all the men and young men I’ve talked and mentored; only one has ever actually flat out admitted that he struggled with pornography.  (I’m reasonably certain he’s not the only one…)  When I was  younger and and attended University, it was a continual challenge to avoid watching stuff that was lustful and contained nudity.  Yet, today young men and men (Christians) put on a façade as if those struggles don’t really exist.

 

Maybe in our collective minds men (in our modern context) have redefined pornography to include only that which is “XXX” rated, but “soft porn” (a classification that’s highly deceptive), and general nudity is acceptable…  Also, maybe that part of our lives (our hidden habits) are too taboo… too shameful…   It’s just too uncomfortable to let someone else know what really goes on behind our scenes…

But take comfort!  The Bible doesn’t seem to shy away from sexual issues.  Actually there are some rather explicit scriptures that are definitely not read Sunday mornings, and are liable to make the most seasoned congregation blush!  Take for example Genesis 38.  It narrates a series bizarre circumstances of sexual exploits, but that nevertheless highlights important lessons on sexual integrity.

Genesis 38 starts out with the main character Judah (one of the 12 sons of Israel) departing from his familiar environment, and then initiates a sexual relationship with a foreign woman.  (I really have to wonder if he married for sex, because almost in the same sentence it says that he got married and had sex.  Read chapter 38 verse 2 and see if you get the same feel.)

Anyway, his wife conceives three times and Judah then has three sons.  In a somewhat “Klingon-like” fashion, the Bible states that ‘son number one’ was wicked “so the Lord put him to death.”  (NIV)  So now Tamar, the wife that Judah had selected for his first son, suddenly became a widow.

The custom at that time was to keep the family in the family, therefore a male sibling was encouraged to marry his brother’s widow.  However, the second son died also (at the hand of the Lord) because…well… he preferred to just have sex, rather than to be fully committed in the process of family responsibility and continuity.  (Read chp 38:9-10 for more clarity.)  He was selfish.  He felt that any child he would have had with Tamar would not be his, therefore he took the necessary steps to make sure she would not get pregnant…

 

[Sidebar: Guys… sexual integrity matters outside and inside marriage.  God was clearly displeased with son number two and punished him with death.  God does not approve of selfishness, sexual integrity matters.]

 

Fast forward… Judah’s wife eventually dies.  Tamar is still a widow (her biological clock, by the way, is still ticking…)  Son number three is still available.

 

I think that what happens next in the narrative highlights this lesson; The lack of sexual restraint leads to complicated problems.

Judah goes to “Young Street” and solicits sex with a prostitute or a “harlot” -that’s the term mentioned in the Bible.   It is interesting to observe the anonymity surrounding sexual dysfunction.    I’m not sure if all prostitutes wore veils, but this one did.  Judah didn’t care what she looked like, he was willing to buy sex, and she was willing to gain from it.  As a matter of fact his friend (Aullimite) acts kind of like a “john” because Judah sends him (after it was all over) to go and make payment.

Now I’m not sure what the time frame was between his wife’s death and his marketplace sexual encounter.  Perhaps Judah’s mental state may have been saturated in loss and grief, and we know that poor sexual choices are definitely made in periods of emotional confusion and vulnerability.  However, the “payment” is always worth more than the experience.  Specifically, in this context, the Bible said that she wanted Judah’s “signet and chord and staff”, which were essential elements of his familial and social identity.

 

By the way, (surprise, surprise) it turns out the “harlot” was his daughter-in-law Tamar.   Yes.  Judah had sexual relationships with his sons’ wife.  (Yuck!)

Let’s pause at this cliff hanger…

Joseph… A Mid-wife?

I was reflecting and thinking about Joseph from the New Testament.  By the way he was a wonderful step-father and a committed man of God who was filled with integrity.

So the story goes that Mary and Joseph couldn’t even get a room, and they ended up camping out in a stable or cave, or something like that.

Now the Bible doesn’t specifically say this, but I have to believe that Joseph helped in the delivery of his step-son Jesus.  Joseph was perhaps the New Testament’s first male mid-wife!  (That kind of involvement in family life for a man in that culture and that time period would have been unheard of.)

I know that the Bible doesn’t say it specifically, but it also didn’t say that some other midwife, or female help in this delivery.  Could Mary have done it all by herself?  That is unlikely.  I was present at the birth of all 4 of my children, and even though my wife is amazing she (like any other woman) needed an extra hand in delivering our children.  (A hand…and maybe some oxytocin…)

 

When you think about it, if Joseph was a participant in this delivery, it speaks to something incredible in regards to the role of men in their families that goes beyond provider and protector.   It reflects on men being present for any aspect of family life.  (No matter if it’s perceived as “feminine” or “women’s work”.)  I think we can accept the importance of men taking on more responsibility in the home.

 

I was considering how Joseph could embody our identity as modern men in this generation.  Men of this generation (from what I’ve seen) partner with our spouses in taking care of the home and the children.  We do so in a way that has been in stark contrast with our predecessors from the 1950’s and even the 1960’s.  (So ladies, cut us some slack…sometimes!)

 

So whatever, and however God desires us to participate in, and partner with our spouses in our home and families, as men we need to do it as the will of God.  It may be delivering a child (hopefully not) or making their lunches.  We are a new kind of men in today’s society, today’s generation.

(If you’re not married, take notes.)

One more thing, Joseph was a man of sexual integrity, and I deeply admire that about him.   He never touched Mary (sexually – till after the birth of Jesus), and it was not because he was commanded not to, but he put his own desires behind the well being of his wife and God’s plan.  (Men, we won’t die if we don’t have sex.)

Speaking of sexual integrity, next time I want to talk about what the Bible says about sexual integrity through scriptures you have never heard read on Sunday morning…  Trust me, I’m telling you the truth.  (Try Genesis 38 for size…)

Would all the good men please stand up…

I was speaking to a single mom not too long ago, and she spoke rather candidly about the frustration she was experiencing with the father of her son.  (And rightly so, since he was failing on many fronts…)

She was also somewhat deflated by short fallings of the numerous (it seems) poor fathering examples (of men) found in the Bible.

David, Noah, Lot, Jacob, and Abraham (who also made some poor choices), and the list goes on…    From favouritism to infidelity and in some cases incest (yuck),  I agree some of the examples are quite hard to read.  (Should I even begin to mention others biblical characters who were less than stellar husbands?)   However, interestingly enough, still God had some positive things to say about some of those very same men.

I can understand how this could leave some women scratching their heads… (even when trying to make sense of these behaviours in the light of cultural and social historical norms)

So here’s the sacrilegious question, was God being sexist?  Does God care about proper fathering?

 

Here are my thoughts, and they are just my thoughts…

First of all, because God chose to highlight these men, (with bad rap sheets – from our vantage point) it doesn’t mean that other good fathers and husbands didn’t exist.   It doesn’t mean that they were a representational cross-section of all males from those time periods.   The Bible is not a survey.  These men don’t necessarily represent a cultural “riding” or some kind of social ratio.

So why did God chose some of these men (for example David -a man after God’s own heart, committed adultery; Noah “walked with God” yet was guilty of alcohol induced incest)?

Why?  That’s a good question.

Here’s a consideration, perhaps the overwhelming currency in the Bible is that of redemption and restoration,  and with in the best of all of us (male or female) is the very worst of us…  but God makes the difference.

 

In any case, men, you may have made a spectacular train wreck of your lives, leaving the carnage of damaged people and emotions (really, that’s not good), but God is good.

I’m always optimistic that whatever has happened in our lives, (yes, consequences will be faced) God can redeem and restore us,  and will say positive things about us.

One comedian said; It’s unfair that women call all men dogs… After all, dogs are so loyal…

 

God can help us aspire to live out and live in the qualities of true masculinity, and true manhood found in the Genesis Man.

 

One more thing men…November is “Movember”!  Be proud, grow out those mustaches and let’s bring awareness to the issue of Prostrate Cancer.