What is the most courageous thing you’ve ever done as a man?
When I ask this question your mind most likely is drawn movies like Taken, where Liam Neeson single-handedly tracks down his daughter’s abductors and rescues her, or the movie Gladiator, where Maximus takes on the evil Commodus to avenge his family’s death, or William Wallace in the movie Braveheart, where William Wallace gives his life for freeeedddddooooooommmmmmmm. Hollywood has a plethora of those examples of courage for us to live up to. But what if those stories portray a very narrow version of what it means to have courage? In his book Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood Dennis Rainey says that a majority of men don’t feel that they have ever done anything courageous. His submission is that there needs to be a re-defining of what courage actually is.
How would you define courage? "Real courage is doing your duty under fire. And we all face situations throughout our lives that require that type of courage. Valor at home, protecting our wives and children. Moral courage in the marketplace. Becoming the men God created us to be, despite whatever pressures we face in the world." – Dennis Rainey
Most of us (probably 99.9%) will never have to chase bad guys across the country in order to rescue someone we love. And yet in our lives every day we face choices that require us to step up, man up, engage and lead out with courage.
Here are three areas where I believe as men we are called to have the courage to engage and lead out:
1) In Our Families
Just look at these statistics (from ManInTheMirror.org):
- There are roughly 113 million men in America 15 years of age and older.
- 69 million of these men make no profession of faith in Christ.
- Only 6 million men are involved in discipleship or spiritual formation — 1 in 18 men. Imagine putting a football team on the field, and only one player had studied the playbook.
- As many as 70% of men seek out pornography.
- As many Christians will divorce as non-Christians.
- 40% to 50% of recent marriages will end in divorce.
- 4 out of 5 students in evangelical churches will drop out of church by their senior year in high school.
- We are becoming a fatherless nation. 33% of the 72 million children in America will go to bed tonight without their biological father in the home.
- In 1960, 91% of households with children under 18 were headed by married couples. Today, only 73% of households have both parents. That's 27% households headed by single parents!
- 93% of all people incarcerated are men, and 85% of them have no father figure. Prison worker Bill Glass says that of the thousands of prisoners he has met in 25 years of service, not one of them genuinely loved their dad.
- 50% of children from broken homes have not seen their father in over a year.
These statistics are staggering. However, they should paint an honest and sobering picture of the potential hazards of being a disengaged, uninvolved, self-absorbed, and isolated man. It takes courage to become a disciple of Christ and to ask someone to lead you spiritually. It takes equally as much if not more courage to ask someone if you can disciple them in the ways of Jesus. It takes courage to proactively invest in our wives and children, leading them the way we’ve been called to lead. To die to ourselves daily for their good (see Ephesians 5:25-6:4). It takes courage to allow others into our lives in order to help us be better husbands and fathers.
In 2 Samuel chapter 11 we read about Kind David, a man after God’s own heart, and how he lazily decided to stay home from battle rather than lead his men to war as was his responsibility. As the story goes, David, bored with plenty of time on his hands, sees a beautiful woman bathing from his rooftop and decides he needs to have her. So he summons her, sleeps with her, gets her pregnant, tries to cover it up, and has her husband -- one of the very enlisted men he was in charge of leading into battle in protection of their people -- murdered in order to cover over his sin. Few men have failed as utterly as David does here. No courage in sight.
But what I love about this story comes in chapter 12 when the prophet Nathan rebukes David through a parable.
The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him. “Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.” David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.” Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12: 1-7)
I love the way God uses Nathan to lovingly yet boldly and courageously speak truth into David’s life. If you continue to read that story you will discover David’s courage as well as he honestly looks his sin in the face, humbles himself before God, and repents. Courage comes in quite a number of forms!.
I’ve been so fortunate to have men in my life like Nathan who had the courage to speak truth into my life when I needed it. However, it has come at a cost. It has taken courage and intentionality to foster those types of relationships. It has taken me being willing to open my life up for other men to speak into it. It has also taken courage for me to speak into their lives when the time comes.
2) In Our Work
The American Dream says that we should climb the corporate ladder of success as highly as possible, as fast as possible, to make as much money as possible, to have the nicest cars as possible, to live in the biggest home as possible, and consequently be as happy as possible. Cognitively we may know that this does not truly fulfill us. Yet the temptation is present all the time. Every day we get up and go to work we have opportunities to challenge this false promise of success. As our incomes increase we have opportunities to either purchase more stuff or to grow in gracious generosity. We have opportunities to get ahead by being dishonest or to have character in our decision making and let the chips fall where they may. An article from Forbes magazine says this:
We live in a world where integrity isn’t talked about nearly enough. We live in a world where ‘the end justifies the means’ has become an acceptable school of thought for far too many. Sales people overpromise and under deliver, all in the name of making their quota for the month. Applicants exaggerate in job interviews because they desperately need a job. CEOs overstate their projected earnings because they don’t want the board of directors to replace them. Entrepreneurs overstate their pro formas because they want the highest valuation possible from an investor. Investors understate a company’s value in order to negotiate a lower valuation in a deal. Customer service representatives cover up a mistake they made because they are afraid the client will leave them. Employees call in ‘sick’ because they don’t have any more paid time off when they actually just need to get their Christmas shopping done. The list could go on and on, and in each case the person committing the act of dishonesty told themselves they had a perfectly valid reason why the end result justified their lack of integrity. ("Success Will Come and Go But Integrity is Forever," Amy Anderson)
Every day we are faced with opportunities in our work to step up, have courage, and lead out of integrity and honesty!
3) In Our Relationships
At our recent men’s campout (aka ManCamp 3.0) Nathan Lenz shared about the importance of men having deep relationships with one another and challenged each of us to pursue those kinds of relationships. Why is this important? New research is coming out that has shown that one of the single biggest health risks to middle-aged men in our society is loneliness. 95% of men say that they don’t have deep male friends. It's not much better within the church where less than 1/3 of men say that they have a close friend.
Look at what this article from The Boston Globe says:
When people with children become overscheduled, they don’t shortchange their children, they shortchange their friendships. ‘And the public health dangers of that are incredibly clear,’ he says. Beginning in the 1980s, Schwartz says, study after study started showing that those who were more socially isolated were much more likely to die during a given period than their socially connected neighbors, even after you corrected for age, gender, and lifestyle choices like exercising and eating right. Loneliness has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke and the progression of Alzheimer’s. One study found that it can be as much of a long-term risk factor as smoking. The research doesn’t get any rosier from there. In 2015, a huge study out of Brigham Young University, using data from 3.5 million people collected over 35 years, found that those who fall into the categories of loneliness, isolation, or even simply living on their own see their risk of premature death rise 26 to 32 percent. Now consider that in the United States, nearly a third of people older than 65 live alone; by age 85, that has jumped to about half. Add all of this up, and you can see why the surgeon general is declaring loneliness to be a public health epidemic. ("The Biggest Threat Facing Middle-Age Men isn't Smoking or Obesity. It's Lonliness," Billy Baker)
John Ortberg in his book Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them says this: "No matter how little money we have, no matter what rung we occupy on anybody’s corporate ladder of success, in the end what everybody discovers is that what matters is other people. Human beings who give themselves to relational greatness—who have friends they laugh with, cry with, learn with, fight with, dance with, live and love and grow old and die with—these are the human beings who lead magnificent lives.” No wonder the author of Hebrews gives this strong encouragement in 10:24-25: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Some of the greatest memories of my life have been when I’ve had a band of brothers to walk through life with. Men who have spoken words of wisdom and grace to me, men who have rebuked me and challenged my thinking, men who have cast vision for who I could become and inspired me to live greater then who I already was. The call to lead out courageously is not an easy one. We will fail, we will need help. Who better to come along side us then a community of Christ followers -- a community of men who are in need of the exact same thing? If this is something you want to know more about I would encourage you to reach out to a current LIFE group leader, New Hope Elder, or staff member, myself, or any other men in your life who you see living this out. Don’t wait! Have courage!