Keeping It Real

How would you define a Real Man?

Steve Rushin, penned an article in Sport’s Illustrated a few weeks back, no doubt in response to the actions of Ray Rice and the NFL’s response.  The short article tucked away on the back page, a parting word to the millions of men who flipped through the pages, asks a question in response to President Obama’s commentary on the Rice situation.  He was quoted as saying: “Hitting a woman is not something a real man does.”  Rushin looking for clarity, asks the question: “What, then, does a real man do?”

This question is near and dear to my heart.  It is what this blog was created for, what I love thinking about, and what I hope to become.

From Hemmingway’s four steps to manhood (plant a tree, fight a bull, father a son, and write a book) to Ruyard Kipling’s poetry checklist (“if you keep your head when all around you are losing theirs”) to Justin Bieber’s tweet “Hockey’s a real man’s sport”, everyone with a “y” chromosome has the right to chime in, but not everyone has the experience.

Rushin ends his article with his opinion of what a Real Man by quoting Vince Lombardi.  In summary, the real man has character, “in sacrifice, in self-denial, in love and in loyalty, in fearlessness and in humility, in the pursuit of excellence and the perfectly disciplined will.”

In a world that celebrates the size of truck tires, the number of women by your side, the fake testicles that grace pick-up trucks across our fair county, and the 0’s on your paycheck, as statistics on your “man card”, the opinions of what constitutes a real man has never been louder or clearer from the world.  Rushin points out:

You shall know him by his knuck crushing handshake.  The Real man and the caveman have become happily synonymous–giving birth to that 21st-century necessity, the man cave–with one difference.  The caveman evolved.

Cavemen and current man…two peas in a pod.  Im not sure that I am a cynical as Rushin, but I myself can fall into the category of cavemen at times.  Character is Rushins answer to being a real man, which I don’t deny, however, I would argue for another “c” word.

Connection.  A Real Man is connected to his God, connected to his wife (if he has one), his kids (if he has them), and others.  No matter the effort a man puts into his character, it is a far cry from the God that he needs connected too and the life that God gives.  Our character is based in his character.  Real men connect with their wives, kids, families, friends, and others in real ways.  Men in today’s culture are known for shallow relationships across the board.  Real Men connect on a deeper level with those around them.

I applaud Rushin for his article and for him bringing the idea to a men’s magazine and I hope that more Real Men will connect in the way that this world needs.

Moses’ Armpits

“Excuses are like armpits…everybody’s gott’em and they all stink.” – Cowboy Proverb

If there is one aspect of my character that I abhor, and am trying to make strides in, is my ability to make excuses. When it comes to excuses, I’ve got them made up for stuff I haven’t even committed to yet. Car trouble, sickness, you name it…I’ve used it. I often wonder what my infatuation with the excuse is. I think it’s this: I fear transparency, openness, ownership and ultimately, truth.

Excuses happen because we don’t want to tell the real reason it went the way it did.

My diabetes has made me the biggest excuse maker ever. There is no reason I should eat a sleeve of oreo’s for lunch. Chalk it up to indulgence, lack of self-control, or gluttony. But if you preface it by saying “my blood sugar’s low” then it is an act of survival. Excuses.

Excuses didn’t start there. “I ran outta daylight”, “truck problems”, “dog ran off”, “didn’t have the time”, “didn’t have the right tools”. Excuses have become the currency of the busy, the overly committed, and the fearful. People like…me.

This is where Moses and I have the same personality. Moses, as he was shepherding his sheep, came upon a bush that was on fire but not being consumed (Ex 3.1-3). When the bush called to him, he came near. God spoke:

“I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and…I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (Ex. 3.7-8,10)

God was ready to do something…he only needed to convince Moses. Moses, however, had to exhaust his excuses.

Excuse 1: “Who am I?” (Ex. 3.11) He was a former prince of Egypt and murderer, but I don’t think that is his problem right now. Right now, he is a shepherd. He is not the kind of guy who would have a conference with Pharaoh. He wouldn’t be my first choice, but he was God’s. ! Samuel 16.7 comes to mind. How many times, when its clear that God desires us to do something that we respond with “Who am I?” “I’m not smart enough, trained enough, compassionate enough, ____________________ (fill in the blank) to share my faith with someone.” “God, I don’t have enough time, money, experience, resources, training, __________(fill in the blank) to serve in that ministry.” I catch myself using these excuses far too often. Moses go to excuse, is often mine.

Excuse 2: “Who are you?” (Ex. 3.13) God answered his last excuse by promising His presence and a sign. The problem is: would you feel good about a going to a fight with me alongside of you promising to protect you? NO! Moses wants to know who is going with him. “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘the God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ then what shall I tell them?” (3.15) The Hebrews have been calling out to the Lord for years under the yoke of slavery and wondering if the Lord was listening. Now Moses is going to show up with Him in tow, but wants some more specifics on his character and identity.

Excuse 3: “What if…?” What if’s have ruined great opportunities. What if the “what if” questions had taken root in the disciples…would the Church have taken the direction it did? What if the “what if” had taken root in William Wilberforce’s life? Slavery, probably, would have continued in England for many years without his passionate abolition. The “what if” question is countered by God giving Moses a sign. When has God worked in your life?

Excuse 4: “I don’t have…” Moses isn’t a man of words and never has been. Speaking with the most powerful man in the world, Pharaoh requires a well-spoken individual. But God gave Moses his mouth and will now give him the words to say. Our excuses, or better yet our deficiencies, are things that we hide behind when the opportunity for ministry presents itself. Sometimes our areas of greatest weakness can be God’s greatest triumph. Make the effort, at least once, to step out into a ministry that challenges you at a place where God will be the success in ministry.

The Real Reason: “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.” (Ex. 4.13) The heart of the matter is Moses really didn’t want to go. Excuses are the straw men to discussion. The real issue, like so many others in the journey of faith, is one of the heart. Deep down, Moses really didn’t want to go where God was leading.

The reason’s for not doing ministry, not following where God is working, or just not wanting to go where He is leading, is too big for one excuse to cover. Moses came up with four on the spot as a reason for not wanting to go to Pharaoh. But Moses, just like us often, was grasping for straws in making excuses, covering up the issue of the heart.

When things change in our heart; things will change in our ministry opportunities. The give-and-take between Moses and God gave Moses the confidence before Pharaoh to speak and perform. Where is there an opportunity to serve that you shroud in excuses to avoid it? Is there a burden on your heart that you dismiss with problems and obstacles?   Have excuses covered the issue of the heart?

When it comes to following God’s leading…I have a lot of armpits, but its really just a heart condition.


A Community Following Christ’s Challenge

photo 1Fixed oaken pews facing tword a curtained back drop stage.   Four chorus’ a sermon and an invitation.  A pulpit front and center with a preacher proclaiming his sermon.  Powerpoint slides, with ballet slippers as a background, expounding songs about “falling in love with Jesus” or “dancing with Jesus” shown on a wall above the band.  The baptistry, long since dry, waiting with hope as the parishioners exit the doors of the fellowship, passing by a sign that reads “You are now entering your mission field”.  Church.

For many these are the images of Church.  Sadly these were my pictures of what Church was.

photo 2
Cowboy Church at Council Grove

But what if it was so much more?  What if Church was songs sung as the sun rises over a damp arena, worship around a campfire, a conversation at the sale barn, or a late night of team roping?  What if Church has become to narrowly defined?

As he writes the book of Acts, Luke the Historian, breaks from recording stories and sermons, to take a birds eye view of what is happening with the Church.

  • Acts 2.24-47, the first of his overviews, is the result of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost.  The Church is getting its bearings, in its infancy, and Luke records its key components: teaching, fellowship, worship, and prayer.  Its people shared with each other as they had neeed, taking care of one another, and they praised God.  God kept adding to their number every day.
  • Acts 4.32-35.  The Church has grown in size and influence.  They are testifying to the resurrection and are growing together in their doctrine.  They are taking care of one another, providing for each other’s need, and grace is being poured out amongst themselves.
  • Acts 5.12-16.  God’s power over sickness and evil is being shown amongst the people.  As they are meeting together, God is working through them in each others lives the result of which is more and more people being added to their number.
  • Acts 6.1-7.  The numbers have grown so much that the daily task of taking care of people has become too much for the apostles.  They picked seven men to take on the task of serving the people, so that the apostles can focus on prayer and teaching.  The word of God spread and their numbers grew rapidly.
  • Acts 11.19-29.  The Church in Antioch gets it beginnings.   A great number of people came to the Lord and a multi-cultural Church grew to be the launching point for missionaries.  The Church at Antioch was the leading church in the area, quite possibly the world, and it all started here.

So what are these asides, parenthetical notations, footnotes about the early church supposed to teach us? Why is Luke filling in the book with these organizational details?

For all the things that Luke records the Church and the apostles doing in the book of Acts, I think he is using these small teachings to recalibrate what the Church is all about.  We can get so tied up in the stories about Peter, John, Paul, and Barnabas that we think that we should do everything that they did.  But in these sections Luke takes a step back and reminds us what the Church is really about:

  1. It’s a Community…we are God’s people.  We are unified, devoted to one another, and connected.  The early Church took care of one another.  They fed eachother, took care of one another, and loved each other.  When one joined the Way, they often were kicked out of the synagogue after a while, lost their meal ticket, and were sometimes abandoned by their friends, families, and bosses.  The only way to survive was to depend on your fellow Christians.  What would it look like if we took care of one another the same way today?
  2. …Following Christ…the thing that tied it all together was the Name of Jesus Christ.  It was the resurrection that changed these people.  Suddenly it was sunday that they were worshipping on (Acts 20.7) and they were devoted to this teaching by the Apostles (Acts 2.32,42).  Christ’s call on their lives was the thing that they all had in common.  How would this change the way we orient service and worship?
  3. Challenge.  The Challenge of Christ was to love the people around them.  To serve and take care of the people they came in contact with, whether it was in the market as they passed by (Acts 2), those that they came to from a distance (Acts 11), or those that they would travel across the ocean to sea.  Christ’s challenge to them was to take care of them, to love them as he did, and to serve them as he did.  When is the last time we asked ourselves, who it was that God had brought into our life to serve and love?  My church experience would change if I honestly asked that question.

A Time to Experience

39740728_318073“Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment – Cowboy Proverb

It’s a strange feeling to wake up wondering where you are and how you got there. From a guy whose taken a few shots to the head, within the first few minutes, the puzzle can be solved of where you are and how it came to be. It doesn’t change the interesting feeling.

It was mid-june and I was down in Lyndon fighting bulls at a youth rodeo. The bull riding was still a few events away and I was doing what I always do before the bull riding: annoy the judges and chute help. The stock contractor looked over the chutes during a down time and asked me “if I was going to get my vest on and fight bulls today?” While I wasn’t paying attention, they had run some jr. bulls into the chutes. Without hesitation I put my vest on and hopped into the fray. The first bull bucked that day came out 2 jumps and spun to the right. The bull rider came off to the outside of the spin and I stepped in. Fifteen seconds ago I didn’t have my vest on and now I was making a save. The bull didn’t look at me as he continued his spin, but the bull rider wasn’t making a real quick get-a-way so I stepped in a second time I paused between bull and bull rider, when he stuck a horn under my right knee lifting me into the air. I was perched atop his head just long enough for my head to make contact with some part of his body. He took me for a ride, two spins with me as a hood ornament. I don’t remember that part. I came too sitting on his head and holding onto the bull rope. He flung me clear and left the arena. He had no intention of hitting me in retrospect…I just kinda got in the way. When I opened my eyes, sitting on his head, with a bull rope in hand, I wondered where I was and how I got there.

Someone once said: “Experience is what you got when you didn’t get what you want.”

My briefly lived football career, my time spent on the cross country team, my service in ministry, all were times when I didn’t get what I wanted, but appreciate what I got. Fighting bulls, roping, and my attempt at cowboying has been spent getting experience. But my times of greatest experience pale in comparison to Moses.

Life had been good for Moses. He was saved from the waters of the Nile by Pharoah’s daughter (Ex . 2.5-6) In a wacky turn of events, his mother gets paid to raise him (Ex. 2.8) until he is old enough to learn the ways to rule. He grew up in the best schools of the most powerful nation on Earth (Acts 7.22). He was training to lead a nation.

But his quick temper got him into trouble and he killed an Egyptian who was mistreating a Hebrew (Ex 2.12). Now his life of luxury was behind him and he ran to the desert and entered his own time of “wilderness wandering”, following some of the dumbest animals that have ever graced God’s green earth: sheep. His father-in-law puts him to work and he spends 40 years wandering the desert tending his flock, not getting what he wanted but getting what he needed,

Experience to lead God’s people through a tough 40 years of their own; experience that Jesus would view as his ministry; experience to see that best lessons of schooling is no match for a relationship with God; experience that God would use as a metaphor of His relationship with us.

How many times did Moses feel like he was wasting his time? I feel like I am wasting my time often. I work at a school where I have no leadership and responsibilities. I have a bachelors degree in Old Testament, which I challenge you to find a more useless degree in the secular world. I feel like most of my life at this phase is a wilderness wandering where I am gaining experience. Experience….that I have no idea for what. Learning to trust God in these times is difficult as I wake up every morning and question the point of a lot of it. But experiences that Moses took from his time as a shepherd helped shape him into the leader that God could trust with His people.  I write this to remind myself that this is a phase, a stage, where I may not be getting what I want, but am certainly getting what I need.

What lessons are you learning in your desert wanderings and what experience are you gaining now that God is going to leverage in the future?

Growing Pains

The rain came down this morning.

I knew it was comin’ in.

The creaking in my achy bones,

Told me ‘fore the weathermen.


Doc says its cause I’m growin’ up.

I’m getting older by the day.

My body’s fighting ‘gainst the time.

Some say its growing pains.


The change in bar-o-metric pressure

Ties my knees up in a bind.

As the isobars huddle up,

My hips, they creak and grind.


Rodeo’s been kind a hard,

On all my parts the move.

They do alright on most my days

But weather puts ‘em in a mood.


Before the crack of thunder

My fingers start to pop

My back refuses a simple flex

And neck pain just wont stop


My hands wont grip a single thing

Every joint remains in state

My phalanges swell and stiff

And my feet wont supinate


See just before the change in temp

My ankles remain affixed

My shoulders feel their glued in place

Cold air blows and it all sticks


So like the Tin Man in the Oz

I hate how the rain treats me

My cows and crops they love it

it’s a conundrum, cant you see?

So what’s a stove up cowboy do,

When the rain and cold transpire?

Simply put, the rem’dy is…

Find a warm beach and retire.

When reading the first few chapters of Exodus, my mind is drawn to the growing pains that faced the people of God.  A nation, a people in its infancy, seventy in all (Ex. 1.5; Deut 10.22), settled in the northernmost region of the Nile (Gen. 47.27).  The land of Goshen was a paradise, constantly and consistently fed by the waters of the Nile.  It was a perfect place of refuge from famine (which is what brought them there in the first place) and to graze their herds of sheep.  Long after the time of Joseph, the Hebrews found themselves in a land that was not their own with leader who didn’t know Joseph or his legacy (Ex. 1.8) and a cold wind started to blow in Egypt.

The new Pharaoh saw the numbers grew to the point of threatening his leadership and rule.  If they ever decided not to stay in line, they could over run the country.  From that point on Pharaoh enslaved the Israelite, forcing them to build cities, make bricks, and work the fields.  They became forced labor.  Growing pain number 1.

After the enslavement, Pharaoh had a talk with the Hebrew midwives.  At Pharaoh’s request, they were to kill any male baby born to the Hebrews (Ex.1.15-16).  They were on a hit list. Growing pain number 2.

Finally, if Pharaoh can’t force their numbers down or abort them out…he was going to drown them out. (Ex. 1.22)  Their babies being thrown into the Nile, was Pharaoh’s way of exerting his power, exercising his authority, and thinning out the Hebrews.  The Nile, which gave life to their land of Goshen, was now the instrument Pharaoh was using to kill their babies.  Genocide.  Growing pain number 3.

Despite Pharaoh’s best attempts, the Hebrews multiplied.  After Joseph’s death they “were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, and the land was filled with them.” (Ex. 1.7)  Then Pharaoh enslaved them and “the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread.” (Ex 1.12)  Then Pharaoh tried to abort them, but the midwives feared God (1.17) and the people “increased and became even more numerous.” (1.20) Finally, Pharaoh ordered all male babies thrown into the Nile.  It was from these waters, that Pharaoh’s daughter would “draw out” Moses, the one who would deliver their people. (2.5-6)

Despite the pain of this time, in hindsight, God used it to grow the nation to upwards, of some estimates, 2 million people at the time of the Crossing of the Reed Sea. It was during this time of subjugation and persecution that lessons, growing pains, were learned by the people like:

  • A testament that evil will not prevail over God’s people. The Hebrews withstood persecution from the most powerful man on the face of the earth at the time. He was a God in his own country, who held the fate of men in his hands. Yet the people of God flourished.
  • A lesson about salvation. Over the next 900 or so years of Israel’s history, God’s action at the Reed Sea, would be a constant testament to God’s ability to save His people. It was a lesson in his power as He plagued the Egyptians and protected Goshen. It was a lesson in control as God made the Hebrews plunder the Egyptians without force. (Ex 12.36) They learned salvation as He parted the Sea before them. They understood his judgment as He brought the waves down on the Egyptian army.
  • A lesson in loving others. During His instruction of the people, in His commands to love and care for the down and out, the poor, and the alien, He reminds them that they were once aliens in Egypt (Exodus 22.21; 23.9; Lev. 19.34; Deut. 10.19; 15.15). There is no better teacher than experience. They felt subjugation; will they learn from it and show mercy to the aliens amongst them?

For 430 years, Israel lived in Egypt (Ex. 12.40) under the protection of mighty Egypt. Without fear from invasion, the infant nation grew into a powerful people. But as they grew the experienced pains that would forever give them learning about God and His interaction with man. It is my prayer that these lessons stick as I grow as well for I occasionally experience fear in the face of evil, though Jesus tells me to fear not. I need reminded that once I was an alien, far away from God, but in His love and grace, He gave His son as a sacrifice so that I became no longer an alien but a son.  While we were still slaves to sin, in bondage to our flesh, He liberated us by sending His Son.  The lessons learned by the Israelites are the lessons we so desperately need today.

Growing up can be painful, but God is showing me that in some of the most painful times are when His lessons can be learned the clearest.

The Bondage in Egypt

Question’s of the Mind

Time alone can be frightening.  When I am alone, the questions that rattle in my head aren’t drowned out by the voices and noises that surround me in a public place.  Too much time to think and to listen allow for questions to sound off at will.  I doubt that I am the only guy that goes through this.  Questions like: “Do I have what it takes?”; “Will I ever be exposed as the fraud I feel like I am?”; “Will the truth come out?”

When I started thinking about this, I realized how often these questions arose in books and movies:

  • “‘You know what my mother said to me when she came to say good-bye, as if to cheer me up, she said maybe District 12 will finally have a winner.  Then I realized, she didn’t mean me, she meant you!’ That pulls me up short…did she really rate me [Katniss] over her son?  I see the pain in Peeta’s eyes and know he isn’t lying.”  (Hunger Games, 90)
  • Brian Robeson, a month into his parents divorce crash lands a plane in the Ontario wilderness with a Hatchet in hand.  The question in the back of his mind: “Do I have what it takes to survive?”  The next 200 pages is about him learning that he is powerful.
  • “I walked up to the kid, touched his chap’ leg before he’d reached to pull off the blind, and I says to hi so nobody else could hear.”You go after him this time, Billy, and you just make this pony think you’re the wold of the world and paw him the smae as you did that last calf you rode.”…”Yeeep,” Billy hollered as he jerked the blind off the pony’s eyes, “I’m a wolf.”  Billy was a wolf, he’d turned challenger, and was pawing the black from ears to rump.  Daylight showed aplenty between the kid and the saddle, bu somehow he managed to stick on and stay right side up as he fanned and reefed.  The gelding, surprised at the change of events, finally kinda let up on his bucking, he was getting scared and had found a hankering to start running.  After that it was easy for Billy, he rode him around the corral a couple of times and then, all smiles and proud as a peacock, he climbed off.”  (Will James, The Young Cowboy)

Three young men, all asking the same questions that flow in an out of men’s heads at all ages.  When failure at work arrives, these questions show up.  When a fight breaks out with his wife, these question haunt.  When embarrassment at school takes place, these questions run across his face.  Seclusion only makes them louder.

God created man to be the servant and protector of femininity; the solider and warrior of God’s kingdom; a challenger to injustice and a voice to the voiceless.  A father to those younger, a student of those wiser, and a follower of Christ in all aspects of his life.  He is a steward of God’s gifts and a dispenser of God’s blessing.

These questions strike at the heart of masculinity.  When our first opportunity to be men arose…we failed (he took and ate).  The second time…we failed again (“The woman you put here with me…).  But God, in his time, sent his son, the ultimate man, to give us hope that we might stand and forgiveness when we fail.

Churches and Cowboys

drawing by WIll James
drawing by WIll James

“A Cowboy is a man with guts and a horse.” – Will James

If only it were that easy to define a Christian man. The Church has struggled with this.

Men were created to lead and protect families and to serve and direct the Church. If the family and the Church are very near entities to the heart of God, why has the church done such a poor job of training and descipling men to follow, serve, and lead? One Sr. Pastor that I had multiple discussions with about this topic told me that: “For the amount of time it takes to do men’s ministry well it wasn’t worth the time.”

Despite being in Churches regularly for the last 15 years, little has prepared me for the life I live now as a husband, coach, and mentor. Years of Sunday school, men’s group, and church relationships have been mostly devoid of real manhood discussions.   Why?

According to David Murrow’s book, Why Men Hate Going to Church, it’s because Church has, for the most part, become a place for women, by women, to serve women. I cant really argue with that. Many church services include passive learning, in red-shaded sanctuaries, advertised in loopy fonts on pastel bulletins. This, in my opinion, is why Cowboy Church’s are having so much success. Their preaching, worship, and activities, seem to be more oriented towards providing men opportunities to serve, interact and fellowship, in more relaxing and natural ways.

If the Church has missed the mark on descipling of men because we (and I include myself in this) have forgotten a few key things.

  1. Men follow passion. The best way to lead men is to lead them passionately. Men won’t go without excitement.   Paul was a passionate leader and his letters are laced with men who would follow him to the end. Men want to get excited about something, anything. Sport offer us a socially acceptable place to get excited…why not Church?
  2. Men want purpose. “All men die…few men live.” That is what William Wallace said. Give a man a purpose and watch him come alive. How many churches provide a why for their worship? Their service? Their fellowship? Their leadership? Their discipleship? Men look to these things…desire these things…invest in these things.
  3. Men search for identity. Men struggle with identity in different ways than women (duh!) but do you realize their struggle is every bit as central? Their job, hobbies, responsibilities, asks so much of them that the pressure is on to find identity within them. Without a constant reminder that identity is found in and only in Christ Jesus, too often we start looking to titles and name patches to find out who we are.
  4. Men look for depth. Men are about accomplishment. We like getting things done. Time is a currency with us. Spending time in the shallow end for too long causes us to rethink our commitment. I’m not asking to abolish the kiddie pool’s of theology and small group, but there needs to be a progression to deeper waters to keep men interested. That is one of Jesus most admirable qualities: the ability to start in the kiddie pool but end with his disciples treading water.

My hope (or better said my passion and dream) is to help give some clarity to the discussion of how best to pour into and disciple men. I like to think that I have something to offer this area. As a man who has seen many different facets of ministry and men’s groups, I think we as the Church have missed the boat…but if we are willing to swim fast, I think we can catch up!