Saturday, November 26, 2011

Saddle Up! (Might be Politically Incorrect but Here I Go.....)

I'm reading a book called "Why Men Hate Going to Church".  It's an eye-opening look at what the author contends is the 'feminizing' of the American protestant church, and why he thinks many men find themselves uncomfortable and out of place in most churches today.

The book is not so much critical of churches as it is a simple and honest look at how churches are today.  It's also not a book about how men should be, but how they are, and how men think and relate to the world around them, and the message they receive in churches today.

The author contends, and makes a compelling argument, that American churches are largely doing exactly what they have been designed to do:  produce a comforting place of support and love, devoid of controversy, alleviating as much pain and suffering in the lives of parishioners as they can. Unintentionally, the author concludes, churches have created an environment where women thrive, but men feel inherently uncomfortable.

As I read the book, I found it to have a distinct ring of truth in my male brain.

One of the things the author noted is how we present the Gospel is not manly.  Don't take this wrong, but I think he has a point.

One point the author made that spoke to me was this: most churches present the pivotal point of receiving God's grace as when someone 'accepts Jesus as my Savior and Lord.'

The doctrine of salvation, of grace being a gift from God, and of my need for a Messiah is absolutely correct and clear in scripture. But consider this, and think with an open mind and heart here: most men don't like the idea of needing to be saved.

It speaks weakness. It speak inadequacy. It speaks a lack of independence. It doesn't speak to men where they are before they know God and Jesus.

The correctness of the doctrine doesn't matter. Men don't follow teaching or doctrine.  They follow other men.

Which is probably why, when Jesus picked his disciples He didn't call them to "be saved", even though each man probably understood from their education and from synagogue that Israel was looking for a Savior.

He approached men - fishermen, tax-collectors, other 'regular' guys, and at least two guys that came to be called 'the sons of thunder' - and said "follow me'.  The amazing thing is, they did!

And Jesus led them - not into a life of behaving well, of being good and obeying rules so as not to upset anyone - He led them into a life of danger, of risk and challenge and obstacles and injury.  He made them into fugitives, hunted by a world that didn't understand them and hated them.

Once they understood what was at stake - that life or death for many literally hung in the balance for what they did for the Gospel - and once the Holy Spirit stoked the fire in their bellies so that they understood what Jesus meant when he sent them out to "make disciples of all nations", not to save people - those men lit the world on fire.

Twelve men changed the world, because they chose to follow Jesus and emulate Him, loving God and others as Jesus did - with conviction and purpose.

Just writing about this stuff touches a place in my soul and stirs the embers there.  I'm a pretty gentle guy by nature, but thinking about serving God like this - following Jesus this way - gives all new meaning to the phrases we throw around in church like transformed, renewed, or set free.

No man wants to be saved and transformed by God, if all it means is being transformed into a man who's new purpose is to sit quietly through sermons, sing love songs to Jesus, and study the Bible so he can learn the correct teaching on this or that doctrine. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with these things, but they are not enough for the vast majority of men if that winds up being the sum total of their experience in following Jesus.

Men need to see a purpose for what they follow.  Men need a challenge in what they follow.  They need to see the purpose for the mission, and feel like they have a part in fulfilling the mission, or they'll find some other mission themselves. We need our churches to show men that vision, and let them be men to follow it!

My heart, of late, has been for the men of my church.  I know I've come to this party a bit late, and others in my church have had a heart for men and been trying diligently to stoke that fire in their bellies. To those men, I say a hearty thanks, and I promise to do what I can to support your efforts and join in.

My prayer is that my church can re-embrace men and encourage men to not just be saved, but to stand up, and follow Jesus and make waves! Men like to build things, fix things, make things, and tinker with things. Its what we do.  Its how God made us.

What if God unleashed a bunch of men in our church to shake things up and challenge one another to not just come to church, but to live the Gospel, truly giving, loving, and sacrificing for one another like Jesus did? Men follow men, not ideas. That's why Jesus discipled his followers on the go, not in classrooms. They lived the lessons, and learned by hard knocks.

Jesus rebuked his best friend Peter once, calling him Satan.  That's a hard knock. Iron sharpens iron.

I mean, Jesus is the model, is He not? Isn't that the bar we should be looking at?

I also pray that our women can let the men be men - which means accepting and loving men how they are as men.

Too often I think women expect men to be transformed into the image of the Gentle Jesus we often portray at church - holding children, petting lambs, smiling, sitting in a clean white robe, not upsetting anyone.

Men hear that and run.  Fast.

The real Jesus called out the pharisees on their fake righteousness, calling them snakes and vipers.  He cleared out the sellers on the temple grounds by force. He confronted his friends and followers, rebuking them when they ran off the rails, challenging them when they were slow to understand.  He got angry now and then, and seemed frustrated with the hard-headedness of his disciples.

He ran contrary to popular opinion. He forgave a woman caught in adultery.  He showed compassion and respect for a woman married many times who was even then living 'in sin' with a man. He turned the concept of success on its head, saying he who is first in the world will be last in the Kingdom of God, and vice-versa.  He ate with sinners.  He drank wine and went to parties, and confronted the popular ideas of the day. He was a revolutionary who claimed to be God, and was killed for it.

But He rose from the dead!

He was not Mr. Rogers.

I pray that God would continue the work He's begun in my church.  I am excited and encouraged at what I see God doing.  I pray that men who follow Jesus would be awakened to the mission God has provided in the church right now - today - to be leaders and develop disciples of Jesus.

God is moving me more and more to stand up and say, as Isaiah did, "here am I Lord! Send me!"  I hope and pray others will join me.

Steven Curtis Chapman wrote many years ago in his song The Great Adventure:

Started out this morning in the usual way
Chasing thoughts inside my head of all I had to do today
Another time around the circle try to make it better than the last

I opened up the Bible and I read about me
Said I'd been a prisoner and God's grace had set me free
And somewhere between the pages it hit me like a lightning bolt
I saw a big frontier in front of me and I heard somebody say "let's go"!

Saddle up your horses we've got a trail to blaze
Through the wild blue yonder of God's amazing grace
Let's follow our leader into the glorious unknown
This is a life like no other - this is The Great Adventure

Come on get ready for the ride of your life
Gonna leave long faced religion in a cloud of dust behind
And discover all the new horizons just waiting to be explored
This is what we were created for

We'll travel over, over mountains so high
We'll go through valleys below
Still through it all we'll find that
This is the greatest journey that the human heart will ever see
The love of God will take us far beyond our wildest dreams

Yeah... oh saddle up your horses... come on get ready to ride