“Lead is an event hosted by a group of local, Christian businessmen to encourage men in the Bowling Green community to step into the role that God’s calling them to in their homes and workplaces. Proceeds from the event will benefit Hope House. During the event, guests will have the opportunity to worship with 200 fellow men from our community and hear teaching from guest speakers Dr. Thomas Weakley and Richard E. Simmons III, author of The True Measure of a Man. At the end of the event, men will have an opportunity to participate in a study of Richard’s book led by local men from multiple churches.”
It is an incredible honor and a real blessing for me to be here. It’s my first time ever in Bowling Green, Kentucky. What a beautiful place. We drove through yesterday, probably around 6:30, and we just were really taken by the beautiful place that it is. I’m grateful to have this opportunity.
The message I want to share with you this morning is a message that I’ve been sharing for over 25 years, and about 10 years ago, it made its way into a book. What I really hope to do this morning is to help you understand yourself as a man. John Calvin said that “all true wisdom consists of two things, knowledge of God and knowledge of self.” And yet, one of the things that I find is that we as men don’t really understand ourselves that well.
So, let me start by just kind of laying a couple of thoughts out for you. Think about this. Growing up, I wonder how many young boys hear, during their adolescent years, these words: “be a man, be a man.” I wonder what they think when they hear those words, usually coming from maybe their fathers, a coach, an older brother,“be a man.” You have to wonder what they’re thinking when they hear that. What does that mean? Does it mean to be tough, to be strong, never cry, never show emotion?
So, what ends up happening, I think, is most young men don’t know what to think. It can easily lead them to a real sense of shame. Let me share another one with you. This spring I watched the documentary called “Vietnam” by Ken Burns. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it. It’s very powerful, but, in The Pentagon Papers, one of the things that you find, and I don’t know how much you know about the Vietnam War, my opinion is this, and I almost got drafted to go and fight, but the war ended before that happened, but, I think we entered that war with good intentions. But, I think what ended up happening is that in order to win the war, we would have had to send a million men over there and probably spend twice the money that we spent. It became, I think, very clear that the war was not winnable. We didn’t seem to be able to pull out. What you learned in The Pentagon Papers is that President Johnson, when he was faced with the prospect of pulling out of Vietnam, said this, “We can’t pull out. It would not make me look very manly.” It makes you wonder how many, or how, world events over the centuries have been shaped by men who were fearful that they would not look very manly if they made certain decisions.
Final thought as I really kind of get into the meat of this presentation. is there’s a professor named Dr. Michael Kimmel who is the director of the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinity at Stony Brook, which is a college in New York, and he teaches classes to men. One year, this was in The New York Times, which is how I discovered it, during one of his classes he got up before probably 40 young men and he wrote this up on the whiteboard, “Good man.”
He asked the question, what does it mean to be a good man? He said the students looked around, they were puzzled. They didn’t know what to say because he was asking them to give him qualities of what is a good man. He said, imagine that you are at your own funeral and they say that you’re a good man. In your mind, what does that mean? Finally, one male student said, it means to be caring. Another said, it means to put other people’s needs in front of your own. Finally, one said to be honest. They were struggling to come up with terms to describe what a good man is. Then he went over and wrote another heading out to put in a column and he said, “Real man”.
He says, give me the qualities of what you think a real man is. He said they didn’t have problems. They just started running off different descriptions like, to take charge, to take risks, to suppress any kind of weaknesses you might have. One young man said, I think, for me, being a real man means to talk like a man, to walk like a man, to never cry. I don’t know anything about this professor, but I think he was very wise Because he said, do you see what you’re saying? You’re kind of in a wheel house and he ended up saying, “I think American men are confused over what it means to be a man, to be masculine, to know what true masculinity really is.” And I think he’s right. I think that most modern men have a real problem understanding what is true masculinity.
One of the most brilliant people to ever live was a guy by the name of Blaise Pascal. Albert Einstein believes he had the greatest mind of anyone and ironically, he was a Christian. But Pascal says, the main reason that we as people struggle in life is because we have false ideas about reality. We have false ideas about life. For instance, I was talking to my kids about this; I have three in college right now. A year or two ago I asked them a question when we were talking about what does it really mean to be successful in life. And then I threw them kind of a curve ball. I have two sons and a daughter. I said, do you think Mr. Hurry and Ms. Cooley are successful people? Now, Mr. Hurry and Ms. Cooley taught AP math and English at their high school and they all had them and loved them. These teachers really impacted their lives. I said, do you think they’re successful? They started thinking about it because they never thought of a high school teacher as being a successful person. Then I said, think about, and I won’t mention the man’s name, but he’s a billionaire. He’s been married five times. Nobody likes him. Even the people that work with him don’t like him. I said, is he successful? You see, I think sometimes we have a hard time really figuring out what does that mean? What is true success? what does it mean to be really wealthy? Is it all about money?
I like to do word searches in the Bible. I’ll find a word that intrigues me and I’ll get my concordance and look up every single verse with that word. I don’t know how I ran into this word, I saw that it’s used often, and it’s the word “beware”. Beware. It’s something that you might say to your daughter when she’s going out on her first date. Beware. What’s interesting is that Jesus uses that word often. Whenever He uses it, He primarily uses it to say beware of false teaching. In other words, He’s saying, beware of believing what is false. Most people are not aware of the fact that they live with false ideas about life, false ideas about reality.
I want to read you some interesting words from Jesus because He talks about this. This is from the book of Luke, Chapter 11, starting in verse 34. He says, “the lamp of your body is your eye and when your eye is clear, your whole body also is full of light, but when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness. Then watch out that the light in you may not be darkness. If therefore your whole body is full of light with no dark part in it, it shall be wholly illumined as when the lamp illumines you with its rays”. Now, I have to tell you, I’ve been a Christian for 41 years. I’ve read these verses over and over and for the longest time, I had no idea what Jesus was talking about. What is the eye? What is the lamp of the body?
About 15 years ago, I decided I wanted to figure this out. So, I did some research, and just to confirm that I had it right, I even consulted with a Greek scholar, as you look at these words. He agreed that the eye is your perception of reality. It’s the lens through which you see life. Stephen Covey calls it your paradigm. Some people would call it your worldview. The word that we use most commonly in our everyday language is your perspective. So, what’s Jesus telling us? He’s saying that your perspective on life can be rooted in what is true or it can be rooted in what is false. He says, when it’s rooted in what is true, that your life will be full of light and you will be a vibrant, healthy person. But, He says, if your perspective is rooted in falsehood, your life will be full of darkness and you’ll stumble and you’ll struggle and you’ll fall.
But notice what He says in verse 35. He says, watch out and make sure the light that you think you have is not darkness. I bet no one thinks they’ve got false ideas about life, but He’s saying watch out because the light that you think you have may, in fact, be darkness. This leads back to where I want to go this morning, which is the main theme of my presentation. I believe that men struggle so much in life because they have false ideas about what it really means to be a man. They struggle with what is true masculinity. The main reason is that, this is what’s happening, most men today have come to believe that their worth and value as men is based on how well they perform and how they achieve in their occupation, in their work. In fact, Tim Keller says, and this was a pretty bold statement, that we are the first culture in history where men get their sense of worth and significance based solely on their performance out in the marketplace. It hadn’t always been this way. Men would get their sense of identity and worth maybe from being a good citizen in their community, from being a good husband, and being a good father, a good friend.
That’s changed. So, what I’ve come to the conclusion of and what I’ve been speaking on for 25 years is that we, so easily, without realizing it, get caught up in what I call the performance trap. This is how it plays out. For most men, life is all about what I do. Do you ever find yourself asking somebody, what is it you do? Life is all about what I do. Over time, I began to wonder, am I really successful at what I do? Then you think, well, I wonder what John thinks about what I do. What does Bob think? What do you think about what I do? Do you think I’m successful? I think we all have this underlying fear that most of us are not aware of. What is it that people really think about me? Now this leads to, I think one of our greatest fears is to wonder, as time goes by, and as you work, and as you perform, the question that comes up, what would happen to me if I, particularly when you’re not performing as well as you think you should, what would happen to me if I fail at what I do? What would you think about me then? Would you value me as a person? Would you value me as a man? Would you think I’m still a real man if I failed? What I’m going to say next, I think deep down, you know, it’s true. Now, you haven’t discussed this with anybody in all likelihood, but I don’t care how successful you’ve been in your work, the thought of failing haunts most men. It haunts them. It’s like a psychological death. You see, most men today are not driven to succeed. They are driven not to fail. Two men I’ve talked to about this. Both are CEOs of large corporations in Birmingham. Very, very ‘successful’ in the eyes of the world. Very wealthy. They both said that when their feet hit the ground every morning, they’re driven by one thing, the fear of failing.
Interestingly, in his first interview while he was still in prison, as he still is, Bernie Madoff, you remember the name Bernie Madoff? He’s kind of fading since it’s been so many years ago. He was interviewed, in his first interview really, in prison, he was asked the question, why had he concocted, because he had plenty of money, so, why had he concocted this unbelievable Ponzi scheme that scammed people out of millions. You’ll be interested to hear what his motive was. He said, “as a boy, I watched my father fail financially,” and he said, “so I purposed in my heart never to fail. I was driven, never to fail.” Then he said this, and I found this so interesting, “I did not want to lose the honor and esteem of men.” Look what happened to him.
Now, what I want to do is take a few minutes and show you what this does to you, how it impacts your life. Ask yourself, how does this apply to me? Because again, sometimes I’m not sure that we’re aware of it, but the first thing I want to say is this performance trap, getting our identity based on how I perform, has a huge impact on our relationship with other people. This, by the way, is why there’s such a difference between men and women. Women, I shared this last night with a group that women, I believe, are truly much healthier than men. They are much more transparent with each other. If my wife sat down, my wife is very transparent, very open, very honest; if my wife sat down with your wife over a cup of coffee, it’s amazing what they might share with each other, in the first sitting. But you get two men together over coffee and they’ll talk about sports. They’ll talk about maybe business, the stock market, things that men like to talk about. But that’s pretty much it. Men rarely share their struggles, their problems and their fears with others. So, I told Thomas a few minutes ago, I’m so grateful for how transparent he is, and consequently, how healthy he is because of it. What’s happened is we have somehow come to believe as men that we’re not supposed to struggle. We’re not supposed to get down. We’ve falsely believed that authentic men are never to get depressed. Ever. Because that would betray our male identity. Some of you older guys, by the way, I really appreciate the diversity of this group, particularly as I look at the ages, but some of you older guys will remember that there was a famous song by Simon and Garfunkel, and it was written clearly about men and it goes like this; “I am a rock. I am an island. And a rock feels no pain and an island never cries.” Remember that? It was written about us.
This is what so many men think we have to be. And this is why, without realizing it sometimes, I think it’s why we hide ourselves from others. Because I don’t want you to know what I’m struggling with because what would you think of me if I did? Now, what ends up happening is, and this is true of a number of you right now, what I’m saying, that so often men suffer in silence and we isolate ourselves from others.
Now, I wasn’t planning on sharing this, but I felt like God put it on my heart. It’s something from a message I shared back in the spring to a big group of men on the fears that men struggle with. I don’t know if you know the name Kevin Love. Do you know the name Kevin Love, basketball player for the Cleveland Cavaliers? You might not be aware of this, but last fall, in the season, he had a real panic attack. He couldn’t even function. He had to go to the hospital. You may or may not be aware of it. He came out of it. But listen to what he shares about really what helped deliver him. These were his words, “I’ve never been comfortable sharing much about myself. I turned 29 in September and for pretty much 29 years of my life, I’ve been protective about anything and everything in my inner life. I was comfortable talking about basketball, but that came natural. It was much harder to share personal stuff and looking back now, I know I could have really benefited from having someone to talk to over the years. But I didn’t share, not to my family, not to my best friends, not in public. Today, I’ve realized I need to change that. I want to share some of my thoughts about my panic attacks and fears and what’s happened since.” He says, “If you’re suffering silently like I was, then you know how it can feel like nobody really gets it. Partly I want to do it for me, but mostly I want to do it because people don’t talk about mental health enough.” And listen to this. He says, “And men and boys are clearly the furthest behind.” I don’t know if you know it but depression has overtaken almost every other disease, if you want to call it that, in the world.
And men today are really struggling with depression and in a crowd this size, I know many of you probably suffer from some kind of, it might be the blues or some form of depression, but you don’t want anybody to know about it. Because you think, I’m not supposed to get depressed. Love goes on to say, “not talking about our inner lives robs us of really getting to know ourselves and robs us of the chance to reach out to others in need. So, if you’re reading this and are struggling, no matter how big or small it seems to you, I want to remind you that you are not weird or different for sharing what’s going through you. Please hear this. When you share your struggles and fears with others, it’s like shining a bright light on them. And when you shine a bright light on them, they lose their power over you.”
So that’s the first thing that the performance trap does to us. And it can be devastating. Second, the performance trap can cause us to avoid taking certain risks in life that we know we should be taking. So, what we end up doing is we play it safe in life because if you take a risk in anything, there’s the chance you’re going to fail. And since we fear failure so much, we would rather play it safe. By playing it safe it makes us feel good.
And you’ll find yourself in a situation where you’ll never fail because you won’t make your life unpredictable. You want it to be under your control so that nothing can come along and cause you to fail. And what it ends up falsely making you do is to think I’m safe and I’m secure. But are you really? There was a survey that was done and it’s in the book, The True Measure of a Man. To be part of this survey, there was one requirement. You had to be 95 years old or over to participate. The question that was asked of all these elderly people was simply this: If you could go back and live your life over again, what would you do differently? They asked a number of these elderly folks and put it all together. Three primary answers emerged. The first was, if I could live my life over again, I would have reflected more. I would not have lived at such a frenetic pace. I would have read more. I would have thought more and slowed down. Second, very interesting, particularly as Christians, as we think about this, if I could live my life over again, I would have invested my life in more endeavors that will live on after I’m gone. Think of the ramifications from a spiritual standpoint and an eternal perspective. This wasn’t a Christian survey. The final response was, if I could live my life over again, I would have taken more risks. What these elderly people are telling us is I played it safe in life and I deeply regret it. They live with this thought, going back to Thomas’ words, the life that could have been. The life that could have been. So, do you see what the performance trap can do to you? This also explains, this is significant, why we feel so compelled to compare ourselves to others. Do you realize how you compare yourself to people? This is why so many of us measure our lives by how I compare to somebody else. You know what else we end up doing? We compare our children to other people’s children. How well are my kids doing? How do they do compare to this family’s children, or this family’s children? There is an interesting verse in Ecclesiastes; chapter 4, verse 4, it says “and I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man’s envy of his neighbor.”
What we learn is that many people are driven in their work by envy. Think about it. We can’t be just content with who we are and how well we’re doing. I need to know, how is my neighbor doing over here.
There’s a television program on Bloomberg, the business channel, called “Game Changers” and what it does is feature life stories of great business leaders. In one segment, they have the story of Larry Ellison. I don’t know if you know the name, but he’s the founder and was the CEO of Oracle Computer. For a number of years, he was the second wealthiest man in America. Now you would think that he had it made. You would think he would be content with his life and what he has, but what you learn in this program is that he is driven. He is almost eaten up because he wants to surpass Bill Gates as the wealthiest man in America. He was eaten up with envy, comparison. This show was done several years ago. The problem is Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, now has passed him, too. I think he’s in third or fourth place now, but it’s just eaten him up. This is what comparison will to do to you. This is what envy will do to you.
I know I’m throwing a lot at you. Have you heard enough about how deadly this can be? This is what comparison will do to you, also.
One final thought is that the performance trap leads men to seek to impress other people outwardly, to do everything I can to appear outwardly successful and accomplished. Have you ever given much thought to how you size up other men? Maybe when you get around them for the first time, and you look at them and they look at you, you start looking at them and thinking about who they are and how they compare to me. The reason is because one of the ways we measure how we’re doing is by comparing ourselves to others.
I was in the insurance industry for 25 years. I had a number of opportunities to travel around the world, paid by insurance companies, and sometimes you would take your spouse, sometimes you wouldn’t. It was always interesting. We would go to these exotic places and we’d go have dinner. Sometimes, again, you’d have your spouse with you, sometimes you wouldn’t. And I remember we’d sit at a table, almost every time with people you’ve never met in your life, and you find yourself talking to them, asking questions, and you’d compare yourself with them. You begin to try to size everybody up. How do I do in comparison to them? I remember I wrote this down about men comparing themselves with other men. This is the criteria. How does he look and how does he dress? Is he intelligent? Is he articulate? Where was he educated? Now, in the insurance business, what do you do? Do you own this firm? Are you the CEO? What is your title. And what about his spouse?
I would meet men who were on their third wives. It’s amazing how many men end up trying to have a trophy wife. It makes them look good. Then you’ll see people drop names and you’ll talk about the exotic vacations you’ve been on. And then finally, tell me about your children. Are they very accomplished? Where did they go to college? Do you see this? Do you understand? See the criteria? Let me ask you this question. Based on that criteria, how do you do? How do you measure up? The reason I ask this is that I don’t know that I do so good. I mean, I work for a nonprofit corporation. I live in a middle-class community. My kids didn’t go to Ivy League schools and we haven’t been on any exotic vacation to brag about.
Now I will say this. You would be impressed with my wife. You really would.
But what is the problem with that criteria? It’s all about the externals of life. And so, what I’ve noticed is that in most men’s lives, there’s a pattern. They leave the academic world and they go out into the working world and they have a vision for their future. By the way, that’s the problem with the criteria that I just mentioned, it’s all external. It’s all external. But young men come out of the academic world and they have a vision for their future life and how they want life to be. And it’s all based on how well they perform in the visible, measurable dimensions of life. You see, we all have this outer public life that everybody sees and that everybody judges us by. It’s all external. Its what people see and it’s that part of our lives that we feel that we have to manage well. The reason is that this is where we believe we get our worth and value as men, but it’s all external. It’s all performance based. It’s all about, listen to this word, this phrase, it’s all about impression management.
You see what most men are oblivious to is that we have this public outer world. And then we have what Gordon MacDonald calls our inner private world. You see, we have a soul that needs to be nurtured and cared for. I think it takes a number of years for us to realize that outwardly you can look great but inwardly and relationally you can be bankrupt. Then it’s just a matter of time before your life implodes and you have a train wreck.
Now, what I’d like to do; I’m half-way through my presentation,, what I’d like to do is take two or three minutes, I’m not sure that you’d go out and come back, but just take a minute, stand up, stretch, and in two or three minutes, I’m going to give you part two which is, what do we do about this? What do we do about this performance trap? So, if you would, take just a couple of minutes, get up, stretch, whatever, and then, in about three or four minutes, I’m going to start over.
How do we deal with our false ideas about masculinity? Well, go back to Pascal. Remember what he said? The reason we struggle in life is that we have false ideas about reality. He says, what we have to do is uproot these false ideas and replace them with wisdom and with truth. Seems pretty simple, doesn’t it? I wrote a book on wisdom. It’s called Wisdom, Life’s Great Treasure. I spent a number of years studying the issue of wisdom and the reason it’s of such great value is that you have to understand its definition. It comes from a Hebrew word chokhmah, which means to have a skill or expertise in living. I have to ask you a question. How valuable would that be if you were an expert in living this life? I share this because a major component of wisdom is to have the ability to discern between those ideas in life that are true and those that are false.
Have any of you read the book that was written about 30 years ago called The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey? You know that book? It’s an excellent book. It’s one of the best books I’ve read. It’s not a Christian book, but it is a powerful book. In it, he says that the key to living a healthy, vibrant life is your ideas have to be rooted in the truth, because he says your ideas are kind of like a map that helps you navigate the terrain of life. He gives a wonderful illustration. He says, imagine that you are in the city of Chicago for the first time. You’ve never been there before. You fly in at night, you go to your hotel, you check in, you spend the night, you get up early, the next morning you go to the front desk and you say, do you have a map of the city? I’m here to see it. There are so many sites I want to see. And he says, you’re in luck. We’ve got brand new maps that have just come in from the printer. What he doesn’t realize is that the printer made a mistake and in reality, what you have in your hands is a map of the city of Detroit that says Chicago across the top. Now imagine what that would be like trying to find your way using this map and you realize that you are terribly lost. It makes no sense. You get angry, you get frustrated and you finally say, all right, I’m going to have to come up with a better strategy here. And the first thought is, I’m going to try harder. I’m going to walk faster. The problem is it does no good. You just get more lost. You come up with another strategy. I need a better attitude; I’m going to have a positive attitude. Where does that get you? Nowhere. You know, you can employ any strategy you want, but until you have the right map, you will remain lost. Covey says that that’s the way so many people live this life. They live it with a map that is totally inaccurate. I think that’s what happens with men. We end up with the wrong map, particularly as it relates to success, and particularly as it relates to masculinity.
So, is there a way to deal with this? Is there a way to be delivered from this performance trap? Well, let me tell you where I think it starts. I think it starts by you and I understanding that we’re caught in this trap. That’s true in my life in some form or fashion. You see, so many men don’t understand their fears and their struggles. They’ve never really articulated it to anybody. And so, it starts by acknowledging that this is true in my life in some form or fashion. Tim Keller shares a very interesting illustration on this. He says, “Have you ever noticed that you never think about your toes.” I mean, how many of you have thought about your toes this morning? He says, “Of course, you never notice your toes until something goes wrong with them. When’s the last time you said to yourself, my toes feel great? When toes function as toes are meant to function, you just don’t pay attention to them at all.” And then he says this. He says, “As men, there must be something terribly wrong with our identities and our egos because we’re always focused on them. We’re always worried about them. We’re always wondering, how is this going to impact me in the eyes of others? What are people going to think of me?” He goes on to say that, “the ego is constantly drawing attention to itself because if our identity was healthy, like our toes, you’d never notice it.”
So, a good question. How well do you know yourself? Are you aware of your flaws? Are you aware of the sin in your life? In Matthew 7:3-5, Jesus, – I think its some of the most significant things He says – He says, “Why is it that you noticed the sin in your brother’s eye but you don’t see it in your own?” Or, “Why is it you see the speck in your brother’s eye but you don’t see the log in your own?” That is so true. We so easily see other people’s flaws, we can’t see our own.
So, I think this is where it starts, recognizing that this is true in my life. I struggle with this performance trap. I worry about what other people think about me. I get my identity based on how well I perform out in the workplace. So, that’s where it starts. Just saying, yes, this is an issue in my life.
Secondly, I think particularly for Christians. Think about this when it comes to the issue of failure. I think we need to rethink that. It’s not the worst thing that can happen to you. In fact, it can be one of the great blessings of your life. I think this was a major problem in the lives of so many people, but particularly those, if you’ve never known anything but success, if you’ve never experienced failure, I think failure scares you more than if you have gone through it. I would contend, I promise you, that failure can be one of the great blessings in a person’s life based on how they respond to it.
I’m going to read, this is right out of the book, The True Measure of a Man. It comes from Paul Tournier, a very influential Swiss psychologist. He’s a Christian. He says, “Only rarely are we masters of the events that take place in our lives, but we are responsible for our reactions. In other words, we are accountable for the way we respond to the struggles we encounter.” Tournier believed, listen to this, “A positive, active, creative response to one of life’s challenges will develop us, while a negative, angry one will only debilitate us and stunt our growth.” Listen to this. Tournier believed that, “The right response at the right moment might actually determine the course of a person’s entire life.” He says that he found that, “often, humans are presented with rare opportunities to develop and grow only through hardship and trial.”
In the message that I shared several months ago on men struggling with fear, I used this example. I talked about failure. One of the best examples I can think of was Abraham Lincoln. Do you know how many times he lost political races? He lost running for the Senate four times. He had six, what people would call failures, running for office. It makes you wonder, did he ever felt like he was a loser.
If I ran for political office and I lost once, maybe twice, I’d never do it again. You see, what God wants to do in our lives, and the Bible talks a lot about perseverance, pressing on, seeing failure, seeing storms as blessings and not a curse. Think about what James says. This is incredible. James 1:2 says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.” Did you hear that? “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance, and let endurance have its perfect result in your life.” And what is that? He says, that you might be spiritually mature and complete, lacking in nothing.
Question. Is that the way you see adversity in your life? Do you consider it all joy when it comes?
I think the most significant application is to answer this question; kinda goes back to where we started. What does it mean to be a man? Johnson says, “I wanted to appear to be manly.” What is that? What is true masculinity? What is real manhood, what is the true measure of a man?
Well, what does God say? I mean, it seems His opinion would matter most.
My first understanding of this came years ago when I first encountered a verse in the book of Romans, and you’re probably familiar with it, Romans 8:28, “But we know that God is causing all things to work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.” When I heard that verse, I thought, that is the greatest promise that a Christian could be given. My only problem was the way I interpreted the word “good”. God’s causing all things to work together for my good, because my interpretation was my success, my prosperity, my financial well-being, that God is causing all things to work together for those things in my life. It was sometime later that someone pointed out, you know, you ought to read verse 29. It gives you a little better insight into what is good. Verse 29 talks about being conformed to the image of God’s Son. In other words, to become more Christ-like, to become more like Jesus.
That’s the ultimate good as a Christian, is that we become more like Him. One of my favorite quotes, outside of Scripture, comes from Alexander Solzhenitsyn. I don’t know if you know that name. He is a Russian author. He won a Nobel Prize for literature. He gave a famous commencement address at Harvard back in 1979 called, “A World Split Apart.” In his twenties, he went into prison for saying a few disparaging words about Joseph Stalin. He spent eight years in prison. This is the good news. He went into prison as an atheist. He came out as a Christian, and this is the first thing that came out of his mouth when he walked out of that prison. He said, “I bless you, prison. I bless you for being in my life, for there, lying on rotten prison straw, I learned that the object of life was not prosperity as I had grown up believing, but it is the maturing of the soul.” He raises a great question. What is the object of life?
For so many years, for me it was business success, prosperity, financial well-being. Solzhenitsyn’s words ring so true. The object of life is maturing of the soul. It is the transformation of my heart and my character, and it’s knowing God. You know, our lives get so out of whack because we believe true manhood is about performing and achieving and accumulating. God is saying, I’m much more interested in your heart and in your soul. I’m much more interested in the type of man that you are becoming. Now, I don’t know about you, but the first time I ever confronted this idea of becoming more like Jesus, I have to tell you, it did not have a lot of appeal in my life because what I thought that meant is that you have to become more religious, and you have to be serious about everything. But, as the years have gone by and as I’ve read about the life of Jesus, the first thing you come to realize is that He wasn’t religious at all. In fact, those who were religious hated Him. They didn’t like who He hung out with. They didn’t like what He taught. They certainly didn’t like the way He spoke to them, but what really got under their skin was that everybody started following Him. And then you look at how, I mean, think about it. Look at how courageous He was. He was fearless as a man, and yet, on the other hand, he was tender and compassionate. Think about it. You see Him weep several times. Think about that. God weeping. God weeping. God weeping. So, in my mind, and there may be more than three, but there are three characteristics I think of being Christ-like, and therefore, there are three keys of true masculinity.
The first, of course, starts out with the issue of character, and the foundation of His character was humility. Andrew Murray says, humility is the root of all character and all virtue. But, you see, character is not emphasized in our culture because we’re so focused on performing and achieving.
Back in April, there was an article in The Wall Street Journal about Harvard Business School and I love the title of the article. Listen to what the title was. “The Modern Business Education Provides Theories and Metrics, but No Moral Center.” That’s what’s happening in our culture. It’s all about achieving, performing, but there’s no moral center. Please hear this. The quality of your life and the quality of your relationships is determined by your inward character. Stephen Covey says it. Jesus says it.
A second component of Christ-likeness is to have great wisdom. I’m not going to share much about that, but ultimately, wise people make good choices and good decisions. The final component of Christ-likeness is the ability to love. You know, when you start talking about masculinity, think about those young boys at Stony Brook. What is a real man? None of them would even think about saying, “to love”. To be tough, to be decisive, to take risks. Walk like a man, talk like a man. Show no emotion. True Christ-likeness, when it gets right down to it, is all about love, your ability to love, which clearly has an impact on the quality of your relationships.
You know, I don’t have time to go into this, but you know where, for men, where this is so crucial? It’s your relationship with other men. Do you have any true friends? I mean, men that you can bare your soul with, or do you just have a bunch of acquaintances that ya’ll have a good time together. You’ll never be the man that God meant you to be, called you to be, until you have other men in your life that you can bare your soul with.
Now, a question that I get is, okay, I believe what you’re saying, Christ-likeness, but how do you do that? I mean, can, by an act of your will, I’ll start being like Jesus tomorrow? You see, I don’t think any of you can pull it off. I know I can’t. We don’t have the resources within us to do it. Augustine realized this. He said, I’m feeble and weak and therefore, I realize I need something or someone outside of myself to come and transform my life. What he concluded was that the only person that could do that was Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. You see, what I’ve learned is that, as Christians, if we will diligently seek Him, draw near to Him and deepen our relationship with Him, He begins to transform you. I’m not talking about religion. I’m not talking about trying to be good. I’m talking literally about the life of God working in the soul of man.
I want to close our time with two illustrations that really get to the heart of this performance trap and I think this is what will ultimately set us free.
I want to start by reading the first one, which is words from the biography of Andrew Carnegie. He was a Scottish American. He led the expansion of the steel industry in the late 19th century, and many people identify him as one of the wealthiest Americans to ever live. I’m just going to read this right out of his biography. “Andrew Carnegie was born in Dunfermline Scotland and grew up in Pittsburgh. When he was a young boy, he found his mother one day weeping in despair.” There was no father. I don’t know what happened to him. “Young Andrew tried to console his mother and urged her not to cry. He confidently assured her that one day he would be wealthy and that he would ride in a fine coach pulled by four fine horses. His mother replied, well, that will do no good over here in Pittsburgh if no one in Dunfermline can see us. Andrew Carnegie made up his mind that day that he and his mother would make a grand entry into Dunfermline Scotland on a royal coach drawn by the finest horses so that the entire town could witness the event. He would show them. Making it big in Pittsburgh was not enough. He had to prove the family success in front of their home town audience. A little over 30 years later, Andrew and his mother returned to Scotland. He had become one of the wealthiest men in the world. The trip had been long planned with his mother and a select group of their friends. There was an official parade with the climax of the day being Carnegie’s bestowal of a new beautiful library for the city of his birth. For he and his mother, this was a magnificent day of triumph. They both had longed to win the approval of an audience that they valued so much, the people from Dunfermline Scotland. Andrew Carnegie and his mother had shown them.
I share this story because most of us, whether we are aware of it or not, are seeking the approval of some audience. It’s not a question of whether we have an audience, but who is our audience, and this is our problem. We’re seeking to impress the wrong audience. You see, we were designed to live our lives so that the audience that we seek to please is Jesus. We were designed to seek to win His approval, to please Him. When that becomes true in your life, it will change you radically.
I close with this final illustration and then just a couple of words. Ya’ll have been a great audience. I know I’ve been up here a long time. There’s a famous sociologist whose name was Charles Cooley. Cooley died in 1929 but he came up with a landmark theory called “the looking glass self”. It was a human development theory. Though it’s 100 years old, it’s still applicable to our lives today. This is how it goes. A person gets his identity on how the most important person in his life sees him. Think about that. You get your identity based on how the most important person in your life sees you. When you were born and are a child, obviously the most important person in your life is your parents. This, of course, is why I believe it’s so important that parents encourage their children, love their children, build their children up, because that’s when they start beginning to get their identity. But, as you know, particularly if you have teenagers or older, that at a certain point, you’re no longer the most important person in their life. Their peers are. And so, they begin to get their identity based on how their peers see them. This can be so devastating in high school because teenagers can be so ugly. They can be so ruthless in the way they treat each other. Then, of course, as time goes by and you become an adult, particularly if you’re out in the workplace, the opinions we value most are our colleagues, our peers, the people in our communities. You know what happens? This is so important. Without realizing it, we allow our audience to make the final verdict on our lives. This is the problem. The verdict is never finally in because your performance is never over. You may be doing great right now but the next year, or five years from now, you might be on your face. You may have failed miserably.
Let me ask you this. Please hear this. What do you think would happen to a person’s life if Jesus was the most important person in your life? Think about that. How would that change you? Well, I contend it would radically transform your life. Most significantly, it would set you free from the performance trap. See, Jesus does not love you based on how well you perform. He could care less how successful you are. He desires that you do your very best but He doesn’t love you based on how you perform in your job, how much money you make, how quote “successful” you are. He loves you because He values you. You’re created in His image. It says, we are His workmanship in Ephesians 2. That comes from the Greek word poema, it’s like it says, a work of art. You are like a valuable work of art to Him. You are fearfully and wonderfully made in His sight. You have great value because of Who made you. And when C.S. Lewis became a Christian he probably understood this better than anybody because he says it transformed his identity and the audience he performed for. As he began to read the Bible, Lewis said he found a new way to establish his identity. He called it coming to terms with his real personality and this process, he says, and these are his words, involves “losing yourself in your relationship to the Creator. Until you have given yourself up to Him, you will not have a real self and you’ll always be controlled by the opinion of others.” He says, “Tthis is why Jesus and only Jesus can set you free from this performance trap so that you can be the man He designed you to be.”
Let me pray. Father, what a great event this is. I just praise You for the men who stepped out and took the risk of bringing this together. Lord, I pray that we would truly grasp the significance of building our life and our identity around You, to set us free to really live the life that You’ve called us to live. To not live in fear always wondering what people think. Being delivered from the fear of failing, not always comparing ourselves, enabling us to have true rich relationships with others, particularly with other men. And so, as we go forth, Lord, I pray that You would do a mighty work in each of our lives, that You would draw us to yourself in a very real way, and that we would truly be on the path that leads us to be the men that You have called us to be. And we pray all of this in the name of Jesus. Amen.