disciple-making

Reshaping Manhood: Strength

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Strength is one of the main biological differences between males and females and throughout history, strength has defined great men. Strength obviously differentiates men and women but strength also differentiates among men. Historically, men who were physically stronger often did better in battle, agriculture, and were seen as more desirable by women and there is no known culture in which weaker men were considered more valuable than stronger men.

Strength is the ability to exert force in accordance with ones will and while history favored physical strength, modern society also leans towards mental strength. Based on the same definition, mental strength could be seen as the ability to carry out tasks or goals based on ones will power and self-discipline. Being a good husband, father, leader, and Christian all requires mental strength, will power, and self-discipline. We all know men who lack these traits and have made their marriages, families, careers, or walks with Christ a train wreck because they lacked the mental strength, will power, or self-discipline required in these areas.

Mental strength, just like physical strength, is an aptitude that can be developed and increased through practice. Angela Duckworth, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, studies achievement. She tracked 2,441 West Point cadets spread across two entering classes. She recorded their high school grades, SAT scores, leadership potential scores, physical aptitude and a number of other variables to determine what develops a great leader. She discovered that it wasn’t grades, IQ, or leadership potential that accurately predicted whether a cadet would be successful. Instead, it was mental grit, perseverance, and self-determination to achieve long–term goals that made the difference.

5 Traits for Mental Strength

Set Goals to Improve. Step one is seeing that you need improvement in whatever area in your life you are lacking. Compare yourself to the best not the mediocre and set achievable goals to improve. According to neuroscientists studying Nay SEAL trainees, they found that trainees who were able to pass the most rigorous tests are the ones who set many goals. Not just any goals but very specific goals with short, mid, and long-term milestones.

Segmentation. Segmentation is the process of blocking out distractions and focusing on accomplishing one task at a time to accomplish something. First, you slowly divide tasks, goals, or objectives in small parts then take on your challenge one small step at a time. You focus on the next immediate objective and accomplish that objective without letting your mind worry about the other tasks or the entire magnitude of your goal.

Visualization and Self-Talk – Performance coaches have long used visualization techniques with Olympic athletes and top performers. One study showed that subjects simply visualizing the successfully completion of a task had almost as much success as those who practiced actually doing the physical task. The process involves vividly visualizing yourself successfully completing a goal, task, or a habit that you want to obtain. Each day, you visualize incorporating all the five senses, what it would be like when you accomplish your goals. Another aspect of visualization is positive self-talk. Top performers “talk” to themselves with positive words to keep their spirits up. They are actively aware of negative or self-defeating thoughts and constantly remind themselves that no matter how tough the situation is…it will always end.

Consistency – Mentally tough athletes, performers, and leaders are also more consistent than others. They don’t miss workouts, they don’t miss assignments, and they always have their teammates back. They don’t let short–term distractions, negative feedback, or hectic schedules prevent them from continuing their actions towards their goal or vision. In addition, they make a habit of building up the people around them repeatedly and sharing in victories rather than touting their own contributions and wins or claiming sole responsibility.

Emotional Control - Controlling your mental state is another very crucial skill in mental strength. Most people commonly have erratic or knee-jerk reactions to stressful situations or circumstances. They react out of emotion or the fight or flight response rather than in a calm, methodical manner. The other common reaction people have is the opposite, indecision or freezing up, they cannot make timely decisions and therefore do not act at all. These responses are not unique to high stress situations but even to everyday decision-making. Some people react emotionally or cannot make a decision and fall into “analysis paralysis” but we have more control over our reactions than we think. We often can’t control people or what happens in our outside world, but we can control our interpretation of it and our decision making process in light of it. In high stress situations, top performers breathe deeply and make decisive actions based on logic rather than emotion.

Mental strength isn’t about getting an incredible dose of inspiration or courage from an event; this is why retreats and resolutions usually fall short. Mental Strength is more about building daily habits that allow you to stick to a routine, control your emotions, and overcome challenges and distractions on a consistent basis. This could be with your family, your career, or in your spiritual life.

Throughout the Bible, we find numerous stories of men with mental strength. Many did not start out with mental strength but through the course of their lives and with a trust and faith in God, they developed many of the traits for mental strength. Not only did God use these men to build his kingdom but they also now serve as examples for us to emulate.  If mental strength is about building daily habits and consistency, I challenge you to apply these five traits each day this next week while also reading some of your favorite stories of men in the Bible who exhibit these traits or simply repeat the following verse 10 times throughout each day.

[shareable cite="Philippians 4:13"]I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.[/shareable]

The next characteristic is Courage.

Reshaping Manhood: Intro

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Imagine you were called upon to travel to a foreign country, in a harsh climate, and lead the fight against ISIL/ISIS.  You had to pick a team of five men you know and these men would travel with you and help you accomplish this task.  What attributes would you use to evaluate the men you would choose?  What character traits would you value over others?  Which men would you eliminate from your pool because they lacked the strength, courage, mental fortitude, or trust needed to complete this task?

Masculinity is the opposite of femininity yet over the past 30 years; certain segments of our culture to include academia, media, and the social sciences have implied and tried to get men to think and act more feminine.  Masculinity is also not chauvinism, dominance, sexism, or denigrating femininity.  In a Biblical context, men and women are equal but have separate and distinct roles in relationships, the family, and society.  Even in a non-Biblical context, such as same-sex relationships, each partner assumes one role or the other almost as a basic human relational instinct.

However, as previously stated, over the past 30 years there has been confusion and mixed messages over the role of men and often when I have witnessed anger, resentment, passivity, or unhealthy traits in men and marriages, it often stems from these mixed messages or reversed roles in a marriage.

Manhood is a way to be, a path to follow, and a way to walk in life.  Humans are social creatures and prone to tribal/community living.  Therefore, who we are as men has a lot to do with how we see ourselves in relationship to other males.  If we begin viewing and shaping ourselves through the lens of our culture or through the lens of our wives or other women, this is where men can stray from our identities.  It is not that the culture or women are wrong but they often try to change or “improve” men based on what women or our culture wants from men rather than our unique and separate roles and identities.

Therefore, men should be centering our way to be, our path to follow, and our walk in life based on a Biblical context and from the reinforcement of other strong, Biblical men.  Until a hundred years ago, men banded together in small tribes and communities where their distinct roles were taught from a young age and then reinforced by other men throughout their lives.

Again, imagine you and a small group of men have brought your families to an isolated frontier outpost in the Western United States in the mid 1800’s.  Lurking beyond the perimeter of your outpost are predators, hostile and friendly natives, and other food sources.  Given that all you love is within your outpost, which men would you choose to stand beside you and protect your family?  Which men are willing to fight for what you believe in and hold sacred?  Which men can act decisively and remain calm under distress?  Which men will act selflessly and place the group’s wellbeing above his own?  Again, what character, mental, and emotional traits would you value over others?

While you might never be charged with leading other men in the fight against terrorists or living in a remote outpost in the 1800’s, God has charged every man to lead his family, serve in God’s church, and stand for righteousness and justice.  Over the course of these next few posts, I am going to highlight some distinct, universal characteristics of masculinity throughout history and their Biblical context in relation to God’s plan.  I challenge you to reflect on your own life and walk in relation to these characteristics and with the men you currently associate with on a daily basis.  Not only will you be able to decide which men to choose to stand with you but you will also see if you would be chosen by others to stand with them.

The first characteristic is Strength.

What Our Church Really Needs

There is a huge difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is an accurate understanding of truth. Wisdom is understanding and living in the light of how that truth applies to the situations and relationships of our daily lives. Knowledge is an exercise of your brain. Wisdom is the commitment of your heart that leads to transformation in your life.

Simplicity at its best

LTRfront1Leadership Training Residency is a class that our church offers for Overseers, Worship Leaders and Youth Ministry Leaders.  I am taking this with some other brothers that I walk with and am in ministry with.  There was some concern on my scheduling (my involvement), but after talking with some accountability partners (my wife and brothers that I am being held accountable with), we decided that this would be a good discipline in my life to get my spiritual life back into focus. One of the books that were assigned to us is by Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline, where he talks about outward disciplines and in his words, "After all, the writers of Scripture constantly took that risk. And so I follow their lead and suggest ten controlling disciplines for outward expression of simplicity:

  1. Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status (want versus need, practicality versus status, simplicity versus idolatry)
  2. Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you (if the object, item or possession causes you to put that before everything else, especially God, then release it and let it go)
  3. Develop a habit of giving things away (don't let the left hand see what the right hand is doing and your Father, who is in Heaven, is watching you and seeing you lay treasures up in heaven instead of materialism on earth.   The more stuff the more complicated life becomes)
  4. Refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry (things that promise to save time usually breakdown and don't really have Kingdom value and in some cases become idolatry:  Case in point - your smart phones)
  5. Learn to enjoy things without owning them (share the beach - don't try to own a piece of it; visit parks and libraries)
  6. Develop a deeper appreciation for the creation (walk and hike wherever you can and listen to God's creation)
  7. Look with a healthy skepticism at all "buy now, pay later" schemes (this is usury and in its very nature tells us to accumulate debt instead of being debt free and honor God)
  8. Obey Jesus' instructions about plain, honest speech (Let your "yes" be yes and your "no" be no.  Follow through on your own integrity, honesty and truthfulness in all that you do)
  9. Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others (live in a way that does not oppress others - if what you eat, drink and wear and own causes others to be oppressed than change your habits)
  10. Shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the Kingdom of God (if it is an idol and gets in the relationship between you and God then remove that idol.  For some this could be sports (or our kids sports that takes our time and talent and treasure away from building God's Kingdom; for others it could be laziness; for others it could be putting everything else in our life before God's will.  Some of you may be asking what is God's will for our life - my question back to you is are you in prayer daily, God's word daily and serving God's Kingdom instead of your own kingdom?)

One of our Worship Leaders, Vinnie Adams, just finished an album that you can download (and even purchase) and I think it is very fitting to ask yourself where you life is leaning on these 10 disciplines above.  Take a listen to his album (read about Tesoros De Dios and if you feel compelled to donate - please do) and asks yourself these questions:

  1. Are you seeking God for direction
  2. Whose is it anyway
  3. Will God be faithful in my life (if I trust him in everything)
  4. Am I laying everything down before God (Jesus paid it all)
  5. How Great is our God
  6. Be still in life (in trial and tribulation and seasons that are stretching our walks)
  7. Do you love Jesus
  8. Rock of my Salvation

Blessings, Dante

Watch yourself

There are two poems that mean a lot to me and my walk.  I like them both because they impact my life in the way that I walk and the way I want to share my life with others.  This past weekend I lead our men's group and we talked about discipleship.  I asked three of my leaders to come up to the front with me and to share what discipleship means to them.  Along with that, I asked them so questions like why do they do what they do?  Why do they stand in the gap?  In God's math, do they feel like they get more than they give? discipledock

One of the poems that I really like (and quote often) is the 5 watches:

“Watch your thoughts, they become words; watch your words, they become actions; watch your actions, they become habits; watch your habits, they become character; watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”  - Frank Outlaw

W - watch your words - Matthew 12:37  (NIV) 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”  Psalm 141:3 (NIV) 3 Set a guard over my mouth, Lord;  keep watch over the door of my lips.  Scripture says what needs to be said here.

A - watch your actions -  1 Peter 2:12 (NIV) 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

T - watch your thoughts - Romans 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.  Why are we, as disciples, called to renew our minds?  Simply put, we were once lost but now are found.  For those of us that bear the Fruit of the Spirit, we know that there is a war that goes on from our old selves to our new selves (in Christ) and we have to put that old self (and its thoughts) to death daily.

C -  watch your character - 1 Timothy 4:16 (NIV) 16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

H - watch your habits - Psalm 119:56 (NIV) 56 This has been my practice: I obey your precepts (a general rule intended to regulate behavior or thought).

We are called to go and make disciples.  We are called to renew our minds.  We are called to love our brothers.

As striving to be the disciples that Jesus wants us to be, then we have to understand that nothing we can do can ever erase the debt or earn our way into heaven - Jesus paid it all.  Jesus is the answer.  Therefore, as disciples, what are we called to do:

  • to be pure (God is Holy)
  • to stewardship (of our time, of our talent and of our treasure) - It's all God's.  What we do with it will either give him all the honor and glory or it will give it to the world.  Whom will you serve?
  • to discipleship - how we live, even without words, should imitate Jesus and our lives should point others to Jesus.

I will even challenge you on this.  If we look at our walks in 3 steps:  Biblical purity, biblical stewardship and then discipleship, then I want to challenge you on this question:  How can we be an effective disciple (being more Christ-like) if we do not hone in on purity and stewardship (of a time, talent and treasure) before we can become a serious disciple.  Acts 11:26b (NIV)  says this: "So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch."  Did you catch that?  When they first became born-again (profess and confess and transformed) their lives a new in Jesus Christ they were known as Christians.  As they walked with Barnabas and Saul (Paul) for a whole year they were then known as disciples.  A Sensei literally means one who has gone before.  Both Barnabas and Paul were sinners, saved by grace, and went before the others as Apostles.  They met men and women where they were and did life with them together in relationship.  They taught them, shared with them and prayed with them.  They were in Scripture together and talking about real life issues and providing for one another.  They were first called Christians and then, after a year, they were known as disciples of Jesus Christ.

If the world is watching us (and they are), is our life pointing them to our old self (our old sin nature) or our new self in Jesus Christ.  Is our life pointing them to the Savior?  If they look at our purity (are we striving toward holiness as we are commanded?)  If they look at our stewardship (investment, giving, serving, and so on) does that point them to Jesus?  If we have purity and stewardship (this does not mean that we have it altogether and we live perfect sinless lives - of course we cannot), but it does mean that the Spirit and His Fruit is present in our lives.  We show humility and love in all circumstances.  Do you think that would be an effective disciple?  I most certainly do!  Challenge - look at Scripture and tell me whether or not you agree with me?

Watch your thoughts, they do become words.

Watch your words, they do become actions.

Watch your actions, they do become habits.

Watch your habits, they do become your character.

Watch your character, it does become your destiny.

Blessings,

Dante