Characterization, Beowulf style

Whether rearing children, growing your soul, or writing a novel, it’s hard to beat this bright line from Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf:

Behavior that’s admired is the path to power among people everywhere (page 5).

When writing for young men

Society can give its young men almost any job and they’ll figure how to do it. They’ll suffer for it and die for it and watch their friends die for it, but in the end, it will get done. That only means that society should be careful about what it asks for.*

When writing or publishing for young men, it’s crucial to visualize what outcomes you’re hoping for. Are they worthy of the readers you’re serving? Are you aiming high enough? Young men, properly motivated, possess an irrepressible will to achieve and prevail. Honoring your reader’s potential is the lynchpin of your message.

* This statement appears on page 154 of War, by Sebastian Junger. A sobering and thought-provoking snapshot of the war in Afghanistan, War also speaks to the nature and strength of America’s young men.

Hunting

We work out in a world-class gym. It’s so nice that professional sports teams practice there.

There’s a curious thing, though. The men’s locker room hosts a population of little flies. They’re neither big nor fast — mostly they park on the wall and stay there. But enter the shower and you’ve got friends.

The guys used to grumble about them. Make comments about the janitorial help. You know the comments I mean. Why don’t they do something about this!?

Until, one day, some guy remembered he was a man. A person God put on this earth do take action. To make things happen. To own the situation. This guy walked into the shower room and slaughtered twenty flies. And twelve more the next day.

Pretty soon there’s a score card on the wall — how many flies did you kill today? Ten, twenty, thirty . . .

And now those flies are pretty much extinct.

Let’s always remind our young guys they’re men — and men are defined by action. After all, men love to hunt.

Afterburners, Part Two

Lust may deliver the kick of afterburners, but that doesn’t mean we’re automatic victims. Many men choose instead to harness their passions to applied righteousness.

Here are several proven approaches for defeating monstrous temptations.

1. Work on your WANTER.
It comes down to what you want, so pray frequently to want what’s right. The man in Mark 9:24 provides a great model for how to pray: “Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’” Borrow his prayer. “Lord, help me to want what’s right!”

2. Take heart.
Focus on your righteousness, not your failures. Proverbs 24:16 says, “For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again.” If you belong to Jesus Christ, you are a righteous man. Remind yourself of this and rise again.

3. Claim Scripture.
You know this verse — we all learned it: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Memorize that last part. When deceit starts driving you toward lust, quickly ask God to show you that “way of escape” — and look for it. (And pray the “Wanter” prayer!)

4. Band together.
One man against afterburners is flimsy odds. Ecclesiastes 4:12 reads this way: “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Confide in close friends and slay the dragon with one another’s help.

5. Exercise your NO muscle.
Practice denying yourself. Start creatively with things like comfort and ease. Be manly. One guy and his buddy made a point to plunge into frozen ponds and streams a few times each winter. Another guy gives himself a buzz cut in the garage every Sunday, year round, wearing nothing but gym shorts, even when it’s zero degrees. Some friends once carried huge rocks the entire length of their hike through the Tetons — just because it was hard. One of them still has that rock proudly displayed in his desk at work. Have fun with this. Other ways to exercise the NO muscle: Put a filter on your computer. Leave your iGadget in the kitchen at night. Make sober commitments to your girlfriend when you’re thinking straight. Do something hard, just because you’re a man.

6. Do good things.
Ephesians 4:28 is interesting. It reads: “He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.” Replace what’s harmful with what’s helpful, good, and redemptive. Actually do things for people. Doing good is a fabulous antidote to doing bad. Here’s a good question to ponder — How do men bring good into the lives of women?

7. Cultivate Love.
Love, not willpower, is the true source of victory. You are ten times more likely to shun evil out of love for someone than out of willpower. So, cultivate love. Your girlfriend. Your wife. Your kids. Your friends. Your Lord. Pick someone, study the definition of agape love in the Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, and practice loving someone. Love makes afterburners look like smoldering twigs.

Afterburners

When you live by the Air Force Academy you watch flyovers all year long — and especially during football season. The skies are a source of wonder.

Multiple turbofans? Four A-10s. Sudden thunder? F-15s. An increasing drone? C-130s setting up to land.

One time we heard a strange whining noise. Scanning the horizon we saw nothing — until we looked straight up. Directly overhead, almost stationary, was a U-2 spy plane. It seemed remote, just hanging in the sky.

There was nothing remote about the F-111s, though. We had raced over to the stadium on a Saturday morning to watch the flyovers. With craned necks we were facing the sky where they usually came from, when an explosion of thunder nearly knocked us over. Blasting in from behind, so low you could see flames and smell fumes, those jets made every man in the stadium leap and shout. A straight-up adrenaline blowout.

That . . . is what lust is like. Full throttle with afterburners.

So what’s a young guy to do? When opportunities are everywhere, how can a young man keep his way pure?

Tomorrow we’ll consider seven ideas.

Overcoming the fear of getting involved

Two big reasons people avoid youth ministry are fear and ignorance.

Fear of failure, rejection, appearing foolish or boring, being disrespected, not knowing how to handle a group, not knowing what to say, and all that. Fearful stuff.

And the ignorance part? Not knowing what to do! I can’t picture what value I bring or how it will work. What will I do with them? I don’t even know how to talk to students. All I get is The Big Silence or one-word answers . . .

One of our couples just went through this. Their church assigns leaders to each of the classes — a woman for the girls and a man for the guys. By early October no one had yet taken the freshmen. Four years of investment, four years of influence for Christ. What an opportunity.

The wife knew just what to do. Listen to them, love them, pray for them, talk with them. But the guy is thinking, “I don’t know what to do with freshmen boys. I don’t play sports and I’m not a standup comedian. What do I have that they want?”

But there they stood, leaderless. So here’s what he did:

1. He prayed. “God, I am your servant. And those boys are your men. If You want my influence in their lives, I’ll do it. But please show me what to do because I have no idea and it fills me with dread.”

2. He gathered ideas. He talked to his wife, his good friend who works with youth, and a couple guys in the church who are doing a great job with the upperclassmen. They encouraged him and told him to just ease into it — God would lead and the students would slowly open up.

3. He got the boys names and began praying for them. Specifically by name, and daily.

4. He made a list of what could happen in four years. They could become men of God. They could become strong male role models. And they could set the tone and culture of this youth group in just a year or two.

5. He made simple questionnaires to learn how to pray for them and where to invest in their spiritual strength (click here for sample).

6. He began talking to the dads to get them involved. Give a five-minute speech on how you got saved or what the manliness training was like in the Marines. Join us for a day trip to hike the dunes and make a bonfire. Teach us some skill you know so we can all get better at it. That kind of stuff. (Click here for another sample.)

7. He’s trusting God. All you can do is surrender and begin. God will need to lead it from here. But getting the ball rolling makes a big difference in turning dread . . . to influence.

This is just one guy’s story, but the principles are sound. God will clearly grow and direct anyone who makes himself available.

What’s more manly than attitude?

[ . . . ] speak louder than words.

Tis [ . . . ] that makes the hero.

“Everyone who hears these words of Mine and [ . . . ] on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24; NASB).

If attitude reveals the type of man I’m pretending to be, action reveals the man I am. Any lasting legacy, whether taking the hill, building the dam, writing the novel, or leading someone to Christ, is born of action.

And where does action come from? According to Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, action is the product of conviction. If a man really believes something, he does it.

Our challenge? Working conviction into the lives of those we serve. Not just knowledge, but conviction. Something to act on.