only adequate answer to an aggressively pagan world is for Christians
to recover the New Testament power of spiritual aggression.
“I am firing myself.”
The chairman of our company returned my statement with a blank stare. My professional freefall had begun. It picked up even more speed when the second most frightening sentence I have ever uttered escaped my mouth.
“I sense God calling me to work with men on a full-time basis.” I didn’t know exactly what it looked like, but I wanted to help churches connect their men and grow strong men’s communities.
Yet again, no response.
A voice in my head filled the silence. That sounded even more stupid than firing yourself… In fact, it was idiotic. This little ministry venture of yours will cause major problems for your wife, Chrissy.
Man, was that true! Before I knew it, I was in a war zone, fireworks of
fear exploding in my head.
• Boom! You are the CEO of your company with 265 great employees.
• Kaboom! Annual revenues hit eight million this year.
• Pop! Pop! You’ve worked your way to the top over the last eight years, from a marketing assistant to running the show!
• Bang! You have a robust 401(k) deal going and are fully vested.
• Waboom! You have a deferred compensation package that guarantees you thousands of extra dollars per year if you’ll just stay with the company.
• Shabang! You have stock options.
• And for the finale! Chrissy is feeling financially secure for the first time in twelve years of marriage! After spending the last few years becoming debt free, do you really want to press the nuclear hot button of your marriage?
Then the counterthought: You know what you need to do. You just have to get off your blessed assurance and do it.
Oh yeah, I forgot about that, Lord–The soldier who dropped that Godbomb on me was my pastor. The day before, his words had come thundering from heaven, waking me out of my stupor. After a year of debating God’s call about when to start my nonprofit ministry, the answer had come. I had been praying for clarity, and now, finally, here it was, clear as day, in bright, fluorescent green.
But where was that confidence now? Instead of feeling like Elwood from the Blues Brothers “on a mission from God,” I felt more like Minnie Mouse and my fingernail polish didn’t match my skirt, if you know what I mean.
Then my boss’s mouth finally opened. “Kenny,” he began. Oh, mama. Here it comes. “I am so excited for you. What can I do to help you with this transition?” I stood there paralyzed, unable to respond.
“Well,” he said, answering his own question, “since you’ve been with the company for nine years, I can make sure you get a ninemonth severance. And if you want, you can house your new venture out of the corporate office rent free.”
Holy #%$*! I mean, cannoli!
Well, I used that severance to help launch Every Man Ministries (EMM) in the spring of 2000. God is using the EMM team to help spark a revolution in men’s ministry, spiritually freeing hundreds of thousands of men and igniting the church worldwide through conferences, campaigns, pastors’ trainings, books, and resources. Charles Spurgeon expressed, for all men who dare to be obedient, the untold power of a small decision for God when he observed, “We do not know all that we are doing when we risk for our faith. Great wheels turn on little axles.” Yes, my brotha! I had no idea how big a small decision to do what God was asking me to do would be for my own life and eventually for countless other men.
Ditching the “Safe” Life
Predictability. Control. Safety. Comfort.
The book in your hand is about exploring God’s feelings on how those subjects fit, or better yet, don’t fit into your quest toward becoming God’s man. In fact, when you see this climber graphic behind text, that’s a signal to pause and consider ways to apply the principles of risk in your own life. Like all God’s men, the first disciples had their own “Oh, Mama” moments with Christ. Each was on a journey to fulfill God’s purposes for his life. Aware of this, Jesus knew he had to address the whole issue of risky commitment if the disciples were to succeed in their mission after He’d conquered the Cross. He was direct and uncomfortably honest:
Then Jesus began to tell them that he, the Son of Man, would suffer
many terrible things and be rejected by the leaders, the leading
priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, and
three days later he would rise again. As he talked about this openly
with his disciples, Peter took him aside and told him he shouldn’t
say things like that.
Jesus turned and looked at his disciples and then said to Peter
very sternly, “Get away from me, Satan! You are seeing things
merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”
Then he called his disciples and the crowds to come over and
listen. “If any of you wants to be my follower,” he told them, “you
must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will find true life.” (Mark 8:31—35, NLT)
Satan had already tried to sabotage Jesus at the outset of His ministry through promises of pleasure and power and protection. Jesus heard him again trying to lie to Peter. Real spiritual warfare surrounds every good man that He wants to use. So He got real. He told Peter and the disciples exactly what was going on. He wanted them and us to know the very real risks we take to follow Him. It means giving up the life you may have expected you’d live, to live the one God calls you to live.
What’s more, Jesus makes it clear to His men that all the energy they might spend trying to eliminate risk would actually work against His purposes in their lives. Jesus knew that very shortly the chips would be down for His guys, and the only true option would be to bet it all. It could not have been a more desperate situation, so He made it plain:
Take risks for Me and you will find life. Hedge your bet and you will lose it all.
Jumping into Risk
Tension. Unpredictability. Letting go. Adrenaline.
Oh yeah, baby. Jumping off of things is in our DNA. It took me about two seconds to come up with my short list of things I used to love jumping off of. The roof into a cold pool. Trampolines. The swings. A pogo stick to Billy Joel music, eight hundred and fifty seven times in my parents’ garage. Over Calabasas Creek with my yellow Schwinn. Into mischief for the simple thrill of it.
How about you?
Our fathers (or mothers) looked at us and said, “What were you thinking?”
We said, “I don’t know.”
And that was the truth: there was no explanation! We were boys. We were stretching the limits of our courage, testing the limits of our abilities, risking injury for the rush of what was on the other side of the experience. We lived for that freedom and risked life and limb naturally. What a great life purpose!
It’s not a mystery that Jesus used a little boy to answer the spiritual significance question: “Who’s the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Imagine being a first-century man looking on, wondering the same thing: “What can I do here that will make me significant up there with God?” Jesus looked at His guys and knew exactly what message to send.
He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:2—3)
What would this mean to you? What qualities would you as a man need to recapture from your boyhood to shape your masculinity in Christ right now?
Eager to trust. Eager to risk. Eager to “jump off.”
Risk is in the DNA of every man, put there by God and for God. You may have misplaced it, neglected it, misused it, but it is time to get it back. It is time to do something great for God with it right now. This means committing to the four principles of RISK for every God’s man.
Here they come…
Right View of God
Is He or isn’t He? God, that is. Sounds silly but I am dead serious. Both the root of our fears and our courage to risk hinge on our view of God.
A. W. Tozer was on the mark about us when he said, “Were we to extract from any man a complete answer to the question, ‘What comes into your mind when you think about God?’ we might predict with certainty the spiritual future of that man.” It makes perfect sense. The most important thing about us is our concept of God. Is He omnipotent or impotent? Sovereign and aloof ? Or omnipresent and available? High and lifted up or familiar? Punitive or kind? Faithful or flaky? Loving or vengeful? Just or unjust? Able or unable to make a difference? Creator or kill-joy? When our concept of Him is diminished, so is courage for Him. But if our concept is correct, we become unstoppable for the kingdom. So how big is your God? The answer to that lies not in your words but in the substance of your actions for Him. If you know He is who He says He is, you will risk big. Little God? Little risk. Little love for God? Little love for people. The connections are endless.
Your concept of God is so important that when it is off, you suffer, your relationships suffer, and your mission for God in the world suffers. Wrong notions rot moral courage. Right notions produce radical actions. In fact, no man’s life for God will ever outperform his view of God. That is why Jesus feared no man. He saw His Father clearly and lived confidently.
They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.” (Mark 12:14, emphasis added)
What about for you? No person, no obstacle, no dream, no problem, no fear, and no issue in your life is bigger than your God. If He wants something to happen, nothing can stop it. And if it doesn’t happen through you, His purpose will be worked out another way. Brother, that’s freedom! You cannot lose. His faithfulness and purpose will always prevail. If you see God for who He is, you will gamble hard on His way, just like Jesus did.
As we start to think about risking more for God, we have to guard our minds against thoughts that diminish the reality of His majesty and power.
When you know who you are, taking big risks makes sense.
But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6:11—12, emphasis added)
Paul knew that the quickest and most effective way to pull greatness out of his pupil Timothy was to remind him of who he really was. He might be tempted to pretend to be someone else, but Timothy was God’s man–that was his identity. His mentor knew that his identity shaped his loyalty and that loyalty is what drives our choices. In Timothy’s life it meant fleeing inconsistent identities, fighting hard for what he believed, and being loyal to his calling as God’s man. In the same way, Jesus pulled His guys in tight to emphasize that their identity meant lining up on the right side of the ball. “If you belonged to the world,” He said, “it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” ( John 15:19, emphasis added). The crystal clear message: blending in with the world is not the mark of His men.
Here’s a spiritual fact: we risk more for God when our identity is firmly in God. Today, His Spirit is confronting all His men everywhere with the same question: “Are you on this team?” Jesus made it a habit to confront guys posing as believers (as opposed to risking as believers) by asking: “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say?” In other words, “Identify with Me fully; don’t just pay lip service.” No faking it.
Flip the question over and you get the solution: if we call Him Lord, Lord, we will risk it all to do what He says. And every time we choose Christ, our identity becomes more deeply imbedded in Him. To risk more for Christ we need to be squarely in Christ. No wavering. So decide now where your identity and loyalty will lie if you want to experience maximum connection with God and His purposes.
Sacrifice Like Christ
These famous words of martyred missionary Jim Elliot make him the patron saint of spiritual guts in my book: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose.” In a single sentence He captures the essence of what it means to risk spiritually. At some point we stop caring about Earth in order to populate and invest in heaven. In Elliot’s case, he traded his bride, his career, and ultimately his very breath for Jesus’s sake and for the sake of the gospel. He lost his life to gain his life. His talk of sacrifice was matched by a life of sacrifice. And while few of us will be called to give our lives, millions of us will be called to sacrifice our wills for His will, material wealth for spiritual wealth, earthly recognition for heavenly recognition, carnal appetites for godly appetites, career dreams for God’s dream, corporate ladders for family health, and convenient compromise for spiritual integrity. Sacrifice and suffering loss for the sake of our faith is what connects the God-Man and God’s man.
In bringing many sons to glory [your name implied here], it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. (Hebrews 2:10—11)
Jesus was made fit to lead us through suffering. Naturally, if He lives in you, God will continue to make you fit to lead by calling you to a sacrificial life. More important, sacrifice for Christ is what unites you most deeply with Christ. How else could the apostle Paul write, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings” (Philippians 3:10, emphasis added)?
Risking for God is synonymous with sacrificing for God, and it is not a burden; it is a privilege as God’s man. It is a special bond we share with Christ and part of our worship. We lay our lives on the altar so He can use us mightily for His work.
Men who dare greatly for their faith have asked and answered this question: Am I willing to sacrifice my agenda in order to be used for God’s agenda?
When your view of God is right, your identity as God’s man is settled (as in, no more competing identities), and you are willing to sacrifice your agenda for His service, it’s time to build something that will outlast you. It’s time to invest in something you can’t take with you but something you can send ahead to eternity. It’s time to get busy building the kingdom of God right where you live, in your local church, and in your world. It’s time to start thinking outside the box and dream–dream big God dreams.
The kingdom doesn’t need more religious guys. It requires more big, hairy, audacious dreamers. Think I’m playing you? Listen to Jesus describe the kind of man God uses for breakthrough works of His Spirit in the world. Could He be talking about you?
From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.” (Matthew 11:12, emphasis added)
As soon as John started talking about a Messiah, the battle line was drawn. Men throughout the centuries have been challenged to cross that line, out of comfort and into risk for their King. Forceful men have been moved from within with God’s vision for kingdom expansion.
And even today, forceful men still hunger and thirst for the kingdom of God to explode in peoples’ hearts wherever they may be. The kingdom mentality is not for the spiritually timid; it is for the man of war. And it is about winning–souls, communities, people in desperation, countries in darkness, and all the particular battles of your world. It’s about winning men you know to join forces and affect the course of history.
I had a missionary from Kenya write me recently about the AIDS and orphan epidemic in his country. His assessment on the ground gave me a glimpse of the global impact men have and a template for the solution in many cultures: “Here in Kenya,” he said, “we don’t have an AIDS problem; we have a man problem.” He went on to describe how migrant labor forces men to seek work in cities far from home: they sleep with prostitutes and come back and infect their villages with the virus. He begged me to come and join him and bring men’s ministry rather than medicine. Africa needs men who make things better, not men who make messes–it needs leaders.
He finished by saying, “If men start making different moral choices, the country will change.” How many other communities around the world could say the same thing?
From leading nations to providing for families, men are needed to plant churches, equip future leaders, assist the poor, care for the sick, and educate the next generation. A vast army is being raised, and troops are being delivered to global hotspots in record numbers. For example, Rick Warren’s Global PEACE Plan network is mobilizing one billion believers to “go” as Jesus commanded and slay these global giants. The deployment has already begun. Over the next couple of decades it will be the most powerful show of force the church has mounted in history. And men will be at the center of this movement. The biggest needs will be met not by politicians, by the United Nations, or by throwing money to poor countries. They will be met by God’s people. Rick believes, as I do, that our team has the widest and best distribution network in the world–it’s called the church.
And the world is waiting for its redeemers (little r) who can tell the good news of the Redeemer. Men will be the tip of the spear on many fronts of this titanic kingdom advance.
Will you be in play?