Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Proverbs Man

I think it's easy for men to feel left out when it comes to Proverbs. Concerning gender roles within the book, most discussions focus on the picture of a virtuous wife in Proverbs 31 - commonly referred to as the "Proverbs 31 Woman." Ministries have been founded upon this passage, conferences establish, movements incited, and it only grows more popular over time. Hallelujah! I rejoice in the fact that God's Word is living and active among women.

But men need to know that Proverbs speaks to them as well! If they are like me, emphasis on the virtuous wife can be a deterrent from reading the book; not because there is anything wrong with the passage or its usage, but because of the impression that little can be applied to me. The truth of the matter is this, though: Proverbs 31 has a high concentration of biblical womanhood, but scattered throughout the rest of the book are hundreds of references that apply men. With a little bit of focus, the references can be arranged into a thorough explanation of biblical manhood.

With popular culture and media shaping the Secular Man (one with little responsibility, lots of alcohol, bodybuilder muscles, and womanizing tendencies), men of God need to know what a Proverbs Man looks like. After all, scripture is clear that the key to healthy families and societies is the presence of righteous men.

So what does the Proverbs Man look like? Let's see what the book tells us; don't worry a lot of characteristics and passages are listed below, but I will summarize and explain in conclusion.

His Character
The Proverbs Man lives by righteousness. This means that he fears the Lord (1:7, 14:16), revering and acknowledging God in every situation; from this one action flows every other positive characteristic, for "Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge." As a result of his decision to fear the Lord and walk in righteousness, he hates falsehood (13:5), shuns evil (3:7, 16:6), speaks the truth (22:21), and does what is right (2:20).

His character is also marked by humility. The Proverbs Man is wise because he fears the Lord, and honored because he humbles himself (15:33). We see this aspect of manhood most prominently in Jesus, who gave up his divine privileges in obedience to the Father - taking on humanity and dying a criminal's death (Philippians 2:5-11); he taught servant leadership and meekness in every circumstance (more about that later)!

The Proverbs Man is also self-controlled. His temperament is restrained (29:11), calm (17:27), and steady (29:8). In his actions he exemplifies cautiousness (19:2) and thinks before doing anything (13:6, 14:8, 12:23, 15:2).

His Relationships
We already know that he fears the Lord and is ever mindful of his presence (3:6). It is also true that the Proverbs Man trusts the Lord (3:5, 16:3), chooses to follow his plan (8:10-11), submits to his discipline (1:2-3, 3:11), and confesses sin to him (28:13).

But his relationship to God is not the only one that matters; family life is also an important dynamic to which he attends. He respects his parents (17:6), listens to their council (23:22), and brings them honor and joy (10:1, 15:20, 23:24, 10:5). This is an aspect of biblical manhood that is often overlooked - but is a crucial part of building a lifestyle of humility and respect.

To his wife he is appreciative, treating her as a gift from God and as his crowning glory (18:22, 19:14, 12:4, 31:10-3). He also praises her (31:28), trusts her (31:11), and is faithful to her (5:15-20); this is not only the proper way to love and lead his wife, it also provides an example for children to follow. Maintaing marriage in this way is one of the most effective ways to build a lasting family legacy of righteousness.

Of course, the Proverbs Man also loves his children (3:12, 13:24). This may seem obvious, but remember: we live in a society of absent fathers. Men need to hear that they should be with their kids - training them (22:6) so that they might find peace, joy (29:17), and honor (1:8-9, 4:9). Proverbs informs us that it is a father's responsibility to teach his children (1:10, 28:7), discipline them (13:1, 13:24, 23:13-14), and provide for their physical (21:20) and spiritual (14:26, 20:7) needs.

His friends and neighbors should also benefit from his righteous and wise lifestyle. The Proverbs Man values his friends (27:10), is loyal to them (17:17, 18:24), and gives them wise counsel (27:9, 28:23). To all his neighbors he is trustworthy (2:27-28), strives for peace (3:29-30), and acts in truthfulness (16:29, 26:18-19).

His Words
The Proverbs Man is one of powerful language - using words that can bring life or death, healing or wounds (12:6, 13:14, 11:9-11, 16:24). This speech is a natural outflow of his righteous character (4:23) - as well as his personal reflections (15:28) and social surroundings (13:20, 27:17). However, he must also understand that his words are no substitute for good deeds (14:23), cannot alter facts (26:23-26), and cannot compel others to act (29:19). Nevertheless, his speech is influential - and is guided by truth (12:22, 16:13) and timeliness (15:23, 25:11); he speaks concisely (10:19), and is never boastful (27:2), argumentative (17:14), or slanderous (10:18, 26:20-22).

The Portrait of a Proverbs Man
That's a lot to take in! I just listed a ton of characteristics and an overwhelming number of scripture references. So what does the overall picture look like? It looks like a man that respects and honors the Lord in every way; as a direct result of the wisdom this reverence brings, he takes control of situations with humble leadership, walks in righteousness, speaks the truth powerfully, loves others effectively, and earns the respect of his peers while giving them honor.

Does this sound familiar? If so, it's because Jesus Christ embodied this lifestyle.

Proverbs gives us a great explanation of what men are supposed to be - people that model their lives after the only man that could possess every single one of these qualities. The fact of the matter is this: we cannot master this lifestyle (just as women cannot be totally virtuous like the one in Proverbs 31). However, it does give us something to strive after as we rely on the guidance empowerment of the Holy Spirit; and as we seek to be Proverbs Men, we become more Christlike everyday.

So do yourself, your family, your friends, and your community a favor - strive to be a Proverbs Man.

I want to here your thoughts about this! Did I forget any characteristics? Is there a certain characteristic that you find difficult to maintain? Do you have a plan for striving after biblical manhood? Let me know in the comment section below.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Hospitals, Humility, and Hope

I had every intention of relaunching this blog, gaining significant momentum, and blogging one to three times per week. But then something even more exciting happened!

On June 2 my wife gave birth to our beautiful daughter - Charity Mae. Though the little lady decided to come an entire month early, she weighed 6 pounds 12 ounces and measured 20 inches. Unfortunately, because she arrived four and a half weeks too soon, Charity had to spend time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Without enough surfactant in the air sacs of her lungs, she was having tremendous difficulty breathing; the doctors had little doubt that she would be absolutely fine, but Charity needed time to be healthy enough to come home (which meant that, though she looked like a strong, full-term baby, we still couldn't take her out of the hospital when my wife was discharged).

Those nine days that Charity spent in the NICU were some of the most restless of my life. We spent every moment thinking about how soon she would be ready, praying for her health, or driving the route between our home and the hospital. It was physically draining, emotionally trying, exciting, tantalizing, and the list goes on. Of course, God is faithful and gracious; he looked over our daughter and took care of her every need, even when her parents couldn't. Charity finally came home with us on June 11.

But four days later, as things seemed to be improving for our family, we found ourselves driving to the closest emergency room. My wife's body temperature dropped to 95 degrees, before spiking back up to 102.8! Between uncontrollable shivers and unbearable pain, she mustered up the energy to make it to the hospital with me. Fortunately, doctors were able to find the source of the issue, and send her home on a strong series of antibiotics.

I know what you're thinking: not exactly the fairy tale beginning. Needless to say, we didn't have the experience we were expecting. It was priceless, though, because I learned an important lesson in fatherhood.

I like to be in control of things; I like leading others toward success and making sure the outcomes remain within my management. It's not that I'm a control freak - I just enjoy producing results and assuming responsibility for the benefit of my peers. However, when it comes to being a dad and husband, the control is completely out of my hands. There was nothing I could do to bring my daughter home healthy sooner, and I couldn't medicate or eradicate the infection that was attacking my wife.

I learned that there is only one option: to humble myself and forfeit what little control I think I have. I was reminded that, ultimately, nothing is really in my hands - and that the wisest course of action is to let go, leaving what belongs in the hands of God in the hands of God.

Nahum 1:7 reads, "The Lord is good, a strong refuge when trouble comes. He is close to those who trust in him." He does not distance himself when we face difficulties; he was there with me when Charity and Kelly were lying in hospital beds. I couldn't do a thing to help them, but I knew that he could! The Lord drew close to them and gave us a shoulder to lean on as we put our hopes for health in him.

When trouble comes - like sickness, poverty, death, or job loss - be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid! Do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God, on whom you can rely for every need, will be with you wherever you go. No matter how hopeless a situation may seem from your finite point of view, he is in control.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Quick Ears and Idles Tongues

One of my favorite books of the Bible includes one of the most difficult principles for me to carry out on a daily basis. In the Epistle of James, the younger brother of Jesus (a prominent leader of the first century church in Jerusalem) tells his audience, "You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry."

Naturally, it is failure on all three accounts. Opportunities and motivations abound to speak quickly and take offense easily; the apparent tone of an email can put me in a funk and Twitter provides a live feed of my thoughts. I have developed a terrible habit of speaking without thinking or reflecting, hearing without listening, and misunderstanding.

I don't think that I'm alone in this. It seems that now, more than ever, we have lost the ability to communicate with one another in a respectful, thoughtful manner. As a result of our social climate, selfish communication is the norm - with idle ears and a quick tongue. We all speak with one another, but think almost unceasingly about ourselves; our own thoughts occupy our minds while empty noise falls upon our ears.

Effective conversing is a skill that many, including me, lack. A few days ago, my wife and I were discussing the characteristics that every good converser has (as evidence by those that we know personally, especially family members); we talked at length about who we enjoy speaking with, and what it is that we enjoy so much.

Eye Contact
You've heard this one over and over again, so there is no need to explain it at length. The fact is that it simply makes a difference. Just think about someone who constantly talks with their eyes glued to the iPhone (everybody has that friend, admit it) - is that person very enjoyable? Probably not.  Eye contact equals engagement, engagement equals listening, listening equals great conversation.

The most entertaining conversations are held with those that constantly ask clarifying and probing questions, because they know that this is they key to keeping a discussion thriving. They leave no time for awkward pauses; their active engagement leads to quality questions, and that makes for great conversation.

Nothing is more refreshing than discourse with someone that forgets about his or her own thoughts, feelings, and opinions; some people are so hard to talk to because all they want to do is interject fun facts about their own experiences. Great talkers know that focusing on the person with whom you are talking is the best way to engage that person.

These things seem so simple, yet we have such difficulty doing them - because it is even simpler to spit out every thought that comes to our minds, ignoring everything and everyone else. Unfortunately, that will never lead to enjoyable conversation (at least, not for those talking to you). So do the difficult thing today: let your ears be quick and your tongue be idle!