This afternoon I had the honor of being one of the many men to participate in a manhood ceremony for Joshua, a young man in our church who has recently turned 13. Similar to the Jewish tradition of Bar-Mitzvah, our church holds a special ceremony for each young man as they reach the age of 13, to welcome them into the realm of men. Such coming-of-age ceremonies have long been an important part of society but have gradually given way to the myth of adolescence, a sort of nebulous period between boyhood and manhood that sociologists are now claiming may stretch well into your thirties. The manhood ceremony (complete with a knighting) is our attempt to reverse this trend and to raise teenagers who are already thinking like adults – ready to be serious about their lives and serious about the things of God.
Here’s what I told Josh:
It’s your thirteenth birthday. Some of the men that God has placed in your life have gathered together to give you a “manhood ceremony.” This is a tradition that, while passed down through generations of our ancestors, somehow missed the last several generations. It’s an important time – a time of graduation, of transition, and of change.
This is not the day you become a man. This is the day we all start treating you as one. This ceremony doesn’t qualify you to be a man. Neither will getting married or even having kids. The truth is, there are a lot of males running around today who aren’t qualified to bear the title of “man.” But we are expecting better things of you – which is why we are having this ceremony today.
So what is “manhood”? It’s a word and a term that gets tossed around a lot, and carries a lot of different connotations for a lot of different people. Some people will say that manhood is the ability to make your own decisions apart from anybody else’s input – but the Bible calls this doing that which is “right in his own eyes” and says it is wicked. This is not some over-hyped unrealistic version of Holywood machismo, nor is it the emasculated “touchy-feely” manhood that is shoveled onto us daily as being superior. This is real life we are talking about. More specifically, this is a life lived for Jesus Chris.
And as a man who is a little bit farther down the road than you are, let me share some of the lessons that the Lord has seen fit to teach me. I’m going to do exactly what I’d like for someone to do with me and shoot straight with you – you’re going to be a man now, and we don’t always get the luxury of having punches pulled. Many of these things are things I was told when I was your age, and they have born out true. And many of them are things I wish someone had told me before I learned them the hard way.
- The worth of your life and the worth of your manhood will be measured the same way the worth of a story is measured. To tell if a story is a good one, we look at two things. First, what is the story about? If a story is about something important or epic in nature, it’s much easier for it to be a good story. Second, how is it told? A story with a worthy subject but lousy storytelling is more of a disappointment than anything else. So ask yourself – what is your life about? Really? Because the only thing that is really worth anything is Jesus Christ and His Great Name – if you are living for anything else, your life will have been less good and less satisfying than it might have been. And ask yourself – how is your story being told? If you live for Jesus, you’d better really live for him. That’s probably going to mean giving up things – music, movies, games, relationships, the list goes on – so that your testimony will be stronger and purer. Sometimes that hurts. But if you’re not willing to do it, your life’s story can end up being a disappointment.
- Stay away from sexual temptation. I’m not just talking about the scantily clad girls in the mall, either. I’m talking about pornography and all the junk it brings with it. It will eat your soul and it will dull your senses to God’s Spirit. You won’t ever, ever be a real man if you are in bondage to it. And don’t ever think what you do when it’s dark and nobody’s looking won’t come out in the end – it always does, and the price is always more than you wanted to pay. Jesus said that everything you do in secret will be shouted from the housetops. As you get older, that only becomes more true. If you drag that garbage into your marriage you will destroy your wife and your children. I sincerely wish that someone had warned me of the awful, awful consequences of pornography when I was young.
- Play to an audience of one. You should always be more concerned about what God thinks of you than what anyone else thinks.
- Take responsibility for your own actions. Don’t blame them on others – don’t blame them on your parents, on your life situation, or on peer pressure. When you make a mistake, take the blame, accept the consequences, and move on. There isn’t any easy way out of this one.
- Whatever you do, do it as though you were doing it for God, and not man. When you work your job do the best job you possibly can regardless of how difficult your employer may be some times, how little your pay is, or how lousy your day happens to be going. Diligence never goes unrewarded. The only way anybody gets to be successful is by working their tail off.
- Never forget where your strength comes from. Whether you are earning money at in a career, being given credit for a job well done, or gearing up to face the next challenge, don’t forget Who it was that got you there first of all. Scripture tells us that it is God who “teaches our hands to war” and “gives thee power to get wealth.”
- You will never waste any time you spend on your knees before God praying humbly. But if you go before Him with a proud or careless spirit, you may as well spend your time doing something else – the only kind of heart He is interested in is one that is broken and contrite. A prideful prayer will never make it past the rafters.
- Read your Bible. Every day. It doesn’t matter how busy you are or how much else you have going on. If you don’t spend deep time in the Word, and develop a love and a taste and a hunger for it, you’ll never know what God wants or where He’s leading.
- People will know you by the books you read, the friends you keep, and the movies you watch. Proverbs says that “He that walks with wise men shall be wise, but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.”
- Be very, very careful of immersive unreality. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place in your life for entertainment. But it means that there are things out there that want to suck you in away from God and make you focus ultimately on yourself. That’s what porn does. It’s unreality in its purest, most destructive form. Nothing you see on a screen or in a dirty magazine has any actual correlation to real life. Bad fiction does this. Bad daydreams will do this. All of these things turn your focus inward. Instead, focus on the things that are true, pure, and just. If you want to know how to identify reality, its mark is this: What is done in reality will last for eternity.
There’s a lot more to it than that – and it’s all found in the Word of God. But those are some lessons that have been important to me in my own journey toward the Prize. Never forget that the rest of the world is running an entirely different race for a price that is only temporary – they will not understand the quest of the life lived for the pleasure of the Lord Jesus. They will mock you, ridicule you, and persecute you when you live for Jesus. Be ready for that. Expect it.
I have one final thing I would share with you. Someone once made the observation that a godly man:
- Lives proactively – We don’t react to the chaos around us. Instead, we are proactive. We are intentional about our decisions and the way we lead our families.
- Leads courageously – Godly men lead from the front.
- Aims for eternity – Consider the things you are doing and the choices you make – even as a young man – in the light of eternity.
Josh – Thou Art a Man. Gird yourself up for the fight. Put on the armor of God daily. Get ready to stand. Your fellow men – brothers in arms – are counting on you. Do not disappoint us – and do not disappoint your King.