Jesus Called. He wants you to Man Up!

CowboyUp75Jesus called.  He said he wants you to man up!  Or as they often say here in Oklahoma, “Cowboy up!”

We all go through periods of dependence and reliance on others.  It’s part of life, part of the maturing process.  When we’re kids, we rely on our parents and family to take care of us.  They shelter us, protect us from the harsh world, and give us a safe environment during that stage of our vulnerability.  Slowly, as we grow, we learn the ropes and develop the skills needed to survive on our own. But even after that, sometimes life throws us a curve ball, the world we’ve constructed for ourselves collapses, and we again need help. We may go through another period of relying on others, borrowing their strength while we cope with our crisis.  We can end up staying on friends’ couches for a few months. We may need to borrow money or bum rides from people because we lost our own wheels.  But then comes the time when we’ve re-established our own structure, we’ve picked up the pieces and reassembled them. We can move back out of our friends’ apartments, off their couches, and get our own wheels again — and usually just in time.  Friends and family can only stand the strain of carrying the extra weight for so long, and their patience runs thin. But this is natural. This is the cycle of life, and life isn’t easy.

But becoming self-reliant is only the first stage of growing up.  We then learn to help carry others in times of their need and dependence.  For most of us, this means a family of our own.  We move past just taking care of ourselves, and take on the responsibility of providing and caring for them.  And this is where “Man Up” comes to play.

The phrase basically means to “act like a man.”  It means, when things get tough or when we’re confronted with difficult situations, we face them and tackle them head on.  We go from the weak and wimpy position of “I can’t handle this” to a stronger, more positive “can do” attitude.  The expression “Cowboy up” goes farther, bringing in the characteristics of being tough, hard-working, self-reliant and uncomplaining. It means when you get bucked off your horse, you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back on.  You push through.  You “shut up, quit your bitchin’, and take it like a man.”  As one example I read recently neatly put it: “What would John Wayne say if he heard you complaining over a little hard work? Cowboy up, man!”

What does this mean in real life?

If you’re single, it means standing on your own two feet, taking care of yourself, cutting the apron strings or slapping that impression of your friend’s sofa off your butt.  What good are you to anyone if you can’t even help yourself? If you’re married, it means taking care of your spouse, making sure his or her needs are met — materially, financially, emotionally and sexually.  If you’ve got family, it means you put their needs above yours.  You put a roof over their heads and food on the table. If money is tight, they eat before you do.  They get the new clothes before you do.  They get to demand your time before you can settle in to a quiet night in front of the TV or go out with the boys for your own recreation time.  Your focus moves off yourself and on to them.  And for everyone, it means being more dedicated at work, taking greater responsibility for your own actions, and doing it all as an expected part of being an adult, not as though you’re doing anyone else a favor by showing up and doing what you get paid to do.

If we are to live healthy and productive lives, we need grow out of our own self-absorption.  If we are perpetually complaining about how hard our life is, or about what a raw deal we got, then we are not only not moving forward in our own destinies, but we’re also of no use to others. We’re really just taking up space on this planet.  And God have mercy on us in the next life.

More than just action, though, “man up” is an attitude.  You embrace the self-reliant spirit.  You accept responsibility for your actions, for your life, and then from that position of strength, you can take on the extra burden of helping others.  This is the spirit God put in us.  Not of weaklings and whiners, but of overcomers and helpers.  Then you can look at your life and take pride in your accomplishments.  You won’t need to feel deficient or ashamed when compared to the achievements of others, because you had your own mountain to conquer and you did it.  Only when you’ve scaled your own mountain can you effectively play sherpa to others struggling with their ascent.

But this is an era when we’ve prolonged adolescence to drag out our carefree days as long as possible, when companies have gone under due to self-serving greed and corruption, when jobs have been lost due to laziness and lack of accountability and personal responsibility, when nearly half of all marriages end because of lack of personal strength and moral conviction, and when more and more children lead broken lives because of their broken families.  In this time, now more than ever, we need men and women willing to make greater demands of themselves.  We need people who will bite the bullet and do the hard work — for their own sake and for the sake of others they touch.  This is a time for men and women of fiber, of guts, of internal strength.  This is a time when we need to look closely at our every action and weed out destructive selfishness, and a “what’s in it for me” mentality.  The world around us is crashing, people are hurting, and we are too preoccupied with ourselves, our own ambitions, desires, and the search for the easy road.  It’s time to wake up and snap out of it.  Whether you like it or not, people are counting on you.

Jesus called this morning.  And he wants you to man up.

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Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. … But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden.  (Gal 6:2-5)

Gibbs Rule # 38

NCIS_BadgeI’m a big NCIS fan — the TV show, not necessarily the real Naval Criminal Investigative Service. The cult hero of show is Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, and Gibbs has a whole set of life rules he’s developed over the years which he drills into the heads of his junior agents. And if they forget them or otherwise mess up on the job, they get a smack on the back of the head — a Gibbs slap.

Gibbs Rule #38 says, “If it’s your case, you’re in charge” (or simply, “your case, your lead”). You do what it takes to get the job done, even if it means stepping on some toes; and you don’t need to seek special permission from those who assigned you the case.

I particularly like this rule, and it probably rings a bell with a lot of people who have been given a task at work, but not the power to actually accomplish it. And, being known around the office as a bit of a hardhead and stubborn about my job, I can relate to Gibbs (in this way, at least). I take my job seriously. I take “ownership” of it, as they say in popular office-speak. I’m open to suggestions for implementation, but if I don’t think someone’s input is helpful (even from my bosses), I am known to selectively ignore it. And I don’t always follow protocol. I tend to play by my own rules. But the job gets done (usually correctly), and my bosses are generally pleased enough with my work to cut me the slack my personality requires. My thoughts: if you want me to get the job done, then let me do it.

I wondered why this particular Gibbs Rule rang so many bells with me lately — beyond just its applicability at the work place — and then I realized it was also a spiritual principle. We all have done our fair share of wrestling with angels and even God himself, to discern what God specifically wants of us. We’ve all done the probing and soul-searching and praying to find the path designed for us to walk. And many of us have put in extra time inventorying our personalities to uncover the special gifts and callings each of us has been given. But what happens next? What happens once we figure it out? How do we proceed?  And how often do we get stymied by obstacles in our path, and end up just stalling out, mission unaccomplished?

There’s this passage in John’s Gospel that has been haunting me for months now that I think parallels Gibbs Rule. “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father” (John 10:18). Those words, “I have authority … this command I received” are so powerfully linked. There is an intrinsic connection between being commanded and having the appropriate authority to execute that command. Jesus said it. Even a Roman centurion recognized that basic principle: “For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes” (Mt 8:9). Perhaps it’s a concept every military person recognizes intuitively. But for me, never having served in uniform, I had to work harder to grasp this basic truth.

If you have been issued a command by God, you have the authority to do it. You can make it happen. You can kick in doors where necessary. You can speak up and have your words taken seriously. You can even demand cooperation — provided you are operating under properly issued authority yourself. You’ve been put in charge to make it happen. Things may not always work out the way you want, you may not get the exact help or cooperation you expect. And I can guarantee that it will hardly ever come easily. But by your pressing through, the job will get done.

Nice theory, but does it actually work? I’m working through the implications for one or two items on plate right now, but I’ve had some success in this area in the past. It’s the same principle of shared responsibility and divine partnership I’ve mentioned in previous posts. God is responsible for the results, but you are responsible for the effort. You can’t do God’s part, and he won’t do yours. He’ll bless the fruit of your labor, and whatever your hands find to do will be blessed — but you’ve got to actually do the labor. Your hands have actually got to be busy doing something in order to be blessed. In real life, I’ve had the benefit of my mother’s wisdom, hearing her instruct a relative who was having difficulty finding housing for him and his wife. Nothing was working out, he just couldn’t find an apartment. She suggested he stand before God in the position he’d been given by God, that is, as head of the house, responsible for providing and caring for his family. And when he approached God, wearing that uniform, and made his bold request in that capacity, results finally began to happen. Within days, they were able to lease a house.

In my own life, I’ve had walls thrown up, blocking my way, which would have prevented me from going to grad school. But I knew I’d been instructed to go. And when things got tough, when administrative barriers were placed in my way or when finances were not immediately forthcoming, I assumed the attitude of a commissioned officer. And I issued the command. I spoke the words — sometimes even quietly under my breath — and then acted accordingly. I pressed. I pushed. I insisted. And those barriers caved in. And I won. In other situations in the workplace, I needed promotion or salary increase to fulfill my God-assigned obligations. I put in the effort. I did my best work. With consistency. And after praying and waiting for the divine “go” signal, I pressed my bosses. On three separate occasions, in two different companies, I pressed. And I prevailed. Not merely because of my own merits. We all know that life is not fair. We don’t always get what we deserve. But I made sure my part was done; I made sure the “merit” was deserved, and then I pushed with the authority of one who had been given a command.

There are two areas in my life right now where I need to apply this principle again. Sometimes when we’re so caught up in the pressures of making it through life in these difficult days, it’s so easy to forget the basic lessons learned in past years. But Gibbs Rule rang a bell with me recently for a reason. It’s a wake-up call in my drowsiness, in the lethargy of my daily routine. And I’m paying attention. This bell tolls for me.

“This authority I have, because this command I have received.” It may be time to kick a little butt and press for what we know we’ve been assigned to do. “If it’s your case, you’re in charge.” Does that ring any bells for anyone else? Or do you need another Gibbs-slap?