True Identity

Kent Ernsting

Who am I? Why am I here? What is the purpose of my life? What have I been designed to do? What is my identity?

Perhaps the runaway success of Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life indicates that incredible numbers of people are searching for the answers to those same questions. Every man battles with these same issues every day.

Steven Covey, author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, says ‘Identity is Destiny.’

Who we think we are determines who we become, our dreams for the future and how we go about making those dreams become a reality.

As young boys we are told to, ‘Be a man’ or ‘Act like men.’ But how does our culture define masculinity? Movies, media and athletes practically shout their answers to the question. Is the ultimate man John Wayne, solitary and heroic, who is never intimately connected to anyone? Or perhaps it is a James Bond kind of guy smart, suave and debonair. He has a bunch of one-night stands. The message is that sex, without connectivity, validates maturation and masculinity. Or perhaps it is a sports hero with glorified images of power and strength and athletic ability? Or perhaps manhood is all about money and power. Success is measured by net worth and your value as a man is based on the size of your bank account, your house, the car you drive, or the prestige of your job title.

These are all examples of false masculinity. There is no relational piece to it at all. Where does that whole setup leave us? Isolated and alone. Hiding who and what you really are. If you’re hiding your true identity then you can’t connect with anyone else.

These images of masculinity promise satisfaction but always disappoint. There’s a huge bait and switch going on here.

John 10:10 identifies who is behind the spirit of the age and points to the One who has the solution to this dilemma. ‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’

If men are to discover and live out their calling as men then we must uncover and embrace our God given identity. At the core of the crisis that men face is that we lose touch with our true identity. We lose the fascination with the story God wants to tell through our lives. The enemy of our soul is so enraged with the image of God that is reflected in you that he will hurl his mightiest weapons right at your soul. The thief is attempting to steal, kill, and destroy your identity, who God says you really are as a man. If he succeeds then he will render you spiritually impotent. He will kill your heart by watering down your true identity and slowly seducing you into living for a small god with shallow dreams.

With our identity stolen, we numb ourselves to escape this false identity by watching TV, surfing the Internet, or working too much. We struggle with pornography or creating fantasies or becoming workaholics. Men are bored.

What is our true identity? Genesis 1:26-27 tells us, ‘Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the bird of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

What did God have in mind when he created man? In the ancient near East the kings had a special advisor. The role of this advisor was to remind the king of his plans and to keep him on course. It is from the name of this adviser that we get our word ‘man.’ The Hebrew meaning of the word ‘man’ is ‘the remembering one who takes action.’ Men express God’s movement and action. Men ask, ‘Am I dangerous?’

God created men to uniquely move into chaos and mystery and have a vision for what it could be and create it. As men we can move into the uncertainty of circumstances that we don’t understand and cannot predict. We can move into the uncertainty of how people will respond to us. And having a vision for what our wives and children can become as image bearers we move into changing our generation. We move into leaving a legacy by embracing who we are and whose we are. We are faced with a choice today. Embrace your true identity or run from it.

On Vulnerability and Reason

Ron Leonard

I’d like to talk about vulnerability. Usually when you talk about vulnerability, you give emotional reasons for recommending greater vulnerability. Let’s say you’re one of those guys who isn’t impressed with emotional reasons for doing things. ‘After all,’ you say, ‘Emotions are just the caboose on the train, right?’ Well, where emotions belong is a subject of several other articles. Let’s agree for now, that they shouldn’t be in charge but that God didn’t make them for us just to ignore.

So, what if you are a level-headed guy who wants to do things thoughtfully, rationally and with his mind in charge? Maybe you might want to know what your emotions are doing but you don’t want them dictating whether you do things such as becoming vulnerable. That’s great! This article is for you.

Before we talk about vulnerability, let’s talk about its opposite. If we’re not being vulnerable, what are we doing? Largely, we’re hiding. We’re also doing such things as lying, clamming up, covering up, and oh yeah, hiding. Why do we do these things? Because we’re afraid that if our real self and behaviors were known, even to our loved ones, we would be blamed, shamed, embarrassed, mocked, ridiculed, or otherwise in trouble. So, hiding is perfectly natural and understandable. It’s also childish.

1 Corinthians 13:11 (NIV) declares, ‘When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.’

When we were children, we would try to hide our misbehavior in the belief that this would make our lives better somehow. Usually, it made them worse. When we raided the cookie jar, we weren’t smart enough to figure out that as Bill Cosby pointed out, ‘Sound travels.’ Our parents heard our misbehavior from the next room and came to see what we were doing. We tried to cover up our crimes by stuffing the half-eaten cookies back into the jar, but we still had the crumbs on our lips. Now that we’re older, we’re a little better at covering up, but our behavior is still just as childish.

When we were children, we did not have the benefit of a trained rational mind. We as children responded to things based primarily on emotions. It was only slowly that we learned to use our minds more. So, when we continue to hide as men, we are behaving emotionally, not rationally.

God has made men, more so than women, to be guided by their minds than their hearts. This does not make us better, it makes us different. Imagine for a moment being raised by two fathers rather than a mother and a father. Whew, painful!

If you are indeed the calm, cool, thinking man you see yourself to be, then hiding does not belong in your life. God made you a rational, goal-directed person. As a man, he also made you courageous, level-headed, and fearless. Hiding is not consistent with these attributes. As a man, it is time to put away childish ways.

If we know what hiding is now, what then is vulnerability? Vulnerability is exposing all (or at least more) of ourselves to the light of others scrutiny. It is a purposeful showing of things our emotions tell us to hide. Vulnerability is a conscious, reasonable, thought-out, goal-driven DECISION. Yes, there are enormous emotional ramifications, but it is above all a choice and an act of the will.

What are your goals? Is it to have a better family? Is it to have a stronger marriage and a closer connection to your wife? Then choosing to become vulnerable is one of the actions you take to fulfill that goal. It is not something we do to feel better (although we might in the long run). It is something that will definitely be scary and will probably be quite painful. But, isn’t facing down fear and suffering pain for our families what God made us for? Why do you suppose he gave us the heart of a warrior?

Why else should we choose vulnerability?

Why do we hang a trouble light on the hood? So we can see what the problem is so we (and our buddies) can fix them. Vulnerability is like that trouble light. Do you ever wonder why you have the same confused feelings about women and sex that you had when you were a teenager? Why haven’t they changed a bit? Because, they have never been exposed to the light. They’ve never been hauled out of the basement and hung up so they can dry out. No one has been able to see these things clearly enough so they can be worked on.

In nature, discarded things eventually disappear. Bacteria, in God’s divine order, chews up debris. After a short period of being rotten and smelly, it decomposes until it’s gone. This doesn’t happen in our brain. All of the accumulated stupidity of our lives is still in there. We need to become vulnerable so we can let God, our wives, and other men see it in the light and help us dispose of it.

Vulnerability is tough, but we can help. Join us at our next New Life Weekend.

Sex and the Brain

Jayson Graves

‘WOW that felt good!’ This is a common cognition when a man has an orgasm, otherwise known as an ejaculation. What most people don’t know is why an orgasm feels so good. In fact, the reason it feels so incredible is the same reason why some men form addictive patterns at the neurological level in their brains through a process known as ‘conditioning.’

Remember back to your senior year of high school when you took basic Psychology 101 and your ‘cool-guy, disco-party man’ psych teacher told you about Pavlov and his dogs? Let me refresh you: Pavlov was a Russian scientist interested in the process of conditioning. He used his dogs and a bell. Pavlov would ring the bell and then feed his dogs, repeating this over and over again. After some time of this he discovered that when he rang his bell, the dogs would begin to salivate in anticipation of these tasty morsels. Herein lies the discovery of ‘Classical Conditioning.’

What happens at the neurological level in your brain when you become aroused also involves classical conditioning in that we have allowed our own ‘bells to be rung’ and as in the case of 98-99% of all men, have ‘fed the dog’ through masturbation, pornography or both. Here’s how.

A man typically becomes aroused in several ways and has the urge to be sexually gratified for various reasons, some legitimate according to the intention with which we are designed, some not. Whatever the case, when a man ejaculates he receives the most potent chemical reward the brain can achieve’the brain releases into his system the highest level of endorphins and enkephalins, naturally occurring ‘pleasure chemicals’ which are about 4 times stronger than morphine!

The average male begins masturbating around the ages of 10-14 at a rate of 2-7 times per week or more. In the first 20 years of his ‘career’ he will have had from 2,000 to 7,000 of these reinforcing experiences. What happens over this time on a neurological level in the brain is akin to an entrenchment process. Imagine if you were to dig a ditch between the street and sidewalk from your driveway down to the store on the corner. Everyday you walk in that ditch to buy the morning paper and over time that ditch gets deeper and wider to the point where even if you wanted to walk on the street or sidewalk, because of the erosion, there would be a tendency to fall back into the ditch. THIS IS THE ADDICTION in the hard-wiring of your brain.

What I try to do in my therapy with men recovering from sexually addictive patterns such as masturbation, pornography, adultery, etc is help them cut-off that old addictive route completely and to create a wholly new route of healthy sexuality and healing. We accomplish this by setting good boundaries. Boundaries are set around behaviors that absolutely cannot happen if sexual sobriety is to be maintained. Also, we set standards around what must absolutely happen behaviorally, emotionally and spiritually in order to maintain the full, healthy lifestyle God intended.

In terms of undoing unhealthy patterns there is a technique that can help decrease unwanted urges and impulses up to 80% in one month: it’s called the Rubber band technique. Simply take a rubber band that is thick enough so it won’t break easily (are you getting scared?) and keep it on your wrist. Don’t even take it off for bedtime, showers, or times when ‘you think you won’t need it.’ Whenever you catch yourself staring at someone lustfully or for more than 3 seconds, have the urge to masturbate, look at pornography, or act inappropriately, sinfully or otherwise act-out sexually, simply snap the band on the inside of your wrist. This will send a pain message to your brain (don’t worry, you don’t have to snap it so hard that you injure yourself) in a way that, where you used to ring the bell and feed the dog, it will now be a pattern more like ‘ring the bell, kick the dog!’

This is a helpful tool in the process of retraining your brain, helping you engage the fruit of the spirit, self-control and freeing yourself of a pattern you have created over the course of many years. Of course, it is important to consider therapy with a sexual addiction specialist and place yourself under the authority of a men’s recovery group that is healthy, willing to hold you accountable on a weekly basis, and allow you a place to connect with and serve others in a relationally healing way.

For help in the battle for sexual integrity, see Every Man’s Battle.