by Dr. Tony L Lynn
PLYMOUTH, MI – “Don’t be that 98-pound weakling,” was the message Charles Atlas advertised in comic books during the sixties and seventies. The comic strip ad was direct.
A skinny guy is on a blanket, on the beach, with his girlfriend. A muscle-packed bully kicks sand in his face and makes fun of his boyish, scrawny build. The 98-pounder loses his girlfriend to the bully and is ridiculed by everyone on the beach.
The self-loathing little man returns home, kicks the chair at his house, then vows to take a stand sending off a request for Charles Atlas’ training manual. Later, after a period of muscle training, the 98-pounder is shown admiring his newly strengthened form in the mirror promising to return to the beach to teach the bully a lesson.
That sacred showdown day arrives, and the former 98-pound weakling now bulked-up, punches the earlier bully in the chin. Immediately, the former small guy wins his former girlfriend back who is seen hanging on his now sculpted shoulders and biceps, while the onlookers at the beach gush aloud, “Gosh! What a build. He’s already famous for it.”
The Charles Atlas ad is the classical American way to face a bully. Is it not?
With Father’s Day upon us it may be a good time to look at how we define weakness, strength, and masculinity. Sons, fathers, grandfathers, uncles, cousins, brothers, and friends identify and react to bullies with a heavy push from the other men around them.
Ask men to list the bullies in their lives and most, with their words, will decorate a room with dartboard images of the bullies they believe have kept them from a summit of success: tyrannical bosses, caged-conditions, bitter betrayals, unrecognized talents/strengths, missed opportunities, un-offered advantages, being unappreciated, over-demanding spouses, a neglected or abusive childhood, addictions, and on and one.
WARNING: Men’s Biggest Bullies Are Inside of Us!
However, men be warned! The Holy Spirit, the world’s best strength coach behind the writing of the world’s best strength training manuals of Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, would like to rip down those man-made, dartboard decorations of imagined bullies and replace the entire room with mirrors made of Bible verses so that each one of us could see ourselves for who we are and pinpoint our areas of vital development. Let’s admit it, men can be jerks and we can shrug our shoulders when asked why we did what we did with a mumbled response of, “I dunno why?”
You might be saying, “If only men tried harder.” Trouble is even though many men attempt to get stronger on their own it does not work. We need a training coach in the Holy Spirit. Check-out the short, strength-training manuals in the Bible, and we are told repeatedly that we cannot do it on our own. Every man, every father, every husband, every son needs a training partner in the Lord.
When I was younger, in much, much, much better shape, and spent more time lifting weights in the gym, the 2.5-pound plates, in manner of speaking, were my best friends. I referred to them as barrier-breakers. Mentally and physically, I would reach a previous lifting goal at a certain weight in my bench press, my squat, or my curl. I could add an additional ten to twenty pounds to the bar, which is normal in weightlifting, striving for a new personal best. The surprise? Try as I might, I could not get a new personal best by jumping up an additional ten to twenty pounds. I would try for seven to fourteen days but to no avail. I would hit a barrier.
Disappointed that I could not make a 10-to-20-pound improvement, I would instead add a small, 2.5-pound plate on each end of the bar. In my hands they almost felt invisible and weightless, but together the two plates represented five more pounds. I would wave them in my hands, reminding myself of how small and insignificant they were. It was a ritual just before sliding the plates onto the bar. It was my way of breaking a previously set mental and physical barrier.
The other important element was adding a spotter or training partner the day I wanted to advance up in my strength or lift. I would ask someone to stand nearby ready to assist if I couldn’t lift the new, additional five pounds. If you’ve ever been to a gym, most assists start-out with the “eight-finger-lift-assist” where the spotter will place his or her fingers under the bar, on both ends, so the assist is ready but only used in desperation. Sometimes spotters will fake-assist letting the lifter know at the finish of the successful lift that no assist was necessary. The spotter will usually scream-out, “It was all you, Man, that was all you! I didn’t even help!”
The power of the 2.5-pound plates and a spotter is incredible! Previous barriers can be broken when even small strides forward are marked and celebrated. That is what we men need to return to in our lives. Our 2.5 lb. barrier breakers or spotters could be the next memorized, recited Bible verse that gives us strength the next time we want to act more like the Holy Spirit.
Look at these “eight-finger-lift-assists” and imagine the Holy Spirit spotting you the next time you’re tempted to act like a jerk. These four little training manuals consist of only 20 chapters. Perhaps while the month of June warms-up and suns-up, you and I could read and reread these manuals until they train us up to become more of what the Lord knows we can become – if we will let him spot us as we try to break the next barrier.
So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.
Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God.
Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example. For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.
So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. 7 You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.
I promise, I will read and reread these four books all during the month of June. I hope you will join me. Let’s get stronger together.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Tony L. Lynn is the State Director of Missions for the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Before coming on staff at the BSCM, Tony served as lead pastor for more than six years at Crosspoint Church in Monroe, Michigan. He and his wife, Jamie, also served with the International Mission Board in Africa and in Europe.