NON-TOXIC MASCULINITY

NON-TOXIC MASCULINITY

You’ve no doubt seen it, the Gillette ad titled: “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be.” Obviously, the shaving supplier’s marketing gurus hit a nerve. It had twenty-five million hits on You Tube and forty million on Twitter. But they may have also punched a hole in the bottom of the brand. Forbes reports, “reaction to the ad has been overwhelmingly negative, with comments on its YouTube channel running negative by an astonishing ten to one margin.”[1]

That’s not to say that everything Gillette was selling is wrong. Men and boys are having a tough time and need better role models. They are falling behind in education, are twice as likely to be diagnosed ADHD, commit most sex-crimes, refuse to get help when depressed, are more likely to commit suicide or end up in prison for murder. But the Gillette ad, and the American Psychological Association’s recently released guidelines for working with men and boys which preaches the same message, toe the gender-fluidity line of LGBTQ activist ideology. As John Stonestreet says in a recent Breakpoint, “the solution isn’t to caricature and then reject masculinity like a disorder. It is to re-discover and embrace real masculinity, which God declared to be “very good.”[2]

Stu Weber, in his excellent book, Tender Warrior, teaches that real masculinity can be broken down into four roles a man should play in all his spheres of influence: King, Warrior, Mentor, and Friend. “To the degree (these functions) are balanced the image is clear, and the man and those around him flourish. To the degree they are abased and abused, the image is distorted, the man withers, and those around him experience pain.”[3]

Of the four roles, King is the one least understood by men and most disrespected by pop-culture. The film, Black Panther, gives it a pretty good nod, but the authority and leadership inherent in the role are increasingly suspect. The best way to regain that respect is to properly fulfill the role.

Toxic masculinity abuses authority. True leaders exercise authority under authority. People were amazed at Jesus’s teaching because he taught as one who had authority (Matt. 7:29). But Jesus recognized that His authority was under authority. “I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it.” (John 12:49).

Toxic masculinity serves only itself. Weber explains that a King is a Pro-Visionary, a man who looks far into the future to plan and provide for those he serves. Like the biblical men of Issachar, he studies and understands the times and how to navigate them successfully. And like the biblical kings of old, he does this in multiple spheres: his immediate family, his church, his community, and his country.

Toxic masculinity abdicates the shepherding role. But a King provides order, mercy, and justice, creating an environment where life can thrive in a disordered world. With dignity and restraint, he holds himself, his family, his church, his community, and his country to the high ethical standards revealed in scripture. When it’s time to execute justice, he is a velvet covered brick. Men who do this won’t always be popular in the short run, but the people they serve will experience shalom.

A man doesn’t have to own a country to be a king. He just has to play the role and the kingdom will come to him.

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/charlesrtaylor/2019/01/15/why-gillettes-new-ad-campaign-is-toxic

[2] http://www.breakpoint.org/2019/01/breakpoint-pathologizing-masculinity

[3] Stu Webber, Tender Warrior.

I’M NOT GAY and you probably aren’t either

I’M NOT GAY  and you probably aren’t either

Perhaps you find yourself among the many young men of our day who wonder whether you might be gay. Conventional wisdom points you in that direction. Some things you are feeling and experiencing seem to confirm that hypothesis. But you are also experiencing a good deal of confusion and anxiety over it. I’m telling my story today to offer you a different paradigm, a different way to think about yourself, in hopes that it will encourage you to embrace the creature God designed you to be. I believe that in embracing that design you will find fulfillment and joy in your life and peace in your soul.

If you have no confusion, if you have no anxiety, and if you find the perspective I’m offering offensive, then you should probably stop reading here. But if you are wondering, please read on.

My teen aged friends used to take bets on whether I was gay. The reasons seemed clear to them. I was not terribly aggressive or competitive. I enjoyed playing team sports, but I was never very good at it. For me it was more about camaraderie than competition.  I was and continue to be, unlike most men, a very verbal, expressive, emotive, empathetic and relational type of fellow. I am comfortable expressing what I feel and talking about where those feelings come from. I am easily wounded by harshness, and hate. I avoid conflict, preferring to smooth things over rather than engage in confrontation. I have a high emotional IQ and operate, like many women, with a decidedly developed sense of intuition.

That, however, wasn’t all that my friends had in mind as they gambled over my orientation. Some of my earliest memories revolve around music and dance. I sang, tenor not bass, and acted in musicals and plays from elementary school through college. I LOVED the stage. My dream was to grow up and take over where Fred Astaire left off.

None of those traits seemed to fit the accepted masculine mold of the time which was and still is to some extent, athletic, competitive, emotionally reserved, and “concrete / rational” in perspective rather than intuitive. You may also have noticed that “real men,” (a dubious phrase if ever there was one) are good at math, engineering, construction and carpentry. They enjoy hunting, fishing pick-up trucks and hot rods. They don’t like to read, unless maybe it’s Field & Stream or Car & Driver, they never write, and they would rather do things than talk about what they feel any day of the week. Heck, many of them are so divorced from their emotions they don’t even know what they feel.

Finally, and this is by no means an exhaustive list, my friends were betting on some of my behaviors and associations. When I was in high school certain behaviors were considered indicative of homosexuality. They seem silly now, but I’m not making this up. Does he cross one leg over the other like a girl? Or hang an ankle on a knee like a guy? Does he like to wear colorful clothes that match? Or T-shirts and jeans? Does he file his nails with his fingers spread like a guy or curled toward him like a girl? All those things were considered indicators of gayness and I was guilty on all counts.

But perhaps most important were my buddies. One of my best friends in High School was one year ahead of me and struggling with his sexual identity. I didn’t know it at the time. I just knew that he was my friend. He helped me get my first job and gave me a ride to it before I could drive. When he and two other friends went to a six-week, college credit, summer drama school in Alabama I went along and hung out with him and the director of the play we were producing. The other guys hung out with the technical team leader and his crew. I was still unaware that my older friend and the director, a high-school music and drama teacher from Dothan, Alabama, were practicing homosexuals. I just knew that they would smoke pot and get drunk with me and I thought that was cool. They were my friends.

I had more gay friends over the following years although I was often unaware of their lifestyle. What I was aware of is that I had more in common with these friends than other men. I enjoyed their company because we enjoyed many of the same things, music, the arts, and reading etc. When, after high school, I finally learned of my friend’s secret life I was deeply upset by it and lashed out at him in anger. I couldn’t have explained then why I was so upset. But looking back on it thirty years later I realize that I felt a deep sense of betrayal, and not a little bit of fear. For reasons I’ll cover later I was a deeply insecure young man. If my good friend was gay, what did that really say about me?

If you are like me, you are probably wondering two things: Where did those similarities come from? How come you didn’t turn out to be gay? The answers lie in two words: Nature and nurture.

Nature covers much of it. If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then I’m on some planet between the two whose orbit is closer to Venus. The encouraging thing I’ve discovered is that I’m not alone. Many men, more than you might imagine, share the traits I’ve outlined above, often attributed to women. And many women share traits more associated with men. My guess is the ratio is something like 30/70, or, three in ten women have personalities and gifting traditionally associated with men. Ditto for men with traits associated with women. That doesn’t make us gay. It does mean however that we will often feel out of the loop, disconnected from most of our sex. If we take our cues from the culture, which is increasingly pro-gay, we may conclude quite erroneously that we are gay too.

One other aspect of our nature plays a major part in this drama, the power of which cannot be overstated: sex. The chemicals released in the brain during sex: dopamine, norepinephrine, oxytocin, serotonin, and testosterone have a supercharging effect on human emotional and psychological bonding. We might say that we “imprint” on the other person – be they male or female, photographed or in the flesh – in the sex act. I call it crossing the shame/ecstasy threshold. Once we overcome our inhibitions (shame) and experience our first sexual act (ecstasy), even if we were coerced or manipulated into it as a child by an adult or other child, or even if it was acting out as part of the consumption of pornography, we are forever shaped by it. The supercharging power of the chemicals released will drive us to seek that experience again.

I was exposed to heterosexual pornography at a very early age. I followed a heterosexual path into adulthood. Had I been exposed to homosexual pornography at that age the outcome might have been very different.

Nurture covers the rest of it. Copious research indicates that children need healthy emotional connections with both of their parents. That connection includes three important elements: respect, identification, and affirmation. The child needs to respect both his mother and his father; identify with the parent of the same sex; and be affirmed in that identity by that parent. They gain their understanding of who they are and how they will get along in the world based on the models they see at home and the affirmation they receive. Failing a healthy connection with one parent, they will seek it in the other parent. By that I mean that sons who cannot connect with their fathers will get their emotional needs met and learn to orient themselves to their world through their mothers. It is possible for a mother to take her son too much into her world where, bit by bit, he loses his identity as a man. It is possible for a father to take his daughter too much into his world, where bit by bit, she loses her identity as a woman. Or a boy might identify more with his mother because she is a stronger personality than the father. Or a daughter might identify more with her father because her mother wilts under the father’s overbearing personality. There are many variations on this theme, but the bottom line is that the balance and harmony of male and female in the home is lost and the sexual identity of the child easily confused.

It is a father’s job to help his sons orient themselves and find their footing in the larger world. But like many of my homosexual friends I had a dysfunctional relationship with my father. My dad loved his sons. But it was difficult for him to express it. (It will come as no surprise that he did not have a good relationship with his dad either). I desperately wanted his approval, but it was difficult for him to give. (Dad said I was “pretty” and threatened to put a bow in my curly brown hair). My father also had a real problem with anger. He often lost his temper and occasionally beat my brothers and me far out of proportion to our offenses. This alienated us from him. Identification was lost. Still, I think those incidents could have been overcome had he been able to establish a healthy emotional bond with his sons. He was getting there when his life was cut short in an accident.

Why did that not lead me into the homosexual world when so many in my situation have gone that way? Teenage heterosexual experience, as mentioned above, is certainly part of it. A powerful, life altering encounter with Christ at age 20, where I submitted my will to his and promised to obey him no matter the cost was crucial as well. The rest I attribute to a specific answer to prayer.

I lost my Dad when I was sixteen. That loss launched me into a period of great emotional insecurity. Over the course of the twenty years following God provided a series of healthy, responsible, godly, and mature men with whom I could identify and bond, who modeled healthy manhood for me, and who affirmed me. They gave me what I needed to become the man I am today.

If you’ve read this far then please stick with me a little while longer because I want to affirm you.

If you feel different from most of the boys and young men around you, if you seem to be attracted to other young men instead of young women, if you are wondering what the matter with you might be, you are not alone, and you are not gay. Even if your first sexual experiences have been homosexual and you feel that powerful chemically based pull toward that life, you are not bound to it. You can be free. Jesus Christ can set you free and can give you the strength that you need to change. He can empower you to resist the urges that you feel and bring the chemicals raging within you back under control. He can reshape your mind so that you can begin to see his world and his creation from his point of view. He can help you become the man that you were meant to be.

I stand ready to help you. There are other men in churches all over America who will do the same. I urge you, give your life to Christ and take the first steps to becoming the man you were made to be.

7 KEYS TO LIFE-LONG LOVE: Valentine Advice for Women

7 KEYS TO LIFE-LONG LOVE: Valentine Advice for Women

“Dear Pastor,

Please help. My man has gone into a shell and I can’t get him out. He used to be attentive, warm, and affectionate, but now he lives in his own world.

Don’t get me wrong. I know he loves me. He works hard and pays the bills, and helps around the house, and takes the kids to soccer practice, but he’s just, I don’t know, gone somehow. He walks with God and has good friends, but he is distant from me, operating at an emotional remove; civil, but not engaging, polite, but perfunctory. I long for the connection we had in our first years together. Is he having an affair? I don’t think so, but something is wrong. What can I do?”

That lover’s lament is fictitious, but close enough to similar stories I’ve heard in counseling to make the point: long-term romantic success isn’t easy. Worse, many women have no clue about the things motivating their man’s behavior. (Hint: neither does Cosmo).

Thus, today’s Valentine advice for women: Seven ways to build long-term love.

First: Validate his need for masculine approval.

“One motive … compels men like few others,” wrote Patrick Morely, “It is foundational, perpetual, and insatiable:” A man’s need for his father’s affirmation. You might wish your approval would be enough, but it isn’t. If your man has unresolved issues with his dad that have caused pain for him, gently encourage him to seek peace and reconciliation.[1] If his father is absent, as is the case for many men, encourage him to let God be his father and let men of the church be his mentors. He will love you for it.

Second: Validate his need for accomplishment.

Every man has “an intense desire ‘to do,’ to master his world, to shape the course of events. Every man has a desire for significance, meaning and purpose; to accomplish something with his life, especially in his work. [2]” Validate that. Pray for him to find his purpose, be his greatest cheerleader in it, and celebrate each step he takes toward fulfilling it. He will thank you for it.

Third: Validate his financial pressure and don’t increase it.

The pressure to achieve a higher standard of living is relentless and stress inducing. The best thing you can do is understand the pressure he feels to provide you with the best of everything and let him know that a used car is OK, that cheap dates are just fine, and that you can wait for that expensive honeymoon until you’ve been working long enough to afford it. Do that and he will dig for ways to spend money on you.

Fourth: Be a loyal companion.

Men are notorious loners. They learn early to keep their guard up lest someone take advantage of a vulnerability. They need a partner in life that they can trust with their weaknesses as well as their strengths. That kind of trust takes time to build and is easily broken. Ridicule him or betray his vulnerabilities and you will lose him. Keep his secrets. Prove that he can trust you, that you will not take advantage of his vulnerabilities, and he will kill himself to show his appreciation.

Fifth: Speak his love language.

Most women can talk rings around most men. It’s just the way we’re wired. Unsurprisingly, many women say that their love language is words of affirmation and many men—most in my counseling experience—that theirs is physical affection. “Whatever there is of me resides in my body,” writes Gary Chapman in his bestseller, The 5 Love Languages. “To touch my body is to touch me. To withdraw from my body is to distance yourself from me emotionally.” You may have many reasons not to touch him, but he is only hearing one thing: “she doesn’t love me.” Whatever the language, learn to “fill his love tank” with it and he will reciprocate.

Sixth: Feed him.

But you knew that.

Seventh: Let him lead.

Laura Doyle, author of The Surrendered Wife, “used to think that communication was the key to a better marriage. But that wasn’t how it turned out … Even though I have a degree in communications, trying for years to “communicate” with my husband never got me the connection I craved, but the principles of surrender did. One of those principles is that a surrendered wife is trusting where she used to be controlling.”

Interestingly, Doyle didn’t plan it that way, but like many strong-willed, strong-minded women, she realized she had to make a choice to let her man be in charge. For example, men will not prioritize a task list like women or do things in the same order when they get to the task. She wants it done her way right now so, she does it now. The man thinks, “OK, I’m not needed here, won’t go there next time.” Soon, a pattern emerges and next thing you know the woman is leading and the man is disengaging from the relationship.

The need to control is generated by impatience, sometimes, and fear, but not trust. The Apostle Peter wrote: “For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope (or trust) in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear,” (emphasis added).[3]

Ladies, don’t let the words “submissive” and “master” throw you off. In our context it means follow the leader. If you’re in a relationship with an abusive man do not submit to it and do not make excuses for him. But if you’re a woman who is destroying her romance by over controlling her relationship I encourage you to let go of your fear, trust God, and let your man lead. You will be amazed at the results.

Happy Valentines Day!

[1] Patrick Morley, What Husbands Wish Their Wives Knew About Men, p. 16 & 30.

[2] Ibid, pgs. 35 & 46.

[3] 1 Peter 3: 5-6

PARENTING ISN’T FOR SISSIES

Parenting isn’t for sissies. If you don’t believe it just ask anyone who’s managed to raise even one child to productive, responsible, God-fearing, adulthood and we will show you our scars.

Children also make you fat. Yes, I know, you think it’s the donuts in your diet, but I can prove it. I’ve gained seventy pounds since I got married and had kids.

Just kidding! But seriously, parenting is one of the most demanding and rewarding things anyone can do. It is also a task for which many find themselves unprepared. Children have a way of revealing how selfish and ignorant we are. Their needs seem endless when our energy is exhausted. Their development demands wisdom when we are at wit’s end.

With that in mind I want to offer some encouragement as well as a resource for wisdom along the parenting way.

Begin with the Bible
Considering the critical nature of parenting, that whole “hand that rocks the cradle rules the world” thing, the Bible has very little to say about it. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it,” comes to mind, as does “raise them in the fear and admonition of the Lord.” But the rest of the Bible’s specific advice on parenting can be summed up with, “Children obey your parents and fathers don’t exasperate them.”

The bigger picture the Bible paints, however, is the more important one. Children bear the image of God and as such have huge potential for good, but they also inherit the sinful nature of Adam, and while they aren’t exactly little animals, they aren’t little angels either. Every child is human, and everything the Bible says about restoring the image of God in humans and restraining the evil inherent in our nature applies.

Apply Basic Principles
Experienced parents know that there is no magic formula for raising the perfect child, but a few basic principles proved themselves to us over the years.

First, use common sense. Some parents are so afraid that one mistake will permanently damage their children that they fail to do the obvious. Children, and I include teens in this, aren’t yet adults. If a rule seems obvious to you but doesn’t to them, never fear to impose it. They will get over it, they won’t hate you forever, and they may even thank you later.

Second, let them make decisions, take risks, and fail! It makes them stronger when they realize that failure isn’t fatal and risk reaps reward. The biggest mistake parents make is smothering their children, doing everything possible to prevent failure and its associated pain. But overprotecting a child is like overprotecting a plant. It stifles development.

Third, tell them no, and don’t be afraid to enforce your no with discipline. The fastest way to fill your child with insecurity and anger is to fail to discipline them when they are wrong. The insecurity comes because for a child, the lack of boundaries, the lack of restraint on their impulses, is destabilizing. The anger comes when they reap the consequences of an undisciplined life and realize that you didn’t love them enough to reign in their rebellion. Love must be tough.

Fourth, encourage relentlessly. We need to be like the momma dog with a litter of pups I read about. She gave them six licks of loving encouragement for every disciplinary swipe of the paw. Learn to catch your kids doing something right and affirm it. Let your affirmations outnumber your corrections six-to-one. This is especially important for dads.

Fifth, keep calm and carry on. Kids, especially teens, pass through developmental phases faster than they outgrow shoes. Never let a fleeting adolescent furor produce a parental meltdown. Your calm in the midst of their storm will provide the anchorage they need to ride it out.

Get Expert Help
Those five principles will carry you a long way, but if you find you need more I recommend child psychologist, and syndicated columnist John Rosemond. There are many others of course, but I read his column every week and find his parenting wisdom to be without peer. Find him at http://www.johnrosemond.com.

RISEN: Something Good Out of Hollywood

Based on Bible stories made into movies of late, the Nathaniel’s among us would be justified in paraphrasing the dubious disciple’s first question about Jesus: “Can anything good come out of Hollywood?”

Noah, in spite of my initial enthusiasm about it, turned out to be a theological mish-mash and a box office disappointment. The trailers for Exodus: God’s and Kings, revealed such an obvious hack job on the original story that I, along with many others, didn’t waste my time or money on it. Roma Downey and Mark Burnette’s 2015 television hit, AD, also left me disappointed by the middle of the series.

Not so with Risen, the Sony Pictures release now playing in local theaters. Instead of trying to make something more or something different than the original Easter story, Risen follows the tradition of The Robe and Ben Hur by inserting a fictitious historical character into the Biblical narrative as an eyewitness to events. And while it doesn’t aspire to the epic proportions of those classics it is a good story well told.

Joseph Fiennes (Luther 2003) turns in a phenomenal performance as Clavius, the Roman Tribune charged by Pilate (Peter Firth) with insuring that Jesus stays dead, the Sanhedrin remains mollified, the mob remains pacified, and Caesar stays in the dark about all of it. The cinematography is good. The plot is believable, the film is well paced, and even though it’s obvious that special effects were relegated to the shallow end of the budget pool, the script and the acting more than made up for it. Pilate’s cynicism is palpable, but not overdone, as he and Clavius play a high-stakes game of political chess with the equally cynical High Priest. We come away reminded of how quickly truth goes by the boards as the players manipulate the message in a never-ending battle to shape public opinion.

Risen does have a few weaknesses. One actor is glaringly amateurish in the two short scenes he inhabits. It wouldn’t matter if they weren’t so strategically placed. And those of us concerned with fidelity to the biblical text will note a glaring omission in the words of Jesus just prior to the ascension. But these things are minor and offset by biblical faithfulness throughout the rest of the script and an otherwise excellent supporting cast. Watch especially for the drunken guard’s testimony in the bar. That actor should win an Oscar.

Far more important however and ultimately more moving than any of these things is Fiennes’ Clavius. He is utterly convincing as a man’s man intimately acquainted with the brutal parts of life on a fallen planet. Every man who feels the cynicism of Pilate creeping up on him in mid-life will identify with Clavius’ quest for truth. And everyone who watches will struggle with him to reconcile two irreconcilable things: “A man dead without question, and that same man alive again.”

WHEN A WOMAN LOVES A MAN Five Keys to Success

Everyone wants to succeed at love yet few of us are born with the wisdom for it. I’m no different and have benefitted greatly from many writers over the years. Two of those are Patrick Morely and Laura Doyle, whose insights on how to successfully love a man I pass on to you ladies today. As Valentine’s Day arrives and your lover attempts to express his appreciation, here are five things that may help as you seek to express yours.

1. Understand his need for masculine approval. “One motive … compels men like few others,” wrote Patrick Morely in WHAT HUSBANDS WISH THEIR WIVES KNEW ABOUT MEN. “It is foundational, perpetual, and insatiable.” It is a man’s need for his dad to be proud of him. You might wish that your approval of him would be enough, but it won’t be. If your man has any unresolved issues with his dad that have caused pain for him, gently encourage him to seek peace and reconciliation. If he doesn’t have a dad, as is the case for many young men today, encourage him to let God be his father and let men of the church be his mentors. He will love you for it.

2. Understand his need to accomplish. A second driving force for every man boils down to “an intense desire ‘to do,’ to master his world, to shape the course of events,” says Morely. Every man has a desire for significance, meaning and purpose. He wants to accomplish something with his life, especially in his work. Let your man know that you understand this, and that you pray for him to find it, and will be his greatest cheerleader in it and he will love you for it.

3. Understand his financial pressure and don’t increase it. Americans are doing a little less borrowing than they were before the crash of 2008, but it’s tough. The pressure to achieve a higher standard of living is relentless and often drives men to load themselves with debt. The best thing you can do for the man you love is understand the pressure he feels to provide you with the best of everything and let him know that a used car is OK, that cheap dates are just fine, and that you can wait for that expensive honeymoon until you’ve been married long enough to afford it.

4. Understand his need for companionship. Men are notorious loners. It is part of their competitive nature not to let others get too close, lest they take some advantage of that position. Yet they also live in a brutally competitive world. They’re looking for a partner in life that they can trust, someone who looks forward to their homecoming, who will nurse their wounds when they’ve been “sacked” one to many times, and who will encourage them when it’s time to head back into the fray. Let him know he can trust you; that you will not take advantage of his vulnerabilities, and he will love you for it.

5. Understand his need to lead, and let him. Laura Doyle, author of The Surrendered Wife, “used to think that communication was the key to a better marriage. But that wasn’t how it turned out … Even though I have a degree in communications, trying for years to “communicate” with my husband never got me the connection I craved, but the principles of surrender did. One of those principles is that a surrendered wife is “trusting where she used to be controlling.”

The need to control is a need generated by fear, not trust. 1 Pet 3:5-6 says, “For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope (or trust) in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham… You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear,” (emphasis added).

Ladies, if you’re in a relationship with an abusive and unfaithful man there are other biblical principles that apply. But if you’re a woman who is destroying her romance by controlling her man I encourage you to let go of your fear, first by trusting God, then by trusting your man enough to let him lead. You will be amazed at the results.

May God bless you and fulfill all of your desires as you seek to love each other according to his design.

WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN Seven Keys to Successful Romance

My senses were assaulted at Wal-Mart last night. I strolled in, minding my own business, looking for our favorite frozen desert, when the smell of flowers and candy and a huge splash of red and pink displays hit my eyeballs like a baseball bat, “Oh, yeah! Valentines!”

Call me distracted, but don’t call me unconcerned about matters of the heart. I’ve been happily married for thirty-two years and doing marriage counseling for almost that long. Those displays reminded me that flowers and candy, important as they may be, are only the icing on the cake of a robust romance.

Here then, for the men, are the top seven things you need to succeed in love. Ladies, I’ll get to you next week.

1. An All-Out Commitment to Christ – (See Rom. 12:1-2 & John 15:1-4). All of us bring the baggage of our sinful nature into every relationship. When the flames of passion finally dissipate, as they always do, the baggage remains. Our lovers often want to “throw the baggage out,” so to speak, but that creates conflict. Abiding in Christ, making our lives a constant sacrifice to God and conforming our minds to his frees him to take out the trash and replace it with real love.
2. The Heart of a Servant-Leader – Men who succeed in love take responsibility for leading themselves. They also take responsibility for leading and nurturing their lovers. Nothing turns a woman off faster than a man who insists on being a boy. Grow up and lead guys, your women will love you for it.
3. Commit to Communicate – Men who succeed in love don’t hide behind the strong-silent illusion of manhood. They take responsibility for their emotions. Learn to say what you need and ask for what you want. Make sure you know what your love language is and how to speak hers.
4. Conflict Resolution Skills – No one grows up knowing how to resolve conflicts in romance. We leave them to fester at our peril. Men who succeed in love learn how to have a good fight, and then have one. They learn how to say they’re sorry, and mean it. They even learn to say that they were wrong, sometimes ;-). After that, they go have ice cream, or something better, with their lovers. You’ll be amazed at how this strengthens love.
5. Commit to Commitment – Hollywood will tell you otherwise, but all loves ebb and flow, wax and wane. Remember this: it’s the promise that keeps the love, not the love that keeps the promise.
6. Practice the Art of Forgiveness – The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians that “love keeps no record of wrongs.” Romantic relationships are fragile like flowers. They cannot bear the chill of resentment. They wither under a grudge. Men who succeed at love know that forgiveness lets the sun in and keeps the life-giving water flowing.
7. Work at it Like a Gardner – Loving a woman is like keeping a garden, not like fixing a car. A car needs a timing belt once every 100,000 miles. Men who succeed in love realize romance needs attention the way a garden needs a gardener. Every day he’s there, feeding it with the sunshine of his affection, pulling the weeds of conflict, watering it with encouragement, and fertilizing it with affirmation. And every now and then, maybe when Wal-Mart reminds him, he feeds it the Miracle Grow of flowers and chocolate. A man like that will enjoy a fruitful garden of love. The guys who don’t get weeds.

Succeeding at love is not brain surgery men, but it does take humility, commitment and work. Trust God, practice these habits and you will succeed.