One of our go-to movies, The Bourne Supremacy, has a heartbreaking scene that shows Jason Bourne burning all the evidence of his girlfriend and their life together. He was making it harder for the bad guys to find him again. He wanted to disappear. I’ve watched this scene so many times and I always thought it sad he had to destroy everything. For most of us, our most cherished possessions are the photos and stories of our life.
What Jason Bourne was doing, is the opposite of how I want to live. I want to leave lots of traces. I want to leave lots of evidence. I want to use the stories of my life to tell God what has given me.
Back in December 2003 Paul Byrom asked if I’d be part of a new men’s ministry he was pulling together at our church. I said I would gladly be part of it but I didn’t think I should teach it, or lead it, since everything I was doing at the time I was the teacher. I worried that I was teaching too much and listening too little.
Another reason I was reluctant to lead a men’s ministry was because I never considered myself a man’s man. I was not an athlete, didn’t play golf, only followed sports sporadically, would rather be by myself reading or writing than hanging with the men spitting and whittling, didn’t hunt or even own a gun, rarely went fishing, had never been to drag races, and was totally indifferent about NASCAR.
But when Paul told me they were going to start by going through the Wild at Heart materials I knew I was full in. I think Paul knew it, too. My wife, Cyndi, had already tipped him off during one of their early morning runs.
What happened next is summed up by this quote from Mark Batterson’s book, Wild Goose Chase: “Nothing is more unnerving or disorienting than passionately pursuing God. He will take you places you never could have imagined going by paths you never knew existed.”
This past Tuesday evening we celebrated ten years of that same men’s ministry, which is now known as Iron Men. It has grown into a band of like-minded men dedicated to helping each other live solid, godly lives as leaders, husbands, and fathers.
I consider any man who has been to one of my Wild at Heart classes, or a Relationship Lab, or for any other reason has landed on my email list, to be an Iron Man. If you stand next to me in line at Whataburger you might end up on my list. Why? Because I want all the men who come close to come in closer. I know that if we all move further up and further in together, we will be better men with deeper character. I know we all need each other more than we know, and certainly more that we are willing to admit.
The relationships I’ve formed during those ten years have been the most significant influence in my spiritual formation. I did not expect that, back in 2003.
The name of our group comes from Proverbs 27:17 that says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” But sharpening each other isn’t all we do. We also smooth each other. We’re like old wooden-handled tools that show the wear of constant use, the smoothed portions worn smooth by the hands that used them. Our constant contact with each other wears away the rough spots leaving us with the pattern of our fellow valiant men. The older I get the more I look forward to being worn smooth by these men.
And we don’t just study books together. We do a lot of hiking in the nearby Guadalupe Mountains, at least two big trips each year. Why” Because men make friends outside, especially when they’re doing something difficult together. One morning, on the strenuous opening mile of switchbacks of the Guadalupe Peak Trail, I mentioned to my friend Paul Ross “Surely there is an easier way to do ministry.”
Well, there might be, but I doubt easier is the same thing as better. I don’t know any other way to duplicate the time I get to spend with my guys; the extended conversations along the trail are my favorite part of the trip.
I’m often surprised that the guys want to go up the same trail again - same mountain, same hike, year after year. But of course, we don’t really do it for the actual hiking; we do it for the time together on the trail. As William Blake wrote, “Great things are done when men and mountains meet; this is not done by jostling in the street.”
So many times we’ve come down off the trail, collapsed into our seats on the bus, changed into comfortable shoes, gulped water, scarfed down Advil, and immediately started telling stories from the day and congratulating each other. It makes me happy. My heart swells and my brain settles, proud to be one of us. The world is full of men who live their entire lives with no real friends who will hike to the top of the mountains with them, yet I have a bus full of guys like that.
It reminds me of a Bible story about a young man named Saul who lived a small life tending the family flocks until God called him out to be the first king of Israel. I Samuel 10:26 says, “Saul went to his house in Gibeah, accompanied by valiant men whose hearts God had touched.” Before he became the king, Saul was all alone. But afterward, he was surrounded by valiant men. Coming off the mountain, I realized I was like Saul, surrounded by valiant men whose hearts God had touched.
Rick Warren once said, “We overestimate what we can do in one year and underestimate what we can do in ten.”
Ten years ago God gave me a gift I didn’t request or expect, or even understand. He gave me the Iron Men, and they are the finest men I have ever known.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32