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Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Christmas1974

Today, 79 years ago, my Dad was born (yes, he was a Christmas Eve baby). In the pic above, that’s him holding my baby brother with my sister and me many years ago celebrating Christmas when we lived in Virginia (1974, I believe).

Sadly, he did not see his 55th birthday, abruptly and unexpectedly taken from us as a result of a heart attack. This grievous and dreadful event capped an approximately 18-month period when a dear uncle, my precious grandmother and my respected father were all seemingly snatched away, leaving us with wounded hearts, fractured faith and voids in our lives.

Growing up, Christmas always represented a time of hope for me. Year after year, I would ponder and reflect that God showed He is faithful to His promises and to us in the sending of His Son, Immanuel, God with us. Year after year, I anticipated that life would become more and more fulfilling; that my calling and purpose would be revealed and, with sincere effort, fulfilled; that my loved ones would find and grow in Christ and God the Father.

But as I’ve grown older and witnessed & shared in the pain of dear friends losing children during pregnancy or childbirth; of the unexpected and unexplained loss of family; of the life-changing/world-shrinking effects of Parkinson’s and other diseases; of the immense struggle to adapt to the results of stroke, Alzheimer’s, Lupus, aging – I’ve struggled more and more with belief. Hope has often seemed a light disappearing from view as I travel farther down “the race set before me.” And I battle feeling as if my life has been invalidated as the institutions I’ve counted on seem to have declared my accomplishments as inconsequential; my beliefs as ignorant, my faith as unprofitable and counterproductive. Immanuel? God with us? Sometimes, I confess, I have misgivings as to whether that is true…..

But I’m continually brought up by the fact that the evils of this world do not contradict God nor His Son. “In this world you will have trouble,” He told us. Trouble of my own making and trouble resulting from a world increasingly spurning God and His Son. We are described as imbued with the dignity of God and yet infected with death, fear and self-defeating tendencies. “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” It was into this world that He came. For you. For me.

I continue to be rescued by this Immanuel, God with Us. This God who did not consider equality with God as something to be held onto and used to His own advantage. Rather, He emptied Himself and became human. He experienced what we experience – He experienced our reality. And, in order to save us, He became obedient unto death.

The Christmas hope (Immanuel) is a future hope – for a place where the kingdom of God is actually and fully realized. Where creation, now broken, will be made anew. Where the losses, the wounds and the voids will be redeemed, healed and closed.

The Christmas hope (Immanuel) is also a present hope – those who seek God, who come to God through His Son, will be sustained through present sufferings and will know peace and purpose in this life.

So, for grieving widows to abuse survivors to those suffering illness, disease, depression, doubt and fear.

For those who have made bad choices and despair of ever being able to repair what has been broken as a result of those choices.

For those who have experienced or are experiencing heartbreaking and confusing loss.

For those who were not loved growing up and have developed a hard layer to try to deaden the pain and insulate from any more pain.

For the widows alone, unable to sleep at night, remembering nights past and the laughter of family filling the house.

For the parents who feel overwhelmed and wonder how to build a family.

For those who feel insignificant …. lost …. alone.

For those who are weary and ready to give up.

For those who worry that the hour is too late for them to return.

This night, and the birth of this Child so long ago is meant to bring the hope of salvation.

He came to bring light to the world.

He is the gift.

May this gift bring you the hope of the realization that you are loved. The hope that a way to God has been made for you. That abundant life and abundant living can be found even here and even now.

Merry Christmas.

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My son turned nineteen years old today.  Today he is recognized as a full adult by our great state.  I’ve had this date marked for some time as “the milestone” for his launching into adulthood.  Today has been an emotional day for me.  Having children was not something I decided on lightly.  My wife had desired children for years, but I had been most reluctant — because I didn’t know or think I had what it took to be a good father.  It was only after 10 years of marriage and much soul-searching and prayer that I made the very personal and life-changing decision to father children.  I have not been a perfect father — I can think of many occasions for which I wish I could have a “do-over.”  But, in the really important things of life, especially in faith, knowing right and wrong, being a man of integrity, my son is largely where I have prayed and hoped he would be.  And now we have begun the transition of his leaving our nest and setting out on his own.  Bittersweet doesn’t begin to describe what this transition, just now in its early stages, has been like. 

Today, on this milestone day, I drove to his college to spend time with him and have a little private “ceremony” recognizing his transition to manhood.  It was important to me that I do this — and I hope it was meaningful to him.  I presented him with a serious gift in the form of a book regarding what true manhood involves and also a letter in which I wrote from my heart and which I hope will be one he treasures, keeps, and re-reads many times over the course of his life.

To my son on his 19th birthday:

Nineteen years old – the beginning of life as an adult (per the great state in which we live 🙂 ). Where have all the years gone? Why does life have to go by so fast? I wish I could hit rewind and pause buttons and just savor the blessing of you as a child and adolescent.

But as much as I might like that, there is no stopping time. It’s a bittersweet moment because we are saying goodbye to the child we raised and embracing the young adult you have become.

This is how I feel today, buddy. You’re no longer a little boy, no longer an adolescent. You are a grown man who is beginning to make a life of his own. BUT, that doesn’t mean you are simply “on your own.” I (and your mother) deeply want to be in your life and you in ours.  We know we are not in the “parent-child” stage anymore, but we still remain your loving parents – ready to provide advice, support, friendship; we pray for continued involvement in your life – the ability to share in the up’s and down’s it brings.

I’ve often thought of what I would tell you as you launch into manhood. I’ve wanted to give you thoughts that you will hide in your heart and practice in your life. Here they are:

  • Take time for introspection (thinking about who you are and what you want to be in terms of character, integrity, calling). You will find that life sometimes gets more complicated the older you get. Sometimes it’s very easy to figure out, and sometimes it will take you years to find the answer.
  • Dare to dream. Work hard and persistently to make your dreams reality. Don’t get discouraged when you fail – learn from it and move on and keep trying.  Everyone has failures in life as they work to succeed.
  • Be brave.  Don’t be afraid to stand for what is right and for truth (especially among your friends).  Remember Deuteronomy 31:6 & Joshua 1:9.  Be selective in your close friends – you really do take on the characteristics of those you surround yourself with.
  • Keep your family in your life.  We love you and we want to share in your life; remain a part, a supportive part, of your life.
  • Most of all, commit yourself and your ways to the Lord, and you will succeed in life (that desk ornament I gave you years ago and insisted you keep on your desk? I did for a reason – to remind you of this very thing – Proverbs 3:5-6 🙂 ).

I have great confidence in you because you have a good heart, good character and most of all, you have faith in Jesus.  Live that faith!  I say again, LIVE YOUR FAITH.

It’s an exciting time, a time of transition, of looking to and planning for your future. You’re now fully responsible for your decisions and actions. Remember your actions and decisions have consequences (for good or bad; now and in the future).

Establish in your heart and mind that being a man is a purposeful effort which does not come about by simply growing older.  Being a man is more about character, compassion and courage than it is career. A man has character when he is a person of integrity who can be depended on. A man has compassion when he is caring for others by putting their best interests ahead of his own. A man has courage when he does what is right even what it’s difficult. I believe you have come far on this journey to becoming a man. You have learned so much already. Continue faithfully on!

You will make a difference! You certainly have in my life. You are heaven sent.  I thank and praise God for placing you in my life. I know I’ve not been the perfect parent, but I hope I have been a good one and that you are able to live well in part because I have been (and continue to be) your loving father. I am a better person because you are in my life.  I love you fiercely and as long as I have breath, I am here for you.  If you need to talk, need advice, just give me a call or a text or a visit.

Your loving and proud,

Dad

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The Masters golf tournament ended yesterday (yes, I got to roam the grounds of Augusta National Golf Course!).  Patrick Reed won his first major tournament.  In doing so, he overcame many obstacles:

  • He was NOT the one the crowds wanted to win.  Again and again, the crowd favorites were greeted with roars of approval when they were introduced and when they made a great shot.  Patrick, on the other hand, was given only “polite golf applause” when he was introduced or when he made a great shot.  It was evident to all that he was not who the crowds were rooting for.  One of the headlines on CBSsports.com even read, “How a Villain Won it All” in describing Patrick’s victory.
  • The pressure of some of golf’s best players gaining significant ground (one even getting tied with him) when he faltered early.  When Patrick began the day with a bogey and a par (on a hole in which he should have had birdie), it looked like he would wilt under the pressure.  Instead, he steadied himself and made the shots he had to over the next 16 holes.
  • The challenge issued by one of golf’s best golfers, Rory McIlroy, with whom Patrick was partnered on Sunday, the last round of the tournament.  Rory was playing the “mental game” against Patrick.  Patrick stayed mentally tough throughout.

How did Patrick Reed manage to overcome all of these obstacles?  He won because he remained focused and committed to his purpose.  As I think on this, I’m reminded of Paul’s exhortations to us as Christians:  “Do you know know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may win.”  (1 Cor 9:24)  “Run in such a way that you press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)

The need for Christians to live up to our identity and calling in Christ in today’s deteriorating culture cannot be overstated.  Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest, the April 8 reading, states: “[Jesus’] resurrection means for us [Christians] that we are raised to His risen life, not to our old life….we can know now the [power and effectiveness] of His resurrection and walk in newness of life.  Thank God it is gloriously and majestically true that the Holy Ghost can work in us the very nature of Jesus if we will obey Him.”

Like Patrick Reed, we will face significant obstacles in seeking to live in (and live out) our new life and identity in Christ.  There will be those who root against us, those who actively work against us, those who try to bully and pressure and shame us with “mental games.”

But Oswald Chambers is right … we can know now the power and effectiveness of His resurrection, we can walk in newness of life and the Holy Spirit work in us the very nature of Jesus … if we obey Him.

Patrick Reed won the Masters because he “ran the race” focused and committed to golf’s ultimate prize.  As Christians, we must run for a greater calling and prize.  We do this that we may become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:1-4) and because if we don’t, we simply deny the light culture so desperately needs.

C.S. Lewis wrote: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us. [We are] like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Are you (am I) “too easily pleased?”

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I was in a Target retail store today walking down a main aisle to get to school supplies (looking for a graphing calculator for one of my boys).  As I looked ahead, I saw an elderly lady with a shopping cart stop and begin to eye me.  I could tell she thought I might be a Target employee.  Sure enough, when I was close enough for her to make herself heard, she inquired as to whether I worked at the store (as I was wearing khaki slacks and an orange-red shirt, her thought was understandable).

However, how she phrased her question caught me up short — and has had me thinking ever since.  She asked, “Are you a customer, or are you a real person?”

After confirming with her I was a customer, I began thinking on the latter half of her question — “are you a real person?”   Oh, I’m definitely flesh and blood, but that simply means I’m existing.  In looking for descriptions of a “real person,” I came across words like genuine, authentic, giving, loving and vulnerable.  If those words characterize a “real person” (and I think it certainly encompasses those things), then I sometimes struggle.

I naturally lean toward a “type-A personality,” but I’m also introverted by nature.  The results of such a combination are often stoicism (lack of showing emotion) and introversion.  I can often seem unapproachable, difficult to talk with, interested in people only in terms of how they can contribute to tasks at hand (a commodity).  When emotion does come out, it can often be in the form of impatience and/or frustration.

As I’ve reflected on this, I can think of many times when I’ve not been a “real person,” but rather a brooding, self-absorbed person.  Times when I’ve gotten frustrated and impatient with my wife or boys because they haven’t gotten something done or because they don’t get what I’m trying to explain after they’ve asked me to help them with their homework.  Times when I’ve “withdrawn” rather than drawn close.

I remember a time awhile back when a friend from work and I were talking.  This friend was trying to help me see why sometimes I could be intimidating or thought to be unapproachable.  As she was talking, I remained impassive.  I offered no words or facial expressions/body language.  Exasperated, she said, “See, this is what I’m talking about.  I have no idea what you’re thinking and wonder whether you care at all.”  I wasn’t being a real person.

As I’ve continued to think, the apostle Paul’s words on the fruit of the Spirit keeps coming to my mind:  “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control….”  A real person is one who exhibits these characteristics.  Such a person is genuine and values people as people (versus a commodity useful in accomplishing tasks).  Such a person is one who enriches others’ lives simply by how they interact with others – exhibiting the fruit outlined above.

As a Christian, I should be, by-and-large, a real person.  None of us is a perfect real person, but as a Christian, being a real person (defined by the fruit of the Spirit) should be the norm.  Christ says, and I’m paraphrasing here, that you can recognize a people by how they act — as you can identify a tree by its fruit.  A good tree (real person) bears good fruit (love, joy, peace, gentleness, kindness, etc).  A bad tree, on the other hand, produces bad fruit (self-centeredness, impatience, anger, indifference, harshness, etc).  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.

At the end of the day, I want to be able to answer that elderly woman’s question with, “Yes, I’m a real person.”  I can’t do that in my own strength, but only by walking in and with the Spirit of God.  May I, may we all, do so and be “real people.”

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monkey-with-hand-trapped-in-bottle-grabbing-bannana-with-sign“we are tempted when we are dragged away by our own evil desire and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is brought to completion, it brings forth death.”   — James 1:14-15

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it to the full.”   — John 10:10

“…choose life…by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him…” — Deuteronomy 30:19b-20a

 

In Southern Mexico lies the Cueva de Villa Luz, or Cave of the Lighted House.  I’ve read that as you make your way to the cave you walk through a veritable paradise of tropical birds and lush rain forest. Underwater the cave is fed by 20 underground springs, beautiful watercourses which teem with tiny fish. The cave itself is home to spectacular rock formations and beautiful ponds. The environment is inviting. Yet accept the invitation and you’ll soon be dead. You see, the Cueva de Villa Luz is filled with poisonous gases.

Temptation is just like this. It presents itself to us as something inviting, attractive, lifegiving. Yet in reality it’s poisonous and toxic.

Now squarely in mid-life, I, like many others before me, am examining my life — in particular, what have I done, if anything, of lasting meaning — and what, if anything, can I do with the time remaining to me that will be of lasting meaning. In this lengthy (and still in-progress) exercise, I’ve had to admit the painful truth that, as Paul puts it in Ephesians 4, I’ve often given the devil a foothold, following the path that James outlines in his first chapter (and quoted above).

The result has been, indeed, death.  Death of dreams, death of opportunities, death of fulfilling my role fully as husband, father, and friend.  I reflect on moments in which my words and actions can only have negative impact they are modeled by others such as my children.  In the opportunities and ministries God has provided, I see responsibilities only partially fulfilled and effectiveness compromised.

All too often, I’m like the monkeys that are caught using candy or other sweets and a bottle. You see, old milk bottles are tied to the ground, and then something sweet is placed inside the bottle.  When a monkey comes along and sees the sweet he places his hand inside the bottle, but with the sweet enclosed in his palm his fist is too big to get back out the bottle. The  monkey will pull and push in an effort to get that sweet out, but he will not let it go, not even as his captors approach. And so the monkey is caught, literally with “his hand in the cookie jar”!

This represents perfectly the contradiction of temptation and integrity.  As Dr. Jim Denison notes, “temptation seems to benefit more than it costs at first, but its disastrous consequences always outweigh the reward. Integrity usually costs more than it benefits at first, but its positive consequences always outweigh the cost.”

Our enemy is always a “roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). He wants, as Jesus told us (also quoted above), only to steal from us, to destroy us. Thus, we can know that any offer of good from our desires which contradict God’s word to and design for us must lead to a greater harm.

Theologian Lyman Abbott noted that “every life is a march from innocence, through temptation, to virtue or vice.”  In my self-examination, I’m looking at where my march is headed.  It’s a question I urge you to consider as well.

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The Super Bowl is this Sunday, and it will feature the New England Patriots — a franchise that has had an extended run of greatness, unlike any in team sports over the past quarter-century.  The owner of the team is Robert Kraft – who took a losing team and made it a winning one.

“Winning football games has been more important to me than making money. Winning is what turns me on. Money is pretty good, but a shroud has no pockets.” – Robert Kraft
There is great wisdom here. No, not winning football games, but rather, the realization that you can’t take it with you — “a shroud has no pockets.” So, what turns you on?  Is it something that you can’t take with you — or is it something of eternal value.
“Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life…” – Jesus

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Twenty-seven years ago, I married the most beautiful woman on earth (she still is!).  I was young, brash, arrogant, selfish — but I didn’t realize it at the time.  I had told Mary before we were married (and for many years after), that I didn’t want children.  Not because I disliked babies or kids or teens…. but because I was convinced I would not make a good father, a good dad.

But I had no doubt whatsoever that I’d make a fantastic husband.  I thought I had all the “bible learning” down on being a good husband, and I thought I would exemplify what a good husband was.  Boy, was Mary lucky to have me!  That last part may not have been a conscious thought, but it might as well have been.

As it turned out, I knew nothing about being a good husband.  Without going into details, let’s just say I made it about me, my rights as a husband, the respect I “deserved” based on my biblical role as leader of my household.  I expected respect (without demonstrating I deserved it) and had little tolerance for anything I interpreted as questioning my role or my “wisdom.”  Frankly, I was a fool and a jackass.

But then came a day I’ll never forget.  My grandma, a wonderful woman of God with down-to-earth common sense, pulled me aside and basically let me know what a putz I was being as a husband.  My grandma was kind, sweet and extremely wise.  For her to “put me in my place” shocked my sensibilities, but it was sure necessary and I’m grateful she did it.  Her rebuke was and is a great example that corrective admonishment can be done out of love.

I wish I could say that from that day forward, I was indeed the husband the Bible calls for and the man of Mary’s dreams.  Unfortunately, that has not been the case.  But I have always been mindful of what I should be and hope I’ve made progress in that direction.

 

Having reached mid-life (assuming a “standard” life-expectancy!), I am heeding the warning of Socrates & Plato regarding an unexamined life.  As I reflect on my life and its results, I see a man who is in many ways hard to love and hard to like.  I see many friendships that have dried up, atrophied, faded — some due to what we call “life” (time, distance, changes in family or other circumstance); others due to neglect, and, I fear, my own self-centeredness.

More and more I realize the ripple effects through time my negative actions have on my family and the effects self-centeredness has had on my friendships.  And these (family and friends) are two primary means God uses to give life meaning and purpose.   I realize, without Mary, I would likely be alone and with little hope of an enriched life “on this mortal plain.”

As our marriage has unfolded, my wife has loved me when my words and actions have caused mental and emotional pain; she has loved me when I have failed to be a spiritual leader; she has loved me when I’ve been quick to anger; she has loved me, quite honestly, when I have been unlovable.

Many husbands, on occasions such as anniversaries, state, “I wouldn’t change a thing.”  But, if I could, I would.  Change who I married?  Not on your life!  Change the person I’ve been and behaviors I displayed?  Absolutely.

But, alas, I cannot do that.  What I can do is continue to preach the gospel to myself (especially in regards to forgiving myself), and I can strive to be a husband who loves his wife as Christ loved the church.  A calling and responsibility I far too often forget.  It is when I sacrifice myself, when I give of myself — when I intentionally lead for the present and eternal good of my family, when I put their welfare above my own desires that I have any good impact — in the now and in the future.  I can strive to be what my grandma admonished and reminded me I should be, and I look to God to redeem my past sins and to “make up for the years the locusts have eaten” (Joel 2:25) as I seek to please Him in the more excellent way of love — particularly in the intentional love of a husband and father.

My wife has inexplicably continued to show me grace, mercy, forgiveness and love throughout our married life.  She has, in many ways, shown Christ in action.  God has indeed blessed me, and I continue to learn what love is and how to love because of Mary.

Thank you, honey, from all that is within me, for being my wife.

 

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