Finish It

Finish-LineI turned 40 today.

Yes, I can hear the funeral music cranking up in the background.  I am “over the hill”, “one foot in the bucket”, “buyin’ the daisy seeds I will one day push up”.  All of that and many other heart-warming and friendly phrases will probably be brought to me today now that I am officially “getting up there”.

So, I have been thinking a lot this weekend about what 40 means to me.  I mean if you stop and ask the average person on the street, I am due for my mid-life crisis sometime within the next 5 years, so what do I want to do with that?  Is there some crazy, wild, irresponsible thing that I would like to tear off and do without giving thought to the ramifications?

In a word, “NO”.

If anything, this birthday is giving me a moment to pause and think about what I have been blessed with.  I have a godly wife I am madly in love with, and two great kids that are growing in God.  I have a Christian extended family that I am very grateful to God for the love and support I have received from them and continue to receive.  I have a church family that cares and builds us up.  I have a few really good friends I can count on and call when I am struggling with something.  I have a roof over my head, clothes on my back and more than enough food in my more than ample belly!  I’m a rich man.

So, what does turning 40 mean?

The primary thought I have had in my head this weekend as I have pondered this question is “finish it.”  No, I am not suicidal!  This thought of finishing it has been brought to my mind because I want to finish my life well.  There are a lot of things in my life I want to see to completion, and I want my own life to be as complete as possible before I shuffle from this mortal coil.  Things I want to do with my wife, my kids, my personal and spiritual growth, my career, and a lot of other things as well.  There is a lot left to do, and I want to do it.

Culturally here in the US we are given a certain year that we are “in the second half” of life, and I would argue with a lot of people that this is the one.  Is it?  I have a friend lying in a hospital bed in Georgia this morning.  He’s a year older than me.  I’ve lost friends growing up that never saw 20 or 30.  What is the second half?  How do you know when you are there?  You don’t.

Christ lived for 33 years on this earth, and in the last three He devoted Himself to His ministry that would culminate with His death on the cross to save each of us from our sins before being resurrected and with that, give us eternal life. As he hung there on the cross, His last words are the ones that echo in my mind today:

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. – John 19:30

He finished what He came here to do.  When He was done, He left others to continue His work until He comes back to take us home.  The thought here is that He was working until He was finished.  That is what I want to focus on as I move forward past this “threshold” date in my life.  I’m not finished until I am no longer fogging a mirror.  I have work to do that was given to me by my heavenly Father before the world was spun into existence by His Word.  It will not stop until I die.

So, my thought for turning 40 might not be as inspiring as some would put together, but here it is:

I have things I need to do in my life before I go.  I need to be the husband, father, and friend that God would have me to be.  I need to stay active physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, and teach others to do the same.  I need to stay focused on what God has put before me and seek how to use the talents and gifts He has given me to do that task.  I need to stay close to God through His Word, and through prayer, and through time with His people.  I need to be sensitive to His leading in my life and then act! I need to be a bold, courageous man of God.  I need to finish my life well.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. – 2 Timothy 4:7

I hope this encourages someone to do the same.

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Movie Night Thoughts

wwsLast week I sat down with my son who is almost 14 to watch a movie he has been begging to watch for about 2-3 years.  I had decided to put it off for a few reasons – violent content, language, his age/maturity, and most importantly – would he get it?  There are a ton of themes going on in that movie, and I wanted him to be a little older so he could see some of those when he watched it.

I’m sure there are some people who will say that I should not have let him watch this flick due to the content, and when there is a lot of negative content in a movie I am inclined to agree, but not always.  Violent and coarse content that exists only for the sake of being violent and coarse should be avoided!  Why subject anyone to something like that – especially a young teen?  But there are times, and I believe historical movies that are based on an actual event can be watched by our kids in order to show them what has happened and encourage discussion.  Movies like Braveheart, Schindler’s List, We Were Soldiers, and many others are movies that can be used to educate.

Let me be clear on a major point.  They should be watched with a parent that is allowing the viewing not for entertainment purposes, but as educational.  Pause the thing every few minutes and talk about what is being seen.  Dads, draw your son’s focus to the moments in the flick that put the character of the characters on display and show them the strengths and the weaknesses.  Show your daughters the same thing so they can better understand the underlying thoughts of a man’s actions.  These are very good teachable moments for both genders.

I’ll admit that I had another motive for allowing Zach to watch this movie.  He is starting to look at college and scholarship opportunities and things like that.  One of the things he has looked at for his college of choice is ROTC.  Cedarville has both Army and Air Force options available, and as we have talked, he has shown an interest in Army.  I tread on dangerous ground here in choosing branches of service, but as his parents and the potential for imminent threat on our son during times that are as troubled as these, we would prefer a career for him in the Air Force rather than being a ground pounder.  So, I was interested in seeing how a brutal battle might affect his decision. (Spoiler alert – I’m not sure it did anything!  The honor and fortitude showed by the characters in the movie in the face of overwhelming opposition was inspiring!)

So, I thought I would just touch on a couple of the things we talked about as we watched the movie:

Preparation is the key to victory.

Lt. Col. Moore researched the people of Vietnam, the terrain, the military strategy they had used in the past, other battle models.  He drilled his men on what to do in a firefight when they lost their leader.  He was honest with them from the beginning that not all of them would return.  Walking in blindly to any struggle, physical or spiritual is foolish.  We need to prepare!  Paul tells us to train our bodies like an athlete. Solomon stresses the importance of seeking wisdom.  The heat of battle is not the place to do this.  It must happen before we are hip deep in the mess!

A real leader does not simply lead from the front.

Lt. Col. Moore told his men he would be the first to put his foot on the ground and the last to take his foot off the ground.  He moved through his men both night and day to check on them and to give direction, encouragement, and share the truth of their situation.  That is a real leader.  If you lead from only the front, you will find yourself eventually taking a walk by yourself.  If you lead from only the rear, then you are just driving those around you, and that drive will lead to distraction, discouragement, and resentment.  One seen in the movie showed a young officer seeking glory for himself that ran after a Vietnamese scout shouting for his men to follow him.  It resulted in his death, and most of the men following him as well.

A real man serves those following him.

Another young lieutenant takes a moment during a march to inspect the feet of those under his command.  I could not help but think of Jesus when he knelt down and took a smelly, sweaty, blistered, and oozing foot in his hands to see what kind of damage was there.  That is such a picture of servant leadership, and I really want my son to see that in me as well.

Men can be scared, but they need to understand their circumstances and know when to hold position.

Sargent Savage was cut off from the main force with just a few men and dwindling ammunition.  Fear allowed to run rampant would have resulted in his men dying as they tried to retreat.  Instead, he held his position. He fought the fight and endured until the rescue came.  I’ve felt that same fear in my life. Sometimes I have run from the fight, and it resulted in casualties – my family, my friends.  Other times I have held position and waited my rescue in the refuge that God has provided for me.  His strength, His leadership, His Word, His people.  Sometimes the best direction to run is nowhere.  Just fall to your knees and shelter yourself in God’s protection.

Men cry.

Sounds simple, but why?  LT. Col. Moore cried at the end of the battle.  It was grief, exhaustion, relief, all mixed up together.  He let it out.  Men need to do that.  Holding those emotions turns to poison in our systems and it sickens our relationships.  While our tears are often quite different from those of women, they are not any less important.  We need to be able to do that.

There are a lot of other great lessons in the movie, and I will not go through all of them here.  I would like to encourage anyone reading this (including me!) to look at what you watch for lessons for life to share with your family and your friends.  Be purposeful (again, talking to myself first) in how you do things.  Be intentional in your conversations with your family and friends.  Bring God the glory in what you do in sharing life.

In HIS Grip,

Tom

Legacy – More Than I Had Thought

Picture 0121This past weekend I had the opportunity to go to a men’s retreat with my buddy Ray, and a father and son from our church.  We shared a lot of stories, had some laughs, and shed a few tears as well.  We ate, we slept (sorta), and we took some walks around the beautiful lake.  So, how do you gauge if you had a good men’s retreat?  I think you don’t know for sure until you are home.

As I write this I have yet to really sit down and discuss with my wife and kids what I learned from the messages we had.  I’ve given them some snippets, but we have been on the run since I got home and I want to give this the attention it deserves. It is giving me a little extra time to go over it in my mind, and to talk about it with some other men I am blessed to work with.  My hope is that when I do sit down with them I have a better grasp on what changes God is asking of me.

The thrust of the weekend was Legacy.  I have always looked at Legacy as something that I leave for my family.  It is the way I acted in life that has left an impression on my kids that they will (for better or worse) pass onto their kids.  It has been something I view as important, and something I have viewed as being up to me.  This weekend we were shown a different view of it though.

I think as men we often want to bring the limelight back to ourselves, and my definition of legacy does just that.  What did I do to impact my family?  What pearls of wisdom did I leave behind for them?  Truth is that is the wrong way to look at Legacy, and they showed me that so well this weekend.  It is not about what I do.  Legacy is all about God’s work in a family.  It’s not about me.  It’s all about Him and how His servant has responded to His leading as the designated servant leader of the home!

So, what does that mean?  Am I off the hook? Not for a second.  I have a calling to lead my family closer to God, and the amazing thing about that is how God has supplied an amazing tool to do just that very thing.  Is it the church? Small group? Worship music? A specific study by the latest and greatest Christian author? No.  Thankfully no.  It is the second point that has been in my mind the most since leaving camp.

The greatest tool God uses to turn me into the kind of man that responds to God’s leading to leave a godly legacy is my family.

There it is, staring you right in the hairy eyeball.  The first institution put together on earth – the family.  God gave us our families to help us grow!  Everything that happens in our family’s day-to-day life provides us with opportunities to choose God or self.  It might hide behind an activity that we choose to do, but how we do that activity (attitude), where we do it (discernment), or when we do it (priorities) are all choices that we make that impacts our spiritual lives and in turn those of our families!

I have to tell you that I am really not bragging here because when I was faced with some of this stuff, I have had to take a very serious look at my attitudes, my priorities, my plans, and a lot of other things, and when I get to the bottom of things…  I have a lot of work to do.  As a husband and as a father to a son and a daughter I am probably not doing too bad in the eyes of some, but I can’t just compare myself to the next guy.  I have to compare myself to one Man in particular

I’m supposed to love my wife as Christ loved the church.  He gave Himself up for the church. He modeled truth blended with grace in what I would call an effortless manner.  I’m about as effortless as a blind, three-legged bull in a china shop.  Some days I feel like it is nothing short of a miracle that my wife has stayed with me because of my failures.  The standard of Christ is what I am supposed to aim for as a husband.

God has shown Himself over and over in Scripture as the standard of the father.  He disciplines those He loves, and He lavishes His love on them.  He gives to His children the things that He promises to them.  He blesses them not just because they obey, but because they are His.  This is the standard I am supposed to aim for as a dad.

So, I have some work ahead of me.  That’s okay.  I’m not perfect. I want to be better.  I hope that as people read this blog they see that in me.  This is not about showing you how good I am or how well I can express myself.  This is all about how God is working in me, and when my life is over, I hope people will look back and not say what a great guy I was, but that they will say how they saw God use me to impact my family first, then those I care about as friends, and that I had a heart for everyone.

Yeah, that last one is really going to take some work…

In His Grip,

Tom