Happy Birthday, Zach! I love you!

So, this morning I wake up and I am the father of a fifteen year old son. Amazing! I decided that I would give a tribute to my son, Zach as I did for his sister in January. Harder to come up with touching and sweet when you have a kid so much like yourself. This was his Facebook status this morning:

1660968_10202940390941805_14487435_nCannibal – (Noun) – Def: someone who is fed up with people

Yep. My kid! So, settle in if you want, but this is for my boy.

Zachary,

I can’t believe the years have flown by the way that they have. It seems like only a blink ago that you were a squirmy, smelly little thing scooting around the floor in the house. We could put you down and you would find all sorts of things to amuse yourself. Whether you were standing in the cupboard looking for a snack, rooting through the fridge looking for a snack, or digging in the couch cushions looking for a snack, you always had a smile on your face.

You used to give us heart attacks the way you would come down the stairs. So glad that we taught you to do it on your belly, but you could come down the stairs so fast it always made us think that we were going to find a maimed little boy at the bottom by the time we sprinted over there, but all we ever found was a smiling kid ready to climb back up and do it again.2014-05-29 06.32.46

I remember you wearing the colander on your head as you sat and watched Rolie Polie Olie and how you liked to run around the house with it while looking for a snack. I remember the early morning whispers at the side of my bed:

Zach: (Loudly whispered like only a kid can) Dad?
Me: (Grunting myself awake) Huh?
Zach: (Again in the loud whisper, but now three inches from my ear so his sleepy dad can understand him) Can I have a piece of cheese?
Me: Yes
(5 minutes later)
Zach: (Now with less whisper because well, why bother?) Dad?
Me: What?
Zach: Can I have a Gogurt?
Me: Yes, just go be quiet

2014-05-29 06.30.42I would get up a few minutes after that and go out to see you sitting in my recliner, usually with a bowl on your head while you watched TV. A few years later we gave that recliner away and when we were moving it I saw some plastic and when I pulled it out I found about 30-40 cheese wrappers stuffed into that chair along with a few gogurt wrappers. Glad you finally got that trash can thing down!

Before we knew it you were in school and we found out that you were a smart little fella! It has always been a treat to see your grades when they come back. Sometimes the work was very easy for you, but when it wasn’t, we would talk to you and you would always buckle down and give us your best, and you always saw a victory when you did that. I hope you never forget the lesson that God doesn’t ask us to be perfect, but He asks for our best.

Mom and I were so happy when you accepted Christ, and how even at a young age we started to see the change that comes from having Christ in your life. As you have grown I see more and more of that, and while you are not perfect (as your father’s son), you are growing, seeing the need for God, and I have been very happy to hear some of the questions that you ask. Don’t be afraid to ask, and never be afraid to dig deep into God’s Word for the real answers.2014-05-29 06.31.58

542431_3590688134928_605155567_nIt wasn’t very long after you were born that we began to see just how much like me you were going to be. I apologize for that. Seriously though, you got my sense of humor, your sarcasm, your ability to memorize things, some of my physical features, and the way that you think. I’m not sure why God made our brains work in such a similar fashion, but it really is something, and you know what I mean. Sorry that has made it easy for me to know what you are thinking more often than you would like!

You might be like me in a lot of ways, but I am so thankful that you are like your Mom too. Your musical skills are so definitely from her, and it is so neat to see how much you enjoy playing. I know it makes her heart swell with pride as she knows that is a bond that the two of you share. You also got her good looks, so again, you are welcome!

1390705_10202174021543049_2122419166_nI love watching you out on the soccer field, and even with all of the hassle of schedules, driving, and all of that, you know that when I get sat down in my chair at the edge of that field I am all in, and I am not only your biggest, but your loudest fan. Seeing your skills develop over the years has been awesome, and I can’t wait for another season. It is fun to see you play, and to remember how much I loved playing, but even better is sharing the love of the game with you.

Another thing that just fills my heart with pride is how you have stepped up as a leader in the youth group with the band. Not just to play, but to sing as well. Now you are even writing songs, and that is a blend of the gifts you got from me and Mom. You can’t even imagine how great it feels to watch you pick up your guitar and use the talents God gave you whether it is in the living room, the youth room, or by a camp fire. I love it!534754_4523631847337_1474451275_n

Zach, you are now 15. Hard to think that our time with you as a “kid” in our home is coming to a close. You are well on your way to becoming a young man. I expect over the next few years we will have some tense and tough moments together. Please remember that my goal is not to hold you back, but to strengthen you for what is to come. At times you might feel like I am keeping you from things, but in reality I am keeping harmful things from you. You might not want to talk to me about the things that I want to talk about, but they are necessary to help you think for yourself when I am not there. You might feel like you are all alone sometimes, but I am always there if you need me.

1004687_10201251091417799_255220507_nOver this next year I am going to challenge you. There are some things that I am going to ask you to do to help you develop some good and godly habits. There are some things that I am going to challenge you to do to develop some life skills. I am also going to do something else. I am asking a few men to take an interest in your life. They have agreed to reach out to you and to check in with you to see how you are doing. These men will ask you some tough questions from time to time, and I want you to feel free to answer them. I trust these men, and I trust them to speak truth to you and share their life perspectives with you in a way that gives you an opportunity to take that wisdom and apply it in your own life.

As your Dad, I have a responsibility given to me by God to raise you, teach you, discipline you, love you, protect you, correct you, cheer for you, rebuke you, comfort you, but most importantly, to prepare you for your life. We have had the discussion before that I am not supposed to be your friend right now. I have a weightier and more pressing role as your Dad, but I look forward to the day that I can just be your friend and a trusted advisor. I see that day is coming, and I get glimpses form time to time on how it is going to feel. I love it!

So, as your Dad, I want to give you a little advice right now. It has taken me most of my life to understand this point, but I think you might have a better handle on it than I did at your age, and I my prayer is that you will take this advice and use it as the foundation for your life:

Spend time in God’s Word

You are a Christian, and in this world that can end up being a confusing title at times. You will have people that question he things that you do in light of the fact that you are a Christian, but if you want to really understand what it means, what your identity in Christ really is, you have got to spend time in God’s Word.

It can be work to get in there some days and see what He has for you, but I promise you that you will always get something out of it if you go into it knowing that you need it. Hunger for it. Devour it. Memorize it. Make it a part of who you are. It is a shield against the things of this world that will pull you down. You can hold it up to the confusing issues of this world to see them for what they really are in light of its truth. You can rest in it, behind it, and under it when you feel tired and worn down by people, pressure, and pain. It pushes through the things that will try to tangle you up and make you fall. There is no greater advice I can give you as my son, but to seek God out in His Word regularly.

The second piece of advice is to be a leader. Don’t be afraid to stand up and do the hard thing when it is the right thing, and it usually is the hard thing. Take the principles you get from your time in the Word and use them to become a leader like Christ. Be a servant leader, willing to step out, but also willing to help others along. A leader cannot al2014-05-29 06.31.01ways be the man out front. If he is, he will eventually see that he is taking a walk by himself.

Zach, I love you, I am proud of you, and I want great things for you. God is going to use you for something big (until then, take this pill), and I cannot wait to see how you are going to use your life to bring Him glory.  Be committed to Relentless Growth in Christ!

Dad

 

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War! What Is It Good For?

239902Now these are the nations which the Lord left, to test Israel by them (that is all who had not experienced any of the wars of Canaan; only in order that the generations of the sons of Israel might be taught war, those who had not experienced it formerly). – Judges 3:1-2 (ESV)

“War… what is it good for?”   Well, if you are channeling your inner hippie, you would answer that question with (all together now), “absolutely nuthin’!” Is it? I’m not asking about violence for the sake of violence. I’m talking about war. Warfare is defined as – the process of military struggle between two nations or groups of nations; war. 2. armed conflict between two massed enemies, armies, or the like. 3. conflict … For all intents and purposes, we are talking about the ability to fight.

I know some people think there is no reason to fight. We all just need to learn to get along. We need to be tolerant. Tolerant to the point of surrendering our thoughts and ideals because someone else has voiced theirs. Fighting has been replaced with simply stating an opinion? If that is what we are supposed to do, then I would suggest we are still in a form of fighting because that would mean the first person to speak wins!

Conflict is all around us, and I am not going to try and argue that all conflict is good conflict – it’s not. It is always good to learn how to deal with conflict though, and that is a type of warfare! Dealing with conflict is a battle inside ourselves to arrive at an outcome that is good without an escalation to violence IF possible.

I might start losing some people if I don’t get right to my point here, and if I am pushing any buttons with anyone, I want to let you know that my goal is not conflict in through this post. I have a direction here, and if you bear with me, we will get back around to it. I promise!

When the children of Israel came into the Promised Land they had some fighting to do. God had given them the land, but there were people in it that did not serve God and He wanted them gone. He promised the Hebrew people that if they would go out and take the land, He would drive their enemies out. They just needed to act on it. Well, they went to work, and they took much of the land – but not all of it.

Through many little slips, compromises, and probably a little laziness, they allowed several of the nations in Canaan to stay in the land. Long story short, those nations were full of pagan religions that eventually led many of the Israelites away from God. Why did the Israelites let this happen? Would a better question be to ask why God allowed this to happen? He could have just driven the rest of them out by Himself. He could have just made them all drop dead on the spot. Why did He let them stay if He knew that the Israelites would stray from Him?

They needed to know how to fight for what God had given them.

The generations that had fought were dying off, and the young men coming up had no experience on the battle field. They needed to have opportunities to learn and strengthen their skills in defending what they had been given. They needed to be able to stand strong as God’s people in the face of enemies. They needed to be tested.

Think of those pagan nations as the sin in our lives today. Wouldn’t it be easier to live the Christian life if there was no sin? Think about it! We could go through the day and never need to feel that tweak of the conscience that we had done the wrong thing. We could end each day with a clean slate and know that tomorrow would be the same thing! We could stand before God and say, “I am without sin!” Hmmm. Wouldn’t that be a bit prideful?

God has allowed sin to still be in our lives for a couple of reasons that I can see:

We need to learn to lean on Him

There are things in my life that I cannot have victory over by myself. I have weaknesses that Satan knows how to exploit. I get tired, bored, self-absorbed, and he pounces. I need to have God with me to give me strength, to keep me alert, and to keep me so focused on Him that sin cannot gain a beachhead in my life. Sin is a reminder of how much I need God.

We need to learn how to teach others

I have sinned too many times to count, and some of those sins have brought me great pain. My hope is that by sharing my experiences with others and allowing them to see how I failed and how I was able to get up and keep fighting with God holding me up, I will be able to help someone else struggling with the same sin. Help them avoid the pain and be victorious!

Sin will one day be taken away. Until that happens, I have a life ahead of me that requires warfare. It requires a dedication to training myself to fight against sin and its temptations. The presence of sin in the world makes it necessary for me to equip my friends, to train up another generation for the battle. Relentless Living is not putting my head in the sand and thinking that if I don’t offend I will not need to fight. The fight is always there. The question is, am I ready for the battle?

The best way to fight and win a battle is to prepare for it. I’m not sure when I am going to fall in to a trap of temptation, but I know that if I am spending time with my God in the Word and in prayer, I will be better prepared when the battles come. The best offense is a good defense.

So, my challenge to you is this. What are you doing to make sure that you are preparing? Are you devoted to Relentless Growth in your life? It’s going to mean conflict. It’s going to mean a fight. There is no better way to be ready than to be in God’s Word.

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Press On!

keep-pressing-onWow. It’s been a whole year since I put up this post about turning 40. I turned 41 today. Again, wow! I am constantly surprised at the way time seems to speed up as the years go by. I look in the mirror and see so much gray hair on my head (at least I still have hair) and in my beard. I look at my little kids and see a young lady that will graduate a year from now and a young man that just keeps getting bigger and stronger. Where did those little toothless cuties go?
I said last year that I wanted to finish well. I still do. There are a lot of things that I have been thinking about, dreaming about, and working on. This last year seems to have been fairly pivotal in that regard. I’m not saying that I have made all the necessary changes or that the work here is complete, but there seems to be much more going on, and the directions are becoming a little clearer.
This year has been a year of growth in a lot of aspects, and I am seeing some of the stuff that I have been working toward (and have been frustrated by) start to make forward progress. The work has felt substantial, the time involved has been immense, the prayer regarding has been huge, and the progress had seemed to be right on the cusp of nothing.
Then something started to happen. Things that I have been trying to accomplish in my relationships started to fall into place. Things I have been working on with my family and relating to them have started to improve. The relationships I have with people at work are starting to grow.
The things I have been getting out of God’s Word have been deeper, richer, and have satisfied my heart in ways that they never have before. I’ve been able to partner with people on spiritual matters that are difficult to navigate. I’ve had a stronger desire to pray for people and see God work in their lives.
So, what has changed that would make that possible? Not much. Honestly, I can’t say that I have really changed much of anything I have done over the last year. I had plans to do more, to reach farther, to do bigger things, but I never did them. So, what has happened?
In April Tammi and I had the opportunity to go to a couple’s retreat taught by my friend Joe and his wife Traci. (You can read more about them here and here) They presented a great seminar on how the little things we do that seem insignificant will eventually add up to something huge. They talked about how it happens in our marriages, how investing the time it takes to give her a look, or to ask her about her day, or unrolling your shirtsleeves and putting your socks in the hamper right side out really matter toward growth in your marriage.
The principles apply in the other aspects of our lives too. The little things we do that seem to be insignificant really do add up. The problem is we keep getting caught up in the big things. We feel like if we are putting in major time on something we should see a major return for it, but often the important things just take time. They don’t come together fast.
There is one thing I have been focusing on for the past four years, and those closest to me know what that is. I’m not going to go into those details here, but over the last four years I have been frustrated more often than not in regards to this “project”. It has been heavy on my heart and mind, and there has been no progress. Until about a month ago.
About a month ago things started to percolate a bit, and I was noticing it, but not really seeing it. (Not sure if that makes sense, but it works in my head, so roll with me here.) The other day I was talking about this with my wife and I was a little excited and she looked at me and said, “Don’t you see it is finally happening? You are finally seeing the result of all of the work you put into it. You are just getting something different than you were originally thinking it would be.” She’s a smart lady.
As I thought about it, I realized just how right she was. God has been blessing the work that I was doing even when I thought that nothing was happening. Something is becoming visible as a result of the work that was not visible. And I didn’t even see it. Maybe that is a good thing.
I say a good thing because I tend to worry, doubt, and need to be in control. Now that I see something is happening I am very concerned that Satan will attack it. It’s a real fear, but I need to step back and not let it take control. You see, God did something while I wasn’t looking, and I believe that if I just keep doing the things He has asked me to do in this, He will continue to bless it and make it grow. I need to keep going and not get distracted by things – even success.

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. – Phillipians 3:13-14

This thing that has happened is not mine. It belongs to God. If God wants to make it a success, then it will be. I am not a factor in that success, but I believe God has allowed me to be a part of His work, and I am thankful for the opportunity to give Him the glory for it.
Relentless Growth is just “keeping on keeping on”. Paul called it pressing on toward the goal. Sometimes it seems like the horizon on our journey never gets any closer, but one small step at a time we get there. We just gotta keep pressing on.
What are you pressing toward? What do you want to see happen for God? Stay in His Word. Stay close to His people. Be Relentless!

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Look Out -> Look In -> Look Up

20140508-153434.jpgI’ve got a problem. It’s not a good one to have, and I really don’t think I am alone in it. In fact, I think there are a lot of Christians that have this problem. We cover it up, but it’s still there. It’s not a new thing. In fact, it’s been around for centuries. All the years the church has been around, and we still have it…

Self-Righteousness

It goes by a different names – Pride, Arrogance, Conceited. Mark Lowry likes the phrase “pious gas-bags”. Some say Pharisee. Some say Baptist… ouch. I like the way Mark Hall from Casting Crowns describes this attitude, “Looking at the world at the end of our pointed fingers.”
We cover it up by saying things like, “I’ll pray for them.” “Bless their hearts.” “There but for the grace of God, go I.” Really? Sometimes we bring other people into it and share a little juicy tidbit so they can pray too! Pacify your conscience of gossip by sharing the burden.
In the book of Amos, God is telling the people of Israel through His prophet that their time is basically up. After numerous warnings to the nation of Israel regarding their sinful, idolatrous ways, God is going to allow them to be taken into captivity and their city destroyed. This is the end result of a nation that has turned from God because they feel they know better. (Hmmm this sounds hauntingly familiar…)
The scary thing is that God actually needs to spell it out to them. He tells Amos what to say, and the story is not a happy one. They are going to have their lives turned upside down. They are going to see a lot of death, and some of them will be separated from their families for the rest of their lives. So he gives the warning:

 

“How terrible it will be for you who lounge in luxury and think you are secure in Jerusalem and Samaria! You are famous and popular in Israel, you to whom the people go for help. Go over to Claneh and see what happened there. Then go to the great city of Hamath and on down to the Philistine city of Gath. You are no better than they were, and look at how they were destroyed. You push away every thought of coming disaster, but your actions only bring the day of judgment closer.”

– Amos 6:1-3 (NLT)

 

I see a people that are living with their heads in the sand. Life has been good enough, and they see no reason to change the way they are living. After all, they are God’s people and everyone around them knows it! But God tells them how terrible it is going to be for them because they are not paying attention to their circumstances. They need to pull their heads out of the sand.
Look Around
God tells them to look at the cities surrounding them that He has brought down because of their sin. These proud cities were more focused on a hedonistic lifestyle of pleasure and excess, and it resulted in their destruction. And the thing is, these were cities right in their neighborhood. I’m sure they knew those cities were gone, and I’m sure they knew it was because of the sins of THOSE PEOPLE. But, it’s not like it could happen to us…
I’ve been the same way. I see people that have fallen away from God and I see the struggles that they have because of it, and I say to myself, “Well, they ought to know better. They’re just getting what they deserve.” Then I might just take a minute and thank God that I am not like them before going on my merry way. I don’t take the time to do a very important thing.
Look Inside
If the people of Israel really looked at those cities around them and what brought about their fall, what might they have seen? What would have happened if they had really looked for the root of their problems? Would they see a group of people that just fell on hard times, or would they see a group of people that had allowed complacency or pleasure to take control of their lives instead of seeking the things of God?
I think we focus too much on the actions of other people, and not enough on the attitude that drives those actions. If we did that, we might get a better handle on the attitudes that drive our own actions. After all, my actions are nothing more than my heart being allowed to live out what it wants. If I look at what is driving my behavior, ask God to help me with that, and discipline myself in it, I should see change! I need to be willing to take that deep look inside though and see where I am lacking rather than just looking for where I am better than the other guy.
Look Up
The people of Israel were not willing to look inside to see what was wrong with themselves, and they didn’t take the time to look up until it was too late. I love how this translation says that they pushed away every thought of disaster and their actions just brought the judgment. I know I have had times where I have felt God tapping my shoulder to let me know what He is seeing in me, but I brush Him off and go my own way even though I know it is not going to end well.
Let’s face it. Trusting ourselves in most situations is going to lead to an unwelcome ending. I know that when I look back at my track record I can say my greatest failures were 100% mine! If trusting myself leads to such pitiful results, why would I keep doing it?
Relentless Growth means looking around to see not only the dangers I face in my walk, but the warnings of those who have fallen. It means looking inside to see what weakness in me is going to lead to a similar failure, and looking up to God for help and direction so I can succeed and be an encouragement to someone rather than a horrible example.
I don’t want to live my life based on my performance versus the other guy. I want to live my life dependent on Christ!

Relentless Growth -> Grow Deep -> Grow Strong