My Son – A Graduate. Time Flies…

imageThis past weekend my son received his high school diploma.  13 years of school have come to a close, and we could not be more proud of his efforts.  Over the past 13 years, we have exposed him to three different education models, and he excelled in all of them.  The last two years he has been dual-enrolled in college at Cedarville University via on-line courses, and has done an amazing job there as well.  He will walk on campus as a sophomore this fall.

There are so many events in our lives that we want to remember.  Milestones exist so we can look back and see where we have been and how far we have come, and I have learned that those moments need to be recognized.  We need them as confirmation in our lives that we are moving forward – achieving goals.

I have been blessed to be in a small men’s group where I learned the importance of taking the time to recognize these moments and commemorate them with a tribute.  When we take the time to write something down from our hearts and give it to someone, it creates a lasting impression.  Those encouraging words will endure long past the moment and will be a touchpoint we can go back to when we are feeling the weight of the world.

Sitting on my desk is a framed copy of a letter I received from my mentor for my 40th birthday.  Aside from the words of encouragement I have receive from my Dad, it is probably the most prized collection of words I have received from any man on earth.  It has made an impression on my life because of the relationship that we have.  Men need to hear words like that and be reminded that they are doing good things – the right things.

So, it is with example from Lou that I put together this letter to my son on his graduation day.  I read it to him at the graduation ceremony, and there will be a framed copy of it for him to take to college this fall so he will be able to see that his Dad believes in him, is proud of him, and prays for him.

I hope that reading this will give you an encouragement to recognize those milestones with your family and close friends.  It may seem like it is only a letter as you write it, but I can tell you that when the relationship is there, the impact of a letter like this will last for years.  Take the time to do it.  It’s worth the effort.

Zachary,

I’ve wanted a son as long as I can remember, and I wanted that son to be just like me.  When you came into my life, I thought I was getting that gift, but your Mom and I got more than that.  We received a son that was a unique blend of the two of us.  Your physical and personality traits seem to morph and shift back and forth so often, but there is no doubt that you are ours.

One of the things I have learned as your Dad is that as much as I wanted a son to be like me, I am thankful that you are an individual, and I have been learning, albeit sometimes slower than either of us would like, to appreciate you as that individual.  You often hear that you are “just like your Dad”, but you and I know that there are a number of differences that make you an “individual”.

Your Mom and I are so proud of the young man you have become.  Our goal as parents has been to equip you to take on the trials of adulthood, to stand as a man of God in a world that needs men who know how to stand.  You have had opportunities to learn and grow in your faith, and have had to learn to lean on God during those times, and I am happy to see how you have developed.

You have made us very proud in your dedication to your studies, your love and devotion to your family and friends, and your desire to squeeze the fun out of life.  You are a thinker, a processor and yet still manage to be spontaneous.  A nice blend that has kept us on our toes.

Our dream is that you will be that man mentioned in Micah.  We have seen the beginnings of that man as you seek to do what is right, show God’s mercy and grace to those you relate with, and maintain a humility in your relationship with God.  We pray for those attributes to continue to grow as you enter the college campus this fall and begin the next steps toward what God will have you to do.

We have offered many prayers for you over the years, and today I want to offer this one more written by General Douglas MacArthur.  It is titled “A Father’s Prayer”, and I cannot think of words that would make it any more my prayer for you as your Dad.  Your Mom and I love you very much and will always be here for you when you need us.

“Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak, and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid; one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.

Build me a son whose wishbone will not be where his backbone should be; a son who will know Thee—and that to know himself is the foundation stone of knowledge. Lead him I pray, not in the path of ease and comfort, but under the stress and spur of difficulties and challenge. Here let him learn to stand up in the storm; here let him learn compassion for those who fail.

Build me a son whose heart will be clear, whose goal will be high; a son who will master himself before he seeks to master other men; one who will learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; one who will reach into the future, yet never forget the past.

And after all these things are his, add, I pray, enough of a sense of humor, so that he may always be serious, yet never take himself too seriously. Give him humility, so that he may always remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength.

Then, I, his father, will dare to whisper, ‘I have not lived in vain.’”

—GENERAL DOUGLAS MACARTHUR, “A FATHER’S PRAYER”

Be Relentless in your parenting. Build into the hearts of your kids and share with them how you feel about them.  They need it, and coincidentally, so do you!

No Excuses

there-are-no-excuses-4We have all been hearing the news of the Stanford rape victim and the lenient sentence passed down to the rapist.  Yesterday I read the young woman’s letter she had written to her attacker and I was hit with a few different thoughts and emotions.  I know I have not been here lately, and this is a pretty hard thing to come back from a hiatus with, but here we go…

  1.  I am impressed with this woman’s ability to so clearly articulate how she feels after this heinous act.  The way she described her emotional and mental state actually took me into her mind where I could feel the trauma she is experiencing.  I can never know what someone who has endured this has felt, but thanks to that letter, I have a much better idea of how deeply the wounds go into the mind and soul.
  2. I am full of respect for this woman for owning her part in this.  Careful.  No stone throwing… I did not say she should be blamed.  There is no excuse for what happened to her, but she admitted that allowing herself to get that drunk put her in a position for a bad thing to happen.  She could have made a better choice that evening, and she admitted that.  That takes character.
  3. I am cheering for the two young men who acted heroically by stepping in and stopping the act.  Truly Good Samaritans in their actions and bravery.  They must have a couple of very proud sets of parents today.  They saw evil and stepped in to do something about it.  Good job, men.  Good job.
  4. I am thankful that at the very minimum, and it was minimum, the attacker was convicted of the crime.  To the 12 jurors, I appreciate their ability to wade through all of the excuses and attempts to cast doubt and still come back with a decision that puts a mark on this man for what he has done that will stand for the rest of his life.  His victim has been marked, so should he.
  5. Beyond that, I have a range of thoughts and emotions I would rather not focus on in regards to the rapist, the passive father who made excuses for his son and tried to downplay his actions, the lawyer that worked so hard to humiliate a young woman who had already endured so much, and a judge who did not sentence a rapist with an appropriate punishment.  I am going to take the position that God will judge their actions.  I cannot change the past, and outrage simply for the purpose of being angry will accomplish nothing.

What we need to focus on is finding ways to make sure acts like this do not take place again.  Parents!  If you are going to count on school officials, government officials, and the ability of campus security to keep your children safe, then YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM!  I am sorry, but this is not a problem that will be cured with programs and more parking lot lights.  This is a matter of the hearts of the kids that we are raising and the character we instill in them.  As a country, parents need to step up and insist on building character and integrity into their children.

We will never see a world without predators.  It is a broken world we live in and the effects of sin are far reaching, but we can fight against them.  The education we give to our kids in how to think past the moment in their choices is so important.  What are the consequences of this decision? Who could potentially be harmed if I do this?  What are the long term ramifications of this choice?  We focus so hard to get them to look both ways before walking across the street, but are we teaching them to pause and look both ways when given options on who to hang out with, what to drink, and what to eat?  Are we teaching them to weigh the possibilities of walking through a dark place alone rather than hanging out with a group of friends?

Again, we will never be able to stop all evil, but we can build into our kids wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and character that can guide them when we are not there.  Take the time, be Relentless in it!

To my daughter – You are beautiful, sweet and pure, and I want you to stay that way.  I want you to think about the places you go and the things that you do fro other viewpoints than your own.  I have tried to tell you as much as possible about how the mind of men works and where they are weak and potentially twisted.  I have tried to show you how to identify behaviors that you should avoid as well as indicators of character that you can trust.  I pray that you will make the right choices when given the opportunity, and I pray for your protection when the evil of the world crosses your path through no fault of your own.

To my son – You are a young man now.  You have been taught and have been showing you understand how to properly show women honor and respect.  You have been taught that while women are strong, and intelligent and capable of doing things on their own, God has charged men to be tender warriors for them.  Our job is not to hold them back and keep them captive “for their own good”, but it is our job to be men and stand up for what is right and protect their honor as those two young men did.  Women are not tools or toys, they are treasures and should be considered that way by all men.  You will have opportunities to choose, and I pray that you will make the right choice to show the same respect for them as Christ did in the Bible.  You will see men who will objectify them or hurt them and I pray that you will suit up and gear up for battle against that evil as one of God’s warriors.

Men, the battle is won in the preparation, and our home is the place it needs to start.  Show your wives how much you care for your children and their character.  Prepare your children, be involved.  Identify their battles. Teach them to recognize their enemies. Educate them on the weaknesses of evil. Coach them in how to fight evil. Cheer for them as they fight. Recognize their victories. Nurse their wounds. Encourage them for battle.

This world is not getting better.  We must be Relentless in developing children who can stand in it.

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The Family Name

3258-frontA good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.

– Proverbs 22:1

I remember a trip to the hardware store with my Grandpa when I was around 9 years old.  Something had broken at the house that needed an immediate repair, and while he was very good at putting something together out of nothing, this was a fix that actually needed new parts.

When we got to the register, Grandpa asked if the owner was there.  When Gene came out, Grandpa explained that he needed the stuff on the counter, but he didn’t have money to pay for it until his social security check came on Friday.  I remember that Gene didn’t even hesitate when he said, “Milo, if there was one person I would trust around here to come back in to pay a bill, it would be you.”  That really stuck in my head.  My Grandpa was that trusted by a local businessman!

Fast forward about 20 years.  I am living in my Grandpa’s house now, and something breaks.  I too have gotten pretty good at fixing things out of nothing, but this was beyond my abilities.  With about 15 minutes to close, I run into the same hardware store to grab what I needed.  I sat it on the counter and reached for my wallet – I had left it at home.  I needed these parts for us to have water in the house that night.

The owner happened to be standing there at the counter, and I remembered that trip to town with Grandpa when I was a kid.  I never realized how humbling that had been for Grandpa until the moment I had to ask if I could come back tomorrow with the money since I would not be able to go home and get back with my wallet before close.  It was hard!

Gene looked at me and said,”You’re Mike Tanner’s boy, right?”  I told him I was, and he smiled and said, “Not a problem.  Nothing to worry about.  You know, your Grandpa was one of the most honest men I have ever known.”

Wow.  Just plain wow!

This morning I read Genesis 47 and was struck by the verses below:

Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you. The land of Egypt is before you. Settle your father and your brothers in the best of the land. Let them settle in the land of Goshen, and if you know any able men among them, put them in charge of my livestock.”

– Genesis 47:5-6

I got thinking, “What did Pharaoh know about Joseph’s family?  Did he know that the brothers had a plan to leave him for dead?  Did he know that they sold him into slavery?  Did he know they hated his guts when they were younger?  Maybe some of it.  I’m sure the topic had come up at some point when they were talking about how Joseph came to be in Egypt.

What amazes me is that he gives Joseph’s family the finest land and jobs taking care of his livestock.  I know that the Egyptians though tending stock was a horrible job (I have three horses and find that point hard to argue some days), but it was important – especially in a time of drought.  Why would he give them this much honor, responsibility, and favor in providing them such a great place to live?

Joseph’s reputation.

He knew Joseph, and that was all he really needed to know.  Imagine that.  Imagine being given so much just because of who you know.  That is what I received.  I benefited from the reputation that my Grandpa had, and that my Dad maintained.  The family name stood for honesty as far as that man was concerned.

A person living a Relentless Life is not just concerned with their earthly name, but their heavenly reputation as well.  We make mistakes, but we are called to walk worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Worthy of carrying the message of God’s merciful, gracious, unconditional love.  That can seem like a tall order, but we aren’t asked to be perfect.  We are asked to submit to the process.

By the way, the McLean’s Do-It Best Hardware in Kalkaska is alive and well, expanding its offerings to our community, and Gene’s kids are running it with the same values that he had in taking care of the people that walk through their doors every day. They are living out his legacy before his eyes, and it is good to see!

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Core Value #2 – Family

FamilyHappiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.

– George Burns

Some of the best jokes are born out of pain, and I am sure that many of us out there can relate to that joke at some time or another.  Family is a fantastic thing, and even when it feels a little rough or abrasive, it is still good for us.  I heard a guy say one time that there is no greater tool for developing your character in Christ than the family.  I believe that is true, and that is why I have placed Family as my 2nd core value.

Last week I said that I had chosen to put God as the first value in my life.  In doing so, I am giving Him the opportunity to work in not only my life, but the life of my family as I am (hopefully) leading them the way God wants me to.  If Ia m doing that, then I can have my family in the right spot because having them second only to God is exactly where I want to be in their lives too!  As we grow closer to God, we grow closer together.

Lately I have been reading through the book of Genesis.  It has been very interesting as I take my time and intentionally look at these stories and see how the family dynamics are played out.  I think sometimes in church we look at the big Bible stories, but we don’t take the time to see the smaller stories that are taking place.  Remember that we have a God who speaks in a still, small voice to our hearts, and if all we look only for the billboard messages of God, we are missing so very much more.

The stories of the Patriarchs and their families are inspiring on one hand, and on the other would be almost a normal week on a show like Jerry Springer.

  • Abraham – Fathered a son that he later sent away because his wife and that boy’s mother didn’t get along
  • Isaac – Fathered two boys, but his obvious affection for his eldest son resulted in his wife and youngest son conspiring to steal the family blessing.
  • Jacob – Fathered 12 boys through 4 women.  Loved only one of the women and her two sons had value above the other ten.
  • Reuben – Hatched a plan to deceive his father by “rescuing Joseph” and gaining his father’s affection
  • Judah – Sold his brother as a slave. Slept with and fathered children with his daughter-in-law after thinking she was a prostitute.

Yes. these people were God’s chosen people, and like us and many of our families, they were a mess sometimes.

The neat thing is that we can see God’s redemptive work in the story of Joseph.  I want to touch on a few verses regarding Judah and see his transformation:

Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him. – Genesis 37:26-27

Judah wanted Joseph dead, but why just kill him when we can make a little money instead?  I’m a big brother, and I have had times that I did not get along with my younger brother, but I never wanted him dead, and I never wanted to sell him either! (See, Wade!  That’s love, bro!)  Judah was a very angry man!

Later we see Judah loses two of his sons.  One was a wicked man that God killed, and the other sinned before God and was also killed.  After this, Judah learned about how sin done in secret comes to light after he went looking for a prostitute and ended up sleeping with his daughter-in-law without knowing it. She got pregnant and ratted him out in front of everyone.  I think this was a pivotal moment for Judah.

After Joseph has been gone for at least 20 years, Judah and his brothers go to Egypt to get food due to a famine in the land.  As we all know in the story, Joseph is in charge of the world’s first food bank, and recognizes the guys that sold him as soon as he saw them.  Joseph then takes them on a little adventure to play with their minds.  Eventually, the older brothers come face to face with bringing Benjamin (second favorite son) to Egypt against their father’s wishes.  Jacob is terrified that he will lose Benjamin like he did Joseph.

Judah is now experienced int he loss of children, and has also had secret sin brought out into the open.  Hearing the pain in his father’s voice must have made it hard for him since he knew what he had done to Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph.  He steps out and even though he does not tell the truth, he takes ownership of the next stage of his life:

And Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. 9I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever. – Genesis 43:8-9

Judah already felt the blame for selling Joseph.  He knew what he had done, and while he was not willing to own up to it at this time, he was not going to make the same mistake again.  They go back to Egypt, and as Joseph continues taking his brothers through a crucible of mental anguish to test their hearts, the thing Jacob feared most came to pass.  Joseph sets things in place to make it appear Benjamin is a thief and that he will be kept in Egypt.  Judah doesn’t even hesitate:

Then Judah went up to him and said, “Oh, my lord, please let your servant speak a word in my lord’s ears, and let not your anger burn against your servant, for you are like Pharaoh himself. Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the evil that would find my father.” – Genesis 44:18, 33-34

As I read this passage today I was struck by the way Judah stepped in. Judah offered himself as servant to Joseph in order to release his father’s favorite son from punishment.  Step forward several centuries and you will see a descendant of Judah known as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah offer Himself in payment to redeem the lives of His Father’s most favored creation – mankind.  Think about that for a second.  Imagine Judah, watching Christ being nailed to the tree.  I wonder if he might think about how he stepped in to save Benjamin.  After so many mistakes, he then gets to see one of his descendants do something to save the world!

Family is important.  If you think about it, God made man to worship Him and then made woman and told them to start a family. If you follow the logic of God, then it would make sense that the family is important to Him.  So much of the Bible speaks of the family and the importance of building it up and protecting it.  If God thinks it is important, shouldn’t we?

The family should never come before God, but how many different ways can we include God in our families?  The list is endless, and God is just waiting for us to try some of them.  He wants to enter into our families through teaching, through fun, through hard times, and through serving each other.  He wants to see us look to Him and recognize that He is our source of all that is good, and our sustainer when things are hard.  He wants us to show our children how we can trust Him for the big, the little, the miraculous, and the mundane.

I want the best of my family.  Unfortunately, I have only myself to work with!  Thankfully, I am a child of God, and if I seek Him, and show Him honor in my life, my family will get a much better me than I could ever provide.

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Honor: Who Are You Talking To?

restaurar-honor-mexico-compatriotasNoah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”

– Genesis 9:20-25 ESV

This passage always felt a little extreme to me.  Noah plants some vines, grows some grapes, makes a little wine and proceeds to get himself drunk and naked.  Ham steps into Noah’s tent for whatever reason and sees the state of Noah.  He slips out and tells his brothers what he saw, the brothers take a blanket in and cover Dad up, and then Ham and his descendants get cursed.

I remember having this story told to me when I was younger and it was presented to me that Ham had mocked his father in front of his brothers completely showing disrespect to him, and that this was a sin against God Himself.  Well, I don’t see all of that here.  I see that he saw Dad and told his brothers and Dad cursed Him. That is what the plain English in front of me says, and I even checked it against the KJV, so we know we can’t argue with the facts presented as they are!

So, I’ve put some thought into this today to figure out why Ham was punished.  I see no mocking in the account, so, sorry flannel graph board, that was not the reason.  I see no overt sin against God either, but I am not going to say that is out of the question since Noah was God’s man at this time in history, and one thing you never want to do is mess with God’s man.  I think it all comes down to one simple thing – Honor.

We often hear about how we are supposed to give someone honor in the things that we do and say publicly.  Words of respect or actions that show people how much we esteem someone are common ways we express honor, but is that the only way?  I don’t think so.  Honor can also be shown in what we do behind the scenes.  We can honor people in authority by giving them honor publicly, and we can also honor them by not talking about something done privately.  I’m playing in an area here that needs to be worked out, so bear with me.

In no way am I suggesting glossing over the sin of those in authority over us.  That needs to be addressed, but out in front of everyone is not the most constructive way to do it.  It shows no honor to the person you are working with.  At the very least it shows your lack of respect, and in reality, it is just gossip.  It brings no help to the situation, and will lead to a painful result for those involved.Slide1

Let’s play this out a different way.  Noah gets drunk, Ham stops by to see how Dad is doing and sees his Dad passed out and in an embarrassing state.  He grabs a blanket and covers him up and waits outside for Dad to wake up.  Shem and Japheth swing by and ask what he’s doing and he says, “Just waiting to talk to Dad.  He’s taking nap.”  Noah wakes up and steps outside to see Ham waiting for him. “Dad, can we talk?”  I’m betting there would not be a curse there.  Ham probably would have just taken a big step in Dad’s eyes.

Sin is sin.  Whether it comes from me or from someone in authority over me, it is sin.  My response to that sin will say a lot about where I am in my journey.  I have a choice to reach out privately and show honor to a person who has done wrong, or I can just take it to anyone around with an ear that is not preoccupied.  While gossip is a culturally accepted norm, it is not a Relentless way to live.

Relentless Growth demands a higher standard of honor.  It demands that the matter be addressed in a way that allows the offender to maintain dignity and take ownership of their behavior.  Honor is given.  A relationship is allowed to strengthen. Forgiveness and restoration can take place.  Here’s the clincher – nobody else needs to know about it.  Granted there are always going to be things that happen that do need to be disclosed, but following this allows the offender to do it with honor by admitting they were wrong and being accountable for what they did.

I’ve been on both sides of this issue in the past.  I’ve handled both sides of it well at times, and terribly at times.  If we are honest we all would have to say the same thing.  Nice thing is, that is all behind us now.  When we wake up tomorrow, we will have a new opportunity to do the right thing.  Feels good, doesn’t it?

So, think about that person who has done you wrong.  What are you doing about it?  Have you gone to them to talk?  Have you gone to someone else?  What do you need to do to make it right?  What are you waiting for? You’ve got a great chance to grow through this, and you might even help someone else grow too!

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This is the last post of 2014.  If I have done my math correctly my next post will be my 100th post, and the beginning of my third year writing this blog.  Hard to believe that I have been doing this for two years now!  I appreciate all of you who have been reading, and I hope that I have made it worth the time.

I’m excited to see where God takes me over this next year.  He has been doing some things in my life that have had my head spinning, and I am constantly amazed at how His hand is working day in and day out.  I want to continue to share that with you all, and I hope it encourages you to be Relentless in your growth in Christ.

Thanks for reading!

Tom