Fields of Grief and Joy

Years ago I stood in a quiet Pennsylvania field.  It was as beautiful that day as it was today, and as it was fourteen years ago.  I had my oldest son with me there.  He was just 3 years old and didn’t know why just being there was terribly difficult.  He didn’t understand the long granite path into a field that seemingly held nothing.  I didn’t tell him that day that free men and women died in that field not that long ago in the most recent shots of a clash of civilizations because he didn’t yet have the maturity to understand.  Funny thing is that the joy of taking a walk with his dad was infectious.

There was sadness and grief there, but there was also joy.  Joy in the bright sunshine and perfectly cloudless blue sky.  Joy in the quiet solitude of the field and the trees beyond.  Joy in the eyes of a child and the new place.

I have said before that I have learned so much more about God after becoming a father.  That day God used my son to teach me a lesson that I knew intellectually, but had never really thought through.

I knew the moment that I first saw the towers burning that Americans were dying at the hands of a mortal enemy.  I knew that moment that my life and everyone’s lives would change forever.  I was sad for my country and grieved the loss of life.  That grief turned to anger, as it did for many.

What I didn’t know was that God was setting me up for that day years later in that field – so that I might finally understand this:

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
    you have loosed my sackcloth
    and clothed me with gladness,
that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
    O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!

Psalm 30:11-12

A Letter to Boys

While I didn’t pen this, it nails my sentiment and since I am a father to two boys and, at least yet, have no daughters, I can find no lesson to one day teach my son in the Miley Cyrus debacle from a few nights ago, however in this case it took two to tango as they say.

Dear son,

Don’t let Robin Thicke be a lesson to you.

Don’t let any of these pigs and perverts you see on TV be a lesson to you. They treat women like garbage; they possess no chivalry, no self control; they are disloyal and dishonest; they spend all day pursuing pleasure at the expense of others, and they encourage you to do the same. You might be tempted to follow suit. In fact, you WILL be tempted. These male pop stars and celebrities, look at them, you’ll think. They take advantage of emotionally broken, self loathing, confused young women, and they are rewarded handsomely for it. Look at their nice clothes and their nice cars. Look how they are admired and loved. Look, they treat women like trash and other women fawn all over them because of it. This must be how real men behave, you’ll think.

And you’ll be wrong. You’ll be wrong about a lot of things in life — this is what it means to be human — but never will you be more wrong than when you feel the temptation to buy the lies that pop culture sells about the nature of true masculinity. Son, there is nothing glamorous or fun about being a man of low character and no integrity. What you see on TV is a facade. It’s a sales pitch. It’s poison. You see the bright lights and the sexy women, but you don’t see what happens when the cameras are off and these pop culture gods return to their lives as mere mortals. You don’t see them in their big, empty, lonely houses. You don’t see the emptiness in the pit of their souls. You don’t see all the alcohol and drugs they have to use to dull the pain of living a life devoid of real, committed relationships. You don’t see the hatred they have for themselves and for humanity. You don’t see the jealousy they have towards normal, decent men.

Your dad is no celebrity. He’s just an average, boring guy. But he’s got something that every famous and non-famous womanizer envies: He’s got the love and commitment of ONE beautiful, smart, faithful woman. He’s got your mom, and he’ll only have your mom until the day he dies. He ought to be waking up every day shouting praises to the Lord because of that.

Listen, son, don’t let the world tell you how to be a man. They don’t know anything about the subject.

Men are loyal. Men are honest. Men respect and honor women. A man goes out and finds one woman, and he vows to protect and love her for the rest of his life. A man would never betray that vow. Even the weakest and most cowardly man — if he is a man at all — would die for the woman he loves. Your dad is no hero, but let someone try to hurt your mom and watch him suddenly turn into Superman (or Batman, whichever you prefer).

See, son, you don’t have to be big and strong to be a man, although I think you will be one day. You don’t have to be “cool” or athletic. You don’t have to play guitar or fix cars. These are all fine things, but they don’t define a man. A man is defined by how he treats women, by how he keeps his promises, and by how he protects and serves the ones he loves. That’s what makes a man a man. My dad taught me that, he taught it by example. I pray I can do the same for you.

Oh, and by the way, if I ever catch you disrespecting women, I will sit you down and talk to you about it. But first I’ll kick your butt up and down the street. That’s a promise.

Thanks, Matt Walsh, for saying what needed said for the up and coming generation of men that are still boys today.

 

Loving Your Neighbor

~ Radical thoughts to follow. ~

So many Christians these days are stuck in thinking of God as the almighty Creator of the universe, the final judge and authority on everything good, and they fear this powerful deity enthroned in unfathomable power.  They get so caught up in the God who utterly crushed Sodom and Gomorrah, caused the ground to swallow up disobedient men whole, and sent bears to maul dozens of “youths” in response to a curse by His prophet after their “teasing” of him.  If that is the God you know, you are missing Him… essentially in a forest for the trees moment.

Now let me get this straight – the God I’m talking about did all of those things, but He is so much more.  The God I’m talking about is not vengeful and destructive – He is creative, He is merciful, He is loving.  He is not hovering somewhere up in space ready to cast down lightning and hurl giant hailstones at you if you stumble and fall in trying to serve Him.

This is why the concept of God the Father is so important.  Think to your own children if you have them.  As a father, we only want the very best for them.  We teach them, guide them, influence them, discipline them, and love them as much as we can before we turn them loose on the world.  God the Father is no different, except that He doesn’t want us to ever get turned loose, but rather to turn back to Him – to love Him in return and to become not just His child, but rather also His friend.

Few men in the Bible were ever credited as friends of God – Abraham, Moses, David. These men didn’t go on and do measly things either. Abraham is the forefather of two great peoples – Jews through Isaac (by extension Christians) and Muslims. Moses became the first civil rights leader the world has ever seen – he led an entire nation from slavery to freedom.  David established Israel as a nation-state and also provided the family lineage for the Son of God to be born with a royal bloodline.  These men also give us a stark contrast though because of their friendship with God – Moses talked God out of destroying the idol worshiping Israelites, but He also repeatedly angered God as well to the point where he was forbidden from entering the Promised Land at the end of the decades-long journey to freedom.  David had a man killed because he thought his wife was smoking hot and wanted her for himself.  Neither of these men were perfectly moral, but they sought and loved God for who He was and unconditionally on their parts.

It is friendship with God that brings with it God’s unconditional mercy.

Instead of fearing God because of His righteousness, power, and judgment, we should strive to befriend God because He is right there waiting for us to do just that.  It’s all that He wants as our Father…. the absolute best for us.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

Matthew 22:37

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Need Heroes

My sons are both young still – the oldest is not yet school age and the youngest is not yet two.  Both are enamored with superheroes – Spiderman, Ironman, Captain America, Superman, Thor, and others.  I’m not surprised though – these fictional characters do astounding things and neither boy is old enough to yet distinguish reality from fiction, which means that they sit in awe through Marvel’s Super Hero Squad show or a DVD from the library with their favorite heroes in it.  My wife has said before that she feels surrounded by it at times as they play as their favorite heroes together.

Now some part of me says that they are too young to really grasp the heroes and to watch the cartoons and in many cases they are and we try to limit which ones they get to watch for age appropriateness, but as I thought more about this fascination, I saw something in each of these characters, something that few mediums in today’s society are capable of teaching.

Just think about the messages that these characters can convey to young impressionable minds with their words and deeds.  You can even see instances of scriptural truth in the words of these creations of the mind.

I believe there’s a hero in all of us, that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble, and finally allows us to die with pride, even though sometimes we have to be steady, and give up the thing we want the most. Even our dreams.

Spiderman

Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

Romans 13:14

If anyone knows what it’s like to be on the outside, I do. Sometimes I feel like I’m out there fighting all alone. Sometimes I feel like giving up. But, then I remember that what I stand for is more important than anything else.

Superman

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said:

“I will live with them
    and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.”

Therefore,

“Come out from them
    and be separate,
says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing,
    and I will receive you.”

And,

“I will be a Father to you,
    and you will be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty.”

2 Corinthians 6:14-18

Doesn’t matter what the press says. Doesn’t matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right. This nation was founded on one principle above all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world — “No, you move.”

Captain America

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Ephesians 6:13-17

So when my boys run around with their play Captain America shields or acting like they’re Superman and flying about, or Spiderman leaping and running and fighting “bad guys,” I smile a bit knowing that these seeds of truth are finding their way in piece by piece.

Ultimately, I know that they will learn that these characters are fictional.   Hopefully the truths that they learned will remain.

Strength and might must be tempered by compassion and justice.

Liberty deserves and requires sacrifice.

Truth must never be abandoned or denied.

Courage is acting in spite of fear rather than a complete lack of it.

In the end, I hope that they one day learn the most important lesson of all though – that each of us has the opportunity to be heroic because it is the character behind our actions that make us heroic, not the actions themselves.

A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.

Christopher Reeve

A Letter to My Sons

Even though you are both still young, there is so much you know and understand.

I enjoy watching you take in the world one amazing thing at a time with joy, astonishment, and apprehension.  You have so many firsts still ahead of you, that I look forward to experiencing and guiding you to and beyond.

Sometimes being a father is hard work.  There is doubt if you are doing things right.  There are so many things out of my control that can impact you forever.  There are points where we do and will disagree and butt heads in the future, but even knowing these days will come I will love you through them.

There are so many things I want to and need to teach you in the few short years where I get to influence you: the nature of God, Christ, the ways of the world, the importance of family, the nature of truth, the importance of justice, the source of liberty, and the responsibilities that go with all of that knowledge.

Today is Father’s Day.  God put you here to do mighty things for Him and I cherish the opportunity to lead you to Him and then set you loose to do those things.  It is a father’s greatest responsibility, but also a father’s greatest joy and blessing to be granted that opportunity and blessing.   Through you both, I have come to understand the nature and heart of God much more clearly as he is both my and your Father as much as I am your father and the love and joy that you bring me, I know he feels toward me.

I know there will be times where my words come up short, but your heavenly Father’s words never will.  I know there will be times where you and I fail each other, but I will always ask you to forgive me and forgive you in the same way when it happens.

Regardless of those small happenings in everyone’s life, I will never cease loving you because you are my sons, and that is how God loves us – regardless of how often or how terribly we abuse His love, He will always forgive us and welcome us back to Him.  In fact, He will pursue US.  He will find us hiding in the dark, afraid to come out because of shame, guilt, or whatever is holding us back and bring us home to Him if we just ask.

Today on Father’s Day, I wanted to write something for you… words from Our Father that I hope one day make sense to you as they now do to me.

The father of a righteous child has great joy;
    a man who fathers a wise son rejoices in him.

Proverbs 23:24

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
    and do not resent his rebuke,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
    as a father the son he delights in.

Proverbs 3:11-12

You saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son.

Deuteronomy 1:31

Children are a heritage from the Lord,
    offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
    are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
    whose quiver is full of them.

Psalm 127:3-5

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

Joshua 1:9

 

 

Scouting

I grew up a scout.  I worked my way up from the first years of cub scouts all the way up to just short of an Eagle.  The only reason I didn’t finish my Eagle was that I was also a football player and after-school practices, game days, and Saturday film sessions dominated by time in a way that beat scouting.

Yesterday, a majority of voting delegates decided that scouting would become open to openly gay boys.  The issue of openly gay scoutmasters and adult leaders was tabled, but the camel’s nose is under the tent now and it is only a matter of time.

The problems with this decision are many.

Older boy scouts are looked up to by the younger ones.  Children are not generally well-founded morally, ethically, or spiritually in order to define right and wrong especially on a culturally divisive issue as sexual preference.  Confusion is easy to generate in teenagers and will be amplified by the disconnect between the words of the Boy Scout Oath and Law which no longer seem to apply in light of this decision.

Traditionally, churches have been the sponsors of scout troops across the country.  These delegates are rather short sighted in that the sponsorship and support that they have received from churches that still preach morality and Godly-living will dry up and wither away as those bodies of believers will refuse to support an organization that does not abide by the moral purpose it once did.

More so, that short-sightedness fails to take into account one other element, and that is men like me.  My boys are too young to join scouting for a few more years.  The problem is that the scouting I knew will cease to exist.  There are so few organizations that take a moral stance and will proclaim right and wrong.  The Scouts have always been inclusive of Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and atheists.  They have never forced a certain belief set, but they have insisted historically on a moral code of behavior that set Boy Scouts apart from non-scouts.  Without that code, the scouts are just a social group that teaches how to build fires, us a compass, and go camping.  Frankly, I can teach my boys just as well or better than anyone else how to do those things AND I can use those to teach right, wrong, good, evil, and the nature of God.

On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.

So what motivation do I have to say to my sons that joining the Scouts is a good idea anymore?

Why would I encourage my sons to join an organization that caved on one of it’s founding principles?

Honor?  There is no longer any. A group that violates it’s own oath of membership has no honor.

Duty? My duty is to God and country.

Mental awakeness?  There is none. There was no forethought in this decision.  There was no critical thinking applied.

Moral straightness?  By demanding none, the further graying of the lines of morality will continue.

I once was forced to decide between a sport that I loved and an organization that seemed to be waffling, but I did not then understand why or for what reason.  Now I am forced to decide what is best for my sons – my duty before God.  Instead of regret though, I am proud to proclaim that this former Scout will not abide this violation of the Scout Oath, as it no longer has any meaning for that organization going forward.

Arrows

Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.

Psalm 127:4-5

He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy,
with great bolts of lightning he routed them.

2 Samuel 22:15

arrow2

Children are like arrows.  Mine are young right now, but one day I will send them out into the world to do battle with it.  Will they be well-made – hewn from stout wood?  Bound strongly and tempered to flex, but not break?  Will I fletch them correctly to guide them on their flight?  Will their sharpened warheads pierce the evil they are sure to encounter?

Attributes

As a father, I have to wear multiple hats with my children.  I am a teacher, a rule-maker, an enforcer, a protector, and a comforter.  My roles stretch from playing and bonding with them as only a father can with his sons, to disciplining disobedience and bad behavior.

With my oldest rapidly approaching four years old I have had to do more of the latter than I would have expected when he was just learning to crawl and walk.  I have learned a few very illuminating lessons about life as a result.

Lesson #1: Daddy has to be scary.

If my son did not fear punishment, then he would disobey me at every turn.  My oldest has a very strong will, which means that when I mean business, I have to come down hard and stomp, metaphorically, on the disobedience.

Both parents have to discipline equally with each other, but there needs to be more fear built in to the discipline that comes from the father.  I think this speaks to our God-likeness.  God, the Father, must be strong and just and exercises his power often in the Old Testament to teach His children lessons on how to live and behave.  As a father, I can not be any different.  I must be firm and unshakable… if that makes me scary to my preschooler, then so be it.  As a second element of this attribute, I have to be constant – I can’t discipline something one day and then let it slide the next unless the only thing I want to obtain is confusion on the parts of my sons.

Lesson #2: Sons’ whole world revolves around their father.

I have always heard that girls will look to their father as an example of the ideal man.  This will impact who they befriend, date, and eventually marry.  This is no less true for boys.

I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just. 

Genesis 18:19

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

Deuteronomy 11:18-19

Start children off on the way they should go,
    and even when they are old they will not turn from it.

Proverbs 22:6

As a father, I have to be the example of a man to my family.  My sons will learn from how I act, how I behave.  They will look to me for direction.  They will mimic me.  Their principles will be shaped by mine.  They will take their cues on how interact with others based on how I interact.  They will either learn to treat people with respect and to act of love, or they will do the opposite, but it will be as I do.

Lesson #3: Men are made for war.

This is an odd lesson to be learned from my kids as neither are old enough to really understand death, war, etc… but there is something deeply ingrained in boys that cause them to look at a stick and say “That would make a mighty fine sword.”

It also means that my boys are all about rough-housing and playing hard with me.  As a result, my oldest already knows how to tackle someone bigger than him and catch a full-sized football.

Lesson #4: I am woefully inadequate.

I had so many great father examples to observe growing up, including my own, but all of the observing in the world cannot prepare you for the moment that you look down and see those little eyes looking back up at you expecting you to solve all of the world’s problems in the next three minutes.  As a result of this, my prayer life has greatly benefited and I have a closer relationship with my Father in heaven as a result.

Lesson #5: Perspective

It’s funny how people joke about how once people have kids that their free time is eaten up and they no longer can come “hang out” or do impromptu activities.  It’s funny because they lack the perspective that having kids gives you.  I enjoy getting to kick back, goof off, and do my own thing every now and then.  I also enjoy wrestling with my boys,   teaching them about sports, science, God, and whatever else happens to be interesting to them that day.

It’s not that I’ve changed, but my priorities have.  These are extremely valuable years where I can really lay the groundwork for my sons to mature into remarkable men.

Being a father is not easy.  It is hard to have the patience sometimes to deal with a bratty preschooler and a clingy toddler.  How much more difficult for Our Father then because we are all, at times, bratty preschoolers, rebellious teenagers, clingy and whiny toddlers toward Him, yet He loves us anyway.

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
    and do not resent his rebuke,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
    as a father the son he delights in.

Proverbs 3:11-12

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