Faith Perfected

John Ream, February 22, 1949 - November 20, 2011

Recently I attended the memorial service for fellow Heartlander John Ream.  Now, I did not know John very well so there is a lot about his life and personality to which I can not speak with any authority.  I could talk about how John always had a smile on his face, even throughout his entire ordeal with cancer.  I could tell you that John’s wisdom, kindness, faith, and many other traits earned him the respect of almost all who knew him.  But I want to share with you John’s attitude that he had during his battle with pancreatic cancer, what I learned from John, and the impact that he had on me in the short time that I knew him.

I am in the middle of a Bible study over the book of Daniel and recently watched a video over chapter 3, which is the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (or Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah if you prefer their Hebrew names) and the fiery furnace.  The video discussed a few points and verses that parallel not only John’s life and battle with pancreatic cancer, but the trials and tribulations that we all face in our own lives.

The story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace show us that God delivers us from the fire in three distinct ways:  first He may deliver us from the fire – or remove the trial from our lives, which will build our faith as we see God answer prayers; second God might deliver us through the fire, which will refine our faith as we begin to understand that it is God’s strength that guides us through our tribulations; and third, God could deliver us by the fire into His own arms which perfects our faith.  The story of the fiery furnace also shows that an angel of God protected the men and prevented them from being burned.  In fact, their clothes were not scorched and they did not even smell of smoke.  The only thing that God allowed the fire to touch was the ropes holding the men in bondage.  How amazing that when we lean on God to see us through our hard times, He will remove the bonds of this world that hold us back.

From the word go, I never saw John take a negative view of his situation.  I never heard him complain or lament ‘why me?’  John always knew that God had him right where God wanted, and if that’s where God said that he should be, then John would not have traded places with anyone for the world.  It would have been so easy for John to have been short-tempered due to exhaustion, pain, or feeling sick, not to mention literally staring death in the face.  But whether he was in public or in the privacy of his own home, John pretty much always maintained the same attitude.  John was happy, content, full of joy, and knew that no matter what he was in a win-win situation.

John had a strong faith in God for many years, so God did not need to deliver him from the ‘fire’ to build something that already existed.  The other two scenarios were that God would either answer John’s prayers by delivering John through the ‘fire’ of his cancer and allow him more time on this earth to spend with his loved ones, or God would deliver him by the ‘fire’ and welcome John into His arms for eternity with a perfect faith.  When you look at your life in those terms, you can’t help but be excited by any outcome.

Sure, John’s family and friends – myself included – will miss him dearly until they see him again.  But we all realize that John spent his whole life doing his best to let others see the love of Christ through him, and what better gift than to spend eternity with your Lord and Savior?  So, while we will all miss him – especially this time of year – I can’t imagine one person who knew and loved John could feel anything but joy for him as he has finally been welcomed into the arms of the Father.  To confirm that thought, in the midst of one of the songs during the service I looked up at John’s picture on the big screen and an image came into my head of John kneeling before our King and Jesus saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant, well done.”  After the conclusion of the service I was talking to a few guys at the back of the auditorium when one of them said, “You know, during one of the songs, I had a vision of John kneeling before Christ and then Jesus saying to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.'” I didn’t say anything at the time; I just kind of felt at peace within myself at this little affirmation that John was delivered by the fire into God’s open arms with a perfect faith.

In the end, I have to say ‘Thank You’ to John Ream for exemplifying not only how to live in this world, but just as importantly, the joy that Christ followers should have as we prepare to leave it.

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Called Out

My 6-year old likes to challenge me when it comes to bedtime.  I have no doubt that he knows what he needs to do before I ever tell him, he just does not want to do it.  We regularly engage in epic battles over bath time because of his refusal to get into the water.  I win, but not without enduring much frustration and more than occasionally having to raise my voice to just shy of yelling.  No sooner does Garrett relent and climb in than another skirmish ensues, throughout which he slips and slides his way all over the tub, laughing all the while.  Though he gives a valiant effort to avoid it, I make sure to triumph in scrubbing away all the dirt that he worked so hard to accumulate throughout the day, lest I incur the wrath of his mom.  With my patience waning and nerves shot, I concede a few minutes of play time.  My bath time nemesis thinks that he has earned a great victory when, in reality, this strategically allows me time to regain much-needed energy for the next assault on our bedtime routine.  Once Garrett has played long enough, or at least as soon as I have prepared myself for the inevitable stand-off, I tell him to get out and I drain the water.  My little bundle of stubbornness sticks to his guns and refuses to get out until he watches the “twister” of water go down the drain, no matter how many times I politely demand that he get out of the tub… right… NOW!  On some special occasions, he lays face down in the tub well after the water fully drains, as if I can’t see him and might just  forget about him.  Eventually Garrett begrudgingly gets out of the tub.  The drying off part goes surprisingly smooth, but only because it serves his needs.  He is cold, after all.  Unfortunately, he is slightly less cooperative about getting his hair and teeth brushed.  How that child hasn’t given himself whiplash from throwing his head back and forth trying to prevent me from fulfilling my parental duties, I’ll never know. In the end, my son always finds himself in bed, where he was going to go whether he wanted to or not.  The only difference from one night to the next is whether he completes his bedtime ritual willingly and obediently, which usually results in an unexpected reward, or if he fights me every step of the way and finds himself upset and frustrated and suffering punishment of one form or another.

After tonight’s bedtime warfare ended, I began to think, “How often does my life resemble this scenario?  One in which I play the role of the son and resist the path laid out before me while God plays the role of the Father trying to persuade me that if I would just obey Him, my life would go much more smoothly.”  How often do you feel God trying to direct you, but you try to carry out your own agenda – maybe because you enjoy life too much, or you fear stepping out in faith?  Lately I feel like I have been oblivious to God’s true direction in my life because I spent too much energy forming my own expectations of how God wants to work through me, or how I want Him to work through me.

Taking that first step and getting into the water was never a problem for me.  I have always believed in God, always accepted Christ as my Savior, so going under the water in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,to be washed of all of my dirt and sin so that God’s mercies could be renewed each morning was an easy decision for me.

We always want to stay in a time when we feel good about our decisions, when we feel God’s blessings upon us.  But proclaiming my faith is not the end.  That’s only leaving the starting blocks, not crossing the finish line.  Getting out of the water is proving to be the greater challenge.  Now that I have given my life to Christ, I am instructed to deny myself, to pick up my cross, to give up my life.

“Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” – Mark 8:34-35 (NIV)

You mean I have to actually live this lifestyle?  I can’t just say that I believe and go to church or bible study and give my tithe and then go about my normal life?  There is more to following Jesus than just saying “Hallelujah!” and “Amen!”?   Yes, no, and yes,  in reply to each of those questions.  Jesus gives us more than fair warning of the sacrifices involved with following him.  He tells us what He has in store for us and admonishes us to count the cost to make sure that we are willing to pay it all because there is no middle ground.  You are either all in or all out.

For awhile now I have struggled to understand where God is leading me.  I have tried to figure out what path I should take, my next step in my life.  The problem, of course, is that God does not want us to figure out His plans.  He wants us to just act in faith and obedience.  This past weekend I finally heard God yelling at me to get out of the water, as it were, and just go.   So while I may not know exactly how I’m supposed to carry this out, I know what God is calling me to do, and it’s the same thing that He has called us to do for the past 2,000-plus years – to help the orphans, the widows, the poor, the sick, the wounded and weary.  We are called out to reach out to others; called out to live in faith, in hope, in response, in obedience, in help, but mostly we are called out to reach out to others in love.

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How Do You Want To Be Remembered?

The past several days have given me reason to not necessarily come to grips with, but at least acknowledge, my mortality.  Last Friday I attended the funeral of a friend’s father, along with finding out about the passing of another family friend and a high school classmate.  Furthermore, I also found out that a co-worker and a good friend’s stepfather are both in the end stages of cancer.  Whenever the loss of a family member or friend confronts me, I rarely use the event to take stock of my life, but perhaps I should use these times to re-ground myself and re-adjust my focus in life.

As I stood at the graveside service listening to the eulogy of my friend’s father, I started thinking “what would I want said in my eulogy?”  Though I hope people remember many things about me, such as my love of life and people and my eagerness to have fun and bring joy and humor to the lives of others, I would hope that above all else, people would say they remember how I always put God at the center of my life and that I allowed others to see Christ in me.  Second, I would want people to see that I love others as much as or more than I love myself.  Third, I hope that others see me as a devoted and loving husband, father, son, and friend.  I know those things sound trite, but I find it hard to think of a more important, or more fulfilling, legacy to leave behind.

Yet I find myself living a lifestyle so divergent from what I say I want.  How often have I had opportunity to give my time to others and I decided to spend my days involved in activities that benefited only me?  How much money have I spent to spoil myself instead of helping out those in need, or even just spoiling someone other than myself?  How many meaningful connections, conversations, experiences have I missed out on – or even worse, prevented others from experiencing – simply because I was too self-involved did not make time for such distractions?  How much time and talent have I wasted that might have benefited others because I was too lazy, scared, or just plain stupid to take advantage of the gifts that God has granted me?  Honestly, I do not want to know the answer to any of those questions.  I once had a t-shirt that read “Nothing Is More Painful Than Regret”.  That is one of the truest statements I have ever heard.  But have I changed my life to eliminate as much regret as possible, to live in a way that the traits I want people to see within me are at the forefront of my life?  Not even close.  Why?  The most honest answer that I come up with is simply selfishness.  That can apply to time, money, decisions, actions, and any other facet of life.  I want what I want when I want it, and more often than not, I will make sure I get it, sometimes – probably more often than I care to admit – at the expense of others.

I think we all tend to contemplate the first question of how we want others to remember us.  To me, that flows into the thought of whether we actually live in such a manner.  That line of thinking should naturally progress into the ultimate – and hopefully the most honest – question of all.  What do I need to change about my life so that those desires ring true?  More to the point, because the verses John 5:19-20 “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does” can apply to the relationship between earthly fathers and sons as well as the Heavenly Father and Son, what do I need to change about my life transform myself into the man who I want my sons to become?  Answering that question honestly forces me to realize my need to live with a higher level of intentionality than I have a habit of doing.  I need raise my level of awareness of my attitude, my words, my actions, my thoughts, my decisions, how I treat others, how much of give to others – particularly time and energy, and how honest I am with my life.  My two boys have reached ages where they see how I live and that has a profound effect on them.  Whether immediate or lying dormant until triggered by a future experience, those influences continue to shape their lives every day.  I pray every day for the strength, wisdom, and discipline to live such a life.  Here is where I feel like I should proclaim a commitment to take actions that would make these changes a reality.  But the truth is, I know my propensity for not sticking with commitments.  What I will say is that I will continue to do my best to stay connected to others who will hold me accountable, to continue to mature in Christ through regular study of Scripture and devotional time spent in the Word.  Since we don’t know what tomorrow holds, that we will do our best with each day we receive is the only thing that we can truly promise.

In addition to the funeral last Friday, we had a wedding to attend.  This happy occasion provided a great end to a day that had begun in sadness.  I started the day facing an ending filled with love and sorrow and somberness, to ending the day with a new beginning filled with love and joy and a festive atmosphere.  This new beginning, one that started off with the bride and groom’s proclamation of faith in and remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice through the partaking of Communion, reminds me that we all have the hope of a new beginning every day in which we can better ourselves through faith in Jesus and obedience to God.  From my weekly Friday morning Bible studies before work to reading a chapter of Purpose Driven Life with my amazing wife each night (one of only a few books including the Bible that I would say can literally change your life for the better), I can feel God reigniting within me the spark of not just faith, but also of a yearning to truly live for Him and to actively engage in meaningful fellowship with others.  I have confidence in the knowledge that acting upon those aspirations will eventually allow me to fulfill my hope of becoming the type of man who I want my sons to become.

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Joy Project #7 – Baptism Sunday

A New Life

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)

Let me preface this post with thanking Perrin, my friend and brother in Christ, for allowing me to not only write about his story, but to also use his name & picture in my blog.  You are truly an inspiration and God will use your life to bring Him glory.  Love ya brother!

God always amazes me by providing indescribable joy and fulfillment when we simply abide in Him.  Among other things, the Lord calls upon us to have boldness of faith (2 Timothy 1:7); to give reasons for our faith when asked or challenged (1 Peter 3:15); to spread the Good News to others (Mark 16:15); and ultimately to disciple others, baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and to teach new believers how to abide in Him (Matthew 28:18-20).  As followers of Christ, if we obey these commands, then Christ will work through us and we can know the joy of playing a small part in leading others to Christ.

Perrin and I have been on and off friends since 1994 when we worked together at Best Buy.  We have known each other – or at least known of each other – since for sure high school, and possibly even middle school, so roughly 1989-1990.  Since that time, I have known Perrin to primarily focus on himself, partying and having a good time, doing anything necessary to achieve that goal.  This included alcohol, various illicit drugs and other controlled substances, and random one-night stands.  I say this to give an idea of the lifestyle that Perrin led and not in judgment, as I find myself guilty of varying degrees of the same behavior.  Over the years, Perrin found his life to be more and more without fulfillment as he spent the past 10+ years as a bartender and embracing that lifestyle.

As far as I know, my friend Perrin’s journey back to Christ began in earnest on Thursday, July 14th.  I could be wrong about the date because I noticed a few days earlier that he was hungry for God’s Word in his life.  My wife and I had noticed Perrin’s Facebook posts asking for encouraging Bible verses a few days before this, and Nanette and I decided to grab a drink that night because we had not had a night out to ourselves for a while.  We decided to go where we knew Perrin tended bar so we could also touch base with him and see how things were going.  The three of us ended up having a 5-hour conversation  until 3 a.m. about the joy and positive changes Nanette & I have experienced since accepting Christ that seemed to truly spark his interest in turning his life over to Christ – and no we did not sit there getting drunk.  I say this not to bring any praise to myself or my wife, as we both realize that in and of ourselves, we had nothing to do with Perrin finding God.  We merely allowed God to use us to open Perrin’s heart.  Besides, Perrin grew up in the church, so the foundation had already been laid in his life long before we came into the picture.  We also found out that Perrin had given up cigarettes, alcohol, and drug use, all while facing a situation that prevented him from seeing his 16-month old daughter for several weeks.  As someone who has enjoyed the more than occasional beer and who used to smoke for a decade-and-a-half, I can appreciate the difficulty and courage it took to make that decision.  That Perrin made this decision when faced with circumstances that could fuel those habits, I find nothing short of amazing.

As we left the bar, I invited Perrin to join me the next morning (technically the same morning, but since I hadn’t slept yet, I still consider Friday as the following morning) at my weekly Bible study group and to join us at church that weekend.  He said that he’d love to do both.  I can honestly say that I did not 100% expect to see him at either place.  Not because I think of Perrin as a liar or even that he agreed just to placate me, but because I figured that he would forget or sleep in or simply just change his mind.  However, Perrin not only showed up at the coffee shop for Bible study three hours after we left the bar, he showed up before I did.  Perrin also was true to his word and attended church at Heartland two days later, and every week since.  He has also continually attended our Friday morning Bible studies, fitting right in with the other guys and making himself a welcome addition to the group.

In addition to his desire to learn about the Word of God, Perrin has also recently acted upon that faith by making two hugely positive changes in his life.  First, he walked away from his bartending job because he knew that lifestyle would only lead him down a destructive path.  Understand that Perrin made this decision without having secured another job.  Could you view this as a reckless decision considering he has a daughter to help support?  Of course.  But which is more irresponsible, remaining in a situation where you know you may not have the strength to resist temptations that have been central to your life for more than a decade, or getting as far away from those circumstances as possible?  Perrin placed his faith in God that He would provide a new career opportunity.  In today’s economy and job market, that took a huge amount of faith that has since paid off and Perrin started a new job this past week.  The second decision that Perrin made in his life brings me the most joy of all and is the primary reason for this post.  With his parents – who have led multiple Bible studies over the years and have constantly prayed for their son to know Christ – proudly watching, on August 28, 2011, at Heartland’s annual baptism at Kill Creek Park, Perrin gave his testimony in front of a number of other people, after which I had the honor of praying over him, then he went down into the water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, dying unto this life imprisoned by sin, and arose out of the water born into life washed anew by the mercy of God, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

“Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.  If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.  Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” – Romans 6:3-11 (NIV)

As much as I would like to claim responsibility for Perrin’s new life and the joy that it has brought, and will continue to bring, I know that God did all the work and we just responded to that and made ourselves available to Him, and continue to do so as we support Perrin and the challenges that he will face going forward.  Thank you Perrin for letting us be just a small stone in the Christ-based foundation of your life.  To see the changes that you have made, to see the person you are becoming, to have the renewed and deepened friendship and brotherhood with you, and ultimately to be present and able to participate in your baptism and rebirth into a new life with Christ has been a blessed experience.

May God bless you and keep you and be your rear guard to the ever-present threat of sin and temptation in this world.  Amen!

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 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. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.  With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. “ – Ephesians 6:10-20 (NIV)

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Joy Project #6 – Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Alex Gordon at the Plate

What is it about going to a baseball game that brings back a flood of memories from childhood?  For some it would be the smells and tastes of popcorn, beer, and other ballpark fare.  Others may find it is the crack of wood meeting cowhide, the smack of a fastball popping into the catcher’s awaiting mitt, the roar of the crowd at a big play for his or her favorite team – always the hometown club for the baseball purist – or the collective groan when the pitcher gives up a home run to the visiting team’s power hitter.  Seeing a slight infield shift, a perfectly executed sacrifice bunt, the smooth mechanics of a well-timed double play, the championship banners waving in the breeze rightfully surpassed only by Old Glory in their midst, or the outfield fountains erupt when one of our ‘Boys in Blue’ knocks one over the wall – or whatever quirky tradition your own team had to entertain the crowd even more after a home run may arouse these fond memories for even more baseball fans.  For me it’s a combination of these things.

I don’t know why baseball represents the quintessential American childhood more than any other sport.  Too many people think of golf and tennis as activities for the upper class, so, more often than not, the general public does not have any emotional ties to either sport.  How many playground basketball courts resonated with the ball bouncing off of the pavement, swishing through the net, or clanging off the rim all afternoon and evening?  Even still, many of the kids I knew who played basketball also played baseball, but not vice versa.  Football definitely has a history rich in tradition, though not as long or colorful as baseball’s, and undoubtedly countless young boys’ lives revolved around the sport, but football associates more with fall and winter.  My guess as to why baseball is so ingrained in Americana is that when reminiscing of days gone by, most boys probably conjure up images of youthful summer afternoons that they might have spent playing pickup baseball games with friends, partaking in that father-son rite of passage of playing catch in the front (or back) yard, or possibly even of their dad coaching their little league team every year.

As poetry is to romance, so to is baseball to sports.  Baseball is the slow, steady courtship of a boy’s heart compared to football’s wanton appeal to the energy of a boy’s raw passion and need to prove himself victorious in battle.  The nuances of the game – placing a 90 mph pitch on the edge of a 17-inch plate 60 feet away so the batter thinks the pitch is out of the strike zone, but the umpire sees otherwise; the outfielder knowing just when to propel himself against the wall to reach up and rob the batter of a home run; a shortstop judging – from the batter’s stance – where he needs to position himself to snag the line drive hit almost out of his outstretched glove; the batter timing his swing on a hit-and-run to hit the ball behind the runner on first base; and many other finely tuned skills – take years to not only develop, but also to recognize and fully understand when watching a game.  Of course football consists of more than just tackling the guy with the ball, but at its core football serves as a safe and acceptable outlet for a boy to prove his toughness and strength.  Make no mistake, I love football.  In fact, I spend more of my time now focused on the NFL than I do Major League baseball, which I attribute primarily to the strike-shortened 1994 season.  It’s not that I still hold a grudge about the strike, after all greed drives every major professional sport and they have all had at least one work stoppage, but by the time I came back around to the sport, all the players I knew growing up had retired.  With my old favorites gone, and without having paid any attention as their successors established themselves as the new guardians of the national pastime, my passion for following and allowing myself to get emotionally attached to professional baseball has been extinguished.

Another thing – and this is a point to which I can personally relate – baseball is a sport that you don’t have to be an athlete to play.  Overweight and slow?  You play first base (and proudly, I might add!), catcher, or pitcher if you’ve got the control.  Good fielder, quick on your feet but can’t maintain the speed for long?  You’re playing in the middle of the infield.  The kids with the wheels are in the outfield.  Slow but have a cannon arm?  Hot corner or tools of ignorance for you.  Good at the plate but can’t field a ball to save your life?  That’s OK, everyone hits in a pick up game, even if you don’t have a spot in the field.

Whatever the reason, whatever the appeal, baseball, whether playing or watching, has been etched in my memory and my heart as the epitome of childhood bliss.  Perhaps the best explanation is that the baseball season starts in the spring, a time of optimism and new beginnings, the season continues throughout the summer and welcomes the All-Star break when patriotism runs high each Independence Day.  Finally, as summer comes to a close, so too does baseball with the Fall Classic at a point when people wind down for the year and begin hibernating for the winter until Spring comes around again with a new assortment of hopes and dreams.

“Baseball is a language of very simple words that tell unbelievably magic tales.Baseball Is by Greg Hall

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Happy (belated) Anniversary Mom & Dad!

August 12, 1972

“But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’  ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” – Mark 10:6-9 (NIV)

Mom & Dad,

Watching you make it through 39 years of joy, frustrations, good times, rocky periods in your relationship, then ultimately seeing your reconciliation with a stronger love and renewed sense of togetherness has instilled in me a profound respect not only for both of you, but also for what marriage truly means.

I know that I have rarely shown much gratitude,  but I have always known just how much God blessed me by giving me two parents who raised me on the principles of His Word.  I am ever grateful, Mom, that you were so vocal in teaching me at a young age the story of Jesus and His love.  Dad, I can’t think of a single person growing up – and even today – who truly lives a life of putting others ahead of yourself in the example of Christ more than you.  Between hearing about God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice on one side, and then seeing firsthand what it means to live that love for others, the foundation was laid for me to (finally) make God the focus of my life.  Those are lessons that mean so much to me that I simply do not have the words to express my feelings.

Late 70's - Early 80's?

I can only imagine the hardships you faced that you kept from me so that I could continue living a carefree life.  As a kid I used to think that it was the coolest thing that my dad was a firefighter (ok, truth be told I still think that), but I never saw or felt any worry or fear from you, Mom, if you ever wondered “will this be the night a fire or other emergency claims my husband?”  You always made sure that my childlike impression that Dad was invincible and could do anything remained intact.  As a teen you gave me free rein to stay out late on the weekends with the car, all while you both pushed your fears aside that any weekend could be the time you get a call saying that your son had a wreck and you needed to come to the hospital.  You both knew how important my independence was to me and you honored that over your own desires that I be safe at home.  You spent countless days worrying if I’d be able to walk and countless dollars making sure that I could.  You both have spent your lives giving nothing but love, support, and encouragement to me and to one another.  Your solidarity and strength with one another has and will continue to serve me well in my marriage.

Through everything that you both have endured, you have taught me to always have faith, to always do my best, to always treat others the way that I want them to treat me (granted it’s taken awhile for some of those lessons to sink in), that the only limitations I face are the ones I put on myself, and most importantly you have taught me to always be true to myself with everyone I meet and in everything that I do.

Caribbean Cruise, Summer 1989

Your faith in and love for God, each other, and me has helped me to grow into the man who I am today.  You both inspire me to be the best man, father, husband, son, and friend that I can for my family, friends, and even towards complete strangers because you both live your lives by putting everyone else first.  I only hope that I can grow into being half the spouse to Nanette that you both have been to each other.  It is only in my dreams that I can be a fraction of the parent to RJ & Garrett that you both are to me.  I can not thank you or repay you enough for being the role models that you have been, for being true heroes to me.  I can’t begin to express how much I love and respect you both and how honored I am to be your son.

I pray that God blesses you with many more years of joy, happiness, and love together!

July 4, 2010

“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. ” – Colossians 3:14 (NIV)

Categories: Random Babbling | 2 Comments

Joy Project #5 – Having Fun Helping Others

Tie-Dyeing a Backpack at Church

So I should have published this post about a month ago.  I’ve obviously slacked off again – surprise – so now it’s time to make it a point to get back to writing regularly.

Last month Heartland held their version of vacation bible school.  They called it Heartland Family Adventure because they planned it a little differently than normal.  Instead of dropping kids off each morning, Heartland feels that teaching kids about the Bible is better when the parents are actively involved.  Tents with different things to do lined the atrium in a way that was meant to simulate the streets of Nazareth.  The tents included a synagogue where the kids could make a little clay tablets, a farming tent where the kids planted grass seeds in a little planter, a weaving tent where they learned how to make bracelets & smooth out wool, among others.

The tent above is where the kids could tie-dye a cloth backpack that would then be filled with school supplies and donated to kids who otherwise wouldn’t have anything for school.  This is yet one more way that Heartland is reaching out to those in need and showing kids that you can have fun while helping others at the same time.  Garrett loved doing this because he could not only be creative (and make a mess), but also got a chance to do something nice for others.  The Lord has blessed Nanette & I with two boys that almost always think of others, though in very different ways.

Garrett is the kid who will share his toys, food, drink, and most anything else with you – more often than not without anyone asking him.  RJ is the one who always gets involved in activities to help others.  Though I enjoy that the boys have those differences and love how even though they both love giving to others, I think it’s interesting how and why it seems those differences evolved.  RJ, being the oldest by about 6 years, got used to having his stuff to himself and not having to share it with anyone before Garrett came along.  Don’t get me wrong, RJ will share, and more often than not he’ll do it willingly, it’s just that at times he needs someone to remind him.  RJ also grew up learning to obey his parents, grandparents, and others in authority.  As he has grown, he has had a heart of wanting to please others which over the course of the past year-and-a-half has developed into a heart of wanting to help others.

Garrett has always had his brother around and has always been willing to share his stuff.  Garrett has also always had a stubborn streak in him a mile wide and makes it a point not to obey his parents, grandparents, and anyone else in authority.  I think this is one reason Garrett isn’t as keen on doing charitable acts as much as he is on giving charitably – he just doesn’t like anyone to tell him what to do to help others.  Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of times when Garrett will obey us, his teachers, and grandparents, and he will also help out in various ways, he’s just more apt to share than he is to volunteer.

While it would be ideal if it would be second nature to both boys to give and volunteer, the most important thing is that they both learn what it means to put others ahead of themselves and to act as the hands and feet of Christ.  Besides, the differences in which they give to others is just one more way that they are their own unique characters and one makes me just as proud as the other.  Also, the reason there is not photo of RJ helping out at Heartland Family Adventure is because he was volunteering with the younger kids who were too little to take part in HFA.  Yet another example of Garrett being giving of something and RJ being giving of himself.

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Joy Project #4 – Beer, Bullets, & Bad Movies

The Makings of a Fun Afternoon

What better way to spend a summer afternoon than hanging out with friends, just kickin’ back with a couple of beers, blasting away at clay pigeons?  This past weekend RJ’s Boy Scout troop had its annual adult planning camp out.  This is where we go over any necessary details for the upcoming year, from roles within the troop to summer camp issues, and anything else that needs to be addressed.  One of the guys in the troop has a good chunk of property with a house a bit south of the metro area, so ‘camp out’ really isn’t the best term.  I’ll just refer to it in the same way that the troop does – ATF because that is typically what is involved, alcohol, tobacco, and firearms.

This year Nanette had to work Saturday morning, so we lucked out on our arrival time.  By the time we got down there, everyone was finishing up the meeting and heading outside to play with guns again, so I grabbed a beer (Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy is pretty good, but it has nothing on Granite City’s) and followed.  The owner of the property also has an automatic clay pigeon launcher, so a few of us grabbed our weapon of choice, lined up a bit off the shore of the pond, and proceeded to blast some clay.  Nanette was kind enough to handle the responsibility of kicking back with a beer and launching the targets for us.  Needless to say, I was not the most accurate shooter of the bunch, but that’s ok, I still had a blast shooting my grandfather’s .20 gauge and my dad’s .16 gauge shotguns.  Not to mention I got to shoot a .357 for the first time, which was a lot of fun and had a much smoother recoil than I would have expected.

Dinner was amazing.  I wish I would have gotten a picture of all the food.  We had steak, roasted veggies, cheesy corn, roasted garlic, pasta salad, Asian salad, a couple of different types of wine, followed up with some pineapple upside down cake.  Everything was amazing.  Dinner was followed up by some more shooting until it got too dark to hit anything.  The evening was capped off with  watching Superbad and Machete, two movies that, had I not watched them, my life probably would have been better because that is 4 hours that I’ll never get back.  But it was fun get away for a night and enjoy interacting with adults without worrying about the boys.

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Purpose Driven Life

Do you ever find yourself struggling to find your purpose in life?  I don’t mean what you want to do or what you feel called to do for a living, though your purpose could certainly coincide with your career path.  No, what I’m asking is do you ever feel a sense of longing, an urgent yearning that reaches clear to the core of who you are, almost like you have a void that needs to be filled by a life of meaning?  That’s what I mean by struggling to find your purpose in life.

What do you do when you find yourself at a point in life where who you are is incompatible with who you were, when what you have done is incompatible with what you feel the future holds, even though you don’t know what that might mean.  How do you change into the person who you know you should become?  Especially when you have certain expectations of yourself, or when you have assumed the expectations others have of you?  Sometimes it seems like it would be easier to just switch as much about your life as you can – new job, new neighborhood, etc. – and start over from scratch.  A clean slate.  Wipe the board clean and start fresh.  But that won’t solve anything because you only change the variables of the situation.  The constant – you – stays the same.  That would be like fixing up a dilapidated, condemned building with some 2×4’s and plywood.  Sure it might fix certain things temporarily, but after a short time the true condition of the building would become obvious.  In order to truly correct this type of situation, you’ve got to tear down what is already there and rebuild on a solid foundation.

This is where I find myself these days.  I feel like I can, and should be, so much more, both in terms of who I am and how I fulfill my purpose, and to a lesser extent of what I do.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about my job or wanting more money or recognition or anything like that.  I enjoy going to work.  I work with a great bunch of people and I have a fantastic boss.  I’m also not complaining about anything having to do with my home life.  In fact, I don’t think that there has been any other time that I’ve been this happy with my marriage and my kids.  This is more about finding out why God put me on this earth and what I need to do to allow God to fulfill that purpose through me.

This is the part that kind of scares me.  After all, I’ve spent most of my life being the sarcastic one, the comedian, the one who doesn’t take life too seriously, the one who puts himself first, the one who will give his opinion without regard for others’ feelings.  Who am I without being that person?  I will still be a comedian, even if in my own opinion, because I love to make people laugh.  I just don’t want to do it in a way that could be interpreted as being mean-spirited.  I will still stand firm in my opinions, though how I express them will change.  I doubt if I take this world much more seriously than before, knowing that all of this is merely temporary.  I know I also need to have more regard for others’ feelings and to put others first.  But there is so much more involved.  After all, to follow Christ one “must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”  (Matthew 16:24 NIV)  So I’m talking about a complete transformation of who I am and how I live my life.  When counting the costs, is it worth it to live a life for Him?  Unequivocally the answer is yes!

Now, I know that we are put here to glorify God and to bring Him praise, and I’m all about that.  My struggle is just how am I supposed to go about doing that?  Does it involve ministry work of some type?  Is it simply through my writing?  Is it by working in a cube farm from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday?  These are the things that I contemplate lately.  I have prayed for guidance, and asked others to pray that God’s Word would be a “lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105 NIV).  At this point, I can’t say that God has made my path clear, but I can say that more and more each day it seems like He is directing my focus more squarely on Him.  I still don’t know where my journey through this life will take me, but I do know that it will always involve following and trusting in Christ.

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Back On Track

Have you ever found yourself traveling along a certain path only to have life get in the way and send you on a detour, or maybe even multiple detours?  Of course you have.  It happens all the time.  Though I think if we’re brutally honest with ourselves, the truth is not that life gets in our way, but we get in our own way.  Maybe we allow ourselves to get distracted by a more exciting activity, or a new possession, a new relationship, any number of things.  But all too often I think we get in our own way because we decide to make the easy decision, as opposed to maybe the right decision, or the decision that is best for us.

My goal date of being under 200 lbs has long since passed and I have no idea how far away I am from my goal.  I haven’t stepped on the scale in weeks.  In fact, I haven’t worked out in weeks.  I’m not disappointed that I’m still tipping the scales at well over 200 lbs (at least I would be if I ever stepped on one), but I am disappointed that I allowed myself to get sidetracked and continued along that detour well after I was perfectly capable of getting back on course.  I know that I can – and will –  get back on track and work towards my long-term goal of reaching a healthy weight.  In fact, today marks not only my oldest son’s 12th birthday (holy hell when did I get old enough to have a 12-year old?!?!), and Independence Day, but also the day that my inspiring wife & I re-establish our commitment to exercise.

I’m not going to lie, there’s a big part of me that is less than thrilled about this endeavor.  Why?  Easy.  I’ve done this before, I know what I’m about to endure.  Don’t get me wrong, I know that many of you out there are putting yourselves through much more strenuous workouts or even just regular daily activity, and I’ll admit that I’m impressed and you have my respect.  But let’s face it, I’m talking about a guy who is rockin’ an unhealthy 40 extra pounds right above the belt, lives an extremely sedentary lifestyle, and consumes entirely too many empty calories on a daily basis.  Seriously, this won’t be pretty.  No really, think Truffle Shuffle in my family room.

Truffle Shuffle

But I am determined to maintain a consistent exercise regiment.  Right now, we’re going to shoot for doing the Insanity workouts 6 times each week just like before.  Eventually I would like to incorporate some weights into that, but we’ll see.  I’m taking this one step at a time.  I wish I could say that not having a gym membership limits my options, but I’ve got two weight machines and a treadmill in my basement.  Oddly enough, I find that it is actually more difficult for me to get in the habit of simply going to the basement to use the weights than it is for me to go to a gym.  I think because it’s also too easy to get distracted with my daily life and the comfort of my own home.

I also know that getting and staying in shape requires more than just exercise.  I also have to hold my diet in check.  This is the part that I dread the most.  I love food.  After all, you don’t pack on an additional 40 pounds by not loving food.  The random snacking at work is the most difficult habit for me to break. It seems like there are always cookies or brownies or donuts or any number of things to snack on around the office.  The worst part about having these treats at work is that the only place we have to set them is right at eye level in a path that I walk multiple times each day.  I am definitely going to have to work on my will power.

One thing that I’m not going to do this time around is step on the scale every day, nor will I be trying to chart or blog about my daily progress, or lack thereof as the case may be.  I might have a post every couple of weeks or so, but I’m not going to allow my weight to be the focal point of my life like it was before.  I’m going to worry more about just doing the things that I know I need to do to achieve the results that I want, but not be focused on the actual results.  I’m going to trust that if I hold up my end of the bargain, then the results will take care of themselves.

I think that often faith works in the same manner.  I can’t tell you how often, instead of being locked on to the things that I need to do and trusting in God to handle His part, I find myself focusing on things that I want or expect to happen, activities that I want to do, possessions I want to obtain… almost anything except acting in accordance with God’s will.  God sees that and He patiently waits for me to turn my focus and trust back to Him.  When I do realize that I’ve been sidetracked, He is there to receive me with open arms, and more often than not makes Himself just that much more apparent in my life for a period of time.  Then I get in my own way again and lose sight of the things that I need to zero in on, and we do the whole song and dance over.  But here’s the awesome part about it – God is there every single time!  Always patiently waiting for me to turn back to Him.  I have seen a number of instances where this also applies to a general lack of focus on God, be it from a seed of doubt that spreads, or even just questioning Truth.  As a parent of an almost teen and a stubborn, special needs 6-year old, I know a little something about needing patience and always being available with arms wide open.  I can’t imagine the level of patience God has with the crowning jewel of His creation, especially when we do absolutely nothing to deserve it.  But for me, it is reassuring beyond description to know that no matter how long our faith has been detoured, no matter how far away from God that detour has taken us, He is always closer than we think just waiting for us to turn around and refocus on Him.

“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:12-13 (NIV)

Categories: Faith, Insanity | Leave a comment

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