Someone You and I Can Always Count On

This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit the town where I grew up. The reason for visiting was to help my Mom and Dad move into a brand new home in a retirement community. As I drove around the town, I noticed how many things have changed since I grew up while also noticing how a few things had not changed.

This time down “memory lane” brought to mind many wonderful memories of my time growing up. It also reinforced to me what has never changed and what has always been a rock and foundation for me. Those two things are: the unconditional love and support of my parents and the unconditional love and support of my Heavenly Father!

The two go hand in hand because as I have observed my parents throughout the last few years of my life, as they navigated many changes and challenges such as the loss of both of their parents, severe back surgery for my Dad, the selling of their childhood farm, and most recently my mom being diagnosed with cancer, the one constant has always been their unwavering faith and love for their Heavenly Father. At no time has their faith wavered, their belief in healing weakened, or their question of God’s heart toward them. They have been a rock and an inspiration of what true faith looks like.

This has been especially true since my Mom’s diagnosis with lung cancer about 3 months ago. I had always thought of my mom and dad as prayer warriors and an encouragement to others when they were going through struggles of their own, but to watch my mom and my dad walk thru this attack on her body has been something to behold. Their belief in God and how He is going to heal my mom and most importantly use her to help others as she navigates her treatments has pushed me and my faith. Watching my mom as she hands out Bibles to nurses and doctors and other cancer patients has challenged me in sharing my faith, while at the same time watching my Dad show his love and support by never leaving her side. They have been inspiration to me of what a life devoted to God looks like and what a committed and loving marriage looks like.

Even though we don’t know what the future holds with my Mom, walking thru this journey with her and my dad has already proved to be a blessing because of how it has brought our family closer together as well as brought an importance to appreciating every moment of life. It has also confirmed to me that no matter how things change or how much they stay the same, I can always count on the never-ending love and support of my parents and my Heavenly Father. He has shown once again His ability to turn what Satan meant for pain and heartache and instead has turned it into a testimony of his faithfulness and grace.

Just like my Mom and Dad, He never seizes to amaze me and is someone I can always count on and is someone you can count on too!

CREATING SPACE FOR JESUS

During the weekend, as I was in the process of asking Jesus about what He wanted me to share with you, I received this email from a close friend at a public high school where I used to teach. His email is part of a 27 member men’s group email I receive every morning that challenges each man in their walk with Christ.  This email group and how it started is a miracle in itself and probably a great topic for a future blog. However, that is a topic for another day.

My friend wrote…

“Friday night two of my female goats had twins. One set was doing well, feeding off the doe and the other set was alive but not eating.  Ended up the mother was not taking care of the babies (kids). I milked the mother and fed the colostrum to the kids. This is one of the most important parts in getting kids to survive, real colostrum.  This mother is a good one, had several kids in the past but for some reason this was not working. She was not producing much milk and is rather skinny. The kids need to be fed every 2-4 hours for the first few days. I went to milk the mother, whose name is Mule Goat, at 1:00am.  I had not seen 1:00 am for several years. Out to the barn I go armed with a baby bottle to collect the milk/colostrum mix. On my way out to the barn I was struck me with how much this was like life. It is written that Jesus is our shepherd. I am now the sole provider for these two girl goats. They are starting to recognize my voice and will respond when I call them. In the past when I have bottle babies it’s amazing the connection they have with me. In a pen full of goats, if I say, “baby goat” the one I raised from a bottle will be the first to cry out and start looking for me. This could be any animal, not necessarily a goat. Think of this in terms of a baby goat. How much are we like a baby goat when it comes to our Heavenly Father? Do we totally rely on Him or do we venture off and get our chunky butts stuck in a ditch or the corner of the fence? Do you cry out when he calls your name? These girl goats are only a few days old yet will settle down when I start talking to them. My voice is soothing to them! Imagine how the voice of the Lord is to us! Many scriptures use the reference to shepherd and tending to the flocks. This is only a small part of it but I wanted to share as it was not as meaningful to me when I didn’t have livestock.”

This description brought a ton of memories to my mind of my childhood of growing up on a farm and spending time with my Grandpa and Dad. We did not have goats but we did raise cattle. I remember the times when a baby calf would have trouble nursing from their mother and my Grandpa or Dad would have to bottle feed them too. As my friend described, the connection that those baby calves had with my Grandpa or Dad when they heard their voice was obvious. They immediately knew and recognized their voices and would come to them regularly.

So my question to each of you is this…are you like the baby goats and baby calves described here when it comes to Jesus and your Heavenly Father? Have you heard His voice recently? Do you seek out His Voice on a daily basis? When was the last time you heard His voice and then did what He said to Do?

If you are like me, the answers to these questions can be difficult to answer. For me, it is very much like a roller coaster for me when hearing the voice of Jesus. Some days I feel really close in my friendship with Him and I can clearly hear His voice and then there are other days where I feel extremely distant from Him as if He can’t hear me and I can’t hear Him. I tell you this that this walk and friendship with Jesus is something we have to fight for and be intentional about. We have to put ourselves in a position to hear His voice and create the needed space in order to have the kind of friendship with Jesus we have always wanted.

With this need to position ourselves and be intentional in hearing the voice of Jesus, I want to offer you a list of suggestions that I have found helpful in my daily walk that allowed me to be in a position and slow the world down around me long enough to allow the communication to flow between me and Jesus, just like you have to do if you want to have a personal conversation with your spouse. In essence, you are creating space for Jesus to be more present with you without the distractions.

Suggestion #1: Before picking up your phone in the morning and immediately looking at the news or email, talk to Jesus immediately and allow yourself to ease into the morning with Him instead jumping right into the headlines. This may be having a cup of coffee and praying or it may be just allowing yourself to say thank you to Jesus for another day to live for Him.

Suggestion #2: Instead of listening to talk radio on your commute to work, turn the radio off and ask Jesus what He wants to say to you today. Sometimes he may want you to turn your radio on to worship music or listen to an encouraging podcast, or even better He may want you to keep the car quiet so He can speak directly to you to encourage you as you start your day.

Suggestion #3: Before walking into work, wait in your car for a couple of minutes and give the day to Jesus. I have started to use the phrase, “I give it all to you Jesus. I give my entire day to you”. This has helped me from jumping right into work and instead has helped me to be more relaxed because I have now asked Jesus to be in control.

Suggestion #4: At some point during the day, take a walk outside, whether it is during your break, your lunch, or just a quick breather. I am fortunate that I work on a beautiful college campus. I have recently began making a point that I walk at least one time across campus during the day, either to get coffee or lunch or just to be outside. This has helped get me away from my computer and allow Jesus to speak to me through His Creation.

Suggestion #5: Before turning the TV on to the news of the day or diving into your phone when you get home from work, take a walk around your block. This allows you to thank Jesus for helping you through the day as well as what He wants you to say to your family tonight. This walk does not have to be alone. If your kids can go with you, think of the opportunity you have to speak into their life about their day. If the weather is too cold (like it has been all Spring), turn on some instrumental music and allow Jesus to commune with you about your day but more importantly for you to say thanks to Him.

Please know that I am far from perfect at doing all of these consistently. I have many days where I am only able to complete one of them. However, I can honestly say that when I am able to do at least one of them, my ability to hear Jesus’s voice is clearer because I have been intentional in creating the space to hear His voice.

My challenge to you is this. Try just ONE of the suggestions this week and attempt to be as consistent with that suggestion as you can. I believe that you will be incredibly blessed by it and your friendship with Jesus will be renewed!

John 10

10 “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

Am I Loved or Am I Disqualified?

As I sit down to write this blog, I have just finished rocking my 11 month old daughter to sleep. Sometimes when I rock her, it is a very calm, somewhat easy process. She lets me hold her in my arms, not fighting my hold on her and eventually will fall sleep with no struggle at all. She feels and knows my hold on her and eventually gives in to the safety and security I provide. Once she allows that to happen, she is able to peacefully fall asleep, usually within 10 minutes. However, tonight was not one of those nights. This time, she fought my hold on her and was constantly trying to change positions. She cried and cried while I tried to hold her, fighting the hold I had on her and the safety and security I was providing. She kept on trying to move and was continually fighting with me and the sleep she desperately needed. It was a constant battle for at least 30 minutes until she eventually began to tire and slowly began to realize that she was safe, she was secure, and that she was loved by me. Once this happened, she was out light a light and fell into a deep sleep enough that I could lay her down for the night.

So why in a men’s blog would I share this story? Well, it goes back to the question I posed in my title. Am I LOVED or am I DISQUALIFIED? As the father of five daughters, yes I said that right, five daughters, and a husband to my beautiful wife, I am constantly being asked this question by them, may not always verbally, but in their interactions with me. Whether they voice it or not, this is the core question that is asked of all women. Am I LOVED and am I worth fighting for? Even though I have attempted to answer these questions myself, whether it is thru verbal affirmation, physical touch, physical presence, or spiritual leadership, I am aware of the fact that this question can only be answered perfectly by their Heavenly Father, through an understanding of how He sees them, how He adores them, and how He loves them. In fact He has loved them before they were ever born and that there is nothing that they could do that would ever change how He feels about them. In the same way that there is nothing my 11 month old daughter could do, or my wife could do, my love for them would never change no matter how much they fought against that thought or chose to believe that about themselves.

So how does this apply to men? I am glad you asked. As I look back at my own life and the lives of so many men I have had the privilege to interact with and minister to, this is a question they struggle with as well. Before they can ask the question, “Do I have what it takes?” they must come to grips with the fact and believe in their hearts that they are loved unconditionally first. Their value is not in their job, not in how much they make, not in sports, not in their intelligence, and not in their leadership position in church. God’s love for them is not based on anything they can do but is only based on God’s love for them.

Even more disheartening is the number of men who believe that they are DISQUALIFIED from ever being loved by God because of their past. They don’t believe that God’s grace and mercy can extend to them. This is a devastating lie that Satan has thrown at men with the goal of keeping distant from God and in bondage to their past. Think about this vicious cycle for just a minute…I don’t feel or believe that God loves me unconditionally so I have to earn it through my actions — my actions fall short and I sin (which we all do every day) — I  believe that God can’t love me because of my sin — I feel shame and guilt and despair and believe that I can’t approach God — which leads to — I don’t feel or believe that God love me unconditionally…Do you see the vicious cycle that men can get caught up in and stay on forever, all because of a lie that Satan has convinced us to believe?

For me, this was the exhausting cycle and process I found myself on for 40 years of life. This constant need to EARN God’s love but then constantly falling short and feeling DISQUALIFIED. You can only imagine how this cycle became even more life threatening when I was the first person in my family who went through a divorce, made even worse by the fact that I was unfaithful in the process. The shame and the guilt I felt was almost unbearable to the point that I considered taking my life because of the hopelessness I was feeling.  It was at this rock bottom place that I remember saying and believing with Satan that I was unforgivable and unlovable. How could God love someone like me? I believed the lie that I had DISQUALIFIED myself.

But thankfully the story does not end there…through the course of the last seven years, God has used a loving and supportive family, a group of strong Christian brothers, and an encouraging counselor to slowly help me realize that I am LOVED, that I am FORGIVEN, and that there is NOTHING I did in the past, NOTHING I can do in the present, and NOTHING I could do in the future that would change how God feels about me. He LOVED me in my past, he LOVES me in my present, and He will LOVE me in my future.

As we head into the next weeks leading up Valentine’s Day, there is going to be a lot of conversations about love. It is my prayer men, that just as you can hopefully say YES to the question of your wife when she asks you, AM I LOVED?, that you will be able to believe in your heart that your Heavenly Father is saying the same YES to you of the same question, AM I LOVED?, and NO to the question of AM I DISQUALIFIED?

If you can’t take my word for it, at least take God’s word for it by reading the following passage from Romans 8. As you read it men, let these words sink into your heart in the same way my daughter sank into my arms tonight when she fully realized how much she was LOVED and that there is nothing she could do to ever change how I feel about her. Your Heavenly Father is saying this same thing to you, YOU ARE LOVED AND YOU ARE NOT DISQUALIFIED!

Romans 8:35-39 The Message (MSG)

31-39 So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:

They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.
We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

Are You a Proverbs 1 Thru 30 Man?

For a number of years now I have tried to make it a daily practice of reading one proverb a day for every day of the month. Even though I have not always been as consistent as I have wanted, the times I have been consistent have been very rewarding.  Just this past week as I was reading Proverbs 31, which many times is the standard to which all women and wives are compared; I was struck by the commentary of Neil Kennedy about this famous Proverb. In his commentary he said that in order to have the privilege of loving and being blessed with a Proverbs 31 woman for your wife you needed to be a Proverbs 1 thru 30 man who cultivated her remarkable gifts and draws upon them.

Now why would he make such a comment? What exactly is a Proverbs 1 thru 30 man you ask?

Well, in order to best describe it to you, I need to share about an event that I experienced this past weekend. On Saturday, I had the privilege of attending the Celebration of Life service for Tim Nixon, one of the most Godly men I had ever encountered in my 45 years of life All throughout the service, accolades were shared and stories were told of the extraordinary man, husband, father, and coach that Tim was during his life. In addition to the stories, hundreds of people packed the auditorium to celebrate the way in which Tim exhibited Jesus to everyone he came into contact with during his life, and in particular how he loved his wife Yvonne.

So what does Tim’s life have in common with being a Proverbs 1 thru 30 man? The secret is in John 15:4-8 (Tim’s favorite passage) which says,

“Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me. “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.” John 15:4-8 MSG

For a man to love and cherish and have the opportunity to be married to a Proverbs 31 woman, you have to be connected to the vine of your Heavenly Father. What does it mean? It means that you have a personal, thriving relationship with Jesus. If you go outside of that vine and relationship with Jesus and try to do things on your own, the consequences that follow will be devastating. However, if you are willing to develop that intimate relationship with God and be in constant communication with him, thru whatever means that gives you life, you will find yourself exhibiting the fruit of the spirit found in Galatians 5:22-23 which says,

“But the fruit of the Spirit [the result of His presence within us] is love [unselfish concern for others], joy, [inner] peace, patience [not the ability to wait, but how we act while waiting], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature together with its passions and appetites. If we [claim to] live by the [Holy] Spirit, we must also walk by the Spirit [with personal integrity, godly character, and moral courage–our conduct empowered by the Holy Spirit]. We must not become conceited, challenging or provoking one another, envying one another.” Galatians 5:22-26 AMP

My guess is that most of you are like me. There are times that you exhibit these characteristics with your wife and there are times when you don’t. What I want you to see is that when you are connected to the vine and are talking and experiencing Jesus personally, you will naturally demonstrate these fruits of the spirit with your wife and others. You will be more loving, more joyful, more at peace, more patient, more kind, do more good, more faithful, more gentle, and more self-controlled. What wife wouldn’t want to feel and experience those traits in their husband?

As you develop and consistently demonstrate these traits, I can promise you, maybe not immediately but over time, that you will begin to see a Proverbs 31 woman and wife appear before your eyes and be able to say about you from Proverbs 31:23,

“Her husband is a well-known and respected leader in the city.”                       Proverbs 31:23 CEVDCUS06                         

 You see, a Proverbs 1 thru 30 man is one who demonstrates Love, who expresses Joy, seeks Peace, practices Patience, shows Kindness, displays Goodness, remains Faithful, and maintains Self-Control. Over time, as you press into Jesus and attach yourself to the vine of your Heavenly Father, the fruit that you experience will be the kind that makes you ready to love and encourage a Proverbs 31 woman, just like Tim Nixon did with his wife Yvonne.

My goal and hope for each of you is that you will be so connected to your Heavenly Father as a branch is connected to the vine, that you can’t help but bear the fruit of the spirit and love the amazing Proverbs 31 woman in your life.

So I ask you one last time…

Are You a Proverbs 1 thru 30 Man? 

 

 

Are You a Lover or a Fighter?

How many of us have heard this phrase said either to us or in a movie? In many instances a man was forced to choose between one and the other. If you chose fighter, it meant that you were eventually going to be in a brawl or fight with another guy. If you chose lover, it usually meant that you were a ladies man and chose loving a woman over getting into a fight. But what if I told you that God wants us to be both? He wants us to be a Lover and a Fighter.

When it comes to fighting, I am probably the least likely person on the planet to be in a fight. In fact, I have only been in one fight my entire life, and that was in the 5th grade when a kid at school ripped my sweatshirt and we started swinging. The fight did not last very long before the principal showed up and stopped it. I remember vividly our punishment was losing a week’s worth of recess. Talk about knowing how to hurt a kid!

As far as Lover, I have always understood this part much better in my life, whether it was loving my wife, loving my kids, or loving Jesus. I have always felt a better understanding of what that meant for a man. This understanding was probably in part because my Dad is the same way. I never saw him involved in a fight but I did see him Love my mom and his family. If we are really going to be to be honest, what man doesn’t want to be looked at as a good Lover, either to his wife or his family? However, over the last 6 years of my life, I have started to have a clear understanding of what it means when God says he wants us to be a Fighter. Recognizing I am in a battle everyday between the good my Father wants to do versus the evil Satan wants to bring into my life has stirred this need inside of me. In Nehemiah 4:13-14 Nehemiah actually calls for the men to fight when he says, “Then as I looked over the situation, I called together the nobles and the rest of the people and said to them, “Don’t be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes!”

More than 6 years ago, I would have just read over that passage and moved on. But now, after going through a divorce, a job change, a second marriage, a new ministry, and most recently a new baby, I have come to the realization that God is calling me up to be a fighter, over and over again. What do I mean?

Fight for Your Wife: For instance, my wife and I have a 6 month old baby. Even though we both love her and can’t imagine our life without her, we have to fight for our relationship. Each day we have to fight for time to talk, fight to spend time together, and fight to be intimate. The easy road to take would be to not talk or make time for each other. Or not to say you’re sorry or ask for forgiveness. Or not take the time to text during the day or set a date night. In order to be the Lover to my wife, I have to fight for her heart and fight for her time.

Fight for Your Kids: In the same way it is with your wife, you have to fight for your kids. I have five daughters and believe me in order to have a relationship with any of them I have to fight for their time. I have to fight for conversations with them. I have to fight to spend time with them. Sometimes this is fighting with technology because of the pull it has on them. The fighting can look as simple as leaving work early to go to their golf match, or attending their FFA banquet, or watching their flag football game. I have to fight for them and also be their protector as well. It is so much easier to take a back seat and just let them live their lives, but if you want a relationship with your kids you have to fight for them so you have the opportunity to Love them and be the protector of their souls.

Fight for Your Relationship with God: And last, in the same way God calls us to fight for our wives and fight for our kids; we have to fight for our relationship with God. Satan wants nothing more than to make us passive and convince us to give up when it comes to our life with Christ. We have to fight to talk to Jesus daily. We have to fight to listen to His voice. We have to fight to treat others the way Jesus would treat them. Instead of praying to him, we want to do things our own way and tell ourselves we don’t have the time. I know for me, even writing this blog post, I had to fight to make the time to let God speak through me what he wanted me to say. As Paul says in Romans 7:19, “I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.”

We have to fight for our relationship with Jesus, especially through the lies that Satan tells us.  Lies such as, “You are not good enough.” “Why would God still love you?” “Look at the things you have done in the past.” “You are broken.” This is where God’s Amazing Grace comes in and the promise found in Nehemiah 4:20 which says, “When you hear the blast of the trumpet, rush to wherever it is sounding. Then our God will fight for us!” How awesome and ironic as that! As we become more of a Fighter and fight for these things, we increase our capacity to Love because of God’s Grace and Him Fighting for us.

Final Thought: So I leave you with this final thought. You don’t have to choose between being a Lover or a Fighter. Instead you can choose to be both. As you Fight for your wife, your kids, and your relationship with God, He will increase your ability to be a Lover not only to your family but to your friends, your neighbors, and even your enemies because of His promise of Always Fighting for You!