Go West Young Man!

January 15th is my work anniversary date. So this week I celebrated my 29th anniversary with Hallmark Cards. It’s hard to believe that much time has gone by. Where did it all go?

As I reflected upon the past three decades (close enough) this week, I thought about my story and how I risked starting a new life in the Wild West of Kansas. It is a story of my Heavenly Father guiding me to a new land, my earthly father providing tough love, and a boy willing to go on an adventure to become the man he was intended to be.

Let me take you back to the fall of 1989. I was in my last semester at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. It was a time of great expectations as I would soon be finishing school in December and looking forward to a new job somewhere close to home.   Home was Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I had grown up there my entire life and had no reason to believe that my career would be somewhere else. I loved that city and still do to this day.

The story starts with a letter from the Career Placement Office at Miami University.   Hallmark Cards was coming to Oxford in October and they wanted interview me and 13 other candidates. I showed the letter to my three other roommates at the time and we all laughed. I said to them “What do they think I am an artist?” How naïve of me at the time to think that Hallmark only employed creative talent.

As I looked over the letter, I noticed that the second interview was in Kansas City, Missouri. I had never been out of the Eastern Time Zone in my life, so why not take the chance and interview. I might get a trip out west with the cowboys and Indians (a common thought back east).

The interview date came and went and by the grace of God, I was selected for a second interview in Kansas City during November. The trip to KC was wonderful. I interviewed in both the manufacturing facilities in Kansas City and Leavenworth. The people were wonderful and the company had values that I could be proud of.

In November, I received a job offer from Hallmark, but my place of employment would be in Topeka, Kansas.  I didn’t even interview in Topeka. That seemed strange, but it really didn’t matter anyway. It was a fun trip, but I was going to find a job in Pittsburgh.

I then came home over the Thanksgiving holiday. My father and I were sitting in our living room and he asked me about the job offer from Hallmark in which I needed to give them an answer in the next few days.  I said to him, “They want me to work in Topeka. I didn’t even interview there. Besides, I wouldn’t know a single soul in an 800 mile radius. There’s no chance I’m taking that job.”

My Dad then said “So if you do not take this job with Hallmark, where will you be living when you graduate in December.” I responded in a matter of fact tone “Well, I’ll be living right here with you Dad, looking for a job in Pittsburgh.” Then there was silence for a couple of minutes, almost an uncomfortable silence. My dad then spoke to me the words that changed the trajectory of my life. He said “I am sorry. You do not have a place to stay here.  You have a great opportunity to work for a company with a good reputation. If you don’t take this job with Hallmark, you will need to get your own apartment. I suggest going on an adventure out west. Meet new people and learn a new culture. SeYou can always come back home after two or three years and have it on your resume.”

Well, that was a shock. It almost felt at the time like a kick in the gut. My mother was completely appalled listening in the kitchen. Her son was being thrown to the street by mean ol’ Dad. That tough love, however, quickly gave me a new perspective. I immediately had a new attitude. Well, maybe I could make this happen and go on an adventure.

What my Dad was really saying was “I believe in you.   You have what it takes to go on this adventure. You will make new friends. You will succeed. You are the man.” It was tough love, but better yet, it was the blessing from my father that I always needed to hear. My Heavenly Father was speaking through my earthly father. I now know that these words were directly from the Lord above.

To this day, my Dad feels guilty about the direction he provided me on this day. Let’s get this straight. There is absolutely no reason for him to feel badly about this. It was exactly what I needed. It was the best thing he could have ever done for me. I didn’t need to be coddled. I needed to be called up as a man, to be the man the Lord intended me to be. He believed in me. That’s exactly what I needed to go West with the cowboys and Indians.

So I packed up everything I owned in my Honda Hatchback wagon and followed the sun to Topeka. My father gave me one spoon, one fork, and one knife for my new adventure and sent me on my way. It was time to grow up and be a man. I thank God often that my earthly father loved me so much that he would call me up in this manner.

At the time, I couldn’t see that my Heavenly Father was directing this adventure for my life, but it is so clear now that he had a hand in all of this. God was calling me, like Abraham, out of the land of Ur to go on a great adventure with Him. I am so thankful that he did. My life has been forever changed based on His leading.

I believe the Lord has blessed me abundantly for taking this risk. As a result, He has given me a beautiful and Godly wife, six children, great friends and a long-term career at Hallmark Cards. All glory goes to my Father in Heaven. He has given me many other adventures in my new home, but those are stories for another time.

So here are a few things that I’ve learned based upon God leading me to my new Promised Land:

  • Our Lord has a mission, plan and calling for every one of us.
  • This mission is a great adventure with Him.
  • We need to be faithful in what we cannot see and obedient in his direction for our lives.
  • This means giving up control of our lives to Him. Total surrender.
  • We need to pray for this mission on a daily basis. Ask Him to expand your impact, leadership, and ministry for His Kingdom.
  • If you do so, He will answer your prayers and you will experience the Glory of God in your life.
  • Your adventure with Him is not about you. It is about His Kingdom and bringing it forth to others.

Take the risk. Go on an adventure with God. He will not disappoint!

Rule and Subdue

Two weekends ago on Labor Day, my wife and I decided to go shopping in order to find outdoor fencing for our home. Unfortunately, we didn’t find what we wanted. However, along the way through the endless aisles of products, we found something that we did need. This time, it was a faucet for our first floor bathroom. The old faucet in our bathroom was very old, corroded, and would not line up correctly when shutting off the water. We agreed that it was time for a change.

So, we bought the new faucet and took it home. It was about 4:00pm in the afternoon and I decided that I would tackle this project, knowing full well in my mind that it would likely take less than an hour to remove the old fixtures and then install the new ones. That’s right, how hard could this be? I am not Mr. Handyman, but I surely could handle this easy project in a snap.

After reading the directions for installation (yes, I really did), removing all of the cleaning products from underneath the sink, turning off the water to my home, and getting my tools ready, I was prepared to whip this project into shape. The first thing that I noticed was how small my work area was underneath the sink. All the PVC piping, water lines, and the parts to the sink stopper were in my way and needed to be removed.  It was so tight that I could hardly maneuver my tools to un-install the old faucet. I banged around and tried various tools, but I wasn’t making much progress. This was taking longer than I expected. With all of the man-handling of the parts, I eventually broke a shut off valve and needed to make a trip to Home Depot.   After 30-40 minutes from the of purchase my new part, it was already 5:30pm and the old faucet wasn’t un-installed yet.

At this point I was getting frustrated, so I prayed a few times for perseverance. God didn’t answer me right away. I was reminder by my Father that he is a God of process. Some times change, improvement, or in this case the removal plumbing parts takes time. We often want instant results and answers, but He doesn’t work that way. God does not work like a microwave or Google. Learning to delay gratification is part of the maturation and character building process. This project was a good reminder of how He works within and through me.

Back to the story: After reaching out to God, the old faucet eventually started to slowly come apart. There were a few parts that just would not come free, so I turned to demolition mode to finally complete the de-installation process. It was now 6:00pm and I was ready to install the new faucet.

Fast forward to 8:00pm. I was still not completed with the project. Each installation step seemed to be taking me 2-3 tries to get it right. I was running very low on patience, but I knew God was with me every step of the way. I reminded myself not to rely solely on my abilities, but to give it over to the Lord.

Did I forget to mention that every 30 minutes, my son or my wife came by and asked “How’s it going?” I knew what they are thinking, but I was not quitting. This was a test of perseverance and God was fathering me through this entire process. I was not going to believe the lie that I can’t handle this.

Its 8:30pm now, 4.5 hours into this “easy” project, when my wife came by and asked me the dreaded question “Do you think we should call a plumber?” I said to her (something like) “Absolutely not. This is a project that I should be able to handle. This is about learning and growing into something that I need for my soul. Calling a plumber at this point would be emasculating. I need to be able to rule my domain.”   I don’t think she completely understood what I was saying, but it was important to me to finish this job and to learn from my mistakes. I would not become a quitter.

To be transparent, this project lasted another three days. At one point, we even had puddles in our basement. However, I discussed my plumbing problems with several friends and eventually solved the issue. I am pleased to report that the new faucet is working great without any leaks or problems.

So what does God have to say about this issue? Does he want me to call a plumber in the future? I don’t think so.

Genesis 1:28 says “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

In this verse, God gave Adam and Eve a job to complete, to rule and subdue over their domain (Creation). To rule and subdue means to have fierce mastery over something. God wants us to rule over and subdue the kingdoms that he has given us, not with an iron fist, but in a manner that will grow us up into the men and women he intended us to be.

Romans 5:3-4 says “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope”.

The Father is concerned with building our character. He is not so concerned with what job we have or what kind of car we drive. These types of trials, that require perseverance, grow our character and can be used as building blocks for bigger and even more difficult challenges to be faced in the future. Growing our character is a journey through many life events and if we always choose to take the easy route, then we miss out on the opportunity to receive His blessings.

God is also very much concerned with being in relationship with us. If we outsource the plumbing or other challenges, then someone else is ruling our kingdom and we miss out on the opportunity to be fathered by Him. Adam and Eve couldn’t call a plumber or someone else to rule and subdue Creation. They had something better, a close and personal relationship with the Father.

I recognize that we do not have the skills to tackle every problem and that some things must be handed over to the experts. However, let’s not make a habit of taking the path of least resistance when challenges arise. There is much to learn, character to build, and a relationship with the Lord to be experienced.   Don’t miss out on what He has planned for you!

Is Duty a Four Letter Word?

Let me start by saying I love Boy Scouts. I was fortunate to earn the rank of Eagle many, many years ago and more recently, I’ve had the joy (and pain) of serving as a cub scout den leader for an energetic bunch of boys (my son included) for three years and counting. While the Boy Scouts have had ups and downs in the past few years, they, along with the Girl Scouts, are among a handful of organizations, I’m glad to be able to say, who still acknowledge the God-breathed differences between male and female. In addition, unlike so many of the overscheduled and overstructured activities for kids today, scouting actually lets boys be boys. Like I said, I love Boy Scouts. Now for those that may not be familiar, one of the foundations of scouting is the Scout Oath which all scouts must learn and recite. Whether a brand new Tiger Cub in 1st grade or a seasoned Boy Scout in high school, most of your meetings begin by reciting (from memory) the Scout Oath. The Scout Oath begins, as it has since the first BSA Handbook in 1911, “On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God…”

The idea of duty, and in particular duty to God, has been interwoven into the fabric of scouting since its origin. Nevertheless, Boy Scouts, remarkably, doesn’t attempt to define what actually constitutes one’s duty to God. Instead, scouts are encouraged to discuss with their parents or faith leader what duty to God means. Thinking back to my own time as a cub and boy scout I don’t recall any specific discussions about my duty to God but 25 years later I still remember the Oath. So what exactly then is one’s duty to God?  Merriam-Webster defines duty as “a moral or legal obligation” and Dictionary.com defines duty as “something that one is expected or required to do...”

So we could say that duty is something that one is expected or required to do out of a moral or legal obligation.  Hmm, that sounds reasonable in the context of assigning household chores to my kids, or a military leader assigning responsibilities for defending one’s country, but can that understanding of duty define our relationship with God?  Having lived a lot of years of the Christian life on the hamster wheel of ‘try hard, try hard, fail’, ‘try hard try hard fail’; I have come to believe that duty alone should not define our relationship with God.

But don’t take my word for it.  Let’s see what God’s word has to say.  Surprisingly, there are not many instances of the word duty in scripture, and all but two of them are found in the Old Testament. The most notable passage in the Old Testament is found in Ecclesiastes when Solomon, nearing the end of that book of the Bible, says, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13 NIV)  Whoa.  Strong, resounding words from the wisest (sinful) man who ever lived.  Could I be wrong about duty as defining our relationship with God?  I needed to look further.

In the New Testament, there is really only one reference to duty as an obligation towards God and it’s found in a passage in Chapter 17 of the Book of Luke.  At the beginning of the chapter, Jesus has some harsh words for the disciples about sin and the seriousness of leading others into sin.  The disciples, understanding the weight of Jesus’ words, ask Jesus to, “Increase our faith!”  They had seen the many miracles Jesus performed and were hoping for a bit of (ZAP!) instantaneous spiritual growth.  Instead of describing for them how to increase their faith or doubling down with an additional weighty directive, in verses 7-10 Jesus instead offers the disciples a somewhat confusing parable about a servant and how the servant’s duty is to do what he is told to do.  Many biblical commentators interpret this passage to mean, at least in part, that obedience is our duty.  Sound familiar?

So what do we do with this?  Certainly, we are called to obey Jesus’ commands. Remember what Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (NIV)  However, it seems that too often the American church allows duty to be a viewed as a reasonable end point for one’s spiritual journey with God.  Actually, perhaps it’s more accurate to say that too often Christians (particularly men) within the American church settle on duty as a reasonable and acceptable foundation for their relationship with God.  Sadly, far too many guys today think duty is the only way they relate to God. An intellectual acknowledgment of the existence of our Creator has wrongfully taken the place of an intimate, personal relationship with one’s heavenly Father. Don’t think so? Take a look at the average worship service on any given Sunday morning and see how engaged the men are in worship. You might ask, “why would someone go to church if there is no personal relationship with Jesus?” One word – duty. Countless men (and women) go to church on Sunday morning simply because they believe it is “something that one is expected or required to do.”

The problem with this, of course, is that duty can only get you so far.  For starters, it can never make you right with God.  Thus, if all you have a is a sense of duty to God, and no relationship, each time you blow it you’re prone to go to shame, self-doubt and self-loathing – “Man, I [insert your sin of choice] again!  I really do suck!  why would God ever want to use me, bless me, love me?”

I suppose it’s not so much that the Boy Scouts or the American church are offering something wrong with regard to duty but rather that they are offering something incomplete.  The Christian life rooted in duty alone can be a horribly burdensome road.  I know, as I was stuck on duty as the foundation of my relationship with God for far too long on my walk with God.  During that time Jesus’ promise in Matthew 11:30 that “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” seemed laughable.  Really? That certainly didn’t seem available to me.

And this is where I bristle at the “duty to God” language in the Scout Oath. While I won’t go so far as to suggest changing an oath that has survived more than one hundred years, I find myself wanting to remind my son and the boys in my den that experiencing God through the lens of duty only is like watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy on a thirteen-inch, standard definition, black and white TV  (“Umm, what’s a black and white TV, Dad??”).   In contrast, experiencing God through the lens of a personal, intimate relationship is like watching the Battle at Helm’s Deep in IMAX 3D with a bottomless tub of buttered popcorn and your best friend in the recliner next to you.

Following Jesus was never meant to be some long, boring slog through life.  Jesus says in John 10:10, “I came that [you] may have life and have it abundantly.” (ESV) The abundant life cannot fit through the keyhole of duty alone.

Perhaps you’re asking, “What do I do if I’m stuck on duty?”  If you’re asking that question, you’ve already taken the first step – acknowledging where you’re at and that it’s not where you want to be.  One of the most beautiful things about our heavenly Father is that he is always, and I mean ALWAYS, willing to meet you wherever you are.  He is the ultimate boy scout – always prepared.

So, how is your relationship with Jesus today? Have you talked to Him lately? Ever? If the idea of having an actual, intimate relationship with the creator of the universe seems laughable to you, start there. Seriously. Tell Him how crazy you think it is that he would be interested in you…….BUT then give Him a chance to respond.  He’s dying for you to reach out to Him……..better put, He died so you could reach out to Him.  And He will respond, for He promises us in Matthew 7:8, “For everyone [yes, everyone means EVERYONE] who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

A Narrative Life

The narrative of my life contains many smaller stories, ones of trauma from abuse to stories of joy including my path to salvation. It is the intertwining of these stories that continue to develop my character, influence my faults, and drive my passions; all of this works together to make me who I am.

The narrative of my life changed Palm Sunday 2014, standing in a Sunday morning service. The congregation was singing “Great Are You Lord, ” and the Holy Spirit filled me and brought me to tears of a bawling baby. This moment is the point I share with people that the Lord hit me with a board and woke me from my slumber of passiveness. On this day, I turned from being a self-destructive and self-absorbed person to someone wanting to spread the word and wake up other passive men. At this point, I began to focus more on what the Father was speaking to me on a daily basis through his word and prayer.

It is amazing what God can do with you when you are not fighting to have your way or manipulating him into giving you your way. The redemption of Palm Sunday was a triumph, but it followed a day of a selfish choice just two years earlier. It was July 21, 2012, my birthday, and I was tired of being passed over for promotions, being used by others, and beyond frustrated with life. It is on this day I decided I was going to make myself successful, by not caring for people and using them to get what I wanted and ultimately to win. I was going to be the best, not allowing anyone to stand in my way, lest destruction. Remembering my father’s example, I decided I would out work them, and I would use my skill of reading people so that I could manipulate them. If there was nothing they could do for me, I would throw them aside to find the next person that could. There was no limit to what I would do to get there, the only thing that mattered was winning.

This way of life was working until I got used myself, and I had to face how I felt. When the house of cards you have built up by manipulating people and using them against each other starts to crumble, it can be earth shattering to your soul. At this moment you realize that all of the “victories” were empty and ultimately the person you were using was yourself. When this all went down, and I was sitting shocked and scared of how everything would work out. I realized I had nothing, no one to talk to, no one to share with, and I had to face a disastrous outcome alone. As the weekend approached I had decided by Monday, I had to find a way out. Do I run away and disappear or stand and face what I had coming to me. Thankfully at this time, Palm Sunday and the redemption of the Father came along.

God, The Father, is there for all of us, his love and compassion knows no bounds. He never identifies a point that you are not worth fighting for and he will always welcome you with open arms. I have played the part of a prodigal son, living a reckless life and on Palm Sunday 2014 my Holy Father welcomed me with open arms and helped add another chapter to the narrative of my life.