Thursday, January 11, 2018

I Protect What is Mine to Hold

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"All of the problems of our society today stem back to men not doing what they're created to do." Our group of thirty men gathered in a semi-circle considered the weight of these words. It was a holy and unlikely moment as a bunch of usually independent ragamuffins abandoned isolation for brotherhood. Suddenly we all understood the gravity of our role.

It seems that recent history has acted to remove the father from the home. Dad no longer works in the fields surrounding the house, living out virtues of creativity, problem solving, patience, and stick-to-it-ness, but he leaves early in the morning and returns exhausted in the evening. 

The home has become a sort of transit station where we all pass each other from our comings and goings. We no longer come and go together. Life comes at you fast and we trade our noble calling as men for an empty spin of work, entertainment, retirement, and death.

I am grounded in this moment by a slicing memory of my six year old daughter in my lap as I explained to her and Caleb that I was moving out of our home. My choice to abandon my promise as a husband and a father suddenly and destructively shattered lives as I saw the haunted vacancy behind my son's eyes and heard the sobs of my daughter. The promise of what would be our third child evaporated, traded for my selfish desires. 

My failure to be a real man had poisoned every life I touched. My darkened soul was taken in that moment and I fell into the abyss. 

Men, we were created to live out a sacred quest. We are called to challenge boys to become men. We are vital to a specific and unique role in society. We are to be kings, friends, lovers, and warriors... defending our families and our faith. We are created to give away our lives in exchange for these things that are of greater worth than our mere heartbeats.

But we die to our purpose when we become disillusioned by the whisperings of the one who comes to steal, kill, and destroy. Temporary pursuits and false escapes gain priority and life loses purpose. We forget that life is meant to be seized in the now, and each footstep is vital to those to whom we've pledged our sacred trust. 

We don't serve the God of yesterday... it is gone. We don't serve the God of tomorrow... it is only a mirage. We serve the Great I Am. Our quest is today. Forever is here. Ever After has come. Today is the promised moment.

The question is always... will I be the hero or the traitor?

It is time to claim our identity, men. I protect what is mine to hold. There is nothing more precious to me than my family. I thank God that He found me in a moment when I turned my face to Him. He restored my soul. He gave me back my home, my kids, and my wife. He set me on a path that led away from destruction and into a restored sacred path.

The problems of this world are not so complex. Men, we need to live purposeful lives. Lives of intention, days of purpose, words that build, and habits that give life. We need to be accountable to each other and challenge boys to become men. 

I remember the looks of hopelessness from across the room that day I told my family that I was abandoning them. I remember the tears of my mother, and the disappointment in the face of of my father. Those memories now lie in ruin, slain like a fallen dragon by the reality that is now a restored family that shares hope.

Men, there is great value in claiming the role for which we were created. Don't be just a provider, be a husband. Be a father. Be a mentor. Be a king in your life and be the hero in your story. Reclaim the meaning and rediscover the purpose in your today. 

This is how God created you to live. Protect what is yours to hold. Fight.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

"The Last Thing I Ever Wanted..."

The rain fell gently on that day, July the 23rd of 2017 and our cars lined the roadside, parked in yards and double-parked in driveways. What was happening there was something that reached forward from the mid 1960's and provided the foundation of friendships that held through good times and bad. The stories shared in this room could fill volumes. 

There was an unspoken and somehow holy sense that this would be the final moment like this that we'd all share on this side of eternity. We were gathered together in the home of Dee and Bea Clark, legacy members of Connection Point Church of God. 

Age and health had found Dee and Bea homebound on Sunday mornings. So, since they couldn't come to church, the church decided to go to them. I gathered twenty of the old gray Hymnals of the Church of God, Anderson Indiana, lugged them from my car, and passed them throughout the room. 

Something began to happen as the thirty-some voices rang out in that space, lifting spirits and carrying memories that out-shined the sadness of times lost. We had no script, but simply turned to whatever page number was called out by those gathered. In order we sang Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art, and He Touched Me.

As the closing words of the final hymn, "He touched me and made me whole" reverberated through the room, Dee began to speak. I took notes with tear-filled eyes and a shaky hand.
“In October 1962, 5 men were saved… and Beatrice, well I never saw her so happy.” 
“We sang, How Great Thou Art, Amazing Grace, He Touched Me.”
How is it that on this day, when we came to honor Dee and Bea, some fifty-five years later... we sang the exact same songs? How powerful is that? How great is our God? Dee continued.
“You could probably hear us for a mile. It was the best thing that ever happened to me… that revival at the church. Five men were saved that day, Art, Leo, Roger, John, and me. The last thing I ever wanted was to be a Christian.” 
I was struck to my core by his words... and then I understood his meaning. It was like the 23rd Psalm. "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want." 

The last time Dee remembered of ever wanting something he didn't have, was when he realized that he needed God in his life. He said, "Yes," and yielded his life to following Jesus, and it was the last thing he'd ever wanted. His life was lived in fulfillment and meaning.

In our society, we are impoverished, starving from fulfillment, languishing without meaning, while this man could speak of holding those two things in his hands for over fifty years. Suddenly I envied the man who was struggling to breath. I wanted to be like him and one day share my own stories of humility, faithfulness, and and thankfulness.
“Pastor pulled into our driveway on a Sunday. He asked me, ‘You’re lost aren’t you?” I said, “No, but you are!” 
[The room chuckled.]
“First few visits to church were during First Giving Campaign. [He paused between each sentence, pulling in long, shallow breaths around the oxygen tubes.] They weren’t ashamed to ask for money. [Again, affirmative nods and laughter.] 
And there was a cold wind blowing, [and] snow all over the place.” 
“Freda (the name might be wrong, I can't read my own notes) and Beulah came out to house… [pause for a breath] ...tried to talk me into a pledge. 
We were still living in the basement [while he was building the house with his own hands, above]. I wasn’t saved yet. 
We’re still giving it today. But, it was part of what I know to be right, supporting the church.” 
Bea leaned in and spoke up, "Tithe before taxes. Oh yes, tithe came before the taxes, just like his father did." Dee smiled and nodded before continuing.
“That visit was shortly before Bea and kids were attending. [Breath] 
Because of her and the kids, I went And then I met so many good people [Breath]. 
She didn’t try to make me. She was very gentle about it. And the people were so good there, so kind. People like Jerry, Cinda… [he named others that I didn't capture].”
“When I went to the alter, the pastor knew me pretty well. I think she (Bea) [had earlier] started talking to him. 
He talked about all the things that I should give up, and it was all the good stuff. And I did. And then, your billfold and your family… God first. 1962. He asked hard questions. They weren’t begging people to come into the Kingdom.”  
[It was on old] NW Avenue where the Christian Tabernacle is on West. [We met there from] 1944 to 1964. Dee has an alter from that church, given from the pastor at that time”
Suddenly there were some comments spoken from the room, something about Dee having new memories yet to make, and he replied,“Oh, tell them to hush. Another voice spoke out, "Dee, God's not ready for you yet."

Dee smiled, took a deep break and responded, “I’m at peace, I’m ready to go. Then he quoted Philippians 4:6-7, 
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
There is a powerful truth here that so many of us are blind to see. It is hidden from us by an enemy that seeks to steal, kill, and destroy. Dee understood it. All that we could ever have, need is met when we yield our everything to Jesus Christ. 

Want is destroyed. You no longer have to be begged to follow Jesus... there simply is nothing better. There is peace that shocks the world, there is friendship that spans across lifetimes, there is love and generosity that spill out to generations. 

Just days ago Pastor Alan and I stood alongside a bed where Dee was awaiting transfer home. He'd been struggling for some time and Bea was looking forward to being back at their house together. We stood at his side for a few moments and quietly made our way out of the room.

Just a couple of short hours later, Dee slipped into the promise of God. We expected him to go home that day, but the homecoming he received was far sweeter than we'd imagined. 

The lyrics of that old song returned to my mind:
Shackled by a heavy burden,                  'Neath a load of guilt and shame.              Then the hand of Jesus touched me,          And now I am no longer the same.
The last thing Dee ever wanted was to be a Christian. You did it my brother. You did it. Welcome home. I am so thankful to have met you, to be inspired by you, and to be loved by this family that you helped build. 

We carry on the torch my dear brother, and we'll gather again. Ain't none of us going to be lost on that great day!