Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Beast Within

There is a monster living in my house. He lurks in the shadows. His appetite is insatiable, his rage fierce. No matter how securely I lock him up, he always finds a way to escape. He attacks without warning, destroying everything he touches. My wife and children cower away from him, huddling in the corners to stay out of the reach of his terrible claws. I try to subdue him, but he cast me aside like an old glove. Helplessly I watch the fear in my family's eyes grow into terror. When at last he has tired of the carnage, I contain him once again. I hold my children close and tell them it's alright. I tell them that the creature has gone. But even as I do, I feel him breathing down my neck. I know it's only a matter of time before he breaks loose again. Now here is the scary part: that creature is me. I inspire that terror.

Now let me be clear, I have never and will never lay a violent hand on my wife or children. But is that really enough? Often emotional wounds take much longer to heal than physical wounds. They can be carried into adulthood. Is it a sin to be angry? The word of God says "be angry, and sin not". So anger is not the sin, but rather letting anger control your actions and words. God says to control your temper, and rationally I think that is reason enough. But in our moment of anger we are often not rational at all. So the next time you get angry, stop and think about the effect of unbridled actions before you tear your family to shreds. Allow me list a few of these effects and also offer a prayer that in your moments when the beast has cast your rationality aside, the Holy Spirit will bring them to your remembrance (John 4:26).

First let's talk about how it affects your children. As dads it is one of our duties to cultivate an atmosphere of safety and trust in our homes. If your kids are afraid of you, they can't trust you, and if they can't trust you, they don't feel safe. A temper tantrum can destroy your child's sense of security in an instant. Your children get their perception of God from how they perceive you. If you sin, and then ask for forgiveness, do you still feel guilty? Do you feel the need to ask for forgiveness over and over? In most cases like this, you will find that kind of treatment from your parents in your childhood. The bible says God is "slow to anger and abundant in mercy". So we should be also.

Secondly, if you are like us, you try to demonstrate honesty to your children. In our house we do not tell our kids that Santa Clause is real. Or the Easter bunny, or the tooth fairy, or anything like them. Why? There are several reasons, most of which I will not go into here. For our present purposes I need only mention one: honesty. I want my kids to grow up knowing that we never lied to them. Especially when the consider the things we told them about Christianity. Now let us follow this logic through using a example that I specifically struggle with. In a moment of anger I yell at my son, "What is wrong with you!?" he then thinks, "Dad said he would never lie to me, now he is asking what is wrong with me. There must really be something wrong with me." If this seed thought is allowed to take root, it can lead to a lifetime of emotional disfunction. Starting with escapism, a desire to win the approval of their peers, and introversion. If not addressed, it can lead to self destructive behaviors, eating disorders, depression, self injury, and ultimately suicide. Now we began to see what the scriptures mean when they say "Death and life are in the power of the tongue." And of course, let us not forget imitation. Behavior, be it good or bad, trickles downward. Children who are the victims of anger will begin to display the same behaviors towards their mother, siblings, friends at school and church, and the end, their own children.

Now, I am no child psychologist, but based on what I have learned from child training experts and my own experience, it seems to me that children have several basic needs from their fathers. Among those needs, boys crave their fathers approval, and girls, his affection. If we are constantly denying them these things in our anger, they will seek it elsewhere. The natural end of this is obvious.

I would briefly like to mention some other effects of uncontrolled anger. In marriage it can lead to many obvious problems: resentment, reciprocated anger, depression, disunity, emotional and physical infidelity, and of course, divorce. However your family is not the only area it can effect. Consider the people who have lost their jobs because they yelled at their boss, or the man who burned down his house in a fit of rage, or the people who have lost friends, ended up in jail, or even lost their life because they couldn't control their temper. Anger destroys everything in it's path and leaves you in the end a bitter, disillusioned, and lonely man.

Admittedly these are mostly worst case scenarios. And that's really the point. We clean a cut before it gets infected. If you wait to call the fire department until your house is fully engulfed in flame, it will be of little use. If you do get the fire put out, the damage will be unrecoverable.

In my first blog posts I told you that I am not perfect, nor do I perfectly practice the things I teach. This is no exception. In fact in this area I am, as Paul said of himself, the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). I never wanted to say "Look, try to be like me", but to say "Let's walk together toward Christ". I pray that God will help all of us with our anger, and may the words of this post be the reminder we need to extinguish the flames so we may never have to watch our family burn to the ground because of the very man that is charged with their protection.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

H. O. H.

This week marks the end of another season of the reality show Big Brother. In case you are not familiar with this show, let me give you a brief synopsis: It is basically a 3 month power struggle between a handful of people or "house guests" locked in a house, away from the real world, for a half million dollar final prize. Each week, they compete to become "Head of Household" or "H.O.H.". The H.O.H. then chooses 2 people to nominate for eviction, they have another competition to win the golden "Power of Veto" or "POV" which gives them the power to un-nominate themselves (if they have been nominated) or someone else. Then the house guests vote on who should leave, that person leaves, and the process starts over again. The thing I find interesting is this: In this game, every body wants to be the head of household, and everything it entails. However in the real world, nobody wants to accept the responsibilities of that position, and those who desire it only do so for the inherent power that comes with the position. The truth is the term head of household has gotten so twisted, we no longer even know what it really means. Let's see if we can figure this out.

Paul says in Ephesians 5:23 "For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church.". This tells us we should lead our house in the same way that Jesus leads the church. Well, how did Jesus lead? We will examine that in a moment, but for know I would like to pose a more general question: How can anyone lead? Lead is defined like this "to go before or with to show the way". If we have people under our watch, or following us, they will only know where to go by watching us, and following in our steps. Like I tell my son, "I do not try to be a good father just so you can survive to adulthood, I try to be a good father so that you will grow up to be a good father."

So how did Jesus lead? He lead by example (Matthew 6:9-13, John 13:1-17). The disciples learned how to live Christ like by watching Christ live. So it is with our families. There is no better way to raise a child of God than to let them see you being a man of God.

So what exactly is our responsibility to our wife and kids? I'm glad you asked. Allow me a moment of catharsis before we move on. You need to understand exactly what God expects of you if you have a wife and child. There are far to many children growing up without involved fathers for this issue to go un-addressed. If you do not want to accept the responsibilities that come with having children, don't have sex. It's as easy as that. If you think you can be sexually active, get a girl pregnant, and simply walk away with no strings attached, you are a like a little boy on the level with the child who finds and wields his father's handgun as a "fun toy". If this is you, you are free to go. I have nothing else to say to you, although I would love to give you a hard punch in the gut. Fortunately reality will do that for me. Now, turning to the men who are left. We are charged with 3 primary positions:

1. Protector
This one is very basic, but it is often misinterpreted. As we have discussed previously, this is not limited only to physical protection. I would bet most everyone reading this has locks on their doors, and a weapon of some sort in your house. You may even have a security system with motion sensors, camera's, and all the bells and whistles. These are all good things, but not one of them can deflect an attack of the devil. As men we know that if someone breaks into our house, it is us who must take the assailant on, and even give our life fighting to keep our family safe. Should our houses not be equally fortified against spiritual attacks? The bible tells us our enemy is like "a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour." Notice he may not devour just anyone. Only those who placed themselves within his reach. I encourage you to make your home a spiritual safe house, as well as keeping it safe from physical enemies.

2. Provider
This one is easy to describe, but can be difficult to execute. As husbands and fathers it is our job to work. You can't be afraid to work hard, or your family will pay the price. 1 Timothy 5:8 says "But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." That seems inescapably clear to me. You must do what it takes to provide a life for your family. Period.

Most men would agree about the first 2 points, but I'm afraid this is where most men drop the ball. If I asked you who should be the primary spiritual influence on your family, most of you would probably say your pastor or perhaps children's pastor. Absolutely not. It's you. You must make sure you have chosen a church that is teaching biblical truths. You must make sure your family attends, even when the pastor is on vacation. You must make sure you are learning so that you may turn and impart that wisdom into your family. Can they learn from the pastor and children's pastor? Of course, and they should. But if you take them to a church were the are teaching false doctrines, you are accountable to God for that.

As you can see, being the head of your household is not a power trip. Now, don't misunderstand me, in training our children we must sometimes tell them what to do. However, it is not a license to simply bark orders at them and then sit back and do nothing to help, but a responsibility to love and lead by example. It is the high calling to the ultimate life of humility and sacrifice. And what a blessed life it is! I urge you to take your job as husband and father seriously. It is the most important title you will ever hold.


Saturday, August 6, 2011

The things that shaped me - Part 1

The day my daughter (almost) died.

I remember it like it was yesterday. Standing in the triage room at BSA hospital on a Sunday night as the doctor explained that my 6 month old daughter needed to be admitted. She had a urinary tract infection that had spread throughout her entire body. She was also severely dehydrated. The next five days were to be some of the hardest in my life. You never know how much you care about someone until you are looking at loosing them. As they lead us into the room that she would be staying in, the uncertainty was almost to much to take. I will never forget seeing the steel cage that they called a crib for the first time. I felt like I was living out a scene from the movie "Saw". I remember being speechless when they asked if we wanted her to be an organ donor if she didn't make it. But the thing I remember above anything else is the way God reached down in our greatest moment of despair and literally saved her life.

It was late Monday night when the nightmare reached its worst point. Her temperature had been over 104 degrees several times over the course of the last few days. We had given her cool baths and Tylenol and had managed to tame it each time. But now the problem was reversed. My wife held her close to her body and she was wrapped in several warm blankets fresh out of the dryer. But despite this her temperature was at 95 degrees and dropping. The reality started sinking in that I was very possibly watching her die. After taking her temperature and seeing this number, the nurse told us that they were going to start preparing the ICU. As she walked out of the room, our current children's pastor walked in. We had called him a few minutes before to see if he could pray for us over the phone, but instead (even though it was 11pm and he was on his way home when we called) he insisted on coming to the hospital. He started talking about how mad he was at the devil for messing with God's people. This statement blew my mind. Growing up in church you always hear that when bad things happen, God must have a reason for doing it to you. I never considered that maybe, just maybe, God isn't the one doing the bad things to you at all! As we listened with a lump in our throats he claimed a promise over her that neither of us would dare to hope for. As he told us "She will live and not die" (Psalms 118:17) I began to sob. Then he prayed a prayer for her full of confidence and scriptural promises about healing. He prayed for strength for me and my wife, and he ended with Jeremiah 29:11. As he turned to leave, the nurse returned to check her temperature one more time before they moved her to the ICU. We could barely believe it when we saw the reading on the thermometer: 99.2.

For the next 4 days it was an uphill battle, until we finally left the hospital that Friday afternoon. But I believe the hold of the enemy on her that almost claimed her life was beaten that night. She will turn 5 this November. She is healthy, happy, and the light of my life. Every time I look at her I'm reminded that, no matter how dark things look, there is no darkness that cannot be expelled by the power of God.

I learned a lot of things from this experience, but I would briefly like to share just two of them.

1. The bible says "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge" (Hosea 4:6). As men, especially fathers, one of our primary responsibilities is to protect our family. We all know if a physical enemy were to assail our wife or children, it would be our job to protect them at all costs, even your own life. However this is not the only danger. There are spiritual forces mounted against your family that are subtler, put infinitely more potent. Like many other Christians, I thought that, simply put, God was going to kill her and I just had to deal with that. The bible says very plainly that this is not how God operates. Sickness and death are from the devil, but God gives us healing and life (John 10:10, Acts 10:38). But I had all but given up. In my lack of knowledge I stood by and did nothing as I watched her life slip away. After this experience I purposed to gain all the knowledge I could for the protection of my family. Never again would Satan be allowed to have the upper hand over my family. Since then I have done extensive study into spiritual warfare, healing, and our authority over demonic forces, and I would encourage all men (especially fathers) to do the same.

2. Life is precious. In that moment when I thought I was watching her die, I realized I didn't really know my daughter at all. I waited my entire adult life to have a daughter, and yet at six months old I had never really spent any quality time with her. I had sat around waiting for her to "develop a personality", and now I had lost my chance. Even more than that, I didn't know my 2 year old son any better. Now, almost 4 years later, I take every opportunity I can find to spend time with my kids. Even running down to the convenience store to grab a bag of ice, I rotate taking one of the three of them with me for some one on one time. Anything they become interested in, I take the time to learn about it. I tell them regularly how special they are to me. Sadly, it took my baby girl almost dying to realize I should have been doing these things all along.

People have often asked why we didn't take any pictures while she was in the hospital and we usually answer with something like, "Oh, we just didn't think about." However, the truth is that I did not then nor have I ever since wanted to recall the horror that filled the majority of those five days. And the good things that took place, the things that shaped me, I will never forget nor could any photo capture. I know without doubt that her life was not spared for no reason. She will grow to be an amazing woman of God and live out the words of Jeremiah 29:11 with style and grace. So here's to my amazing Lexi. The keeper of my heart, daughter of the king, and my constant joy in a cynical world.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Real Men

On the heels of Father's day seems to me the perfect time to launch a blog about manliness. I understand that this is a somewhat risky move seeing as how a lot of men do not like to be told what to do or how to live. Let me assure you I do not claim to know everything, or even much. I likewise do not claim to be perfect, or to perfectly put into practice everything I will talk about. The subjects we discuss will simply be things I have learned from my own experience, or things I have been taught by Christ through the word or through reliable pastors or teachers. I may not be able to speak with authority on every subject, but the word of God can, and from it I draw all my insight.

Now, in order to effectively strive to become a real man, we must be agreed about what a "real man" is. I have heard many definitions of what a real man is, ranging from "Real men watch sports" to "Real men watch Gilmore Girls" or from "Real men love Jesus" to "Real men don't need help from anyone". With the exception of the one about Jesus, these seem to me very shallow definitions. The real answer must be, as all mature matters are, much more complicated. When planning this initial post, I found myself trying to find a way to sum up everything you need to know about manliness into one statement or paragraph. If it were that easy, this blog would be of little use. I have however come up with a few basics that we can start with. I must apologize for this post being somewhat long and involved. Not every post will be like this. However, this being the foundation on which our discussions will be based, we must take the time needed to make it firm.

Firstly, I can not emphasize enough, being a "real man" has nothing to do with your hobbies. There are men who play sports well, but because of the way they treat their wife or kids, they read lower than Richard Simmons on the Manliness-ometer. It is true that competitive hobbies (sports, hunting) are a common side effect of many of the good qualities we must at times encourage in ourselves, but they alone do not make you a man.

As a starting point, I think there are two indispensable qualities that we as men must posses. 1 Corinthians 16:13 says at plainly: "Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong." They are courage and strength. These virtues are the cornerstones that make all other qualities and duties possible. Let us take a closer look.

Be courageous.
C. S. Lewis calls courage a cardinal or "pivotal" virtue. In this exert from Mere Christianity, he defines courage, or what he calls fortitude: "Fortitude includes both kinds of courage—the kind that faces danger as well as the kind that ‘sticks it’ under pain. ‘Guts’ is perhaps the nearest modern English. You will notice, of course, that you cannot practise any of the other virtues very long without bringing this one into play." In another of his works he writes, "Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point." What more can we say? Courage goes beyond checking the house at night when your wife hears a noise. When looking up 1 Corinthians 16:13, I found a footnote on "Be courageous." that said "Greek Be men." It seems manliness and courage are almost interchangeable terms. This required further digging. The Greek word here is andrízomai which is defined like this, "'to act as a man,' i.e. as a full-grown, mature man; to be responsible and courageous by taking the initiatives God reveals through faith" To simplify it further still, I always tell my son, "Having courage doesn't mean you are never scared, it means you do what is right even if you are scared"

Be strong.
I am using the word strength in a looser way here, meaning ability to get things done. 2 Timothy 1:7 says "For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power [strength], love, and self-discipline." Power here is defined "ability to perform" or "power to achieve by applying the Lord's inherent abilities." Not only do we need to rely on the strength of God (1 Chronicles 16:11), but we need to rely on God to give us the strength to do what needs to be done (Philippians 4:13). I also find it interesting that self-discipline (or a sound mind as it is worded in some translations) is defined as "aptly acting out God's will by doing what He calls sound reasoning" This is similar to the above definition of courage. You can see how these two virtues work together: Strength will do you no good if you do not have the courage to do what is needed; Courage to do what is right is of no avail unless you have the strength to bring it to pass. So 2 Timothy 1:7 could be paraphrased like this, "God has given us courage to do what is right, and the ability to get it done."

This is just beginning of what I think makes a "Real man" as you will see. I should also mention that I will occasionally speak on marriage or parenting and I understand that not everyone is married or has kids. However every man needs the same qualities it takes to be a great husband or father. Let's get started.