Two Quick, Simple Tips That Will Add Romance to Your Marriage

Longtime friends are the best and West Soward is a long time friend of mine. Besides two fantastic adult sons, West has a fantastic marriage! I can honestly say that he and his wife are in love AND like one another – and both are not always present in a marriage! With so many couples failing these days, it seemed wise to hear from a guy who has held senior level positions with international business corporations, served as a church leader in both rural and urban churches, has created an enviable relationship with both his sons and in the process kept his marriage alive and fun. So, I asked, “West, what are a few, quick, simple, practical things you would advise guys to do to keep the romance in their marriage?” He immediately responded with these two great actionable ideas.

 

  • Seems that most women like the thoughtful, more than they enjoy the expensive–Simply swing by the grocery store on your way home from work and pick up a bouquet of flowers. At our local grocery store for $5 to $10 you can buy a simple bouquet of flowers.  You really don’t need a card or note, but if you take the time to write a note on a notepad, just telling her that you were thinking of her, it will add to the gift.
  • Just being together, enjoying the touch of each other, and spending time with her will help keep the romance alive — As soon as you get home, give her a kiss, and ask her to go on a walk together. If the answer is yes, quickly change into walking attire and head outside.  You don’t have to talk the whole time, but you should hold her hand, or lock your pinkies together, and my guess is that YOU will enjoy walking, talking, and just being together, as much as she will.

 

I think most men like to keep things simple, to the point, and practical when it comes to suggestions and West gave us them all. Simply put he is saying, “Gentlemen, be thoughtful and spend time with your wife to encourage and feed the romance in your marriage.” But his ideas are worthless unless YOU put them into practice. So, right now (Yes, right now) take 60 seconds to think of what you’ll do and when. (Really take the sixty-seconds and do it!) Then put your ideas into action within the next 24 hours. Then help the rest of us by sharing in the comments what you did and what happened. Thanks to longtime friends with great marriages and those of you who share, we can all do a better job and enrich each other. Ready, set, go!

 

 

 

 

Bio: West Soward is Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of  Accounting for Preferred Pump & Equipment; He has a great relationship with his two grown sons and is married to a praying wife, Lori.

Three Things That College Age Men Desperately Need

The world that we live in today is a minefield for men. We are bombarded daily with temptations and many men do not have the equipment that they need to fight back. The result of this has led to the destruction of the definition of a man, but there are three things that can end this. The first key to winning our struggle is having an identity as men. Our culture in particular does not really know what a man is, so it becomes difficult for many young men to know how to act.  Another tool we lack is a strong community of men to come together when we need each other. Many men believe they can do it on their own when they simply can’t. Last, but certainly not least, is a purpose. Without righteous purpose a man can easily be drawn to other things.

Many cultures today around the world have a rite of passage that their boys must complete to be seen as a man. In the amazon of Brazil, young boys belonging to the Sateré-Mawé tribe must wear a glove filled with bullet ants and withstand the pain without flinching several times to prove they are ready for manhood. This shows the rest of the tribe that this boy is now a man while simultaneously teaches them the gravity of manhood. Granted, not all rites of passage require pain to prove you are a man. In America, our boys go without a rite of passage. No one really knows what a man is and often times these boys are taught the wrong meaning of manhood or they are left to decide it for themselves. The aftermath of this is generations of men who are both self-seeking and ambitious or watered down and timid that do not live up to their identity in Christ.

Even if a man knows who he is in Christ, he still needs a community of other men to be there with him through the struggles. In Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 it says, “two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

When we wage spiritual warfare we do it together. If you try to fight by yourself then you are now fighting the enemy on his ground and not your own. You fight together by praying together and telling your brothers about what you are struggling with. Otherwise, how will they ever know to help you? Also, the people around you affect who you are just by spending time with you. I notice a difference in my language and thoughts in the past when I hung out with people who are not concerned with my spiritual health.

The last thing, and possibly the most important, is a righteous purpose. A battle that is worth fighting. So many men today do not have something in their lives that gives them purpose. A lack of this has led many men astray. Some chase wealth and power for their own selfish gain. Others waste their time on pleasure in the form of women or abusing substances. When a man does find something that is worth the fight, it can shape who he is. I struggled for a long time to find purpose bigger than myself. Eventually, I found it in Christ. I found a God that transformed people’s lives by healing and redeeming them. I knew that my purpose in Christ would never be finished. It was much more than a job or career. The purpose that Christ gave me is stitched into the fabric of my being and I have never been more joyful to serve.

Being a young man today can feel like you are David facing down Goliath. It feels like the odds are against you in your spiritual life, but God can offer you so much more. The three things that college age men are lacking today can make the difference. We need to know what our identity is as men, we need a community of other brothers in Christ to help us through, and we need righteous purpose. These are just some of what God can offer you that will change your life as a man.

 

Bio: Kiley Curtis is the men’s intern at the Raiders for Christ campus ministry at Middle Tennessee State University. His primary role is shepherding the men. “College ministry is my passion because this is the biggest transition in many people’s entire life and it is a spiritual battleground.”

Where Can The Fatherless Turn? 3 Ways to Get Guidance when Dad isn’t There

Where can the fatherless turn? Two young guys in a dimly lit building with jeans hanging low and jackets oversized wore masks and brandished pistols. “We ain’t got to fatha’s round here so we just go be our own fatha’s.” Fatherlessness is at the root of almost all societal ills.  When a father is absent, boys become their own fathers. Guns and bravado replace confidence and character.

 

Really, where can these guys find a man who can guide them to anything wholesome? Not every man’s scenario is this bad, still many missed out on Dad’s attention or emotional engagement. Too many dads were either harsh, expected too much, or left their boys to figure it out for themselves.  There is a lot of father-failure out there, but boys aren’t doomed. A mentor or role model can make up a LOT of ground. Mentors rescued me from the failures of my alcoholic dad.

 

Dillard Wells was an old-school butcher who carved entire sides of beef into steaks and roasts. One evening after church he asked, “Hey, Steve. You want a job? I can get you on at our shop if you’d like to do clean up for us.” He taught me how to clean the machines and prepare meats, but he gave me more. Though he never gave me a single lecture, his life he showed me how to be honest, be hospitable, and honor God on the job, and he communicated value to me through the investment of his presence.

 

I thought Mr. Bradbury was sooooo cool! He moved slowly, spoke softly, laughed genuinely, and served behind the scenes. His hands were calloused, skilled, and manly — I loved to watch him work with them. To this day, I work with my hands and I love it when my kids note, “Dad you have manly hands.” I have also realized that I delight in slipping a tip under the corner of my napkin and exiting before the waiter returns to clear the table; or leaving someone a cash gift and a note without signing it. Of course, Mr. Bradbury served quietly.

 

As influential as these men were, two others informed and shaped my life more – Jesus and his father.  The attitudes and actions I first saw in them as I grew up are at the center of my adult life. The private hours I spent in God’s Word and in prayer with them powerfully shaped my thoughts and attitudes. There are no perfect fathers, and there are no perfect mentors, but there is a perfect savior and a young man who will watch and learn from him will find both confidence and character.

 

Finding a good role model is very challenging, but I am confident that God can supply anyone with a mentor to guide his development into a confident and successful man. Here are three things anyone can do to find a mentor — even in the inner-city of Chicago.

 

  • Read the Proverbs. — Dr. Terry Smith, who grew up in the poorest sections of Memphis, says, “Proverbs became my father.” He recommends reading one chapter of Proverbs a day in keeping with the date of the month. Chapter one is read on the 1st; chapter two on the 2nd; chapter twenty-three on the 23rd, etc. If an entire chapter is a bit challenging for you, read only a few verses from the chapter of the day. The advice of the wisest father ever is available to benefit us who need a Dad who will talk us through life.
  • Watch Jesus – Jesus said, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” There is no better father than the Heavenly One, and Jesus’ life displays what that means. Read the Gospels in the Bible and watch Jesus. How does he react to criticism? What kind of folks did he befriend? He talked about money, women, work, bullies, and eternity. Every aspect of life from morality to immortality are addressed in his teachings, his lectures, and by his life. Jesus lives out down-to-earth manliness and the best versions of it. He invites, “Come, learn from me.”
  • Ask for one – God hears prayer. Him for a wise mentor and watch. Look for a man whose wife is joyful, children are obedient, content, and have true respect and trust (not fear or disgust) for their father. Watch for a man who is strong in his convictions, but humble in applying them. Look for a man who can be content even when he has little. Start daily asking God to put such a man in your path and when you find him, ask him to helping you know how to be a husband, father, and man. If he is the quality man you think that he is, he’ll welcome the opportunity and be like a father to you.

If you are looking for a mentor or would like to serve as one, check out www.fathersinthefield.com  

Coffee and Mr. Carr: The Value of a Mentor

Mr. Carr was dying.

 

“Come with me to visit him,” the preacher invited.

 

Sitting in his overly warm living room, the ailing gentleman rallied to sit upright in his recliner and pajamas. I was twenty-three. He was eighty-three.

 

“Mr. Carr,” I had a flash of genius, “Looking back at when you were my age, what bit of advice would you now have for yourself?”

 

He thought, rifling through four decades of experiences, decisions, mistakes and regrets, then clearing his throat spoke weakly but clearly, “Keep it simple, Steve. Keep it simple.”

 

Learning from the experienced is a golden commodity, but for many men, wise sages like Mr. Carr aren’t available. Not everyone has a mentor or a wise father they can turn to with their concerns and questions about stuff they are going through like raising kids, leading a family, dealing with work, and making ends meet. Still, wouldn’t it be nice if someone who had successfully navigated his life would offer the wealth of his learning’s to you?

 

I don’t recall my dad and I having deep or meaningful ‘man-to-man’ talks. I lost him when I was only 17, and his addictions kept him preoccupied or away from our home most of my earliest years. To be fair, his father hadn’t done any better for him. The two things Dad did teach me, and for which I am VERY grateful, was to work hard and to have compassion for the underdog. Everything else had to be filled in by outsiders. Deep insights for life from mentors like Mr. Carr were rich and welcome contributions to me.

 

Things were different with my children. I often took my kids aside and had little talks with them. When they were very young, maybe under 6 or 8, I preferred to sit in a recliner (I wonder why?). Cuddling them in my lap created a cozy and private room. From that tiny space, I had a stage and an audience of one. With their full attention, I used my words to shape their hearts and their futures. “I’m proud of you Hannah. Today, I saw you help Mom take care of Joshua. You’re a good helper and you’re going to be a great mom someday, you know that?”

 

These days, my children have their own children, but we still have private talks. I sometimes call, though I prefer face to face. Often, I invite them to meet me for coffee, or breakfast at a restaurant. When they are home visiting, I ask them to sit with me out on the porch swing, “Hey, let’s go have a seat outside and visit a minute.” I still have that platform with them and my audience still listens. “Son, you’re doing a great job with your kids, and I’m proud of you for how sweetly you speak to your wife.  Life with little ones can be a really tough season when sleep is broken, but it’ll pass. Things never stay the same. They will grow out of that diaper stage and you’ll sleep through the night (or most of it) again. Hang in there. Keep your marriage first and stay prayerful.”

 

Having someone come alongside who can relate to our situation or help us know if we’re even on the right track is the energy we need sometimes. A person we trust to whom we can bring our questions and concerns can put us back in the fight for another day. I had a few of those men cross my path as a younger man, and I remember the lessons they taught me even to this day. They shaped my life.

 

Fathers, mentors, and older gentlemen with wisdom and humility are worth more than degrees and certificates when it comes to the practical living of life. This is why I’ve decided to take the blog at manabouts.com in that direction. I’ll write, my sons will write, and we will invite others to write who will bring the rich and condensed lessons of their lives to our readers. If you value hearing from men who’ve walked your path or other guys in your shoes too, then you are invited to bring your coffee, come out on the porch and grab a seat with us a few minutes each a week. We’ll cheer for you, listen to you, and give you our best. And I promise — thanks to Mr. Carr –to make sure we keep it simple.

The Art of the Deal with Boys

President Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal is his take on how to negotiate a favorable business outcome. One of his key points is to “Aim High.” Here is what he said about that point:

 

“I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing to get what I’m after. Sometimes I settle for less than I sought, but in most cases, I still end up with what I want.”

 

Opinions about the President are often divisive, but I believe this is a point we can unite around when it comes to dealing with boys. Guys like to think of themselves as “the best,” and it is self-evident in so many arenas. What athletic team aims to be last, or third, or even second? Or how many boys prefer to be their sweetheart’s second choice? It’s this be-the-best-drive that enables coaches to push boys to lift more weight, run faster, jump higher, and try harder. Maybe you recall the slogan, “Be all that you can be, in the Army!” It was an effective recruiting slogan because it pulled at the hearts of young men looking to become or be a part of the best.

 

This is such a well-known marketing truth that seems almost impossible that so many families are ignorant of it. Even more unbelievable is how much less than the best many parents expect from their sons. Their own slogans reveal their low expectations. For example, “Boys will be boys,” is a slogan from Hell; “Teens will rebel,” is its brother; “A boy has to sow his wild oats,” is the father of them both! These statements just aren’t true. They only become reality when a parent aims too low or stops pushing for the best in a boy. For the many things I disagree with in Trump’s book, I embrace this one: “You’ve got to aim high.”

 

How high is high? By his twelfth birthday, Jesus had memorized the entire Torah! That’s like one of our kids memorizing all the New Testament books from Matthew to Hebrews. To become a Rabbi, the Apostle Paul had to have memorized Genesis through Deuteronomy by age twelve also.  Many Jewish children still memorize the Torah by age twelve even today. How do you imagine those kids came to memorize that much? I’ll tell you, and it is simple. Someone expected them to do it, so they did it. What are the odds those same Jewish kids would have memorized all those verses if their parents had tossed them a play station and left them to do whatever they wanted to do? Kids will settle for less if they are expected to do less.

 

A parent’s high view of their children and their belief in their potential for integrity gives their children a powerful boost. I believe we could say that a parent’s expectations inform (and thus form) their child’s identity. Sadly, I hear such defaming expectations placed on kids, by their parents, all the time. Their words make me want to scream, “NO! Stop saying that around your kids! You’re ruining them!” My skin crawls when parents suggest and then reinforce such terribly low expectations in their kids. Their lowered standards cross a spectrum as broad as what they eat, “Oh, he won’t eat vegetables;” to their entertainment habits, “He plays videos all time. I think he’s addicted;” to their disgraceful attitudes, “He’s just a rebel. I can’t do anything with him.” Wow! How would you respond if your father said to your face, “You are a rebel. I can’t do anything with or for you to change that. You’re destined to be rebellious!” Kids hear AND BELIEVE what their parents say. “He won’t eat vegetables” is a statement of fact to a kid. A parent who doesn’t, or won’t, push for a higher standard is failing their child. We must expect more and think much more highly of our children’s potential, especially when it comes to moral matters.

 

In large part, I believe many boys have wandered into pornography and other sexual traps because no father or mentor ever invited them to a nobler standard. Most young men have never even heard it suggested that they should (or could) avoid pornography. Most Americans would even go so far as to consider it normal. When a father’s expectation is that his son will “figure it out for himself,” then he will – the hard way.

 

Rebellion, sexual activity, dishonesty, and emotional distance from parents don’t have to be a part of a boy’s experience. From the time they were small, I expected my sons to tell me the truth. As a result, they’ve been truthful with me, even when it hurt. As an example, once one of my sons came to me, “Dad, I need to tell you something.” I listened as he revealed he’d been on a porn site. It was a difficult discussion for us both, but he was repentant and I was supported his repentance. So after a long discussion about porn, and the dangers and fallout of it all, I said, “Son, I trust that you are a person of truth. We have always been honest with one another. That is very, very important. So, I’m asking you now, “If you ever view it again, will you tell me?’” He agreed he would. You might expect that he would NEVER tell me if he was again guilty, but the power of aiming high is powerful. By prefacing my statement with a high view of him as trustworthy, I safeguarded the integrity of our relationship, even if he failed at resisting porn. And you know what? A few years later he came to me in tears. “Dad, I did it again. I’m so sorry.” We worked through it again. I congratulated him on his integrity and honesty. “I know this was tough to confess son, but I’m so very proud of you for keeping your commitment and being honest.” He has never fallen again. Parents can empower their kids to achieve great things. Aiming low communicates a low opinion. I know mine are capable of failure, but I also believe they are capable of a very high degree of success, and I empower them to be successful by how I speak to and about them.

 

As another example, a lot of kids think virginity is a joke or odd. These days, many parents believe it is expecting too much of their kids to be sexually controlled. Aren’t “these days” just like days past – except for different EXPECTATIONS? Schools, government, and parents (even ‘Christian’ parents) buy their thirteen-year-old birth control pills and plead, “Don’t get pregnant.” That is so egregiously twisted and unfair to these kids. In fact, it is evil. We’re plainly telling our kids, “I think so lowly of you that I know you are not going to be able to control yourself, so take these to prevent a pregnancy.” Why not invite them to a higher plain? Call your sons and daughters to virginity until marriage. Even if you weren’t controlled in your youth, that doesn’t doom them to follow your steps. Help them avoid your pitfalls! I called each of my kids to a standard of purity and they ALL reached it. Aim high and empower your boys to reach high. This is the art of dealing with boys. It is how a parent or a mentor can help them successfully negotiate life adolescence and life.

Introducing Ray and Kay — The Greatest in the Kingdom

Several years ago a man I’ll call Ray, attended our church. Ray had a friend named Bart. Bart was a 3-inch plastic pilot who flew a Lego spacecraft. His co-pilot was a white Lego cat. Ray, Bart, and the cat were inseparable. Whenever I saw Ray, I’d greet him and he’d then remind me, “Say Hi to Bart.” I’d obligingly greet Bart the Pilot but never the cat, because everyone knows that plastic Lego cats cannot speak. Anyway, Bart the pilot often surprised me at how technically savvy he could be.

 

“How are you Ray?”

 

“I’m fine, but Bart had some trouble this morning.”

 

“Tell me about Bart’s trouble.”

 

“Well, he lost power in his ship. We couldn’t find a replacement for his power component for a while, but you know what?”

 

“No. What?”

 

“We finally took one out of an old ship and it worked!”

 

That’s the way conversations went with Ray. He took care of himself physically, financially, and socially, but something was askew because he truly believed that his plastic friend talked to him.

 

Since Ray was somewhat capable technically, we gave him a responsibility operating some of the media elements in our assemblies. Because he was eager to serve, we got his help in setting up tables and realigning chairs after church services. He liked working on bicycles, so I gave him some bike repair tools and then hired him to repair one of mine. Our church members involved Ray any way they could including fielded his questions and comments in classes or services — whether he was speaking on behalf of Bart or himself. We loved Ray, which included loving Bart.

 

Jesus spoke three times about the greatest and the least in his Kingdom. On all three occasions, what he said shocked everyone. Matthew records all of three; perhaps because he  (a notorious Jewish turncoat) was such a surprising member of the twelve. It isn’t difficult to suspect that whenever Jesus spoke on this subject, Matthew listened with special interest. One occasion included the Jewish community; a later incident was specific to the twelve. Seems, they’d not understood the LORD’s first lesson on this subject how God’s value system.

 

Surrounded by curious Messianic hopefuls, Jesus talked about John the Baptizer, “Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptizer, yet he who is least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11:11).  Ask yourself if that statement even makes sense! John was the greatest Prophet — Jesus had just said that John was MORE than a Prophet — but he doesn’t even rank on the Kingdom of God scale? What can Jesus be meaning?

 

It is confusing, until we understand what Jesus meant by ‘greatest’ and ‘least.’ If greatness, value, and worth have to do with what a society thinks, what it esteems, whom they believe to be special in some way, then John was certainly great. His birth was near miraculous, he acetic lifestyle was unique, and he was believed to Malachi’s promised predecessor to the Messiah, Elijah. Some even suspected he might be the actual Messiah. Even King Herod knew of him and respected him as a man who received God’s divine affection. Without a doubt, he was the religious rock star of his times and Jesus acknowledges his greatness, but then appears to demote him to the bottom of the kingdom-list. Shocking everyone!

 

So, Jesus declares that the least in the kingdom of God is greater than John. What he means is clarified in his second discussion of greatness – the one where Jesus settles his guys’ debate over their greatness by calling over a toddler. “Unless you humble ourselves and become like this little child, you won’t even enter the kingdom of heaven!” (Matthew 18:2-4) He adds, “See that you don’t look down on one of these little ones.”

 

Are children important to God? Certainly. Were the newbies to the kingdom of God important to Him? Certainly. Was John the Baptizer important to God? Certainly. Were the twelve disciples important to God? Certainly. Is Ray important to God? Certainly. Do you get it yet? Can you connect the dots? If you aren’t sure, this illustration may help.

 

After a meal in our home, the older children wash dishes and clear the table; while the babies are given special attention from Mom or me. As the older kids clean up, we change diapers, wipe away food residue, tickle and coddle the littlest one. The baby gets our attention because he is special, not more valued, but more in need. John the Baptizer already had what others still needed. Peter and the boys were being told, “Guys, do you see this child? He is important! Stop arguing in front of him! Think of what your behavior may do to him? If you make him stumble….I’ll….!  Now, pay attention! People are important, and the ones of you who have the least needs better start paying attention to those with the greatest needs…or you might not be getting the attention of Heaven you want!”

 

All people are important. Every life is valuable. John was no more or less valuable than anyone else. Peter and the others were equal to me or you. My older children are loved just as much as my youngest. Some of us just need more help than others, and in those instances, they jump to the top of the list of the kingdom – in other words, they become priority.

 

At various gatherings, I enjoy visiting with friends, but often I may notice a person who seems lonely or sad. According to Jesus’ economy, I gravitate to the lonely. “Excuse me, Tommy, I see someone over there who is crying. Let me go see what they need and we’ll catch up soon.”

 

Every few months, my wife gets a phone or text, usually at an inconvenient time, from a lady we’ll call “Kay.” Kay is always in trouble. She needs money, a ride, advice, prayers, just to talk and talk and talk, a favor, to be helped a little, some medicine, a phone number, a pat on the back, protection, a safe place, shelter, food, but always something. Donna listens and listens and listens. She counsels with compassion and wisdom. Sometimes she will help her, sometimes she won’t, but always does what seems best for Kay — even if not easiest or most comfortable for Kay or for Donna.  She never fails to show Kay value and respect. I believe this is what Jesus was trying to explain to Peter and to those Messianic hopefuls.

 

I said there are three times when Jesus taught on the least and the greatest. The time I haven’t mentioned was at an outdoor sermon on a hillside with a group of religious leaders huddled on the sidelines, listening with furrowed brows and folded arms. Turning to the commoners in the audience, Jesus cautioned them against the hypocrisy of that pious group and then boldly shocks everyone by pointing out that those religious elite were the least in the kingdom. That wasn’t all. He warns the commoners,  “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” He then explains himself, “You’ve heard it said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” His message is this: “People are valuable. Treat them that way.” The religious leadership was behaving poorly, but it was no excuse for everyone to respond in kind. Showing value when we are shown no value is the way God’s kingdom operates. Jesus named it love.

 

I used to tell our church members, “Ray is the greatest gift God has given us. If we can learn to love Ray well, then we really have become the people of God.” Dads, teach your children to love most the least lovable. Teach them in words and actions.  Go beyond programmed aid to the poor, visits to orphanages, or donations to charity. Enter into one-on-one situations with individuals currently in your sphere of influence. Prayerfully ask God for eyes to see people as He sees them. Take your kids to visit a lonely widow or make friends with a special needs child. Mentor a fatherless boy or girl. Coach your sons to stand for and with the oppressed. Train your children to look past the pigment of a person’s skin, beyond the sins of their forefathers, and through the clutter of their own sins to the precious center of every individual’s worth – the Father’s Spirit in them. Babies and the possessed, lepers and kings, women and immigrants, Ray and Kay, each have value because they bear the image and house the Spirit of God. Jesus understood this and explained to us, “What you’ve done to the least of these, you’ve done to me.”

Fatherhood and The Way to The Father

Let’s listen closely to some things Jesus said about himself and His Father.

  • “What you see me doing, is what I’ve seen my Father doing. What you hear me saying, is what I’ve heard my Father say.”
  • “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen my Father.”
  • “As the Father has loved you, so have I loved you.”
  • “Father, just as you are in me and I am in you, may they be one as we are one. I have made you known to them in order that the love you have for me may be in them.”

The Heavenly Father was the center of Jesus’ life. When asked who his father was, he replied, “God is my father.” When his disciples asked how to pray, he answered, “Our Father in Heaven….”  When he isn’t with the crowd, he has slipped away to be with his Father for an evening, a night, or before daylight. As a young boy, he told his parents, “I have to be about my Father’s business.” As an adult reiterated saying, “I have come from my Father to do His will.” Facing Gethsemane he held the line, “Nevertheless not my will, but your will be done.” Jesus knew, adored, and loved His Father. Clearly, he hoped we would too.


The Bible says followers of Jesus preach “Jesus and him crucified.” If asked why, most will respond, “Is it so men can be saved.” While this is totally true, I have to ask on the behalf of the non-religious, “What do these mean?” What is meant by “Jesus came to save the lost?” In fact, what is meant by “the lost?” It is clear to those of us familiar with the jargon, but we should clarify for others (even for ourselves) because God’s ultimate hopes can be lost in the fog of religious language. Defining lostness as separation or distance moves us toward clarity. Understanding that salvation is the removal of that distance is helpful. But Salvation is more. Being saved goes beyond our rescue from what separated us from the Father, it also involves Divine help in uniting us to Him. The terms fellowship, relationship, community, intimacy, experiential knowledge stretch to express the near-inexpressable hope the Father has for us. Perhaps men were designed to be fathers to help us grasp, in some small way, this deep and filling closeness with our Heavenly Father that was Jesus’ life. Jesus called this extraterrestrial relationship “eternal life.”  He described it as “a life more abundant” meaning a life that doesn’t lack, fail, or end, and he explained, “This is the life that doesn’t fail; that they may know you, the only true God….”

 

Fathers are a child’s template of the Heavenly Father! Fatherhood is a terribly high and powerful calling, and a man who doesn’t know the Heavenly Father is left to guess at his role. With a flawed template, boys struggle to know the Heavenly Father, how to be a dad, a husband, or a man. Because a man learns manhood from a man and fathering from a father, all men must live near, listen to, learn from, and experience life with the Father in Heaven to model lovingly good fatherhood on earth. Jesus invites, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father. Come. Learn from me. I am the way to the Father.”

 

(Scripture references have been paraphrased for clarity. SLM)

 

The Manabout: Western Civilization’s Walkabout

The “walkabout” is Australian Aborigine’s rite of passage in which indigenous males undergo a journey, typically between ages ten to sixteen, living in the wilderness for a period as long as six months. It is their spiritual and traditional transition into adulthood. These walkabouts are a boy’s first steps into independence, identity, and maturity. Enlightenment, healing and a spiritual awakening are essential elements of these solemn rituals.  Ironically, Western Civilization, in spite of its many advances,  struggles to craft a dynamic equivalent. We measure the transition of boy to adult using an incoherent patchwork of markers such as getting a driver’s license, graduating from high school, loss of virginity, or getting married. Yet, none of these (not even the sum total of them) provides the benefit to our boys the ancient walkabout delivers to its sons.

For generations, cultures have preserved manhood and societal health through challenging journeys like the Aborigines’ venture into the outback.  They provide a much-needed opportunity for young men to prepare themselves mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically for adulthood and community membership. These sojourns into the untamed to the face danger and fear from within and without are essential to a male’s identity formation. The difference between boys and men is one of heart and thought. The mystery of what it means to be a man is first decoded and then transferred during the days and weeks of these rites of passage. Adult males flounder in life without them.

Boys are male, but being a man is much more than being male. Reaching a certain age, or boasting of a particular possession doesn’t make a man either.  Manhood resides within and roots itself in the unseen soul. Being a man is always a matter of what is inside.

The French ethnographer Arnold van Gennep coined the phrase “rite of passage” to describe the metamorphic movement between childhood and adulthood. Gennep defined it as a celebration of the passage, which occurs when an individual leaves one group to enter another. It involves a significant change of status in society. He suggests two universals that every culture’s rites of passage share, mainly: “the sexual separation between men and women, and the magio-religious separation between the profane and the sacred.” Other experts on rite of passage identify three common stages or steps in these passages: separation, transition, and inclusion. My sons and I see a vitally important and necessary fourth stage we call ‘ethos’. We refer to our Christ-centered western rite of passage as a “manabout.”

Throughout America’s history, the defining images or expressions of what makes ‘a real man’ have waffled between the rough and rugged mountain man and the suave, sophisticated cigarette-smoking man-about-town, and it has bounced between the hard working blue-collar guy relaxing to Budweiser and football, and the successful corporate mogul sipping expensive wine atop his empire. This revamping and redefining of manhood continues right up to the present such that the definition of what constitutes a man is now unclear, in flux, and polarizing in today’s western world. In fact, we’ve added chaos to the confusion by debating matters as elementary and foundational as what is male and what is female. This toxic mix is a very real and present danger to those forming their identity. Our society straddles a quaking fault-line as western culture pulls away from its ancient roots and truths about manhood, and the tectonic shifting of the societal plates is traumatizing every structure on the social landscape. As a result, the West is witnessing a rise in male loss of esteem, a pornography explosion, widespread gender confusion, and a staggering degree of prolonged adolescence. Only a clear vision, deeply rooted in the ancient bedrock of what it means to be a man, will stand in the days ahead. Every boy living today needs the help of his father or a male mentor to prepare him for the societal San Andreas ready to reshape western civilization on a scale of magnitude not experienced before.

Despite the West’s many advances, great learning and vast experiences, we, as a culture, have not developed a sound dynamic equivalent to the simple aboriginal walkabout. Our markers of manhood are all over the map. Some say a male is a man when he turns sixteen, or eighteen, or twenty-one. Others propose that manhood is achieved when a male can legally drink alcohol, or when he graduates from college. Locker room wisdom claims the key factor is rooted in sexual experience. Each is as ludicrous as the next! We should all have the discernment to know that the ability to drive or the right to vote are totally disconnected from any indicators of manhood. Many ideas are being offered as the measure of manhood; however, they collectively fail because they are little more than arbitrary guesses, and they fall short because they take a surface view of manhood. Actually, it is easy to argue that many of them provide evidence of a failure to achieve manhood. For example, quaffing alcohol to the point of intoxication communicates more about a boy’s lack of control than it does his maturity, and sexual encounters are candidly more a sign of a child-like need for attention than evidence of any noble character trait. Mannishness is not equivalent to manliness. Manliness is a matter of heart; Mannishness is everything else, and western civilization has opted almost entirely for mannishness.

To direct and assure its boys seeking manhood, Western society needs a marker; a rite; a collective, “Do this!” Unlike our current whatever-you-think approach, this marker cannot be a collage of the collective guesses. It must be founded on time-proven truths, be immune to fads and trends, have roots in the bedrock of the original design, and draw from the deepest, strongest, and purest elements of what a male was intended to become to the planet, in community, and in his spirit. It is time that a brave many men sever the umbilical cord of societal dictates, renounce the childish fads of western culture, reject the crowd’s silly chaotic clamoring. It’s time to recapture that ancient Spirit residing within every male and empower it to be experienced and lived fully by our sons. Why would an apple tree apologize for being an apple tree, or a tulip for being a tulip? A male who pursues his Divine design will never need to apologize for his maleness or his manhood. It’s time we stop apologizing for being male and begin being men again.

 

NOTIFY ME ABOUT THE MANABOUTS MANUAL

The 3 Essentials to Get Your Son to Listen to You (and respect what you say.)

“You are one of the very few people I really believe is a true Christian.” A man in his early 30s said this to me yesterday. “You actually live what you tell others. You are genuine and I respect that.”

 

This man and I have only visited a couple of times before over the past month. Practically strangers, he trusted me and listened to my advice on matters ranging from faith to family. How did it happen so quickly and deeply? Most importantly, how can a father get his child to listen to him, to respect him, and to take his advice?

 

That wise old king, Solomon, sought the attention of his sons. “Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction; pay attention and gain understanding.” (Proverbs 4:1). Apparently, he’d heard the same message from his dad, David, “When I was a boy in my father’s house, still tender, and an only child of my mother, he taught me and said, ‘Lay hold of my words withal your heart…” (Proverbs 4:3-4) Getting your child’s attention is key to everything else, so how is it done?

 

Do you recall who Solomon’s parents were? King David was his father, but who wasn’t his mother the woman Bathsheba, who’d been married to David’s bodyguard, Uriah?  It was a clandestine relationship that had begun when David slept with her as Uriah was on a military mission. She became pregnant with David’s baby and David had Uriah murdered in battle to cover up the embarassment. The baby died within a short time after being born, and David marries Bathsheba (How very noble to care for the grieving wife of your loyal bodyguard!). God steps in, tells the Prophet Nathan what’s gone on behind closed doors and David is caught red-handed. From that point, David was never quite the same man he’d been before, except, perhaps a more honest, humble, and genuine one.

 

David, in Psalm 17 wrote, “Hear, O LORD, my righteous plea; listen to my cry. Give ear to my prayer—it does not rise from deceitful lips.” Again, in Psalm 18, he wrote, “The LORD has dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me.” Wow! David seems pretty proud of himself, doesn’t he? Note his confidence as the started that Pslam, “I love you, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.” But all of this was pre-Bathsheba and pre-Uriah. His tone turns much more humble later in Psalm 51, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from sin. Surely, I was sinful at birth. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Murder, adultery, and dishonesty had replaced integrity, faithfulness, and righteousness, and the reality of it broke David’s pride.

 

Imagine if David were your country’s leader or even more if he were your dad. Personally, if I were his employee, I’d be hiding my wife and shopping my resume! Solomon grew up in the post-murder home of King David. If I were his son, I might resent how his actions had tainted made my life more difficult because of the whispering and bullying in the schoolyard. Ironically, Solomon doesn’t do this at all. In fact, Solomon aspires to be wise, just as David and Bathsheba are asking him to. They have his attention. He listens to them. How did they do it?

 

It started when David came clean before God and the prophet Nathan. He admitted he was flawed. He could have continued the ruse, but he didn’t take the path of a cover-up, and that is huge. Instead of holding on to the false narrative, he stopped it, humbled himself, and got back on track. Though no parents are perfect (Solomon’s or your child’s), kids can respect those who are honest, humble, and genuine. I believe there are three elements present in Solomon’s respect for his father and my young friend’s respect for me: honesty, humility, and genuine integrity.

 

Now, it is important to understand that it takes all these traits to gain your son or daughter’s respect. Had David merely admitted, “Yeah, I did it,” but not humbled himself to God, Solomon couldn’t have respected him. I mean, we much more readily forgive and accept the ax-murderer (which is actually pretty close to what happened to Uriah) who admits he committed the crime AND is repentant than we do the guy who just grunts, “Ok. You got me. I killed him. So what?” David clearly regretted his mistakes and people around him knew it. He changed after that. His songs are more humble; his thoughts of himself more realistic and less self-righteous. Even as Absalom rebels, the once confident warrior David is hesitant to lift a hand to kill again. He is a different man in so many ways, and Solomon grew up in the household of this kinder, less dominating, more genuine father who was less interested in empire building and house construction than in the years before. During Solomon’s youth David became more interested in his family, and we know it because Solomon wrote, “When I was a boy in my father’s house, he taught me…”  No wonder Solomon listened to David.

 

In antithesis, arrogant Absalom despises this same father. He rejects his authority and makes it his personal mission to undermine and defame his dad. Absalom loathes David, though David clearly loved his son VERY much. The reason for Absalom’s distance is clear, David had been dishonest, proud, and pretentious at a poignant time in Absalom’s life – the rape of his sister, Tamar.  After Solomon’s oldest son Amnon, rapes his half-sister Tamar, David does nothing. The Bible only says that he was furious. He got mad and fumed about it, but took no public or private actions. It is left to Absalom to decide how to handle the matter. It is Absalom, not David, who takes in the heat-broken young Tamar and comforts her. David isn’t recorded as taking any action against her rapist either, but, it appears, he simply seems to look the other way – pretending it never happened. David won’t look. Amnon doesn’t care. The public doesn’t know. So, the royal family’s shortcoming is kept an ‘in-house secret.’  Of course this smacks of a cover-up and David is shameless in allowing it. Absalom is wounded in his heart and as his disrespect festers, his relationship with his dad develops into a slow gangrenous death.  Absalom could not – would not – listen to or respect a man who behaved like this — even if that man was his father,

 

If you want your son to listen to you, don’t don the façade of perfection; be honest. This does not mean you share with your 12-year-old or 25-year-old all the sordid details of your life. That could be harmful more than helpful. It means you live a life that is honest about its short-comings. (Not excusing them, but admitting them.) The young man that respected me told me that right after I had said to him, “I don’t know all about God’s mind. I’m not him. I just know what I’ve experienced with Him. I’m still learning.” You don’t have to know it all, or be it all! You DO have to be real. Genuine though flawed is better than great but fake. David lost Absalom’s ear because he wasn’t genuine. Absalom viewed him (accurately) as a pretender. In the home where Absalom grew up, David was the “I’m righteous before God” guy (Psalm 17). However, in Solomon’s childhood, David was the “I was born a sinner” guy (Psalm 51). Solomon heeded David’s words; Absalom seethed at them.

 

If you want you child’s ear, be genuine. Admit when you are wrong. Show yourself to be humble, and above all have genuine integrity. A hypocrite is never admired and children know the realities of home. They will listen and give you respect, even if your life (like everyone’s) is flawed when that respect is merited by a life proven worthy of it.

10 Easy, Quick, and Affordable Service Projects for You and Your Son in Half-an-Hour or Half-a-Day

(And 2 MAJOR MISTAKES  to Avoid!)

Time limited? Don’t know what to do with your son? Want your weekend to count? Here are 10 easy service projects that BUILD your relationship with your son (or daughter) and take less than half a day!

  • Visit someone who is lonely. It isn’t necessary to take any gifts, but just call ahead and see if they feel like a half-hour visit. You can stay longer, but just thirty-minutes will make a difference in someone’s day – especially someone who is feeling lonely or who lives alone. People in nursing homes and older widows often appreciate a visit like this. Prepare 5 -10 questions for your son to ask the person. For starters: Tell me about your life. Tell me about your best memory. What advice do you have for someone my age? What has changed since you were my age? If you had one wish, what would it be?
  • Mow an elderly person’s lawn together. Often, people who are experiencing difficulties need help with things they usually handle themselves. A wedding, a funeral, a family reunion, a graduation, an illness are all occasions when people want their lawn to look good but may have too many things going on to take care of it themselves. Call and ask permission to help with some of those lawn chores like mowing or leaf raking, and be sure to let them know it is a benefit to YOU since it is giving you and your son some special time together. They too can enjoy knowing they are helping someone else.
  • Take a fatherless boy on a half-day outing. You and your son can create a great memory by including a fatherless boy in a half-day outing. A trip to the waterpark, or zoo, or a professional sporting event would be great, but it can also be something less expensive like a picnic or hike at a state or national park nearby, a few hours together in a batting cage, putt-putt, or a fun Frisbee golf competition between the three of you.
  • Wash a busy family’s van. Young families are often so busy they seldom have the time or the energy to clean up their vehicle. Single mothers are especially stretched to wash their vehicle. Call ahead and offer to help relieve some of their stress and give you and your son some extra time together. They need to know this is as much (or more) for you and your son as it is for them.
  • Volunteer at a charity. Non-Profit Organizations and charities often need extra hands. A lot of what they need requires no special skills; a willing heart is about all that’s required. So, search for such organizations in your area and call to see if they can use two willing volunteers for a few hours. They’re going to love you!
  • Enter a fund-raiser event together. Depending on your interests and equipment, you may be able to play in a 3-on-3 charity basketball event, walk a 5K together, enter a fishing tournament, or a golf tournament. What a fun way to help out together!
  • Help a Local Political Candidate. Almost every year or two someone somewhere is running for some kind of public office. If you see one you like, call and offer for you and your boy to collect campaign signs after the vote. These folks often need help gathering their signage. Practice good citizenship and pick up some in the area where you live. It’s a great occasion to introduce your son to the way our nation’s governance is designed.
  • Share fresh Veggies. Everyone loves garden fresh food. Why not visit a local You-Pick-It farm and pick enough to share with another family? Berry and Fruit farms are always favorites. Strawberries ripen in early Spring. Some blueberry varieties ripen in early June. Apples are late summer. There are also fall fruiting trees. Eat all you want, but also take some to your neighbor and make a friend.
  • Help Mom with the House. Yep! This one is a close as your kitchen and living room. Ask Mom for a list of small things she’d like done around the house that you and Junior can knock out in a couple hours. Choose one of two and knock them out for her. She’ll love you guys and you son will be experiencing the delight of a home with a happy wife. You guys might even find you get a special supper out of it!
  • Pray with someone. If people are ever blessed, it’s when someone prays for them. The spiritual element of life is often overlooked, omitted, or not considered, though it is as important as any other aspect of life. Don’t be bashful, but do ask for permission. Whether someone is struggling (sick, in financial trouble, recently divorced) or rejoicing (just had a baby, going on a mission trip, starting a new job) the offer to pray WITH them is usually appreciated. If they decline your offer, no problem. Like with any gift, if it isn’t valued, it isn’t a gift – don’t force it.

The 2 Major Project Mistakes that HARM
 Your Relationship with Your Son!

A great day can do great HARM if you aren’t paying attention! Boys will enjoy a day with Dad, but not if he is demanding or focusing on the wrong thing. Keeping the relationship with your son as the priority will set the right boundaries and tenor of the day. Here are two ways dads most often lose this critical focus.

 

  • A Project Too Large — Don’t bite off more than you can chew in an hour or half a day. (Keep it simple. A project that’s too large will put pressure into the situation. These projects aren’t about pressure, but about parenting through participation with your son.) Schedule only what you can EASILY do in the time allotted.
  • The Project Takes Priority — Don’t get caught up in the completion of the project and step all over your kid! If the pressure of the project causes you to become angry, yell at, or belittle your son, it’s probably too much for the time you have. Choose to either divide the project into two weekends, or choose another project; otherwise, your boy may never want to go on another one with you! Could you blame him? Be kind. Leave room to talk and allow him to participate. Bottom line: it’s about you and your boy, not the project. Simple and a good memory is better than something more elaborate that drives a wedge between you.

 

Time is limited and there are so many demands on your time, but nothing yields the dividends or rewards like the memories and closeness that a few hours helping others will bring to you and your son for a lifetime. Time isn’t made; choices are made. Chose well and make time for your son this month.