Step Up: Serve

Step-up-serveLet’s face it: we men have difficulty serving.

I work hard to provide for my family. I pay the bills, and I keep the cars maintained. I change light bulbs and fix leaky toilets. I make sure the trash is taken out. I wash dishes fairly regularly. I even get the kids ready for bed most nights.

But do my boys see me serve in church? Do I tell them I serve my Lord and Savior, but only in words and not in deeds?

I came across a website that included some interesting facts about men and their service in church. There are quite a few statistics, and feel free to go to the website (click here) to get all of them, and see their footnotes. I will include just a couple:

  • This Sunday almost 25 percent of married, churchgoing women will worship without their husbands.

  • Midweek activities often draw 70 to 80 percent female participants.

  • Over 70 percent of the boys who are being raised in church will abandon it during their teens and twenties. Many of these boys will never return.

  • Fewer than 10% of U.S. churches are able to establish or maintain a vibrant men’s ministry.

  • A study from Hartford Seminary found that the presence of involved men was statistically correlated with church growth, health, and harmony. Meanwhile, a lack of male participation is strongly associated with congregational decline.

Even more than attending church, we need to serve. I find it a little funny how we refer to our Sunday morning gathering as a “Church Service,” yet so few of us serve there. I am challenged to look at the “Service” as a verb and not a noun. How I serve others in the church body is a response to how I understand the heart of Jesus Christ. On his final day, before He was crucified, Jesus served.

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. John 13.3-5 (NIV)

Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. John 13.14-17 (NIV)

What a great picture of the master serving others! Our sons need to see us serving. Maybe it is serving as an usher. Maybe it is serving as an elder. Maybe it is serving as a janitor. Maybe even serving in the nursery (doesn’t sound very manly, does it?), but we need to serve. We are called to serve. We need to validate our words.

If possible, find opportunities for you to serve with your children. Let them see you actively serve, and give them a chance to pattern their lives after yours, and find the joy in serving your church as a family.

Is God worth serving? Or do I have other things in my life that I would rather serve, that take priority over God’s command to me to serve? Our sons will see right through our words, and either they will believe us when we say we serve the one true God, or they will see us serving something else.
It is not easy. It may even seem awkward. But it is time to step up, and serve.

To God Be The Glory

To-God-be-the-glory

This month, I have been on an amazing journey with God. My wife and I are beginning a book by A.W. Tozer that challenges us to look beyond our man-made view of God and seek to know His greatness. As I read, I felt very convicted that I am guilty of my man-made view of who God is. Because of this, I am on a quest to catch a glimpse of the glory of God.

You see, anytime we put limits on God, we are falling into the idolatry of making a god in our own image of who we think He should be. How can I tell if I have done this? I just need to take a look at where I spend my time, how I seek my own comforts, how I look for someone to blame when things do not go according to my plan.

When we place our focus on the magnificence of God, the other things take their rightful place in our lives. God is forgiveness, so what does forgiveness challenge me to do? If God is merciful, how am I supposed to show mercy? If God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, how am I supposed to love my wife sacrificially? If God is patient with me (His child) then where is my patience towards those children He has entrusted me to raise?

The glory of God is greater than our universe. There is nowhere that He is not. (Read Psalms 139:1-18. David understood this.) His presence fills every place where I am. With each breath I breath, I take in His glory and inspiration. Should not I breath out His praise?

The beauty of the quest I am on is that God is not hidden. When we praise Him, He is here with us. When we are troubled, He is here to comfort us. God is at work in our lives constantly. The question I have challenged myself with is, will I seek to see God at work? Not just live out a mundane existence and deny His fellowship, but look today, in expectation, to what God is doing all around me?

My sons need me to truthfully seek the glory and presence of the Lord. I need a genuine, daily, expectant relationship with God, and my boys need to see me live that out. I am challenged that just giving God a passing acknowledgement in my days is idolatry, and I am teaching my children to bow before an idol of my making. God desires so much more from us. We need so much more from Him than we can ever imagine.

My accountability partner agreed with the challenge I feel, but then he asked…

“How do we get there?”

Great question. Seeking the greatness of God is a lofty goal. One that is too big to fulfill in this life. So what are your thoughts? If you are on this journey, where are you headed? What has God shown you in your quest to see God?

To God be the glory!

Finding The Truth: A Lesson for My Son

Finding-the-truth

If you have little ones, or remember the days when you had little ones, you may be able to relate to the following scenario…

My youngest son, whom I affectionately refer to as a “tornado in tennis shoes,” is regularly getting himself into mischief. Yesterday, I walked into a room where he was holding a desk lamp, and shining it at his sisters.

“Why are you playing with my lamp?” I asked.

“I’m not,” he responded, still holding the lamp in his hand. Even caught red-handed, a lie is the first thing that comes out. He says it because he hopes he can avoid any discomfort. He is trying to take the easy way out.

I repeat words that sound too familiar. I give him consequences for his sin and tell him how lies hurt our relationship.

“We should always tell the truth,” I say, “even when it may mean trouble for us.”

Since he is (almost) 3 years old, I have no doubt this scenario will be repeated often for quite a while. Soon, it will start to sink in, and hopefully as he grows he’ll learn to value truth. But this starts by me modeling truth to him. He is counting on my integrity–the truth that I am committed to him. He’ll learn the truth that I will provide for him and care for him, and that I will follow through on promised blessings. Deep down, today my son knows he can count on me for all those things … he just doesn’t have the word for it yet: truth.

I am reminded that this scenario was first encountered in the Garden of Eden, clear back in Genesis. Adam does not take responsibility for his actions, but blames Eve, who blames the serpent. We are so easily swayed to redirect blame for our sin elsewhere. They were both trying to take the easy way out. God saw through this. He saw their hearts, their motives, and brought consequences to them as well.

I take comfort in realizing that using lies to take the ‘easy way out’ of his problems is not unique to my son, but I am also very sober in my thinking: this is the very heart of the sin he was born into. My mission in his life is to bring him on a journey of understanding his own sinful state, and seeking the redemption and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” John 14:6 (NIV).

There are so many that seek God through paths other than Jesus, but He alone is the very definition of truth. Jesus never said that following His truth would be easy. In fact, he said it would be, and should be, the hard path to take.

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23 (NIV)

Taking up a cross daily is not taking the easy way out!

So, I am also challenged by the truth of Jesus Christ. It is so easy for me to drift into a life of compromise, thinking that I am not too bad, at least not as bad as the person I am comparing myself to. Do you hear Adam’s thoughts in that statement, as he blamed Eve?

It is only when I compare my heart, my actions, and my motives to those of Jesus Christ that I see my own life in the truth that it needs to be seen in. I so often find myself coming short of God’s best for me, and I need to re-align with the truth of God.

I need to continually embrace the truth of Jesus Christ, so that I may share that with my son. My son needs to ultimately embrace the truth of Jesus Christ, as he understands the deceit in his heart. And when he truly embraces the truth of Jesus Christ, I’ll get to see my son shine the best kind of light–the light of truth–on those around him.

And that is hope worth patiently and lovingly fighting for. Raising my son to be a man of truth is not the taking easy way out.

Staying Sharp

Staying Sharp

Four large tomatoes sat on the cutting board. My mission was to reduce those crimson orbs into thin slices fit for a banquet of BLTs that were about to be attacked by a sea of hungry, smiling faces waiting in the dining room. I selected my prefered knife for the task, and noticed it was dull. Before I touched a single tomato, that knife and I had a destiny with the sharpening block. I pictured a freshly sharpened knife floating through a tomato, making perfectly even slices.

If you are anything like me, you sometimes find yourself dull, just like that knife. Not dull, in the sense of boring. (At least I hope not; people still laugh at my jokes, after all.) Rather, dull in the sense that you’ve lost your edge. I do this when I focus too much on one thing. When I do, other things lose their focus.

For instance, I just started working for a new company. It takes a lot of time and energy to get up to speed on the new demands. While I am focused on all that, I tend to not be focused on all the other places that need attention. Those areas of my life start to erode away and become dull.

I can tell, by the way my wife and kids talk to me, that I have not been investing well into their lives. I can tell by the thoughts that pass through my mind, that I have not been investing well in seeking a holy life. I can tell by the absence of my friends around me, that I have not been investing in their lives. That has all been evident to me these last few weeks.

Thankfully, I have one who sharpens me. My accountability partner and friend makes a point to reach out to me and meet with me. He is there to hear about how I am doing. He challenges me in the areas that I may not readily volunteer information about. He shares his struggles and challenges, and also his successes, and gives me hope that I am not alone (or hopeless) in this journey towards heaven.

As it says in Proverbs 17:17, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity” (NIV).  And Proverbs 27:17 says, “As Iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (NIV) .

If you are like me, you need someone in your life to challenge you, encourage you and pray with you. I desire to be a sharpened instrument in the hands of my God, and He uses good friends in my life to keep me sharp. My wife and children feel loved and safe when I am sharpened. My heart and eyes turn toward heaven when I am sharpened.

Do you have a friend that you could challenge to be your accountability partner? Do you feel God placing a name of someone on your mind? Maybe you should ask him to meet with you regularly and challenge you. Make the investment in another man’s life, and open yourself to the investment he will make in yours. Your family with thank you for it, and your God will be honored by your courage and willingness to be sharpened.

Vacate and Relate

This month, we took our first vacation with our newly adopted children. To be honest, I was not looking forward to it. First of all, it involved a 34-hour (one-way) road trip with three children under 6 years old, followed by helping our oldest son move out of his second-story apartment. I am more of an “amusement park or ocean cruise” kind of vacation guy, so this particular vacation was definitely not on my bucket list. (I will save my thoughts on bucket lists for another day.)

vacate and relate

After an all day, all night, and half of the next day of driving, we arrived at our little vacation cottage in northwest Montana. From my estimates, the cottage was older than all of our ages combined. That was okay, though. It had internet. (Who needs a microwave with a popcorn button while on vacation anyhow?) We were tired and ready for baths and showers. The cottage had a bath and beds, so we were set.

Most days, we would visit friends and family, but we also made sure that we were at the cottage by 7:00 pm, so we could get the kids in bed by their bedtime. To me it felt like so much time lost preparing the kids for bed, and just hanging out as a family, when there were so many family members and friends that we had to catch up with. I had people I wanted to see and things I wanted to do.

Then something happened. My youngest son and I started having fun together! In the six months that we’ve had together, my almost-three-year-old and I have not had too much time alone. With all the busyness of adding two new children into our home, my individual quality time with this little guy was pretty sparse. Now we had an entire week of being together, and what a difference it has made for both of us. There wasn’t one specific moment that stood out, but just the daily routine of hanging out together that bonded us.

Now my son actually misses me when I am gone or at work, and to be honest, I miss him too. God used this vacation to bond our family in very dramatic ways. It reminds me of my need for quality time with my Heavenly Father. He is there and waiting to visit with me. I just need to be more intentional about acknowledging His presence in my days, and inviting Him into my world. In an ironic twist, the more time I spend with my son, the more I desire to. The same with God.

When things get busy, and I think I don’t have time to spend time with God, I am reminded of Matthew 6:33. The last section of Matthew 6 talks about our vain attempts to “worry our way” into getting what we need.

Jesus said “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33 NASB).

God is telling us here to focus on our relationship with Him, and He will provide the rest. Relationship should trump all, as it is the most important. Our relationship with our God first, and then our families.

Do I want my children to value a relationship with their Heavenly Father? It starts with me valuing a relationship with them, and leading them towards a relationship with God. The great part about it is, I am loving this new-found relationship.

Disclaimer: While I cannot stress enough the need for focused quality time with our children, I am not condoning three days quarantined in a car with steady stream of fast food and gas station snacks to meet the goal.

 

Take Aim and Release

father-son-bow

I recently had the amazing opportunity to listen to a challenge from Dr. Duane Litfin. If you are not familiar with the name, he is the President Emeritus of Wheaton College, and brought some great reminders to me in his presentation.

We read from Psalm 127. I have to admit, I had never taken the whole chapter as a single topic, but after hearing this, I felt compelled to share.

You see, I find myself challenged with the notion that my day-job needs to matter. From what I have read in management literature, I am not alone in this. We all need to have a sense that we are not just wasting our days and that we will come to the end of our lives wondering if we really made a difference.  Here is what the Psalmist had to say…

1 Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. 2 In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves. 3 Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. 4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. 5 Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court. (NIV)

I have never really connected verses 1-2 with 3-5 before. Solomon was passing along some wisdom that really struck home with me. It is not an accident that he starts by saying that the Lord needs to be in the center of the work, but then he wraps it all up talking about our kids and the blessing they are.

Solomon was really onto something here. I have always said that my definition of success in this life is that my grandchildren are serving God. Regardless of where I work, and what I do, my first, and most powerful, field of influence is my children.

C.S. Lewis once said “All that is not eternal is eternally out of date.”

How much of the daily work I do is outdated the moment I finish it? Is my career really all about things that no one will know about, or care about, decades from now? I contrast that against the generations before me, and the generations that come after me. My dad does not have much in the way of material possessions, but he did leave me and my siblings a legacy to follow: A passionate legacy of living a life with God unashamedly.

Am I looking at my kids as a blessing? Many days – yes. Some days I forget and need this reminder.

Am I intentional in how I aim their lives towards the Lord? I need to be more so. When I am not placing a priority on my children, and their need for seeing who God is, it is because I am guilty of placing too much emphasis on other endeavors. Endeavors that, regardless of how noble, pale in comparison to my role as the father, mentor, leader in my home. My boys need to see the God I serve. They need to know that I am here for them. They need to know that true manhood is experiencing a personal relationship with the God of creation.

Disclaimer: I often refer to myself as a Jack of all Trades, Master of None. May I learn to be a Master of One Trade – Dad.

Learning to Control Our Thought Lives

Learning to control our thought lives.png

Ever since I passed my 40th birthday, I have found that my metabolism is starting to slow down. Up until then, I could eat whatever I wanted with very little consequence.

Now, however, I need to pay attention to what I eat, how much I eat, and when I eat. A few months back I stepped on the scale and did not like the number the scale showed me. It was time for a change. The weight loss that has ensued has been a mental and physical journey, but it also became a spiritual journey as well. I learned that I could go to bed hungry and that is okay. I learned that life is not about satisfying my every indulgence. Through it, I learned that I need a greater focus on what God wants of my life, and less focus on my own needs.

It is not quite fasting to lose a little weight through self-discipline, but but it does bring more clarity and focus into my world.

Side effects of this journey: I lost almost 50 pounds. I have more energy, my nightly heartburn is gone, I moved down a few sizes in clothes, and my thought life is more under control. I know, it seems funny that by not indulging in food without restraint, my thought life would change as well. To me, this has been more about learning to to say no to cravings of the flesh and asking God to give me the strength to keep my resolve.

If you are like me, you are quite glad that you don’t dwell in the company of mind-readers. I can be just floating along minding my own business when a thought comes through that is just not something to be proud of. If I don’t capture those thoughts and focus on more noble things, I wallow in shallow self-indulgent daydreams. God wants more from me, and from you too.

In Philippians 4:8 (NLT) the Bible says:
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

My wife deserves to hold a starring role in my sensual thoughts. My friends deserve my thoughts to be encouraging and non-judgemental. My God deserves my thoughts of adoration without the distraction of idols.

I also need to take this beyond my thoughts and teach my children about disciplining their thought-life. too. I need to show my sons how I turn away from looking at a woman who is wearing something that reveals too much, and I need to encourage them to do the same. I need to teach my children that they need to control themselves, even when they are angry or frustrated. My kids also need to hear me tell them no, when they want the latest, coolest gadget–learning that they must wait instead of immediately satisfying their desire for things.

Are you feeling weighed down by unrighteous thoughts and the associated guilt? I encourage you to begin the journey of losing the weight, the burden. And losing a few actual pounds might be not be so bad either.

Disclaimer: I am no workout junkie. Just the opposite. I still enjoy a well-made burger, a large order of fries, and a chocolate (no wait, maybe a strawberry) shake. I battle daily with doing the right thing, just like you.

Lights – Camera – Romance??

So here we are in February. And what is February famous for (other than being really cold)? Valentine’s Day, of course. (Okay dads, if you missed this one, this blog is probably too late to save you from spending a night or two in the doghouse.)

All the marketing around romance really strikes a chord with many women. You know … candy, flowers, a babysitter and dinner out, diamonds, cards, sonnets–and the list goes on and on–but let’s talk about how guys see romance for a minute.

I do not speak for all of us guys, but thinking about the action movies I have seen–yep, there have been many–they have a couple of things in common: lots of action, a noble cause, and the damsel in distress. Without the damsel to rescue, it all seems sort of pointless, doesn’t it?

 

RescueThis makes me think of the Bible. To summarize the Bible, I will borrow from a friend who says the Bible is the “ultimate romance novel.” You have the damsel locked in the tower and oppressed by the dragon. The prince, and son of the king, is challenged with a mighty quest to slay the dragon, rescue the princess, and take her back to his kingdom where there is a mighty feast and wedding, followed by happily ever after. This makes sense. This is an action movie at its finest. And it just oozes romance.

Who is Jesus Christ to me? Who do I tell my sons that He is? He is our knight in shining armor; He is our rescuer. He overcame the dragon for us, and He is worthy of loyalty and service. We are the damsel, and Christ rescued us.

Within the last month, my wife and I brought two more children into our home. They have been in the foster care program in our state for a couple of years and desperately wanted a forever family. We felt the call on our lives to expand our family and love some additional children into our family.

In a divine encounter that only God knew was coming, our lives and the lives of these two children changed forever. A sacrificial love that we learned from the greatest lover of all. A love that says, “get out of your comfort zone and try a little romance.” Not Hollywood romance. Not Harlequin romance. The romance that says, “I chose you. I promise to love you forever.”

Without the rescue, the rest is pointless.

Disclaimer: While I did serve in the Marine Corp and trained in demolitions, true romance does not require anything to be blown up. Despite the popularity of explosions in many of my favorite action movies.

John Goyer is a husband, dad, grandfather and computer geek with a passion for families and marriage. He is the father of 6 children (ages 23 to 2), 2 of which he adopted and 2 which will soon be adopted. By day he serves at FamilyLife (www.familylife.com) and by night he chases, tosses, tickles, bathes, loves and leads his children towards a faith in Jesus Christ.

No Fear in Failure: A Lesson from Armadillos and Spiders

I have lived in Little Rock for a couple of years now. The wildlife is a bit different than when I lived in Montana. Rumor has it that we have some animals here that you just don’t see up in the Northwest, like tarantulas and armadillos. I say rumor, because I have yet to see any live ones yet. I have seen a few armadillos dead in the road, but either there is some big conspiracy to stage dead armadillos on the road, or there really must be some live ones (I can’t say for sure if there are any dead tarantulas on the road. They would have to be pretty big to catch my attention).

nofearinfailurearmadillos

My guess is there are lots of live animals that no one sees, roaming around just out of eyesight, all the time. What it would be like to be able to see through all the brush, leaves, dirt, rocks, etc. and just see all the wildlife that I normally cannot see?

This made me think about God. He can see all of the animals, even the ones we can’t. The God who created the universe knows how many hairs are on my head. He knows how many tarantulas are hiding in my neighborhood. He knows how many armadillos are just waiting for their chance to bravely cross a busy street.

Yet this same God, who knows everything about everything down to the smallest detail, knows my faults. He knows all the bad things I have done, even the ones I had a fleeting thought about, yet he loves and forgives me of them all. If you are anything like me, you have a bunch of things you are not proud of either.

Sometimes, the knowledge of my faults and the fear of failing again keep me from leading my family in the ways of God. Sure, I know I should and will get around to it sometime, but why not risk failure tomorrow instead of doing it right now? You know, things like leading my wife in daily prayer, sharing a short devotional time over dinner with my kids, loading the washing machine. But rest assured, God is more interested in our attempts than in our successes.

How can a God who knows everything about me love and cheer me on?  I wish I truly understood how, but for now I will just rest in knowing He does. Do you feel a tug from God? An urging to lead your family? I know you do. And my encouragement … “Go for it!”

And if you were wondering, I am still waiting to see that live armadillo. Until then, I reserve the right to declare that live armadillos are the Bigfoot of Arkansas. No confirmed sightings yet.

Disclaimer: I am not an Arkansas native, and I am sure others have seen this mysterious armored animal. And for the record, I am not a big fan of spiders, so the Arkansas tarantula can stay hidden and I will be just fine.