Man up?

What does it mean to be strong? I have been told and have heard people say, “You need to be strong for your kids.” or, “I need to be strong for my spouse.” These statements are often uttered by well meaning people after somebody dies. Is strength, courage and manliness the ability to endure pain without emotional response?

American culture sadly defines strength and manhood for men. Is manliness to paint our faces in blue war paint like William Wallace in Braveheart? Or do fictitious actors like Maximus who fight to their death in the coliseum define strength? Watch the following clip and tell me that we don’t teach our boys from youth that crying is for sissies and true manliness hides emotion.

Little Boy Takes Doctor’s shot like a boss – IM A MAN!

Pain is real. Fear is real. As a believer in Jesus Christ am I just to man up and put on my big boy pants and “Be a man!” I suppose the most difficult admission for a man is that we are weak and needy, that we have fears and lack courage. When we were small boys and the school bully instilled fear in us because of his threats we sought out friends with muscle. We looked for our big brother when the punk was threatening to bring the pain. We knew we were weak and needed someone stronger than ourself to strong-arm our enemy.

God is calling Christian men to realize their weakness and to depend on the strength of God. God was sending Joshua into the teeth of his enemies where fear and pain could surly paralyze his progress. He promises to prosper him if he does not turn to the right or the left of his commandments. God said, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (Joshua 1:7-8) 

General Joshua was going to face his enemies and God calls him to man up. Success in the Christian life demands dedication to meditation on the word of God and obedience to its every command. This is the first challenge of being a manly man in a culture that defines manliness wrong. God commands Joshua to have courage but his confidence will not to found in his flesh. Strength and courage and manliness are only experienced by a spirit of obedience to God’s word. God said to him, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9) 

 We have the same promise men. Jesus said that we would never leave or forsake us and to not be afraid of making a stand for truth. Its going to take courage but remember that fear is never a factor when the strongest warrior is next to your side. Be strong in the Lord brothers because our big brother is always at hand to defend.

Valentines Day for Dummies

Valentines Day to me is a Hallmark holiday created by men and for men who are dummies. I mean let’s face it man, if you need a day to be reminded to be thoughtful, you my friend are a moron and need to read, “Valentines Day for Dummies”

I am 47, I got married at 20 and she was 19. I have some helpful tips for men/boys who are clueless and making the same mistakes I once made. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, women are confusing creatures, (especially during menopause) but I have learned a thing or two about marriage that might help you. I know it rescued mine from certain doom.

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You can fix stupid

The first thing you need to know is that 364 days thoughtlessness will not be repaired on Valentines Day. Secondly, a box of chocolates, a hokey card, sexy lingerie and a dying rose purchased at your local gas station on the 14th are a bad idea, this is what dummies do.

Here are some pointers for dummies who are unaware that they are dummies. I speak from experience, I too was formerly a narcissistic thoughtless moron. I too once thought that the occasional holiday and plastic romance  would fix all my thoughtless behavior of the prior 12 months. I was wrong and so are you if you behave that way.

My wife Stacey’s least favorite holidays are the sappy sentimental ones. She’s a no nonsense gal, very feminine, very controlled emotionally and not one for drippy cards and fluffy junior high sentimentalism. Her least favorite holiday is Mothers Day and Valentine’s Day runs a close second. So needless to say February 14th never helped me in the least but I wisely never overlooked it either.

I think Stacey is a unique and rare woman but she does share a common desire with most woman. Women generally desire men to be thoughtful and hate to be just an afterthought. This is the main area that I observe men being dummies and it is fixable. Being a dummy just might kill your marriage, I know it almost cost me mine.

Narcissism, selfishness and thoughtlessness kills relationships

Year 7 of our marriage was rough and a pivotal turning point. We were faithful, we had 3 kids, she was a stay at home mom and I worked 2 jobs to support my family. When I wasn’t busy working for my family I was very busy doing me things. My fishing, my hunting, my sports, my interests were a priority and everything else was an afterthought. I was a selfish moron, I didn’t see it coming but a separation and a potential divorce were nearer than I knew.

In December 1995 she said to me these unforgettable words. “If it weren’t for Christmas and the kids you would be out the door.” That statement opened my eyes and ears, I was shocked and was clueless to her desperate condition. That warning shot got my attention and I started to look inward, not outward to solve the problem. There was nobody to blame but me, I was the problem! Narcissism, selfishness and thoughtlessness was destroying my marriage and I was to blame. I looked at myself and I hated what I saw, so I sought help and help was graciously provided in God.

That February God opened my eyes to see Jesus for the first time. I look back now and see that I did not fully love my wife because love involves self denial and sacrifice, two virtues which I did not possess. I learned that, “God shows his love for us in that we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) He sacrificed all for me and began teaching me to sacrifice all for him and to love my wife in the very same way he loved me- Sacrificially.

I realize now how enslaved I was to my own selfish ambitions, passions and desires. The apostle Paul defines mankind to a T in second Timothy 3. He warned ” In the last days will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God”  Self love is the mouth of a sewer pipe that leads to a disgusting cesspool of crap in our lives. The only way out is if God pulls you out.

What dummies need to do differently

I work around grade school kids. When I want them to understand me I say to them, “Look at me! Now, listen to what I am saying” Things changed in my life when God got my attention and in essence said. “Hey, turn your eyes on me and hear what I am saying to you.” These days I am much better at keeping my eyes and ears open and life is much better because of it. Listening to God has taught me how to listen to my wife.

Listen up!

I have learned to do things a lot differently in the last 20 years. I have trained my ears to listen closely to the words my wife is saying. I dial into and listen for what she likes and dislikes all year long. I even listen in on conversations she has with other women. She might remark on a favorite candle scent. Make a mental note Mike, write that down. She may talk of a place she has always wanted to visit, keep that stored away also Mike. I recently learned that my wife prefers secondary colors over primary colors. I made a mental note and wrote it down for future use. This is how you make your girl a forethought and not an afterthought.

How do you use the information?

Be impulsive, sacrifice your time and take her to the place she always wanted to go. Do it on a meaningless Thursday and not Valentines Day. Buy her that candle she likes and have it lit when she comes home from work, but do these things randomly and not on your anniversary. Thoughtfulness demands our attentive ears and hearing requires that our head not be buried up our…..you know what! Don’t wait for special days to use the information, be thoughtful. When a birthday comes you will know what to do.

Watch!

Open your eyes! What do you see her looking at in Bed Bath and Beyond? Or are you checked out until you get into the Cabala’s store at the other end of the mall? Pay attention dummy! The reason you don’t know what to buy her for Christmas or your anniversary is because you don’t watch her. Don’t be a blind and deaf moron.

The freebie

Give her your time and attention to her. Kill your narcissism and turn off the game, cancel the Saturday fishing trip and forget about the monster buck your obsessed with more than her. I have found that women really don’t want much, they just want us. This costs us nothing and pays huge dividends in the end.

Love is selfless and does not seek its own things. Take it from a guy who knows the dangers of narcissism, selfishness and thoughtlessness. I wrote the book on Valentines Day for dummies, listen to what I say, it just might save your life and your marriage. I know it did for me and for that I am truly thankful to God.

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Don’t be that guy

There are many standard cliché phrases that get said in times of grief. Many of which would be most helpful to the sorrowing if much of it was just left unsaid. In the deepest moments of pain words are seldom digested so that the soul might be comforted by them. Well meaning people who don’t know what to say, but say things anyway, need to hear what I say- Please shut up! (Of course I have shown great restraint by only thinking this and never saying it.) We need comforters but there is always a person or two that every griever wants to avoid. Don’t be that guy.

I cannot count how many times I have deliberately avoided particular people who have routinely puked out unhelpful kind words.Yes, I have felt this way among the people I love most in this world, my Christian brothers and sisters. Yes, I have had this feeling many times within the walls of church where I have run to God and at times have run from the people of God. People who quote Romans 8:28, walk away and have no idea how sick and tired we are of hearing. “And we know that all things work together for good.” This verse is true, but when in the onset of heavy grief it is of no consolation to the hearer. I have found that in our case there are only one or two individuals who repeatedly do this kind of thing. When we see them we go to the next isle or run for cover in the restroom. Please, don’t be that guy!

These are people who think they get it and don’t have a clue. They sincerely say things believing that they are helping you and deep inside you are screaming, “SHUT UUUUUP!” This happens all too often to my wife and I. We go to the car and say, “I know, they just don’t get it, just be kind, nod your head, smile and walk away.” Then a week later I see my wife trapped by the same person, our eyes lock and we repeat the same conversation we had in the car through telepathy.

I have decided to put an end to this in the kindest possible way I can. Sometimes with some people the direct and honest approach is the only approach that will work. I am a Christian, my words are always to be filled with grace. I am not too sure how to graciously ask certain individuals to stop talking to me and my wife about grief when they are totally clueless about our situation. What I am sure of is that I am done shrinking back, enduring and smiling as I look for the nearest exit. If I want this to stop then I need to speak up, if I don’t then I must just grin and bear it as best I can.

Sadly, they think they truly get it, but they don’t. When people truly get it they know when to speak, and when to be silent. The person who always has something to say usually doesn’t have a clue. These are the people we run from in the store and yes even in church. I don’t want to avoid and skirt these people anymore. They don’t know I am trying to avoid them, they don’t know that they are, “that guy!” How will they ever know unless unless I speak to the issue?

Enduring the holidays; no deposit and no return

The linear journey

There is never closure for the parents of dead children. I was reminded of this again recently as I listened to a traumatic grief counselor in a phone conversation. He used the word journey, a word I have used myself many times but this time I pondered what it really means for me during the Christmas season. I was reminded again of the fact that the road traveled for grieving parents is linear, not circular therefore closure is never possible. I move farther along the path of life after death to the western horizon until the sun sets on my time here on earth. Each day there are a few steps in a path which distances me from the terrible day that began my journey. Death will be the end of my pilgrimage of grief- closure comes when they close my casket. Yes, each day creates distance and the potential for healing but I will walk with a limp and carry many scars until I step foot into my eternal home. On that day I will truly rest in peace.

Jacob of the bible understood the journey ahead upon hearing about the death of his son Joseph. In his deep grief it is said, “All his sons and daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son ,mourning.” Thus his father wept for him. (Genesis 37:35-36 ESV) Jeremiah also foretold of the lament of Rachel when Herod killed all the children in Bethlehem that were 2 years old and under. “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Jeremiah 31:15, Matthew 2:18 ESV) I understand this, I am living with this and I know my laments for my Jacob will only be silenced when I am buried next to him.

No place for love

There is no combination words that can capture what a grieving parent feels during the Christmas season. This will be at best a feeble and hopefully slightly helpful glimpse into the journey we walk. The following thoughts about my grief journey came to me in this way this past week.

Christian Author Gary Chapman wrote the top selling book, The five love languages. (http://www.5lovelanguages.com/) Many years back I attended his seminar and heard his concepts on the languages of love. The five ways we express love according to Chapman are 1. Words of affirmation, 2. Acts of service, 3. Receiving gifts, 4. Quality time, and 5. Physical touch. I agree with his love language concepts but recently these concepts made me think deeply about my love for my deceased son. My love for Jacob has only deepened since he died, but there is now no way to express my love for him. All five of the languages were expressed to me by Jacob and I reciprocated that love back to him- but now he is dead, and I have no place to pour that love on him. Life without my son is like possessing an empty Coke with a label that reads, “No deposit, no return.” Jacob cannot deposit love into my life and I cannot give him any of the love that overwhelms my soul. Death has separated us but love love remains without a means of expression.

  
The holidays represent a time when the 5 love languages are to be fully expressed in the family. I have remaining family to love, but loving others and being loved by others brings no relief for the void that remains in my heart. There are no words to express my love. There are no kind acts that I can do to express my love. There is no shopping for that special gift to display my love. There can never be quality time to show him my love. There is never going to be an embrace to affirm my love for him. All the love I desire to pour into him has no outlet, and I will never receive it from him again. There is no deposit and no return. The holidays are a time for family love and love will be expressed to the living. The terrible pain during the holidays for me is that all the love that I have for Jake is retained and the expression of love for him has no outlet. The desire to receive that love never leaves me. Oh that I could hear his voice and feel his embrace for Christmas. It can never be, it never will be. The holidays are the harsh reality that there will again be no deposit and no return. Surviving the holidays is the best I can do. As I walk this journey I expect to heal and to limp my way through life. Someday I will reach the river Jordan and cross over to the land of promise. Until that day I expect my journey to be difficult and the path wet with my tears. There are some sorrows that only death can relieve, making death a strange comfort to me indeed. Not that I desire to die but I desire to truly rest in peace, to see Jesus face to face, and to have him wipe my tears away forever. Joy comes in the morning. The best Christmas morning will be when I wake up and again see my sweet boys face and feel his embrace. On that morning I will get to express all the love I have in my heart for him and I will receive all the love he has for me. Till then….No deposit, no return…..

My life, my wife, my treasure

It was early 1987 when I moved back home to Michigan after a 3 year stay in Virginia. I was 18, she was 17 and a senior in high school when we met. There was a quick connection a short courtship and then we were engaged later that year. She finished beauty school and we married on September 17th 1988, she has been a beautiful bride since day one. Stacey is a treasure to me. Shortly after the wedding I was hired by a public school system and life began for this young couple. I am now 47, she is 46 and I still have a job with the schools and she is now a nurse. We have been happily married (for better or for worse) for 27 years now.

Senior prom

Senior prom

All Stacey ever wanted in life was a family, to be a wife and mother was all she desired. As for me, I was just a stupid 20 year old kid who didn’t really know what I wanted in life or what it would mean to be a husband or a father. I learned about unconditional love from my wife and her family, they were gracious with me for there was allot of ugly and unlovable things about myself. Over time I learned what a husband and father’s role was in a family. I had great examples to follow in our family and church.

Stacey had become an aunt a year before we married and made it clear to me that she wanted a family right away. Being naïve about fatherhood I was happy to oblige my 19 year old wife. The wedding dress was on a hanger and still warm when she asked for kids. October 12th, 1989 our sweet little Jordan came into our world, we bought a house and the family continued to grow. Jacob was my idea and he arrived in March of 1992 and then Jared was born in October 1994. In 2001 we built a large new home on family property and life was really good for us.

It all was every Norman Rockwell to me back then. It wasn’t perfect but it is a time of life I look back on with great joy and would relive again if I could. The family had grandma’s and grandpas, aunts uncles, brothers and sisters and cousins galore. Our lives were linked very closely to her nearby parents during those early years, it continued all the way through the graduations of our kids. It was a happy time in life, a time very untouched by any tragedy or sorrow. But all would change, sorrow did come and tragedy arrived in unimaginable ways for us all.fam

Papa Johnson died first and extended family life began to change after his passing. The kids were growing up and busy lives separated the extended family except during the holiday seasons. The nests emptied from our homes and then the one year storm began. First it was Justin my nephew, he died at 23, then granny Johnson passed away that December. Jacob my son died three months later in March, he had just turned 22, and then mom. Linda, my wife’s mother died suddenly at age 66, just six short weeks after Jacob. The family dynamic died with her, everything changed for us in the spring of 2014. I feared for my marriage that spring, not because of the lack of love but because of the uncertainty that crisis can bring into life.

I know of marriages that have been destroyed by the death of a child. I think back on the day Jacob died and I feared that somehow his death would destroy our marriage. I remember the day he died, I clung to Stacey and said to her that I did not want this to destroy us. She assured me it wouldn’t. I can say that by the grace of God it has only united us more and deepened our love for one another. “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.” (Proverbs 18:22 ESV) It has been anything but a wedge between us and for that I am truly thankful to God. There is a spoken and unspoken language of grief which we share now. We understand each others hurt without a word, I feel her pain in just an embrace and sometimes the pain forms words for me to hear and at other times its seen in her eyes.

Summer 2015

Summer 2015

I really hurt for my wife because much of what she wanted in life has been taken away from her. Her mother is dead, Jacob is gone, the kids have busy lives and the house is quiet and relatively dormant. Our lives mostly involve work and each other now. The extended family seems much more distant  these days, nothing is the same- nothing at all. Our family is so fractured that at times I feel as though all we have is each other now. That thought terrified me the other day. I love her so much, I need her more than any other person in the world; what if she was gone? I quickly put away the unthinkable thought and the unimaginable loneliness I would have. Then I remembered others I know who are living life in that lonely state. This moved me to thank God for the treasured wife he has given me and to pray for those who are grieving the loss of a spouse.

Nothing is the same but neither do I expect things to stay the same. There is something I want for my wife that I really haven’t wanted for myself. I want her to hold a grandchild for the first time and rejoice in the blessing of new lives added to the family. There will be a healing balm for her if and when that day ever comes. Nothing can replace lost loved ones but adding love to the family will be a welcomed day in our home. I have not wanted to be a grandfather because of love. To love deeply is to open myself up to potentially deep hurt again; a hurt I know all to well. But, I am over that now because of some wise words from my treasured best half. She said to me, “Mike, it is better to have loved deep than to never have loved.” I now welcome the thought of that day.IMG_1076

New beginnings are a wonderful thing. I remember our beginning so many years ago. I loved her but not like I love her today. We have lived, and are living the vows we made to each other that sunny fall day in 1988. I was reminded of my vows to her shortly after the death of my son and mother-in-law. We attended a young couple’s wedding overlooking Lake Michigan; they were not yet 21. It was refreshing to see a young man and woman step into a life together, it took me back to my youth. I listened to their vows and was immediately struck by what they were declaring to do. They have no idea what those vows mean, I thought. And I had no idea what those vows would mean down the road of our life either, but now I do. They vowed for better or worse, in sickness and in health without knowing what their future holds for them. I have known the better times, and I know the worse times and I “still do” till death do us part Stacey Lyn Fekete. You are a treasure to me.

“An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of his life. (Proverbs 31:10-12 ESV)

Tomorrow’s lie

Life is short. We know it all too well, it passes us by as quickly as the morning fog lifts off our favorite lake. Life is certainly just a vapor, it comes then it goes as fast as it arrived. I am in mid life, I turned 47 last week but am I really in mid life? Maybe mid life was 24 for me and I am finishing out my final days right now. We all know how fragile life is, we all know that we are not promised tomorrow yet we routinely live as though tomorrow is as certain as the rising sun. I truly believe that our son Jake was just as shocked as we all were when he died, he was only 22, making his midlife age a mere 11 years old. He had no clue, neither did we and neither did you.

I mowed at the school a little over two weeks ago. While I was mowing again yesterday I noticed all the dead clippings from the last cut as I mowed the living grass and many yellow flowers adding to the mulch. My mind then drifted to what Isaiah said, “A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is as grass, and all its beauty as the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord breathes on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:6-8 ESV) I probably added millions of blades of grass and flowers to the already dead blades and flowers from 2 weeks ago. As quickly as they grow they disappear, die and are forgotten.

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In the weeks preceding Jacob’s death he spoke much about his hopes of the future. In fact the very night he died he shared with is grandpa and grandma about these things. Little did Jake know that in a few short hours he would enter his eternal home, his life, like the mown flower would fade and be cut off from the land of the living. He was added to the millions, yes even trillions that have went on before him. I took no thought to say goodbye when we last spoke, nether did he for how could either of us know that God would require his soul that very night?

Much good for the kingdom of God is wasted in the ignorance and foolishness of youth. I too was young, ignorant and a fool thinking that life will always go along as it has, forgetting God and living as though there was no God to give an account of my life to. While my kids were in their teens I wrote this verse out and put it on our refrigerator door, O how I hope Jacob took it to heart. “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them.” (Ecclesiastes 12:1) The joy of youth always turns to the difficulties of getting old. Wise king Solomon calls the youth to remember their Creator God while life is early, when you are strong and you can enjoy him fully and serve him joyfully before the difficult days come your way. Where are the wise parents who are calling the youth to serve God and not their own pleasures?

We do not know when the silver cord that holds our life on this earth will be broken. A dear lady that I know died recently at 102, my cousins boy only lived 100 days- each of those two lives lived out the days that their Creator appoint for them. Like the grass, like the flowers, they die and fade away causing us to ask, “What lasts forever?” Isaiah said it, “The word of our God will stand forever.” The apostle John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” (John 1:1-3) Who is the Word, who was with God at creation, who made all things? Jesus- “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:13) All things visible have an expiration date, we do and the planet does also. Everything but the eternal words from our God will be burned up in the end. (2 Peter 3:10-11)

How does a fool live? He says to himself, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat drink and be merry. But God said to him, Fool! This night your soul will be required of you, and the things you prepared, whose will they be? So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich towards God.” I may never draw a dime from an IRA, or social security or my promised state retirement; this leaves me with the question what is truly wise investing and will I be wise or a fool? My life and your life have expiration dates and we do not know the day or the hour that has been written down for us. When we wither as the grass and fade as the flower let us be ready to meet our God. Be ready! He is coming at a time we least expect him.

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away- Jesus
The things that we see are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal- Paul

The calls

The call that none of us want to receive never came to my wife, she delivered it. Stacey found our son Jacob dead on our basement bathroom floor a year ago today. I got the call about around 10 AM, she was frantic and wailing things that I couldn’t understand. I asked her to repeat and she said, “He’s dead! He’s Dead!” Who’s dead? “Jake, Jake,  he’s dead!” Repeating what no parent ever wants to hear.

This was call number 3 that came to our family in the span of twelve months. It had started ten months before on May 15th 2013. Our nephew Justin overdosed on heroin that day, I can still hear the shattered voice of Stacey when she got the call. That day began a season of grief for our family that would intensify in degrees we never imagined.

Call number two came to us in late December. Granny fell and broke her hip, it was more than her body could endure, she died shortly before Christmas. Jacob sang at her funeral her favorite hymns, The Old Rugged Cross and Amazing Grace. Little did any of us know that Jacob would be in a casket in three short months . We would be needing much grace to endure a third death in 9 months.

We received call number four on May 8th while on a trip to bring Jared home from Wheaton college in Chicago. Stacey’s mother had fallen and hit her head, she had a brain bleed and they were transporting her to Devos Hospital in Grand Rapids. We stopped the car and I wept, I had a terrible feeling about this and those feelings would be realized rather quickly. Linda died the next day; 45 days after Jacob died we would have to do it all over again.

We had been waiting for spring to have a burial for granny and Jake. Linda was scheduled for a kidney transplant at Mayo Clinic only one week after her fall. We had been delaying the commital service until she was home and in good health. Instead, grandma was part of the service herself. May 15th, 2014 was possibly the hardest day of them all for me. We committed three loved ones to the earth that day. Exactly one year to the day that it started with that call concerning Justin.

There are no words that can explain the depth of the grief and pain our family has endured. But I want to express in some limited language some of the things I have learned and felt in the last 22 months. Death and grief are teachers of many things, the clasroom is dark, the lessons are difficult and tests are extremely complex. In my limited vocabulary I want to express what I have learned in it all. The next topics I want to tackle is the trauma room and trauma care. Stay tuned, there is more to come.

Get a whiff of this

Its coming up on a year since Jacob died, he would have turned 23 on March 3rd. I had 22 years of opportunity to influence his life for good and now I live with only the memories of what I did right or wrong. Do I wish I could change some things? Certainly. Do I live with regret? Sometimes. Was I an ideal father? No. Is my conscience clear? Absolutely. I was not perfect, I made allot of mistakes but I was honest with him about my failures and he was always willing to forgive me of them. I could have done better but I did the best I could.

What matters most to me when I think of the influence I had in Jacob’s life? The answer to that question may shock some people, but before I answer that question let me digress for a moment and share something else with you.

Stacey and I love open air joy rides, we used to do it on a Harley but now we do it in a 1985 Jeep CJ7. Cruising with the top down in early summer is awesome! We enjoy the sun, the sights and the smells of spring. The warmth on our faces and the beauty of northern Michigan’s lakeshore, rolling hills and the sweet fragrances of lilacs along with the overwhelming aroma of the orchards with their apple and cherry blossoms. But occasionally we drive past a rotting deer carcass, a pig farm or a skunk who lost a standoff with an SUV. The fragrance of spring can be quickly replaced by the worst of smells. We naturally prefer the sweet smells but in reality we are confronted by both. My life was an influential fragrance to Jacob and my life is an influential fragrance to you as well if you have taken time to read any of my posts. What do I mean? Continue reading and let Paul explain.

Paul writes, “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of his knowledge in every place.” The apostle is thankful and encouraged that God was using him to bring the smell of Jesus to the lives of everyone in every place he went. But incredibly this influencing aroma rose above and beyond the nostrils of men to the very presence of God in heaven bringing pleasure to him. Paul continues by saying, “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” God is pleased when the knowledge of Christ is diffused by his children. But sadly, when the sweet aroma of eternal life in Christ is rejected it becomes the bitter smell of the death and judgment on those who reject it. He adds, ” To one we are the aroma of death to death, and to the other the aroma of life unto life. ” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16) The gospel rejected reeks of death but the gospel received is the fragrance of eternal life. God is glorified in his grace and mercy as well as in his holiness, justice and wrath.

As a father did I diffuse the fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus to my son Jacob? Yes, as best I knew how I did; my conscience is clear in this matter. This is all that matters to me in the sphere of influence that I had in his life, and in yours as well. Why? Because a soul is priceless and when death comes to take a soul into its eternal home what matters most is what you did with Jesus of Nazareth who is raised from the dead. As Christian’s we are to smell of Jesus, we diffuse his aroma by sharing with people the good news of eternal life that is found in him alone. When we spend time with Jesus we will have his aroma and people around us will get a whiff of his sweetness wherever we go. As we do this, the aroma of the Son of God rises to the heavens and reaches the nostrils of the Father, and in this God is well pleased. We smell of life to those who believe and of death to those who do not.

Be encouraged believer! Your in a victory parade and Jesus is leading the way. Be faithful in sharing Jesus, be encouraged when people enjoy the sweet smells and don’t be discouraged when they think you stink. Why? Because God is pleased with you every time you share the gospel of his Son in your circles of influence. This is the most influential thing we do, this is what matters most because it has eternal, not temporal significance and reward.

Joyful growing pangs

mexicoBetter to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; and the living will take it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. (Ecclesiastes 7:2-4)

 
Last October Stacey and I celebrated our 25th anniversary by going to Mexico. Our time there was memorable and filled with exciting, new, and fun things to enjoy. Six months passed by and we found ourselves in a funeral home preparing to say goodbye to our beloved son Jacob. Which experience would you say is better? Here the preacher says something contrary to human understanding saying it is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting. Why? Because the character of God is learned many times through hardship and less frequently through times of laughter. Therefore the house of mourning is found to be better because it is there that we discover who our God is.
The Christian life is full of growing pangs that we would never have chosen for ourselves, but God is working in us to mature us though various trials he has chosen. We experience the fruit of joy which the Holy Spirit produces as we suffer in the many hardships we endure. This joy is obviously not based in our circumstances but in the comforting fact that God is at work in our lives to sculpt his masterpiece. “My brethren count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4) A test may be grieving you, the circumstances may be grim but our steadfast endurance in the pain produces the fruit that God desires in us. The desired goal of God is that we be perfectly matured and fully equipped for Christian living through the trial. Did you notice James says we need to let patience do the work which God desires to accomplish. Does this mean we can resist the work of God and stunt our spiritual growth? I believe it does. God wants us to stop being children (1 Peter 2:2) and to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:18)
There are three levels of Christian maturity. Children understand the basic truth that they have been forgiven. Children develop into strong young men by having the word of God dwelling in them and overcoming the wicked one. The young men grow into fathers by experiencing in life the God described for them on the pages of scripture. In all this maturing God uses trials along the way so in the end we can say with John, “I write unto you fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning.” (1 John 2:12-14) We move from reading the book about God to knowing the God of the book though our pilgrimage of pain.
I can honestly say that there was very little I learned about God when I went to Mexico. I resided in the house of laughter and my spiritual growth was at best was in neutral. We came home to that long hard winter which ended in the worst day of our lives on March 26th; we entered into the better place of sorrow. How is it better? In all the sorrow, pain and grief we find God, he the brightest in the darkest of times. He reveals himself in ways that the happy times could never have taught us. What was the first lesson I learned in the house of mourning? What was the first lesson in the classroom of spiritual maturity for me? Lesson 1 for me was a lesson on grace. Being in a helpless and seemingly hopeless place I learned though suffering that, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9) In the weakest moment of my life Christ poured out his grace and showed himself strong. He is the God of all grace and he has plenty to in reserve for your many afflictions in life too. Allow God to refine you in your house of mourning, there is grace for you in your time of great need. (Heb. 4:16)
As sorrowful; yet always rejoicing (2 Cor. 6:10)
God bless, Mike.

Jesus and the 1%ers

Jesus and the 1%ers
When was the last time you lost your wallet or your purse? We all have experienced the panic and the fear of losing our identification, money, credit cards and other things of great value. We retrace our steps, our thoughts race and we make every effort to retrieve our valuable lost possession. Now, recall how you felt when the wallet was recovered, what relief and elation you experienced in that moment.
People are of great value to God, he is going to great lengths to recover what is of priceless to him. When he lays hold of it he is joyful among his angels in heaven and they rejoice with him. What makes God rejoice? Repentance towards him and faith in his son Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:21)
There are religious moralists and irreligious ethical people all around us. There are also those who are open and unashamed sinners who don’t hide their sin, it’s just out there for all the world to see. It was among this crowd that Jesus sat down for meals, displaying that he is truly the friend of sinners. Of course the religious moralists criticized him for this, looking down their ethical noses with a pretense of righteousness but in truth they were in a worse condition than the prostitutes, adulterers, cheats and drunks that became the disciples of Jesus.
The self righteous and moralists were the majority in the day of Jesus and it is true of our day as well. The religious and the irreligious moralist alike are blind to the fact of their lost condition. Jesus does not pursue the people who think that they are “OK”, he is diligently seeking those who know they are lost. Who were the 1 percenters of Jesus day and who are the one percenters of our day? Jesus illustrates who they are in the parable of the 100 sheep. 1% of the sheep wandered off, and being the good shepherd that he is, Jesus left the 99 and searched high and low for that one wayward black sheep.
There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death. (Proverbs 14:12) Most people do what they think is right and hope for the best, but this approach to life leads ultimately to death. Isaiah says, All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned-every one-to his own way. (Isaiah 53:6) There is a significant difference in attitude of the 1% that causes the shepherd to leave the 99 and go after the one stray sheep. What is the difference? Jesus said, “I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7) The 99 believe they are basically good and 1 out of a hundred realize that they are sinners in desperate need of help.
The one percenters are a special group to Jesus, not because they are the elite but because they are the humble. They see themselves for what  they are, astray, lost, without hope and in need of rescue. Repentance is a paradox. God calls all men now to repent from unbelief in the risen Christ. (Acts 17:30) Yet humanly speaking our repentance has no redeeming power in itself. What do I mean? Moral reform is just that; it’s only conformity to a set of rules, but true godly repentance that leads to salvation is from God alone (see 2 Corinthians 7:10). Peter speaking of the salvation of the Gentiles said, “If therefore God gave them the same gift as us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God? When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God and said, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” (Acts 11:17-18) To be granted repentance unto eternal life implies one has a need and must ask for this gracious gift. Have you asked God for this gift?
When moral relativism rules a culture they will scoff at the very term repentance. Isn’t this where we have arrived in our nation and our world? Self esteem and pride are the murderers of humility; people think too highly of themselves and too low of a holy God. Who are the 1% that Jesus is seeking after? They are only those beat their chest and cry out, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” (Luke 18:13)
Christmas is here; Why did Jesus come? “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10) Are you a 1%er?
God bless,
Mike