Mentors

Mentor defineA big brother. A father. An uncle. A grandfather. A best friend’s father. A youth leader from church.

Every person, but young men especially, need an older man to pour into their lives. We need someone to help us learn how to be a man. In our society, we put a lot of pressure on young women but there is also a lot of pressure put on young boys to become manly men. There are certain things that men must know. Things it is expected as a man we are aware of. There are also expectations for men which will dramatically change the world all of the men on the planet would get it right. Once these boys develop into men and then as they take on the roles of husband and father, the expectations only get higher.

How do boys learn to be men? How to boys learn the critical ‘man-stuff’ they need to know? The same way any of us learn anything – someone teaches us.

We need someone who will teach us how to treat women. Women are to be treated with dignity and respect, not as objects for our use and abuse. Boys and young men need someone to teach them the proper way to speak to a woman. The proper way to treat a young woman. I am not necessarily a supporter of the whole idea of courting, but certainly something has been lost in the way our youth and young adults are approaching dating. It has lost the special-ness and wonder it once had. It is now a commonplace, ordinary thing and not something that is special. We have lost to excitement and mystery of entering into a relationship with the opposite sex. There are a myriad of societal issues that could likely be traced back to this… that is a discussion for another time! As boys we need someone to teach us how to treat girls and ultimately women.

We need someone to teach us the mystery, wonder and exhilaration that is fire. This is essential to being a man. Other men will immediately gauge the usefulness of a man based on whether he can build a fire. Whether you use raw elements, a flint stone, lighter fluid or straight gasoline a man must be able to make a fire. This ties into a man’s overall outdoorsyness. Men are supposed to skilled outdoorsmen, too. How good of an outdoorsman can you be if you can’t start a fire.

We need someone to teach us how to properly grill meat. Any meat. Dead animal cooked over open flames is quintessential manhood. Without this ability, is a man really a man? Grilling is more than utilitarian preparation of food, it is an art form. It is something special.  Magic happens when meat is grilled.

We need someone to teach us sports. Almost without exception, it is not possible for a group of men to arrive at a park, field, friend’s house or church without some sports equipment. It could be as simple as a football, soccer ball, Frisbee or a baseball and glove. It would seem as though men are hardwired to play sports. In a group of dudes, even the ones that aren’t ‘athletic’ will find themselves getting drawn into the exhibition off sports. While we seem to be inherently keyed into sports, we still must have someone take the time and interest to cultivate the athlete inside of each of us.

Who teaches us these critical life lessons? It is often our father. Sometimes it is an older brother. It can be an uncle. Maybe a grandfather. Maybe it is your friend’s father. Or it could be a youth leader from church. Or maybe it is all of the above. As boys and young men we need someone to teach us important skills and lessons we need in life. We need someone to mentor us.

We all do. We all need someone to pour into our lives and help us to grow. It doesn’t have to be a perfect mentor. It just needs to be someone who cares about us enough to walk through life with us for a season. Mentors change. Seasons and times of our lives change and what we need out of mentors change. But, no matter the season of life we are in we need mentors.

Who has been a mentor to you? What have they taught you? Who have you been able to mentor?

Fear is a Liar

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Fear is a Liar.

I believe this to be the most appropriate location to begin a conversation on how to limit fear. In order to limit fear in our lives, we have to recognize it for what it is. A Lie. Fear lies to us on a regular basis. Fear attempt to convince us of things that likely will never come true. Fear attempts to thwart our efforts of success by getting us to short-circuit ourselves before we even try something.

I am not an expert in mastering fear. I often feel like the apostle Paul who said, ‘not that i have attained it’ because I have not attained it. Not even close on many subjects. Or any subject for that matter. But I have learned to control fear in my life to some degree. I have learned to overcome it and press on through the darkness and coldness of fear. Here are some things I keep in mind to assist me in pressing on through the fear.

  • Failure is ALWAYS and option – Always. It is ok to fail. There is no need to fear failing because it is inevitable. I will fail. And I will fail again. And again. Failure is an opportunity to learn. Learn both what I did well and what I did poorly in that given scenario. There are times when failing is the only way to learn. It is the process of trial and error leading to a better way to get things done. I have overcome fear by learning that it is ok to fail. It is ok to fall flat on my face. It is to make mistakes. The critical part is learning from the mistakes so as not to make them again.
  • ‘What if’ is worse – In my experience, wondering ‘what if’ is worse than anything, even failing. Looking back across the landscape of my life and realizing I tried nothing for fear that it work out the way I hoped. Second guessing my life and decisions I have made, has consumed more hours of my life than I care to admit. Constantly consumed with ‘what if’ because I was unwilling to try something is significantly worse than trying something and having any outcome. Because at least I tried and now I know.
  • Nothing is gained by doing Nothing – my brother had children’s book as we were growing up, whose title or premise I can’t recall. The only thing I do recall is a mouse who consistently said he can’t do this or that. Finally at the end, another wiser character told him ‘Can’t never could’. This phrase has stuck with me ever since. Because can’t never could. If you never try anything then you will never know your limits and you never gain anything, even if the only gained is self-awareness of what you are capable of.

Fear does not tell the truth. Fear uses lies to limit us and give us a false sense of we who are and what we are capable of. These are some things I keep in mind when facing a situation I fear. They have helped me. Maybe they can help you.

An Unpleasant Emotion

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fear

ˈfir/
noun
  1. 1.
    an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.

    “drivers are threatening to quit their jobs in fear after a cabby’s murder”

    synonyms: terrorfright, fearfulness, horroralarmpanicagitationtrepidation,

    dreadconsternationdismaydistress; More

There you have it. Fear.

When I think of fear, I can’t help but to think of The Replacements and the classic locker room scene where the coach asks them to admit their fears. Watch it here.

I have come to believe the reality of life is that we are held back in every aspect of lives by fear. Fear takes on many faces and comes in many forms, but the ultimate reality is that fear controls us all at some time or another. Fear traps us and keeps us from being able to move forward in life. Fear inhibits, prohibits and limits us from moving. It paralyzes. It overcomes and overwhelms. It conquers and leaves devastation in its wake.

Why? Why do we let fear immobilize us the way we do? Is fear really that powerful? Does fear really have that much control? Has fear been unlimited power, rendering us powerless to battle against it?

I think what gives fear its power is the unknown or the intangible nature of what it does to us. There are times when our fears are rooted in reality or in previous experience. But many times, fear is not rooted in anything other than our own fear of fear or a fear of the unknown or fear of an outcome based on insufficient or incomplete information. Let me explain. On Friday I took the youth from Grace Landing’s group home to a high ropes course. A couple of the obstacles we tackled you had to climb a ladder for about 15 feet, then climb a telephone pole for another 15 feet arriving at the obstacle approximately 30 feet in the air. One of the youth was barely able to make it off the ladder. He was afraid of falling. His fear in that moment was fear of an unknown, or more specifically fear based on insufficient or incomplete information. He was wearing a climbing harness which was secured around his waist. He was securely attached to a safety rope by locking carabiner. The safety rope was proper rigged and secured to an anchor point. There was a trained professional belaying this youth. There was literally no way for this youth to be injured while at the ropes course, yet his fears kept him from experiencing the ropes course to its fullest. His fear based on insufficient and incomplete information – if he fell, he would get hurt or die. His fears were never going to be realized at the ropes course.

This happens to us across the expanse of our lives. We face situations and determine our course of action based on what we think could possibly occur and if it is an outcome we don’t like, we are afraid. We begin to fear the outcome and then fear has crippled us from completing the task at hand. Fear based on a possibility. A possibility that is just as likely to not happen as it is to happen. Fear is at its essence being crippled by the possible. Even when experience supports our fear, there is no guarantee the fears will be realized this time around. For the person who gets married and their spouse breaks their heart and leaves them, just because this was their experience it does mean they should withhold from engaging in authentic relationships with other for fear of being hurt again. They may be hurt again, but they may also find a rewarding relationship in which they are surrounded by the love they deserve.

Fear, in reality, only has as much power as we give it. Fear is only as strong as we allow it to be. Fear can only overcome and cripple us because we allow it to do so.

My hope today is identify fear as a force working against us, only having the power we give it. Tomorrow, I want to identify how to limit the power we give to fear.

How has fear limited or crippled you?

Captivity

ColossiansThis morning I was reading Colossians 2 and verse eight stood out to me. This verse has been highlighted in my Bible for years now. Many years ago, as I spoke with a friend who was leaving his wife this passage came to my attention as my friend used all manner of worldly thinking and ideology to justify and explain to me why he had suddenly lost interest and was no longer in love with his wife. He used philosophy and so-called wisdom based on the elemental principles of the world as his basis for why what he was doing was not only ok to do, but the only right thing to do. I believe was taken captive by a philosophy which was unable to provide any legitimate substance or foundation for rational thinking.

We have to tendency to lean towards philosophies or ways of thinking that allow us to justify our actions. We tend to use our desires and actions to interpret Scriptures, rather than allowing Scripture to interpret how we should live. This is what my friend did. This is why Paul cautions us to not be taken captive by hollow, empty, deceitful philosophy. That sentence was very loaded. Let me try to break it down.

Paul warns us to not be taken captive. In the original Greek language, which Paul would have written this, the idea is to not be robbed. He says, look out, keep watch so that you may not be robbed. Don’t let your clear, rational thinking be taken captive or robbed from you. Do not let your thought processes be hijacked and stolen from you. Use your critical thinking and rational thought skills (which I would argue are inherent, built-in aspects of our existence thanks to being made ‘in the image of God’ who possesses critical thinking and rational thought) to see through the empty philosophy.

Paul says, what has taken us captive is empty or hollow. The word is empty, meaning there is nothing to it. No substance. Hollow. Valueless, no merit, nothing inside. As I glance across my desk I see my coffee mug. It is empty. There is nothing inside it. Right now, that has no value. It has nothing in it. At 0646, the mug might as well be dead to me. The mug has zero value to it, because the value it brings is contingent upon Empty mugwhat fills it. Philosophy, a word we get by through the combining of one of the Greek words for ‘love’ and the Greek word for ‘wisdom’, so the loving of wisdom must have substance to it. The philosophy or the train of thinking about wisdom have be full of something, not hollow or it is useless.

Paul goes on to describe the philosophy which has taken us captive as deceitful. In the original Greek text, the words empty and deceit follow each other. The text literally reads, empty deceit according to the tradition of men, according to the elements of the world. There is much here, but I want to focus on the deceitful aspect. What makes it deceitful? Its emptiness. The fact that it is hollow and promises what it can not deliver. Just like my coffee mug is deceiving into thinking it has value, when it does not because it is empty. So is the philosophy which has bewitched us. It promises big, but delivers nothing. It is deceit because it has no value or substance to it.

It would be presumptuous for me to speak for you, but I don’t want to be taken captive by anything let alone anything which is empty or hollow. Imagine waking up one day, years from now and realizing you have been chasing a hollow, empty dream. Your whole life, everything you put into that pursuit is wasted, all for nothing. Paul is giving us a wake up call to pay attention to the things we place our trust in and what we rely on. Are we trusting in philosophies which are empty and deceitful because they are empty? Are we placing our trust in something of value, something which is not empty? Clearly, Paul is making a subtle argument for placing one’s faith and trust in God and relying on him to find the values and meaning we need to navigate through life. Trust in God is the only thing in the end providing the lasting meaning we crave. There is no other philosophy or tradition providing meaning and purpose equal to what God provides, because God has no equal.

We need to heed the warning and not allow ourselves to be taken captive by empty, deceitful philosophy. We need to place our faith, hope and trust in God each day. We need to allow the Word of God to light our path and direct our steps. (Bet you didn’t expect a theology lesson this morning!)

What empty, deceitful philosophy do you let creep in and distract you?

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The Path Ahead

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This morning as I am praying, meditating and listening to God verse 8 stands out in my mind as something I need to hear today: O Lord, lead me in Your righteousness because of my foes;  Make Your way straight before me. The second half fees particularly relevant to me as I am searching the path God is laying before me. My family is embarking on a new chapter in our journey right now. It has become clear to me the pastors at h2o church and I are not on the same page when it comes to leadership and overseeing splash. Through this discussion it has become evident to me, God is asking me to step away from my responsibilities there. This is scary for me. I am not sure what is coming next. In June I began working with a nonprofit in Kissimmee in child welfare. I enjoy this, but I also feel a calling to serve God in a local church. I am not sure what that will look like as we move forward. God is making his path straight before.
This current season of my life feels very transient and changing. I can’t place my finger on what or why, but I feel like a significant change is about to occur in the life of our family. It could just be the shift which is inherent in me stepping away from h2o (because this in and of itself is a big transition). It could be the follow up plans I have to begin working as a registered intern in addition to my work with Grace Landing (that nonprofit) I mentioned. I don’t know for sure what the path ahead looks like, but I am confident that God is laying it straight. I am saddened by the impending departure from h2o, but I am also peaceful about it because I know the timing is right. I know this is the next steps God is leading me to take.
If I look back on my life, there have been other times I have made similar decisions which were also scary at  the time, and also didn’t seem like there was a definite plan forward. Each of those times, God has shown up and proved himself reliable. Each time he has demonstrated he has made his paths before me straight.
My prayer today, and moving forward is that I will seek the wisdom of God daily. I will be patient and wait on him. I am praying I will be his servant and move forward in the ways he is leading. I really believe God is doing something unheard of or unexpected in the life of my family in the coming season. Whatever it is, it feels like it is going to be epic and I want to be a part of whatever it is.

The Beginning of the End

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I started this journey in October of 2007… that’s over six years ago.

Six years ago.

Today is the beginning of the end. This is the first day of class of my last term in my masters in counseling. In 9 weeks I will graduate and complete this degree. There is a light at the end of the tunnel!!

These last six years have been some of the hardest years of my life. Not because of this education… this education was one of the very few constants in my life over these years.

I have learned much about myself, my wife, the resiliency of my children, what authentic community feels like, the pain of losing jobs, the difficulty of financial ruin, the anguish of mental breakdown, and most importantly the unending love of my savior for me.

I also learned about the healing of restoration, the excitement of redemption and the joy of emerging on the other side of intense pain & difficulty.

By the grace of God I have emerged victorious against my foes.

There is a sense of accomplishment that goes along with getting to this place in my life… but honestly, it isn’t the kind of feeling of accomplishment you might expect. I am proud of myself, but more than anything I am proud of the God who has gotten me through.

When I began this journey, this masters degree, I honestly wasn’t sure why I started it. I didn’t really want to be a counselor. I would have rathered an MSW (Master’s of Social Work)… I felt as though this was more up my alley and have continued to profess that over the course of 6 years. Each time reassuring myself when I complete this degree it will certainly help me in ministry. I no longer feel this way exclusively. It will help in ministry, but it also fits me very well. I enjoy counseling (actually I enjoy being on both sides of the couch, but that’s for another time) and believe I make a good counselor. I listen well. I have good insight. I offer sound, wise advice. I certainly have experienced my own pain in a way that is meaningful to others and in a way that resonates with them. I can help others because of what I have experienced. I am a better father and husband because of what I have experienced. I am more humble because of what I have experienced.

I have learned more than I can put into words about myself. One thing I have certainly learned is I am able to accomplish something. Over the last six years, more times than I care to recount, I have felt like a failure. I am not a failure.

Quite the opposite is true.

I am a Champion.

Today, I lift the head of the giant and celebrate my defiance. But the Lord is with me like a dread champion; Therefore my persecutors will stumble and not prevail. They will be utterly ashamed, because they have failed, With an everlasting disgrace that will not be forgotten. (Jeremiah 20:11 NASB)

Today is the beginning of the end.

Which Star Wars character are you?

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I have generally always fancied myself a Han Solo kind of dude. Even though, when I was a young boy I refused to answer my parents unless they called me Luke Skywalker.

But Han Solo is the shiz. His carefree cavalier attitude, his quick wittedness, his ability to think on his feet and get himself out of trouble. Not to mention his dopey, lopsided grin. These are qualities I see in myself. At least in my mind.

The last two nights we have watched Episodes 1 & 2 with our boys. We have played lego Star Wars for months, they’ve watched the clone wars and now we have begun the saga at the beginning to bring them I to the fold.

But this got me to thinking about which Star Wars character am I really? Is Han the best choice for me?

I think if I am honest with myself, I am Darth Vader. Or at least Anakin Skywalker as he turned into Darth Vader. Anakin struggled with anger and controlling his fears and emotions. Anakin was reckless and often didn’t think before he acted. He regularly threw caution to the wind.

These all sound strikingly similar to me.

What do I do with this newfound knowledge?

Nothing really.

But it is an interesting note that Anakin was touted as the prophesied one who would bring balance to the force. He goes crazy and murders everyone he could get his light saber on, but ultimately is redeemed and saves his son while destroying the emperor who was the pinnacle of evil.

He was redeemed.

He became know. For something other than his struggles and missteps. He became known for something beyond his mistakes.

This is what I want also. I want to be know. For something other than my mistakes, my sins.

In the end, Darth Vader didn’t win and Anakin prevailed in the battle for his mind and soul. Anger didn’t win. Hate didn’t win.

Redemption won the day.

Leg 1 – Athens

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Well we made it.

Friday saw us completing the first leg of our journey and rolling into Athens, Ga. We left, later than we planned, on Thursday and made it most of the way stopping in Ashland, Ga. for the night at a hotel. Ronda as pretty adamant about us stopping and not going the whole way to Athens due to how late we left Thursday. We got to the hotel at around 1 am, after I had been withholding judgment as to whether we were going to stay somewhere or not. I would have gone the whole, if I had thought I was able to stay awake to get us here. Around midnight, I decides it was going to be a better move to stay the night. So we did. As it turns out, Ronda was right.

So we got up Friday morning and the boys and I ate the continental breakfast while Ronda got ready to go. We grabbed her some Waffle House to go and headed to my parent’a house arriving just in time to eat breakfast for lunch. Honestly, it was considerably better than the breakfast we had eaten. We hung out at the house enjoying my mom & dad, my bro & his kids and one of my sisters.

My parents live about a half mile from my elementary school, and it has trails behind it in some woods so Ronda and I squeezed in a brief trail run before supper. These woods hold a special place in my heart because I used to walk on them while a student at the school and after undergrad we used to ride our mountain bikes back there. There was a crazy storm Thursday that obliterated several of the trails. I always enjoy sharing my history with my wife. It was great fun to run with her back there.

After the run, we enjoyed mom’s famous tacos followed by a fire & s’mores. After baths, we headed over to Ronda’s sister’s house for the night. I got to hang out with my bro in-law, Justin, and my bro some more.

Now it is way past my bedtime and I should be asleep, but I am sharing my journey with you. Tomorrow, we are going to a park I used to frequent whirl growing up in Athens. So far, this trip has lived up to my expectations & hopes of being epic… and the camping hasn’t even started yet!

Good night.

Identity Peace

The opposite of an identity crisis.

Right now is a time in my life when I feel that many things define me for who am I. And I am ok with the many pieces that make Eli who he is.

Today, I updated my bio on Twitter and Instagram to read: ‘Jesus defines who i am, additionally i am: broken, husband & dad, counselor, missionary & i like motorcycles.’

I think these are all appropriate. And I could even add a few more. I am currently working at H2O Church Orlando as the family ministries director; I am on staff with GCM as a field missionary (they are the missionary organization that allows me to be at H2O); I am a grad student at Webster University finishing a Master’s in Counseling; I work as a counselor intern at Catholic Charities; I coach my boys soccer team; I lead a life group; I am a runner; and more importantly, I am a father and a husband; and most importantly, I am God’s son.

I don’t always get all these things right. I drop the ball and could do much better than I do. But, for the first time in a long time in my life I am actually maintaining my life with so many balls in the air. I am doing all of those things well enough that I am not failing. I am keeping my head out of the water. Thankfully, I have an incredible wife that God has given me that has provided the frame work for me to be able to be all of these things. The old adage, that behind every good man is a great woman, couldn’t be more true for me.

I owe everything I am to 2 people: Christ and Ronda Westfall. Without them, I would be nothing.

I am not suffering from an identity crisis, I am reveling in an identity peace. God has led me to where he wants me, where he needs me and to where I can be the most effective.

the Undiscovered Country

Star Trek 6 was in my mind, one of the best of them.

In an effort for the Klingons and the Federation to end their war, this term was used to describe the future. No one knows for sure what it is going to look like… except God.

***Vagueness Disclaimer*** I am about to be vague. You are warned.

God has a way of working his plans, despite our efforts sometimes.

Ronda and I have been praying through some things for many months now. And a couple of months of ago, we took the plunge and finally made decision to follow God in a particular way. This was a scary decision for us… but we finally did it.

And God has not stopped moving since we did this. We were subsequently enveloped in a whirlwind of movement of the Spirit. I have no explanation for it, except that God was calling and I listened.

I thought to myself, ‘this is incredible’. It felt like we were getting no response from God until we decided and stopped being ‘like a man tossed by the waves’. I am reminded of Revelation when Jesus speaks to the church in Laodicea, he says he hates their lukewarmness. Is being tossed byt he waves, unable to decide the same as lukewarmness? I don’t know, but I have to think that kind of disunity or inability to move forward isn’t what God is calling us to.

Where does the journey from here? I’m not entirely sure. But I know that I am done standing around and waiting, I am following God in this journey to see where it goes.

God is awesome, and great things are ahead. How do I know?

Because I’ve met this God I follow before and I know what he is like.