Reflecting on the Gift of Family 

A brother was born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17)

On my office desk, co-existing with the stacks of books and binders that constitute my ministry toolbox, sits a picture that was taken 19 years ago. It is one of my parents, brother, two sisters, and myself. The place: Honolulu, Hawaii, in the living room of our Hawaii Kai Queen’s Gate home. The date: July 31, 1997 – the evening of my younger sister’s 12th birthday. That picture was the last complete family picture that we took.  

Less than a month after it was taken, my parents separated and divorced shortly after. We haven’t taken a picture with the six of us together since.  

The photo serves as a reminder of my roots, of the family soil from which I bloomed. Life has moved on for all – parents and children alike. Today, my father lives in the Philippines; my mother in Las Vegas. Both are remarried. I see my mother a number of times a year on special occasions, and my father about once every year and a half. My brother currently lives in Phoenix with his wife and three children. I see him a few times a year, and our kids are the best of buddies. Both of my sisters are married and live in the Bay Area; them, I see quite often, since we live inhabit the same part of the globe. During the first two weeks of September of last year, I had a chance to see all of them – yes, all six of them and their families. Kathy, the two kids, and I spent a week in Asia with my father, and then traveled straight to Hawaii for one week for my mother’s sixtieth birthday celebration, where all my siblings and their families were present. It was a blessedly refreshing time for us all, and it prompted me to write this entry.

There was a particularly long stretch of life when I valued friends above family. When I headed off to college, I had no real ambition to remain close to my parents and siblings. I began trekking a new trail, restructuring my sphere of close relationships that consisted entirely of Christian friends from church or fellowship. Toward family, it was less of a despising and more of simple disinterest. I saw them as infrequently as possible, and during the times that I did I was distant and aloof. Perhaps it was an outflow of a man who was seeking to find my identity in my newly forming social circles. I vividly recall a conversation with my brother the day before I was scheduled to fly to Phoenix for a family reunion, during which he asked me why it was that I had planned it such that I would fly into Phoenix and also leave the evening of that same day. He asked me why it was that, every time we had a family event scheduled (which wasn’t even that frequent), I seemed to always be interested in leaving earlier than everyone else. I was offended during that phone conversation…and it was mainly because he was right.  

In that particular season, a reality was concurrently beginning to unfold of which I became aware only near the tail end; I would go through one cycle after another of gaining and losing friends. Close confidants became people to avoid. Those who vowed loyalty one day would betray it in the next. But throughout the rising and setting of friendships, my brother and sisters remained by my side. My parents never removed their love and support. To say that “they were always there for me” sounds cliche-ish, but its truth can’t be denied.  

Admittedly, I used to think that exhibiting strong familial ties were particular to certain cultures and not to others. Over the years, I’ve come to understand that it is not fundamentally a cultural practice, but a biblical principle that stems from both biblical commandments and biblical wisdom. Cain, though he denied such a responsibility, was called to be his brother’s keeper. In the Old Testament, Hebrew slaves in the Old Testament who were too poor to redeem themselves were to be redeemed by their blood brothers – hence the term “kinsman redeemer.” A woman who was widowed by her husband’s death was called to be taken by that man’s brother as his wife. In the New Testament, believers are commanded to be devoted to one another in “brotherly affection” (Romans 12:10), carrying the implication that the relationship amongst brothers ought to both valued and be set as the model for the way the members of God’s church were meant to treat one another. So yes, I admit that in my previous failing to value family, I was biblically off the mark.  

Today, Cuevas siblings do live our separate lives, exclusive of each other in its daily workings. My older brother, the business-savvy one, currently works in Phoenix as a product manager for Annexus. My older sister, the logical genius of the bunch, works at Google as a senior software engineer and team lead manager. My younger sister, in many ways the clan’s most talented, will be starting a professorship at U.C. Davis for bioinorganic chemistry. As for me, the “different” one as my mother told me on the eve of my college graduation (it’s a euphemism for “headstrong”), am a full-time vocational minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As it is, we don’t get into each other’s business or tell each other what to do. Quarreling and arguing are as rare as a Diamond Head volcano erruptions, if not altogether non-existent. Our reunion routine: we start with loud “Hi!’s”, embrace, find a place to eat at a restaurant, and talk. There’s a lot of story-telling, laughing, and reminiscing about our childhood – both the good and the bad. Nothing can replace that. There’s something particularly special about the common grace that was extended to us through my parents and how they raised us. And as I write this, I’m humbled that the Lord didn’t repay me for my previous perspective of at times throwing them under the rug, and instead kept me integrated into their lives.  

As we continue to stay in touch as adults, I’ve reflected deeply on Proverbs 17:17: “A brother was born for adversity.” The meaning is simple. God providentially gave us parents, brothers, and sisters to be one of the greatest sources of security, safety, and support during life’s most adverse seasons. I knew this biblically; I now know it experientially.

So live we must, as Christians, for the kingdom of God and the ministry of the gospel to the ends of the earth. The ministry today to which God has commissioned me and Kathy – the pastoral ministry of the gospel and edification of the church in the Bay Area region – is an endeavor that is mutually exclusive of my familial ties. But my parents and siblings remain a most valuable and lasting set of earthly relationships apart from the ones I have with my wife and children, and ones deserving of great honor. It just took me a while to figure that out. 

Advertisements

Fathers…

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but raise them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.  ~Ephesians 6:4

Fathers

Yes, you, Mr. Dad, who stumbled across this entry.  Stop hiding behind your wife, and stop hiding from God.  Step forward, you father, as the Word of God summons you on behalf of your family.  When it comes to the august responsibility of parenting an eternal soul, Scripture first and foremost addresses fathers. Thus, there are few crimes more heinous and more damaging the mistreatment of children by their fathers – be it by abuse, neglect, or any kind of perversion of biblical parenting.  At the same time, there is no more dignified duty than the commission view to a man to raise his children.  Such is reflected by the example that his sons aspire to from him and the protection that his daughters find in him.  Let every father, with regards to his duty as such, recognize the unworthiness of his calling and the weightiness of his responsibility, lest he dishonor the Word of God and reap its consequences.  

do not provoke your children to anger…

Mr. Dad, I have yet to witness a pain of resentment so haunting to a man as that which was caused by the mistreatment of him by his father.  I have been approached by parents who are oh so worried about their anger that their children seem to be exhibited (i.e. “what do I do?  He’s just such an angry child!”) and yet are so oblivious to the actions of the children that based the furious passions of that child.  Let every father see to it that he examines himself so thoroughly that those actions that characterizes his parenting that stir up his children to an unnecessary anger become so clear to him, and let him repent.  Mr. Dad, if your kids are angry at you…it’s highly probably that you’re at fault.  For I have met several men who, while they may not have embraced the saving faith of their parents, were more than eager to embrace the personality of their earthly father.  And I have met several men who, while they they have indeed embraced the saving faith of their parents, were resistant to embrace the personality of their earthly father.  So with your children, beware of destructively criticizing them.  Beware of lording it over them.  Beware of embarrassing them in public.  Beware of missing their baseball games and ballet recitals because you had to work…over and over – and over – again.  Beware of lecturing the without listening to them.  Beware of being loud about what they do wrong and quiet about what they do right.  Beware of making promises to them that you can’t keep.    

but raise the up…

Mr. Dad, in your home, you are the first parent.  You are not the only parent obviously, and we fellow men may all speak heroically of our wives and their ministry as mothers, and rightly so.  But when it comes to the raising up of children to maturity, the primary responsibility falls on you.  As a father, involvement in your children’s lives is no mere option or suggestion; it is an command given by the authority of Scripture.  To leave the raising up of your children to their mother is categorically dishonoring to the very Word of God.  So fathers, be involved.  Be in their lives, every step of the way. May your children be able to testify of the presence of the hand of their father in their maturation.  May your sons and daughters be able to testify of your handprints in every major transition of life that they undergo under God’s providential care.  May they be able to testify that the primary tools that God used to move them from infancy to independence were the hand and voice of their father.  So, through the empowering influence of the Spirit of God Himself, move your children to maturity – one step at a time.    

in the discipline… 

Mr. Dad, this is the first leg of raising up your children.  Raise them up in the discipline of the Lord.  This is more than just spanking and grounding.  It is coaching – teaching your children not to live by instinct, impulse, lustful desire, peer pressure, or worldly trends, but rather by the principles and wisdom from heaven above.  It is the entrusting of skill.  Give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day; teach him how to fish, and you’ll feed him for a lifetime.  In the same way that a tennis coach trains his pulpit to prepare his racquet early, keep his feet moving, bend his knees, keep his eyes on the ball, and follow through the swing.  In the same way that a physics teacher trains his pupil to show his work, construct free body diagrams when attempting to solve dynamics-related problems.  Fathers, in the same way, train up your children to navigate through this world with the godly disciplines found in the person and words of Christ Himself.  

and instruction…

Mr. Dad, this is the second leg of raising up your children.  Raise them up in the instruction of the Lord.  Oh that profound Greek word used here, which implies the instructing and affecting of the mind.  It’s more than lecturing, and it’s definitely not yelling or monologuing, but rather training your children to reason and interpret the world around them accurately, to evaluate the world around them soundly.  It involves, in beautiful tension, both leadership and dialogue, both talking to them and talking with them, both exhorting them and conversing with them.  Train your children, Mr. Dad, come to accurate conclusions about God, themselves, and the world around them.  Train them not only in their habits, but more importantly in their thinking.  Hand down to them not rules and procedures, but rather a worldview consistent with God’s revelation of truth found in Scripture.  

of the Lord

Mr. Dad, you will always be their dad.  But the day is coming when your authority over your children will be an artifact of the pass.  Yet, they will always be, just like you and me, men and women under authority.  What will matter is whose authority they are submitted to in their living and thinking.  Fathers, with authority, teach your children that you’re not the ultimate authority.  Show them that you yourself are a man under the authority of the Lordship of Christ.  Raise up your children to recognize, both by your example and instruction, the absolute supremacy of Christ.  Teach them to respond humbly and submissively to His lordship.  Show them what it looks like to respond to our Lord in repentance and faith.  Teach them, that they must “hate their father and mother” and give the whole of their lives to following Christ.

Protecting My Children…from Myself


“Father’s, do not exasperate their children, so that they will not lose heart.”

~Colossians 3:21

Children don’t raise themselves. Admit it; sometimes, we parents wish they could. But they don’t. And they can’t. And they won’t. Thus, we take great pains as parents to monitor the influx of external factors that may impact their growth – be it physical, mental, social. As Christian parents in particular, we worry ourselves to death regarding the number of sinful and worldly influences that could “brainwash” our little ones. Admit it once again; we’ve all gone overboard. Like red-tailed hawks, we monitor everything from the TV shows they watch (as if Frozen could turn our children away from the faith) to the kids they play with (“beware of little Johnny, because he can make our kids do naughty things”). We’ve become afraid to put them into public schools because of the atheistic and humanistic philosophies that could poison their so-called innocent brains. There’s a lot to be concerned about these days, it seems

Yet, we’ve neglected to open our eyes at times to what I’d like to call the “hypocrisy of the hovering.” Hypocrisy, because as parents we’re oh so concerned about the little specks and twigs that could poke our kids sin, and at the same time be completely obviously to the giant logs that are constantly bludgeoning them, day-in and day-out. Let me explain what I mean. Aside from the personal sin in which they’re own hearts are already entangled (did you forget that your child was born a sinner?), the sins that a child is going to be most exposed to and most affected by are the sins of his parents. And particularly, the sins of his father. It is his from his father’s sinful actions that a child is continually bulleted. The majority of emotional wounds that a child may be inflicted with on any given day will come from his father, all intents aside.  

But why fathers, and not mothers? Don’t mothers spend more time with their children than fathers do? And why fathers, and not siblings? Don’t children squabble more with their siblings than parents? Why are the sins of a father particularly impactful on a child’s soul? The answer: it’s just the way it is. The authority that a father has over his household gives him much power, and also much responsibility. Whether he likes it or not, the impact that a father’s words and actions have on his children’s souls is more powerful than those which come from any other person. That is why the singular exhortation in Colossians 3:21 is not “protect them from the influences of the world” or “make sure that they educated in a Christian environment” or “watch closely who they play with” (although these are all important parts of raising children). Rather, it is “do not exasperate their children, so that they will not lose heart.” And, again, it’s directed straight to the father. Implied here is that the strength of heart that a child may feel for both Christian living and living in general is directly affected by the way his father treats him. Entrusted to a father’s hands is the heart of his child. By God’s design, he has the ability to both strengthen it against adversity and also drain it of it’s hope.  

The truth is that spiritual warfare is constantly taking place in the hearts and lives of us father’s. Day-in, day-out, we find ourselves battling sin and temptation. Unfortunately, our wives and kids are often caught in the cross-fires. When we’re disciplined and strengthened by His might, we’re able to overcome our temptations and protect our families from our sins. When we’re lackadaisical, lazy, and careless, our families can fall victim to our sinful actions and words. Face it, fathers. The worldliness to which our children are most frequently exposed is the vestiges of worldliness in the lives of their fathers. They’re exposed to it everyday. They’re hurt by it, to some degree, everyday. The question is not whether they will be hurt by it, but to what degree. The sad reality is that some of the slashes will leave indelible marks on their hearts. The question, then, becomes, “From how much of my own sinfulness can I protect my children?” Beware, fathers, lest your children encounter the following in your home today, tomorrow, and next week:

 a) your flaring temper 

 b) your neglecting of them 

 c) your worldly pursuits of money, fame, power, and entertainment 

 d) your prioritizing your career over their interests and daily lives 

 e) your harsh criticism towards their momentary failures 

 f) your controlling style of parenting…

 g) your own hypocrisy – the double standard you hold toward them and you

 f) your failure to encourage them when they do right, and your quickness to

 criticize them when they do wrong (un-called for criticism)

 g) your constant turning down of their requests to want to play with you

 h) your obsession with their accomplishments over how they’re doing 

 personally

 i) your tendencies to lecture them more than listen to them 

 j) your unfair discipline toward them 

 k) your failure to ask for forgiveness when you wrong them

As a father, I realize that I have ultimately no control over how my children will turn out. I’ve been around the block enough to have realized that our children will one day do what they want to do, regardless of whether we want them to do it. I can plan for their lives, but God will ultimately direct their steps. From God’s perspective, it is His giving of His Spirit that will determine whether my children will ultimately walk with Him or walk away from Him. My duty as a father is to faithfully raise them up in the instruction of the Lord – in love, truth, wisdom, integrity, and humility. A part of that means teaching them to deal with the sinfulness inside of them. Another part is helping them interpret accurately and protect themselves from the sinfulness outside of their hearts but inside of their home – namely, that of their own father. My constant prayer is that the effect that my sinfulness will have on my kids is minimal. That I would be quick to remind them of when I did wrong, quick to ask for forgiveness, quick to mend the wounds that I too often inflict, even if they aren’t intentional.

Here’s some advice then, for all of us dads:

1. Aim to be perfect, just as your own Father is perfect. Seek to do good to your children, all the days of their life. Make no excuses for your sinfulness, whatsoever. None.  

2. Confess your sins, with no excuses. Don’t confuse them as to what was right and wrong about your behavior, lest they become confused about what’s true and false about them and true and false about what honors God.

3. Ask for forgiveness. Don’t just say sorry. Don’t blame your children. Ask for forgiveness.

4. Point them to the gospel and your personal testimony. They’ll understand better that Christ died for them when they realize that he died for you, too.

Fathers, for the glory of Christ and His gospel, do not exasperate your children. Protect them from your sins, so that they may not lose heart.

The Wrong Baton

  

Replacing culture with faith in our youth ministries

For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well.

~2 Timothy 2:5

The statistics are alarming. According to certain surveys, approximately 70 to 75 percent of America’s church-raised youth end up leaving the church and abandoning the Christian faith altogether. It’s what’s termed as the “Youth Exodus Problem”, a high-pitched, red-light siren that seriously puts into question the integrity of the ministry which our nation’s youth are receiving with regards to Christianity from Christian parents, Christian school teachers, or Christian youth pastors and leaders. This isn’t an entry designed to critically condemn anyone, but rather one that has hit home personally. As of today, I’ve served in all of the capacities listed above. Over the last several years, I’ve served as a children’s pastor, youth pastor (junior high and high school alike), a Christian school teacher (middle school and high school alike), and am currently a father of young children. I’ve spent a lot of time talking, listening, teaching, leading, and ministering to America’s prime-of-life demographic. I’ve felt the pressure (internal and external) of having young lives entrusted to my care, however long the period of time. Thus, the function combined with the numbers above has caused me to think long and hard about what it and isn’t in my control (yes, I’m a Calvinist), and about what is and isn’t in the employment description to all those called to minister to the church’s youth. After being around so many of them – regenerate and nominal alike – I’ve come to the conclusion that the problem (again, from a human perspective) lies in what is that we as their predecessors are passing down to them.  

And, on that same side of the coin, what it is that we are failing to pass down to them.  

I believe that American youth are falling away from the faith because we haven’t been passing down faith to them. What we have been passing down efficiently to the next generation is Christian culture. That’s my thesis. It’s equivalent to handing over a sandwich without the meat. Of course they won’t eat it. It’s empty carbs, good only for spurts of energy with no structural substance able to build anyone up.

Observe church-going youth in your local church or Christian school, and it won’t take long to notice that they know how to behave appropriately in Christian contexts. Whether they do so out of pure motives is another issue, but ecclesiastical teens can navigate through both the sanctuary pews and fellowship halls like seals through beds of seaweed. They know how to do it, and do it quite well. I once met a young high school girl who, nearly verbatim, memorized the wedding vows that are traditionally recited in weddings due to having had to attend so many Christian weddings (her father was a pastor). A good majority of them are extremely well-versed in Scripture – at least, with regards to passages that deal directly with Christian conduct and church life. Most of them are quite familiar with the weekly church schedule, and many were (and are) active participants. Some, if you push them, could probably even run a Sunday service! They know how to greet newcomers, how to take notes during sermons, how to answer all of those Sunday school questions in three or four words, how to behave as dinner guests, how to explain to their youth leaders how they’ve been growing (or not growing) in their walks with God, and how to treat the opposite gender (at least, in front of the pastoral camera). Many have served senior citizens, volunteered at VBS, peer administrators, and participate in discipleship groups.  

Our youth are experts, in other words, with regards to exhibiting proper Christian culture. That’s because it’s what they’ve been given. And this is precisely the issue at hand.

It’s an issue, because Christian culture by itself is utterly powerless to protect a young man from the temptations of the world that excite his natural fleshly fibers, particularly when he has the strength and independence to pursue them. Read Ephesians 6 while you’re at it – that famous passage on the armor of God – and ask yourself where it is that Paul says to put on the shield of culture. He doesn’t, because that’s not a part of the armor. A man wrapped with culture, before the arrows of the evil one, might as well use saran-wrap. He’ll die either way.  

I’m not degrading Christian culture. It is good, ought to be taught, and is no doubt a manifestation of true faith. The two, however, are not synonymous. Faith, by definition, is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). Foundational faith is the understanding of the unseen but ever-present God, who He is, and what He is like. In my experience with youth, even the most well-versed ones are generally weak in their understanding of one specific area of systematic theology – the area of theology proper. I’m saying this not out of mere speculation, but from personal experience. I’ve taught youth, both formally and privately, through the attributes of God – His holiness, His solitariness, His sovereignty, His jealousy, His beauty, His wrath, His justice, His love, His glory, and much more – and most of them were not able to give Sunday School answers. Instead, most were straight-up stunned during those lessons, as if they were hearing for the first time about what their Creator is like and wondering why no one had ever told them about Him. Some are amazed.  Others get angry.  But none ever get bored.  I don’t know if it’s because youth ministers are afraid of teaching it out of fear that they’ll bore the already-fidgety, hormone-exploding congregants, and I won’t make any conclusions here. What is for certain, however, is that God’s attributes aren’t being preached to them, and they’re graduating from high school with little idea of what God is like as revealed in the Scriptures. It’s no surprise then, that come college orientation day, they’ll stop worshipping God. They never knew Him to begin with.  

Passing down a faith instead of a culture means teaching our children and teens diligently about the glory of the unseen God, so that they may know how to relate to Him as creation to their Creator and learn to trust Him as sinners do their Savior when the time comes to make a decision to do so. It truly breaks my heart when I talk to a teen about one of God’s attributes, only to hear him say, “That’s the first time anyone’s described God to me like that.” For there is no greater tragedy than for a generation to fail to pass on the greatness of God to the next. Not a culture, but a truth about a God whose revelation commands faith as a response. What is missing in the current generation of youth is not the ability to speak Christianese, but a sincere faith. I’m speaking of the same faith that was in Timothy, which first dwelt in his grandmother Lois and mother Eunice and was diligently passed down to him (2 Timothy 1:5). Young Timothy had a lot to learn – a LOT – with regards to church culture and godly character. But Paul was confident and joyful over his protege, because of the sincerity of his faith. For it is faith that saves, faith that flourishes, and faith that preserves.

As we speak, I’m still in the business of ministering to youth. So I’m speaking primarily to myself, as well as all those who have been entrusted with a youth ministry of whatever context and capacity. This is for Christian parents, Bible teachers, youth pastors and leaders. We can’t control the salvation of men, but we can control how we minister to them and what we feed them. Youth ministry implies church ministry. And church ministry implies gospel ministry. And gospel ministry implies revealing the beauty of Christ to eyes – both blind and blurred. To the next generation who God created in His image for His glory, may we be diligent to pass down not the quirks of church, but the greatness of God. The power lies not in our giftedness, but in the baton we pass. Put away the wrong baton, and pass down the right one. Let’s pass down the baton of faith.  
   

I Am an Athlete

A word of encouragement to parents regarding God’s sovereignty and your child’s development

“in Your book were written all the days that were ordained for me.”     ~Psalm 139:16

“Do you play sports?” I was recently asked by someone during a meet-and-greet event.

“Yes, I do,” I responded, somewhat pensively.  

“Oh yeah, which ones?” he inquired.

“Well,” I continued, even more pensively, “Tennis is my main sport.  Played all four years in high school, and still play regularly today.  I also did a year of track-and-field.  I picked up distance running and swimming after college, and I’m currently training for a triathlon.  I also coached mountain biking and volleyball for the school that I work at, so I do those too.  And whenever I get the chance, I love skiing and snowboarding down the blues and blacks.  I also enjoy body boarding, and played football for a church league.  And occasionally, soccer and floor hockey whenever I can get some pick-up games.  And I love hiking – especially at the Grand Canyon.  I’ve run the up-hill part of the Angel Trail twice.”  Continue reading

A Letter to Jayden on his Fourth Birthday

Dear Jayden,

When I woke up this morning to the sound of your sweet, squeaky voice, I couldn’t help but think back to the year 1988, when I – your dad – turned four years old, just like you did this morning. My fourth birthday was the earliest birthday that I can remember from my childhood.  Daddy was living in Hawaii then, with bushy, black hair and a clean, cute, acne-free and facial-hair-free face just like you do.  I remember how excited I was, when I walked down the staircase of our house and saw Lola at the bottom of the staircase taking lots of pictures.  My eyes were half-open from having to wake up early to go to pre-school and see Mrs. Gomes, just like yours were yesterday when you had to go to pre-school and see Mrs. Izzy.  I remember that Lola took me to the beach afterwards where she gave me a cake with icing decorations in the form of animals – whales, dolphins, and seals, just like the animals that you love to watch on T.V. and the toy whale-shark that Mommy and I bought you for your birthday today.  I say all of this, my son, because Daddy remembers how tender his soul was at four years old, and how much it meant to him to have a mommy and daddy who loved him.

I realize now that your soul, now also four years old, is aware and tender – very much like Daddy’s was back then.  You’re no longer just a crying infant who screams when he wants milk or wants his diaper changed.  You’re aware of your surroundings, and are starting to value the things in life that God created you to value.  You’re starting to become aware of and value the love that mommy and daddy have for you.  Knowing this is what, at times, breaks my heart.  Just like it broke my heart last night when I came upstairs to help you go back to sleep when you woke up crying the night before your birthday.

My heart breaks, little buddy, when I look at you, because you’re so precious and valuable.  It breaks, because every time I look at you, I know that I won’t be able to give you what I so desperately want to give you – the gift of perfect, earthly father.  When I see your eyes look at me everyday, it’s like looking into the window of your soul.  I can see you desperately yearning for a father who loves you perfectly.  And everyday, I feel so sad that I fail to be that for you.  I so desperately want to be the best, perfect father – not because I want to prove myself to anyone, but because of how valuable you are.  And I get so angry and upset every time you go to sleep each night, because I realize that another day had just passed by that I let some sort of sin – whether it be my laziness, selfishness, pride, frustration – overcome me and get in the way of being that perfect dad to you.  It’s not that I’m being overly harsh on myself.  It’s just that you’re my only son, and I want so badly for you to have a father who doesn’t sin against you – whether by commission or omission.  And so a lot of times, when daddy is alone and thinking about you – even though you’re always happy and smiling and laughing – I end up crying. 

I wish I could promise you that I’ll be the best daddy ever from now on.  But I can’t, and I’m sad that I can’t, because I know you need one.  But this I will promise: that each day of your life, for as long as we both live, I will remind you of the perfect Father.  I’ll remind you of Him when we pray to Him every morning before you go to school when you ask me to pray for you before I drop you off to your classroom.  I’ll remind you of Him when we thank Him for the meals that He provides for us each day.  I’ll remind you of Him when, together each night, we ask Him to protect you as you go to sleep.  For as long as you’re with me, I’ll do everything I can to point you to Him, tell you about Him, read His words to you, and reflect His character to you with integrity.  That way, when the day comes that you’re old enough, you might enter into a relationship with Him and have the perfect Father that your soul so desperately needs.  I’ve prayed everyday, since I found out you were coming into this world, that this day would arrive, and that He would grant you the right to be His child.  And when the day comes that you have a son of your own, may you point him to the same Father to whom I pointed you. 

Happy fourth birthday, Jayden.  You’re made one young, imperfect father so, so happy.

Love,

Daddy 

Five Years with a Gospel-Woman

016

Reflecting on my fifth year anniversary of marriage

Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.

~Mark 10:29-30 

I’m not a fan of paperwork.  And it hasn’t helped that my handwriting has progressively degraded in form since sixth grade.  But I have to admit that, whether its filling out employment documents or other formal contracts and questionnaires, I still get oh-so excited when I’m asked to check the appropriate box regarding my marital status.  Getting to check off the “married” box still gives me Goosebumps.  I suppose it’s still hard for me to believe that God has looked upon me with this kind of favor, so as to give me one who I consider to be a true woman of the gospel.

Gospel-women are tough to find.  That’s for no other reason than the requirements that Jesus laid out for the rich young ruler in Mark 10:29-30.  A most radical call in Scripture, directed toward a man who was falsely convinced with regards to his eternal state, Jesus said: “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.”  I’ve realized that, by nature, many women value relationships and security, much more so than men do.  For the record, relationships and security aren’t bad things.  It’s just that, in many instances, living for the gospel requires one to relinquish one’s hold on them.  Any arguments for otherwise must be taken up with the Savior Himself who said the words in Mark 10:29-30.  And so for the woman who places her comfort in her friendships, family, and safety, living for Christ and His gospel often demands for her to leave the things to which her soul so firmly held as precious in her former life.  Thus, a gospel-woman (GW) is synonymous to a steel-made woman.  Trying to find a woman as such is as akin to trying to spot a Red Panda in the Himalayan Mountains.

On July 19, 2008, when I got down on one knee and asked Kathy to marry me, she was a scholarship-awarded law student with a close knit family and a broad-but-deep circle of friends.  Not surprising, as she’s as intelligent and likeable as they come.  When I proposed, I did so because I loved her, and because I was fully convinced that – as a man who had both spiritually and vocationally given himself to the ministry of the gospel – she was the woman who God wanted by my side.  Indeed that the two of us had during a pre-marital homework session, she let me know that her ambition was to support my ministry, for she was convinced that it was one that would be invested into the growth of the gospel.  Neither of us every imagined, however, that her “yes” would cost her what it did.  Nor did we ever try or plan for it.  But here she is, five years after the day we both said “I do,” without any of those things that she had before.  Her career – she left it behind to be a full-time homemaker.  Her family – that’s for another story.  Her closest friends – they’re no longer there.  And her financial security – such a concept doesn’t exist for ministry-bound couples.  These she lost, not because she brought it upon herself, but because the ministry of the gospel and the commitment to righteousness as resulting from our marriage caused it.  I’ve pondered this many times over the past few years, often asking God to alleviate some of the pain from the wounds that she endured over the last number of years.  And, honestly, it breaks my heart when I dwell for too long a time on the kind of affliction, suffering, and persecution she’s had to endure for the sake of being my wife.  The last thing I ever wanted for my precious bride was for her to be stripped of those things that were precious to her.

But, at the same time, it’s when a woman is barren of her relationships and security that her character is most fully exposed.  And so there I was on Sunday during our fifth anniversary celebration at Shoreline lake, rowing a small boat at whose bow was seated a smiling woman.  She was shining, much like a rare jewel underneath the setting sunlight.  A woman stripped of the world, with her God-fearing character now bare in front her husband…a beautiful, beautiful woman she was.

Five years being in the same household of such a woman indeed does something to a man.  It sharpens his character.  It lights up his smile.  It encourages his spirit.  It soars his ministry.  I forgot what life was like before marriage, but I know that I’m a far different person after marriage.  That she is simply outstanding is not a biased statement from a happy hubby.  A close buddy once came up to me and said point blank, “My wife can’t handle what Kathy does.”  Another told me, “If I ever marry anyone, I hope she treats me the same way your wife treats you.”  One woman told me, “Kathy…she reminds me of that woman.  The one from Proverbs 31.”  During a recent conversation with my pastor, he encouraged me to take the topic of our conversation and bring it to my wife, for “she’s really intuitive.”  Kathy doesn’t think of herself in this way, obviously.  But just because she doesn’t, doesn’t mean that she isn’t.  I, along with all these other people, can attest that she is.  And I have no shame in sharing it.

Five years of marriage – five years of sweet joy.  There’s no such thing as a perfect earthly marriage, and there’s no such thing as a perfect wife.  But there is such a thing as a Christ-empowered marriage, and there is such a thing as an excellent woman.  I can list a million reasons regarding why I’m thankful for Kathy – from how she frequently transforms cardboard into first-class meals, to her never-complaining attitude, to her razor-sharp discernment of people, to her smile and laughter that light up any dark room, to her steadfast commitment to caring for her household, to the dignity with which she engages in motherhood.  But what I am truly tankful for, more than anything, is that God joined me to a woman who has committed herself to honoring the person and work of Jesus Christ in how she loves her husband, her family, her church, and her community.  I’m thankful, that He has joined me to a woman whose character and conduct have left me with no other alternative than to stay in the gospel ministry, and to remain sharp in doing so.  I rejoice in thanksgiving that, for now half-a-decade, I have been cleaved and waved to nothing short of a GW.

Happy Anniversary, Red Panda.  You’ve made one man the happiest man in the world.  And, without a doubt, a smile to our Master’s face.