Thursday, October 30, 2008


"I am Ben Davis, and I approve this message..."

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17 (NIV)

Mentors. Over the past decade or so, I have prayerfully approached a few men in my environment to be a mentor to me. Not really just a friend, not a "replacement parent", but more a wiser, older, "been there before" type I could talk shop with and seek wisdom (confidentially) on all things life/faith.

The first time I was encouraged to seek a mentor was during my time as an intern at Christ Chapel in Ft. Worth (late-90s/early 00s). My boss, the late David Phillips, challenged me to pray about the concept, and see if any names popped out to me. So I did (pray), and one did (a name): a dad to one of the youth I served, George Montague. George and I would meet weekly (or so), usually for lunch. We'd talk about following Christ, relationships with girls, the future, the past, etc. It was always a fruitful time, and since I live "sort-of" near George, I have made occasional attempts to re-connect (but I confess I've been too busy and/or lazy to make a huge effort...that needs to change!), and one day soon I hope to catch up with George again.

During my Houston/Chapelwood days (2001-2004), I didn't really have what I'd call a true mentor until the last 18 months or so we were there. This time, a mentor relationship developed more organically, less sought-out, but it was equally rewarding. A parent who volunteered with the senior high ministry (and I served the junior highs) that I seemed to click with one days asked me if I'd like to go running with him a few mornings a week. I despised (still do, really) running for fitness purposes, but definitely needed some fitness in my life so I agreed. So Fred Gibson, one of those annoying (haha) "20 years older than me but three times as fit"-guys, became a friend that I consider a mentor. We would run and talk, and he always had such poignant bits of wisdom (and humor) to offer. I remember especially he was an "ear" for me during a tough time during my last year in Houston, and it was/is so appreciated. Fred is a true friend (whom, again, I need to reconnect with...common theme in my life unfortunately), that also shared a love for cheesy sci-fi/destruction movies, and during my last week in Houston, we made plans to go see the enviro-destruction flick "The Day After Tomorrow"...mostly just to see New York destroyed by a giant wave :-).

Fast forward to my current time in Weatherford, Texas (2004-current). For my first 3+ years here, for whatever reason, having a true mentor just wasn't really on the radar. Oh sure, occasionally I would ponder the idea, but usually it wouldn't develop far. I did have an older co-worker/pastor/friend (Gary Turner), that could possibly be considered a mentor (and If I lived closer to him, would probably seek more of that type of relationship) during the first 18 months in Weatherford, but I guess I think someone a bit more "off the radar" works best for me (aka, I saw Gary all the time, and having a more focused meeting time to be with a mentor is more fruitful to me I suppose). Well, earlier this year, after much prayer and listening, I approached who I like to call, "The coolest 75 year-old you'll ever meet", Tom Loughrey, Sr. We meet every 2/3 weeks, and it is just a pleasure. I wish we could meet more often, in fact, but his schedule simply does not allow it (many, apparently, seek his wisdom on several matters...good idea!).

So, in closing, I highly recommend prayerfully seeking a mentor in your life. I know parents can have that role, and I love mine dearly and trust their wisdom, but I think someone "other" is more beneficial for this type-of relationship. Some pseudo-criteria I'd recommend as you search include:

  • Someone same-gendered as you. That may sound goofy to some, but let's be honest: Guys and gals are just wired differently, and when it comes to seeking wisdom, I think it's best to have someone who understands your specific wiring better...
  • Someone at least 10-20 years older than you. More life under a mentor's belt=more wisdom for you to ponder. It's as simple as that. Think about it: Sometimes of us younger folks like to "think" we are wiser than we are...oh sure, we may truly have had some experiences that would benefit others, but it just seems like our motives seem to mature as we get older. I know I have had a struggle in the past to want to "be seen as wise/important", and it got in the way... I have also seen that need in others I've been friends with who were close to my age (but felt the need to always tell me what they thought I should do, often cloaking it in "God-language", etc.). So I recommend seeking someone older. For example, I, if approached, probably wouldn't agree to "mentor" anyone older than early twenties at this point in my life (I'm 34...).
  • Someone with similar spiritual convictions (but more mature faith-wise). As a Christian, I need a mentor who similarly is seeking to follow Christ. Yet, it needs to go beyond that... If you fancy your level of spiritual maturity to be, say, "5 out-of 10", I would seek someone that is more like a 7 or 8. Someone who simply seems to have a better sense of what it means to live your entire life holistically as an act of worship to God. Not perfect (duh), but farther along in that way... Just seeking the 10/20 years older thing doesn't matter if I, at 34, am more mature spiritually than a possible mentor of 60...
  • Someone at least "sort-of" off your friend radar screen. I know we can have "wisdom-sharing" between close friends (like Gary whom I mentioned earlier), but I recommend seeking a mentor that, while they know you, "clicks" with you on some level, and is able to still watch you from afar, isn't someone you seek out (or vice-versa) daily just to "hang". I have had, in the past, a friendship that seemed to go into a pseudo-mentor-type thing, but we spent way too much time together...and in the end, it got weird. In fact, it ended up making all kinds of relational dynamics just goofy to other friends and co-workers, and resulted in some schisms between us and others. And I directly equate it to the fact that this friendship based on wisdom sharing was just not what was, well, wise. We do need to be able to share (and seek) wisdom from spouses, very good friends, etc., but I think if the seeking and sharing of life/faith wisdom is nearly all of what the friendship entails, it can become dangerous. So, I recommend seeking someone not obviously in your friend circle (following the above age guideline can help with this as well). George, Fred, and Tom are all guys I already knew and respected, but I didn't really hang out with them before we started the mentor relationship, and I think it helped make the actual mentoring a better, more "real" experience...and allowed them to impart some of the tough wisdom needed...because they were partially removed from my daily life (aka we didn't have to see each other all the time...allowing for each of us to ponder, pray individually over tough issues brought up at times).

So, I am eternally grateful for each of these mentors God has given me the honor of sitting with. I truly recommend that you prayerfully seek a mentoring relationship for yourself as well!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I Needed This...

I won't re-hash what Jon Christopher says in the above blog posting...but I can relate. I confess I've been frustrated with how "few" kids have been coming to Sunday School these last couple weeks, and on a lesser level, how Elevation has not "grown" in the leaps-and-bounds I kinda secretly/unconsciously hoped it would... God, forgive me for those attitudes. Remind me that the "1" is most important to you...and that you are still mightily at work even on "down attendance days."

Proud of My Boy, and What We All Can Learn From Him

I just wanted to share a quick story that truly touched Missy and I and made our hearts smile hugely...

One lesson (of many) we are humbly trying to teach and model to Jax is the concept of helping others by sacrificing what we have... Not to look good to others, or gain the positive acclaim of others (and I realize even telling this story risks you thinking that is a "secret motive" of this posting...prayerfully, it it not), but instead because God has blessed us beyond what we deserve or are entitled to. At his school, for example, they recently held a "Trike-A-Thon" benefiting St. Jude's Children's Centers, and he was asked to raise money "per lap". So, I explained to him that he was doing this not mainly to have fun riding his little trike around a parking lot, but so little boys and girls like him who are sick and in the hospital can be taken care of, made better, etc.

Well, last night as we were winding down from the day (and Jax had just gone to bed), Missy told me that earlier in the afternoon, Jax found a penny. Now, since he is only four and has no real concept of the differing value-assignments of money, it to him just counts as "money" (to Jax, it could be worth millions, who knows). Jax went to Missy and said, "Look Momma, I found a penny...can I give it to the sick kids?" Wow...I know he is but a little tyke and will certainly have changing attitudes at times as he grows, but wow.

I just know that Jesus calls us to approach him like kids, and due to "maturity", or the realities of life, etc., it is hard for so many of us to even ponder that concept anymore. We have so many, "That's just not reality"-attitudes toward simple faith, or giving all we have, etc. But Jax is right in that he found something of great worth to him...and he wanted to give it right back. All he knew is that what he just aquired could be used to help someone in need, and he wanted to give it away...

You see (and I've touched briefly on this before), I think many of us, myself included, today feel entitled to things. We've been working somewhere for a certain amount of time, so we are owed a raise. I often play this game by taking score of all the things I've done around the house lately (I did the dishes! I mowed the lawn! I took out the trash! I cleaned up the nasty-of-nasties that Jax did in his pants! Yay me! 100 points to me!) and secretly expecting perks as a result, like not having to do stuff the next time, or a free pass in getting Jax to clean up before bed, etc. And, if Missy is busy or tired or whatever, I can get bitter (often passive aggressively) and feel "entitled" to not having to do it. Of course, if I were to truly take score, it would be Missy 100, Ben 5 on most things...I just fail to see that. Other ways we struggle with entitlement may be holding too tightly to our "stuff" that we worked hard to get...sharing some, but making the acquiring of things a priority, or not being willing to let them go (or even be given away) to folks who may need it more. Or feeling that we deserve the best service, attention, and stuff in general, and thus being bitter/angry/rude/a jerk if we don't get it.

But God calls us to not hold on to that. God shows us that none of us are perfect and without fault. We are exposed as frauds. And if we realize that fact, and then realize that God has blessed each of us immeasurably (especially by letting us keep on living and by still loving us despite our messiness, through the perfect example of his son Jesus walking among us and ultimately being sacrificed for us despite our cruddy selves...I know not everyone reading that believes this...but I do and It's where I'm coming from...), then we must be compelled to a different focus. What we have is a gift, tangible or intangible. And we must not treat what we have as something we deserve...because what we deserve isn't all the good stuff... I know my own heart, and while I can be nice outwardly...I can be menacing on the inside. I write about "giving freely", and I know how selfish I truly am. I challenge others to give freely, to sacrifice, etc., and I confess to God and you that we as a family often rationalize not giving what we should to our church due to fear of "not being able to pay the bills", etc. I don't deserve God's favor...but He still gives it to me!

He offers it to you, too. I pray we all realize that better, simply, like a young kid, like Jackson, striving to give away (or at least be truly willing to give away) what has great worth to us. Maybe we can give more of "our time" to serving others through missions, especially the off-limits (like, college football Saturdays :-) ) times. Maybe we should all downsize a bit so we can give more to those in need, or to a church, etc., even if it is our "dream home/car/toy". Heck, maybe we just need to be nicer to the waitress who is slower than we'd like/too chatty/messed up our food ("I wanted 3 tablespoons of sauce, not 3 1/2!") and still tip even if we "didn't get the service we deserve/pay for." I know it is easy to rationalize us not doing this (I even am tempted to as I type), or start saying, "Hey, I'm an American! This sounds like Socialism! BOOO!" (I'm not a Socialist, either...I believe in free markets, etc., but I wish we would spread what we have a bit around more BY CHOICE, not by being forced to...). But, I pray that I at least will be more freely giving of what I have and who I am, just like Jackson seeks to. I am a child of God, that should be enough to compel me to do so!

Monday, October 13, 2008

7-Year Itch? NOT ME!

Well, today is the 7th anniversary to one of the greatest days ever: On October 13, 2001, Missy Castle said "I do" to a dork named Ben Davis.

People talk about the 7-year itch, and I think it's a goofy concept. If anything, I feel closer than ever (and more grateful for) to Missy. I don't buy into the concept of "you complete me" (no person can complete us, and if we are looking for a significant other to do that...they will let us down...only God can complete you), but I am so grateful that God put us together as in many ways, our gifts, attitudes, and passions compliment each other well.

So Missy, I love you, and I am excited for year 8!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The War Against Stickers

As anyone living in North Texas (especially areas that are more rural, or at least recently were) can relate, sticker weeds are a BIG problem in yards. When we moved to our current home in winter 2005, we barely had a yard at all, and what we did have was mostly dirt and stickers. We tried all kinds of things. We dropped seeds. Spread fertilizer and "weed-and-feed". Even sought advice from Granny read about using "dried molasses"...and we did. We hydro-mulched the yard with Bermuda grass hoping it would take over...and to a point it did...but the stickers remained. Occasionally we would have "sticker pulling sessions", but no matter how much we gritted our teeth and tried to pull them, it was always only a fraction of the problem...a multitude of stickers remained. In the front yard, it wasn't as much of an issue since we didn't spend much time there, but our back yard was often "unplayable" to us (especially our young son) due to stickers...

But we didn't give up.

This spring, my wife went to a local nursery and asked about further anti-sticker strategies, specifically so we could win the fight in the back yard so Jackson could run amok at will. She was shown a method that was risky, almost illegal (apparently not though), and had to be done a certain way. Well, we did it (you'll have to ask Missy exactly what it was...I can't even remember!), and waited. At first, it was a big "uh-oh", as much of our back yard began to die. The stuff we liked was turning brown! Did we just kill off our whole yard? We were confused...we were glad to be killing stickers, but in the wiping out of them we had to wipe some "good" stuff away, too...

Well, a neat thing happened, and it wasn't something we even realized immediately. Well, the first part we did: the "good yard" stuff came back...and we even added some new grass (pallets of St. Augustine) in areas that were dominated by dirt and wouldn't grow anything but a few wispy weeds. But then a funny thing day mid-summer while I was out walking the yard, I suddenly realized something: THERE WERE NO MORE STICKERS! I mean, zero. All other attempts had produced little "sticker removal", and even if they sort-of worked, ultimately they were futile attempts. But when we finally "gave up", and did the extreme thing, it may have hurt a bit, but it worked.

But it hasn't been completely without need to do "yard sweeps" occasionally...

You see, our neighbors' yards (at least on two sides...can't speak for behind us) are chock-full of stickers, and it doesn't seem like they care to fight them. So, occasionally one wanders under a fence, or sticks to a shoe when I need to go retrieve a ball, etc., and drops roots. But you know what? It is no biggie now...the fight doesn't seem "futile". Oh sure, sometimes a bit of pain is still involved, because pulling stickers involves, well, little pokey things that like to dig into your skin! BUT, since we pay close attention (even Jax is in on it now...he is a good "sticker hunter"), we just expose, pluck, and it's gone. And the yard is again clear and safe for free play.

(Waiting for the "life/faith parallel"? Here it comes haha)

We need to do "sticker sweeps" in our own life. We all have crud that holds us back. But the problem often is that we want the easy solution...hoping to "luck out" and it works. One of less commitment, or of less pain being involved. But at some point, we all must realize that dying to "self" is exactly that: dying. But we don't like that. We want to hold on. We want easy. But the only solution is one that is risky... Surrendering to Jesus. Completely. I know we like to say grace is a "free gift", and it is, and that all we must do is believe, and that's true...but anyone who is holistically surrendered to the Lord knows that the process of surrender involves a bit of pain, or change of comfortable attitudes and habits...because once we really give in to God, our "yuck" is exposed. The process of total surrender can even mean some "good" things need to die for a season (like our yard did) to get it to where it needed to be, but the good came back with abundance...and the stickers were gone. Not gone for good (as temptation and evil will always try to fight through...much like the stickers all around us still try to "jump the fence"), but after total surrender, with realization that Jesus wiped our sins GONE with his death and resurrection, when the stickers try to fight back, as long as we keep "searching our yard" of life often, they are quickly plucked away. And we are again able to run free!

All this also brings a few biblical concepts to mind. First is the concept of "thorns". Several places in the New Testament allude to "thorns". Here are some samples:

Matthew 13:22The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.

2 Corinthians 12:7To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.

Hebrews 6:8But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.

Thorns, like stickers, seem to be those things that take our true focus and allegiance from God. Essentially, sin. Sometimes we "know" God, but are just so hamstrung by the crud holding us back, like the Matthew passage. Sometimes we are tormented, usually when God is doing amazing things, by "thorns in the flesh", like Paul had. And sometimes, we need to realize that when the culture around us is just "thorns and thistles", like the writer of Hebrews says, we need to be wary because it will get thrown to the fire...and we need to often ask, "Lord, is that me/us?"

In the end, however, the hardest part isn't sensing the stickers, thorns, sin in our lives that hold us back from true is the willingness to truly die to ourselves and do "whatever is necessary" to come back into utter allegiance to Jesus. It can't be just gritting our teeth and "Taking care of things ourselves", like we tried to do with our sticker-pulling parties: in the end, they were just band-aids and the stickers still remained in force. Ponder this:

Matthew 5:29-30: 29If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

That's the tough part...the desperate part...the, "but if I totally surrender, I may need to take some drastic measures in my life, and folks will wonder about me" part. But look at yourself. What is your thorn? What needs to be "cut off"? Do you need to quit running with a certain crowd because they bring you down attitudinally or through your actions? Is there a relationship that is pulling you from the Lord? Do you need to put your computer in a public place or get accountability software so you don't look at inappropriate websites? Do you need to humble yourself and seek help from a professional in some area? These are all things that are a part of the "cutting off" process...and it will hurt, expose, etc. BUT, just like our back yard died and came back...we need to "die" and let God regenerate we can truly run, play, dance, FREELY, without fear, with great joy! I still have personal stickers that pop up here-and-there, but I admit a few places I've had to "cut off" or "gouge out", and man, I'm so glad I did. It may have been hard, may have involved some confession to God and others, and the risk of unacceptance, rejection, and embarrassment was there...but it was all worth it so I could again experience the freedom that Jesus speaks of...

"And the more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had an established rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild."
--G.K. Chesterton, from "Orthodoxy"

Let's do what it takes and free ourselves so we can run wild for Jesus!

Good Birthday Weekend

Well, I'm officially in my "mid-30s". 34 to be exact. And, I feel pretty good! It was a good birthday weekend, mostly because I got to spend it with Missy, Jax, and great friends (Aaron and Becky Travis). I also got to see an old friend, Andy Payne, that many of us had lost touch with over the years. So fun to see him!

One bittersweet moment was when it was time to go. It was a joy to see our son having the ime of his life all weekend...but as a result, it was the most difficult time we've had getting him to leave a place to go home (that even goes for grandparents' houses...). Kicking and screaming...made me sad...