This past weekend was a special time for me as a dad, a friend, and the follower of Jesus. It was a time of remembering the past, connecting with the present, and casting a vision for the future.
Every January the current and former members of a college organization called Theta Rho Epsilon meet for a weekend retreat. This year the meeting was in Chicago and my sons and I attended. Theta Rho Epsilon, which we affectionately call OPE (pronounced Opie—like Ron Howard’s character on the Andy Griffith show) is a men’s organization that began at Cedarville University back in the early nineties. The purpose and creed of OPE is summed up by Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” And for the last 20 years I have lived in community, often from a considerable geographical distance, with these guys—each of us trying to help the others look, act, and love like Jesus Christ.
When OPE began, I don’t think any of us had a clear idea how important the relationships we were making would be to us and our families. From the very best of times to the very worst of times, these guys have been there for me and I have been there for them.
As we gathered this weekend with friends old and new, I was reminded of the profound truth that none of us were meant to take this journey of discipleship alone. I was reminded that I need my brothers and they need me. I was reminded of the story we share and was encouraged by the story we are writing. But this year something else profound took place. This year all the alumni set aside some time to have a special ceremony for our sons.
It wasn’t elaborate. We simply told them stories, presented them with gifts, and shared our hearts. Essentially, we reminded them of the story of Joshua leading the children of Israel across the Jordan:
When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan from right where the priests stood and to carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.” . . . “These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” . . . “In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground’ ” (Joshua 4:1-7, 21-22).
This past Saturday we piled up stones of our own. We reminded our sons, who range in age from 6 to 14, of the story of OPE. How before any of them was born we set out to help each other follow Jesus. How we have continued through the years to sharpen one another for the purpose of looking, acting, and loving like Christ. After we shared our story, we confessed to them that our greatest desire is for them to follow Jesus too and to know that they have a community of men who love them and are there for them no matter what.
Each boy left Chicago this weekend having received a necklace, hearing a declaration, and receiving a promise. The necklace simply reads “Proverbs 27:17.” It was presented to them by a man other than their dad with the simple declaration, “We choose you; we love you.” And it was solidified as 12 men stood to their feet and made these promises to 8 boys:
“We promise, as time and opportunity allows, to be a sharpening influence in your lives.”
“We commit, as the Holy Spirit brings you to our minds, to pray for you.”
“We are willing, should you ever need us, to be a safe place for you to share your questions and struggles as you grow and progress through life.”
“Regardless of the choices and decisions you make, we choose you.”
This weekend reminded me that I need to take more time to pile up stones. I need to remember the faithfulness of God in the past and declare that faithfulness in the present. It reminded me that I need my brothers, and it reminded me to pray for my own kids that they would find the same kind of relationships that God has blessed me with.
How long has it been since you piled up some stones?