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I have been thinking about my values the last few months. The powerful thing I’ve learned is that values help to give us focus. They help define what success actually looks like in our lives. What are the defining characteristics of my life? What do I want people to remember me for being? Honest? Loyal? Hard working?

One exercise I came across to help figure out your personal values is to think about the people that had the greatest impact on your life and why you believe that to be the case. In doing so, you may discover characteristics that you find valuable to follow. So I began thinking about people that have impacted my life the most. Interestingly enough, there seems to be one man for each stage of my life. Most of the time we wait till people die to tell how we really feel about them and then what good does that do!? I want to share about these men to whom I am grateful to God for crossing my path with theirs.

1. Greg Cranfield (Younger Years)

The first church I felt like I could call home was Duncan Christian Fellowship in Duncan, OK. I think my family alone made up 1/3 of the church it was so small! But I loved it nonetheless. It was my first experience with Pentecostalism. But I grew to know one man who would dramatically change my life. The pastor, Greg Cranfield. Why did Greg come to my mind first? Well, the first thing is his laugh! There is no other person on this planet I would rather laugh with then Greg Cranfield. It’s so hearty. When he laughs, I can’t help but laugh myself – it’s contagious! It warms my heart and brings joy to my soul.

But more seriously. There were two moments in my younger years that were incredibly difficult for me: one had to do with a girl, the other happened when my parents decided to leave the church. Why did Greg Cranfield change my life? Because he cared. Because he listened. Because he was present. With a warm heart, a kind smile, an open ear, and wisdom from God. He’s one of those people that we all know in our lives, that you love to spend time with just because they are a pure soul. Who’s very presence brings reassurance, comfort, and peace. While we see each other less often these days, I look upon those moments with affection. Who he is, is why he changed my life. And for that, I cannot thank him enough.

2. Scott Morris (Teenage Years)

As the years passed, we became committed to Bethel Assembly of God in Duncan, OK. Soon after we started attending the youth pastors changed, and Scott Morris came in to the role. He is the first, and only, person I can truly say was my youth pastor. Certainly a very close runner up when it comes to people I want to laugh with! And he changed my life.

The first way is how he was willing to trust me with leadership. I started leading worship for our youth group as a junior in high school if memory serves me well. I suppose I can carry a tune, but I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not a great singer. When I sing to the Lord, I like to sing loud and probably off key a lot. I remember leading worship, and Scott saying, “Ya know why Mikie leads worship? It’s not because he’s the best singer, it’s because he has a heart of worship!” Hahaha! I still laugh when I think about it. When I look back at that time in my life, his willingness to let me lead, even make mistakes, helped put me on a path to leadership later in life.

The second way he changed my life is one of the best memories I can recall. It was a Sunday school moment. I always prided myself, and often still struggle with this, with being the “answer guy.” And one day he asked, “What keys did Jesus take when he resurrected?” To which I immediately answered, “The keys of death, hell and the grave!” Only for him to reply, “Really? Where in the Bible does it say that?” I immediately turned to Revelation 1:18 where Jesus says, “…And I hold the keys of death and hell.” Hmm…’the grave’ seemed to be missing. Scott Morris changed my life because he taught me to question my beliefs and the things I heard and read. Not in a rebellious fashion that seeks to argue and find fault. But just because someone in authority says something, doesn’t mean it’s true. On that day, I learned to question everything and allow the evidence to lead me where it would. I have never been the same since that day. And for that, I cannot thank Scott Morris enough.

3. Donny Lutrick (College Years)

I wish all people can find a person in their life like I did in Donny Lutrick. He was, and still is, more then just a friend, a coach, a mentor, a leader…on too many occasions to count he was the still small voice of the Holy Spirit being my counselor. For lack of better phrase, I found out more about who I really was through my conversations with Donny Lutrick then I have at any other point in my life. I came to realize that I didn’t have to be who everybody thought I was or wanted me to be. I didn’t have to bow to the pressure to perform the way others thought I should. I could be who God made me to be. I could embrace my personality. I could appreciate what made me unique. Heck, I discovered what my personality even was!

Over the years, under his mentorship, as I look back, I can see chains that were hindering me that were exposed. The proverb “wound of a friend, and not the kiss of an enemy” comes to mind. Short comings I didn’t even know were there, failures in character I’d overlooked, honest evaluation of my life that showed how immature I didn’t know I was. Encouragement to keep going, to study, to learn, to never accept the status quo, to serve others, to rise to the occasion, and to truly love and hold dear Jesus Christ and Him alone.

He has a picture framed on his wall that I saw again just recently while visiting him. It’s a picture of a preacher standing at a pulpit with a Bible in hand, and he is surrounded by the glowing figures of Christ, angels, John the Baptist, Elijah and others. When I think about preaching the scriptures, that image comes to my mind. While Donny Lutrick may be short of stature, he has served as a giant of a man in my life. For that I have not the words of gratitude to express other than to simply say, thank you.

4. Ron Meador (Starting Out Years)

After college I got married to the most amazing woman in the world and we got started in life together. It wasn’t long after we got married that the student pastor position opened at my home church and we were given the opportunity to come serve by the man I will always affectionately call “Pastor.” Ron Meador is a pastor’s pastor. The man who taught me how to preach before I ever set foot at bible college. Certainly he would be the first to admit he isn’t perfect, but when I think of what it means to be a pastor, his life and my experiences with him, scroll through my mind. His calm presence exudes reassurance in times of crisis, his countenance channels the wisdom of God in uncertainty, and his actions demonstrate an unstoppable and unrelenting faith in God.

I learned more about being a pastor by being with him, serving with him, and talking with him then I ever did sitting in a classroom or reading a book. He is, and forever will be, my friend, and a wonderful mentor that gave me an opportunity to serve. That sowed seeds of wisdom, purpose, mission, and love for God into my life. That always had an ‘open door policy’ and would enter my office and sit down just to talk about life. I’ll never forget him telling me, “Junior, people won’t remember the sermons you preached, but they will remember the life you lived.” The only person I’ve ever known who can kneel at an altar, and immediately begin weeping over people who don’t know Christ. I’ll tell you reader, that makes an impact on your life when you witness it. I learned to deal with pain in ministry when people attack you. I learned to deal with doubt. I learned to stand for what was right even when people didn’t like it. He was, and still is, one of the greatest teachers of my life. And for that, I say thank you Pastor. You changed my life.

5. Michael Lepien Sr (All My Years)

What can I possibly say about my dad? He is the greatest man I have ever known. Perfect? No. But perfection is not required to fill that position. In fact, he made lots of mistakes in life, but it was how he dealt with them that showed me how great he was.

Dad’s body died 3 years ago in June of 2011, and my life has never been the same since. I’ve thought about death on a daily basis since then. The sting of death is powerful and will remain until the resurrection when it will finally be defeated. I don’t think about death in a morbid depressive way. But in a way that makes me appreciate every moment of this short breath on planet earth we call ‘life.’

My dad taught me about honor. He taught me how to be a gentleman. He taught me a love for nature! To this day I think may dad could identify every tree, root, bird, and animal we came across.

The reason I have such a high standards for men today, is because of my dad. He set the example. He was a strong rock for my family that grounded any attempt to chase after the wind. He had a short temper, but I never felt unsafe. He wanted to do right by all as best he could. He set the standard for generosity that I have yet to see matched.

After becoming an adult I realized how our personalities were opposite from each other, yet very similar in others. While there were times I felt distant from my dad because of our differing interests, while he never seemed to know exactly how to play with me as a child, he was always there for me. He always did right by me. Always was willing to help me. Always listened. Always taught me. He disciplined me as a child, encouraged and taught me as a teenager, and respected me as a man. What more could I ever ask of him. For that and much more, I cannot thank my dad enough.

These are the 5 men I look upon with great fondness. Men who changed my life for many different reasons and for many more that I haven’t the space to write. Men whose lives I pray I can emulate for the generations that come after me. I pray I have the wisdom to continually discern what they taught me, and that I have the courage to live it out. May we all do the same.

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