Saturday, December 31, 2011

Thoughts on 2011

A few weeks ago, I started posting a Facebook status while I was in the hospital waiting to see what my next move would be with my father. He has had a really difficult few years, but 2011 was particularly difficult for him. After not having spent any significant time in the hospital for the first 68 years of his life, he was in the hospital 3 times in 2011. He lost his wife and life partner after 43 years of marriage. He retired from the church that he had poured blood, sweat, and tears into. He moved to a new place where he knew no one other than some immediate family close by.

Thinking about all that he has endured has certainly made me overwhelmed. I have been a part of it and I have had my own experiences added on to it. Somehow, only through the grace of God, I have been able to continue to stand and walk. There have been many times during 2011 that I have felt as if I were above myself, looking down, and observing what is taking place. It has felt like an out-of-body experience.

The Gibsons added a third child to our clan in 2011, just three months after my mom died. After 5 grandsons for my in-laws, they got a granddaughter, and then another one a week later when my sister-in-law had a little girl. My oldest turned 5 this year, my middle child turned 3. The oldest had his share of medical issues as we took three trips to the Emergency Room within a 3 week period. Overall, they endured pretty well, despite the many curveballs thrown into their life this past year.

My wife was a champion. Thanks to the help of friends and family, we were provided for in the midst of the tumultuous times in which we found ourselves. All we have been longing for over the last few years is a vacation. We have taken time here and there to visit family, but we have not really had a family vacation since before our children were born. One day, we will have a glorious family vacation, we’re hoping Spring 2013 when I finally graduate from seminary.

As I have surveyed the past year, I found myself bemused at the wisdom and experience that I have gained. I began to wonder what it would have been like 20 years ago if I knew then what I know now. Somehow, I sailed through college with just average grades. I didn’t work as hard as I could/should have, yet I didn’t fail anything. Now, I find myself in seminary and I am obsessively working to accomplish all that is before me.

How is it that when I was in college and younger, with no wife, no children, no permanent job, no house, no major bills, and no aging parents, that I couldn't get good grades and now that I have all of those things, I somehow manage to do very well? While some of it has to do with responsibility and time management, I can only attribute it to the power of God in me and the power of the prayers lifted up on my behalf.

There is no loss of love between me and 2011. I have never been one to moan about the past year while looking towards the year to come, but this year may be an exception. While I don’t expect life to be simple and easy, I certainly don’t expect that many years will replicate 2011, and for that I am grateful. Coming through the fog and smoke that is left by the storms and fires of 2011 has made me stronger and wiser. While I have endured much, there are plenty of others who endure much more every day.

I am grateful for my friends and family. There are too many people to name who have given so much to help my family during this year. My church family has been incredibly gracious and loving, lifting us up in prayer and inundating us with cards and emails. My family has been phenomenal. I have some great blood relatives who have been incredible during this year. My aunt and uncle are two people who will certainly be greeted by our Lord with the words, “well done, good and faithful servants.” My children have loved me unconditionally even when I have lost my cool and patience.

There are hardly words to describe just what my wife has had to face this past year. She suffered loss when my mom died as well. My mother was always thrilled to have both my wife and my brother’s wife as “daughters” even though they were not her own flesh and blood. My wife’s empathy was apparent in the midst of my own grief. She showed her resolve as she gave birth to our third child through natural child birth, causing me to be thankful that I have not had to endure all that she has in giving birth 3 times.

My wife has supported me, cried with me, prayed for me, and loved me through it all. She has not complained. She has not been unreasonable. She has simply loved in a way that has shown me, our children, and the world that she is fueled by something greater within her. I love her and am thankful for the gift that I have in her.

There are words and gestures that I would like to say and to give to 2011 as it rolls away in the horizon of my rearview mirror, but I won’t. I will simply look ahead at what is in store for the future. God has been faithful, he has not left me or abandoned me. In my weakness, he has been strong. May 2012 be a year full of opportunities which I seize, opportunities that shape and mold me to be who I need to be in Christ. My only wish and hope is that they are not as painful as those of 2011.

Friday, December 30, 2011


I just finished a book called “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell. It was the second book that I have read by Gladwell in the past few months. The main gist of this book was about the process of decision making and whether it is better to make snap decisions or processed and well thought out decisions. Gladwell brings in real life case studies to prove the points that he is making. The book is a few years old, so there were a number of cases that were somewhat dated such as the O.J. Simpson trial and the Amadou Diallo shooting, but they still made sense for anyone who recalls those stories hitting the press when they were current.

There have been many times that I have faced a decision in my life when I researched a lot in an attempt to gain as much information as was available, making sure that I had done my homework before making a decision. Gladwell opines that having too much information can actually be harmful in the decision-making process. Sometimes, snap decisions are the best, especially in staying power for the long term with little regrets felt later.

Towards the end of the book, Gladwell writes, “The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the latter.” It really made me stop and think. We have so much information at our fingertips, information that we generally assume to be true and reliable. With a few clicks of a button, we can compare and contrast the prices of cars in different states, find the best price on electronics, file our taxes, pay our bills, and do countless other things that used to take much longer. In some ways, the simplification of these tasks has made us lazy. We don’t check things that we should and we end up taking things for granted.

In regards to Gladwell’s quote regarding knowledge and understanding, I have seen this all too often. I have seen it in the business world. I have seen it in the academic world. I have seen it in the church world. Culture has constantly informed us that “knowledge is power” and yet knowledge without understanding can be somewhat useless. We may have tons of knowledge and yet we lack the wherewithal to apply that knowledge. Applied knowledge is understanding. If we fail to apply the knowledge that we have gained, we simply act as living and breathing encyclopedias, dispensing information as if we were experts.

In many ways, these are the remnants of modernist thinking on our culture and society. The modernist looks for initials after names and degrees hanging on walls, while the post-modernist looks for scars and battle marks to prove that there has been some experience behind the knowledge that one has gained.

Within the church, I have seen this all too often as well. If you jump through the right hoops and spout a lot of information or knowledge, you may be respected. Some pastors will even take advantage of the knowledge that they have gained. While I don’t want to overgeneralize the situation, there has been a tendency with some pastors to go right from Christian school to Christian/Bible college to seminary to a church. The exposure to our culture and the world in which they will need to minister is minimal and they are thrust into a situation where they are called to shepherd or lead those who are living in that culture every day. Can that really be effective? Sometimes it can. Oftentimes I think that it can be destructive.

The best example I can think of for the vast difference between knowledge and understanding is in relationships, particularly the marriage relationship. I can know an awful lot about my wife but that does not mean that I understand her. Gaining knowledge causes people to be seen as problems to be solved rather than relationships to be entered into. Gaining understanding of a person generally leads to a relational connection that is far more organic than simple knowledge.

We are creatures created to be in community. We are fallen and broken because of the original sin of pursuing a knowledge that would seemingly elevate us to the same level as God. We have not strayed very far from that sin and our pursuit of knowledge. Our pursuit of understanding should far exceed our pursuit of knowledge. Knowledge will simply puff us up while understanding will connect us with others. I would much rather be known for my understanding than for my knowledge. Knowledge is impersonal while understanding can be more personal.

Where do you stand in your pursuit of knowledge and understanding? Are you impressed with people who know a lot and do a little? Are you a person who knows a lot and does a little? In our pursuit of understanding, we will most likely gain knowledge but I don’t think that the opposite is true. You tell me.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Make Him Known

Well, this was not the Christmas that I was expecting or even hoping for. I thought that there might be some reprieve in my life, especially after the “year from hell” that we experienced for the first half of 2011. I was wrong.

The question is, “What do I do about it?” In the midst of everything that has been going on, I have still had the distractions of daily life to keep me grounded. It being Christmas time, it’s hard for me not to focus on what it is that I am celebrating during this time of year. I guess if you’re going to have crappy things happen during the year, it’s good to have it during a time of year where the focus is on the greatest gift that any of us could have received.

In between trips to the hospital, phone calls to friends and relatives, trips to Williamsburg, and my ordinary daily routine, I was thinking about the sermon that I was supposed to preach for Christmas day. Thankfully, it was graciously taken away from me by one of the other pastors so that I could have some time to focus on everything that is going on right now. But, the ideas were in my head long enough to have been gestating and forming, working their way into a full-fledged message. Since they won’t come out on Sunday morning, I figured that I would share them here.

Growing up in the church, one can grow tired of hearing the same message over and over, delivered with little passion and excitement, especially around Christmas time. Every year, I always do my best to reinvigorate the season with meaning and purpose. After all, like I said before, we’re talking about the greatest gift that any of us could receive, it’s exciting. Problem is, if we get caught up in the consumerism and busyness of the season, we might have the tendency to just “phone it in” and not give much thought to it all.

As I was thinking through which direction to go, I read through John 1. Having read the chapter countless times before, I was hoping and praying to see something different, something that I had not taken notice of before. I stumbled upon verse 18, which says, “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is a the Father’s side, has made him known.” This verse just jumped out at me almost as if it was the first time that I had read it. Particularly, the phrase “made him known” caught my eye.

In context, John had written just verses before of John the Baptist’s preparing the way for Jesus to come. I thought about how John’s mission, his duty and responsibility, was to make Jesus known. Jesus had come to make his Father known. What did that mean for me?

It just made sense to me that it should be my responsibility as well, my mission. I was reminded of 1 Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts set apart Christ the Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” Christians are generally pretty good about the first part but I have seen my fair share of them screwing up the second part…gentleness and respect. Despite some people’s belief, evangelism is not a literal beating the “hell” out of someone. We could all stand to be reminded of that.

In the midst of all of the junk of life that I have been dealing with, I keep asking myself, who am I pointing to? If I am still standing, do people know why? If I have peace, have I been honest about the reason? If there is glory to be gained, have I made it clear that I am not the one to receive it?

I just finished telling someone that in the midst of all of this, I am certain that there is a God. There is no way that I would be able to continue to function the way that I have had I not received a supernatural strength. Sure, I still have miles to go, I can still falter, but I have made it this far and I know that I have not done it in my own strength.

I don’t want people to pat me on the back and say, “Wow, I can’t believe how strong of a person you are.” I’m not. I’m weak. I’m broken. I am depraved. If there is anything good in me, it is Christ in me, and praise God that it shines through. In all that we experience, good or bad, awful or joyful, if we know Christ, we need to make him known. Others have shown me that. Others have been Christ to me in so many ways, I need to do the same to others. Imagine what things would be like if this was the normal way of things within the Church. Can you imagine how well cared for we would feel?

It’s too easy to think about my own problems, but there are greater things to come. Paul’s words to the church in Rome in Romans 8 are this, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” Now that’s something I can sink my teeth into.

I covet the thoughts, prayers, phone calls, messages, notes, and cards of everyone who is surrounding me. I only pray that through it all, I can fulfill my mission, to make Him known. If I do that, regardless of what the world tells me, I am a success.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Really? Are You Kidding Me?

This catch phrase has become my trademark over the past 12 months. It's become somewhat of a joke, probably because if I take it too seriously, I'll begin a descent into depression. So, it's kind of good to laugh at it. So much has happened with my family over the last 12 months, I really have come to that place where I continue to state this question, over and over again.

The thing is, I have to move past the selfish part of the question. Ultimately, that's what I end up making it about: me. How have I been inconvenienced? How are my feelings impacted? How is my life dramatically changed? When those are the only questions that I ask, it's easy to find myself in a place of anger, bitterness, and frustration. But when I begin to think about all of those same questions for others, the focus moves off of me and onto things that are a little bit more significant and important.

During this Christmas season, I have a job. I have a house. Although we have experienced loss, I still have my family. I am able to provide meals for my children. If we need a doctor, we can go. There are hospitals around for emergencies. We have friends who care for and pray for us. Compared to a good portion of the world, we are living in the lap of luxury.

If I drive just a few miles away, to the place where my dad is currently in the hospital, I will experience a very different world. There are people who don't have the things that I have. There are people who are looking for warm and dry places to sleep. There are people who want to find something to eat, anything to eat. I am not in their situation. I do not understand their situation. If I am willing, I can help to change their situation.

Right now, my life is fairly chaotic. I look around at a messy office and a messy house and get frustrated, then I remember that there are way worse things in the world than messiness.

The main problem is what I mentioned in my last post, I am trying to hold it all together. I am looking to muster up everything that I can to "fix" the situations that surround me, and I can't. I don't have the strength or capacity to do such a thing, nor am I supposed to.

When the Apostle Paul was writing one of his letters to the church in Corinth, he told them about something that he struggled with. He didn't name what it was, but based on what he said, it must have been inconvenient enough that he asked God to take it away from him. Not once. Not twice. Three times. In fact, it wasn't an asking but a pleading with God to take it away. I don't get the feeling that Paul was saying "please" and "thank you" in his language to God.

But God didn't take it away. In fact, he was given an answer that is a good reminder to all of us who find ourselves in difficulty, adversity, and challenging situations. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 says, "But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

Wow! Not sure that I am at that place yet. It's hard to get through the difficulties, let alone rejoice over them. It's hard to break my selfish will and see beyond the "me" of the situation. Maybe that's why I continue to struggle. Maybe that's why things continue to be a challenge for me.

Regardless, I have been given today to do what I need to do. There is no guarantee of tomorrow for me or anyone else. The future-thinking idealism of the Western world is a foreign concept to so many in other parts of the world. In some ways, it's a stark contrast from what we are called to do as followers of Jesus Christ. Who are we relying on? Ourselves or him? Whose strength is empowering us?

I have today, with all of its challenges and opportunities. Will I make the most of them, or will I complain that I have to deal with them? I am sure that I am not the only way who faces these challenges or has to answer this question. I am sure my challenges may pale in comparison to the challenges of others. Today, I choose to serve the Lord, that might mean challenging and trying situations, but if I'm not trying to hold it all myself, they won't be as challenging as I might think.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

You Hold It All

I was driving to a men’s group this morning and trying to mentally and spiritually prepare myself for our time together. There was a lot on my mind. I just finished my school quarter and I am moving into my last year of seminary. I was thinking about the oncoming wave of emotions that is beginning to hit me as I face my first Christmas without my mom. I was struggling with decisions about my dad and his health which seems to be deteriorating rather than getting better. I thought about these and other things like balls that I was trying to juggle. I stink at juggling. The image of all of the balls falling and bouncing in all different directions was incredibly vivid in my mind.

As I continued to drive, I was reminded of a song that we have been singing a lot in church lately. It was probably on my mind because we are doing it on Christmas Eve. The words screamed out to me as a reminder that I wasn’t supposed to be holding it all together. That wasn’t my job, nor was I knit together to be able to handle that. In fact, the One who created me and knit me together is the One who holds it all together. I was trying to do His job rather than resting in who He is and who He has created me to be.

It’s funny how the advice that we sometimes give to others seems so difficult to apply to ourselves and our own lives. I stood across from a brother in Christ who I had been telling this very thing and was convicted that I hadn’t heeded my own advice.

Control is a big word. We all love it and our culture instructs us to make sure that we are the ones who hold it all together. None of us want to lose control; that would be a sign of weakness. But the paradox is that when we surrender control to God, we are actually more in control than when we might think we are. We may live under the illusion, or delusion, that we can handle it all, but eventually, we will watch the balls fall to the ground and scatter in all different directions.

2011 has been a year of losing control. If I learn what I’m supposed to, I will learn that I need to lose control in order for God to gain control, and that’s not a bad thing. Am I willing to surrender my pride and delusional sense of control? In many ways, it reminds me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:37-39:

“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”

Next time you feel like things are spinning out of control, maybe it’s because you’re trying to hold it all together. Abandonment and surrender are more freeing than we allow ourselves to believe. Believe it and you will be set free!

Here are links to the song “You Hold It All” as well as the story behind the song: