Thursday, April 26, 2012


Been having an interesting couple of days.  In the midst of some interesting days, I stepped into the men's group that I attend weekly on Thursday mornings.  We have been going through a book my Larry Crabb called "The Silence of Adam."  It's a heavy-hitting book that is not for the faint of heart.  It's specifically geared for men and there have been some great conversations around the subject matter within the book.

I found it interesting that the chapter for this week was on darkness.  The author laid out the fact that God spoke into the darkness and brought light to it.  As His creation, we are called to do similarly, speaking light into dark places.  The premise of the book is that men, specifically, don't always speak into places where they should, case in point was the account of the fall in Genesis 3.

One of the main points of the chapter was about the need to acknowledge our powerlessness and confusion in certain situations.  We can't sit back and pretend that we can actually control a situation which is completely out of our hands.  At the same time, we can't just run to the places that feel safe because that is not always where we are called to.

As we talked, I remembered back when I was in college.  I worked for my hometown with the public works department during the summers and made friends with many of the people who worked at the Town Hall.  During the course of one summer, I got into a conversation about the need for the lifeguards at the town beaches to be "tested" with some planted "drowners."  I was asked to be one of those drowners.

So, one day, I went to the beach and planned my strategy to fake "drowning" out in the water.  It was somewhat humorous because I went to school with a bunch of the people who were lifeguarding.  Anyway, at the first beach, I went out a ways and began to flail around.  I realized that it wasn't easy to fake drowning, it was a workout, especially considering that the lifeguards didn't even notice me.  Not a good thing.  So, in my effort to provide some training, I actually began to struggle.

Thankfully, the second beach was not as big of a deal.  The guy who was guarding at the time was a few years ahead of me in school and I think he realized what was going on once he recognized me.  I continued to play the "drowner" once he got to me and started bringing me to shore.  I remember him looking at me with some annoyance at one point and saying, "You know, you could help paddle to shore."  I got a good laugh out of that.

Why do I share all that?  I remember hearing over and over again that when you are struggling in the water and someone comes to save you, it's essential to stop flailing around in order for the person to help you.  Of course, the natural thing for us to do is to flail around in a panic, but that's also the worst thing that we can do.  When help comes, when someone comes to save us, we need to let go and just rest in the person who has come to save us.  We shouldn't have to do anything but remain calm.

As I thought about our discussion this morning, I was reminded of the many times in life that I encountered difficult situations, situations that were way beyond my control.  Many of those times, I panicked and began to flail around.  I didn't know how I was going to get out of where I was and flailing seemed like the best response.  But I really needed to wait on God and then rest in his arms.  The right thing to do didn't seem like the right thing to do.

Rarely in life do we encounter situations that we can be 100% prepared for.  We are faced with uncertainty often and no amount of planning can circumvent those challenging situations that we will face.  In those encounters and situations, we need to keep our wits about us, we need to stop flailing around.  We need to rest in the arms of the One who can hold us and save us. 

We might feel like we're drowning in water, in darkness, in something else, but we are watched by One who cares for us.  All we need to do is stop flailing and rest.  Much easier said than done, but it's only for our benefit in the long run.  In this life and in this world we will encounter and face trouble, but we have the chance to know the One who has overcome the world.  When I find myself drowning, I know whose arms I can find myself in if I would just stop flailing.  How about you?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

In My Place

As I get older and grow in my faith, I see my sensitivity growing a little bit more each day.  Dogmatism is something that I have fought since I was in college.  While there are certainly times when dogmatism may be warranted, it’s such a dangerous thing to enter into relationships with others, especially those who might disagree with our worldview and ideology.  Over time, I have learned that it’s incredibly important to step back from a situation to objectively (as much as is possible) assess that situation.

One of the first times that I noticed this need was right after college.  I was hanging out with some friends that I had met through a church group and there was one guy who had a tendency to be a little unhinged at times.  He was a little wild, a little renegade, and it made some people uncomfortable.  Some of my friends were quick to write him off, but inside of me, there was a nagging feeling that there was a lot more to this guy than what I could see on the surface.

As I engaged in some deeper conversations with this guy, I could see some of his past hurt coming out.  It seemed to me that some of the actions that people were critical of were a result of some of that past hurt, but nobody had really dug deep enough to discover that.  I was humbled and ashamed that I had started to write the guy off just like everyone else.  I secretly vowed that I would do my best to take a step back as often as necessary to do my best to understand people.

Years later, I am certainly not perfect at it.  I probably fail to do it as often as I succeed, but I’m trying.  My wife has the gift of empathy, which I actually told her the other day to let go of when dealing with a specific situation.  But she can probably tell me more often than not that I need to embrace a little bit more empathy.

Everyone has a story and it’s rare that those stories don’t impact the way people act and react in life situations.  I can’t tell you the number of times that I encountered a strong reaction from someone that was tied to some life situation that the person was in the midst of or had just encountered.  The wisdom comes in taking that step back to be able to ask the right questions.  When I’ve done it, I’ve not been disappointed.  Those stories frame the reaction and help me to better understand that a person doesn’t have it out for me and that they aren’t trying to disrespect me, they just have a lot going on in their life and they need help and support to guide and lead them through it.

Like I said, this is not an easy thing, at least it hasn’t been easy for me.  I am always hungry for action and it can get me into trouble at times.  The need to stop, ask, listen, and assess is so prevalent because most people just don’t air their feelings out.  There is an irony in the fact that in an attempt to hide feelings, people actually begin to allow those feelings to guide and direct the way they act, often unintentionally.

A friend has reminded me many times that all of us who preach basically have one sermon that we will preach our entire lives.  There is one thing that we are passionate about that will come through in every sermon, every conversation, and every blog post in our lives.  Mine is about relationships and the need for them in our lives.  When people know who we are and know what’s going on in our lives, they’re so much more apt to extend grace to us.  If we choose to live shallowly throughout all of our relationships in life, we shouldn’t be surprised when people take us at face value every time.  While face value can be a good and safe way to live, it rarely tells us the truth about people.

Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.”  I have seen this play out over and over again.  May we live as people of understanding, being willing to dig deeper below the surface to see the purposes of those with whom we are in relationship.  It’s not always easy and safe, but the results are priceless. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

While I'm Waiting

Life is full of waiting. We wait at the supermarket. We wait in traffic. We wait through the seasons. We wait for special days to finally come. It seems that we always have to wait for something. Of course, the old adage is "good things come to those who wait." Waiting is not easy. Waiting is not fun. Waiting requires patience, of which I have very little.

Some statistics show that the average person waits between 45 and 62 minutes per day. Considering that many of us work for at least 8 hours every day and sleep for 6 to 8 hours a day, nearly an hour of waiting is fairly significant. It might be counted as a waste of time if we look at it from the wrong perspective.

But I think that we sometimes mistakenly approach times of waiting. We have been duped into thinking that waiting means inactivity, means wasting time. But there is an activeness with which we need to approach times of waiting. While we may incorporate times of rest into periods of waiting, there is way that we can actively wait.

Recently, I got stuck in a significant traffic jam on 95 on my way to a seminary class. A trip that should have taken me less than 2 hours ended up taking 3 1/2 hours. My attitude was horrible because I just wanted to get to where I was going. My stress level rose and I tried to take control of a situation over which I had no control. All this did was increase my anxiety and stress level, eventually leading to a migraine. When I finally arrived at my destination, I was in such rough shape that it's a miracle that I was able to function as well as I did. Of course, after class, I still have to make the nearly 2 hour drive home.

Thinking through how I handled the situation and how I should have handled the situation convicted me. First off, I found out that the reason for the traffic jam was that a man was threatening to throw himself off of a bridge on I-95. In comparison to whatever he was going through in his life, I guess my life looks fairly simple. Thankfully, he did not follow through with his desire and was brought to a facility where he should receive help.

I also thought through the idea of being prepared. I generally carry books with me wherever I go. At any given time, I am generally reading at least one book. If I had had any wits about me, I would have simply pulled out a book and taken advantage of the time that I had to read in the car while waiting for traffic to clear. There was no one with me in the car, so I could have taken that time in silence and prayer to clear my head. Thinking back, there were probably a number of options that I had for things to do while I was waiting. But I chose poorly.

Yesterday and this morning, I was reminded by some friends of Psalm 27:14, "Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD." When we come to times in our lives where we must wait, it is not always a passive waiting that we are called to. When we find ourselves in places where we need to wait, it doesn't mean sitting on our hands and doing nothing, we can actively wait, and I think we are called to actively wait.

We will face times of waiting in our lives, it is inevitable. These times are not to be avoided, but they can be embraced. What would happen if we took a different approach to waiting? What would happen if we were prepared to read, to write, to pray while we're waiting? What a difference it would make in our attitudes and probably the attitudes of the people around us.

Last Friday, I blew my opportunity to actively wait in the midst of what I was facing, but today is a new day. Through grace, I am given new opportunities and new mercies every morning that I awake, will I seize those opportunities? Waiting is unavoidable, wasting time isn't. May we embrace our times of waiting in order that we can approach them actively rather than passively.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Big Mouth = Big Trouble

Ozzie Guillen’s at it again. Seems like this guy never knows when to quit. For someone who has had their mouth get them into trouble so many times before, you have to wonder whether or not it’s possible for him to finally learn a valuable lesson: think before you speak.

In case you are out of the loop, Guillen made a comment regarding Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, saying that he “respected” the leader. This statement has caused a firestorm among Cuban-Americans who have lost loved ones under Castro’s regime. While Guillen claimed that his respect was for him as a person, because he respects everyone, the damage had already been done. The news this morning states that MLB has suspended him 5 games for his statement.

As I came to work this morning and continued work on my sermon for Sunday, I found it interesting that within the passage from which I am preaching is this verse, “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.” Wow! That’s a fairly tall order.

In context, the verse falls in 1 Peter 4 where Peter is writing his letter and imploring people to love each other deeply, using their gifts to help and to serve one another. How carefully we have to choose our words. While I feel like I have said this ad nauseam, talk is cheap even though there’s no way for us to retract words that have already been spoken. I sincerely fear for the next generation if they have role models who think that careless talk can be easily fixed with simple retractions.

I have had some times in my life where my mouth has gotten me in trouble. Pride won the day and I did not bridle my tongue, and I reaped the consequences of that. Words are powerful and can be interpreted so many different ways. Our language is versatile and that can be a blessing and a curse. Body language speaks volumes and in this day and age of electronic communication, the lack of body language, voice inflection, and simple face to face conversation can lead to all kinds of misunderstandings.

I am sure that I will experience additional times in my life when I will say things that I regret, but I have certainly worked hard to keep my mouth under control. I think back to the Disney movie “Bambi” when Thumper told that timeless truth that still stands: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything. While it’s a bit of an oversimplification, there is a lot of truth to it.

I don’t know what will happen to Ozzie Guillen, whether he will learn a lesson or not. My fear for him and any of us that might let our mouths get the best of us is that people will just stop listening. They will have come to expect useless things from our mouths and they will choose to ignore us rather than think that we have anything valuable to offer to the conversation. I hope that I don’t come to that place. I pray that I would use words as if I were speaking the very words of God.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Reflections in the Silence

A close friend of my wife and mine commented recently that she was concerned about me based upon my lack of responsiveness in social media settings. I chuckled to myself over the fact that I had obviously set some of precedence for my activity in social media settings. Then I assured this friend that I was okay, just fully weighed down with responsibilities and activities. I assured her that there was nothing to worry about.

In fact, what has appeared as silence to those who have not heard from me is actually just temperance and self-control. I have started and scrapped a number of blog posts that would probably have landed me in hot water with someone. I took the opportunity to actually write them out because I knew that part of the purpose was for my own well-being, venting to no one in particular about certain things that have been happening in my life.

As I have grown older, I have learned more about the value of words. Talk is cheap and words get thrown around too easily. I have learned the importance of listening and the greater importance of keeping my mouth shut when opening it achieves nothing of value.

I still believe that it's important to speak up when I have something to say, especially when I choose to stand up for something, there are certain contexts that are better than others for that. Certain issues are way too volatile to actually think that opening up about them in public forums on social media will be interpreted correctly and without misunderstanding. Each and every one of us interprets things from our own context with our own lens and regardless how clear the communication, there is always potential for misunderstanding and social media doesn't allow for a simple and easy way to work through those misunderstandings in a very conducive way.

I had an experience a few weeks ago where I sent out an email to a friend. While I did my best to express positive things within the context of that email, I realized that the issue that was being raised was far too important to have assumed that a simple email would effectively communicate my intentions. This led to a misunderstanding and some hurt, which led to a meeting, which led to a great time of conversation and "airing out" of some issues. If I had only requested a meeting in the beginning, I could have saved some hurt and misunderstanding as well as all of the steps in between.

Communication is a challenge. We need to not only understand the various means and methods of communication, but we also need to understand how certain people respond to these certain means and methods. There are some people that I can write very direct emails to without any kind of pleasantries or greetings whatsoever without fear of offense. There are others who take that as me being short and impatient, and if I really stop and think about it, it probably is me being short and impatient.

Communication takes time. We can get things done without communication, but our effectiveness will be reduced because of the lack of relationships that are being fostered. If people think that we are simply goal-focused and don't care about relationships, their attitude towards us will be fairly evident and our impact on them will be evident as well. We may get things done, but how much respect will we get from people.

So, in the past few days, I've been reevaluating things a little bit. I've had to schedule some appointments with people to make right things that I've neglected. I need to focus more on relationships than I've been doing. Yes, it takes time. Yes, it takes me away from getting things done that some might see as "more important," but in the end, I think everyone will be better for it.

The piles of stuff will still be on my desk tomorrow and probably the day after that, but I'm not always sure that the people who I lead will be there. I'd rather have piles on my desk knowing that my relationships are good than to have an empty desk with uncertainty in my relationships.

So if I seem silent, chances are, there's a good reason for it. Silence has actually saved me time and time again, I think we could all do with a little bit more of it in our lives. Try it, you might like it, and if you're lucky, you'll learn something in the process.