|October 13, 2012||My Friend Unconditional|
|October 06, 2012||When You Pray for Someone|
|September 29, 2012||Understanding the Value of Understanding|
|September 22, 2012||The Game of Life and a Fork in the Road|
|September 15, 2012||Ask|
|September 08, 2012||Potency of Potential|
|August 25, 2012||I Know You|
|August 18, 2012||Applying The Cure|
|August 11, 2012||A "Chick-fil-A Day" Post Script|
|August 04, 2012||The Moment You Realize You Can't . . .|
It is a difficult task to see yourself for who you really are. Self-assessment is not easy, and I would say it is especially more difficult for men. We always want to see, and quite easily do see more often than not, the best in ourselves. We always want to think we are right, and even in our own moments of self-deprecation we think we are humble. We are capable of simultaneously admitting we have faults and seeing the faults of others who offend us as far more egregious. It is a rare man indeed who can see himself for who he really is.
When couples are angry at each other, it is far easier for them to see the changes the other person needs to make in order to "fix" the situation. In one breath admitting they may be at fault for some part of the division that exists, each is internally insisting that their position is due to the actions of the other person, and so it is the other person who must give way, change, and make amends, in order to make things better.
It's not just in close relationships where men have this trouble either. I have seen men walking around who should be embarrassed by the way they have presented themselves in public, but the problem is, they do not see a problem with it. Whether it is the way they dress, the way they talk with others, or their own behaviors, they do not see a need for change because they cannot see themselves for who they really are. In fact, "Reality TV" has built up an entertainment industry around this fact.
If we are going to be genuine and truthful with ourselves, we need to admit we need someone else for help in assessing where we are in life. This is where that friend, unconditional, becomes of great value. If you have a real friend, try stepping into their life for a few minutes to ask them to give you a reality check of the type of person you really are. Remember, this should be a friendship without condition, and one where your friend will keep your best interest at heart while still being completely honest with you even when they know it is going to hurt.
Have you ever seen the making of a sword? The process is quite brutal at times. The process is one of continuous heating and folding of metal that is beaten by weighted hammers against an anvil. Over and over again this process goes. The blade slowly takes shape from a block of iron into a length of metal that is then put to a grinder, and slowly, over time the process becomes more and more delicate as the final blade takes form. In the end, a lethal instrument ready for battle is the result.
This is what the Bible means when it says in Proverbs 27:17 "Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend." That is what a real friend will do for you. When iron sharpens iron there is friction, there is heat, and sparks fly while there is a whittling away of rough bumps so that a razor's edge may be attained and the blade that results will be far more useful and effective in the end. A friend unconditional will not tell you what you want to hear, but they will tell you what you need to hear while still accepting you for who you are right now. In the end, when really good friends do this for each other on a consistent basis, they are both changed into someone far more effective and useful.
Working at a job site, I often need to get into an attic space via a storage room. This almost always requires me to use a stepladder, and then transition from the ladder laterally to the attic space. I've done it before. In fact, I've done it lots of times on lots of job sites. On a day earlier this week though, something went wrong. During the transition from the ladder to the attic space, I felt as if the earth had been jerked out from underneath me, and I fell. It wasn't a slow-motion event, or one where I knew just before I fell what was about to happen. One second I was standing firm, the next I was in open air falling. It all happened faster than the blink of an eye.
Looking back, it must have been comical to watch. I felt like Wile-E-Coyote after he had chased Road Runner just a little to far and now found himself flapping like a bird. When I fell, I immediately reaching out for anything to catch myself, but before I could even worry about it, I had hit the ground. I fell 8 feet in total, and a fall from 6 feet can be deadly or cause serious injury. The person I was with was quite worried and kept asking me if I was alright. I got up, checked myself over, noted some scrapes that would definitely turn to bruises, but generally felt fine.
Maybe it was the adrenaline flowing, but I was able to get back on the ladder, get into the attic space, and walk the rest of the job site to complete the survey. When I got back to my car about 90 minutes after my fall, I had a call come in that had gone to voice mail. It was someone calling just to touch base with me, and to let me know they had been praying for me.
I'm not going to go super-spiritual and say that they were praying for me at the exact moment I fell, but I have no doubt it was God's protection that kept this family man out of the hospital or worse. Truth is, getting that call simply reinforced my faith in in the power of prayer, and it also reminded me of one very important lesson regarding prayer for other people.
When God lays someone on your heart to pray for them, you may think you know them well enough to know where they are, what they are doing, and how things are in their life. However, that may not always be the case. In fact, unless the person is there with you when you pray, you have no idea what they might be facing in just that moment. At that moment when you pray, they may have just received some very bad news you may or may not ever hear about, or they may be about to come into harms way and never see it coming.
We all need others who care enough to pray for us. How often has someone drifted into your mind and you thought to pray for them? You simply do not know what someone else might be facing at that moment, or what they will be facing later that day. Take a moment to think of who might be praying for you, and then take another moment to pray.
It's tough to be a man. Not that women have it easier than men, but that the natural tendencies of men tend to bring out contradictions between intentions and results. For example: a wife comes to her husband in tears about how someone at the office has been treating her, and the husband, wanting to come to the rescue of his wife, will instinctively want to give her a list of ways to fight back, or ways she should be acting in response to what is happening. The result of all this helpfulness is either the wife will react defensively in which case an argument may ensue, or the wife may just "give up" emotionally with the feeling that her husband is "out of touch" with her. For his part, the man is confused and is usually left wondering what went wrong.
Whether it is with a spouse or with children, men want to be the hero who comes to the rescue, but often ends up the villain perpetuating and reinforcing whatever problem was brought to his attention to begin with. He may even become part of the problem, even though this was most assuredly never his intention. What really is going on? How can a man break the cycle?
I am well versed with these questions because I am well versed in being a man of the male variety in my own home. Whether it is with my own wife or one of my two daughters, I have found myself frustrated by being caught between the desire to be a real help to my family, and sorely failing. When they are feeling down, it seems I cannot find the right words to cheer them up. When I try to shake them up, they look at me as though I were from another planet with no connection to them whatsoever.
Though I have heard the words and read many articles over this, it has taken many years of marriage and countless interactions to finally sink in: before you can really help anyone, they need to know you understand.
It's not that you agree with them, but that in some way, you come around to their perspective and begin to see the place from where their own emotions are being developed. You begin to see why they are frustrated, and see in a way that you understand. You being to see why they feel the way they feel, why they say the things they say, and why they do the things they do. You somehow get to this point, and then communicate to them that you understand. "I get it" is the message you want to convey.
From there, you now have the opportunity to talk with them instead of talking at them. Now you have the possibility of coming along side them to be an encouragement to offer hope, rather than an outsider who throws comments and advice at them to do this or that. When you truly understand someone, and can communicate that understanding to them, you are perceived as someone who is working along side them, and they will see you as someone who is lending your strength to theirs to move forward. In short, when you understand first, then you can offer hope.
Being able to communicate you understand is not easy. It the difference between yelling at someone and trying to direct them out of harms way, and actually coming alongside them physically, wrapping their arm over your shoulder, and lifting them up as you help them limp along out of harms way. Understanding, at it's root, is compassion; co-suffering with someone else, and leading them to a better place. Understanding the value of understanding is one thing, and putting it into practice difficult. However, when you practice understanding with regularity, you will find the relationships you have now will become much deeper and stronger than you thought they could be.
Last night we had family game night and played the game of LIFE. While not going into all the details of the game itself, there are at least two points in the game where a fork in the road appears. Go one way, and one thing will happen. Go another way, and another thing will happen. What will also happen is that other possibilities of going down one path will become possible, while simultaneously denying the chance that the opportunities of the other path will ever happen. It is a choice. During the game, we can see what will happen and each player gets to choose which scenario they want to play out, however, life is not always so clear.
I have been told, and read in various books by some pretty great leaders, that a man is influenced by the people he meets and the books he reads. What never occurs to some is that the people we ultimately meet, and the books we finally read, are choices that are up to us to make.
Being one of two parents raising two daughters is not easy. Even with the great strength of my wife, together we sometimes feel we are falling short in some areas. We want to raise our daughters to be able to think for themselves, but to do so with the values my wife and I share so that their choices will reflect those values. To a large extent, we exercise great control over their environment, but have given them great latitude to explore, learn, and experience life within those boundaries. The day will quickly come though when they will slip beyond those boundaries into the greater untamed environment of the world we live in, and I think to myself, "How will I prepare them for that day?"
You see, a choice is a fork in the road. It represents a decision to be made, whether to go this way or that. Some choices are obvious when compared to a predetermined set of morals, values, or standards. Other choices are more difficult, and cause us to see and even explore the blur of grey that separates what was a black and white decision before. I want my daughters to understand the choices they make are important, because with each choice a pattern is being forged in their minds. It is a pattern that seeks to be revealed, and eventually one day will tell them who they are.
While certainly, on a purely objective level, anyone is capable of doing anything, there remains that pattern of choices behind us that lays the outline of the choices to be made before us. That pattern can tell us whether or not we are the type of person who would ever do such and such a thing. Most people will immediately recognize that at any moment the pattern can be broken and a different path chosen, but such words are of no comfort to a life lived, a rutted path carved deep, and a way of learning that dictates how things are supposed to be done.
I want to make sure my daughters understand all this. I want them to know that a choice to tell a lie today will make it easier to tell a lie tomorrow, and how a lie many years from now can cause them great harm. I want them to know that the day they slip the boundaries of the protected environment of home, they will come to many different forks in the road. While they will grow to crave and greatly desire the chance to make those choices and decisions in their own lives, what I want them to understand most is that each of those choices will belong to them not so much as a freedom, but as a responsibility. It is a responsibility to bear the consequences and outcomes of those choices personally, to understand that the choices made can also have a great impact on others, and to either enjoy the benefits of good choices or suffer under the weight of bad ones.
Our house has recently become a way station for lizards. You know, the small Anole type lizards you see scurrying around outside? Well now we have them in our house. What is more, these little green travelers are here by invitation. You see, my daughter loves catching them, but keeping them healthy and alive can be challenging. In the past, we have allowed her to catch them and keep them overnight in her little lizard habitat, but in the morning she would have to release them. I could always tell it was a little bitter-sweet for her to let them go, but it was best.
Watching her let a lizard go one night, I asked myself how I could make this bitter-sweet moment into something more. That night I sat and talked with my daughter about lizards, and just started asking questions. As she talked, it became evident that what she knew about lizards was very little, but that she wanted to know more was also evident. So, I went to my office in the house and sat at my computer. Reflecting back on my conversation I drew up a list of questions, or things we would like to know about lizards, and put them with blanks next to the questions. In effect, we came up with a "Catch & Release Report" that she could now perform whenever she caught a lizard.
With the first catch, we went through the process of measuring its length, measuring it on a gram scale, taking pictures of it, noting the time of day and outside temperature, and other factual data. There was also a couple of places just for observation and even a page where there was a blank outline of a lizard so she could color and put in details about the lizard she noted on her own.
My daughter is suddenly very excited about lizards. Before, she caught them because they were a novelty, and now that she is asking questions, her mind has opened up and she is seeing lizards in ways she had never seen them before. She is able to make comparisons in size, color, temperament, and physical details. She is learning. Why? Because she is asking.
This may not sound like such a big deal, but it is an important lesson for everyone in all walks of life, and in the Christian life as well. There is no end of learning until you stop asking questions. If you want to learn how to improve your relationship with your spouse, stop having all the answers and start asking questions. If you want to learn how to improve communication between you and a coworker or your own child, start by asking questions. It is such a small, little word, but has so much power when applied.
When you pray, stop for a moment and ask yourself: am I praying for what I want because I think I have the answers to my own problems? What if you stopped having the answers? What if you simply opened your heart and prayed along the lines of asking God for His answers to your problems? How would that change how you relate to God? How would that affect the way you live your life? Ask.
"What do you want to be when you grow up?" It is a question I ask my two daughters once in a while, and mostly around their birthdays. I want to see what they are thinking, and remind them that a day is coming when they will seek and hopefully find their place in this world according to God's will for their lives. I remind them that God has a plan for them, that God also created them with special gifts and abilities, and that these gifts and abilities were given to them for very specific reasons.
I often wonder how many people are walking around today having never realized their own potential. These people continue day after day to work in jobs they hate, or suffer through desperate situations they wish were different. Then I look at my two daughters and wonder if they will ever realize the potential they have in life, or if they will find professional happiness doing what they love and being paid for it.
I believe we are all created to glorify God with our lives, and I also believe that in order to do that we must live up to the potential for which we are all created; professionally in our jobs, as spouses to our mates, and as parents to our children. The first step is realizing that you were created by God, not some random evolutionary accident. Everything God created not only shows design, but also purpose. This means you also were created with a purpose, a reason for existing, and you have a special part to play in the history of the world.
The next thing we must all realize is that if God created you for a reason, then it is a waste of time to try to be like someone else. We see the search for individuality in youth, and in doing so they ironically end up congregating into groups where everyone tries to be like everyone else with a certain "look" that identifies them with their peers. The simple truth is that you are the only person in the world that can be you better than anyone else. Stop trying to be like someone else, and just be yourself! How often have we heard these words without realizing or understanding that being yourself is exactly what God has designed you to do?!
Like clockwork parts, we can peer inside and understand that each part plays a role in the function of the watch. Some play small roles, but none are so minor that the clock could function well enough without them. Some parts of a clock are on display, some are hidden, some move, while others provide stability by being stationary. Each of us is different for a reason. To criticize someone simply for being different than you is to criticize the work of the Creator who made all men equal and different; each with the equal potential to be the individual person they were created to be.
Ever know someone who never met a stranger? That is my oldest daughter. Ever since she was a baby, anyone could hold her and she simply did not seem to care or mind. Most children, when taken from their mother, will start to reach out and cry to get back to their mom. My oldest never did that. In fact, it actually became quite worrisome for me and my wife. Literally anyone could have walked away with her, and she would have gone with them without so much as a whimper. These days, I think we've managed to instill in her a healthy respect for strangers, but she still has the same personality.
When I think about what my daughter will be like when she grows up, I think back to when I was a child with a neighbor who was always very outgoing and friendly. She had a son my age, and whenever I would go over to his house she would answer the door and say, "Well look who finally arrived! We've been expecting you! Come on in and have a cookie. Where have you been and what have you been up to?" What a wonderful way to greet and be greeted. I always felt welcome there. I also remember the days after they moved away. Even with all the people who lived around us, I remember how empty the neighborhood seemed after that.
The world is full of people that go unknown. We pass them as we walk through the mall, we shop with them in stores, and we drive down the road with them without ever acknowledging them. It is the rest of the world we live in. It is a world full of people yet so very empty. It is a wall of relational separation. We do not know them. They do not know us. So, we will have nothing to do with them.
This wall of separation is what Jesus broke down many times. He went to the woman at the well and spoke with her. He spoke to a man who had climbed up a tree. Over and over again he went to the strangers of the world, looked them in the eye, and communicated on some level - "I know you."
I think it is a great example of what we might be able to accomplish as Christians in this world. Many times we do not know what to do or what to say or how to act when talking with someone we do not know, and that is part of the problem. Maybe it is just a sign of the times we live in, but the walls of relational separation between individuals in this world have grown thicker. The message we are communicating, whether intentional or not, is "I don't know you. You are not welcome here."
Next time, when God speaks to your heart about talking with someone, try to imagine how they might feel if someone they knew walked up to them and said hello. At that moment, just before you speak and just after you have looked them in the eye, think to yourself "I know you" and see where the conversation goes.
Imagine a person with symptoms they have been dealing with their entire life. Every year, they are more and more miserable. Something is making them severely sick, but they refuse to go to a doctor. They never really know what is wrong, but they do their best to treat their symptoms their own way . . . and hide them. Problem is, everyone else around them knows something is wrong, but they don't know what to do. So, the person just keeps covering up the symptoms, and dealing with things (badly I might add) in their own way.
One day they meet up with someone who immediately recognizes what is going on. Turns out, he is a doctor. He knows the symptoms, knows the sickness, and is even willing to prescribe the medication. The person who has been suffering for so long is relieved. Finally, not only is there someone who can see what is going on, but also understands what to do about it. They are immediately thankful and take the medicine home with them.
Weeks later, the doctor runs into this person again. The person expresses great gratitude for what the doctor was able to do, but the doctor notices that there has been no real improvement. "Did you get the prescription I gave you?" The person replies, "Oh, yes! I went straight out and bought the prescription the same day!" The doctor knows that the person should have shown improvement if indeed they have taken the medicine. Puzzled, he asks how the regimen of taking the pills is going.
The person then replies that while they did go and buy the medicine, they haven't actually been taking it. You see, they have been dealing with these issues a long time, and they are not sure they are ready for the cure.
Now, what would you think of someone who did that?
Imagine someone else dying of thirst in a wasteland. You walk up on the scene, and immediately offer them some water. Now imagine what you would think if this person replied, "Wow! Thank you so much for this cool drink of water! I'm about to die I'm so thirsty." However, holding the glass of water, they simply sat there with it and refused to drink it. It's right there in their own hands. They are dying. You have given them what they need to get relief, but they refuse to drink.
Too many people are just like these two examples. Too many people are suffering needlessly. The cure exists, but you have to apply it to get relief.
Simply having the medicine at hand did nothing to cure the person from their sickness. Simply having a cool glass of water nearby does nothing to slack thirst. Going to church, reading your Bible, understanding what God says and what to do about issues in life is not going to make things better on their own. That simply makes the cure available. Your life will only begin to get better when you actually start to apply the cure.
With the Olympic games nearing an end, and the announcement of the Republican choice for Vice-President headlining the news, much of the furor of "Chick-fil-A Day" is over. There may be a few reverberations and after-shocks, but for the most part, the nation is looking ahead to the election. Looking back to August 1st may be a little premature, but let's give it a shot.
On that day, I went to my local Chick-fil-A to support a man who simply stood up for what he believed. His words were not critical or full of hate. He stated his own position clearly without resorting to name-calling or cursing at anyone who disagreed with him. Yet, still there was an outcry. Cities threatened to boycott a business because of the expressions of one man. To show support, on August 1st, I went to Chick-fil-A where I saw many other Christian friends working their way through the line. As I did, a thought began to nag at the back of my mind in question form. How did we get to this point?
What I mean is, how is it that whenever a Christian says he is for the traditional definition of marriage he is labeled not only anti-gay, but his words are labeled hate speech?
I think it has a lot to do with the duality of perspective with Christians in general. I don't mean to hurt anyone's feelings, but if we are going to speak truth, let's let that door swing both ways. When it comes to what Christians are willing to call sin, we can be very selective when we want to. For some reason, homosexuality has become the whipping boy of what's wrong with this country, while other immoral acts are hardly addressed. To use a phrase I've been hearing a lot lately, let's drill down on this and see what happens.
How many homosexuals are there in your church? Just asking the question and thinking about it can leave many squirming. I have a feeling the honest response would be something like, "We don't know. We don't want to know. Hopefully none." Can you sense the walls going up in your heart already? There is a lopsided sense that homosexual individuals are not like us, and that sets us up for a divide of the heart. Where we are in error is that such a divide of the heart cannot coexist peacefully with a heart that is supposed to reflect the love of Christ to all men. Inside, we know we should be more like Christ in our outward love of others, but inwardly we war within ourselves over how to express that love to someone "not like us" at all! So what are we supposed to do? Just throw our hands up and do nothing?
Well, let's take a look at a couple of other questions. How many couples are there in your church that are living together but not married? How many couples in your church are married, but one or both of them have been divorced in the past? How many individuals in your church have had premarital sex? Think about the answers to those questions for a few minutes, and then ask yourself this next question. How do I feel about all of them?
Chances are, you see some part of yourself or someone you know and love in them, and so dealing with them in the right way becomes easier. Maybe you see your own life in theirs, and you understand the yearning for the grace, love, and forgiveness of God and other Christians. There is no wall there because you do not see yourself all that different from them, and even if you have never been in their place, you have an innate understanding that it could happen to you. If it did, you know how you would want to be treated.
Last questions. Why can't we treat the sin of homosexuality the same way we treat other sexual sin? Do we throw out divorced couples who have remarried as adulterers from our churches? If someone we know has had sex outside of marriage, are they unwelcome to sit next to us in a pew? If your son or daughter cheated on their spouse in adultery, how would you want them treated?
I am convinced that the Bible is clear that homosexuality is a sin against God - against God, not me. The last thing I am going to do is treat the homosexual any different from anyone else I have ever known who was guilty of any of the other sexual sins. If I am willing to allow everyone else who has committed sexual sins in my church, then I should be just as willing to allow homosexuals to sit in the pew next to me. All the self-righteousness has to stop if we are ever going to reach out to this world. Christ sat and ate with sinners, and he was ridiculed by the religious elite. Where would you be in that moment? Sitting next to Christ? Wagging your finger from the sidelines? Somewhere in the middle?
We have to remember we are all broken and in need of mending. That is what we all have in common with everyone else, regardless of what sins we have committed. Yes, I went and ate a sandwich at Chick-fil-A on August 1st, but I was also perfectly willing to eat one that Friday. Why? Because I believe that if Christians are truly a part of the family of God, then it's time we started showing some family resemblance. That means understanding that if you lived in the time of Christ, He would be asking to sit next to you to eat. In this day we live in, that may mean getting ridiculed by the religious elite, and if so, at least you know you'll be in good company.
There is no other feeling quite like the one of desperation. When you get into a situation where the options are rapidly dwindling down to zero, and every delay closes off routes and opportunities to escape your situation. You begin to rush to find any answer. Desperation brings you to a point where any answer will do. Whether or not it is the right one will have to be sorted out later. When you are desperate, you need an answer "right now." As more time passes, and the situation becomes increasingly more grim, the tension and stress can reach a deafening crescendo. At the highest point of desperation, when no answers have appeared, and you begin to realize that escape is not possible, total panic can result. Desperation can feel like a noose tightening around your neck. Wild eyed, and with no other resource, you realize if someone does not help you out of this, then it is going to happen.
At that moment, when you are at the precipice of panic, when you realize you can't, that can be one of the most liberating moments of your life. It all depends on how you view life and your situation. For many people, they cross over into the zone of sheer terror and panic and go to some dark places in the mind where crazy and wild answers to temporary problems surface. What they do not realize is that the answers found there will only create more problems even greater than the one they are facing now. In solitude, they see no other way out but the answer that they have thought of on their own, and it is here when people think of drastic measures like suicide, robbing a bank, or in some way hurting themselves or others as a means of escape.
It does not have to be that way. For Christians who believe and trust in God, we always have another answer. As I said, it can be one of the most liberating moments of your life. For when you are the most desperate, when you have finally struggled all you can, when you have totally exhausted every answer and realize you can't, that is when you discover whether or not you really trust in God. Some Christians really do trust in God, and they never get to the point of desperation because they have always been truly trusting in God the whole time. However, I suspect that there are quite a few others out there like myself. You want to say you trust God all the time, but when things get desperate you struggle instead of trust, and panic when you could be resting in Him.
Always do your best, but also trust in God. Understand that God gives the blessings in this life. Sometimes we undergo trials and difficulties, but if we keep trusting in God, even these times do not have to be desperate ones. In fact, the desperation you feel could be a warning sign that maybe you aren't trusting in God like you should. What would happen if God took your house, everything you own, and even your children off this earth? It happened to one man in the Bible named Job. His response? "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him . . ." - Job 13:15
The moment you realize you can't, just keep repeating those words over and over. You can't, because you never could. So why are you still fighting and struggling? Relax. Find the liberation from your problems that can be found by simply trusting in God. An answer will come. It may not be the one you wanted or were expecting, but when it comes it will be an answer. Psalm 18:30 "As for God, his way is perfect: the word of the LORD is tried: he is a buckler to all those that trust in him." Psalm 37:5 "Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass." Nahum 1:7 "The LORD is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him."