Friday, February 14, 2014

choices choices

Watching people interact in their daily routines or actions, I wonder how different their parents acted. Based on the study of social programming, individuals do not differ from their predecessors characteristics unless they choose to act differently. The operative word (or action) is that of choice.

The majority of us actively choose each direction we take. There are very rare cases where our choices are made for us. Some choices are subconscious, others are deliberate. What force moves within you to direct your choices? Too often, our choices are made based on the examples we were shown as kids. Our parents’ characteristics shape our decisions, and in most cases, we are pre-programmed.

Truly, each of us is born with unique characteristics that separate us from our parents and yet it is them that we glean from the most. We adopt assets, flaws, styles, trends, etc from our parents and our society second. Our society includes friends, relatives, coworkers and even strangers. Early on in life, your choices were a direct result of the influence of your parents and immediate family, or the family that raised you. Later on, your choices become affected by external forces and it is in those times we find some of the most impactful options; choices that literally shape who we are.

Not surprisingly, some of our choices are regrettable. Most of the time, we move through our days with little thought to the choices we make. The obvious downside is the failure to comprehend how our choices affect others and even ourselves. The ripple effect of each choice we make, no matter how small, is worth taking note of every now and then.

We have all most likely heard the golden rule of doing unto others as we would have done to us. But living by that rule requires a focus that few people seem capable of possessing. I do not say this disrespectfully but more from an observatory perspective. And yet, isn’t it indeed a choice that we make to treat others a certain way? Some claim they treat others as they themselves have been treated, but again, that was a conscious choice.

In my life, I had to move hundreds of miles away from my family to affect my choices I was making. I chose to leave but it was because for so long, I had chosen to be a very arrogant and selfish person. When the opportunity came, I left not because it was necessarily the best thing I could do in my life at the time, but because I was selfish and arrogant; it was all about me and no one was going to tell me otherwise. All along the way I made choice after choice that would greatly impact my life but also the lives of my family and friends. Interestingly, I am still mending fences that I tore down nearly 20 years ago.

Ultimately, I had to make a choice to change. It was not easy and to be honest, I am still changing to this day, hopefully for the better. Even small changes can be difficult but part of maturation is learning what collateral damage will occur, if any, depending on a given choice. That might sound crazy; as if I am making life and death decisions that will affect my family, and yet, there are distinct choices we make that can either give life or tear it down. What I’m talking about is our choice of words.
Each of us has the ability to lift up or tear down the people around us based on the words we use. This is true each and every day and we would be wise to think before we speak, especially to those we don’t even know. The reason I say that is because those closest to you are considerably more apt to forgive than a complete stranger. This is not to say we are welcome to belittle our loved ones; quite the contrary. But I truly believe our attitudes are most evident when we are around people we don’t know. If you question that, just watch drivers in their responses to one another, especially in a parking lot around a major holiday.

The words we use are a direct result of a choice we make and are most arguably used based on the condition of our hearts. Let me say that a different way; the flow of your words will almost always match the flow of your heart. When you are in a good mood, your heart is happy and you use positive, life affirming words. When you are in a bad mood, you may lash out, using words that are hurtful. Some would contend that our heart condition was outside of our control but I will tell you that your choice of words in any situation remains a choice. It might not be easy to be cheerful when someone has hurt you and yet, it’s possible based on a choice. That is a decision that will impact everyone around you, depending on which direction you opt to go with your words.

Here’s what I have learned in my brief tenure in this life thus far; more than simply thinking before you speak, you must be aware of the power of your words. We must consider the person, the context, the situation and even the outcome before choosing which words, if any, to use. This isn’t about intellectualism or insightfulness, even though there is nothing wrong with either of those characteristics. This is about thoughtfulness; simply putting thought to your words before using them so that in doing so you will build up, instead of tear down. After all, it’s your choice.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

curing my cynicism

A few of you know me as coach and as a side note, I love that title. As a separate side note, I have been coaching for so long now, I have former players who now have kids…that should scare me but instead it inspires me further. Over the past 25 years, I have seen a lot of funny things on the pitch. On one occasion, a little boy, who was one of my defenders, came running up to me and whispered, “Can you call a time out? I have to poop.” Nothing really prepares you for such a question. I have checked every coaches manual out there and there is nothing I can find in printed form that warns you that a question like that is coming.

For the first ten years or so that I was a coach, I remember both the joy of winning and the bitterness of losing. I use the word bitterness because for a long time, I struggled with the concept of losing and would typically find a truck load of excuses for why my team didn’t perform as they should have. We were too slow, they were too fast, our goalie was a piece of Swiss cheese, their goalie was a gymnast with Velcro gloves, their goal was bigger than ours, their uniforms were cooler, their coach had a stacked team, our kids all suffered from ADD, the ref was a blind bum, the ref was the other coach’s brother and so on and so on. After each loss, I would pile up my excuses and before long I became something else; cynical. I began to distrust other people’s ambitions, agendas and before long, I believed that the only person I could count on was me. I became selfish of my time and jealous of the victories we didn’t get. Then, after each victory I would remind myself that the reason for our success was because I had made all the right moves and simply outcoached the other side. This made me terribly prideful for a while. Selfish, bitter and prideful; yup, that was me. I was a cynic.

Cynicism is when you squint because you’re not so sure you believe what you just heard because you don’t trust the person speaking. It’s when you don’t think your team can win because too many of the OTHER players won’t try as hard as you. It’s when you become suspicious of nearly everything around you because things just don’t seem to go your way. A cynic won’t attend church because the people inside are too judgmental. On the flip side, a person that attends church every Sunday but looks at everyone on the outside with distrust; is a cynic. A cynic is someone who will literally pull themselves away from helping others because they truly believe that nothing good will come of it. A cynic’s actions always say, ‘my will, my way, nobody else knows what they’re doing anyway.’

OK, I think that everyone can agree that cancer is bad, right? Well, cynicism is a cancer and if you let it fester, it will quite literally destroy you, so to speak, as far as you relate to the world around you. You will pull yourself away from helping others because they’ll never appreciate it anyway. You’ll stop saying nice things to anyone because people don’t really show proper appreciation in your eyes. You’ll quit going to church because the truth is, churches are full of hypocrites!

In the end, you will lose your saltiness. Can you imagine Goldfish crackers without saltiness? The snack that smiles back with no salt? Me neither, no thanks.

In Matthew 5:13 (NIV), Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot”. I’m pretty sure no one here wants to be used by ODOT for traction during snow storms, just sayin. James takes cynicism on like no one else, in my humble opinion, and gives us some fairly straight forward words. James 3:13-17 (NLT) 13 If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. 15 For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kinds of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic (really?!). 16 For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. 17 But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. Amen?

There is simply no room for pride, bitterness or selfishness in that last verse. Pride, bitterness and selfishness are all the roots of cynicism and they are all cancers.

Most likely, each of us has been guilty of cynicism on some level. No, this does not mean you have cancer. It simply means that sometimes our behavior, the way we act towards others, is prideful, bitter and selfish (the definitions of cynicism). At the very heart of cynicism lies the statement, ‘let my will be done’. And yet even Jesus, our greatest example, cried out to His heavenly father. In Mark 14:36, Jesus said ‘…I want your will to be done, not mine’.

Let me share with you a few lines from a Casting Crowns song:
“Who am I, that the Lord of all the earth, would care to know my name, would care to feel my hurt?”
“Who am I, that the eyes that see my sin, would look on me with love and watch me rise again?”
Someone please tell me how it is we have earned God’s grace.
Let’s add another line to this song:
Who am I, that the man I drive behind, is completely and utterly blind, and doesn’t deserve your grace?

A cynical person does not truly grasp those questions. A cynic withholds love but God doesn’t, even when we don’t deserve it. A cynic says, ‘they don’t deserve grace’. At what point did we stop seeing God’s people around us and start believing that we are so much better than everyone else? Were you given grace and told you were the only one to get it? Do you even deserve it? I know I certainly don’t.
The song continues to say:
“Not because of who I am, but because of what you've done. Not because of what I've done, but because of who you are.”

Reflecting on what cynicism is and what it does, we know that it has the power to destroy us if we let it, much like a cancer. In the world today, we do not have a cure for cancer. However, there is a cure for cynicism.

The cure is grace.

There will be times in this life when you need to call a timeout because well…someone needs to poop. Don’t be ashamed or afraid to take a timeout if you feel your own attitude has become prideful, bitter or selfish (poopy). In that moment, repent. Your coach, your heavenly Father, will instruct you with mercy, He will correct you with love and He will cover you with grace.

Pray this with me:
Dear heavenly Father: I need you. Today I slipped again, please forgive me. Sometimes I forget about your mercy and your love and especially your grace. And sometimes I don’t give out your grace like I should. Jesus, please shower me with your grace again so that I can give it out in abundance, as you have given it to me. Dear Lord, I want your will to be done, not mine. Amen.

As you go throughout your day, shower those around you with grace, regardless of anything. You might not think they deserve it, but remember; you didn’t deserve it either.

May God’s grace be with each of you. Thank you.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

reality show

 “I know without hope I’ll only sink not swim.”
In reading an atheist’s view regarding the profundity (or lack) of faith in God in light of reality, I am struck with the thought that so much of our existence is based on what we can see. Reality is what is before us and it can be verified to some degree by anyone around. Naturally, a pious person who believes in a God that he can’t see is often viewed as a heretic by unbelievers. Even for those who believe, this can be a stumbling block.

And so, reality becomes the barometer for those that are strictly of this world and must have concrete answers that are steeped in reality. This is not to suggest that believers exist outside of reality; instead it is just the opposite. It takes someone steeped in reality to recognize the existence of a creator. Order comes from reality and a solid grip of it. Chaos comes with a loss of reality and explains a great deal of secular beliefs as unbelievers struggle to find order in their lives. (Luke 11:29-36)

Paul claimed order by following the law and look where it got him; blinded on a road to Damascus. Paul truly believed that the order in his life was controlled by the law and anything outside of the law was chaos. Paul was consumed with getting his way, which was pointing out the flaws of Jews and Gentiles alike. The idea here is that Paul was absolutely convinced that there was no other way to live and anyone outside of that purview was worthless and should be condemned and thrown away. Paul had yet to understand the power of grace, and in his shortsightedness, he, like so many Pharisees, believed that order was managed only by following the law perfectly. For Paul, there was a fine line that one had to walk in order to find God, there was no grace; there was no Jesus. My friends, that is indeed the very essence of chaos defined. Paul was chasing a tail he could never catch, but he was bound and determined to crush and kill anyone who did not chase the same tail. Paul needed a wake up call and he got it. I think too many of us are in dire need of that same wake up call and need a good blinding in order to see.

Galatians 5:19-21 points to where we end up when we become obsessed with chasing the same tail that Paul (Saul) chased; “all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants”. Losing sight of reality forces history to search for alternatives to explain circumstances and justify order. Scientific study was literally born out of a conflict with reality. Mankind fought order and in doing so lost sight of reality. Even as God sent His son who explained what was required to get to the Father, men denied reality, fought to explain order by a law they clung to, and to this very day men and women argue that scientific law is the only rational way to explain order amongst chaos and to further justify this creation we see.

When we let go of all the trappings of this world in order to recognize what we could have in the next, all of reality shifts for us. A reality set on this life, in this place, is headed for disaster every time, but not always in the way that so many think. Too often, Christians buy into the idea that life somehow gets better once saved; that, in fact, is losing sight of reality. Maintaining focus indeed means that while your eyes are set upon eternity, there will be times when chaos reigns. Not because of an acceptance of a life based outside of this earthly one, but because this place is home to original sin. The reality of this life is accepting that not one thing on this planet is eternal. We must embrace that in order to die to this life.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Threshold of humility

Another night writing, another night spent thinking of how humility has shaped me, or more importantly, how God has shaped me by using humility as the knife.

Many of the people I associate with today would tell you that I am one of the most humble people they know, and to that I would tell you I am flattered, but I would also tell you that it’s possible I’ve gotten very good at faking it. However, in order to fake it, there would have to be times when I was anything but humble and would find myself as arrogant as ever. The truth is that God has removed that arrogance from me, stripped it away completely. It is hard to say when it happened initially, or how quickly I changed, but I know that something is different to be sure.

What I don’t want to do is be the person who sits here and lauds himself for supposed humility but does so in a way that would appear to be bragging. In fact, before I go any further let me say this; God is at the front, on the sides and at the rear of what is going on in my life. If it were up to me, I would have derailed this train years ago, wrecked in a heap of self delusion and pride, beyond arrogant; deliriously drunk on the wine of me. To be honest, I lived that way for so long that it is impossible for me to fix all the damage I did back then. I have left a swath of hurting people along the road and for a long time I refused to even look their way, let alone acknowledge they were laying there. All I can really do now is pray for forgiveness and ask God to do what is ultimately impossible for me to do on my own.

This is also not supposed to be a pity party. I am certainly not looking for sympathy or a pat on the back for changing my much maligned ways. Mostly, this is simply my brain telling my fingers to type and fill in the white of the page. There is so much I wish to get out on paper and for so long I have either kept it hidden from view or simply refused to let it out of my head. The dangers of this are well documented and I am well aware that I should probably see someone on a professional level in order to adequately deal with what I carry around. And yet, today I find myself in a place of peace that I truly did not know existed and I’m starting to realize that all I needed to do was stop living for myself and wake up to the reality of living for everyone else around me.

I think that what has humbled me the most is the realization of what Christ did for me. That while I was still a sinner, He died for me. He didn’t wait for me to realize it or make reparations, He jumped in and took the initiative because He knew that I was too arrogant to see past my own nose and recognize the need for change. I don’t deserve that, in fact, I never will. There is nothing I can ever do to earn it. But here’s the craziest part of all of that; Jesus did what He did not because He was hoping to fix my arrogance but because He loves me. I REALLY don’t deserve THAT.

The THAT in that statement is GRACE; a small and seemingly basic monosyllabic word that has the power to change lives. Grace is the difference between what I deserve and what I have been given instead. To say that I don’t deserve it is one thing, but to grasp the scope of grace is to stand at the threshold of humility. Truly, I have been humbled because of what one man did for me. Humility comes with accepting His grace and mercy. And with humility comes the opportunity to give grace; the most humbling act of all.

Many moons ago

Many moons ago, I was born and subsequently raised in Seattle. There are thousands of fond memories that fill my head about the place of my birth. Like most that have grown up and then left the area they’re from, I have a special place in my heart for my hometown. It is easy to think of countless people, places and events that shaped who I am today and I would be foolish not to acknowledge the impact that Seattle has had on me. And while I am fast approaching a time when I can say that I have lived in Oregon as long as I lived in Washington, Seattle will always be my first home.

The jokes about Seattle are as endless as the rainy days in the fall, winter and spring (and half of summer), and yet I would not trade my childhood for anything. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest has given me a deep love for so many things, including fresh seafood, the North Cascades, the Puget Sound, taking a ferry ride, Dick’s restaurants and of course, Seattle sports. While there certainly has been much futility over the years, there have been a few bright spots. Moments such as the 1979 Sonics team that won it all, or the Sounders going to the Soccer Bowl in ’77, or the Mariners winning the division championship over the Yankees in 95 (I was there!!) or even the Seahawks making it to  Super Bowl XL. There have certainly been some memorable moments and I am thankful to have been there for most of them. Seattle is by no means a powerhouse city of sports teams that dominates a given sport, but I will say this; the fans are like nothing else.

This past football season saw a Seattle fan base set its own records in regards to loudness, as measured in decibels. At one point, Seattle fans actually recorded an earthquake as recorded at the University of Washington Seismology Department. That, my friends, is crazy. However, to give credence to Seattle 12th man football fans, the Seahawks provided very good reasons to cheer this season, rattling off a 13-3 record before heading into the playoffs. The Hawks went on to beat a very good Saints team, a pesky 49ers team and then absolutely crushed what was supposed to be a powerhouse of a team in the Denver Broncos, to win the Super Bowl.

Even as I go back and watch highlights, I am still in shock that a Seattle team could win a championship on a professional level. For years we endured losing season after losing season by every pro team in the area (with the exception of one Sonics team). Then, even when a team like the Mariners wins a record 116 games in a single season and looks unstoppable, they turn around and get killed in the playoffs. To me, that 2001 season was the epitome of Seattle sports. Years of futility rolled into one season by one team. For a true Seattle fan, that was a tough pill to swallow.

And then came the Seattle Seahawks of 2013/2014. A team led by a young 2nd year quarterback named Russell Wilson (a true class act) and a defense that will be talked about for years to come. The Seahawks dominated in a way we have come to expect from so many other teams that aren’t from Seattle. But, in the end, this Seahawks team was the only one left standing, holding a trophy that looked pretty good in its coach’s hand. And that same trophy will look awfully handsome as it is paraded through downtown Seattle as there is sure to be an unbelievable celebration in the days to come.

I was 6 when the Seahawks came to be. I have watched this team for 37 years, and like the Mariners, I have wanted very much for a trophy to come home to Seattle just once. I’m not sure if the Hawks will ever win again but to be honest, I don’t care. Right now, the Seattle Seahawks are the best team in the land, and that feels pretty good for this fan.