Lesson Learned

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Lesson learned:  own up to your mistakes.

In the midst of all the human interest stories surrounding the Olympics, one of the more powerful reminders came in the form of an act of vandalism by a swimmer.  Being a former swimmer myself, the story captivated my attention.  At first, my preconceived biases framed my perspective, e.g. look at the tragic crime in Brazil.  It is clear the country was not in a position to protect all the athletes and tourists.  As the story unfolded, the tale flipped as it became clear the swimmers were not the victims but the instigators.  Rather than own up to their reckless behavior, they attempted to hide it.

In our house we have a simple rule:  do not hide.  Come clean.  Tell us if you did something wrong and we will work with you.

It is surprising how often human nature bucks against common sense.  Hiding almost never works yet we rationalize and conspire in the hope that we will not get caught.  Oftentimes we come up with some clever tale in order to escape responsibility.  Somewhere in our mind is this flawed thought process that says it is better to hide than to be honest.

A couple of observations:

  • Hiding from our mistakes only conflicts our soul. Rationalizing one part of our life impacts all other areas.  Once we make a decision to sacrifice integrity in one area it begins to erode other areas.  The standard has been compromised.
  • Hiding erodes our relationships. Genuine friendships are built on transparency and personal accountability.  Relationships are strengthened not in the absence of hurt but rather when we own up to something we did.  Do you think the other swimmers involved in the vandalism will be quick to trust the primary instigator?  Trust was damaged more by the hiding than the act itself.
  • Hiding leads to far greater consequences. Millions of dollars will be lost from endorsement deals over this one act.  Enough said.
  • Hiding dilutes our relationship with God. Concealment in our personal life eventually leads to the same behavior with God.  Confession is lost.  Rationalization with God is put forth.  And even though we know God sees everything we begin to act as if this is not true.

Lesson learned:  own up to your mistakes.

 

 

 

Second chances

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I am watching the Olympics on Monday night.  The track and field events begin to air.  Up next is the 110 meter hurdles.  The runners are getting set.  They crouch into position.  The camera zooms on various athletes as they raise their bodies up.  The starter says “sets” then shoots the gun to begin the race.  Immediately, a second shot goes off.  There is a false start.

The replay is not necessary to see who started early.  Wilhelm Belocian from France goes over the first hurdle before kicking down the second one.  You can see the exasperation on his body as he realizes that his Olympic dreams are over.  He has been disqualified from this event.  Cameras show him laying on the ground completely crushed as the reality sets in.  The rules of the Olympic Games dictate that a false start eliminates an athlete from completion.  There is no second chance.  There is no redo.  It is over.

I cannot imagine the agony for this man.  He has trained for years to get to this one moment.  Hours and hours have been spent running in all conditions for the one chance to compete for his nation.  At his national trials, he beat out numerous countrymen for this opportunity.  The buildup.  The work.  The sacrifice.  The excitement that flowed through his body must have been electric as his name was called, “In lane 3, Belocian from France.”  Then, in a second, he is in defeat without even a chance to run.  For the rest of his life he will remember this moment.

Oh, if only an official came over and said, “You made a mistake.  It happens to everyone.  We are going to give you a second chance.  Get back in the block and let’s try again.”  This would be a glorious moment.  Some would say this is unfair.  He blew his chance.  Others would celebrate it as a tremendous display of grace to an athlete simply wanting to do his best.  If such a chance was given, it would have been life-changing for the hurdler.  He would have been more careful, focused, and appreciative of the chance to compete again.  Regardless of the outcome, he would have returned home to his nation with pride knowing that he gave it his all.  He would have basked in the grace.

Not having a second chance eliminated this.

I am thankful that the Olympic rules do not apply to my spiritual life.  God is not a one and done God.  He does not say, “You have one shot at this.  If you mess up you are done.”  In the midst of my failure, He comes over and says, “Ok, that was not good.  You shouldn’t have done that.  Now, let’s try again and get it right this time.”  He is gracious.  He is patient.  And He loves to give second chances.  To be honest, He has given me hundreds of chances in some areas.  And for this I am thankful.  It encourages me to be more focused in these areas.  I sit back and bask in His grace.

 

 

Rejection is a powerful experience

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Rejection is a powerful experience.

Inside of us are longings for acceptance and worth.  We want to matter to someone or something.  We want to feel loved by another individual.  We want to feel valuable to a company, organization, or church.  We want to have a sense of true belonging.

Rejection shakes those pursuits.  It causes us to question our core.

I have seen individuals wrestle in the wake of rejection.  I have counseled people in the emotional aftermath of a job loss or breakup.  A person fell in love only to find one day the other person decides to end the relationship.   A man works at a company for twenty-five years only to show up to his job one day and be informed that he is fired.  A parent tries to repair a damaged relationship with a child only to be scorned.

There are numerous reasons we don’t like rejection.  There is a loss of control as rejection is not up to us but rather up to someone else.  It is a blow to our ego in that we are viewed as not adequate.  It shakes our courage as we put ourselves out there only to have our emotions dashed.  It hinders our trust by causing us to question the relationship or the possibility of a future one.

As I think about this common human experience, a few thoughts come to mind.

  • Christ understands rejection. Jesus was rejected by his closest friends.  The cross was an experience of abandonment and rejection.  He was alone.  He was forsaken.  In the midst of our rejection, we can find one who fully understands these emotions.
  • Rejection is NOT the final word. Jesus died.  Jesus rose from the grave.  Even though rejection surrounded his death, it did not have the final word.  Hope emerged from his death.  Oftentimes the moment of rejection feels like the end of the world.  It is not.  There is hope that emerges on the other side as new relationships are formed and new opportunities are opened.
  • Rejection is not absolute. Loneliness and frustration are normal.  However, they are not the true reality as believers.  We might feel alone.  In truth, we are never alone.  The hope of the cross is the promise that we will never be forsaken.  God is with us in these emotions.

Rejection is part of life.  However, it is not the essence of our life – that is found in Christ Jesus who absorbed the rejection of the world in its totality and flipped it on its head by extending grace to the very ones who abandoned him.  Christ brought redemption from the pain of rejection.  And so, for us, there is always hope even and especially in the midst of these experiences.

 

God and Tandem Bikes

 

©Earl Harper

A friend at the church owns a tandem bike.  He has been after me for some time to give it a go.  I finally got around to borrowing it.  The last time I jumped on such a bike was nineteen years ago when my wife and I were visiting Mackinaw Island.  Sunday was the first time either of our kids rode one.

Tandem bikes are an interesting invention.  They require a great deal of patience and coordination.  It involves communication and focus.

There was a bit of anxiety the first time we jumped on the bike.  One person would turn towards the left; the other person towards the right.  At times, the front person would stop peddling while the rear person continued.  It caused a lot of instability.  The bike would shake back and forth.  On several occasions it seemed as if we were going to topple over.

On one stretch my son wanted to be in the front.  The front person is in charge of steering, speed, and braking.  In essence, they control the bike.  In my opinion, it is also good to have the heavier person in front for balance.  But, I thought this would be a good experience for him.  So, Ryan jumped on the front while I sat on the back.  Needless to say, there were some tense moments.  It took several attempts to get the bike going as it wobbled back and forth between the grass and the sidewalk.  One of us would shift our weight in the seat causing the bike to twist and turn.  He wanted to go faster; I wanted to slow down (primarily because I did not have control in the backseat).  I kept instructing him by barking from the back seat to speed up, slow down, keep it still. Several times we had to stop the bike.

However, once we got going, once we were in sync it was a very enjoyable ride.  It was smooth as both people peddled together.  There was coordination as the front person focused on steering while the back person kept their eyes open for other bikers coming up behind us.  The moments we worked together were the smoothest and most enjoyable.

Our relationship with God works in a similar way.  Too often, we are out of sync with God.  God is moving life along at a particular pace.  Yet, we have a different plan.  We want things to happen quicker or slower.  We are asking Him to speed up, slow down, or keep it still.  Other times He is prompting us to talk to someone, serve in a particular area, or surrender a specific area.  However, we are very happy ignoring these promptings by going in the opposite direct.

We want control.  We want to lead.

When we work against God it leads to a stressful ride.  It is not smooth.  It is tense.  It is confusing.  It does not work when we try to be in charge.  God desires that we work in tandem with Him.  We can choose not to.  However, we should not be surprised when it leads to problems.  It doesn’t mean the ride will always be easy.  We learn through difficulties.  Yet, many of our anxieties and problems would be resolved by simply allowing God to be in control.  Let God steer.  Let Him dictate the pace.  Let Him direct us.   It is much more enjoyable and smooth.

 

Perseverance is a group endeavor

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Perseverance is a group endeavor.

Our vacation consisted of a lot of hiking – 26 miles worth.  It has always been a dream of ours to take the kids to Yosemite.  We waited until they were old enough to remember the trip and to endure some good hikes.  In our opinion, the only way to see a national park is by foot.

We planned our hikes.  Our goal was to do two major hikes:  a fourteen mile and a seven mile.  The fourteen mile is intense.  It involves getting up at 4 a.m. in order that you can return before it gets dark.  It is considered one of the most dangerous hikes in America.  Yet, this is how we generally approach vacations – go for it.  Our plan was to tackle this hike first while we still had the energy.  Our daughter infused some wisdom into us by saying we should build up to it.  We decided to start with the seven-mile hike.  It actually turned out to be a ten-mile hike when it was all said and done.

We packed up for the hike the day before.  Cliff bars, cheese, crackers, sausage, and six bottles of water each.  The rangers recommended three liters of water per person for this hike (yes we went through every one of them).  We woke up at 6 a.m., ate a quick breakfast, and hit the trailhead by 7 a.m.  It was a perfect day – cool and sunny.  We attacked the first part of the hike with ease.  We stopped occasionally but everything seemed to go as planned.  At the half way mark we reached the base of the Upper Yosemite Falls.  Gorgeous.  Breathtaking.  This was definitely worth the hike!

The second half of the hike proved much more difficult.  It was 10:30 in the morning.  The next hour and a half involved a series of switchbacks in the direct heat.  By this time, it was in the high 80s.  We started an intense climb at roughly a 45-degree angle.  The guidebook warned us that we would climb what amounted to two Empire State Buildings over the course of the hike.  They were not joking!  I think it was more like three!  We found ourselves stopping every ten minutes.  We would rest for five minutes in the hope that our energy would return.  Then, we would start again only to find ourselves tired after two to three steps.  We are not inclined to give up on anything.  Yet, this hike nearly beat us.  Our son began calling it the “death hike.”

At this point, we began to encourage one another.  We checked on how each person was doing.  We make sure everyone was drinking ample water.  We would find a shady place and rest whenever we could.  I began to create a fictitious story with my son to keep his mind off the fatigue.  We kept reminding one another that we were almost there – a few more steps.  It became group survival.

During the first part of the hike, we were together as a family but leisurely walking as individuals, not necessarily dependent on another person to move forward.  It was a different story during the second half.  We needed each other!

In the end we finished the hike.  We enjoyed a wonderful lunch at the summit.  Then, we made the easier trek back downhill, making sure to encourage those that were coming up behind us.  Spent, we wisely decided to only do the first half of the fourteen mile hike the next day.

It is easy to do the Christian life alone.  We live in community but not deeply.  We see people but do not depend on them.  We are walking through life at a leisurely pace without true need for the other person.  It is the American way – independent and self-sufficient.  Yet, it is not enough.  Christ wants us to live in intentional, life-giving relationships.  Relationships where we are in it together encouraging and spurring on another.  It is these relationships that help us through the challenging times of life.  Christ loves these connections.  He resides in the midst of them.  Ironically, it is the very relationships where we are most dependent that we are the most strong.  Strong because we are depending on Christ and one another!

 

Reconciliation is more than skin deep

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Our country continues to face a racial problem.  The events of the past week indicate the ethnic divide runs deep.  The tensions between particular groups highlight the deep animosity and distrust that exists in our country.  Eight years ago news banners proclaimed that we have moved past the problem of race by electing an African-American president.  Recent events indicate no such reality exists in our country.  In fact, it seems that we are more polarized than ever.

Elections haven’t worked.  The problem has not been solved through education.  Diversity in our schools hasn’t eradicated the tension.  Public awareness is not serving as the solution.  Conversations about the distrust and discrimination are helpful yet not guaranteeing racial harmony.  These improvements are necessary and highlight progress in our country.  However, it doesn’t change the core problem – the human heart.  There is something inside of us that instinctively throws up barriers to other people, namely those that look different from us.  Racial tension is intrinsically linked to our fallen nature that repels reconciliation and seeks to dominate another person, especially someone who looks different than us.

Christ’s redemption addresses this core issue.  It moves past the surface to the innate animosity and segregation that exists in our hearts – “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)  Jesus is not advocating for one race when he makes this statement.  Rather, he is arguing that true reconciliation is found in God’s redemptive purposes.  It is possible to live in true harmony with someone physically different from you through the cross.

In Christ, forgiveness is possible.  In Christ, healing can occur.  In Christ, we begin to see a person as made in the image of God rather than defined by their skin color.  In Christ, we can let go of painful memories in the past and make steps of trust towards another person.  It is possible because the seed of hatred, our sinful hearts, is addressed.

It is the primary reason I believe the church should be at the forefront of racial conversations.  In our hands is the life-changing reality that can spur true reconciliation.  Yet, it requires moving past simply talking about unity to living out unity in our relationships and communities.  As believers, we should be the first to extend hospitality to someone who “looks” different than us but in reality is knitted by the same Creator.  Christ’s transforming work should prompt us to extend grace and love.  Our churches should be safe places for honest discussions on matters of race.  Inclusion on a Sunday morning should be normal rather than forced.

As I look to the future, the credibility of the gospel is at stake.  My daughter attends a high school where over seventy different countries are represented.  She does not see her peers in shades of color but rather as human beings.  Several years from now when she looks for a church to call her own, will she find one where the gospel is penetrating racial lines – communities of faith that reflect the changing demographic in our country?  Or will she see polarization?   My prayer is that she will find life-giving faith communities that are living out racial reconciliation by worshiping the same God.  In doing so, the church can offer a powerful antidote to the problem of race in our neighborhoods.

 

I am not the most observant person.

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I recently experienced a very busy day.  There were numerous things on the docket – meetings, emails, and phone calls.   I was scrambling to get as much done as possible.  I am the type of person that has specific expectations of what needs to get done in order for me to “mentally leave” the office.  Trying to wrap things up, I began to pack up.  I quickly called my wife on my mobile phone to inform her I would be home in a few minutes.  While chatting with her, I scanned the office for things to take home – wallet (got it), computer (in my bag), paperwork to do later that evening (in my hands), car keys (in my pocket).  Scanning around, I mentioned to Penny that for the life of me I couldn’t find my phone.  I continued to look around while my wife paused as sensing a joke before pointing out the obvious…

Ok, I am not the most observant person.  I am sure there are a few people out there that can resonate with me.  It is possible that my wife could change the furniture in our house and I would not notice it for a few days.  It is not uncommon for me to arrive home, walk right past something in the house, and not be aware that something is different.

My lack of observation applies to other areas of my life.  I am not always aware of the emotional rhythms in my life.  Why am I frustrated?  What is irking me?  Why am I so distracted?  Other times it focuses on the spiritual arena.  What is God doing in my life?  Why can’t I see God’s goodness?  Where are His blessings?

I am thankful for my wife because she is brilliant in pointing out things I don’t see about myself.  She can see things that I cannot see myself.  She notices the emotional causes and the spiritual movements in me.  It is not uncommon for her to make a statement and nail it on the head whereas two seconds before I didn’t know what was bothering me.  She has a different perspective.  I am framed by my emotions and experiences; therefore, I cannot always see clearly.  As someone who loves me, is close to me, and outside of me, she has a frame of reference that I do not have.  I need this perspective.  It helps me see my blind spots – those areas of which I am not aware or rather choose to ignore.  These observations are beneficial for me.  It is good for me to hear them.

God is the most observant person.  He sees us with complete clarity.  There is no place to hide.  We can dance around our motivations and squelch our inner desires.  We can rationalize particular behavior and escape from certain disappointments.  We can attempt to conceal.  Yet, God sees it all.  He notices all the movements and tendencies in our lives.  As someone who loves us, is close to us, and outside of us, God has a frame of reference that we do not have.  He has the most perfect frame of reference.  We absolutely need this perspective.  He lovingly desires to transform those blind spots – to pull up the carpet, see the dirt, and change them.  The beauty of God is that He not only observes them, He can change these areas. Oh, it is beneficial for us to listen to God.  Oh, it is good to respond to Him.