I Don’t Know Everything

texacoI constantly marvel at the fact that the more that I learn, the less I seem to know. I think it’s a direct result of opening myself up to new areas of knowledge which I am completely unfamiliar with and then the sudden realization that the world and universe are far greater, grander, and more expansive than my arrogant self ever imagined.

Paul’s letter to the church in Rome remains one of my all time favorite books in the Bible. In chapter 11 of that letter, Paul wrote, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.”

While I have no qualms with trumpeting the things that I know and the talents I possess, I have been humbled over the years at the realization that I don’t know nearly as much as I think I do. Despite the three degrees that I possess from higher learning institutions, I don’t really feel like I know much. Engineering and theology, two vastly different areas of study to the average onlooker, are far more interrelated than I once thought, but the study of them has not led me to somehow be more enlightened than the rest of the world.

The early learning experience in my life in which I had this realization was when I was working at the local Texaco station in high school (I guess there are still Texaco stations around, but I haven’t seen one in years). In my upper middle class town in southwest Connecticut, I may very well have been the only one of my peers who was spending his Saturdays pumping gas, washing windows, and operating a cash register at a gas station.

I remember being fifteen years old and living in my upper class world, showing up to work on the first day and thinking that I was so far above all the people with whom I was working. Needless to say, I got knocked off that horse pretty quickly.

It didn’t take long for me to begin to see that the world was far bigger and more diverse than my little bubble. I may have excelled in certain areas of academics, but all these guys I worked with far excelled me in the practical area of fixing things and knowing their way around car engines.

It was a very humbling thing for me to begin to realize this, and I was so grateful to have come to that understanding at fifteen rather than fifty. I began to look at these guys around me with a newfound respect, knowing that the was a complimentary nature to our relationships and to the world. I may have known a lot about one area that they were unfamiliar with, but their knowledge and experience far surpassed my own in other areas.

As I’ve lived a number of decades since then, I can honestly say that the lessons I learned at a little Texaco station in Darien, Connecticut have stuck with me since then and have proved to be invaluable for the winding road that followed.

I can’t say that I don’t ever fall into the trap of thinking I know more than I do, it happens more than I would like to admit, but I’m getting better at stepping back and seeing people’s knowledge beyond my own knowledge and understanding. One thing is for sure, when I’ve taken the time to step back and think through the level of knowledge that others have to offer above and beyond my own, I’ve come out the other side far better and more knowledgeable than I started.

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How Do You Smell?

what's that smellHave you ever hugged someone or shaken hands with someone only to find that you’re carrying their scent with you throughout your day?

That might not be a bad thing, depending on what the scent is. I have a son who is on the brink of becoming a teenager. His hygiene hasn’t been made a priority as of yet, so his scent isn’t always one that I’d like to carry with me throughout my day. At the same time, I shook hands with someone the other day and hugged them. Later on, when I rubbed my nose to relieve the effects of the pollen heavy air, I could smell the cologne that the person had been wearing.

Scent and smell are funny things. When my wife was pregnant, her sense of smell heightened to the place of superhero status. She could smell anything sooner than me, which is a feat as I have a fairly keen sense of smell. Smells that would normally be appealing to her were repugnant during those months of pregnancy.

The Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 2:15, “For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.” As I thought about that lingering smell from my friend’s cologne, I couldn’t help but think of this verse and wonder what smell I’m leaving with everyone that I meet. When they are reminded hours or days later of our meeting, is the lingering aroma something that is pleasing to their olfactory receptors? Does the memory of that meeting cause some kind of visceral response in them, reminding them of the distastefulness of the encounter?

As I talked to a friend the other day about a recent dinner I attended where people had gathered from various faith and belief backgrounds, I told her that I was doing my best to be liberal in love.

Interestingly enough, there seems to be a mindset among many in the evangelical Christian world that liberality in love means you are somehow compromising your values and convictions. I have a hard time believing that this is the case though. That’s generally not the way that Jesus operated either. Somehow, he was able to hold to convictions and embrace holiness while at the same time being liberal in his giving of love.

As I go through my day today, I hope that the smell that emanates from me is pleasing to those around me. That doesn’t mean that I compromise my convictions, it just means that I seek to meet people where they are, love them, and point them to Jesus, because if I smell good, it’s because of him. If I smell bad, I don’t think that’s anyone’s fault but my own…..unless of course the aroma of Christ hits someone the wrong way, but that’s a topic for another post.

 

Brave Surrender – A Book Review

brave surrenderIt seems that when God wants to use someone in a mighty way, there is a certain amount of difficulty and pain that they need to walk through in order to be ready and formed. Kind of a like a diamond, the pressures and stress inflicted will result in beauty, people can be shaped and formed into a tool and vessel for God. Kim Walker-Smith is a perfect example of this.

In her book “Brave Surrender,” which is more of a memoir and recounting of her early life up to the present, Walker-Smith honestly and candidly tells her story. She starts with what she is most well known for, her rendition of “How He Loves”  with Jesus Culture, and moves through the difficulties she faced growing up. Her father’s motorcycle accident which led to a severe brain injury and eventual divorce of her parents. Stepfathers who abused her, physically and mentally. A struggle with who she was and who God was calling her to be.

Throughout the book, Walker-Smith’s tendency towards the charismatic is evident. She refers to the Holy Spirit as Holy Spirit because putting “the” in front of him makes her relationship with him seem so impersonal. But it’s evident that she has a strong relationship with the Holy Spirit, constantly seeking to be in tune to his leading and movement in her life.

Walker-Smith writes with candor and openness. She lays all of her past out there on the pages knowing that God has shaped and formed her through all of these difficulties. She isn’t afraid to reveal it because she’s confident that God can use it to help others in their own journey.

“Brave Surrender” accounts Kim’s story and really gives the reader a glimpse into who she has become through all that she has been through. As she writes, she speaks of the growth points in her life, her need to worry less about pleasing others, her need to surrender to God’s leading in the midst of fear, anxiety, and depression.

Walker-Smith’s story is an experiential recounting of God’s work in her life. It is an encouragement to those whose journeys have been difficult, an encouragement to know that God can even use them. If your journey has been a difficult one and you are wondering how God might still be able to use you, “Brave Surrender” may bring the God-given hope that you are looking for.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Who’s Changing Here?

I’ve been learning an awful lot lately, mostly about myself. Sometimes the hardest things to learn are about yourself. Self-discovery is painful and hard, but usually results in the most glorious and rewarding transformations if we follow it through to the end. Kind of like emerging from a cocoon, open it too early and you’ve just got a really ugly and deformed caterpillar, but if you let it emerge on its own, the result will be a beautiful butterfly.

Well, I’m no butterfly, but I’d like to think that I’m still in the cocoon.

I am the youngest of two children, so it should be no surprise that the world of raising three children is foreign to me (the world of raising one child would be foreign to me too, if I’m honest). But I struggle most with raising the child who is most like me. Oil and water, that’s how my wife describes the two of us (me and my child, not me and her).

In the midst of this child-rearing that I’m trying to do, my self-discoveries are rarely comfortable. More often than not, they reveal more of my imperfections and inadequacies than I care to admit. I’ve always said that criticism is autobiographical, the things that drive us nuts about others are usually present in us if we take an honest look in the mirror. There is probably nowhere that is evident more so than in raising children.

As I struggled through a difficult evening and subsequent morning of trying to understand what the heck I’m doing as a father, I spent a significant amount of time soul-searching. What was wrong with me? Was I as big of a failure as I felt like? As my child made me feel?

As I was deep in these existential thoughts, I came to a stunning realization that brought me further down to earth, humbling me once again, and helping me realize just how important other people are to me in my own formation and growth.

You see, as one who has focused a lot on strengths over the past few years, I am very aware of what I am good at doing and what I am not good at doing. I see my gifts and strengths and look for ways that I can use them generatively, to help others grow. But the irony of it all is that the lightbulb that went off in my head made me realize that the reason why God brought me to most of the people in my life isn’t really because I’m supposed to help them grow, but because they are supposed to help me grow.

Yes, I know, I’m so vain, I probably think this post is about me (….if you don’t get it, Google Carly Simon and You’re So Vain). In my journey to understand my strengths and look for ways to help others, which I think it still fairly noble, I failed to remember the mutuality that is (or should be) involved in relationships.

As I processed through things in my own head, with my wife, with a friend, I came to the conclusion that the people who have been brought into my life and who can cause headaches and difficulty aren’t necessarily there so that I can help them grow, but to help me grow in all those uncomfortable and difficult ways that I would never grow into on my own.

Not rocket science, you’re probably thinking. I know, but it’s a significant lesson for me to grasp. I am a work in progress. Growth may be fast at times, but mostly it’s slow and iterative. I may not see the results as quickly as I would like to. I can’t plug into the Matrix and have instant gratification by plugging in the “Patience Module” or “Self-discipline Module.”

So, when I stop and look at all the changes that I think I can help to make in others, I really need to first consider all the changes that are probably going to happen in me, if I really and wholly enter into relationship with others. Not always fun, certainly not comfortable, but way more rewarding than I could imagine.

 

Painful Growth

This month marks fifteen years in full-time ministry as a pastor. Having successfully navigated a career in engineering before becoming a pastor, I can say that engineering was much easier for me. I believe that pastoring is a calling, which isn’t to say that engineering is any less of a career, but rather that if someone thinks that they could do anything else other than being a pastor, they should try that first.

In those fifteen years of being a pastor, I have experienced lots of difficult times. I lost my parents. I experienced a church split. I sat through ordination exams….twice. Throughout those difficult times, I have seen myself grow. Of course, I would much rather have grown through simpler means than the ones that grew me, but that wasn’t the plan.

In my work as a pastor, I have experienced seasons or experiences of pain. Unfortunately, these seasons or experiences aren’t unique. I would guess that if you were to talk with other pastors, most of them would agree that they have had these seasons or experiences as well.

These experiences are mostly unavoidable. Sure, some of them could be avoided for a period of time, but if you live for any length of time, you will most likely face them all at some point.

Based on my own experience, these have been among the most painful things that I have experienced in ministry:

The pain of tragic loss

When my best friend from college lost his six month old to cancer, it was among the most difficult things that I ever had to face, and it wasn’t my child. I tried my best to be a friend who loved and cared without trying to offer cliche advice.

When my friend called to ask me to do the funeral, I knew that it would be one of the most difficult things that I would ever have to do.

Trying to wrap your head around the pain and hurt in this world without throwing out trite answers is tough. Yes, sin has tainted the world, but that’s not the most helpful answer that a grieving family wants to or needs to hear at the height of their pain. Helping families cope with loss is one thing, tragic loss always seems to make it harder, at least in my opinion.

The pain of people leaving your church

This seems so small in comparison to the point above, but as I’ve talked with other pastors, I haven’t met one of them who has said that they enjoy it when people leave their church. The more personally connected you are with the people whom you shepherd, the harder and more painful it is when they choose to leave. While I have never been divorced, I can say that having friends walk away from my church is the closest thing that I’ve felt to a divorce.

No matter how long I’ve been a pastor, it always feels like a shot in the gut. People tell me not to take it personally, but it’s really hard. When you pour your life into something and someone walks away from it, it’s kind of hard not to take it personally.

The pain of seeing someone waste their potential

Leaders should have a knack for seeing potential in people. I’ve seen this in good coaches, teachers, supervisors, whoever. When that potential is identified, a person is made aware of that, and that person just shrugs it off, that’s painful to me. I see that as a person embracing mediocrity, not being willing to do the hard work of growing but instead being content to remain as they are.

I wish that I could say that this was limited to those who are young and foolish, but sadly, my experience has been that I’ve seen it mostly in people who should know better, people who have even grown up in the church. There’s not much worse than seeing someone who believes that they are a mature and growing disciple of Christ with thirty years of experience when in reality they are just an infant who has repeated the same year thirty times over.

The pain of having people say things about you that aren’t true

I can fully admit that I am stubborn. I can also admit that I have a hard time letting go of things. But one of the most difficult things that I have struggled to let go of is when someone says things about me that aren’t true. It’s not just the saying of untrue things, it’s also the unwillingness of people to actually hear or learn the truth.

This has mostly happened when someone had a preconceived notion about me or when someone has generated an opinion about me based on a very limited experience. No matter how hard I’ve tried, there is no convincing them that they should take a second look and get to know me. I become a justice monster then I feel that injustice is being done to me.

There may be a lot more painful things in ministry, but a decade and a half into this, these are the top four experiences that have been most painful to me.

Like I said, I’ve seen growth come out of all of these experiences, but it’s been painful growth, growth that I would rather have come any one of a hundred other ways.

How about you? What have been some of your most difficult growing experiences?