I Don’t Know What I Don’t Know

When I was a kid I didn’t like to read.

I barely passed high school. The way I made it through was primarily by cheating.  I’m still thankful for my friend, the teacher’s aid, who often marked in the teacher’s book that I had actually done my homework. I appreciate my girlfriend who wrote several of my papers so that I would pass a class. And I’m even grateful for that bookshelf in Government class where I could easily hide a piece of paper with all of the test answers.
So I managed to skim through and went to college, part-time, right out of high school, due only to my dad’s prompting.  The problem was, I had an even worse study ethic than before because a large portion of my time was spent partying. After failing a few classes I dropped out. So, for the next several years I focused on work and starting a family.
But something dramatic happened in the process. I became a believer in Christ. With this new relationship came a new vision for my life. I started college for the second time when I was 23, almost 24.

When I re-started college to pursue a focus on biblical education I always had this nagging sense that even though I was older than most of my college peers I was actually waaayyyy behind, both due to my previous lack of educational motivation and due to not having been raised in an overtly Christian home.  This internal sense was further exacerbated by the fact that both my older brothers were avid readers and well self-educated (there is no sibling rivalry whatsoever). My claim to fame at this point in my life was merely my work ethic. I knew how to work. And I worked a lot. And I worked hard. Truth is, to this day I almost always feel like I am playing catch-up.
So my college experience began and suddenly I was opened to the realm of possibilities. Professors instilled in me the simple idea that we should question things. I was confronted by the profound yet simple realization that there is soooo much to learn; that I know so very little; that my view of things and my ideas are so extremely limited, and that even the things I thought I knew were probably wrong, skewed, or incomplete at best. And thus was birthed a love, a drive, for learning.
The thing is, we often over-estimate the depth of own knowledge base. We assume our experiences, our background, and even our education give us the tools we need to accurately assess the world around us. We think we “know” a lot about a lot.  But, we are often blind to our own limitations and inadequacies.
I was struck by this idea one random day while I was a Youth Pastor.  I thought I knew everything there was to know about teenager-ness and about leading teenagers because after all, I had been one myself, and we had two teenagers living in our home.  So clearly, I was the man.  I thought with my newly established biblical education and my life experiences I could lead these young people and guide them into godly maturity.  After three months of being the Youth Pastor I was frustrated, stressed, and felt like I was failing.
Then this thought suddenly assaulted me, “what makes you think you know anything about youth ministry? All you’ve done so far is make assumptions.”  Ouch!  I wasn’t sure where to start so – I reached for a book.  I started inundating myself with as much information and as many tools as I could find to minister to teens.  But, as I began to grow, and learn, and stretch, I was confronted with a much deeper and more painful realization.  As I was traversing through this step of my journey I was further accosted with this thought, “Yeah, you have two teenagers and two other children, but really, what makes you think you know anything about being a good, godly parent? What makes you think you know what it really means to be a father?  Do you think the examples you grew up with were enough to prepare you for this?” Holy Smokes!  It only took me a moment to declare, “Absolutely not! The painful truth is, I don’t have a clue!” Truthfully, I wanted to go back and start over.  But we all know, that’s not an option.  At this point in my life I only knew of one place to go.  I needed to find a book.

A similar experience happened about fifteen years into my marriage.  “What makes you think you know how to be a good husband?  Do you really think the examples you had prepared you for this?” And again I say, “Absolutely not!”  Since that time I have read one book after another about marriage.
So this journey really began for me in 1991. But here’s the crazy thing: the more I read, the more I learn, the more I grow … the more I realize how much I do not know. It often feels like the more I read, the more I learn, the further behind I get. I’m not a speed reader. I don’t dedicate nearly enough time to reading. I’m a little bit lazy. I like t.v. a little bit too much. And most of the time reading still feels a lot like work. But, I place so much value on the learning process, on being challenged, and changed, and confronted, and encouraged, that I intentionally engage in it.
 
A few years back a staff member asked me, “David, how did you get this way? I mean, how did you learn to be such a good leader?” (For clarity, those were his words, not mine. I’m not claiming to be a good leader. I’m claiming to be nothing more than a student).
I was both humbled and honored by his statement and question. As I pondered for a moment how to respond I realized, I am who I am today first because of the astounding grace of God. Second, the tremendous love, care, and forgiveness of my bride. And finally, because of the books I’ve read. The authors have become some of the most defining mentors in my life. By reading both the word of God and these books I have been confronted with … myself, with new ideas, and a new way of thinking.
This whole thought came to mind because I just finished my 16th book for this year.  I’m not bragging. As I said, I’m no speed reader.  I have a friend who claims to read 75 books a year. Though I feel some satisfaction at this accomplishment (my goal for this year is 20), to me it is more a sign of my desperation. 

I’m at a place where I can’t quit. I can’t get enough. Because, I’m further behind than when I started.

Blessings!

Fruitful Marriages

Fruitful Marriages

Fruit Bowl, Shell, Fruit, Fruits

Many times I have been asked, “What is the real secret to a long-lasting, happy marriage?”  Usually I give some pithy, poorly attempted humorous response like, “for us, I think it has been that we were just too stupid to quit” (there might actually be some serious truth in there somewhere).

However, I have discovered that regardless of a couple’s particular belief about matters of faith, applying biblical principles to the relationship always leads to improvement (can everyone say a big collective “duh!”), regardless of whether they are believers or not.  I realize this may seem elementary to some.  However, sometimes even the most devout Christians can forget their Christian graces when they walk into their own homes, with the most important relationships they have, that is – their spouses and children.

For example, men are often patient, understanding, and forgiving with business partners or employees.  But those same men can be inconsiderate, unforgiving, and outright rude with their families. Although they listen intently during strategy meetings at the office, they often don’t take the time to listen to their wives or children. Conversely, the same women who are caring and compassionate with their friends can become demanding and insensitive at home.

There are hundreds of passages of Scripture to draw relationship principles from.  For today I would like to focus on just two verses – two verses containing nine simple words.  Words so profound that I am convinced if they were properly applied, could heal every single broken marriage, struggling marriages could be put on a firm foundation, stagnant marriages could be revitalized, and happy marriages could go to an even higher level with deeper intimacy.  In fact, applying these nine words could revolutionize homes and families!  It may seem like a tall order but, I am convinced it is true.  Follow along with me.

The Apostle Paul said, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23).  Wait a minute.  Read that again, ruminate for a moment and let those words sink in … (pause).  Love … Joy … Peace … Patience … Kindness … Goodness … Faithfulness … gentleness … Self-Control.  Now, try putting your name at the beginning of that verse and read it again, asking yourself where you stand:

“David is loving in his relationships.” Am I?

“David is joyful with those around him.” Am I?

“David is peaceful, patient, kind, full of goodness, faithful, gentle and David operates in self-control (that one hurt!).”

When I read it that way I am confronted with a huge personal challenge and tremendous goals for me to strive toward. Because, these nine simple words all address my own behaviors and attitudes.

Let me caution you, this is not an opportunity to start pointing the finger of blame at your spouse.  Taking responsibility for how I act, regardless of what my spouse does, can radically impact our home for the better.  I believe that when we pursue and practice these nine simple concepts, when we address our own attitudes and behaviors, the Holy Spirit will come alongside and help us along the way.

Spirit-led people do not throw fits of rage, they practice self-control.

Spirit-led people are concerned for the good of others.

Spirit-led people are patient and kind, and forgiving.

Spirit-led people carry the essence of joy.

When we begin to act in a way that is consistent with what we say we believe, I promise you – the Lord will bless it. Imagine what would happen in your home and marriage if you applied and practiced these nine simple words.  I think you will find your marriage is better than ever.

Enjoy the Fruit!

I’ve Fallen – But I’m Getting Back Up!

Many times when we look at our history, the ups and downs, the ins and outs, the mistakes and successes, it can be easy to beat ourselves up.  And truthfully, maybe we should beat ourselves up from time to time.  But, the wisest man who ever lived once made this astounding statement, He said “The godly (good or righteous) may fall seven times, but they will get up again. But one disaster is enough to overthrow the wicked” (Proverbs 24:16).

There are two things I want to say about this verse …and about you.  First, it seems clear that the real issue is NOT about never falling. Never falling only makes one self-righteous, not godly-righteous.  Never falling makes one arrogant and haughty, not humble and meek.  Never falling can make a person self-centered, and prideful rather than others-centered. Never falling does not make one good, righteous, or godly.

Surprised?

No, the truth is, for the good man, stuff happens. Stuff knocks him down. Stuff knocks the wind out of him. Stuff catches him by surprise. Stuff causes him or her to get discouraged, depressed or at the very least, off-track.

(Click here for Practical Steps when “Life” catches you by surprise)

Yes, sometimes a good person gets knocked down. But sometimes, he just falls down of his own volition.  Nobody pushed him there.  Nothing caught him by surprise.  No, sometimes decisions are made, intentional choices, mistakes, and as a result failure arrives.  Sometimes, a good man just … falls down.

Here’s the interesting thing, Solomon never told us how or why the good man falls.  He never discussed what caused it.  He simply said, “a good or righteous or godly man falls down seven times.” It appears that the source of the falling is irrelevant to the author.  Falling down because he was caught by surprise or falling down by bad choices.  The issue simply isn’t the falling down.

Possibly the most important piece of this verse is …

“HE GETS BACK UP AGAIN!”

It seems clear that Solomon was saying the thing that makes a person godly, righteous or good is the fact that they get back up. This is the piece that separates the men from the boys, as they say.  Getting back up.  Knocked down, but getting back up.  Falling down, getting back up.  Good people – drop the ball … and get back up.  Make bad decisions … and get back up.  Don’t plan appropriately … and get back up.  Get disappointed but … get back up. Question God … and get back up. Fail …and get back up.

knocked down2

Let’s be clear: this is Solomon’s description of a good person, a …Righteous person … a godly even. Seriously?

This roller coaster ride, this up and down, this battle, is not what I picture when I think of a righteous, godly man.  No, not at all.  I think of Moses, face glowing, holding the newly etched Ten Commandments.  I picture David slaying the giant Goliath.  I think of Elijah calling down fire from heaven.  These are depictions of righteous men …right?

The truth is that when you study the scriptures you will find every single man or woman that was greatly used by God fits the description found in Proverbs. Every single one of them dropped the ball, made mistakes, reacted poorly, made bad decisions, questioned God, or even defied God.  Every single one … Falling … and getting back up again.

This is what I know about you.  I know there have been times you have declared, “I just don’t really get it, I don’t know the next step or where to go or what to do.”  But, the key is …getting back up.  Yeah, I know you’ve been down. I know you’ve made mistakes. I know you’ve even experienced failure.  But, those things really aren’t the core issue.  The issue is, figuring out how important it is to simply … get back up again.

Sometimes when stuff happens and a person is knocked down it can bring them to a point of questioning their purpose, their abilities, and their hope. And sometimes falling, whether by our own volition or by the surprises of life, can cause us to even question God. Can I trust God?  Has God forgotten me?  Have I blown it so bad that I am permanently derailed?

But listen, there is something deep within you telling you, “I’ve just got to get back up …again.” I can picture God standing by your side right now, whispering in your ear, “you’re gonna make, you’re gonna be alright. You’re gonna get through.  I know because … I’ve seen this before.  I have watched you before.  I KNOW, yes I know, you will … pick yourself back up again!”

Here’s the second thing.  I am convinced that Solomon came to the conclusion that a person can’t really be “good” in the sense he is talking about unless they have fallen down a few times.  How can someone truly have compassion, understanding, forgiveness, grace, or mercy for others unless they have “been there?”  How can a person truly understand someone’s pain unless they’ve experienced some of their own?  How can someone empathize with another’s failure unless they have failed a few times themselves? A person who has fallen and has received the grace to get back up knows how to reach down and help others who have fallen.

This, my friend, is part of your great calling on this earth.  Embrace people.  Love people.  Give them compassion.  Feel their pain.  Where ever they are at that moment in life.  And help them … get back up.  You know what it means to battle, to struggle, to fail.  But, you also know what it means to get back up – sometimes out of your own strength, sometimes through a measure of faith, and sometimes by the sheer grace of God. So help them … help them get back up.

From my view, your gifts, your abilities, and your talents, though important and part of the call of God on your life, are not the most important thing.  There is no denying those are real and significant gifts.  You really are talented.  But, my friend, in my humble opinion, they are not what make you who you are.  What makes you a good person, a righteous person, a godly person is this: a good man falls down a few times, but he always gets back up.

The New Testament reiterates this concept.  In my opinion, the great call of God on your life embraces this verse, “He comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the same comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor 1:4).

So, get back up, righteous man or woman.  Get back up … and help others do the same.  Amen.

Click here for Practical Steps when “Life” catches you by surprise