Saturday, August 20, 2016

Everything does NOT happen for a reason

I've heard it over and over from Rio - "everything happens for a reason." Usually it's from someone who didn't win a medal but sometimes from those who did. But I hear it all around, from non-athletes commenting about life.

Everything happens for a reason is a LIE! It's simply not true.

This is the phrase used to make ourselves feel better that there must be a reason for something that didn't work out; or something horrible that happened. We say it in hopes that Someone is in charge of everything. If Someone is not in charge, what's the meaning of life!

Everything doesn't happen for a reason because: It would mean that every evil act originated in the mind of God before it came to be in the actions of mass murderers, rapists and pedophiles. If it happens for a reason then that Someone must have planned it. This simply is not true.

Someone is not responsible for planning the difficult, evil, bad things that happen in our world. But someone (notice the small "s") is.

Ok, everything DOES happen for a reason, sort of. Let's take the Rio Olympics for instance.

People don't win gold medals for a great cosmic reason. They win because they were the best on that day at that moment thanks to an enormous amount of hard work and discipline. That's the reason they win.

People don't lose races because Someone has a cosmic grand plan and picks who wins and loses, like manipulating Marionettes. They lose because they weren't the best on that day at that time; they lose because someone else cheated; the lose because of a mistake on that day. That's the reason they lose.

So, sure, everything happens for a reason but that's not the way we use the phrase. We use it as a way to have an answer for things that have no answers. We use it so that we can blame something other than ourselves.

Why do some things happen:

  • Some people do stupid things. Take #LochMess for instance. There were some stupid choices made. Irresponsible decisions. None of this happened for a reason.
  • Some people are evil. The Holocaust did not happen for a reason. It happened because someone decided to set himself up as god. When people do that, bad things happen.
Here's the truth: God will use everything if we'll trust Him to do it.

We learn more from the difficult circumstances and our poor decisions than from the other things in our lives. I hate that that is the case but it's true.

I don't know how God does it but He can bring good things out of the worst of circumstances. I have stories. You may have stories. But not everyone has stories.

I think it's mostly in the way we respond to the difficult and evil things that happen to us or are caused by our stupid choices. 

If we believe that each mistake, each evil, each loss is a final statement about who we are, we may not recover. "I did something stupid" becomes "I am stupid." 

However, if we believe that those things happened but are not the final say, merely a chapter rather than the end of the book, then we can recover. "I did something stupid" becomes "let's not do it again."

This is by no means a thorough discussion of the topic. Perhaps it's a stab at hope for a man and some other young men who blew it in different ways. I hope it won't be approached as the end of the book. I always believe there's hope, that there's always the possibility of change, because God can work good things out of anything if we'll let Him.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

On A Road to Nowhere?

Today I took my wife on a road to nowhere. She has always said she'd follow me anywhere and today she proved it when we went to Nowhere. She did quip that with the many times we've gotten lost on family vacations (yes, usually with me driving) this could be the place we've been looking for our whole lives!

You can read about the Road to Nowhere here, but the summary is that it's a failed government project and a broken promise. 

It was a beautiful drive full of gorgeous scenery and not a few befuddled hikers who wondered aloud about the road that led to the tunnel that went to nowhere.

"How do I make sure I'm not on a road to Nowhere?" I have to admit to being in possession of a mind that wanders to the thought of legacy and purpose and impact. The older I get the more I have tended to wander that way.

A recent experience in the NC mountains at my mother-in-law's house is a good illustration. While beginning the process of cutting down some high-up black walnut tree limbs overhanging the covered porch, I had a purpose in mind. I wanted my son to learn, to know experientially how to do this, so that when I'm no longer here, he'll know how. Another family member was far more focused on safety and so stepped in, barking orders, taking over and while we got to the place of cutting down the limbs safely I'm not sure much was learned. I'm not sure we got anywhere, at least not to the place where I was focused. The road just ended when it could have pressed forward.

In order to get to legacy, I had to go through safety, but safety was not the final destination. We learn not by being ordered but by figuring our way through something new, under the watchful eye of someone else who can step in when safety could be compromised.

It's not unlike the side-seat driver who sees the car unseen by the driver and yells - "STOP!" (Of course, I'm reminded of a time when I was driving and my wife yelled, "DUCK," so I ducked, not seeing the ducks in the road!)

While exploring The Road to Nowhere with my wife, my mind wandered to marriage. A marriage is on a road to nowhere when it seeks happiness rather than holiness. God's creation of marriage isn't to make me happy. I won't always be happy in marriage. Sometimes she's (I mean it's) downright irritating!

Marriage, I believe, provides a way to holiness because my wife won't let me get away with sloppy living. I can ignore her, but then I'll end up nowhere. If I choose to break my promises to her, I will end up nowhere rather than the somewhere we were headed.

The road to nowhere is full of pull-offs called Short-sighted and Self-centered. When I want what I want NOW, my HERE becomes NOWHERE. I lose sight of the goal. If I spend everything and more than I have NOW for HERE, I'll end up NOWHERE. If I get focused on my dreams and wishes, forgetting "mine" is now "ours," I'll sacrifice something greater together in exchange for nowhere.

As a Pastor, my mind wanders to the pursuits of people which are focused on NOW and HERE outcomes such as pleasure and power. If I spend my days pursuing today what will be gone tomorrow, exchanging the eternal for the temporary, I will end up nowhere (I really believe I'll end up somewhere but it won't be anywhere anyone would like to be).

As an Executive Leadership Coach, my mind wanders to the behaviors of leaders that short-circuit their leadership impact. When a leader is focused mainly on defending their position or themselves because they take things personally, that leader is on an unproductive path and it leads to nowhere. Through intimidation or anger, a leader isolates themselves because of fear and insecurity (among other issues).

Each of us is on a road but to where does it lead? The road to nowhere is strewn with broken promises, myopic vision and fear. The road to somewhere is not always enjoyable. There are pitfalls and drop-offs, dangers galore, and the end isn't always in sight. It's a dream really, a vision of a preferred future. As a husband, I'm glad to be traveling our road together. As a father and grandfather, I'm honored to get to assist my children and grandchildren with encouragement and modeling to stay on the right road. This creates legacy. They get to continue what I won't get to finish when my race is done.

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing."
2 Timothy 4:7-8

Thursday, March 31, 2016

#10 - Partnering with Athletes in Action (The Year of 52)

Athletes are unique. Sometimes a bit strange. Keeping odd hours, eating copious amounts of food and never gaining weight, competitive, intense, athletes live a different life.

During my first year at the University of Cincinnati I met Mark Householder, campus staff with Athletes in Action (AIA). Some relationships become part of a road for a time while others become part of the heart, a piece of life no matter what the road. Usually we never know until later.

Mark spent time with me those first two years, one on one, in group settings and especially on a trip out to Fort Collins, CO for an AIA summer camp. A long drive with four of us provided great learning and relationships.

I didn't do much with AIA for more than 25 years, after retiring from swimming and heading into local church ministry with Salem Church. We crossed paths here and there, in some of the same circles around Southwest Ohio, but nothing formal.

In 2007 I reinitiated some contact because of my desire to connect ministry to my opportunity with officiating. Our fun, I believe, is never just for us. Everything we do is always about Him, whether it's building relationships, smiling at strangers, praying for the people around us - there is always an opportunity to serve a greater purpose, all while enjoying what we're doing.

I have a motto for approaching God's will: "Pay Attention." It's not very scientific, not deeply theological, but it works. I try to pay attention to the experiences, the teachings, the relationships that come into my life. My second stage is this: "Don't make more of them than there is and don't make less of them than there is."

I don't want to miss God's next step for me. AIA is one of those "next steps," not for going on staff, but for partnering to learn and impact the Kingdom through sports. Sports is just a hobby for me. Every hobby can be a ministry. God doesn't want us to find something we don't like to do for ministry. I believe He wants to use who we are - a combination of calling and experiences.

I think serving Jesus is a joyful thing - ok, not everything He calls us to do is enjoyable but it brings joy if it's not automatically joyful. Sometimes we just have to CHOOSE joy. Other times we get to live in joy.

This is what came of a relationship with Mark and AIA. Who knew? What about you? Are you paying attention? God is at work, sometimes for the moment; other times, for a lifetime.

Monday, March 28, 2016

#9 - Partnering with Salem Church (The Year of 52)

In college my horizons expanded, along with those of everyone else. New experiences. New opportunities. New dangers. For me it was seeking out new churches. I tried the Methodist Church. Definitely not for me. I ended up walking a good mile or so up Calhoun Ave. to First Assembly. Now that was an eye-opener for a kid from a "be quiet and don't misbehave" Sunday morning church. I went to InterVarsity Fellowship gatherings. I met up with Campus Crusade leaders and eventually Mark Householder with Athletes in Action. But FCA (First Christian Assembly) became a home for about 2 years.

During my Junior year my parents graciously purchased a car that I could take to school. This gave me the ability to enlarge my circle of searching: Episcopal Church of the Advent (only because there was a girl there!), back home to Anderson Hills and then to visit down the road at Salem Church with Pastor John Larsen.

Stephanie and I had begun dating in 1983. It was now 1984 and since we were on a trajectory toward marriage, we decided to join a church together and we made that church, Salem. Here is where I began to enter into the "business" of the Church, almost a testing to see if this was really where God was leading.

By late-1985 I was beginning to help lead Sunday mornings as well as teach at the California Church, down near the river, a church also Pastored by John. It was there, at California, that Stephanie and I stayed through our time at Asbury Seminary.

John took a chance on me, on us. He was a mentor, setting up challenges for growth. He allowed room to fail and was there to help pick up the pieces when I did.

One of the great lessons I took away from that time, a lesson that follows me to today, is the importance of people. Ministry is not about looking good or saving face. Ministry is about people. I've lived that out personally especially with my approach to guests and visitors at worship. While I would gladly welcome anyone with open arms, I am far more concerned that someone finds what they are looking for - where God wants them to be - than I am about a person coming to the church I'm leading. One way I say that is I'm more concerned with helping people be followers of Jesus than I am about growing members of a particular congregation.

My time at Salem was formational to a Kingdom focus rather than a local focus. Everything I do I try to keep it centered on His Kingdom rather than my space in that Kingdom. More often than not, people appreciate the approach. A few throughout 27 years have felt like I didn't care about them. The majority have said how refreshing it is.

So, thanks John. It was a good experience that has lasted a lifetime.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

#8 - Swimming at Cincinnati (The Year of 52)

From the age of 5 I've loved water. I do liquid only though, no frozen water. Therefore, no snow skiing, no ice skating. I'm sure with some practice I could learn but frankly I'm just not that good at it. I usually just fall and slide. It's not pretty. The result is probably due to the fact that during swim seasons I didn't dare get on frozen water for fear of breaking something and ruining the season.

In the pool is where I've always felt at home.

I remember at the age of 12 saying to my parents at the dinner table: "I'm going to get a scholarship to swim in college." It became a goal, probably an obsession - which might have been a bit unhealthy at times.

I made my college decision based purely on the scholarship offer. That I now know what not a healthy choice. Not that I regret my choice, it's just not what I advocated for my children nor others when I'm asked.

Eastern Kentucky came calling, my parent's alma mater, but no scholarship. Missouri flew me out for a weekend, but no scholarship. A few tenths of a second too slow. Mt. Union's President called, seeing that I was planning to go to Seminary and be a United Methodist Pastor. He tried to convince me going to a United Methodist School would be the best thing I could do. I visited Ohio Northern, where my son now attends and swims, but it definitely was not for me. Sad that it's the same pool today as it was then!

Then the week before High School Sectionals, my team from Anderson went down to Cincinnati to practice. Coach Frank Busch and Coach Tom Keefe were on hand. Pulling me out to talk, they were encouraging and wanted me to come for a visit after the State Meet. I did that, was offered a scholarship and that made my decision. Done.

I swam for two years, until my left shoulder gave out. With a torn muscle and a sublexating shoulder, swimming was over. I chose not to go through surgery at that point with a goal to re-enter the pool. I rehabed for two years trying to avoid surgery, but finally went under the knife in 1986.

I wouldn't recommend my decision making grid for college. But for me, college was merely a formality for getting to Seminary, so I didn't much care where I went. College wasn't my final destination. I'm not sad I went to U.C. as God used that time to shape me into who I am today. 

It was at U.C. that I met Mark Householder, campus staff for Athletes in Action, who played a large role in discipling me in my faith. 30 years later Mark and I connected again as I was moving into a role of international swim official and he was now President of AIA. It's been a great partnership, thanks to my time at U.C.

Because I was close to home I was able to start working at my now home church, Salem UM, under the leadership of John Larsen who took some risks and allowed me to lead. This time shaped me. 

Being a college athlete was awesome. I wouldn't trade it. Some of those teammates continue to be friends. Some of the foreign teammates became good friends - from West Germany, Sweden, Norway, Canada & Great Britain. My mother, having a gift of hospitality, would invite them over for Thanksgiving dinner, fixing a local dish each time - Black Forest Cake for one. They were grateful for a home-cooked meal. We enjoyed their friendship and the connection for years to come.

If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't make the decision for school the same way.....knowing what I know now. I look at that decision as an illustration of how God uses our choices, whether they are His first choice or not - whether they are done with His values or not - and He shapes us. I am grateful for all He taught me at U.C. and how He is using those things even up to this day.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

#7 - Learning to Lead (The Year of 52)

Even if you have innate leadership skills, there is always a place to start and always room for improvement. My learning and growing and training began in 1980 when Mark Rowland, my youth pastor at Anderson Hills Church, invited me to lead a Sunday School for 8th Graders. Looking back and I think I may have been Mark's last ditch choice because who would choose to volunteer for a Sunday School class of 8th Graders!!

I remember very little other than I was faithful to be there every Sunday. I don't remember the students. I don't remember any topic. But I did learn my first lesson on leadership: "show up." Leaders show up. 

The year was then 1981. Before the start of my Senior year I partnered with my friend Kathy K to lead a Bible Study for 8th graders. Her parents graciously offered their house as the meeting place. I remember a few more things from this experience. I've got some of the lessons we made those trusting teens endure. God forgive us!!

For some reason, the group grew. In fact it did more than grow, it flourished. We grew so large that we had to divide into two groups. Kathy and I invited two others to lead one group with each of us. Through prayer and the faithfulness of showing up, some of these teens became life-long friends. I was privileged to marry two of them and baptize a couple of their children many years later.

Here I learned some more foundational leadership lessons. Choose the right people as leaders. Without the right team, the future is uncertain. Every time I have lessened the expectations for leaders, I've regretted it. 

Encourage young leaders but be careful to not advance them too quickly. I watched a young leader or two crash and burn because I encouraged them but didn't form and shape them in God's Word. I don't mean to make that sound like it's all about me. What I know is that leaders do have a responsibility to take careful steps with young potential leaders.

Then there was the lesson of taking risks, the risk Mark Rowland took in supporting us to lead this group. I'm honored to be a colleague of Mark's today, but he was not always so certain of my leadership. But he took a risk to support what I sensed.

I've learned to not stand in the way of God's Spirit leading someone, even when I'm not certain it's God leading. Just recently when the former Pastor of The Park Church, where I now serve, said God was leading him to plant a new church, I commented: "I'm don't sit in the seat of telling someone they have or have not heard from God." This attitude and approach had its genesis in these early 80's days. 

I still have a lot to learn. A key character trait of a leader is they are learners. As soon as leaders stop learning, they stop being leaders. We've never arrived.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

It Makes You Think

I've been in a hospital only once before for a procedure - a package discount of wisdom teeth and shoulder surgery back in 1985. I wasn't supposed to stay the night, but because they were operating on my left shoulder, a couple of MIT grads put the IV and blood pressure cuff on the same arm. They kept me overnight because they were concerned my skin was going to die. AWESOME!

So, tomorrow I lose my first body part. Actually I hope it's the only body part I ever have to lose. It's minor, not really a big deal. Gallbladder. Over the past month I adjusted what I ate and found I was able to control most reactions. I learned what had more fat in it than I thought. It was an interesting journey of self-control, even as the weekend messages @ The Park Church were going through the Fruit of the Spirit, ending last Sunday with "Self-Control." I was the illustration for me.

I'm not much of a fried foods, red meat guy, going rather for chicken, fish or turkey burgers without sauces. But suddenly, when those things were off limits, that's all I wanted.

The whole thing has made me think. Any time anesthesia is used there is risk involved. It made me think when the hospital asked: "Do you have a living will and or health care power of attorney? Please bring a copy with you." This is serious and it made me think.

I'm thinking about asking for an under 1-hour discount from the Doctor. He said it would be about 40 minutes because "I was in shape." I think I should get rewarded for that. But then again, I don't want him to rush. I think I'll be OK with the full charge. It made me think.

Everyone reacts differently is what I've learned, at least in the food category. Some friends went back to eating fried things within 2 days. Others it took weeks. Some have told me it took almost a year to figure it out by trial and error.

I don't think I'm worried about. The Park Church has an extremely high per-capita of nurses who have told me anything from: "piece of cake," to "just suck it up and be a big boy!!" I think what I'm more concerned about is missing my daily 90 minutes at the Y for the next couple of weeks. I told Stephanie tonight that it'll be like I'm on taper (swimmer language for those who don't get it). Her quick response with rolling eyes: "I'm going to work!" Not being able to swim for a period of time, nor lift over X pounds, I'm not sure what I'll do with myself. It's made me think.

I've been a bit more existential, thinking about the difference between the temporal and the eternal. It's so easy to pursue that which seems urgent, which often means it's right in front of us, begging for our attention. The eternal is more rewarding in the long run, but it's not "in your face," clamoring for our time and energy. This is not a big deal surgery, but still it's made me think.

What have I been pursuing with my life? What will I be remembered for? What do I want to be remembered for, and am I pursuing that vision? Self-control is a central key. I don't always feel like getting in that pool, but I'm in better shape today than I have been in 20 years. The reward is worth it. It helps to have 2 or 3 others to swim with and we hold each other accountable, basically through sassiness and disparaging remarks when we miss.

The same goes for pursuing my purpose on earth. Having others who hold me accountable is essential, for without that team, I'll be tempted to stop doing those things that no one else sees. These are the necessary things that make the biggest difference. I'm inspired by the new Under Armour commercials with Michael Phelps. One tag line is: "It's the things you do in the dark that put you in the spotlight." That's it - self-control. Lead yourself first.

We human beings tend to disintegrate and become lax over time and these moments of reality - I'm human - I'm not eternal and indestructible - I'm getting older - I won't live forever - are like a slap in the face to wake us up. Life is short, too short to waste not pursuing a dream, a passion, your purpose.

It's made me think. I'm grateful for the pain (it was more a discomfort really) that triggered the doctor visit that led to the ultrasound that brought me to this point. Pain is a friend that reminds me to focus on that which lasts and not worry so much about the things that won't. When the Doctor asked about any pain in the middle of the right side of my back and I said yes, over about the past 9 months, I was a bit shocked. He said: "I'll get of that too!" Awesome!

Spending time over the past month helping my mother in law learn a new normal after the death of her husband (not my father in law), served to double the message - "What do I want my legacy to be?" If I don't know what I want, I can't know how to achieve it. It's the difference between the financial planner who already knows what's best for you versus the one who asks for the details of your needs and wants, understanding your desire for the next generation, before laying out a plan.

I've had a "life goals" list for a while. I've got short-term goals, long-term goals and also dreams "if I get to choose." Proverbs reminds us: "In his heart man plans his way, but it is the Lord who establishes his steps." (16:9)

Life is full of twists and turns, surprises; detours and delays, even the destruction of dreams and plans. It's not the events that determine our end but rather our response. "Some people just get stones," my Doctor said, "even though you eat well and exercise." Awesome! But there are more serious things in most of our lives, things over which we have little control. It's our response that makes it a launching pad or a grave that masquerades as a rut.

With lots of time when I can lift things much less get in the pool until after Easter, I'm hopeful I'll be sharing more with you.

It makes you think.