Archive | August, 2012

Listen Here (to the words I speak)

30 Aug

Cosmo Kramer may tell you that 94% of our communication is nonverbal. Many experts agree in overall philosophy, even if the number is disputed. There is no doubt that many aspects of our communication are more than the choice of words. This is why the best conversationalists often aren’t those with the best choice of words. This is why the conversations in person are better than those on a phone. This is why a step that probably involved very few changes in words and allowed some of our covenant members to enjoy gluten-free elements was such a wonderful step, as Kelly Simpson wrote about earlier this week.

I was reminded again this week that delivery of words can be more important than the words themselves. For someone who struggles to convey the correct emotion for the situation, this can be exceedingly frustrating. But it can also be a life saver. Because sometimes we just don’t know what words to use. I know I’ve literally had conversations where I just did not know the proper words to say, but because of my ability to give off the proper non-verbal cues, I was understood.

When I think of the profound way that we can accomplish this, I am reminded of Romans 8:26 (“Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”) That is a beautiful promise that our prayers can be communicated to God even when we do not have the proper words. Perhaps it could begin a conversation on the power of prayer, but that is a discussion for another day. The fact I realize from these moments, wonderful though they may be, is that they are the exception.

One of the beautiful things about our dignified design is that we can speak. And our speaking is in actual words. Many movies anthropomorphize animals to the point where we think their barking (or other form of communication) is akin to another language, but the reality is that it is more akin to grunting. We may be able to pick up meaning from tone and other nonverbal cues, but animals were not created to communicate as intelligently as we do. Humans have the astonishing capacity to see, hear, feel, and then to think and form judgments about it all. We can know right from wrong; good from bad; beautiful from ugly.

In addition to feeling profound emotions of love and hate; joy and discouragement; amazement and appreciation, we reason and plan our lives in ways that we accomplish things. As I think about animals, I am amazed at my own humanity, at my wife’s humanity, at my kids’s humanity, at our covenant family’s humanity. I think about those who commit volumes of verses to memory as part of a Bible Quiz team and imagine how well they can recall it. I think of how much I have grown. I think of how much those I know have grown. I think about the incredible wonder of the humans with which I share a planet.

One solitary person can have such a profound impact on it all. This last week (and the forthcoming one), we heard from some of the most powerful people in our republic. And while many talk about the delivery of the speakers, ultimately what will be evaluated are their words. The words are necessary and they are, ultimately, the most important and exact part of the communication. They are the one part that is totally controlled. They are the part for which we can actually hold people accountable.

According to James 3, the words (or the tongue that delivers them) are the reason that most should not become teachers. They guide our entire body. They are worth listening to, and also worth being careful. Jonathan Edwards understood this to such a degree that he read his entire sermons to insure that he did not speak a bad word. This powerful tool given to us as humans, has become even more powerful in this age of technology preserving everything we write (instead of just the good stuff), yet many people gloss over them.

Proverbs 10:11 is a verse to which I often look to show how much difference our words make. “The mouth of a righteous man is a well of life: but violence covereth the mouth of the wicked.” Imagine that the words of the godly are like fountains of life. We live in an age of running water in several rooms within a house, and at several hoses outside, yet we can still imagine the life sustenance water provides. My words can have that kind of positive impact. Unfortunately, the opposite of that is also true. Therefore, I will endeavor to take to heart (and pursue) the words of those who are godly.

The carefully-chosen words of the godly, which are a wellspring of life will naturally flow from those who are close to God. This is another gift God gives us—that those close to Him naturally deliver messages from Him through their words. This is why we often find ourselves committing a phrase that greatly impacts our life to memory. This is why we should also consider the words we say to others. Are they filled with love, good intentions, or the spirit of the Lord? Or do we intend to cause pain with the words we speak?

As we continue to attempt to control the words that come out of our mouths, we must remember that our words are powerful. They steer our entire being. They are important, and we should not be led astray by the better delivery of words, even if it is as high as 94% because those are all marketing on the words that we use. And while sometimes we are gifted with looking beyond the words, we must remember that those are the exceptions.



28 Aug

Smoking. I’m not referring to my favorite way to cook pork, but rather the practice in which a substance is burned and the smoke is tasted or inhaled. I have such ambivalent feelings on the subject.

First of all, I love the fact that in my state, Florida, every time I go into a restaurant, I know it is completely free of smoking. This is a benefit I don’t even notice until I go to South Carolina for a week and have to walk through tons of smoke just to enjoy a meal with some of my friends.

On the other hand, the fact that we (Florida) had to pass a Constitutional amendment, which made it illegal (and not just illegal, but illegal to even consider changing the law without another vote of the entire state to change the constitution to even allow it) seems a bit excessive. I mean, if I am really for freedom, shouldn’t I be for the freedom of the businessman who wants to eat in smoke. Should there not at least be the option for those who own and operate restaurants?

The reason for this is, of course, that second hand smoke can certainly harm you. Unlike my friend Josh Dobbs, I think there is some validity to it. Of course, the recent harping on trying to get people to walk to work would pose at least as much of an issue with the exhaust. My son and I had to walk five miles to get home one Saturday and I guarantee that the amount of carcinogens we inhaled was far more than sitting next to a smoker for a while.

Nevertheless, there are concerns. But I believe it is a red herring to the real issue. I’m not one to start smoking just because of this like Propaganda Boy is. However, if we were truly concerned about health, we would outlaw a lot more than cigarettes. The real issue is that people like me find it unpleasant to be around smokers. Because of our selfishness, we try to leprocize the smokers. But when we reduce it to an issue of carcinogens, we come up with solutions like I’ve seen on TV recently for cigarettes that are merely water vapor being blown into the air.

Now if someone comes to you in a normal situation and says, “I want to suck in some water and spit it into the air around you,” I don’t believe anyone would respond with a positive reply. Even if that person says that the water will be vaporized and fall on you slowly, the average human would object. But since we have limited the smoking argument to the particles in the air (not their presence alone, which would make more sense, but what they contain), this seems like a great solution.

So before I make myself too much like Monk and emulating his “spittle shield” on a birthday cake, I’ll just assert that I think the odd, stunted debate has led to a weird solution. Anyone else concur?

Lance Armstrong

26 Aug

Lance Armstrong did not win any Tour de France’s.  This is the story of the day in most sports talk circles.  Now, quickly, name another cycling race.  Name another winner (who hasn’t been later disqualified) of this race.  That’s right.  We don’t care about bicycle racing, and the odds are few people do.

I heard on a radio show today that of the 180 riders in the 2001 race, over 150 have now been determined to be cheaters (by at least one person or group). It is literally possible that the man who passed the finish line in 68th place will one day be considered the winner. I’ve written before about how I think changing winners after the fact is silly, but this is bordering on obscene.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Lance Armstrong is completely guilty.  Let’s further assume that it would have been impossible for him to win anything without doing so.  Should he have done so?  Some will assert that taking drugs always makes you a cheater and it is never recoverable.  Of course, many of these same people will essentially overlook the attorney who does pot to calm down before big cases.

I come from it a little bit differently.  First, if we are to believe all the accusations, this was literally a situation where everyone was, in fact, doing it.  While I never condone breaking the law, I’m sure I’ve creeped above the speed limit a time or two.  If I had people as ardent in their study of my life as USADA was with Lance Armstrong, I think they would find things I did wrong also.  I also know that we are not defined by our worst moments.

Lance Armstrong used the fame that came from his circumstances of overcoming cancer and dominating a sport none of us knew anything about.  If all of that was a hoax to get to where he got, shame on Lance.  By the same token, if you look at what he has done since, you cannot argue with what Lance Armstrong has done.  He has used his celebrity to LIVE STRONG.  He has given innumerable people with cancer hope, both by his enthusiasm and his fundraising.  He has given an entire generation of fans more interest in cycling than the previous one.

Consider, that we live in a culture where it would be inordinately easy to exist without knowing how to ride a bike or owning one.  Yet, the decade dominated by Armstrong saw a 30% increase on bicycle sales than the previous one, which is especially impressive when experts were expecting a 10% decrease.  I would not say that we should do wrong things that ultimately lead to good things, but it is hard to argue with what Lance has done.

So, as this seems to be many sitting around bemoaning the bad things Lance has done, I think we can easily look at the good he has done and recognize the full picture of who he is.  While I think stripping a man of his accomplishments is silly, I am far more disheartened by his lifetime expulsion from the sport.  How can it benefit the sport to take away the one and best American ambassador for the sport?  (This wasn’t an international group, but a US one, that punished him).

Further, the athletes that do stick in the sport can learn from Lance.  They can learn from the great things Lance has done, but they can also learn from the bad things he did.  A contrite Armstrong could say more to bicycle racers than anyone else could.  Why does the sport force itself back into obscurity?  I don’t understand this, and I don’t know why I was not consulted, but I do know that it is the wrong decision.


24 Aug

So FaceBook has decided to convert everyone to timeline. I have not heard a single person talk about how much they like the changes. I am sure the number exists, but according to a couple surveys I saw, that percentage is between 15 and 30. So, the question then would be, “Why does FaceBook press forward with a plan that is so unpopular?”

The first thing to consider is whether or not Timeline really is all that unpopular. Studies suggest that mini-feed, layout changes, left side content, creation of a “wall”, the applications (and therefore application tab), allowing non-college students to join, like buttons, photo banners, and the FaceBook ticker are all changes that were made. Most are still around, and few people complain about them.

The fact is that as technology changes, people complain. I remember complaining about Windows 95, because you had to put icons directly on the desktop. I still hear people complaining about Windows 7 and the ribbons (instead of menus) on Microsoft Office 2007 and beyond. And I am still frustrated that a 1992 version of paintbrush and a 1998 version of MS Photo Editor had capabilities that their successors do not.

Nevertheless, most of these changes are made because there are bigger things the programmers want to accomplish. While I would never consider myself a programmer apologist, when we crave and desire them to constantly come out with new and awesome things, it is necessary for them to come out with better things, and because of our natural disdain for change, sometimes it must be required.  It is our resistance to change, in my opinion, that make these complaints so common.

If you are anything like me, you’ll look back at the complaints you’ve made about increased technology and realize that most of them are things to which adaptation easily came.  The ones that we never like, we found a work-around to them.  I guess in short, after we become accustomed to the changes, most of them fade away into our technological experience of normalcy.

 With that in mind, I hate this new timeline.  Please take it away!  And since this is saved, when I change my mind in two years and complain that my precious timeline is changed, you can throw this in my face.  But as for now, I will install this so it all looks like the old wall.  And please, someone talk some sense into Facebook and do away with this timeline.

What Happened to you This Idle Wednesday?

22 Aug

I am careful not to confuse fear with dread. Fear indicates a certain amount of respect. It is one of the ways we relate to God. Jerry Bridges wrote one of my favorite books ever on the subject. One of the aspects of fear is a natural terror. This is the one residual element whereby many narrowly define the word. This small portion of fear is similar to dread, but dread doesn’t have the assumption of it being meritorious.

Now that I’ve made this largely inconsequential distinction, I might as well reveal why I’m blathering on about it. Today, I went to court in Clearwater to deal with a situation. This is a situation where the bank wants to foreclose. Now, I see where the bank is coming from in wanting to do all these foreclosures. Much of the time, I am on their side. However, the whole procedure frustrates me.

First of all, after driving two and a half hours to get to the courthouse, I was amazed at the lack of security to get in. There was no metal detector to get in the building. But then when you made it into the courtroom, there are 100 cases of people losing their homes. It’s a situation where you have people crying over losing their home, then people being fussed at for not following a dress code. A dress code, really? (And, yes, I did wear a neck tie). Have we gotten to the point in society where we don’t want to hear someone’s argument because they can’t get the proper clothes?

In over ninety percent of the cases, it is pretty cut and dry. The problem is there is the occasional situation, where as the people who know what is going on sit and talk logically, there is a clear and easy answer. The only problem is we do not allow judges to make common sense decisions. They are bound to make decisions that follow procedures and laws exactly. He can recommend mediation, but that is about the best he can do.

And the problem is that the banks have no idea what is going on with most of these properties anyway. So, if you tell them something that makes sense, they don’t know if it makes sense. And, it really doesn’t behoove them monetarily to slow down enough to figure it out. So, we are stuck with this system that never looks at the individual.

This is what I dread. I sat down with opposing counsel and we agreed on the best course of action. However, her client and my client cannot depart long enough to actually accept it, and the judge can’t order it. So, I am exercising in a futile process, wearing a tie I’d rather not be, and two and a half hours away, so I couldn’t take my kids to school. Other than that, awesome Wednesday morning!

The Dog Who barked Wolf

20 Aug

I’m not much of a dog person. I never have been, really. I like to blame it on the fact that I have allergies, and it is difficult, to be sure, to develop an affinity for an animal for whom you do not have a respiratory tolerance. Nevertheless, the reality is that I don’t really like dogs that much, while my father who is just as (if not more so) allergic to dogs appreciates them much more.

While we could talk about my general displeasure with live animals, I do understand the affinity that so many have for them. They can be a companion to the companion-less, a protector to the vulnerable, energy for the lethargic, an encourager to the depressed, or one of many other roles that they may find. Not to overly personify animals, but there are definite benefits available to those who are willing to rely on a pet.

One of the easiest benefits to see for a dog is the fact that they can protect you. Some (like Bishop Ducky Felipe) have ferocious beasts of animals. Others have tremendous barkers who could warn you when danger is forthcoming. The one type of animal allowed in most places is the seeing eye dog. I even saw a TV show recently where they proclaimed that dogs can tell you when your blood sugar changes to dangerous levels.

The one area I would like to point out, however, is the barking. First, because it seems that it is something every dog can do. Second, because it leads me to a story. Barking when something happens can be a tremendous asset. It can function as a warning for so many things. A criminal who hears a dog bark is less likely to commit a crime. However, barking, just like anything else, can be ineffectual if the hearer does not know.

The dog who lives next to my bedroom window has a propensity to bark at anything between the hours of 10 PM and 7 AM. And by anything, I don’t mean small children walking by to give him gummy worms, but rather I mean the fact that he stepped on grass. He barks so much that it has gotten to the point where we give him no credence. It sort of reminds me of the elementary story about the boy who cried wolf.

This dog is so worthless in his attempted warnings because of that. Tonight, however, I believe he knew the storm was coming. Now, I am not a knower of the the dog code, but it just seems cruel to me to leave a dog out in a viscous thunderstorm. I’ve written before about how I think people are cruel to their animals.

This tells me that either there is some obvious thing I am missing about how to treat dogs or that we, in general, treat our dogs poorly. Of course, this should not surprise me. We, in general, treat our families poorly. We, in general, treat our friends poorly. We, in general, treat everyone with whom we come into contact poorly, unless, of course, they can provide us with something that will benefit us.

This is why it would be a poor idea to go to your neighbor and say, “Yo, next door chum, you gotta put the silencing act on your canine of choice.” It just wouldn’t be appropriate. Those are things you can only say after you have developed a relationship with someone. Knowing this, I think, is why frequently when people attempt to befriend you, you look for the hidden agenda.

Before I ago off on on any of these philosophical tangents, however, just celebrate the knowledge that people are usually vastly more interested in what their friends say than what random strangers say. And now you can all feel enough of a friend to me to know that I am frequently awake at 3 AM listening to a dog bark!

To Whom Do We Answer?

18 Aug

As you may (or may not) be aware, I spend a lot of my time at work, working with investors. There are things related to that excite me, like talking with people about how they can invest their IRA’s in real estate instead of stocks. When you start working with investors, you often find yourself dealing with people who are in miserable situations financially. I love it when we get to help some of these people out and they use our help as an opportunity to begin to deal with finances more responsibly. Every so often, however, I hear “I’m just not good with money.”

Unfortunately, I am hearing sentiments very similar to that within the church. For those of you who have already endured my class on stewardship, you may be aware of my position that being “bad with money” is merely symptomatic of the larger issue—you are not being a good steward of the resources with which God has entrusted you. You see, when God chooses us to be His and to live a life that honors Him, a huge part of that involves taking care of the things that are entrusted to us. The fact is that there is no way around it, God gives us responsibilities.

From the first chapter of the Bible, which talks about how God creates us to “rule” over His creation, to Revelation, the assertion of our need to take care of that which we are given is vital. This clearly is not limited to money, but money is absolutely something God entrusts to us. In my opinion, it is kind of sad that our culture is so secretive about money that I believe it influences our churches to not teach on this topic as much as they should.

There are few topics discussed as much in the Bible as money, and yet, the least likely issue to cause church discipline or to be addressed or even just taught is the handling of money. And when it is taught, it is almost always done with so many apologies and generalities that it tends to lose some of the bite. Jerry Bridges writes an entire book on those sins that we tolerate. Now, don’t cheat yourself by not reading the book, but I believe we are so culturally tolerant of poor management of money (from our government to individuals who over-committed to a myriad of examples in-between) that it is taboo to even address it as a sin.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, we may try to rank the severity of certain sins, but, in my opinion, the root cause of all sins is a rebellion against God and putting something else before Him. And, in a capitalistic culture, there is no surer way to see what you value most than by looking at what you spend your money on (or, in some cases, the fact that you refuse to spend your money). So, basically, I think that money is something God entrusts to us over which we need to exercise good stewardship.

Stewardship is not a choice. Because when you recognize that ultimately you do not own something (sorry fellow capitalists), but rather, you have been allowed by God to use it while on this earth, it necessarily follows that you are answerable to the Giver of Wealth for how you use it. So whether it is your money, your time, your possessions, or something else, we must understand that God owns it all, and we are entrusted with supervising it for Him. To me, this is a very daunting thing. When my parents allow me to use something of theirs, it is both honoring and empowering. But this empowerment always makes me take stock to make sure I don’t blow it. (The same is true of others, but my parents are just the earthly example that happens the most often).

We need to make sure that everything we do, we recognize that the ability to do it, as well as the placement within the opportunity, and everything else about the situation was provided by God. Further, God is the person to whom we are answerable for it. So, whether we just need to be more honorable in our money choices or we need to better stewards of something else or this was just a reminder to stay the course, be certain that everything you do is symbolic of where you place God in your life. And if you find that too overwhelming, please let your elder or someone else in your covenant family know how they can pray for you better.