Stuff #7 – “Don’t put wood on the fire…”

Continuing today in the series, “STUFF I’VE PICKED UP ALONG THE WAY.”  This one stems from a (series of?) conversations with my dad when I was just a lad… & it had everything to do with my response to my younger brothers’ antagonism.


STUFF #7 – “Don’t put wood on the fire…” 

For all of us wanna-be pyros, this seems like it would be BAD advice; of course fires need more wood. That’s how they burn! But this truth is precisely why the instruction to NOT put wood on the fire stuck with me…


I am the oldest of 4 boys – all of us born (approx.) 4 years apart. There were some lonely days between the ages of 0 to about 6. First, I was waiting for siblings; second I was waiting for them to get bigger so we could actually PLAY together. I thought that once Johnny & Joel (& later Ben) were growed up, then:

  • life would be better & more fun
  • we would live out all of our days in rapturous joy;

Not quite how that worked out.

While I loved (& still love) my brothers, our early years were often characterized by all out brawls: verbal & physical… 2 (& later 3) against 1. Them against me. And while the physical onslaught was (mostly) easy to endure, it was the psychological warfare which all of my brothers engaged in that really got me. It’s like they were born with the innate knowledge of “How to antagonize your brother…”  I didn’t get that they would provoke me to get attention out of me, & bad/negative attention was better than no attention.


My brother Johnny could push my buttons. He knew just what to say, just what to do, to get a rise out of me. When my parents weren’t looking, he’d pinch, punch, shove, or elbow; he’d lean in & call me silly names, challenge me to contests of physical (& emotional) strength, & generally dominate me & my head space. He lived there rent-free :)

I’d respond in anger. Frustration. My own antagonism. I’d get loud, go after his buttons (I could play that game too) & generally take it up a notch (or 10) until the house was overflowing with our shouted conflicts, disagreements, & antagonisms.

One day, I remember my dad pulling me aside & taking me into his study (which, to me, signaled that things were about to get REAL.) He pulled out his bible & read these verses to me:

Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down. As charcoal to embers & as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife. Proverbs 26:20,21 – NIV

I could see it – my dad was explaining to me that the problem, the REAL problem, was that my brothers kept putting fuel on the fires, which resulted in me HAVING to respond to them to make sure justice was served, every challenge was met, & every threat, rebuffed. Felt a little proud of myself at connecting those dots. Except…

That wasn’t the point. This wasn’t about learning to shut down conflicts by controlling the behaviors of OTHERS. This was about learning to shut down conflicts by controlling the behaviors (& responses) of LOUIE. Me. The lesson wasn’t in how to fix others… it was in how to control & discipline the only person I really could: me.


Not what I wanted to hear. I think I argued with my dad a bit, about the injustice of what he was (God was?) asking me to do – “If I don’t respond, they’ll think they WIN. And that is not RIGHT!”

Nope – that is not the thing – the thing is, the only person Louie can control, can truly take full responsibility for shaping is… Louie. And in this scenario, the Bible, Solomon – the wisest of them all – inspired by the Lord God Almighty, was pointing to a different way.

IF you don’t put wood on a fire, it WILL go out.

My responses (justified & legitimate though they may seem to me) were putting wood (kindling, gasoline, & all other flammable materials) onto a fire that would never tire of burning out.

And sometimes the only way to put the fire out, was to STOP putting wood/fuel on it. And that is what I was tasked to do.


It wasn’t perfect, but I did it. I can distinctly remember a time where Johnny went into antagonist mode; he wanted, no, needed me to respond to him, so he gradually dug into his tool bag of “fire it up” skillz, & launched them at me. One at a time. Every. Single. One.

And this time, this once, I ignored his taunts. I ignored & didn’t respond to his teasing. I thought about starving a fire of fuel, & determined in my heart & in my head (& with my mouth) that I would not, under any circumstances, add any WOOD to this FIRE. And i didn’t.

And eventually, young Johnny (who had to be all of 4 years old or so,) ran out of steam. It was no fun to stir things up without a partner/opponent. But I was determined. No. Wood.

The feeling of satisfaction I experienced at that moment stays with me today. I DID it. Because I DIDN’T do it. And, just like my dad (& Solomon & the proverb in my Jesus book) said, the fire of antagonism went out. Walked away. Went to raid the pantry. No conflict.


This principle has remained at/near the forefront of my thoughts/interactions, even today, esp. when a situation arises where it appears interpersonal interactions are going to get HOT… & instead of responding to real/perceived injustice, antagonism, character assassination, etc… I have learned (& attempted to practice) self-control. I laid down (& continue to practice laying down) the need to be RIGHT, the need to have the LAST WORDS, the need to be JUSTIFIED in my own eyes/the eyes of others.

Years later, I was reading in the book of Nehemiah (the rebuilder of the wall around Jerusalem) – what stood out to me was his self-control & his refusal to respond in kind to the attempts made to divert him from God’s purpose & plan for his life… attempts made by 3 guys (& their minions) to distract, antagonize, & turn him FROM self-control/obedience to God, TOWARDS answering their challenges & embracing the need for self-justification.

I can do that.

I don’t HAVE TO respond to antagonism in kind.

I am not COMPELLED to put wood on the proverbial fire.

I don’t have to attempt to JUSTIFY myself in the eyes of others… esp. if I can be content & secure in the knowledge of my own (to the best of my abilities) right standing before God.

This one, “Don’t put wood on the fire,” is PURE GOLD. Grab on to this for yourself.

Stuff #6 – “Speak life… (or don’t speak.”)

Rolling on in the series, “STUFF I’VE PICKED UP ALONG THE WAY.”  This one comes from an interaction I had at 16, & a late night conversation with God.


STUFF #6 – Speak life… or don’t speak.

Maybe you could call this “STUFF” the Thumper rule… You know, Thumper as in the lovable rabbit from the Disney movie, Bambi. The “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all,” rule. This is one of the most painful lessons I’ve picked up in my life, because it came about after causing someone tremendous pain with something I said…


Like many people (just about everyone?), I was very insecure as a teen – esp. in my mid-teen years. Over time & through a lot of practice I learned how to mask this insecurity by running my mouth, deflecting words spoken to/at me by using the old ‘the best defense is a good offense‘ routine.

In the summer of 1986, a group from my church (made up of a bunch of my peers & few adult chaperones,) was preparing to go to Mexico City during the World Cup to help a local church. Part of the preparation involved weekly meetings after church on Sundays where we learned things like a philosophy of missions, interacting with people in a different culture, how to navigate the biggest city in the world, & some rudimentary Spanish & Spanish-language stories, songs, & other fun stuff that would be a part of our trip. Looking back, I think the biggest thing we were trying to do was build chemistry with the people that we’d be spending 2 weeks with in a variety of pressure-filled situations. (Also funny – to me – is the fact that the room we met in for all those weeks of preparation now serves as my main office at the church. But I digress.)

My cousin (also going on the trip) & I decided, separately, that this trip to Mexico would be a good excuse to get a new haircut… a tall flat top ala Val Kilmer in “Top Gun.” Anyway, I showed up at our weekly Mexico prep meeting about 5 minutes late… only to walk in & see that my cousin had also got the same (similar?) haircut that I had & most definitely was pulling it off better than I was. To make matters worse, because he got there first, he was the one who ‘owned’ the haircut, & I was most evidently just copying him (which wasn’t true – but in the world I lived in at the time, that didn’t matter one bit… And I digress again…) Showing up & seeing his (better version of the) haircut took my anxiety & insecurity up a few notches to “just about ready to explode…” I took a chair by the door & tried (unsuccessfully) to disappear into the greenish silver wallpaper lining the majority of the wall space.


There were some giggles (to be expected, as there were several other teens in the room. Esp. funny with 2 of us having a similar, attempting to be trendy haircut.  It was going to happen…) but I thought that I’d avoided any really negative comments or comparisons when we dove immediately into our Mexico team preparations. Alas, I was wrong.

There was a young lady on the team that had a crush on my cousin – & at a quiet moment when we were all reading in our Mexico notebooks, she made a comment about my haircut & stated her opinion: “Louie is just a so & so (insert my cousin’s name)  wannabe.” 

Her comment got a bunch of laughs & I was embarrassed & ashamed, & felt like the (negative) center of attention – my mind began to race a million miles an hour & I can remember looking over at this young lady & mentally shuffling through a catalogue of potential responses that might divert attention from ME to HER.

As the laughter died down a bit, I decided to go for broke & said something I knew would put the attention 100% on her: “Oh yeah? Well, you are just a killer whale wanna-be.”  The guys in the room exploded with laughter & finger pointing. Ha! “I win,” I thought. And then I looked around & saw the majority of the ladies (& all the adults) had looks of surprise & disgust on their faces… they knew I’d crossed a line & had gone for the throat at this young lady’s expense.

The moment was too much for her, & she got up & ran out of the room. And didn’t come back.


I wish I could say I had a moment of clarity & repentance & that I immediately went to the young lady & apologized for my crass & crude & obnoxious comment (that was meant to damage her & make sure she never made the mistake of trying to make me the butt of a joke again.) But I didn’t. I tried to keep going like nothing wrong or bad had happened & that the girl’s response was just an overreaction, all the while knowing what I had said was destructive & wrong.


Later that night, I was trying to sleep but all I could do was replay that afternoon in my head. I finally decided that I would try to ‘pray’ about the situation & ask God to help me sleep. All I kept thinking about were the times that others had ‘fat-shamed’ me &/or called me by unflattering nicknames that I can still recall to this day.

Finally, I broke – I remember weeping in my bed, crying out to God & feeling horrible at the trauma I’d inflicted on this young lady. There came a point where I was finally (mostly) at peace, & as I was laying there, I ‘heard’ God speak to me (not an audible voice but still as clear as if it had been.) The gist of what was said was:

“I’ve given you a gift – a gift meant to build people up & encourage them. A gift that allows your words to be impactful & to make a difference in the lives of those you speak to. You can choose to use it for GOOD, or you can choose to use it for EVIL. It’s up to you to SPEAK LIFE (or DON’T SPEAK.) 

That night started something in me – a process of transformation in the words I spoke – it wasn’t an overnight change, & there were still quite of bit of repenting on behalf of words I spoke, yet there was growth… & I can say that I didn’t speak to intentionally wound &/or cause damage anymore.

But I never went back & apologized to the young lady for what I’d said. And it weighed on me.


And then about 15 years ago, Joey broke his finger playing baseball. What does that have to do with anything? I’m glad you asked…

He & I spent the next couple of weeks going to doctor appointments & making sure everything would heal up ok… which meant a lot of time sitting in waiting rooms… & a lot of time for thinking. One morning on the way to the Reno Ortho Clinic, I had a memory of the “killer whale wanna-be” comment that I’d made so many years before… felt overwhelmed with what I can only call godly sorrow & remorse. I wept a bit, & thanked God for changing my heart (from where the words flow) & I thought I heard God say, “If you saw ________ (girl’s name) again, would you ask her for forgiveness?”

At that moment, there was nothing in the world further from my head as a possibility. HOW would I see her? I hadn’t seen her in 20 years or so, & didn’t even know where she lived, let alone how to get in touch with her.

We’d been sitting at Reno Ortho Clinic for about 30 minutes & I’d gotten bored with the retread magazines in the waiting room & I decided to engage in some clandestine people watching.

As I scanned the room for interesting sights, I saw a semi-familiar face. A face from the distant past. It was her. And her mom. Sitting in the SAME waiting room as I was. And she didn’t see me (or if she had, she was totally nonchalant-ing it – for some reason.) And I heard God’s voice again, asking gently, “If you saw ________ (girl’s name) again, would you ask her for forgiveness?” 

I’d thought I would do it IF I ever saw her again. Didn’t really ever think I would. But there she was… & I froze. I felt ashamed. I was overwhelmed with a fear & insecurity I hadn’t felt in years as I wrestled in my head, trying to decide what to do.

In the in-between time, she & her mom were taken back to their exam rooms; Joey & I were taken to ours a few minutes later. I’d missed it. I’d blown a divine appointment, a chance given FROM God, BY God to repent, to tell her I was sorry, to OWN the wrong’s I had said. Self-flagellation ensued.

Later that afternoon, I was praying, bargaining with God – “Please give me another chance. If you give me another chance, I promise I’ll talk to her. I’ll make it right…” It felt like I was talking to the ceiling & that my prayers didn’t go beyond the room. I’d missed it.


About a month went by, & I’d completely given up hope that I’d ever see this woman again… after all, it had been > 20 years since our previous interaction, so why should I run into her again?

But I did. The funny thing is, I can’t even remember WHERE it was that I ran into her. There are so many things about this situation I can recall with such painful clarity… but not WHERE I saw her again. What I do know is that I walked up to her & said “Hello.” I re-introduced myself to her & saw that she had some recall of me. And before she could really say anything else, I asked her forgiveness. I told her about how terrible I felt at making her the focus of an insult obviously meant to wound & scar her. I told her the story about seeing her at the doctor’s office & how I’d asked for another opportunity to run into her. And now here it was.

She was gracious. She offered me forgiveness. I think we hugged. And I floated back to my car, thanking God for His goodness to give me yet another opportunity to make things right. And His words resonated in my head, “Speak LIFE…” 

And they still do.

Stuff #5 – “Could you be wrong?”

Rolling on in the series, “STUFF I’VE PICKED UP ALONG THE WAY.”  This one comes from a car ride with my dad when I was about 5 years old.


STUFF #5 – Could you be wrong?

Back in the day when I was about 5 (probably one of my earliest ‘learning memories’ that I can pinpoint from the wayback machine,) my dad & I were driving towards home. At the time we lived on Upson Lane& I distinctly remember we were cruising around Dartmouth Dr. (there is still a beautiful pond there,) & we had the front windows down for some 1970’s era 2-30 air conditioning. (You know, roll down the 2 windows & drive 30 mph to cool down ?)

Anyway, as we approached the curves on Dartmouth, (right at the ponds), a piece of paper (don’t remember exactly what it was, only that it was a full size, 8 1/2″ x 11″) was flapping on the dashboard in the little crevice between the dash & the windshield.

Though the paper was flapping pretty good, in my expert & very professional opinion, it wasn’t in any danger of flying out of the car. We weren’t going fast. The paper was secure. And yet…

My dad said, ‘Would you take the paper off the dashboard, please? I don’t want it to fly out the window & get lost.”

I looked at the paper again, looked back at him, & replied, “Nah, it’s ok. It’s not going anywhere.”

To which my dad asked, “Louie, could you be wrong?”

I distinctly remember the thoughts running through my head at that precise moment. Could I be wrong? No! No way I could be wrong. The paper was barely flapping & was tucked securely between the dash & windshield. I was absolutely, positively, certain that it wasn’t going ANYWHERE. So I said, with all the conviction I could muster: “No. No I couldn’t be wrong.”

The words were scarcely out of my mouth when all of the sudden a gust of wind blew through the car & the piece of paper in question blew right out my window, to settle in an unknown & forever lost place.


I couldn’t believe it. There was NO WAY that this paper could have blown away, no way I could have been wrong about it. And yet I was.

What I remember the most about those ensuing moments follows:

  • My dad’s belly laugh – I’d just learned a lesson that would stick with me for life, & it didn’t even come with a spanking.
  • Even though I had been 100%, absolutely sure that there was NO WAY that paper was going anywhere, it did. And I was most definitely wrong.
  • I was quiet the rest of the way home ( a whopping 2 blocks).

40+ years later, I still think about THAT precise moment when the thing I was SURE couldn’t, wouldn’t, wasn’t able to happen, did, in fact happen. And I was profoundly impacted by that experience – & I know I learned, from that moment on, no matter how SURE I felt about something, anything… there was always the possibility that I could, somehow, someway, be wrong. And it weighed on me – with a positive, encouraging, & humbling kind of weight.

Over the years, I’ve found that any pressure I feel about being ALWAYS right & NEVER wrong is rooted in a bad & dark place – in pride, in ego, in arrogance. To be able to embrace, with humility, that in spite of all the positive feelings & beliefs I might have about a particular thing being RIGHT, there was always the possibility that I could be wrong.

It is a freeing thing to know that you know that you know that even when one feels 99 44/100% sure about something, it is a wise person that leaves the possibility open that somehow, someway, that person could also be wrong about that very thing.

Stuff #4 – “Feed the hungry bird…”

Rolling on in the series, “STUFF I’VE PICKED UP ALONG THE WAY.”  This one also came from Ron Pinkston, by way of a few dozen conversations with people on the topic of “making disciples of Christ.”


STUFF #4 – When it comes to making disciples, influencing others towards good, encouraging people: FEED THE HUNGRY BIRD.

When I started volunteering with Jr & Sr High students, I knew that one of my responsibilities was to make disciples (aka ‘fully devoted followers of Christ.’) However, I didn’t have any idea just HOW I was supposed to do that. So, pre-the Google machine’s invention, I asked around. Called friends (on a touch tone land-line phone, even,) for recommendations. Some suggested a curriculum, studied in a classroom type setting, for a set number of weeks; others offered up a ‘y’all come’ approach, where any & everyone who showed up to class &/or youth group would be discipled (though I wasn’t exactly sure how that was supposed to happen. Still.)

I fumbled & stumbled through it, feeling overwhelmed, ill-equipped, & frustrated. Felt like I was failing at what I was trying to do. And then…

“If you want to make disciples & don’t know where to start, just FEED THE HUNGRY BIRD. Look for the student that wants to learn, wants to grow, & wants to spend time doing it. And then spend time with them.”

Don’t exactly remember the context for when/where I heard this saying, but I know when I did, a light bulb went on in my head. I could do that! And so I decided to experiment: one night at youth group, I told the handful of students, “Anyone who wants to grow in their relationship with Jesus & hang out with me before school, & drink coffee/eat a muffin at the City Cafe bakery, we’re meeting on Tuesdays @ 6 a.m. I’ll get you a ride to school as well.”


The next Tuesday, I showed up at the City Cafe as the doors were opening to the public… it was me & a few morning stragglers grabbing their coffee & a quick bite on their way to work. No one was sitting in the Cafe, so I got my cup (free refills For The Win #FTW) & parked at a table in the middle aisle of the restaurant. (It was a converted, barely remodeled Swensen’s Ice-Cream parlor. If you’ve been in one, you get the picture.) I was alone.

Every time one of the doors opened, I’d peek around to see if any brave souls were joining me in at the Crack O’Doom. For coffee & Jesus. For the longest time, (at least 10 minutes,) no students came… just early risers on their way to work. And then…

I’d heard the door, but had gotten tired of turning around to the disappointment of Yet Another not-student walking in the door. I focused on drinking my bottomless cup of joe, nibbling on a cobblestone muffin, & reading my Psalms.

Next thing I knew, I sensed someone’s presence nearby. It was Vic, a 7th grader from our youth group, standing there looking as awkward as I felt, & but as welcome as any Christmas morning I’d ever experienced. Somebody came! And now what to do.

Vic figured out the transactional part of the morning (coffee & a muffin for here in the cool green basket,) & came over & sat across from me. Drinking his coffee, slowly. Taking large bites of his muffin.

What to do next? He was here now, invited to come “grow in his relationship with Jesus.”


So we talked. Laughed. I listened to him, & prayed that I’d have something to say. His questions didn’t start on Jesus, the Bible or other spiritual topics, but somehow, they seemed to end up there.

Before I knew it, an hour had passed & it was time to take him to school – when I dropped him off, I can remember him saying, “So, we gonna do this again next week?”

I hadn’t thought of next week. But I said, “Yes. Of course. Same time, same place.” And he got a big smile on his face & said something like, “Cool. it was fun.” And he bailed.


Over that school year (& for the next several years that I lived in Carson City,) Tuesdays at the City Cafe became a ‘thing,’ at one point taking over most of the tables & booths in the restaurant. All Jr & Sr High students. All ordering coffee. All eating a muffin. All talking at their tables with friends, Youth sponsors (people there to help me with supervision & discipleship) & having a blast.

Being discipled. Encouraged towards Jesus. It was beautiful, & is still one of my favorite memories from my time in Carson.


Over the years, FEED THE HUNGRY BIRD came to mean – share time, space, & experiences with the people who WANT to gather, WANT to hang out, WANT to learn. Though it could sound trite, it really was true: the Holy Spirit set the agenda for what got addressed, & we never really needed a curriculum as He & life’s circumstances & challenges provided more materials than I could ever have wanted to have.

There’s no substitute for time together. For good conversation. For making time to listen. For saying, “I don’t know,” when you don’t know, & for heading to prayer for answers, comfort, & encouragement in those times.

It gives me great joy to know that many, many of those students are still walking with Jesus, now with spouses & their own kids (& some even have grandkids) more than 30 years later.

And it all started with Vic, the brave soul who took me up on my invite to grow in his relationship with Jesus. Over coffee. With a muffin. Before Jr High.

Stuff #3… “Nobody owes me anything.”

This is #3 in a blog mini-series about “Stuff I’ve picked up along the way.” You can find the other 2 parts of this HERE

STUFF #3 – NOBODY OWES ME ANYTHING. (This one came up a couple of times; first, in a series of conversations with a former pastoral overseer/supervisor of mine, Ron Pinkston, & then later with Jerry Cook.)

Think about that phrase for a second.

It’s not “I don’t owe anyone anything,” (which I know might sound suuuuuper attractive to you. I recognize that it could be a very enticing potential life motto, especially when one is feeling stretched super-thin {like too little butter spread over too much toast} &/or is feeling extra “done” from pouring out. Nope.)

This one is not THAT. It, very specifically & intentionally, is “Nobody owes me anything.”


Time is funny, in that I can’t remember all the specifics that were going on in my life at the time, nor exactly what prompted me to seek out the conversation w/Ron. (Granted – this may have been 25 years ago.)  I do remember that I was frustrated, I felt wronged, & I really, truly thought that when I talked to my supervisor, he would fully understand, he would reassure me in my feeling of ‘wrongness’ & perhaps even commiserate with me a bit about the VERY obvious series of wrongs that I was experiencing. I was right about one thing; he DID understand. Except…

He understood what I was saying to him better than I understood it myself. In my mind, I was relaying to him one of the great hurts that happen to People Like Me in this life; people who are givers who then, in their own point of need, are not considered, taken for granted, & perhaps even… forgotten. But what he understood was that what I was expressing to him was disappointment & frustration at being let down by a couple of people who Should Have Known Better & Done Better in their interactions with me. And what I was sharing with him was born out of entitlement, selfishness, & self-pity.

I’m thankful he didn’t drop the proverbial hammer on me… nope. He merely interrupted my eloquent complaints & said something like, “I get it. I GET it. I know what the problem is… You’re living, functioning, & interacting with these people (& probably more) with a belief that because of who you are & what you do, that somehow they OWE you in some way. And you just can’t believe that they’re NOT responding towards you in the way you want.”

Ever have one of those moments when a trusted friend shares some tough words with you & as you hear them, you also hear & feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit reinforcing what they’re saying? This was THAT. I knew he was right. And I knew enough to shut up & listen instead of attempting to justify myself & explain away the insights he’s just exposed. I’m thankful for his input & correction – it didn’t come from a place “on high” & unrelatable; no, it came from his own experiences. And he shared those with me – how he had been EXACTLY where I was, thinking on the same thing, wondering how & why he deserved to be so wronged…

One thing he said really stood out – “If you live your life, doing what you do, in such a way that you’re believing what you’re doing entitles you to some sort of acknowledgment or reciprocation from these people, you’re going to be in increasingly BIGGER trouble as time goes by. It’s a subtle trap of the enemy of our souls – where he invites us to look at the way we live as a part of a cosmic quid pro quo… it robs us of the joy of serving others, caring for & laying down our lives for others, & it runs the risk of poisoning our hearts & minds with bitterness & resentment. It’s ugly & it’s proud, & it will consume you if you let it. Remember, nobody OWES you anything, Louie.”

As I remember, we took a minute to pray about it & I repented – asked God’s forgiveness for the entitlement, selfishness, &  pride that motivated it. And coming out the other side of the conversation, I felt 100x lighter. And free-er.


Over the years, I’ve felt the familiar feeling/temptation to go down the road of selfish entitlement more than a few times… but I can say in good conscience that I’ve avoided it like the plague. And to me, “nobody owes me anything,” has become an invitation to acknowledge my own brokenness, while at the same time intentionally choosing to be kind, compassionate, & intentional about giving of myself to & for others.

And I’m thankful for that.

“You’ve already got it.” Stuff I’ve picked up along the way… #2

I started a blog ‘mini-series’ addressing wise sayings, cool nuggets, & good stuff that I’ve picked up along the way. (You know. Like from paying attention while living.:) Wrote a bit about this last week HERE. Check it out if you’re interested.) FWIW, this one is also a “Jerry Cook” special.

STUFF #2 – YOU DON’T NEED TO ASK GOD FOR SOMETHING HE’S ALREADY GIVEN TO YOU; INSTEAD, JUST THANK HIM FOR IT.

In 2010, I was selected to serve on one of our denomination’s governing bodies; one of the main responsibilities was to help choose the candidates for our denomination’s president. There were lots of unknowns & I was nervous – & so I decided to ask a couple people to pray for me during my time on the committee. To make it easier, I even put together a ‘bullet point’ list of prayer requests & things I was sure that I needed. WISDOM. I especially asked for wisdom for each & every new situation I’d be tackling.  Sent it out to a handful of people & got a few responses encouraging me & letting me know that they would, indeed, be praying for me.

And then I heard from Jerry.

(Let me just preface his reply by saying how much I loved how he would say/write things in a way that were full of humor, insight, & truth… even the things that were teaching or correcting moments. Even (especially?) when it was a pointed correction, you felt good getting it from him because you just KNEW the spirit in which it was offered up.)

Jerry wrote: “Nope. I’m not going to be praying for you for wisdom. And here’s why: you ALREADY HAVE IT. According to God’s Word & the promises He gives us, you already have wisdom. You’ve got so much wisdom, you’re FULL of it. So, instead of asking God to give you what He’s already given to you, THANK Him for it. And then go forward in your meetings, into every situation knowing that you have God’s wisdom & the mind of Christ.”


My initial reaction was, “He said NO? He wouldn’t pray for me?” Then after reading & rereading the note, my disbelief turned to laughter… & I got what he was saying. Later on when we had some time to talk in person, I asked him about the situation & he elaborated a bit more. He kindly shared his own “take” & “approach” to dealing with the responsibilities in front of him… & the vast majority of the time, he said he just “filled his mouth with praise & thanksgiving for the every spiritual blessing given to him by God in Christ…” And then he “acted like he HAD it already. Because God said he did.” 


That interaction continues to shape me & my life in so many ways… just about every week there’s at least one instance where I catch myself starting to pray, to ask God about something… & it turns to a “Thank you for giving me this, in Christ Jesus.” I don’t see it as wishful thinking or a ‘fake it til you make it’ type of situation. Instead, I see it as repentant thinking or as intentionally aligning my own thoughts & ways with God’s… & trusting that He’ll direct my steps, my thoughts, my words, my choices. And if I still don’t know what to do or say, after all that, I reflect on STUFF #1 – IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO OR SAY, LIMIT YOUR ACTIONS &/OR YOUR WORDS.

 

Stuff I’ve picked up along the way… #1

In the course of the last 51 years of my life, there’s a lot of helpful ‘stuff that I’ve picked up along the way’ that informs most (if not all) of the decisions, priorities, values, & other things that help make me, me. On top of that, I can guarantee you that 99.9% of the time I’ve given out good, wise, helpful, &/or encouraging advice to a friend who has asked for it, that information has come from (at least one) other source(s), & didn’t originate with me. (Ever heard the saying, “There is nothing new under the sun,” ? It comes from the Bible book of Ecclesiastes &, among other things, it speaks to the fact that wisdom, truth, insight, knowledge, etc has been around for years & was thought of (& shared) by others. This fact reminds us of many things, including:

  • no one person has a corner on wisdom, truth, insight, etc
  • we can ALL learn from many others’ experiences, insights, & perspectives
  • a person can sound SUPER smart & insightful simply by sharing things that they’ve been humble & teachable enough to learn from others…

I’ve picked up a lot of stuff over the years & I am thankful to each person who has (knowingly or unknowingly) contributed to my knowledge/experience bank. I thought it might be fun over the next several blogs to share some of that ‘stuff’ in the hopes that it can be a help to you also at some point. No pressure. It’s not like I want to be a guru or a person’s sole point of input or advice-for-life… I do, however, want to pass on that which I have found to be personally helpful – to share the stuff that I’ve accumulated in my proverbial back-pack of life experiences.


STUFF #1 – IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO OR SAY, LIMIT YOUR ACTIONS &/OR YOUR WORDS.

If you don’t know what to do or say, limit your actions &/or your words.” – Jerry Cook

This one has come in handy countless times… I know it’s not just me that feels the pressure to ACT, to RESPOND, to DO something (anything?) in a particular situation they’re facing.  Inactivity makes one feel powerless, impotent, & ineffective, & this is especially true when one functions in the role of ‘leader’ (in whatever capacity). In that space, others often look to you like you’re SUPPOSED to know what to do when the stuff hits the proverbial fan… like somehow there HAS to be some response, something that MUST be done, & somehow YOU know what it is.

But sometimes you don’t (or at least I don’t.) And that is 100% ok.

After hearing Jerry share this gem, I felt free & liberated from chains that I’d had no idea I didn’t have to carry around with me. In talking to him about it more in-depth, he said something along these lines:

“I’m living & functioning from the premise that the Holy Spirit will speak to me to direct me towards the actions & words that need to be undertaken in a particular situation. And if He doesn’t give me anything, I’m going to trust that means that I’m to limit my actions & words UNTIL He does. Jesus ONLY did what He saw/heard His Father in heaven doing. He’s our Father too, & He & the Spirit will lead us & guide us in godly responses, IF & WHEN they’re warranted for the situation at hand.”


I have embraced this truth myself for my life & areas I lead – & instead of giving in to the pressure to attempt to manufacture words/activities out of my own head & heart, I trust that the Holy Spirit WILL definitely direct me in the moment to the words & actions I’m to take.

For what it’s worth.

 

 

Highways & bulls-eyes…

I’m very thankful that I am (& have been) surrounded by a whole bunch of people who’ve been gracious enough to share some of the lessons they’ve learned along the way of life… esp. those lessons that tie in with a relationship with Christ. The list of helpful insights, tips, asides, & anecdotes that I’ve (inadvertently) collected over the years is vast, as are the sources for said info.

One of the most valuable pieces of encouragement that I reference at least 3 or 4 times a week is the advice I was given about KNOWING & LIVING IN God’s will & purpose for me – there are myriad sources with many opinions on what this looks like & feels like, lived out, but for me, the best advice I’ve ever gotten was simple, easy to understand, & even easier to apply. And it came from Jerry. (Of course it did.)


During a trying & demanding time of life (at least it seemed so at the time; the events of the last 12 months have made that time look… inviting.), I reached out to Jerry & asked him about a choice that I had in front of me; a choice that had the potential to take me & the family on a significant change of direction. I’d wrestled with the decision for quite a while before reaching out to him, mostly out of desperation & a strong desire not to mess my family (& ME) up.

He told me something like this: “Louie, you’re overthinking this – you’re assuming that God is trying to make it difficult to KNOW His will; difficult to FIND His will; difficult to FOLLOW His will, like it is some sort of bulls-eye that you can only hit if everything aligns perfectly, if you’ve prayed & read enough, etc… THAT is not how our God deals with us, His dearly loved children.”

“No, I see God’s will as a highway, complete with the rumble strips that line the highway to keep us from going off the road. First, I commit my ways to the Lord. Second, I examine myself & my life to see if my direction is taking me somewhere ILLEGAL, IMMORAL, or UNBIBLICAL. And if it is not (& it rarely would be,) I give it a shot, I press ‘Go” on the gas & start moving. Then, I trust that if I’m off, the Holy Spirit will intervene just as simply as the rumble strips sounding off with a jarring noise when your car drifts out of its lane. Its clear. Its evident. And its simple. God loves His kids, & He delights in giving them freedom to choose what they’d like to do & give themselves to, within the parameters He lays out in His word. You can trust that God, the Holy Spirit, will definitely let you know if you’re headed off road. God trusts you & His Spirit in you to make good decisions to LIVE & to bring GLORY to Him in WHATEVER you do. So go do it. And listen for the rumble strips.”

Those words set me free, lifted the anxiety & worry of ‘missing’ God’s will & purposes for my life, & also gave me confidence that I CAN & WILL hear the voice of the Holy Spirit if/when I’m ‘off-roading’.

And He always has – it was never a bulls eye to try & hit with all my effort & skill; it was a highway, wide open & ready to be driven.

Happy birthday Johnny! Some musings on his #48 & other stuff…

This picture of my brothers & me is precious to me. Not exactly sure WHEN it was taken (is there a date on it, Mom?) but using the info I have & the general ages of the 4 of us  I’m guessing it would have been approximately 1986, making me 17ish, Johnny 13ish, Joel 9ish, & Ben 5. “Why were we wrestling?,” you might ask… & I’d say, “Because we COULD.” And wrestle we did. Play-fight. Battle Royale, early WWF style. Me against the 3 of them, as it seemed to them that the logic made perfect sense. I was the oldest, & therefore the brothers deemed a 3 to 1 advantage in their favor to be a Just & Perfectly Fair match. No one really got hurt in these battles, although charley horses, head butts, & the  bloody noses were the occasional scars & battle wounds that resulted from our time together. (FACT: only person to ever give me a bloody nose besides theBean – I’ll tell that story another time – was my brother Johnny. And he did it with great joy at least 3 times that I remember, each time being such a fortunate accident. Looking back, it cracks me up – from a young age he knew that it was always easier to ask forgiveness than permission. “I’m sorry I kneed you in the face twice, Louie. Please forgive me.” Seriously?


Today marks Johnny’s 48th birthday; it is the 31st (!) birthday of his that our family has marked since he went to heaven on Father’s Day 1990. As I sit at my desk right now, I’ve been listening to a Spotify playlist with a bunch of songs that remind me of my brother. There’s a bunch of them… because he was the Original Master MixTape Maker. A big chunk of the memories that I have of him in his Jr. High years are sitting in my room (his was next to mine) with a big BOOM box w/dual cassette player & a CD player too. Made mixing his tapes a little simpler, for sure, & he was always sure to include a hand-written playlist of the songs. What a great insight into the music & words that moved him, that stuck in his head.

Nothing like a song (or a smell for that matter) to take you back to a previous time & place.


Didn’t really know the depth & breadth of the hole left behind by Johnny’s death at 17…

Sure I knew all of us WOULD (parents, brothers, family, friends, etc…) KNOW & FEEL it, but it got really real when my kids started getting older & asking questions about family, life, & WHY things are the way they are. Things like –

  • …why couldn’t they meet ALL their uncles? They’ve often said that it wasn’t fair or right. (I’d have to agree, but life isn’t often fair…)
  • …when they wondered WHY they didn’t have any cousins near their ages. And they grieved that loss, the loss of what could have been.
  • …when they didn’t understand why their dad cried at their sporting events, because their intensity, approach, mindset, & body language reminded him of his brother.

As each of them became adults & had their own kids, it has come full circle. I think they get it more now than at any time before. Might just be my own wishful thinking, but I think they understand a little bit more about what they missed out on growing up at least 10-12 years older than the rest of their cousins.

They see it every time their kids (our grandkids) play together; every time their kids ask for their best friends(their cousins) to come over & play; every time at all-family get togethers when everythings-as-it-should-be & it’s beautiful, wonderful, & heavenly… & yet someone is still missing…


It’s funny, but during the last 10 months of the pandemic, I’ve thought about Johnny even more than ever. About his faith in Christ, his love for God’s Word, his ‘big-picture’ life-perspective on what is ‘worth’ doing (caring for others, offering & asking for forgiveness, playing hard & often, turning the music up to ’11’ among other stuff,) & what ISN’T worth doing (holding grudges, indulging ego, petty fights & nitpicking, compromising values & personhood to fit in, etc…)

He was my ‘little’/younger brother, but the way he lived in & through the moments of trial, trouble, physical & health challenges – I really looked up to him & his example in those things. We were best friends for most of our lives, but especially as he hit 12 & his early teens. We spent so much time together (commiserating over chores, folding & delivering newspapers, participating &/or watching sporting events, talking before going to sleep at night, all of it.) There’s still a hole there.


And yet… Today, I am thankful more than ever for my brothers, Joel & Ben – the men that they have become is really quite impressive. Their character, work ethic, devotion to their families… hardly a week goes by that I’m not referencing one or both of them, bragging on them from afar to whatever poor sucker happens to be in a conversation with me that happened to trigger a thought about those guys. I’m so proud of them & I treasure them & their friendship… & I know Johnny would have as well. No malark.

Happy birthday Johnny – miss you terribly.

 

Here’s to the New (Things)…

TheBean & I get to spend the first couple of days of what would normally be the “First Work Week of 2021” at one of our favorite places in the whole world: a small cabin on the shores of Lake Tahoe. It’s (thankfully) on the Nevada side of the lake, albeit just a couple of miles from South Lake (& Califor-kneee-yaaaah). We’ve been very fortunate to be able to come to this place over the years for several reasons:

  • It’s Lake Tahoe. C’mon man. This has got to be one of the most beautiful places in the whole world. I’ve not been EVERYWHERE, but over the years I have been places. Hawaii (Kauai & Maui). Italy. Switzerland. Germany. France. England. Poland. Mexico. Cana-dia. Been very blessed to see & stay in many beautiful locations, & hands-down, Lake Tahoe is the best.
  • It’s close. We can get from our front door to the cabin’s front door in < 60 minutes. Fully unloaded & ready to “BE” in < 90. It’s good.
  • It’s a rental. No day-to-day cost for maintenance & upkeep, let alone taxes. The cost of real estate in Reno/Sparks has gone through the roof, & Lake Tahoe is waaaaay beyond that. Coming to these cabins over the years has been a (relatively) simple & inexpensive way to do mini-vacations, with just the two of us & with all the kids/grandkids.
  • Off-season discount.  Coming to the cabins has been doable over the years because of an ‘off-season’ (Labor Day to Memorial Day) discount offered to clergy. It’s made places accessible that would have been WAAAY beyond the norm.

They say that all good things must come to an end. (Who is ‘they’? I’m immediately flashing back to my youth. I can still hear “Dandy” Don Meredith singing, 3-sheets to the wind, in the Monday Night Football booth, Turn out the lights/the party’s over/They say that all/good things must end…) We just discovered when we were attempting to sign up for our post-Labor Day cabin time that they off-season discount is one of the casualties of 2020 & will not be available going forward into 2021 & beyond. Bummer.

So… we’re taking a little extra time to soak in the time we have together here. To enjoy the beauty of the waves crashing & the wind howling in anticipation of the afternoon snow flurries. This has been a good place for us to BE. To learn (in the middle stage of life) what it means to recreate. To reconnect with each other. To stop. To rest. To celebrate. To reflect.


And still. I find myself wondering… Looking forward with anticipation… Here’s why:

There are a couple of points of inspiration, words of encouragement (WOE’s) really, that we’ve gotten in the last 3 months(& BOY have we needed those.) These 2 separate but related WOE’s state:

  1. Revelation 21:5 – Jesus is making ALL THINGS new. This is the theme that our mother-church organization is declaring for 2021, & I am holding on to it. Coming out of 2020, there are many things on my list that I would LOVE for Him to make new… but it’s not like I just submit a ‘wish-list’ to God & expect Him to cater to my wants & whims… His ways are much better & far more creative than my ways, which leads me to believe that the promise to make all things new is one that extends to me & theBean’s getaways. To our vacation, relaxation, reconnection, recharging, & reflection times. And that Jesus has something(s) in mind that will be New for us in these areas too. Even if we don’t see them yet.
  2. Completely separate from (but Oh So Related to) that WOE was a WOE that I received in my early morning coffee & Bible reading/pondering time. I was making my way through the Book of Isaiah (he’s a major prophet with most likely the greatest number of prophetic & insightful promises about the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One’s coming.) Anyways, it’s Isaiah 43:16-21 – God is doing a NEW thing. “NEW” here refers to 2 things: NEW as in unused, untouched, completely restored & whole kind of way; & NEW as in unprecedented, not seen before, groundbreaking. BOTH kinds of NEW spoken of here are encouraging, but the 2nd, the ‘unprecedented’ new… that requires just storing these things in your heart, watching & waiting & looking to SEE what God is up to. Because if it is unprecedented in our experience, we wouldn’t be able to anticipate it coming anyway.

Here’s to 2021. To the new. To the restored. To the unprecedented. To God’s blessings, old & new. To faithfulness, consistency, & connection with others. To living for more than just ME & MINE, & to being a tangible blessing in as many ways as possible to those that God chooses to bring into our path.