The Evolution of Finger-Pointing: Part Two, Pride

Hello readers!  If you haven’t read Part One on Forgiveness, please do this first.  Or Part Two on Pride won’t completely make sense…

Once we begin to realize that we should concentrate on the plank in our own eye before we try to help others remove the speck in their eye, we can’t help but to seek divine intervention in our difficult endeavor.  I remember the day very clearly when God opened up the book of “my life” and began to show me that no matter where I have been, good and bad, I am where I am right now because of all the decisions I have made.  The road to “now” may have been circuitous, but in the end, God only cares about where I am today.  On a spiritual level, the sum of my life brings me to today, and God has sanctified it.  We cannot question the how or the why because it is beyond our mortal thoughts as to how we really got to our station right this moment.  We have heard that God changes us from the “inside out”.  This statement is indeed true.  Our relationship with God starts and ends with focus on Christ and what He teaches us about ourselves.  But there is a problem here:  once one begins to heal, once a person begins to “get it”, once a person allows the Truth to saturate their being, we step into the light.  The light is a tough place to be sometimes because God sees you, but so does the enemy!  If we are to live out loud and profess our faith and let our light shine, there are powers that will stop at nothing to put that fire out.  And one of the best tools for damping our spirit is pride.  We can become “proud of ourselves” for finding the answers; we become so excited about finally being freed from the bondage that we can, quite by accident, begin to take some credit for that freedom.  We now have all the answers, and are convinced that it is our job to shoot the signal flare and start drawing folk to us.  The finger starts pointing at our own faults, and then can take on a nasty slant.  “Look at me!”, “Look at what God can do!”, “I have found the Answer”, and “Listen to what I have to say”, and many other road signs that cause others to look to you for answers as well.  The problem is there is a tendency to take some credit for the profound change in our life.  We may not say it out loud, but inwardly, we can feel it grow like a cancer:  cancers become part of our bodies, part of what makes us function, a destruction that comes from being interwoven into the fabric of “us”.  The enemy is clever indeed.

This whole notion reminds me of a humorous story once told to me:  A person looking for a parking place at a busy market prays, “God, please help me get a parking spot!”  Suddenly, a car begins to pull out and a space opens up, and the person says, “Never mind, God, I got this…thanks anyway!”  We too easily take answered prayer for granted and begin to wonder “what have You done for me lately?”  If we begin to take credit for our own restoration, we can go down another very slippery slope.  We must realize that all things of this earth will eventually fall short and disappoint.  If we prop ourselves up, we will disappoint, if we set someone else upon a pedestal, they will disappoint, if we base our truth on religion, it will disappoint.  On and on it goes.  Be aware:  don’t point to things that can disappoint!  You and I both know that all people will disappoint:  whether it is some fault or some sin or ultimately their passing away from the earth.  Everyone will leave you, no one can always be there for you, no one is perfect, and all will disappoint.  Even if a person leads a wonderfully enriched, spiritual, Christian life; that person will eventually leave us and pass away.  That is why we must not point at ourselves as the answer; we cannot stand up publicly and announce, “I have found the answers”.  And we cannot, under any circumstance, point to a human and honestly say, “That person had the answers!”  The way God works, the Holy Spirit can show us truth, but one can never take ownership of that truth…by seeking, God never disappoints us in the treasure (see post on disciplegideon.wordpress.com), but that treasure has to be given away to remain pure.  To possess something automatically takes the divine beauty from it.

Just look at the examples given us:  preachers that fall (or should I say crash and burn!) can take hundreds, if not thousands down with them; people who we have counted on for years are now in a downward spiral, our relationships can break, even nature groans in birth pangs.  I recently read how a very powerful preacher in Orlando who built a “ginormous” (my daughter’s word) church, was found dead in a hotel room with cocaine.  Many powerful pastors have lived a secret life of sin.  What happens to the members of their church?  One of two things happens:  the followers either realize that their faith should be in God alone, or they lose their faith altogether.  What a shame!  The whole world points and laughs, “See, you fools are just full of hot air and build your lives on unfounded, unreasonable faith…hypocrites!”  You see how powerful the enemy can be?  How do you destroy goodness?  By destroying it from the inside out:  “a house divided, cannot stand”.  So if we point a finger to this preacher or that teacher or ourselves, we set ourselves up for failure.  So this brings us to the final evolution of finger-pointing:  pointing to Christ and Him alone.  Now how do we do this effectively?

To be continued…

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The Evolution of Finger-Pointing: Part One, Forgiveness

Love is an act of endless forgiveness, a tender look which becomes a habit”.  –Peter Ustinov

An idea I bumped into one day quite out of the blue:  that we are defined and bookmarked in life by the direction of our finger-pointing.  I have learned to understand my position in life’s stream by taking account of where my own finger is pointing at any given time.  It is a great barometer of happiness and an effective thermometer of how healthy we are spiritually.  Because I am inclined to ponder and assess my life through reflection, I can look back at some things and see the truths that I conveniently waved at on my way past them.  Now those truths sometimes glare at me; sometimes slap me in the face; and sometimes just whisper in my ear.  Oftentimes I thank God for the insight and other times I am shocked that I still haven’t learned the lessons I thought I’d passed.  Life is humbling, isn’t it?

The beginning of finger-pointing starts early in life:  It seems to be part of our human fabric.  We embark on our journey with the innate ability to point our fingers at others.  When we were children, it was so much easier to blame life’s mishaps and our own mistakes on others.  Phrases like, “I didn’t start it!”, “He/she did it”, “It’s not my fault”, and “Don’t blame me” echo down the hallways and back seats of our earliest memories.  And even as young adults, we blame our parents, teachers, friends, God, circumstances, the “system”, the a-hole cop or judge, and whomever else steps across our path that we think has caused us to be the way we are or react the way we did.  As I reflect on my own experience, I am torn between laughing heartily and weeping uncontrollably.  Oh, how much time could have been saved and put to better use if I had only recognized the trap of an unforgiving spirit a little sooner!  The final result of pointing fingers at others is invariably resentment.  Resentment not good.  My first real look in the mirror came while reading the following passage:

Resentment is the ‘number one’ offender.  It destroys more alcoholics (insert any “thorn in your side” here) than anything else.  From it stem all forms of spiritual disease, for we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick.”  -Alcoholics Anonymous, parenthetic statement added.

Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one that gets burned.”  -Buddha

When we blame others, judge them, and not forgive them, we inadvertently give those same people power over us.  I remember a counselor of mine remarked one time that, “When you don’t forgive other people, it is like you being a remote-control toy and the controller is in the other person’s hand.”  There are so many reasons to forgive; it would take hundreds of pages to even scrape the surface.  However, I will brush-stroke a few.  First of all, the real business of maturing and growing requires us to focus on ourselves.  It is impossible to really do any “heavy lifting” in this department until we can concentrate on our own issues.  Secondly, as Christians, the Lord can’t do much of anything with us until we leap this hurdle.  We all know that in order to be forgiven, we must forgive.  Regardless of your denomination, I think everyone can agree that Mark 11:25-26 is as straightforward as it gets:  “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.  But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”  And thirdly, forgiveness is possibly one of the few intrinsic, genuine powers that we possess.  It can change your life, others’ lives, history, the world, you name it!  There is very little in life that one can honestly say they have control over, but we all possess the awesome power of forgiveness.  There is freedom in forgiveness, peace in forgiveness, love in forgiveness, and at the top of the list, perfect healing in forgiveness.

When we move past our pointing-fingers at others, we can now begin the daunting task of pointing our finger at ourselves.  Many people get trapped here, like being in purgatory, in-between heaven and hell.  It is a two-fold process that in one instant is about taking responsibility for our own actions and decisions and in the next instant, about forgiving ourselves and letting God teach us how to “let go” of what we ultimately see inside of our innermost being.  We first have to search out what is wrong with us and second, we have to search out that liberating forgiveness for ourselves.

The moment an individual can accept and forgive himself, even a little, is the moment in which he becomes to some degree lovable.”  -Eugene Kennedy

If we are honest, I think we would all agree that the deeper we go into the healing process of self-assessment, the more painful it becomes!  Looking into the mirror without prejudice, light reveals some very nasty business.  Many people turn away and never face the reality of the human heart seen from a spiritual perspective, but it is absolutely necessary in order to continue to grow.  We are great starters, but poor finishers.  Just when you think you have cleaned-up all the cobwebs and dusted the hard-to-reach places, the sunrise pours through the window exposing missed spots and dust floating around in the rays of sunshine.  I hate when that happens!  I remember going to the dentist as a child and the dental assistant telling me to go and brush my teeth, “Do a good job, and then we are going to see how well you did by giving you this purple pill to chew”.  Inevitably, regardless of how vigorously and thoroughly I brushed, I chew the purple pill with the utmost confidence just to have that confidence shot down with a mouth full of purple missed spots!  So is the inward journey of seeing who you really are:  One must be brave.  We are all a “work in progress”.  I am convinced that most of our mountains (problems) in life are simply reflections of our inward, spiritual mountains.  They must be traversed, scaled, climbed, detailed, examined, and honestly appraised.  We can’t engage things that we are frightened of alone…we must have help…or may live the rest of our lives in the shadows of the mountains we have refused to address.  We therefore must not give up on this part of our finger-pointing; we must not turn away from the challenge.  Know your enemy, and unfortunately in this part of the finger-pointing phase, we ourselves are the enemy.  Engaging the mountains within takes perseverance and much help from above.

To be continued…

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The Cooperstown Experiment: What I Learned From a Bunch of 12-year Olds

It is very difficult to describe what happened to our little baseball team this summer.  It is even more difficult to describe how it has changed me and possibly all who participated in our week in Cooperstown, New York.  It is above all one of those experiences that go into the “you had to be there” category.  What I thought about on my way back from Cooperstown was how perfectly timed and profound each moment of championship Thursday was.  It was a beautiful masterpiece of talent, strength, heart, luck, and what one parent described as “destiny”.  I just wanted to share what this week has taught me about myself and my son.  If we bask in the miracle that we took part in, life should be a little sweeter.

Final Score Announces Victory

Bad decisions vs. One good decision:

As our team began their journey through the competition on Thursday, I noticed then and even more now in retrospect, that every member of the team had made some bad decisions:  swinging at a bad pitch, missing a fly ball, botching a throw to first, pitching a silver platter across the plate, not sliding into home plate, getting picked off, you know the list.  However, what wins games and overcomes bad decisions, is apparently one darn good decision.  How many times did the same one who made a bad play turn around and make his mark on the game?  It is unbelievable really.  That is profound baseball when a child decides not to get down on himself and decides to step up for his team despite the pressure.  I was impressed by the team’s composure under the lens of “one and done”.  The power that drives this type of teamwork is impossible to describe, but we got to witness this spectacle of beauty.  When we had to have a play or a hit, someone always stepped up and it was rarely the same player doing the “stepping up”.  Every player had a pivotal role in this march to the finals.  One great decision conquered all the bad ones.

A Hard-Won Battle Comes to an End

 Life is a team sport:

Another thing that echoed through the fields of Cooperstown was a tangible spirit of teamwork.  Other teams must have been intimidated by our boys’ resolve.  Being the visiting team had its advantages:  It allowed us to inflict damage early and often.  We had the pressure of making that important statement of “this is how we roll, hope you can keep up!”  We put pressure on the other team throughout our entire line-up.  We have fastball hitters, off-speed hitters, curve-ball hitters, and slow-pitch hitters.  Each different stretch of our line-up paid off consistently.  What amazes me is that everyone took his game to the next level, and the boys played like they were created to play.  I enjoyed watching this level of baseball executed by our motley crew of children.  They were absolutely, win or lose, having a blast out there under the microscope of serious baseball fans.  They were amazing to watch, and we picked up a lot of fans along the way.  The domino effect of one costly mistake could have cost us the tournament; but the one “dagger” never came because the boys always rose to the occasion and simply would not let that happen.  They depended and trusted each other to make the play; they never doubted their ability as a team to execute when the game was on the line.  Now that is teamwork!

 

Celebration after Championship Game

Never take life too seriously:

It was funny in retrospect and strange at the time when I noticed the team’s lack of celebration after an important victory.  They would slowly and humbly stagger out of the dugout for the team post-game meeting.  Reclining on their gear, they looked like they just finished a practice!  All we heard was “could I get a Gatorade” or “I’m hungry” or just looks of calm resolve.  In fact, before the championship game, they were playing in the arcade!  I wonder how many teams took this week too seriously.  Our team did not.  I’m not sure why, but maybe it’s because no one thought about it much.  They just wanted to keep playing baseball.  The bonds that were made and the friendships that were strengthened at the Lakehouse are priceless.  This week was definitely about the climb.  The memories that are burned into our minds are not necessarily the raising of the championship trophy and the team taking the “field of dreams”.  The memories for the boys are meeting other teams from around the country, laughing at each other’s farts, catching frogs, tipping canoes, walking hallowed ground in Cooperstown, eating pizza, and generally being a kid.  Taking baseball too seriously can mess with your “mo-jo” and our team never missed an opportunity to have fun.  They kept their focus on having fun; the winning goes hand in hand with it!

One of 49 Homerun Celebrations That Weekend!

Leave it on the field; it’s worth your best:

Each player on the team reached deep inside and pulled out another gear, another moment of brilliance, another dimension of endurance.  I remember cheering with other parents, “leave it on the field, boys!”  And they apparently did just that.  I was astounded and inspired by the never before seen level of greatness in each player.  I honestly have never seen this type of baseball from young teams.  They were work horses out there.  They did their job to the best of their ability.  To leave it on the field is not only a physical calling, but also asks us to focus our mind on one moment and one goal: make the play.  As the stakes got higher and higher, our guys’ level of play went even higher.  They did not crack under pressure; they took themselves to a whole new level.  To be honest, after the quarter-final game that we won; they looked beat the heck up.  They looked like they had just finished a gang fight that they lost!  But during the game, they realized that this moment was worth their very best; they now understand what it means to be champions:  to have it all on the line and be able to perform.  As our ace pitcher stood on the foundation of what his team had laid, he represented all that the team was about.  He was a worthy leader, and one that every player on the team was glad to put on the biggest stage.  Even as we yelled from the stands, “We believe!”, the team had passed from belief into something beyond understanding.

Out of 103 Teams, Only Two Left For the Run Around the Stadium

Expectation vs. Anticipation:

Expectation by nature has our own goals in mind.  We expect this from this person, we expect this result by doing these things, and we have attached to expectation the imposition of our own will.  Anticipation is grounded in real hope.  We can’t hope for what we expect, but we can hope for what we anticipate.  Expectations have limits; but anticipation can be beyond our imagination.  I remember praying for the team:  I thought it was trite and silly to ask God for victory.  I thought long and hard about what the proper prayer would be.  So I prayed that God would bless the team; that He would teach them something about themselves; that He would mold their little hearts through this experience.  I realized then and there that we are all part of the team, I was praying for all of us: players, family, and coaches.  As I walked back to the fields, I realized that this journey has already proved that expectations are weak in comparison to anticipation in hope.  A peace settled upon me as I remembered all the moments that had brought us this far.  Somewhere along the way, all of us gave up on expecting anything more from this team, and began to anticipate the next little miracle!  We all kept saying to one another as parents, “this is a dream, and I don’t want to wake up!”  For whatever reason, God decided to shine in the hearts of our little team from Knoxville.  Maybe we needed it more than the others, maybe we deserved it, and maybe we earned it.  We will never know why but we shouldn’t care about that; we should stand in humility and awe at the fact that we had the opportunity to witness a little piece of glory.

Life is full of sayings and catchy phrases, tid-bits of wisdom tossed around from generation to generation.  We know the sayings are true, but miss the true power in them.  But if we are lucky, we get to “experience” the power behind the wisdom.  So the things we know to be true take on a real personality and touch us deeply.  We finally get it in our hearts instead of only our minds.  So what did I learn or rather, what did I finally understand through this experience?  I learned that we should not be defined by our bad decisions; but rather on a couple of great ones.  The same people who disappoint us today, can step up and astound us in the future.  That life is a team sport to be enjoyed; we should lift each other up instead of being so hard on each other.  Having fun and taking the time to enjoy life insures that we won’t lose our “mo-jo”; but if we take life too seriously, we lose.  We should live our lives by “leaving it on the field”:  life is worth our very best.  And finally, we need to learn to anticipate in hope of blessing instead of expecting so much from those around us.  If our heart is in the right place, we don’t have to wake up from the dream!

My Son, Gabriel Alvarez with the Championship Trophy

Congratulations to the RBI Rangers for winning Cooperstown!

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