Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Be Careful - Lesson Learned Series

A few years ago I was asked to fill in and preach during a multi-week sermon series on the fruits of the Spirit.

Love, joy, peace, patience… you know the big ones that every Christian should have blooming in their lives.

I was excited to jump in and share with the people what God had laid on my heart regarding the fruits…excited that is until I found out which fruit I would be unpacking for the congregation. I have to be honest, when I heard that I would be preaching on GENTLENESS, I immediately lost some of my initial excitement.

It’s not because I don’t believe that we as Christians need to be gentle, it’s in God’s Word so of course we need to apply it to our lives. It’s just that as a guy who loves sports of all kinds, especially contact sports that require a certain level of aggression to be successful, I was having a hard time seeing how gentleness was going to apply in my own life, let alone be able to share it authentically with the audience.

If you think about it, gentleness isn’t going to win a football game. It isn’t going to enable you to pin your opponent in a wrestling match, and unless you’re an extremely fast bunter with pin point accuracy it won’t get you on base time after time in baseball either. I admit my thought was, “if the guys get wind of this gentleness message, they’ll either check out for sure, or not even show up!” Gentleness in this day and age…come on!

So that was the inner tension I was dealing with as I began to pray and prepare for the message.
Now those who know me well, know that whenever I preach or teach or communicate in any setting I always like to do it in an authentic, true fashion through using personal illustrations of things that have happened to me that God used to hammer home a point that he wanted me to learn (actually this whole Lesson Learned Series is a result of that.)

So the focus of my prayer time during that week of preparation was basically “God, help me to really understand how gentleness can be an effective fruit in my life…I just don’t get it. Can you help me understand it by living it?”

Over the next few days, a phrase that I’ve heard many times over the years “Be careful what you pray for” became very vivid in my life as God was beginning to answer my prayer of being able to authentically illustrate how gentleness can give power to live God’s way in our lives.
As I started to put my thoughts together I came across some synonyms for gentleness…

humility and meekness were at the top of the list. Again, not very compelling topics to connect with the guys, or so I thought.

Then as only God can do, He brought some illustrations my way in the form of a flash back and two current applications that would help me understand what gentleness is all about so I could authentically communicate it to the audience.

You see I was going at it all wrong, I was thinking about meekness as weakness and gentleness as just downright wimpyness. The more I thought, prayed and read about what God’s definition really is the more I kept thinking of gentleness as Power…Under Control!

1. Power under Control Word Picture - My mind went back to a time when I was a football coach at a school outside of Washington D.C. I had a player on my team named Joseph who was huge! In 8th grade he was 6’4 and 245 pounds. It was as if God took a chisel to this boy…he was cut, and he was an intimidating looking football player. Notice I said “looking”. You see Joseph had the tools to be a great football player, except he lacked one thing…tackling ability!

You see Joseph never could grasp the fact that as the left defensive end on my football team, his job was to physically stop the opposing running back in his tracks and drive him backwards to the ground. That’s football!

It didn’t take opposing teams long to figure out that even though Joseph was huge and hulking he wasn’t going to do anything to stop them from running right past him and into the end zone. Joseph’s problem was that he didn’t want to hurt anyone.

I remember pulling him aside and looking him in the eyes (it’s a weird feeling to talk man to man, eye to eye with an 8th grader) and saying “Joseph, for once could you just tackle someone, I know you don’t want to hurt anyone but after you tackle them you can just pick them up and dust them off…they’ll be ok.”

He never did get the concept. At the end of that year we moved on to another ministry and about 4 years later came back to visit at homecoming. As I sat there and watched the football team, I was amazed at the play of one of the guys. The left defensive end was incredible.
He was about 6’8 290 pounds, quick as lightning and extremely powerful.

I said to one of the fans sitting next to me “who is that defensive end? He’s amazing!” To my surprise he said “That’s Joseph.” “What, the same Joseph who “played” for me on JV?” He said “Yep, sure is…he’s gotten a tad better hasn’t he?” I’d say he’s gotten better; he was a force to be reckoned with. The guy went on to say “you know what’s funny about Joseph, is that he’s the nicest guy in the world off the field and even when he puts on the equipment he doesn’t go out to hurt anyone, in fact when he tackles someone he picks them up, dusts them off and asks if they’re ok, and apologizes if he hurt them…He is power under control!”

That’s it right there, power under control. All the power that exists in the person of God is available to us, His children; He wants us to learn to use it His way, not our way!
The second illustration came as I was walking my new puppy named Bo…here’s how God showed me what humility feels like…

2. Walking Bo…At night – We had just gotten a puppy a few weeks prior to preparing for the gentleness message. After the Yankee game was over I took Bo outside in our yard to do his business, and like a good puppy he was right on time! I had some time to kill and wanted to walk off the bowl of ice cream I had just devoured, so I decided to take Bo for a walk around the block of my neighborhood.

I got about 10 minutes away from my house when Bo began to “circle the wagons” and prepare to unload…if you know what I mean. That was great and everything except for the fact that since he had just done the same thing ten minutes earlier in my yard, I didn’t think I needed to bring the “magic bag” to make it all disappear when he was done.

It was 10:30 at night, I didn’t have a bag, and Bo was doing his duty on someone’s yard. Many thoughts were going through mind…”should I leave it?” “Should I kick it in the road?” “Should I pick it up with my hands?” Uhhh what should I do?

I was pondering my next move, when all of a sudden I heard a deep, booming voice say “Don’t worry I’ll pick it up!” It wasn’t God; it was the guy who owned the house and yard that Bo had just defiled! He was sitting there on his front porch watching the whole thing. Then it hit me…”Brent you prayed that God would show you what gentleness and humility are all about, here you go.”

Well, after I gathered myself together from that incredible startling voice, I said “I’m sorry sir, I only live like 10 minutes from here, I’ll walk back, and get a bag and come right back.” So I grabbed Bo and headed home to get a bag. Then I walked back with Bo to the spot of the infraction and wouldn’t you know it, I couldn’t
find it! I looked every where in that front yard…no poo could be found, I even tried to convince Bo to sniff it out, I mean after all he is a dog!

After quite a while of looking I had to go to the front porch and tell the owner that I couldn’t find it, and Bo couldn’t smell it so the removal was going to have to wait until morning when I could actually see what I was looking for…talk about humiliating!

As I was walking back home I was thinking about how gentleness and humility can be humiliating and not very popular character traits to aspire to if we look at them in our own definition. Then I thought about how Jesus emptied Himself to come to earth to give us the ultimate example of Power under Control, and it was starting to make a little more sense to me.

The third illustration came at the end of the week as the message was taking shape, and I was about to put the finishing touches on it. The closing point was all about how God has incredible power at His disposal and He can use it however and whenever he chooses. The story of how He dealt with Elijah as he awaited God’s discipline from running away from Jezebel was the closing point.

As Elijah waited for God’s impending doom to fall upon him, he sat through a wind storm, an earth quake and a fire display that all had the same things in common….they were minus God.
Then God showed up in a gentle whisper that was full of encouragement, and inspiration to Elijah…Power under Control.

I remember leaving my office and driving home feeling really good about how the message was coming together. I felt like I was beginning to grasp personally how gentleness and humility could work for me in my life, and I felt ready to stand in front of the church on Sunday to illustrate it to them…then I drove into my driveway, and found my son…

3. Hula Hooping…Naked – Parents, call me crazy but of the many standards I have for my kids, being in public fully clothed, is right near the top! I kid you not; I pull into my driveway and find my son Ethan, at the end of it running around buck naked with a hula hoop! Smiling from ear to ear saying “daddy, daddy look how good I can hula hoop!”

Now remember, I had just finished working on the importance of how God dealt with Elijah in a gentle whisper. I wish I could say that I handled Ethan’s naked Hula hoop routine with a gentle whisper, but I didn’t…I went off, and as I was yelling at my son, I was reminded again that we need to approach the situations we face in our daily lives with gentleness and humility…Power under Control.

The day finally came, I delivered the message on Gentleness and as God would have it, I was able to deliver it in a way that was authentically real. You see, I don’t have it all figured out, and truth be told God doesn’t expect me to have it all figured out. He expects me to approach Him with help and guidance with every area of my life, no matter what it is.

I just need to remember to be careful what I pray for…I just might get it!

Lesson Learned

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