Holding All The Cards

ImageI think I know what Jacob the Patriarch must have felt like with the arrival of Joseph and later on Benjamin.  I, like Jacob, have been blessed with a child of my old age.  At 49 when most of my peers were cooing and making funny faces at their little grand children, I was becoming the father of son number three. Wow!  Though I was obviously an active participant in the events that led to that event, I really didn’t know that I was choosing this particular event, if you know what I mean. On the front side of it I don’t know if I would have chosen to willingly walk down this particular path, but from this backside view of history there is nothing that I would want to change.  Being a father again has made me a better person and saved me from the not so great version of me that I was rapidly becoming. I am full of joy to be spending the time that I had intended to be sailing around the South Pacific, instead raising my son. 

I never really thought about how he would come out, what kind of person he would be.  I knew that there would be revelation as well as replication.  His oldest brother, Kevin Jr, was a reasonably agreeable kid to raise.  He had a tumultuous  teen and early twenties, but overall was a compliant little mini-me growing up.  My stepson, according to my wife, was also a joyful little child who when out of line would snap back into obedience with just a look.  He too had a tumultuous teenage era, but he is doing just fine and we are inclined to think his twenties will be a great time for him.

For 15 years i had wanted more children, but things didn’t work out that way.  When I had finally resigned myself to the realm of grandfatherhood he arrived.  He immediately asserted his control over things by arriving quite early and weighing in at a mere five pounds.  For his first weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit I would sit with him, my shirt off and his skin against mine, just holding him on my chest, breathing in and breathing out. They call that Kangaroo Care and it is supposed to be healing and healthful for newborns and especially preemies.  Don’t know what the closeness did for him but it was great for me.  For two weeks I was there every day, most every hour, just being close.

He eventually got strong enough to go home we got to watch him start to grow.  After a few months you could no longer tell that he had been a preemie.  It wasn’t long before he began to discover his will.  At the same time he discovered his “will not!”  Now, I had imagined that I had this father thing figured out.  I expected a child somewhat like my oldest.  Had I even thought to ask I probably would not have asked God for a strong willed child, someone to challenge me and sharpen me as I got older.  Apparently that is exactly what God thought that I needed because that is my boy.  He is inquisitive, curious, incredibly verbose, and he has a strong will, even an iron like will.  Whew!

I think that one of the first words my son ever learned was the word, no!  It is his favorite word.  He says it all sorts of different ways and in all sorts of different settings.  “Cavan, come here.” “No!”  “Cavan, pick up your toys” “No!” “Cavan, its bedtime” “No!”  “Cavan, come eat this nice sugary treat that will give you a tummy ache and rot your teeth” “Noooouuuuhhhh, yes!”  You get the idea.  Even when he wants to say yes his first response is to say “No”.  Now I am asking him, “Cavan, can you say the word, yes?” “No!”  Yes, parenting is easier on the young!

The “No” response isn’t uncommon for children. Many children try to assert what autonomy and control that they can through the word no, and even though my son has a masterful vocabulary (don’t know where that came from) he clings to that one word, an expression that he feels gives him some sense of control over events around him.  Flash back a few years;  I leaned pretty early in my life around churches that while there were different ways of expressing it, the word or the concept of “no” was a first response to virtually everything regarding church life.  Likely, such as in the case of little ones, “no” it is the first and easiest way to maintain some sense of autonomy or control over events.  It is reasonable, though frequently unproductive, for people to want to maintain control.  For years I wanted to serve, had visions of events and missions that I wanted to take part in or lead, classes I would love to teach. The answer was almost always “no”.  They said it different ways; “you haven’t been around long enough” “you haven’t taken the membership class”” you haven’t had enough schooling” “You aren’t old enough” “You aren’t young enough”, “Did we mention the part about schooling?”  Whew!

About ten years ago I became part of the Christ The King story in Burlington Washington.  I started out a bit of an antagonist.  I had jumped through a number of hoops, gone to enough classes, got old enough without getting too old, to have finally found myself in ministry.  Even then most of my actions were limited by “that word”.  I watched CTK from a distance and watched their success rate jump off the charts.  I wasn’t close enough to watch the changed lives or transformed hearts, I just saw people from everywhere who hadn’t jumped through enough hoops pouring through their doors.  My thoughts, “it must be a cult” or “they are watering down the gospel.”  After all, how could they be more successful at drawing people in than someone like me who had become one of the best hoop jumpers around.  I was jealous and suspicious and maintained that jealousy and suspicion for quite some time until I met the lead pastor for CTK in the valley I lived in.  Watching from the back of the room with my arms crossed I didn’t see any evidence of a watered down gospel or cultish teaching or practices.  The first thing that caught me by surprise was the “yes” culture that surrounded me.  When people had ideas, wanted to use their talents and skills for the Kingdom, they weren’t directed to a set of classes, they were told, “Yes, you bet, right on!” and that was followed up by “How can we help you succeed?”

To make a long story short, I became part of that story.  I loved the fact that they said “yes” all the time.  But wouldn’t you know it, there is a twist to the story.  All of the sudden I began to hear the word “no” around Christ The King.  I heard it a lot, in various different ways and if all kinds of settings.  It sounded kind of like this, “No, I’m not ready to lead that” or “No, I think someone else is more qualified”.  I identified the bringer of the no culture.  It was me!   I was the one who began to say “no”.  I said it so much that I said it even when I wanted to say “yes”.  What?  How in the world did that happen?

I’m not in bad company with the whole “no” thing.  Peter from the Bible.  He was a famous “no” man if there ever was.  John 13:8-9 shares this story.  “No” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!”  Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you wont belong to me.”  Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet.” NLT   Now of course I can only imagine what was going to in Peter’s head, but I imagine that the first no was because the situation was spinning out of his control.  To have his teacher take a servant role actually placed Peter in the submissive role. Madness, I tell you. That type of surrender was well out of his comfort zone (would be mine too) and saying no to Jesus gave him at least the illusion of control of the situation.

Peter’s second no (it was a derivative of no, the word not)  seems to have come as a result of Peter having a better idea.  How many times does God whisper a simple thought into our ear only to have us complicate it into something that it was never meant to look like?  It’s like, “Ok, ok Jesus… I get it, so lets do this thing my way.  Let me take control and tell you what I want you to do.  The foot thing? Brilliant, but wouldn’t it be even better if you were to wash my hands and head too. Right?”  Sigh!  I could go on, but you get the picture.

So, here is where I hold up my honest list of reasons that I tend to say no a lot. The reasons aren’t too different than my son’s, or Peter’s, or perhaps even yours.

  1. I use no to maintain control.  Outside of no is the valley of Yes and even though I really want to go there I don’t know what lies around each and every turn. I also know enough to know that I really don’t know what the final destination really looks like or even if it is a place that I want to be.
  2. I use no because I think that I have a better idea, one that plays out well in my own mind.  My idea allows me to tweak the details and have some more control over the outcome.
  3. I am afraid of success and how that success might raise others expectations in the future.
  4. I am afraid of failure and how I will look to others were I to chalk up another mark in the loss column,  not to mention the affirmation to those who think I am a lost cause!
  5. I am afraid I didn’t hear God right.   I have to face facts, God’s voice inside my head sounds just like the voice I talk to myself with.  OK, so now you know the truth; I hear voices and talk to myself.  Run! Seriously, this is a real issue. I am a dreamer and I have visions, and sometimes one vision or dream will lie directly at odds with another vision or dreams, or at least seem to. Pastor Grant’s messages, God Speaks is speaking to me!
  6. I still believe all the “No-sayers” in my past.  As funny as it sounds,  I find myself responding to God the same way, “I don’t have enough education”, “I haven’t been healed long enough”, or “I haven’t jumped through enough hoops.”  Really?  Ah, yup!  Truth is that Jesus used uneducated as well as highly educated and everything in between.

What does your list look like?

If I know anything I know this; I can’t go on any longer using “no” as my default setting.  It is a time for me to be brave and start to say “yes” to the things that are churning in my spirit.  I need to take the hand I was dealt and play it with all the skill and cunning I can muster up.  You see in the end all “no” amounts to is disobedience, a lack of faith or trust in God and His ability to do in and through me.  I can’t continue on disobeying God, grieving His Spirit, wasting His craftsmanship and hiding His masterful restoration of my life.

In my decidedly different way of looking at life, it seems that Jesus left his followers this really different type of card game called church.  He left his most important project, his highest priorities, the thing he loved the most (people) in the hands of other people just like you and I.  He dealt out all the cards and didn’t keep any of the cards. He didn’t make a plan B (If we don’t say it the rocks aren’t going to say it either.  Really they aren’t).  You and I hold all the cards.  It is up to us to decide how the hand is going to be played. We can see some of the cards, but there are hole cards of faith.  How will we bet?   If we have a position of authority we can use “no” or one of its derivatives in order to call the hand, maintain some sense of autonomy and control. You can end the game right then and there, or you can raise the stakes by saying, “Yes, sure, you bet!” and follow that up with “How can we help?”  Like I said, it is a really weird game.  If you are a leader then you are the experienced hand and you actually lose when you knock someone else out of the game.

If you are like me and saying “No” to God, even when you want to say “Yes”,  You want to fold rather than take the risk at loosing even more than you already think you have lost.  No is a lot safer than yes in the short run, but over the course of the game you watch your precious little stack of chips slowly dwindle down to nothing.  On the other hand you can stop being afraid. You can raise the ante.  God measures success with love.  Sometimes that love is simply directed at you.  Perhaps He simply wants to to take on the project that is far bigger than you are simply to get you to rely on Him, to take time to seek Him, to just hang around and be with Him.  Either way, when you push back from the table at life’s end, you will be a winner as long as you stay in the game.

God loves you and when you think that your chips are low, He will stake you in the game because He loves you.   How about you? Are you ready to play?  I am, and I’m all in!

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