A Small but Significant Question

scriptwork“Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
1 Kings 3:7-9 (NIV)

One of the foundational lessons I learned while studying acting was the importance of understanding your character’s motivation. A play is broken up into Acts. Acts are broken up into scenes. Scenes are broken down into “beats” of action and dialogue. For each beat, I ask my character the question: “What do I want?”

When my character moves across stage it is not because the director told me to do so. There is something internally driving my character to move from point A to point B.

What do I want, that is motivating me to walk across the room?

  • To get a sandwich?
  • To grab my book?
  • To find the remote?
  • To kiss the girl?

When my character says to the woman, “I love you,” there is a reason he says it.

What do I want from saying those words to her?

  • To emotionally manipulate her into trusting me?
  • To express my sincere devotion?
  • To salvage our broken relationship?
  • To conceal my hatred for her?

One of the things that I love about acting is the fact that it has taught me much more about myself and about life than I ever dreamed or expected. When you spend hours, weeks, and months working on a character and exploring his motivation for saying and doing everything, you eventually begin to question and explore your own personal motivations.

Here I am with a bunch of people who I really don’t like that much, doing things I really shouldn’t do, knowing that tomorrow I’m really going to feel like crap physically and feel guilty spiritually. Why am I doing this? What is it I want?

– To be accepted by this social group?
– To punish myself for something?
– To make the words, “You’ll never amount to anything” come true?
– Just to be stupid?

My acting methods led me down a path of intense, personal introspection, which led me to an honest reflection of both my character strengths, weaknesses and fatal flaws. This led me to grapple with the fact that there were some things I needed to change and some things I couldn’t change for which I am in perpetual need of both grace and forgiveness.  This led me to Jesus.

For God so loved the world [note: there’s His motivation] that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.

In today’s chapter, God questions young King Solomon’s motivation. “What do you want?” The answer was critical in revealing who Solomon was, and who Solomon would become. Today, as I type this post in the pre-dawn hours of another day, Holy Spirit is once again asking me that small, but very important question:

What do you want?


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“Be Strong, Act Like a Man”

Conversation on the deck over wine and cheese before dinner.
Conversation on the deck over wine and cheese before dinner.

“I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, act like a man….”
1 Kings 2:2 (NIV)

Over this past weekend Wendy and I enjoyed deep conversation with our friends. While the discussion ran the gamut from soup to nuts, there was definitely a recurring theme around families and relationships. As conversation meandered through hours of conversation, I noticed a recurring theme of men who had been the source of pain in their marriages and families:

  • The man who lives life to eat, drink, and be merry, but refuses to go deep with his friends, his wife, or his children.
  • The man who is relationally A.W.O.L. while physically present.
  • The man who twists and contorts the Biblical concept of submission into self-centered justification for being an ass to his wife and family.
  • The man who acts like a selfish child when his wife and children need him to step up and be a man.
  • The man who simply chooses out of relationship.
  • The man who caused generations of trouble by refusing to accept an adopted granddaughter as his own.
  • The man who simply walked away at conception.

This morning as I read David’s charge to Solomon to “be strong, act like a man” I was reminded of all of these personal illustrations from the weekend. It saddens me the soul wounds inflicted by men who don’t have a clue what it means to be a man. It saddens me that our culture seems to have, by-and-large, lost the art of raising boys into manhood.

Today, I am praying for the boys and young men who are in my spheres of influence. I am praying for my role as a friend, a mentor, a role model and a guide.

A Fond Farewell to Summer

It was a gorgeous fall weekend at the lake. We have, for years, started each summer at the lake by spending a weekend there with our friends Kev and Beck. This year, for the first time, we were able to also finish our summer by spending a weekend together. It sure felt like summer. Sunny and temps in the upper 80s made for picture perfect weekend.

It was a quick weekend. We arrived Friday evening and headed down to Captain Ron’s for a late dinner. As with all our weekends with Kev and Beck, the agenda was simple: Good food. Good drink. Good conversation. On Saturday we got out on the boat and headed over to Bulldog’s to pay a visit to our friend Buff, the lake’s best bartender. Saturday night was steaks on the grill followed by a long evening of conversation on the deck.

We got up this morning, spent an hour or so sitting in the sun on the dock and chatting. After lunch we packed up and headed home. After dropping us off back home in Pella, Kev and Beck joined us for a tour of our house that is under construction.

It was a great weekend to both extend and say a fond farewell to summer.

Will and Want

Solomon CrownedNow Adonijah, whose mother was Haggith, put himself forward and said, “I will be king.” So he got chariots and horses ready, with fifty men to run ahead of him. (His father had never rebuked him by asking, “Why do you behave as you do?” He was also very handsome and was born next after Absalom.)

Adonijah conferred with Joab son of Zeruiah and with Abiathar the priest, and they gave him their support. But Zadok the priest, Benaiah son of Jehoiada, Nathan the prophet, Shimei and Rei and David’s special guard did not join Adonijah.
1 Kings 1:5-8 (NIV)

King David is nearing death. David has many children from a handful of wives and a number of concubines. David’s hold on the throne has alway been precarious. He had to unite the divided tribes of Israel to claim Saul’s throne, yet an undercurrent of political discontent among the tribes simmers just below the surface. Just years before the events of today’s chapter, David’s own son, Absalom, had committed fratricide and attempted a coup de tat. He was nearly successful. The weaker David becomes in his old age, the more intrigue grows regarding the future of the throne and the kingdom.

Adonijah is the eldest living son. By tradition, the throne should be his. But, that adulterous woman, Bathsheba, and her son Solomon appear to be daddy’s favorites. Word has it that David has promised the throne to Solomon. It’s not fair. Solomon is only a kid. Adonijah has been waiting for years expecting he would be king. All the power and riches should be his, and he feels his chances slipping away.

So, Adonijah takes matters into his own hands and decides to strike while the iron is hot. He needs powerful men on his side. He gets two of dad’s inner circle, General Joab and the powerful priest Abiathar, to lend him their support. If he can get the military and the religious leaders on his side, this coup might work.

There was a fatal flaw in Adonijah’s plan. Joab and Abiathar were powerful men, but they were not part of the kings inner circle, and David was not dead. Adonijah pulled the trigger too soon. His father, the king, still had strength and voice to speak clearly regarding his will. Nathan the prophet, the equally powerful priest Zadok, and David’s elite military guard, held sway in the king’s chambers. Together with Bathsheba they convinced David that he must appoint his choice, Solomon, to the throne or risk another bloody coup that could rip the nation apart.

This morning I am fascinated by the complexities and political intrigue surrounding the palace and the throne room. History is filled with compelling stories of people who plotted and connived for various thrones and positions of power. I love these stories because times change and circumstances change, but the human element remains universal. I see in the story of Adonijah the shadows of people I have witnessed scheming for positions of power in business and churches. Making the right friends, relational alliances, family dynamics, and power grabs are as much a part of political, familial, corporate, and organizational systems today as they were in the palace of Jerusalem thousands of years ago.

I want to accomplish God’s purposes for me. I want to be wise in my relationships and my dealings. I want to obey Jesus’ command to be both shrewd and gentle. Yet, I hope that I never put my personal want of God’s desire and will for me.

The One Thing

source: opensourceway via Flickr
source: opensourceway via Flickr

Now all has been heard;
    here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
    for this is the duty of all mankind.
Ecclesiastes 12:13 (NIV)

One of the most frustrating things for me as a listener is when a speaker blathers on, his or her message chasing off on various tangents without ever clearly saying anything.

I learned long ago that when preparing what I need to say, no matter the context of the message, I should always nail down “the one thing.” Think of “the one thing” as the entire message boiled down into a simple tweet on twitter. It is “the one thing” I want my listeners to hear clearly. It is “the one thing” I am really trying to say. It serves me well as I prepare my message because I can constantly review my points, my stories, and my illustrations with “the one thing” in mind. If something doesn’t directly connect my listener to “the one thing,” or if they have to connect multiple dots in order to arrive at “the one thing,” then it shouldn’t be in my presentation.

This morning as I read, I found it interesting that the scribe who edited the original works summed the entire book up in this short conclusion. In the end he boiled it down and gave us “the one thing.”

Life is full of words, posts, tweets, texts, videos, and podcasts. We are inundated with a steady stream of messages. I wonder if it’s making us better communicators or if the one thing is constantly lost in the blather.

My Life: A Photo Abecedarius

2013 12 USP BCPE Cast Photo 2 LR

U is for Union Street Players, where Wendy and I have serving both off and on the stage for over a decade. I was just elected to my tenth consecutive terms as USP Board President (no one else wants the job), and Wendy has faithfully served as Treasurer for most of that time, and as a Board member for longer than me. Pictured here is the cast photo of last year’s Best Christmas Pageant Ever, which I directed.

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Rain Gives Way to Sun

source: fulinhyu via Flickr
source: fulinhyu via Flickr

If clouds are full of water,
    they pour rain on the earth.

Light is sweet,
    and it pleases the eyes to see the sun.
Ecclesiastes 11:3a, 7 (NIV)

The weather over the past two weeks, and the forecast going into next week, have been picture perfect here in Iowa. After a long stretch of what seemed to be endless rain, the rain has departed and given way to sunshine. It has, indeed, pleased these eyes to see them and my entire spirit feels a bit of a lift.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that life has been full of transition for the VWs. Both Taylor and Madison have launched on new stretches of their own respective paths, and have been experiencing both the anxieties and thrills that a new road can bring. Suzanna has transitioned from full-time student to full-time work as she runs between three part-time jobs. Wendy and I, of course, are transitioning from one house to another along with other shifts in life.

As I read through Ecclesiastes, I have been received a much needed reminder of life’s big picture. Rain eventually gives way to sunshine. There will be dark times along the way, but light is sweet when eucatastrophe breaks through the darkness. Life has been filled with the anxiety and uncertainty of transitions, but like the rain clouds departing it will eventually give way to more peaceful, stable places.

Our jobs are to keep pressing on.

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My Life: A Photo Abecedarius

Tom and Taylor Fathers Day 2014

T is for Taylor Elizabeth (a.k.a Taylor Made, Taylor Roo, Taylor Tot)


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Refusing to Feed Emotional Fires

source: judy baxter via Flickr
source: judy baxter via Flickr

If a ruler’s anger rises against you,
    do not leave your post;
    calmness can lay great offenses to rest.
Ecclesiastes 10:4 (NIV)

I am the youngest of four siblings. It is said, primarily by elder siblings, that the younger children always have it easier than their older brother and sisters. I do agree that parents tend to chill out as they get older. I don’t know whether this is because they have more parenting experience or because they are simply worn out. Perhaps a little of both. In that leg of my journey, I found that my path was sometimes made easier by observing and learning from the mistakes of my brothers and sister.

When I was young I watched the arguments between my parents and my siblings. Like all families, we had our fair share of them. My observation led me to perceive and understand that there was a consistent pattern in the way arguments escalated between my parents and my siblings:

  • Child asks for something they want.
  • Parent says, “no.”
  • Indignant, child rolls eyes and asks for reason.
  • Defensive, parent plays the authoritarian trump card. “Because, I said so.”
  • Child plays victim card, makes snide remark (under his breath, but still meant to be audibly heard) about never getting his way.
  • Parent takes offense, reacts, and angrily calls child out for his attitude.
  • Child raises his voice and accuses parent of injustice, recounting a string of similar cases.
  • Parent raises voice, recounts their own rap sheet of the child’s offenses, and threatens further punishment if child doesn’t back down.
  • Child screams and accuses parent of running a concentration camp for children.
  • Parent screams back what an ungrateful child they have and grounds him for life.
  • Doors slam.

Having observed this pattern on a number of occasions, I quickly learned that:

  1. Arguing never changed my parents initial decision, it only entrenched it.
  2. Arguing almost always ended with the child in worse trouble and more punishment.
  3. Arguing led to parental defensiveness and mistrust.

So, I stopped arguing:

  • Child asks for something they want.
  • Parent says, “No.” Instinctively sets defense shields to maximum.
  • Child calmly says, “Okay.” He returns to his room (face it, either way it’s where you always end up).
  • Parent scratches head and wonders what just happened.

To be honest, I wasn’t always happy about my parents decisions. My pragmatism didn’t lessen my adolescent anger. I threw some private tantrums back in my room that I refused to let my parents see. It just seemed to me that all the escalation and arguing was a waste of time and energy, and the ultimate outcome threatened to be worse than just sucking up the disappointment at not getting what I wanted. The result? I think my parents were ultimately easier going and more trusting with me because I was an easier going kid.

Looking back, I believe that learning this lesson proved valuable throughout my life journey. Directing my emotional energies where they can truly make a difference and wisely choosing my emotional battles has served me well. As Solomon alluded in today’s chapter, refusing to react to another person’s emotional outburst and remaining calm usually halts any further escalation. Choosing not to add fuel to the emotional fire, the other person’s rage will usually smolder rather quickly.

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Under Construction

Speaking of the house we’re building, we’ve had a lot of friends and family asking how it’s going. The framing is in full swing and last Friday the trusses began going up. In the next few weeks it will be completely framed and enclosed. It’s been fun to watch it going up. I’ll admit that there’s hardly a day that goes by that I’m not driving by to see how it’s going.

Wendy and I have been working around the clock to get our house ready to sell. Got a call from a realtor yesterday who has a couple leaving town today and wanting to see our house before they leave. While we’re not really ready, we scrambled late last night to make things presentable. So, here we go.

I’m still finishing out the website I put together for our house. I’ve been taking pictures and adding them as we clean and get rooms ready to show. Here’s the link: