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Category Archives: Character

Why am I not surprised?

One week ago, I met with our church leaders to talk about vision and direction. I shared my perception that we were a busy church, but not necessarily effective or fruitful. I spoke of my concern that we were too inwardly focused and overemphasized fellowship. I believe we need to be more purposeful and intentional in making disciples and reaching the lost.

On Sunday, I preached on Exodus 19 and how to prepare to meet with God. (It’s part of a series on the life of Moses.) I emphasized that before entering God’s presence, we should ask ourselves four questions—Am I willing to obey? Am I ready to listen? Have I prepared my heart? and, Do I respect God’s presence? Several mentioned how much the message challenged them. One said it was the best message they heard me preach in the five years I’ve been at the church. Several gave me hugs. One said as long as I keep preaching like that, I was their pastor. I continued to hear affirming comments a few days later.

On Monday evening, I began a new class, the Character & Habits of a Leader, part of a strategy for church-based leadership development. 17 people were present for the first session with two more who will join us for the second lesson.

On Wednesday evening, we launched our fall ministries with Awana, youth group, adult Bible studies, and a prayer group. We had 90 children in Awana with 30 in the youth group. A significant number came from the surrounding neighborhood. The building was hopping!

In addition, we also started two new adult Sunday School classes with a third one coming next month, as well as our women’s Bible studies starting again for the fall.

God is on the move at First Central Bible Church. So much good ministry is taking place.

So, why was I surprised when an individual wanted to meet with me to share what they perceived were my weaknesses as a pastor? Namely, that I was a “good to great teacher, but don’t exhort,” and that I was not outgoing enough and don’t work the room to greet every person (not their exact words but my takeaway.) I responded in two ways. First, I thanked them for what they shared and said I would have to think and pray about what they said. Second, I said that I have been told all my life that I don’t have what it takes to be a pastor and I am tired of hearing it because it is wrong. (For more on that topic, read my blog post on October 26, 2012, “Learning it’s ok to be me.”)

Why am I not surprised … whenever we take a step of faith … whenever we share the gospel … whenever we begin to be successful … whenever we challenge people to serve or share their faith … whenever we begin to make progress and move forward … the enemy seeks to discourage, distract, and sideline us.

On the one hand, I know that criticism comes with the territory. In the words of Rachel Dawes to Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight, “You’re Gotham’s D.A. If you’re not getting shot at, you’re not doing your job.” On a more spiritual side, the apostle Paul said that we have “conflicts without; fears within” (2 Corinthians 7:5). Criticism is one of the occupational hazards of ministry, even more so in today’s culture.

On the other hand, I am human and freely admit that criticism stings, especially from those within the body who really don’t know me. To be honest, I briefly contemplated walking away into the sunset. Rather than quitting, however, I simply decided to take the day to work at home.

I am reminded once again that this is a spiritual battle. I know that I need to stand firm and resist the temptation to feel sorry for myself and/or flee the battlefield (James 4:7). Like King David, I need to find my strength in God (1 Samuel 23:16). As a steward of God’s ministry, I need to stay faithful (1 Corinthians 4:2). If I want to hear “Well done, good and faithful servant,” then I need to be faithful to serve God with whatever he has entrusted to me (Matthew 25:14-30). As my mentor Kent Hughes used to say, “I need to believe what I believe.”

Time to put my soap box away, armor up, and get back to work.

 

Don’t be a knucklehead

If I did something stupid while growing up, someone would comment, “Don’t be a knucklehead!” As a pastor for 31 years, there have been times when I was tempted to use that phrase to describe someone.

According to the Urban Dictionary, a “knucklehead” is someone of questionable intelligence. It doesn’t generally mean the person is stupid but rather that they are smart enough but still engage in stupid actions.

I came across a biblical example of a knucklehead in the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament portion of the Bible. In Isaiah 30:1-2 and 31:1, the prophet pronounces judgment on those who rely on the world rather than on God.

Isaiah 30:1–2 – “Ah, stubborn children,” declares the Lord, “who carry out a plan, but not mine, and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit, that they may add sin to sin; who set out to go down to Egypt, without asking for my direction, to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!

Isaiah 31:1 – Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the Lord!

According to Scripture, a knucklehead tries to solve their own problems rather than turn to God for wisdom. They try to clean up their life and break an addictive pattern of behavior in their own power rather than admit they can’t do it and seek help. A stubborn, obstinate person presses harder in the same direction instead of acknowledging their approach doesn’t work. A knucklehead shifts blame onto others rather than admit their responsibility. They focus on self-improvement instead of confessing their sin and asking God for forgiveness. They hold onto past hurts and nurse grudges rather than releasing the pain and forgiving the offender. They go through life and problems alone rather than seeking accountability and encouragement from a trusted friend. They try to make a bargain with worldly resources instead of submitting to God.

If any of these statements describe you, stop being a knucklehead. Turn to God, consult his plan, and find refuge in his strength. Perhaps I need to follow my own advice and stop my knuckleheaded ways.

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2017 in Bible Study, Character, Scripture

 

The pursuit of more is stressful

I didn’t know not having something could be so stressful. 😉

 

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2017 in Character, Fun

 

The intersection of faith and life

Yesterday afternoon I had a difficult and disappointing phone conversation that was the culmination of five months of dialogue with an insurance company. I was angry about my perceived mistreatment. Why did they put me through a five month ordeal if this was going to be the outcome? Why did they make me jump through so many hoops if it was going to turn out this way? It’s not fair! I want justice!

I decided to blog about the encounter. I would catalog their many and varied sins, and broadcast my slights for all the world to read and heed. I would do my best to shame them.

Then I remembered I recently gave our church leaders a handout on how to deal with criticism and complaints. If I followed my own instructions regarding the guidelines of Matthew 18:15, I needed to deal with the company privately rather than publicly. I was also reminded of what I taught while in Russia last month. I explained to the pastors and leaders that Romans 12:19 instructs us not to seek revenge, but rather to leave it in God’s hands.

Rather than tell the world, I wrote a letter to the company expressing my frustration. Rather than attempt to publicly embarrass the company in a blog post, I wrote this post confessing my embarrassment at discovering I am still rather self-centered, selfish, proud, and ill-tempered when I don’t get my own way. SIGH!

Romans 7:15, 24-25 (ESV)    For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2017 in Character, Personal growth, Scripture

 

Introverts Speak Out!

At a TED talk in 2012, author Susan Cain delivered a powerful and helpful address on “The power of introverts.”

In a culture where being social and outgoing are prized above all else, it can be difficult, even shameful, to be an introvert. But, as Susan Cain argues in this passionate talk, introverts bring extraordinary talents and abilities to the world, and should be encouraged and celebrated.

You may not agree with everything she says, but her thoughtful presentation will make you think about the issue. As an introvert myself, I found it very encouraging.

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2017 in Character, Personal growth, Videos

 

How much character do I need?

How many of us agree with Betty’s husband, Bub? How many of us opt for Calvin’s approach? We may agree that adversity builds character, but we would much rather gain character the easy way. We give mental assent to James 1:2–4

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

We just wish the process could be easier and less painful.

 
 

Heart shaping experiences

Most of us respond to trials like my friend, Calvin.

calvin-hobbes-character-self-esteem calvin-hobbes-character-building

However, trials are one of the vehicles God uses to shape our character. Hannah More (1745-1833) expressed it this way:

Affliction is the school in which great virtues are acquired and in which great characters are formed. It is like a spiritual gymnasium in which the disciples of Christ are trained in robust exercise, hardy exertion and severe conflict.

We do not hear of military heroes in peacetime, nor of the most distinguished saints in the quiet and unmolested periods of church history. The courage in the warrior and the devotion in the saint continue to survive, ready to be brought into action when perils beset the country or trials assail the Church, but it must be admitted that in long periods of inaction both are susceptible to decay.

James 1:2–4 – “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2016 in Calvin and Hobbes, Character, Quotes, Scripture