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Category Archives: Character

Letting people see behind the curtain

The Great and Powerful Oz always hid behind the curtain. He did not want people to see he was just an ordinary, failed magician from the Midwest.

As leaders and pastors, it is tempting to follow that pattern of letting people only see our powerful, charismatic persona, and hiding our weaknesses behind the curtain. However, we need to allow people behind the curtain to see us as we truly are, a mixed package of strengths, weaknesses, and frailties.

On many occasions, the apostle Paul spoke of the importance of modeling. He provided an example for believers to follow (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7; 2 Thessalonians 3:9; Timothy 4:12-16; Titus 2:7-8). But Paul also revealed his struggles when he spoke of his thorn in the flesh and how he begged God to take it away (2 Corinthians 12:1-10).

I have tried to pull back the curtain to let people see how I am responding to a broken leg. I struggle. I vent. I vacillate from hope to discouragement. I waffle from confidence to despair. I am impatient. I trust God’s plan. I’m tired of hurting. I know God is in control. I want to fast forward and skip the next few weeks of rehab. I am resting in God’s timing.

I ride a roller coaster throughout each day. I am confident and encouraged in the mornings. I am diligent to do my exercises and rehab. I am working my way through several books, trying to use my time profitably. But when I get tired, I become discouraged. The days are long and tedious. I feel achy and weary in the evenings. I told Carol last night that I am tired of hurting.

Although I am not preaching from a pulpit these days, I am teaching from my recliner. People are watching to see how I deal with trials and difficulties. Hopefully, it is a good example of how to suffer well. I would like to provide an example like David in Psalm 42 where he cries out to God in despair but then ends in a statement of confident hope and trust.

One thing I appreciate about Scripture is that it paints the individuals with warts and all. We don’t receive an airbrushed portrait of Abraham or David, but we view their strengths, weaknesses, successes, failures, and everything in between. Scripture lets us see behind the curtain. That is my intent in these blog posts.

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2017 in Character, Personal growth, Scripture

 

Repenting about rehab

One definition of repentance is to change one’s mind. That being the case, I have repented about rehab.

I initially viewed rehab as a means to an end. I needed to do the exercises in order to get back to work. However, after two conversations yesterday, I have repented and placed a higher importance on rehab. Rather than viewing it as a means to an end, I now see rehab as my primary task.

Left to my own devices, my sense of drivenness and responsibility would have had me back at work preaching this weekend. And I would have paid for it dearly since I can’t stand for very long and since sitting in any position becomes uncomfortable after a short period of time. Fortunately, our elders saved me from myself by counseling that I wait until January to resume preaching.

In addition to my exercise regimen, my physical therapist said that I needed to lie down and elevate my foot above my heart at least twice a day in order to reduce the swelling in my calf and ankle. Giving me the assignment to rest made me realize my thinking was backwards.

Numerous people have given me permission to heal and recover. Several have told me to take my time and get well. However, I realized that I still had not given myself permission to rest and recover.

I now repent of my previous attitude and will head for the couch. If my work is to rest, then I am going to work.

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2017 in Character, Personal growth

 

Getting back to normal

 

As part of my rehab and recovery from a broken leg/hip, I was told it would take 4-6 months to get back to normal. In one of my more reflective moods, I began to contemplate what that means and whether or not it is possible.

How can you get back to normal when everything will be different? At the end of the recovery period, I will be headed to Russia on my annual ministry trip. With a titanium rod and pins in my right leg, navigating airport security will be completely different. I will need greater patience to constantly explain why my leg is setting off the metal detectors. Traveling will never be normal again.

Preaching will require a new normal. I do not use a pulpit and move constantly while I preach. I hold a Bible in one hand and a remote mouse in my other hand. I use PowerPoint and visuals when I preach. Since I now use a walker to get around, I cannot carry things in my hand. I will need a podium or music stand to set things on. Since I cannot stand for long periods, I will need to sit on a stool. My style of preaching will need to change.

Our church staff has stepped up in my absence to fill the void while I’m on the DL. Jack Gilbert has preached for several weeks. His skills and abilities have grown. When I return, there will be a new and different dynamic. There will be a new normal.

During my recovery, I am sleeping in a recliner since getting in and out of bed is too painful. Since I used to sleep on my right side, and since I broke my right leg, will I need to learn a new way of sleeping? Will my nights ever be normal again?

Is it realistic to think life will ever get back to normal? In one sense, it’s like standing in a river and then stepping onto the riverbank for a period of time. When you step back in, it’s a different river. The water is different. Erosion has occurred and the river bottom has changed slightly. Rocks have shifted their positions. I stepped out of the river of my normal life for several weeks/months. When I step back in, will it ever be normal again?

I am reminded of the words of Frodo Baggins at the end of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on when in your heart you begin to understand there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep that have taken hold.

Rather than expect everything to remain static and on hold for my return, I need to understand that things have changed. I will need to adapt and adjust and change and develop a new normal. Life will never be the same again. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. It might be even better.

 

 

 

What is God teaching you?

“What is God teaching you?” someone asked me Friday evening. I was reminded of my father’s answer when I asked him that same question when he was dying of cancer in 1983. Dad responded, “I don’t know, but I know he can be trusted.”

Like my father, I know that God can be trusted even if he never reveals why I went through this season of disability.

I am confident that a broken leg/hip and weeks on the DL is part of God’s plan for my life. I am confident that he who began a good work in me will complete it (Philippians 1:6). I am confident that God will cause this event to work together for his good purpose and that he will use it to make me more like Jesus (Romans 8:28-29). I am confident God will use this season of trial to further shape and hone my character (James 1:2-12). I am confident that God will demonstrate his power in my weakness, and that his grace is sufficient during this season of disability (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). I am confident that nothing is wasted in the will of God. This is part of his curriculum to prepare me for an even more determinative ministry.

“Though he slay me, I will hope in him” (Job 13:15).

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2017 in Character, Personal growth, Scripture

 

When your strengths hold you back

“Your greatest strength can be your greatest weakness if pushed to an extreme.”

I heard that statement many years ago and have repeated it many times over. I am now dealing with it daily as I recover from my broken hip.

Over the years, I have gained insight from many different personality and strengths assessment tools. I have taken the DISC profile (originally called the Performax Profile), the TJTA, the Meyers-Briggs, the Pearson Golden Personality Profile, the IOS (Individual Operating Style), and the Clifton Strengths Finder. Each one has given me greater insight into who I am and how God wired me.

In the Meyers-Briggs profile, I am an ISTJ, characterized by integrity, practical logic, and tireless dedication to duty. We get things done. In the Pearson Golden Personality Profile (an offshoot of the Meyers-Briggs), I learned I am an Introvert who is Socially Bold. While I am energized by solitude, I am also friendly and outgoing; initiates conversations; comfortable leading; likes public speaking. In terms of my IOS, I am a (1) People-Oriented, Motivating, Communicating, LEADER/Teacher; (2) Committed Long-Term GOAL ACHIEVER; and a (3) Tangible Project Completer/ACCOMPLISHER. In the Clifton Strengths Finder, my top five themes are Learner, Maximizer, Arranger, Responsibility, and Belief.

When you add these different profiles together, you see two common themes. (1) I am a doer who gets things done. I take ownership of my responsibilities and I see them through to completion. (2) I am a communicator, and the way I lead is through teaching and preaching.

While those are tremendous strengths, they are also tremendous weaknesses during this season of my life. I feel responsible for the church. I feel like I have let people down by sitting on the sidelines. I am not leading because I am not preaching and teaching. Because of my sense of responsibility, I want to rush through my rehab and recovery and get back to work. My internal makeup says I am not fulfilling my purpose because I am not doing.

Several people have counselled me not to be in a hurry and rush back. Several have said to take my time and not come back too soon. A few have specifically given me permission to take my time and heal.

My biggest challenge is giving myself permission to heal. As a doer, the hardest part of being on the DL is not doing. I am not accustomed to being idle and sitting on the sidelines. The hardest part of waiting is waiting. I am an impatient patient.

In the midst of all of this, I have to trust that God knows what he is doing. I need to take advantage of my enforced sabbatical to read, rest, and grow spiritually. I need to be diligent in praying for those who have taken up my baton. I must find ways to minister, mentor, and coach from the sidelines. I need to take the opportunity to grow and deepen spiritually while my leg/hip is healing. Rather than chafe against what God is doing, I need to keep my focus on him and let him work in my life.

2 Corinthians 4:16–18 – 16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

 

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2017 in Character, Personal growth, Scripture

 

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