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Category Archives: Personal growth

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

 

Am I indispensable?

If I leave my church, will they miss me? If I leave my church, will they survive without me?

The first question reflects the opinion that I am not needed. The second question shows an attitude of feeling indispensable. The one says I feel like I don’t matter. The other says no one can replace me. The first one assumes that my contributions are so small that anyone could take my place. The second one assumes that the building and church ministries will collapse without me holding them up.

Which position is correct? Both? Neither?

Scripture is pretty clear that once we put our faith in Christ, we are part of the body of Christ. Whether great or small, each of us plays a vital role (1 Corinthians 12:12-26). The body builds itself up as each part does its work (Ephesians 4:16). If I don’t do my part, the church will remain in a state of perpetual adolescence. So, yes, I do matter and the church cannot survive without me.

Scripture is also clear that the church belongs to Christ, not to me. Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). He does not need my help. So, yes, I am not indispensable and the church can survive without me.

Over the years, I have experienced both attitudes personally. I left one church and was never missed. Someone else stepped into my position and took it further than I could have. I felt like I hadn’t accomplished anything and was not needed. I was extremely dispensable. Like stepping out of a river, the water filled in the hole where I was standing.

I left another church and heard from several that the church spent years trying to find someone else to do what I did. I had accomplished a great deal. I was indispensable and not easily replaced. I left too big a footprint.

I have also experienced both approaches in other people. Some who existed on the fringe left the church without saying goodbye and we didn’t realize they were gone until someone said, “I haven’t seen so-and-so in a while.” Others left and when we saw them later, they were surprised that we had not closed the doors and filed for bankruptcy in their absence.

Both of these attitudes reflect a wrong view of self. One describes a perception that is far too low while the other is far too high. In Romans 12:3–5, the apostle Paul writes,

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

As Christ followers, we need to have an accurate view of ourselves that is neither too high nor too low. We need to recognize that we are part of the body of Christ and have an important role to play. In the passage that follows, Paul goes on to explain that each one of us has a spiritual gift that we are to use in service (6-8). We also have a responsibility to “one another” (9-13).

I have a vital role to play and I am needed in the ministry of the church. But the church belongs to Christ and he will build his church.

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2017 in Church, Personal growth, Scripture

 

Succession planning

Below is a letter I wrote to our elders & wives at First Central Bible Church on the subject of succession planning. One responded to say she was going to file it under email heading that take your breath away. I replied that at least I got her attention. 😉

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Let me say first off that I am NOT planning on leaving or retiring any time soon. I am simply starting the process of thinking and asking questions. When the time comes, I want FCBC to be prepared to make a smooth and effective transition. I want the next pastor to step into a strong, healthy situation.

When I was in California last May for Jonathan’s graduation, my mother-in-law asked me when I was going to retire and I told her, “70.” She wasn’t quite sure how to respond. However, since I will turn 62 while in New Zealand, I have to acknowledge that leaving and/or retiring is somewhere on the horizon. I am closer to the end than to the beginning.

One of the men Carol does bookkeeping for is Tom Fowler of Fowler Financial Services in Bellevue, WA. Tom is an Elder at Crossroads Bible Church and is an old friend. As part of Tom’s business, he counsels families and companies about planning for retirement and succession. He sent me a note over a year ago about a book the Crossroads’ staff and elders were reading on the subject. Tom prompted me to start thinking about the issue.

Over the past 11 months, I have read four books on the topic written to church leaders.

The books were interesting and had some helpful principles and things to think about. The first and last books are written from a large, megachurch perspective where the pastor handpicked and mentored his successor.

At this point, I would ask for five things:

  • Pray that I will know when to step aside. Below is something I wrote in my journal in 2004. The details have changed, but the metaphors are still fitting.

These days I feel like Aragorn of the first two books of The Lord of the Rings—haunted by the failures of the past, fearful of making the same mistakes, reluctant to take on the role for which he was born. I want to be Aragorn of the third book—stepping boldly into leadership, bringing encouragement to the fainthearted, leading a fellowship of people to victory. My fear is that if I stay at I will either become Theoden—listening to the whispers of the enemy and becoming a shell of a man, or Denethor—grasping onto a position of power, marking time, whose senses were dulled to the truth of his situation.

  • Let me know if you sense I am losing my passion and/or losing my effectiveness. Let me know if I am becoming resistant to new ideas and/or change. One of my mentors, Pastor Kent Hughes, retired at 65 for this very reason.
  • Please let me know when we should put this on the agenda and start talking about transitions.
  • Pray that I will be faithful to the task God has called me to.
  • Pray that I will finish well.

Thanks for all you do for Christ and FCBC.

 

So, what do you do during the week?

“What do you do during the week? How do you spend your time? What does a pastor do when you’re not preaching a sermon? You only work one hour a week!”

I get asked that question periodically. It’s difficult to answer because no two weeks are alike.

The biggest blocks of my time are filled with study and preparation. Sermon preparation. Teaching a weekly adult Sunday School class. Teaching the Awana lesson once every six weeks. Leading a monthly elders’ & wives’ Bible study. The minute one sermon or lesson is delivered, I start thinking about the next one. An easy 25-30 hours per week goes to preparation. I’m also starting to review my notes for what I will teach when I go to Russia in March.

Meetings takes up a fair amount of time. Weekly staff meetings. Monthly meetings with our finance and missions’ boards. Twice a month meetings with our elders. Quarterly meetings with our Christian Education board. Weekly meetings with a group of men for lunch and prayer. Two different monthly pastors’ groups, one for idea sharing and prayer and one for lunch and encouragement.

Time with people is difficult to quantify. Conversations in the hallway. Phone calls. Email. Appointments. Hospital visits. Counseling. Discussions before and after services. These vary from week to week and season to season.

Administrivia. Planning. Email. Letters. Reports. Budgeting. Recruiting. Dreaming. Casting vision. How do you measure thinking about these things at your desk versus while driving in the car or waking at 3AM?

Prayer. Set times. Special times. Driving. Walking. Waking up thinking about someone. How do you quantify and measure prayer?

While these five categories are somewhat predictable and repeatable, the crisis du jour is the wildcard variable in each week. Here’s what last week looked like. (It was typical in the sense it was untypical).

  • Tuesday – Received a request asking me to conduct the funeral for a young man who died suddenly on Monday. Spoke with the mother to console her and talk about the details of the service. The service will be on Saturday. Starting thinking about what to say.
  • Wednesday – A person showed up at church claiming to be a detective who wanted to inform us of drug dealers in our parking lot. When I recognized the individual as an actor in a local theater company, I called his bluff. He left in a huff saying he would return with officers to have me arrested.
  • Thursday – I contacted the police to report Wednesday’s incident. Turns out the person is known to the local police as a veteran with PTSD. Spent part of the day preparing for Saturday’s funeral.
  • Saturday – Conducted the funeral and graveside service. The latter took place as snow was falling in the cemetery. In the afternoon, I played travel agent, booking airfare and hotels for my trip to Russia in March.

All of the above are ministry related. They don’t take into account my personal or family activities—watching NFL and college football, conversations with my wife, time spent preparing my remarks for my youngest daughter’s wedding coming up in February, as well as purchasing the needed supplies for the wedding and trip.

As one former colleague used to say, “I’ve been bored and I’ve been busy. I’d rather be busy.” Life is definitely full. However, I am NOT complaining. I have a sense of fulfillment because I am using my gifts to serve the cause of Christ.

 

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2017 in Ministry, Passion, Personal growth

 

Seminary cannot prepare you for every situation

Seminary does a wonderful job of preparing men and women for ministry. I admit my bias in saying I attended two of the best—Dallas Theological Seminary and Talbot School of Theology at Biola University—for my masters and doctoral programs. They taught me how to think, study, and reason. They gave me skills and helped shape my character.

But as good as my preparation was, there are some situations seminary did not prepare me for. There are many events I had to go through and learn on the job how to deal with.

Seminary did not prepare me for:

Family life events—The first wedding I performed was my mother’s. My dad died of cancer after he and mom were married 44 years. When mom remarried four years later, she asked me to perform the wedding. One of the first funerals I led was my brother’s. I had to be son/brother/pastor all at the same time. I performed one of my daughter’s weddings and will be part of the second one in a few weeks. Seminary taught me how to organize a wedding and a funeral, but not how to marshal your emotions when they involve family members.

Difficult funerals—During one season of ministry, our church had four families lose children under the age of two. I led the funeral for one baby who died at birth. I was present in the hospital when another died after nine days of life. It was like sitting in the doorway of heaven watching someone enter eternity. Seminary doesn’t prepare you for these experiences.

Difficult conversations—While serving as a singles pastor, a transvestite starting attending our group. He was dressed as a she. One of our male leaders took him/her out on a date without realizing what he was getting into. I had to explain the facts of life to him. Seminary doesn’t adequately prepare for those kind of awkward conversations.

Dealing with mental, emotional, and substance issues—A veteran with PTSD; an individual who was suicidal; people addicted to alcohol, drugs, or pornography are all on the list of things I was never trained to deal with. While I took counseling courses, they still did not adequately prepare me to walk with people through life’s challenges.

Disappointment, failure, betrayal—I’ve been fired once, pushed out twice, betrayed a time or two, and had my integrity questioned by those close to me. I was interviewed by a writer who then printed a scathing critique of our church. Seminary does not offer courses on this topic.

Saying goodbye to family—My wife and I made a commitment years ago to follow Christ wherever he led. In the 36 years we’ve been married, we’ve only lived near our families for two of those years. We minister on the east coast while two of our children live on the west coast and one lives on the other side of the world. My wife’s parents live 3,000 miles away.

I love Jesus. I love ministry. I am grateful for my seminary education. However, I have learned more on the job in the school of life than all my educational degrees combined. After 30 years of ministry, I’m still learning. Perhaps I’ll be more effective during the next 30 years.

 

 

Let go of the things that hold you back

moving-forwardBook Review: Moving Forward: Overcoming the Habits, Hangups, and Mishaps that Hold You Back, by John Siebeling

Many of us move into the new year like a traveler with an overloaded car or suitcase. We want to move forward and make changes but we are carrying way too baggage. John Siebeling has written a helpful book for those who want to lighten their load.

Moving Forward: Overcoming the Habits, Hangups, and Mishaps that Hold You Back is designed to help the reader develop an uncluttered heart and focused mind in order to embrace the fullness of what God has called each one to be and to do. With an uncluttered heart, we can obey God’s commands, live by God’s direction and counsel, and carry out the purpose attached to our lives.

The author tackles 10 areas where change is needed: (1) taking responsibility rather than blaming others; (2) not letting emotions control your life; (3) gaining victory over worry; (4) controlling what you think about; (5) getting rid of bad habits and starting new ones; (6) getting rid of anger; (7) learning to forgive; (8) developing a stronger faith and working at it; (9) gaining financial freedom; and (10) learning to be patient.

The author combines biblical principles, personal examples and illustrations, quotes from business leaders, research studies, as well as practical exercises. While the book is easy to read, it would help if one slowed down and processed each chapter so as to put it into practice.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

 
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Posted by on December 28, 2016 in Books, Personal growth, Scripture