5 Posts from June 2009

The Value of a Mentor, Part 1

Years ago Dan Fogelberg wrote a song about his father called “Leader of the Band.” In the chorus he calls himself a “living legacy” to his dad. I love that phrase. Why? Because it tells of the impact a mentor can have on another life.

When I look at my own life, I see that I am a living legacy to a handful of men who took an interest in me. They saw potential where I did not. They encouraged me to become something more than I was. One of the first of these men saw the most potential in me where I saw the least. His name was Dick Nieme.

When I began high school, I stuttered so badly I could hardly finish a sentence. With that speech impediment came a very low self-esteem. I learned to keep my mouth shut and maintain a low profile. The last place I wanted to be was in front of an audience! 

I managed to get through the first weeks of my freshman year without embarrassing myself when, one day, Dick Nieme found me at my hall locker and shocked me with his words: “Chuck, I want you on my debate team.
“Who, m-m-m-m-m-m-me?” I looked over my shoulder at the guy standing behind me. I thought for sure the teacher was talking to him. “Y-y-y-y-y-y-you want hi-him. You d-d-don’t want m-me.”

“No, I know who I want. I want you. You’ve got the right stuff, Chuck. We just need to tap into it.” Starting the very next week, Dr. Dick Nieme met with me from 7:15 to 7:45 each morning before school for speech therapy sessions. Very common now. Unheard of then. He helped me understand that my mind was running ahead of my ability to form the words in my mouth properly. My mind was running ahead of my mouth. (I have the exact opposite problem now!) He taught me to slow down, pace my thoughts, and concentrate on starting the words I wanted to say. He gave me exercises to hone my enunciation and give a rhythm for each syllable to follow.

I joined the debate team . . . and ultimately, I loved it! That led to my participating in school plays. Our drama team went on to enter the finals of the one-act play competition in the state of Texas. Dick Nieme was there all the way. When I failed, he coached and encouraged. At each triumph, he applauded. He challenged me and inspired me and we continued to set goals just beyond my reach. Finally, I auditioned for the lead role in the senior play . . . and landed it.

When the curtain rose that night, Dick Nieme sat front row, balcony. When I came out for my bow, he was the first to stand . . . he cheered the loudest. He really embarrassed me . . . but I loved it.

Today, over fifty-five years later, I look back and realize how much I owe that man. He believed in me. He respected me. He started me down the path to becoming the man—the preacher—that God intended. I’m glad I was able to express my deep gratitude to him before he died. I’m glad he knew the impact he had on at least one life.

Why do I share this with you? Because you can have that kind of an impact in the life of someone. God has given you a place of influence as a pastor. Look around for a young man who needs coaching and encouragement. Build into his life over the next few years. Use your character as well as your words. You never know how God will use your efforts at mentoring for His glory.

I am a living legacy to a handful of great men. The first was Dick Nieme.


Stuff I’ve Learned, Part 2

Last week I shared the first half of a stack of lessons I’ve learned over the years as a pastor. Before I share the last half, I want to help you smile a little. (We pastors need to smile a lot more!) Years ago somebody sent me a cute article from some newspaper. A class of fifth graders had submitted the things they had learned in life. Here is a sampling from their gems of wisdom:

• I’ve learned the difference between dog food and meatballs.
• I’ve learned that you don’t have serious relationships with boys until you’re . . . 15.
• I’ve learned that if you eat cheesecake and laugh hard enough, it will come out your nose.
• I’ve learned that even the smartest person is not always right.
• I’ve learned never to take a picture of a baby on a table because it will roll right off (and cry a lot).
• I’ve learned life is not fair.
• I’ve learned not to eat tons of chili and play bowling.
• I’ve learned that hamsters can eat through a paper bag.
• I’ve learned that batteries are explosive when dropped off a bridge.
• I’ve learned if you don’t feed a bird at least every week it will die.
• I’ve learned to stop at corners on my bike because once I was six inches from a car.

Some of those are worth remembering!

Okay, now let me continue with my stack of life lessons.

I’ve learned that perception overshadows reality. I hate that . . . but it’s a fact. How people perceive things is, to them, more convincing than a truckload of evidence. Unfortunately, most draw their opinions from the shallow stream of perception instead of the deep reservoir of truth. I find that strange and disappointing.

I’ve learned that time spent with my family is a good investment. The older I get the more I treasure those early-morning talks with my wife . . . the friendship, love, and counsel of our now-grown “children” . . . the acceptance, hugs and kisses of the grandkids who call me “Bubba.” God did a winning thing when He came up with the idea of moms, dads, kids, and their kids. Home is still my all-time favorite place to be.

I’ve learned that grace is worth the risk. I know, I know . . . rules, regulations, policies, and procedures are helpful boundaries—and necessary—at times. But the freedom of living by grace is still the lifestyle to pursue. Grace relieves guilt and removes shame. Grace smiles, You’re forgiven. Grace helps me sing and skip through life with hardly a care. It also reminds me to release others from expectations. But won’t some take advantage of it? Yep. It’s still worth it.

I’ve learned to stop saying “never” or “always” when it comes to the future. Change happens. Detours and unexpected curves and dead-end streets and quiet rest areas are all part of this journey called life. Your map may seem both infallible and indelible. Don’t kid yourself. The Lord reserves the right to do reprints.

I’ve learned that thinking theologically pays off, big time. It’s taken me years to stop reacting emotionally and let God be God. Being sovereign, He has a plan that is unfolding whether I like it or not . . . whether I understand it or not. When I interpret my circumstances with that in mind, peace and calm kick in, replacing panic and complaining.

I’ve learned that some things are worth the sweat. Not most things. Often, not the big and bold things. But intangible things. Like telling the truth. And admitting inadequacy. And emphasizing quality. And asking for help. And expressing gratitude. And saying, “I’m sorry.” And being generous. And studying hard. And demonstrating affection. And adoring God.

I’ve learned to give credit where credit is due. We pastors often get the credit when we need to be passing it on to the one or to those deserving it. We give enormous encouragement to our staff and lay-folks when we publicly acknowledge them—and that affirmation motivates them to use their gifts in even greater ways. Also, our families (I’m thinking especially of my wife, Cynthia) deserve a great deal of credit for any success in ministry we enjoy. 

Finally, I’ve learned that you can’t beat having fun. Folks who relax and refuse to take themselves so seriously are contagious. They’re easier to be around than those who look like they’re holding their breath under water. One of my great goals for the future is to have more fun, to be less intense, and to laugh louder and more often. Can’t think of many things worse than becoming a grim-faced, old jerk lugging around a big thick Bible, yelling at people from a pulpit. Jesus didn’t . . . I shouldn’t.


Stuff I’ve Learned, Part 1

I’ve been in ministry a long time. Almost fifty years. (Can it really be that long?) In these five decades of serving in the trenches I have learned some valuable truths . . . most of them the hard way. And honestly? I wouldn’t trade truth for youth or for anything else. I really mean that.

What’s more, I’m still on a learning curve. I’m glad the lessons don’t stop at age 45 . . . or 74 . . . or once you have your last child . . . or when you preach your fiftieth Easter sermon.

It occurred to me that there has been some pretty important stuff I’ve learned these many years. (As far as the things I haven’t learned, you’d have to ask my wife. But let’s don’t go there.) I want to share with you, in no particular order, a sampling from my growing stack of lessons that has been building over the decades. I’ll give you the first half this week . . . and the rest next week.

I’ve learned that I should tell people how I feel about them now, not later. Later seldom comes. Furthermore, death has a way of making all communication one-sided. Many times as I have walked away from a funeral, I’ve wished I had told the deceased why I admired her or him . . . or what I appreciated . . . or how much I’d been helped.

I’ve learned that things I’m not even aware of are being noticed and remembered. You wouldn’t believe the things folks have mentioned over the years that have encouraged them. A smile. A glance. An arm over the shoulder. A song sung loudly. A tear. Laughter. It’s really true: small things mean a lot . . . which can be a little scary.

I’ve learned that being real is a lot better than looking pious. You don’t need to worry about making a good impression. You don’t live under a pile of guilt because you’re not perfect. Authenticity keeps you from gettin’ your underwear in a wad over petty stuff that legalists expect. Pursuing holiness is biblical and right. Trying to look holy stinks.

I’ve learned that when you “fit,” most things flow . . . they don’t have to be forced.
I learned that from my twenty-three years in the pastorate in California. From the day I walked into the lives of that flock I felt at home. Didn’t have to fake it or act excited when I wasn’t or hold back my opinion or hide my style. I fit, right off the bat. It’s the same at Stonebriar Community Church where I currently serve as senior pastor. I can’t remember ever having to force something to work.

I’ve learned that it doesn’t pay to talk someone into or out of a big decision. We need to let people be. Pushing or pulling creates complications and consequences. Looking back, I can recall a few times I put added pressure on individuals to get them to say “yes” or “no” and invariably, I regretted it. The old gospel song is still true: God still “leads His dear children along.” I’ve learned to step aside and let Him.

I’ve learned that days of maintenance are far more in number than days of magnificence. Over half of any job is just showing up. Staying faithful pays great dividends. Longing for the big-time tingles to occur is a waste. And answering “Fantastic!” every time somebody asks how you’re doing is phony. Most days call for little more than the discipline of staying with the stack.

I’ve learned that some people aren’t going to change, no matter what. This used to drive me nuts! No longer. It was a great moment in my life when I realized I couldn’t win ‘em all . . . in fact, I can’t even fix those who wish I could. And so, I’ve learned to lighten up. It’s a full-time job taking care of the logs in my own eyes.

I’ve learned that I have seldom felt badly for things I did not say. This business of the tongue—ugh! We preachers can be the worst, thinking everyone must hear our wisdom. Please. Occasionally, I have shown unusual restraint and held back. Later, I’ve been pleased I did. Talking too much is never wise. I do mean never.

That’s a good place to stop for now.


Pastoral Risks of Faith

Some pastors live so carefully they absolutely refuse to take risks.

Everything has to be carefully regulated and kept under control . . . their control. Borders defined, guidelines spelled out, every penny accounted for, and absolutely no surprises. After having expended so much time and effort trying to stay safe, they usually end up never having accomplished much of eternal value. They have built nothing, tried nothing new, and invested in no one or nothing . . . except their own security.

Not Abraham! By the time Genesis 22 rolled around, his faith had matured to the point that his absolute confidence in God’s character gave him the freedom to throw caution to the wind and risk everything to obey. Remember? If you don’t, you need to read that chapter!

This would be an excellent moment for you to do some self-analysis. Before the week gets underway and you get distracted by your pressing agendas, I urge you to stop for a moment. Be honest: to what, or to whom, are you clinging? What circumstance are you demanding to remain under your control? Once you identify that answer . . . let it go.

The Lord may already be in the process of taking it from you. He’ll gently tug on it at first, giving you the opportunity to release your grip. Can you feel the pull? If you resist, He’ll eventually have to pry your fingers away, and I can assure you that it will hurt. I’m writing from personal experience.

My advice? Don’t resist. Voluntarily release it. Trust the Lord to provide. He has another ram in the thicket. You can’t see it right now, but He has it waiting. Only after you have placed your sacrifice on the altar will you be ready to receive God’s provision. And not until then.

You may find yourself in a challenging situation as you read this blog. Your circumstances may have reached a point where you have no other choice but to commit the issue completely to God’s care. You would love to work out the details, but you cannot. You know the Lord is good, and you have prayed for a resolution, but nothing has changed. Only God can intervene. Because that is true, you can take your cues from Abraham. Let it go!

Place whatever it is that you’re struggling with or trying to control on the altar today. Surrender it to the Lord as an offering. Take this risk and step back. Let go. Trust God.

In His time, He will provide.


Phony Living

Like the set of a television show, behind the scenes, where the camera doesn’t go, life can be a messy network of plastic, metal, and wood—a flimsy façade—held together with cheap material and duct tape. Phony living could happen in your house or my house or any house . . . even the White House. Phoniness can find a way in. Rehoboam proves it.

Behind the scenes, Rehoboam did as his father and grandfather did, building a harem, while maintaining a public perception that he held steadfast devotion to the Lord (see 2 Chronicles 11:18–23). He nurtured an impressive public image while he passed on a dark legacy to his sons. Rehoboam polished his image as he appeared to seek wise counsel while formulating his domestic policy. But as soon as he felt secure, the real Rehoboam burst forth. Rehoboam rejected the counsel of elders in favor of the counsel of his peers. He didn’t seek advice; he sought justification. Ever done that?

In the final stage of his life, Rehoboam’s façade crumbled to reveal the hypocrisy that propped up his phony public image. When the kingdom’s wealth was pilfered by Egypt because of his apostasy, Rehoboam replaced the gold shields with bronze, polished to shine like gold, but worthless in comparison. The image-conscious king hid them in secret so nobody would know the truth—a third-class substitute after a first-class blunder by a second-rate king.

Throughout the Old Testament we see that “like produces like”—a lust for sensuality produced children with lust in their hearts. And within a generation or two, a tiny seed of compromise grew to shameless rebellion in full bloom. I call it the domino effect. David’s compromise weakened Solomon. Solomon’s carnality impacted Rehoboam. In the end, the sin that Mom loved and Dad permitted entangled the son. Hypocrisy, rather than a love for the truth, defined the life of Rehoboam. How tragic.

Now here’s the tough question: Have you fooled yourself into thinking you can manage the consequences of sin? Have you considered the effect of your sin on the people you influence? I don’t mean just your flock—in particular, I mean your spouse . . . your children. What does your family see behind the pulpit?

If we were to set up the cameras behind the scenes of your private life, what would everyone see?