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Archive for June, 2012

Who is your political hero?

George Washington?  Abraham Lincoln?  JFK?  Ronald Reagan?  Barack Obama?

My personal favorite among politicians is former British prime minister Winston Churchill, who saved the West from the iron will and evil intentions of Adolph Hitler.

At Churchill’s Family Gravesite, Bladon Churchyard, England

After being in political exile for years, England turned to Churchill to prevent Hitler from overtaking Great Britain during the Second World War.  Churchill’s expert leadership behind-the-scenes, coupled with his fierce and inspiring speeches in public, rallied the spirit of the British people to defeat German’s Fuhrer.

Entrance to Churchill’s Underground War Rooms, London

Churchill was both a great leader and a great communicator … but such greatness is uncommon.

Churchill Statue in Parliament Square, London

Most people are either gifted leaders or gifted teachers, not both.

Let me contrast the two groups in three ways:

First, leaders tend to see the future clearly, while teachers tend to see the past clearly.

When George H. W. Bush was President, he confessed he had trouble with “the vision thing.”  He wasn’t sure where he wanted to take the country, but Bill Clinton was sure, and defeated Bush for President in 1992.

Leaders have to be able to see the future clearly and describe it to others.

By contrast, teachers see the past clearly and can accurately describe its lessons.

I have always had trouble envisioning the future.  As a leader, I shied away from 5-year plans because they were illusory to me.  I usually knew the next thing to do … but not necessarily the next thing after that.

But the past … that’s very real to me.  For many of the special experiences in my life, I can recall the date, the place, the weather, the people involved … all kinds of stuff.

For example, I remember when Nolan Ryan set the all-time season strikeout record.  It happened on a Thursday night in September 1973.  The Angels played the Twins in Anaheim.  Going into the game, Ryan had 367 strikeouts … and was trying to beat the all-time record of 382 set by Sandy Koufax in 1965.  After 9 innings, Ryan had 15 strikeouts (tying the record), but the game itself was tied.  Ryan couldn’t get that last strikeout in the 10th inning, and with two outs in the 11th, he still didn’t have it.  In fact, he was laboring with each pitch.  But he struck out Rich Reese of the Twins on a very high fastball for Number 383.

How do I remember all that?  I was there … with some friends … sitting in the upper deck down the left field line.  That event occurred 39 years ago … but I remember it like it was yesterday.  That memory seems unremarkable to me, but others have told me they’re amazed I can recall those things.

But it’s natural for a teacher.

Second, leaders tend to work with groups, while teachers tend to work alone.

I once heard Pastor Bill Hybels describe ten types of leaders.  He said the leaders who build the big churches are the kind of leaders who can put teams together quickly.  They recruit people, give them a charter, and turn them loose … and then do it again … and again … and again.

The best leaders like being with people.  They feed off their energy and ideas.

By contrast, teachers prefer to work alone.  They like to reflect, and do research, and write … and then march into a classroom or worship center and speak to a group on their own … without assistance.

Here’s the perfect day in my work life:

It’s raining and I’m confined to my study.  I comb my bookshelves for relevant books on a passage or topic and pull out 15 of them.  Slowly and methodically, I read sections of each book … not to steal what someone else has written, but to stimulate my own thinking.  Without effort, an outline begins to form in my head.  I put it on paper and begin to work it over.

While that process is happening, I don’t want anybody to interrupt me.  It’s just me and God and the books and some ideas.

Heaven.

That’s the reseach end … but I also love delivering the message to a group of people … especially if we can enjoy interaction.  However, without the research, the teaching time isn’t nearly as much fun … or productive.

Third, leaders tend to be repetitive, but teachers like to say things once.

I remember learning that churchgoers need to be reminded of a pastor’s vision every thirty days.  The pastor needs to remind people … over and over again … why that church exists and where it’s going.

The leader may do this in a variety of ways … like slogans, symbols, stories … but he has to remind people constantly why the church is doing what it’s doing.

By contrast, teachers hate saying the same thing over and over.  The repetition bores them.

Teachers like to keep truth fresh … illustrating and applying it in countless ways.

Recently I engaged in a painful activity: I re-read some sermons I preached a few years back.

When a message was good, it was full of fresh stories and thoughts.

When a message wasn’t very good, I was overly repetitive and predictable.

An effective leader needs to be repetitive, but an effective teacher longs to be original.

Jesus was both a great leader and a master teacher.  He led His disciples while teaching the masses.  He combined the two disciplines better than anyone who has ever lived.

So remember … your pastor is probably a gifted leader or a gifted teacher … and he gravitates toward the one he does best.

And he’ll probably receive far more criticism in his non-gifted area.

So if you think he falls short in one area, cut him some slack.

Because not all great leaders are great teachers … and not all great teachers are great leaders.

While you can usually tell if someone is a great teacher right away, the fruit of leadership only happens long-term.

What are your thoughts on these two disciplines?

Class dismissed!

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True or false: all great teachers are also great leaders.

False.  False.  False.

And yet we fall for this gambit time after time: at school, in politics, and at church.

Especially at church.

We make the assumption that if a pastor is a great teacher, he will also be a great leader.

But that isn’t always the case.

I know a pastor who is an excellent communicator.  If he was on television, and the camera panned back, you’d assume the worship center would be full.

But the worship center wasn’t full when he preached … far from it.  In fact, there were many more empty seats than “taken” ones.

Why?

Because behind-the-scenes, he was not a gifted leader.  He tried … really, really hard … but it just wasn’t him.

God gave him the teaching gift but not the leadership gift.

The same thing was true of Gene Mauch.

Gene Mauch was a brilliant baseball manager for the Philadelphia Phillies, Montreal Expos, Minnesota Twins, and California/Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels from 1960-1987.

In Leonard Koppett’s brilliant book The Man in the Dugout, Koppett writes this about Mauch:

“More than any other baseball man of his era, Mauch is singled out by players and rival managers alike as a brilliant student of the game.  ‘He knew more about the details of every position, and all the little technical things, than anyone I came across,’ one player with twenty years of experience told me.”

Koppett continues:

“Mauch knew more baseball, in the technical sense, with deeper insight, than almost anyone around him or in the opposing dugout.  He tried, tirelessly, to impart the appropriate gems of information to his players.  But he did it so tirelessly, in such detail, with such intensity, that he aroused the wrong reaction.  Players would begin to worry more about doing what Mauch wanted than about winning itself.”

Koppett relates a story told by Ron Fairly, who played five years for Mauch in Montreal (the team is now the Washington Nationals).  Fairly would be taking ground balls at first base during batting practice, and he’d find Mauch staring at him from close range.  Fairly would wonder, “What’s he looking at?  What does he see that I’m doing wrong?”  Later, Fairly would be in the outfield, and Mauch would be watching him there.  Then he’d see Mauch at second base, staring at the batting cage.

Finally, Ron Fairly asked Mauch about the second base incident … and Mauch was just trying to understand why the Expos second baseman had looked out-of-sync on a couple of plays the day before.  Mauch really wasn’t staring at his players … he was just trying to figure out a baseball problem in his own mind … but they didn’t know that.

Koppett writes: “All they knew was that there was the boss, frowning, and that when he ever did speak to them it was about how to do this or that better, or avoid this or that mistake.”

Mauch was a great teacher … but he wasn’t a great leader.  His teams won two division crowns but never made it to the World Series … and because he didn’t win, he’ll never make the Hall of Fame.

Koppett’s conclusion: “Mauch was robbing the players of an essential condition: relaxation.  He was being too sophisticated for too many of his players.”

What’s true in baseball is also true in other fields … especially the church.

There are some pastors who are both great leaders and great teachers … but let me tell you, they’re rare.

God has given some pastors the gift of leadership but not the gift of teaching.

God has given other pastors the gift of teaching but not the gift of leadership.

God has also given some pastors the gift of Leadership (with a large “L”) but the giff of teaching (with a small “t”).

And He has given some pastors the gift of leadership (with a small “l”) but the gift of Teaching (with a large “T”).

The pastors who have both the gift of leadership and the gift of teaching are pastoring the megachurches … but some of them are lousy pastors and counselors.

Remember, no one person has all the gifts … except for Jesus.

The pastors who specialize in teaching tend to pastor medium-sized to large churches.

The pastors who specialize in leadership tend to pastor extra large to mega churches.

A veteran pastor once told me about two brothers who were both pastors.

The first brother was a great teacher.  He loved to study and research, and it came out in his preaching.

600 people attended his church.

The second brother was a better leader and had more of the common touch.

5,000 people attended his church … and his sermons were broadcast on the radio.  (I didn’t learn much from listening to him, but he was definitely entertaining.)

But what happens to us is that we get fooled.

We hear someone speak articulately and eloquently and passionately in public, and we’re persuaded by their rhetoric … so we assume that they’re equally persuasive behind closed doors.

But most people in a congregation never get to see their pastor in action with the staff or the board or city officials or community leaders.

We see and hear them teach in public … but we really don’t know how they lead in private.

I was in church ministry for 35 1/2 years … 26 of those years as a solo or senior pastor.

Some of my sermons were better than others … and I’d like to think that I got better with time … but because teaching was my primary gift, I rarely heard much flak about my preaching.  In fact, I distinctly remember two vocal critics of mine telling me they felt I was a gifted teacher.

If you heard me speak, you might assume I was an equally gifted leader … but I knew I wasn’t.  God gave me the gift of Teaching (with a capital “T”) but the gift of leadership (with a small “l”).

I’ll write more on this topic next time.

How have you seen this disparity played out with the leaders and teachers that you know?

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Bullying has become a huge problem in our country.

Parents bully children.  Brothers bully sisters.  Bosses bully employees.  Teachers bully students … and students bully teachers.

Have you seen the video of the middle schoolers in New York state who bullied a 68-year-old bus monitor as she rode home on the school bus?  Disgraceful.

Churches have bullies, too.  And there’s a sense in which church bullies are the worst of all because we don’t expect that kind of behavior in church.

How can one detect a church bully?

A bully demeans others by picking on weaknesses and calling people names and making demands.  If you don’t do what a bully wants, he or she threatens to hurt you in some fashion.

I once knew a bully who tried to intimidate me in board meetings.  He went right after me every chance he could.  He wanted power and sensed that I was slowly taking it from him.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to take him on because others did that for me … but it could have gotten nasty.

Church bullies often get their way because they sense that no one has the guts to take them on.  They know that Christians value “being nice” and that if they aren’t nice, they can get their way more often.

Believe me, it works.

This is why Christians – especially leaders – have to learn to face down the bullies.

It’s biblical.

In 3 John 9-10, John the apostle writes:

“I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us.  So if I come, I will attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us.  Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers.  He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.”

Diotrephes was a church bully.

He “loves to be first” … he wanted to control the decision making.

He “will have nothing to do with us” … he didn’t recognize John’s authority as an apostle.

He was guilty of “gossiping maliciously about us” … attacking John verbally, probably disparaging his apostolic credentials.

He “refuses to welcome the brothers” … visiting leaders and teachers sent by John.

He “stops those who want to do so” and “puts them out of the church” … excommunicating John’s representatives.

Wow!  This guy really had issues.

Diotrephes’ misbehavior was threatening the very existence of that church.  Can you imagine challenging the authority of John, the Apostle of Love?

How did this Apostle of Love propose to deal with this church bully?

“So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing …”

John was going to face him down … maybe with the help of church leaders, or the congregation itself … but John was going to meet Diotrephes at high noon.

He was going to confront him … maybe publicly, maybe privately … but he was going to stop the bullying.

John may have been hoping that this warning would cause Diotrepehes to run for the hills.  If we had 4 John, maybe we’d find out what happened.  (We’ll have to wait for heaven for the thrilling conclusion.)

Sometimes a pastor has to face down a bully.

I once served in a church where an ex-policeman was griping about everything.  He griped about the music.  He griped about the youth.  He griped about the neighbors.

Part of me felt sorry for him because he was no longer a policeman … but he had morphed into the church police.

Because nobody dealt with him, he became bolder and bolder with his griping.  This went on for several years.

Finally, a new pastor came, and he tried to work with this man, but nothing worked … and he couldn’t tolerate the behavior any longer.

He finally ordered the man to leave the church … and he left.

He faced down the church bully … and the church was better off for it.

Last year, I had breakfast with an ex-pastor who told me what happened at his former church.

There were people in the church who were terrorizing the pastor, and the church board didn’t know what to do to stop things.

Wisely, the pastor hired a consultant, who met with the board and told them what to do:

You have to go and face down the bullies.

The board members just looked at each other.  The bullies were their friends.

The consultant barked, “Now!”

The board members got in their cars and did what they should have done months before.

Stephen Brown is one of my favorite Christian communicators.  He’s half-crazy, but that just adds to his appeal in my book.

Anyway, in his classic book No More Mr. Nice Guy!, he tells a story about a pastor who was being bullied by a parishoner … and the pastor couldn’t take it anymore.  The man gave a large amount of money to the church and had many relatives in positions of leadership.  Brown’s friend believed that he would divide the church if he confronted him.  Brown told his pastor friend:

“Invite this man to your study and say, ‘I have had it up to my ears with you.  Before this meeting is over, one of us is going to resign.’  Then tell him all the things he has been doing to hurt the church.  Tell him, ‘This is not your church or my church, this is God’s church, and He will not allow you to act in this manner anymore.’  Then tell him that you are God’s agent to make sure that he doesn’t.”

In some cases, this tactic might backfire.  In the case of Brown’s friend, it worked.  His pastor friend called two days later and said:

“Steve, you wouldn’t believe what happened.  The church member who has been giving the church all the trouble asked if I would forgive him.  He said that he knew he had a problem and asked for my help.  Not only that, he said that if I would give him another chance he would be different.  Not only that, his two brothers came in and thanked me for what I did, and said that I was the first pastor in twenty years who had had the courage to do what needed doing.”

I can’t guarantee this tactic will work in every case, but if you’ve tried everything else, it’s certainly worth a try.

Because of church bullies, I’ve endured sleepless nights … worried myself sick … threatened to quit church ministry … and turned myself into an emotional wreck, all because nobody – including me – would face down the bullies.

It’s time we started doing just that.

Go … now!

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How do you feel about Christian churches these days?

Based on the many Facebook posts I read, some of you are very happy with your church … especially if the church is ministering effectively to your kids.  If so, that’s wonderful.

I’m struggling … and I wonder if it’s just me.

Last Sunday, my wife and I attended a megachurch in our community.  We’re in the process of church shopping and want to make sure we’re covering all the bases in our area.

We sat on the far right side of the worship center … but I didn’t know that the church puts its services online.  Suddenly, this huge boom camera goes flying over our heads … back and forth, back and forth.

If the thing fell, the coroner would have to be summoned.

So we moved to the back row in the next section over … but that didn’t stop the camera from hovering above us again.

At one point, it got so low that I could have reached out and touched it … but what I really wanted to do was stop the thing from flying over my head every thirty seconds!

Fortunately, the service was great, right?

I don’t even want to mention this … but here goes.  (Lord, if I’m just being a cranky former pastor, please forgive me.)

The music was fine … at least I knew some of the songs … but church music is starting to sound the same to me wherever I go – especially the lyrics.  You could take the lyrics to any song, jumble up their order, and write another song with them … and another … and another …

I’m starting to long for “Here I raise my Ebenezer” and “My sin, O the bliss of that glorious thought …”

The pastor was away, so there was a guest speaker … with the obligatory shirt tail out.  (Can someone explain this trend to me?  Is this somehow more biblical or godly … or is it all about being cool?  Would that same person dress like that while making a business presentation?  Just saying.)

The guest speaker had a great introduction – he actually used a story … and then never used another one.  Not one.  Zilch.  With little application, either.  And no outline.  It almost felt like he made up the sermon as he walked to the pulpit.

And he probably walked away with $2,000 per service for his efforts.

I’m just getting started, so if you want to turn back now …

There’s something else I’m struggling with: the lack of intellectual challenge in preaching today.

Can somebody please come up with something that makes us think?

One or two meaningful quotes would be nice … or a story about a great leader from church history … or a detailed explanation of a theological truth.

But instead, it seems like the preaching is designed for spiritual ninth graders.  I was in ninth grade once … but I don’t want to go back there again.

And one more thing … has anything happened in Christendom between the resurrection of Jesus and yesterday’s news?  While our preaching needs to be biblically based, when is the last time you heard a preacher refer to Martin Luther, or John Calvin, or the Anabaptists, or the Reformation?

To steal a quote from Howard Hendricks, modern-day Christianity is a mile wide and an inch deep.

And what’s happened to gifted vocalists and musicians?

If you love Jesus, and He gave you a beautiful voice, are you relegated to singing on the praise/worship team for all eternity?  Why are churches intentionally not allowing gifted vocalists to sing solos or duets anymore?  At our home church in Phoenix, we had one or two vocal selections every Sunday … and they were often the best part of the service … but my guess is that less than 10% of the churches I’ve visited allow such singers to use their gifts.

Can we please hear something besides praise/worship music all the time?

As I look back over more than 50 years of sitting in church, do you know what I remember best?

Illustrations and solos.

When I talked to a friend recently about my feelings, he told me I need to teach on a regular basis.

Oh, no … God couldn’t be telling me that, could He?

Am I the only one who feels this way?

This holy rant is now concluded.

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There’s a trend I’ve been noticing recently, and I wonder if anyone else has picked up on this.

We have forgotten those leaders who have come before us.

The first time I visited London, I was struck by all the memorials dedicated to those who had died in various wars.  For example, here’s a memorial to those who died in World War 1 … right on the bank of The Thames:

Here’s another memorial to those who died during World War 2 nearby:

Memorial to Members of British Air Force Lost in WW2

This one says, “From mud through blood to the green fields beyond”:

Soldiers’ Memorial in London

In the back of St. Paul’s Cathedral (you can’t take photos inside), there are books filled with the names of those who have died in various British wars.

St. Paul’s Cathedral, London

Yes, I know that we Americans have our war memorials as well, like the moving Korean War Veterans Memorial …

Korean War Veterans Memorial, Washington DC

and the Vietnam War Veterans Memorial … with the name of each fallen soldier engraved …

Small portion of the Vietnam War Veterans Memorial, Washington DC

It’s appropriate that we remember the sacrifices of those who have died to keep our country free … and Great Britain feels the same way.

But what disturbs me … and like I say, maybe it’s just me … is how quickly we forget the Christian leaders who have done so much to spread the message of Jesus Christ.

Many of the churches in England don’t forget.  For example, here’s a list of all the priors, provosts, and bishops who have overseen the ministry at Southwark Cathedral:

List of Christian leaders at Southwark Cathedral, London

And sometimes you’ll discover that a few leaders have even been buried inside a church …

Final Resting Place of Bishop Talbot, Southwark Cathedral, London

Why bring this up?  What’s the point?

It seems to me that in many Christian churches, we purposely forget the leaders who started a church … and oversaw the construction of some of its buildings … and introduced innovations in missions or community outreach … and brought people to Jesus Christ.

But shouldn’t we honor them instead?

Hebrews 13:7 puts it this way:

“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you.  Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.”

The context seems to indicate that these leaders were no longer around, that they were either living elsewhere or dead.

But the command remains: “remember your leaders …”

In my second staff position, there were nameplates of previous pastors on the wall in the lobby.  The nameplates simply listed a pastor’s name and the dates he served the church … going back to the late 1800s.  (One pastor served only one year.)

The nameplates didn’t tell you what kind of ministry a pastor had … or whether he was forced to resign due to moral failure or conflict … or whether he was married and had kids.

But the nameplates told people that:

*This church has been around a long time.

*This church has had many pastors … and survived them all.

*This church will survive the current one … even if you don’t like him.

*This church has a history … and it didn’t start the first day you showed up.

I really didn’t care much about those pastors when I served in that church … but I look at things differently today.

A few months ago, I visited the website of a church where a friend once served as pastor for many years.  My friend ran into some conflict there, and I know little about the details.

The church had an entire page devoted to its history … but my friend’s name was nowhere to be found.

It had been obliterated.

Whatever he did or didn’t do … however he left … doesn’t change the fact that he pastored that church for a long time.

I’m not trying to exalt pastors as some kind of super-heroes.  Far from it.

But I want us to realize that other Christians have made sacrifices so we can enjoy our churches today.

Nearly a decade ago, a church that I led as pastor was outgrowing its small worship center.

Since we had some available land, I gathered a group of leaders together and suggested we do some building.

The process was complex.  We had to agree on what we wanted … and hire an architect … and present drawings to the congregation for input … and hire a contractor … and deal with pesky neighbors … and raise hundreds of thousands of dollars … and deal with slow city government … and choose colors … and furnishings … and deal with the naysayers … and on and on.

I get tired just thinking about it.

In addition, the people who attended the church pledged vast sums of money to construct that worship center.  They made commitments for 3 or 4 years, some giving tens of thousands of dollars above their regular giving.

When guests visit that church … or any other church … how cognizant are they of its history?

As that worship center was being built, I saw church construction in a new light.

Every church building I drove past had a story behind it.

A church was growing … and someone had a vision … and persevered through a lengthy process of prayer and construction and fundraising … so a worship center could be built by faith.

I once heard someone say that this generation acts like history started the day they were born.

Too many young people feel entitled … and have little appreciation of those who came before them.

That’s true in the spiritual realm, too.

Just remember: Christian pastors and leaders and parents and friends made sacrifices so you could attend the church of your choice.

They didn’t do it so anyone would remember them … but remember them we must.

St. Paul’s Cathedral in London was built by the famed architect Christopher Wren.  He is buried in the cathedral’s Crypt.  The inscription above his tomb says in Latin, “Reader, if you seek his monument look around you.”

The dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London

If an architect is remembered 302 years after he finished construction on a church building, shouldn’t we know something about our spiritual leaders as well?

How can we best do that?

I’d like to hear your ideas.

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For most of my adult life, I have lived hundreds of miles away from two men who have meant a great deal to me.

These men are both Christians.

They have both been pastors and missionaries.

They both have been married to the same woman for decades.

They both continue to serve the Lord … even though they’re in their eighties.

And they both have meant a great deal to me for a long, long time.

The first man is my father-in-law, Earl.

I first met Earl when I was 19 years old.  He spent a weekend as a candidate for pastor at my home church in Orange County.  After his Sunday evening sermon, I asked him a question about speaking in tongues.  I don’t recall his exact answer, but I remember that it was emphatic.

The congregation voted to call Earl as pastor, but he and his family weren’t coming until June.  In the meantime, I was hired by the elders to work with youth during the summer.

So when Earl finally came to the church, he had a 19-year-old youth pastor on his hands.

A few weeks later, I began dating his oldest daughter.  Two months later, Earl told Kim and I that he blessed our relationship …  although that was before we stayed out all night after visiting Griffith Park Observatory.

Earl married us two years after we met.  While Kim and I kneeled onstage together (it was a hot day in August), Earl preached quite a lengthy message, reminding us that when God made a covenant with Abraham, the patriarch cut up animals after which he and the Lord walked between them.  (That vivid word picture was always a hit at weddings.)

I appreciate Earl for three primary reasons:

First, Earl is a truth teller.  He tells you what he thinks.  He’s real.  Before I met Earl, most pastors I knew were too diplomatic … sometimes evasive … and often inauthentic.

But whether Earl is preaching on Joshua conquering Canaan, or recounting how his mother met Einstein, he’s always interesting … which is why we’ve ended up talking late into the night on many occasions.

Second, Earl has always been there for me.  After Kim and I got married, he and Marilyn paid for at least two semesters of seminary for me.  Whenever I got stuck in ministry … or was wrestling with the board about something … Earl was just a phone call away – and I knew he’d tell me the truth about whatever issue we were discussing.

Earl was my first ministry mentor – and has remained my best ministry mentor … which is why I asked him to give the charge at my ordination service.

Earl and Marilyn at their 50th wedding anniversary

Finally, Earl raised the woman I married.  Kim’s love for outreach and missions developed when she lived in India and Pakistan as a missionary kid.  Her charisma, inquisitive mind, and strong work ethic comes from her dad as well.

Kim and her smiling father

The second man is my step-father, Carlton.

My dad died when I was 13, and many years later, my mother was still single … though that wasn’t her plan.  But Carlton soon came along and swept her off her feet.

They were married 9 months after Kim and I were … by the pastor who dedicated me to the Lord as an infant … in the worship center where I would later preach and be ordained.

There are three primary reasons – among many – why I appreciate Carlton:

First, Carlton arranged for my first mission trips.  For three years in a row, I took the high schoolers from my church to northeastern Arizona to put on Vacation Bible School.  For 30+ years, Carlton was director of the Navajo Gospel Mission.  The mission compound was 14 miles off the nearest paved road, and Carlton and his family lived in a house with one TV channel (NBC) while the Navajos came to his home for assistance day and night.

Those trips were high points in my life, and I’ll always be grateful to Carlton for arranging for our kids to come.

Second, Carlton personifies servanthood.  In fact, I don’t know anybody who is more of a servant than Carlton.  When my wife and I visited my parents several weeks ago, Carlton got up and made popcorn … and brought us drinks … and asked if we wanted ice cream (of course).

If you are fortunate enough to have Carlton visit your house, he will look around and find things that aren’t working … and in most cases, fix them ASAP.

In fact, Carlton once worked as a handyman for an infamous man who made national news for the wrong reasons.  Carlton kept this man’s model homes in pristine shape.  When things changed … I don’t remember the exact circumstances … Carlton was out of a job … but the owner gave Carlton a year’s salary and a van as appreciation for all his hard work.

Extremely rare photo of Carlton relaxing

Finally, Carlton loves my mother.  A wise person once said that the best thing a man can do for his kids is to love their mother, and Carlton excels at loving.  While he sometimes speaks softly, his deeds loudly express his feelings.  I’ve been blessed watching Carlton taking care of my mother, even though they have both struggled with health issues in recent years.

On my mother’s birthday … a few years ago

Not long ago, I read about an elderly couple who died together … holding hands.  Sounds about right.

My father – after whom I’m named – left this planet all too soon.  I went through my teens without a strong male influence, forcing me to grow up fast in some ways while delaying my growth in other ways.

But God later brought these two different but special men into my life.

With Earl in San Francisco

With Carlton in Orange County

And I remain forever grateful for their examples, their influence, and their love … which I in turn have passed on to my own children … who will become parents before they know it.

My great kids Ryan and Sarah

Happy Father’s Day!

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Ever make excuses for those who misbehave?

I do – all too often.

It’s not something I readily do with strangers.  If someone cuts me off in traffic, I’m liable to hurl some anger in the driver’s direction.  There’s no excuse for being uncivil – and downright dangerous – in my driving world.

But if someone I know and care about wrongs me, I tend to search for ways to excuse their behavior.

“I’ve called her twice, but she hasn’t called me back.  She must be busy.”

“He promised to be here by 4 but hasn’t arrived yet.  It’s probably due to traffic.”

“He borrowed my tools and said he’d get them back to me by now.  He’s probably forgotten.”

Sometimes making excuses for others might be termed sensitivity.  We put ourselves in someone’s place and imagine how life might be if we were them.  We certainly understand what it’s like to be so busy that we fail to return calls or return items that people have loaned us.

But sometimes, we make excuses for people when we shouldn’t … because we’re unwilling to utter one simple phrase:

“What they did or said to me was wrong.”

And we might add, “And there’s no excuse for their behavior.”

When I was 16, my first job was working at a butcher shop.  I came in for a couple hours every day and boned meat, cutting myself repeatedly with sharp knives.

I was supposed to arrive at work by 4:00 pm sharp, but sometimes I arrived a minute or two late.  When I tried to explain why I wasn’t there on time, my boss would say, “I don’t want excuses.  I want reasons.”

I had plenty of excuses … but few good reasons why I was late.

We all have plenty of excuses for our own misbehavior, don’t we?

“I’m grouchy today because I stayed up late last night.”

“I didn’t go to the bank because there’s too much going on in my head right now.”

“I swore at her because she made me mad.”

“I haven’t accomplished anything this week because I can’t get motivated.”

Comedian Steve Martin used to say there were two words that would get you out of any predicament:

“I forgot.”

When you’re 16, there might be excuses for using excuses, but when you’re 31 or 47 or 58, it rings hollow.

We have to learn to say:

“You’re right.  I told you I’d pick up the clothes at the cleaners and I didn’t.  I’ll go do that right now.”

“I messed up and shouldn’t have said what I said.  Will you forgive me?”

“Please accept my apologies for ignoring you yesterday.  It was wrong of me to do that.”

“I feel like offering you an excuse right now, but the truth is that I blew it.  Let me make it up to you.”

Whenever we mess up, the healthy way to handle things is to admit it in an appropriate fashion … without taking too much responsibility (“It’s all MY fault!”) or denying any responsibility (“He did it.  It’s all HIS fault!”)

And hopefully, when we sincerely apologize for our mistakes, those we have hurt will grant us forgiveness.

And we need to use the same principle when others make mistakes … because making excuses for the behavior of others is not the way of Jesus.

In Luke 17:3, Jesus said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.”

But most of us read the verse like this: “If your brother sins, excuse him.”

Why?  Because we’d rather make an excuse for someone’s behavior than rebuke or confront them.

We explain away what they did so that we don’t have to do or say something uncomfortable that might risk the relationship.

Our culture has mastered this art of excusing people:

“He acts like that because he’s the middle child.”  (That might explain a few things, but every misbehavior?)

“She throws things because she was raised by her aunt.”  (Does that mean she’s going to throw things for the rest of her life?)

“He yells at people because he can’t help himself.”  (He can’t help anybody if he keeps yelling like that.)

“She overspends to compensate for her sad life.”  (But plenty of sad people don’t overspend.)

In fact, every biblical command (love your neighbor as yourself … do not judge … pray without ceasing … do not repay anyone evil for evil) implies that the hearer has both the ability and the responsiblity to carry out the command.

Would God ask us to do what we can’t do?

Every person comes to a point in their life when they’re either going to remain a child or grow toward adulthood.

They key is to take responsibility whenever you mess up … and to hold others accountable whenever they mess up.

Christians need to master the art of the apology (“I was wrong – will you forgive me?”) as well as the art of holding others accountable (“I love you, but you crossed a line when you said that”).

And when people admit they’ve done wrong, it’s not our job to excuse them, but to forgive them.

Let me share a relational secret with you.  When someone you care about misbehaves … or hurts you with a comment … or does something you believe is wrong … address it right then and there.

Don’t wait three months, work up your courage, and then address it.  Deal with it in the moment … or try and let it go.

In Matthew 16, when Peter tried to warn Jesus not to go to the cross, Jesus didn’t wait a year and then say to Peter, “You know, Peter, you really hurt me with that remark about the cross.”  Instead, Jesus dealt with it immediately.

Jesus did this consistently throughout His ministry.

Think about it: if we addressed people’s misbehavior immediately, would we proceed to excuse it later on?

What are your thoughts about this topic?

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My pastor was under attack.

He couldn’t sleep.  He couldn’t study.  His personality turned inward.

He was a wreck.

Why?

Years ago, in my third church staff position, a small group of vocal members began to criticize the church’s pastor … who was also my supervisor.

Their main claim?  That he didn’t preach often enough, an indication that he was lazy.

35 years ago, many Protestant churches had:

*Sunday School

*Sunday morning worship

*Sunday evening service (with youth group meetings before or after)

*Wednesday night prayer meeting

That’s a lot of teaching time to fill!

My pastor’s main gift was shepherding – not teaching – so he utilized a team of teachers on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights.  I was happy with the arrangement because I enjoyed hearing others speak … and because I got to speak once a month as well.

I can’t recall what set off the grumbling, but many of us started feeling heightened anxiety around the church campus.  One night, someone caught me in the parking lot and told me that 10% of the church was going to leave if the pastor didn’t start preaching on Sunday nights.

Now what would you do with that information?

Some Christians would keep it to themselves.

Some would tell family and friends from the church.

Some would throw in their lot with the 10%.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to do.

I had a friend in the church – a man who went on to become an evangelist – and he and I discussed the situation.  We decided to visit the most influential man in the church … a layman known for his teaching, integrity, and straight talk.

My friend and I sat in his living room and said something like this, “There are people in this church who are attacking the pastor.  They are threatening to leave if he doesn’t start preaching on Sunday nights.  The pastor is devastated by this news and seems paralyzed to do anything about the situation.  What can we do to help him?”

Looking back, I don’t know whether or not this man was supportive of the pastor, but we had to take the risk.

He told us, “Gentlemen, when Paul talked about troublemakers in the church, he named names.  Who are these people?”

Wait a minute.  If we mention the names, isn’t that gossip?  Aren’t we tattling?  Couldn’t we get in trouble if we said too much about what was happening?

And some of those people were our friends.  How could we single out friends like that?

But this man was right.  Paul did name names – along with John, the apostle of love:

Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith.  Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.  1 Timothy 1:19-20

Their teaching will spread like gangrene.  Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth.  They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.  2 Timothy 2:17-18

Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm.  The Lord will repay him for what he has done.  You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message.  2 Timothy 4:14-15

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us.  So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us.  Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers.  He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.  3 John 9-10

With biblical precedent upholding us, my friend and I divulged the names of the troublemakers we knew about – especially the ringleaders.

I learned an important lesson that day.  Sometimes church powerbrokers are successful in making threats and demands because nobody has the courage to identify them by name.

Think about this:

Last night, my wife and I watched a recently-produced film on Solomon’s life.  The film opens with King David near death – but he hadn’t yet chosen his successor.

So one of David’s sons engaged in a pre-emptive attempt to be anointed as king –  in league with David’s top general.

Their names?  Adonijah and Joab.

Not “one of David’s sons” – but Adonijah.

Not “a high-ranking military officer” – but Joab.

They were both executed for committing treason against David’s choice for king … Solomon.

One of Jesus’ 12 disciples betrayed him.

His name?  Judas from Kerioth.

Not just “one of the Twelve” – but Judas.

Before anyone could finger him, Judas took his own life.

Paul wrote in Romans 16:17:

I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned.  Keep away from them.

If you’re in a church, and you hear that someone is plotting against your pastor … do something about it.

Warn the pastor.  If you sense the board is supportive, talk to the board member you know and trust best.

Believe me, the pastor and/or board may have no idea of any division inside the ranks.  Your information may give them time to head off an attack before it ever takes place … or give them a key piece of information they lacked.

If you know that an individual or a group is planning on “going after” your pastor, speak to someone in authority – even if the plotters are your friends.

Because if you don’t, your church will eventually experience months of tension, division, and ugliness.  Friends will separate, donations will plunge, and people will leave.

If you know something, tell somebody!

Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sinsJames 4:17

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Ever get cooties?

I probably got them – briefly – in the second or third grade.

A girl in my class allegedly had cooties.  At least, that’s what the other kids said.  This girl also happened to live on my street … just two doors down.

Her dad was a pastor, just like mine … but they were even stricter than our family.  For example, we were allowed to watch Shirley Temple movies on television, but her family wasn’t allowed to watch any movies, period.

And one day, I said the words “darn” and “gosh” while playing in her backyard, and boy, did I hear about it!  She said, “Ummm.  Those are bad words” – and then she threatened to tattle and tell someone that I said them.

So I guess if anybody at school had cooties, it was that girl.  In fact, she emanated cooties.

And because cooties are spread from one sex to the opposite sex, guys tend to keep their distance from girls who are infected with that dreaded condition.

When I became a pastor, I sometimes felt like I had a permanent case of cooties, causing most people to keep their distance from me.

It all began in high school.  I had this black knit high-neck shirt with a ring of white around the collar.  To me, it was just another shirt, but a few of my friends at church began calling me “Pastor Meyer” whenever I’d wear it … and sometimes, just “pastor” for short.

After a while, a whole group of guys began addressing me as “pastor” whenever they’d see me.  This was before I sensed God’s call into ministry.

Even though I was elected president of the high school group at church, some of my peers always seemed wary of me.  They didn’t know how to act around me.  (And in some cases, I didn’t know how to act around them.)

So when I became a youth pastor, and later a pastor, I had some inkling of what is was like to have “pastor cooties.”

You may be wondering, “What in the world is he talking about?”

Just this: I sensed that whenever people knew I was a pastor, they became uncomfortable around me.

When I’d sit next to a stranger on an airplane, I enjoyed finding out what he or she did for a living, but I was nervous about that person finding out that I was a pastor.  If they did, the conversation often stopped cold.

When I was around, I could sense that people cleaned up their language … and wouldn’t discuss certain topics … and didn’t know how to treat me … or treated me like The Other.

This was especially noticeable during my first few years in the pastorate when I would visit people in their homes.  One time, I visited the home of a mother-daughter duo unannounced.  When I knocked on the door, I could hear them scurrying around inside, but they never came to the door … even though I waited five minutes.

After that, I always phoned ahead, not only so people could clean their houses, but so they could hide whatever stuff they didn’t want their pastor to see.

I hated having pastor cooties.

There were three areas where I saw this most often:

First, cooties were an issue in counseling.  I learned early in my ministry that whenever I counseled someone multiple times, they came to view me as having PCs.  The better I got to know them – and their weaknesses – the more they would pull back from me.  And if they revealed a problem to me – and I later preached on that same problem – they somehow felt I was preaching at them.

So I made a policy that I would counsel people only once … just diagnosing their issue … and then recommend next steps they could take … like reading a book or seeing another counselor.

And fewer people thought I had PCs.

Second, cooties were a problem in social settings.  I grew up in the home of a Baptist pastor, and Baptists back then didn’t drink alcohol.  In fact, there was a line in the church covenant where we had to promise to refrain from the sale or usage of intoxicating beverages.  Unless my mother had a paper bag hidden somewhere, I’m not sure we ever had alcohol in the house.  I grew up not drinking and viewed that as normal.

But when my wife and I were invited to people’s homes, they would offer us wine, we’d politely decline … and right away, it felt like I had PCs again.

Third, cooties were a huge problem after a funeral.  Whenever I conducted a funeral in a mortuary, I’d stand at the head of the casket after the message while loved ones filed by.  It was my job to look for signs of uncontrollable grief and comfort people, but most of the time, people didn’t even see me.  Occasionally, someone would take my hand and whisper, “Good job,” but that was it.  The message marked me as having PCs – and nobody wanted to get infected.

You’ve heard the saying, “It’s lonely at the top.”  If pastors are at the top of their congregations, then they probably sense a great deal of loneliness.  In fact, 70% of all pastors do not have one good friend.

Why not?

Because pastors want to … and are expected to … live holy, righteous, distinctive lives – and this sets them apart from others.

Because pastors carry the pain of others around with them all the time … but choose to internalize the pain rather than share it with others.

Because pastors have trouble with powerbrokers and critics and staffers and board members … but they don’t believe it’s wise to share those problems with churchgoers indiscriminately.

Because pastors get exhausted and angry and depressed … and they don’t want people to see them that way, so they sometimes avoid people altogether.

I once saw a cartoon in Leadership Journal of a pastor who needed to use the restroom.  There were three choices: “Men,” “Women,” and “Clergy.”

Sometimes pastors wonder if they are a third sex.

But occasionally, there are people in a church who let the pastor know that even if he does have PCs, they love him anyway.

In my last church, one couple invited my wife and me over at various times … to watch election returns … or the Super Bowl … or for the 4th of July … or to watch the World Series … or just to feel safe.

They made me feel like even if I did have PCs, they didn’t care.  People like that are all too rare.

Now that I’m not a pastor anymore, do I still have PCs?  While there’s no surefire test, I’ll say no.

But you can help: if you’re in the Riverside area, come and visit me.  And if I’m in your area and wish to get together with you, I hope you’ll say yes.

Otherwise, I’ll be forced to wonder if I still have cooties.

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I once got thrown out of Dodger Stadium.

It’s true.

When I was in eighth grade, my uncle took his son, my brother and me to a Dodgers-Mets game at Chavez Ravine.  It was the last Friday game of the season, Game 160.

We sat where we always sat at Dodger Stadium: in the general admission deck at the very top of the stadium.  Back then, I think it cost 75 cents for a kid to sit there.

My brother, cousin and I all sat in the front row of the top deck.  My uncle sat a few rows back.

The Dodgers weren’t very good that year, and the game was boring.  My brother and cousin would do anything on a dare, so I dared them to do something.

Expectorate over the railing and try and hit a certain bald guy in the head.

The two of them tried to hit him.  Oh, how they tried.  And when the guy below turned around and looked up at them, they pulled back and hid their faces.

But when he angrily stormed up the aisle – presumably in search of an usher or a policeman – the three of us hid in the men’s bathroom … where we were quickly caught … and discharged from the stadium.

My uncle was not happy.

“Honestly, I didn’t do it.  I didn’t do anythingThey did it all.”

But I suggested the idea … even if no fluids ever left my mouth.

I certainly bore at least some responsibility for our having to leave the ballpark that night … and I never tried a stunt like that again.

Does my little story have a familiar ring?  Remember what happened in the Garden after the first couple ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?

Adam told God, “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

Eve told the Lord, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Wanting to maintain the illusion of perfection … before both God and each other … the parents of humanity did not claim any responsibility for their sinfulness.  They chose to say instead, “She’s the one to blame!” and “The devil made me do it.”

The two stories above are just a microcosm of what’s happening today in our culture.

A woman hates everyone … and blames her parents for her isolation even though they’ve been dead for years.

A man gets divorced … and blames his wife for her controlling ways.

A boss gets reprimanded … and blames three of his subordinates for all his troubles.

A church member is corrected for gossipping … and blames her misbehavior on her husband.

A president is overwhelmingly elected … and still blames many of his problems on the previous administration.

Maybe the woman’s parents were abusive … and the man’s wife was controlling … and the boss’ employees were problems … and the pastor did overreact a bit … and the previous president did leave things in a mess.

But does this mean that the accusers bear no responsibility for their failures?

Thirty years ago – can it be? – in his classic work The Road Less Traveled, Scott Peck wrote a chapter called “Neuroses and Character Disorders.”  Peck writes:

“Most people who come to see a psychiatrist are suffering from what is called either a neurosis or a character disorder.  Put most simply, these two conditions are disorders of responsibility, and as such they are opposite styles of relating to the world and its problems.  The neurotic assumes too much responsibility; the person with a character disorder not enough.  When neurotics are in conflict with the world they automatically assume that they are at fault.  When those with character disorders are in conflict with the world they automatically assume that the world is at fault.”

The statistics indicate that an increasing number of people are developing character disorders.  They fail to take responsibility for their actions, blaming others for their misbehavior.

When I was a pastor, I suspected that some of the people I had difficulties with had character disorders.  The tipoff was that they would never admit that they made a mistake or did anything wrong.  Even when they were caught redhanded telling a lie, they didn’t say what I heard them say.

In other words, it was all my fault.

It’s one thing to deal with someone with a character disorder occasionally at church.  It’s another thing to have a person with this condition as your parent, your boss, or your spouse.

Peck concludes his brilliant chapter this way:

“When character-disordered individuals blame someone else – a spouse, a child, a friend, a parent, an employer – or something else – bad influences, the schools, the government, racism, sexism, society, the ‘system’ – for their problems, these problems persist.  Nothing has been accomplished.  By casting away their responsibility they may feel comfortable themselves, but they have ceased to solve the problems of living, have ceased to grow spiritually, and have become dead weight for society.”

If you recognize such a person in your life, how can you relate to them?

First, realize you cannot get close to them.  We can only become close with people who display authenticity.  If you admit a weakness in your life to this person, don’t expect them to reciprocate.  They will disappoint you because they cannot be vulnerable.

Second, avoid working with them if at all possible.  When things go poorly, guess what?  They’ll blame you as a way of diverting the spotlight away from themselves.

Third, understand that you cannot work for them.  Some supervisors are sociopathic.  (There’s a lot of literature online about this problem.)  They charm their superiors while demeaning those who work underneath them … and divert any and all responsibility for failure to those they supervise.  When they make a mistake, they find someone else to blame.  It’s a sickness, and it can’t be resolved through prayer, office politics, or going to HR.  You can either quit, seek a transfer, or visit a counselor.

Finally, realize that people with character disorders will not change.  Why not?  Because somewhere along the line, they stopped taking responsibility for their choices.  Neurotics can change because they take responsibility – albeit too much – for their lives.  But people with character disorders are frozen in immaturity.  They may have the intellect of someone 42, but they’ll forever have the emotional intelligence of someone 13.

My guess is that you have a co-worker, a neighbor, an acquaintance, a supervisor, or a family member in this category.  Pray for them … and protect yourself and your family from them.

Imagine that you and the team you’re leading at church fail to meet a project deadline.

A healthy person does not say, “I’m 100% innocent … and my team is 100% to blame.”

A healthy person does not say, “I’m 100% to blame … and no one else bears any responsibility but me.”

The healthy person says, “I bear some responsibility for that mess-up.  Others do as well.  But I’m going to admit my part first … whether or not others admit theirs.  And I’m going to learn from this experience and not repeat my mistakes.”

Our Savior said it perfectly in Matthew 7:3-5:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

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