Turning Me Into Something I Am Not

This is who I am!  This is how God made me!  Accept it!

Is this true?  While I affirm that God made each of us unique inside of our mother’s womb, I do not think he was finished.  He gave you unique ears, eyes, and even fingerprints, but his work was not done.  He took you from that baby into adulthood. Your body grew and changed, and you learned skills along the way.  Throughout your life, you have gained knowledge of yourself, the world, and other people.  You probably felt love and had your heart broken as well.   God was molding and shaping your body and mind with every new experience. 

I do not think he is finished.  He is making you into a mature person of faith.  This requires giving up some things, adding new things, and changing your approach to life.  Your life is a journey toward becoming the person he wants you to be. 

When I was little, I hated broccoli, and I would not touch cauliflower – the albino version of broccoli. My sister made it her mission to convince me I was wrong.  Mixing it in a cheese sauce and cooking it in recipes.  I did not matter, and I still hated it.  Then one day, I cannot remember when, I liked it. Maybe it was the way it was cooked, or perhaps it was because my wife cooked it.  I ate it and lately I have it about once a week. 

C.S. Lewis said, “The things of heaven are an acquired taste.”  They do not come naturally, and like little children, we turn up our nose in disgust.  The longer we live, we learn that God has something better in store for us.  Somewhere along the way, we tasted the life he desires for us and found that it was good either because of our maturity, how it was presented, or who asked us to try it.  Suddenly everything changed, and we now saw that what God wanted us to do was best. 

God is trying to turn you into something you are not.  He wants you to become the best version of yourself as you follow his son.  He wants you to have a right relationship with him, be a godly parent, love your spouse as Jesus loves us, do your work as working for the Lord, and live every moment filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and goodness.  These things probably do not come naturally, but with time you will see that God was right.  Slowly he will turn you into something you are not, which is precisely what he wanted you to become.   

How We See Ourselves

Over the weekend, my Facebook page was flooded with the latest craze. People have been creating avatars of themselves. I can remember being amazed at the little animated paperclip when I first started using Windows software years ago, and now people are creating small animated pictures of themselves that they can share online. The world of communication has profoundly changed.

The first thing I noticed was how most of the avatars that I saw looked nothing like that person. Some of that is the limits of technology as you draw upon basic shapes and styles to capture our individual characteristics. The other side of the issue is the limits of our brain as we do not always realistically see ourselves. We are thinner, taller, have better hair, and the rest of our features seem more like an improved version of ourselves.

I do realize that some of this is the nature of social media. We always post the best version of ourselves in that world. That is not the only issue. Everyone tends to see ourselves as better than others see us. This is true both physically and often spiritually. We see ourselves as great parents, spouses, workers, and even Christians. Our picture of ourselves contains love, kindness, and goodness to overflowing. We have a close relationship with Jesus and follow his every word. We are good people.

The looming question: Is that reality or merely a figment of our imagination?

I guess your answer depends on who we compare ourselves too. If we look at the other parents at school or our next-door neighbor, we can come off looking surprisingly good.

We need to be clear, the standard for our righteousness is not each other, but the life of Jesus. When we do this, we begin to see our flaws vividly. We also see our need for a savior. As long as we compare ourselves to one another, we can feel pretty good about ourselves, and we no longer need Jesus. We create avatars that look good but have no connection to reality.

My Friday Down Time

For the past five years, I have taken my Friday’s entirely off from work. This is the day that I do no work. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zero. When I leave the building on Thursday, I leave my job behind. If I need to do anything, there is always Saturday. Most of the world gets two days off, and many times I do, but Saturdays are flexible in my schedule. Fridays are not. I have chosen to set aside one day to spend away from the Church and the office.

Three reasons.

  1. Self-Care. On those Fridays, I do things that fill my soul. I spend time in nature fishing, hunting, and metal detecting. I try to quiet my soul from all the outside chaos going on around me. Some days I just lie in bed with my wife and watch movies. Whatever form the day takes, I want it to fill me up and not drain me.
  2. Rest. By Friday, I am tired. I have spent 5-6 full days engaging my brain. I read, study, write, and preach. All of them call not only on intellect but also my emotions. I need a day to recharge. This means, I make no decisions of significance and do no writing (I always write this blog on Thursday).
  3. Family Time. Under normal circumstances, I spend the day with my wife and the evening with my youngest son (who is still at home) or doing something with all my boys. This is the one day I want to invest in my relationship with my wife in a substantial way. We walk, talk, shop, and often do the first two things on my list. We rest and enjoy something outside together.

I often hear that being a pastor is an overly stressful job. There are definitely parts that can drive you crazy. With a single day off, I can refresh and refocus for the work ahead.

I have no idea what your life looks like, but I would suggest this to anyone. Take one day with these three points of emphasis, and it will change your perspective. If it is not possible to take a full day, then set aside an afternoon or an evening. You will be glad you did.

Bringing Out the Best in Others

Bringing out the worst in people is easy. Walk into a room with a scowl on your face and the overwhelming look of disapproval. When someone speaks to you, be short in return. Better yet, cut them off and voice your opinion with disdain for their thoughts. If you do answer a question, be passive-aggressive and sarcastic. Let your words come forth with volume and force no matter what you are saying. You can walk into a room with another person or group of people and make them all upset about their day.

What if bringing out the best in people is just as easy? Walk into a room with a smile on your face and a tone of approval. When someone speaks to you, listen to all they have to say and validate their feelings. Do not be short in your response and use a calm voice, no matter how emotional you feel. Avoid passive-aggressive statements and sarcasm. You can walk into a room and calm everyone’s emotions and bring joy to their day.

This is true no matter what room you are walking into this day. It can be a room with your co-workers, boss, spouse, children, friends, or neighbors. You can be the thermostat that controls the feelings in the room by merely minding your words and demeanor.

Everyone makes people happy. Some make people happy when they walk into a room and others when they leave.

What People Did Not See

Because of the current situation in our country and state, much of the Church has gone underground.  Lately, we have not met publicly, and so much of what we do goes on under the radar.  You cannot see the people serving each week.  There is no conversation around the coffee pot about the impact being made on people’s lives.  The movements of God are hard to see without the public spotlight of our weekly meetings.

I want everyone who is a part of a Church anywhere to know; God is still working through his people.  His people are still serving in the name of Jesus.  Meals are still being provided for those in need.  Spiritual conversations are still taking place. People are giving of their resources for the work do the Lord.  Those with servants’ hearts are finding ways to serve outside of the Church building.  The kingdom of God is still moving forward like a mighty army. 

One thing I pray that this time of shutdown will do for people is to remind them that their work is for God alone.  Our service in his kingdom is to an audience of one.  You do not need people to be present for you to do something in the name of the Lord.  No one needs to hold the camera and capture you doing that good deed.  In fact, maybe our most pure form of Christian service is done when no one is looking.   

What people did not see is God working in and through you.

Trusting God During Shutdown … As a Pastor

The past few weeks have tested everyone’s faith. This is also true for every Pastor I know, including myself.

It seems like if you are a religious leader, you should approach this time with faith and confidence. At first, I felt like that was the case. When I thought this was going to last for a couple of weeks. Last year we survived missing three Sundays for snow, ice, and a power outage. I saw God show up and do a mighty work when we were not able to meet as a group of believers during that time, and I knew he could do it again.

Then the weeks continued, and we are not going to meet for ten weeks IF we make it back together in June. This is unprecedented. I have no point of reference for seeing God work in a situation like this one.

There are days my faith wains, and I start to give myself over to worry. When we meet again, will the people come back? What is this going to do to the new believers who have not had the support they need during this time? Will the finances ever recover? Will the Church I lead ever be the same? The list of questions that haunt my mind seems never-ending.

What do I do when these thoughts come? I do the same thing I tell my people to do. I lead hard into God. I pray. I read the scriptures. I find other Christians to encourage me. I search for the positive and push back the negative thoughts. I take a walk. I read a book. I cry out to God to show me where he is working. I look for stories that reveal how God is working on the internet and social media. I write in my “grateful journal.” I do all the things that I think will keep my focus on God.

There is no special feeling that God gives you when life is uncertain. There is no magic formula or specific prayer that makes everything seem okay. Instead, I find that God works in the little moments where we open ourselves up to him. Lean hard into God, and you will find he is trustworthy even when everything else is uncertain.

The Four Bibles Beside My Desk

Through the years, people have asked about my study habits when it comes to the Bible.  The essential tools for me sit right beside my desk on a filing cabinet.  They are literally an arm’s length away from me while I sit here and type.  Here are my Bibles, why I have them, and how I use them. 

  1. A Quest Study Bible – 2011 NIV (New International Version) edition.  This is a simple tool I use to read through a passage the first time.  The Quest Study Bible has questions with answers along the side.  They are not overly detailed but enough to get you thinking.  This is where I start to engage the Bible.  Read and ask questions. 
  2. A plain NIV – 1984 edition.  This is the Bible I grew up reading. I refer to this for differences in translations between 1984 and 2011.  There are no published notes, but I have several handwritten thoughts that I have put in the margins over the years.  It is like a familiar place I visit to get my back to my roots. 
  3. An Interlinear New Testament.  This is a Greek version of the Bible with the translation underneath each line.  I took three years of Greek in college, and the words make sense to me, without being an expert.  On the left-hand side of the passage is also the New American Standard translation of the Bible, and on the right is the New International Version.  This way, I can read the original language and translation, along with being able to compare it to modern English translations.    
  4. An ESV Study Bible.  Much of the Evangelical world is moving toward the English Standard Version of the Bible.  It is a good translation and handles the original languages well.  This also has hundreds of thousands of notes, maps, graphs, and every type of study tool included.  This is always the last source I look at for information. I want to know what I think it says without hindrance, then see what other people think of it. 

These four Bibles are right beside my desk and have been there for almost six years. They are not the leather Bible I preach from each week.  They are not the software that I use to help me dig deep into a passage.  These are the tools I use to read the word of God and understand it on my own. 

I suggest anyone who reads the Bible get a couple of different translations to read.  You need one with no notes.  Finally, a study Bible will help you get answers when you have questions about your reading.  With these two or three Bibles in your hand, I think you can understand over 90% of the Bible with no other help.    

Bibles are not always cheap, but investing in the right tools will help you over a lifetime.