Six months ago, my wife and I were leading a “Footsteps of Paul” journey to Greece, Turkey and Rome. We were walking out of St. John’s Cathedral in Rome (Bascilica de San Giovanni in Laternao). We were on our way to the Vatican. I asked our local guide one simple question: If you had one minute to sit with the Pope and say anything you wanted to say to him, what would you say? His immediate and passionate response was “Don’t tell me what to do.” And then he unpacked that quick forceful statement with a plethora of examples: divorce, homosexuality, helping the poor and much more.
The day before while in Florence, we heard from another local guide that Michelangelo repeatedly said the same thing, “Don’t tell me what to do,” when the pope of his day gave instructions for painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and other church-related projects. In fact, Michelangelo would purposely include small variations and subtle digs at the papacy in his paintings as a not-so-silent act of defiance.
Human nature hasn’t changed in 3500 years. When Moses went to Pharaoh and asked him to let the Israelites leave slavery in Egypt and go to the Promise Land, Pharaoh essentially replied the same, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go?”(Exodus 5:2). Don’t tell me what to do. It doesn’t matter. 3500 years ago, 500 years ago, 6 months ago or a week ago. Don’t tell me what to do is alive and well.
I find it easy to look at people of the past and think they just weren’t committed enough to Jesus and His ways. They are flawed. Not very mature. But the truth is, it’s not just them. It’s me too. Last week, a volunteer monitor at a photography conference leaned over to me during a session (I was looking up the price of a lens on my phone that the speaker was referring to) and she told me the light of my screen in the dark room was disturbing her and others. I wanted to respond, “Don’t tell me what to do.” But I complied. Yet, for the next five minutes, I was internally screaming, “DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO.” I was very tempted to lean over and tell this lady that her constant whispering to her friend was a whole lot more disruptive than my phone screen light.
This resistant refrain that invades our lives is rooted in human nature all the way back to creation. Adam and Eve listened to Satan’s whisper, “don’t let God tell you what you can and can not do. Go ahead and eat off that one tree He said to stay away from”(Genesis 3). It’s still the same nature that deteriorates into domestic violence, road rage, assault and murder. There is only one cure. It is for me to be filled with the heart and nature of Jesus. Philippians 2:5-8 says,5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very natureGod,did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;7 rather, he made himself nothingby taking the very nature of a servant,being made in human likeness.8 And being found in appearance as a man,he humbled himselfby becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Today, I’m asking Jesus to help me be more like Him.
QUESTION: How do you overcome the temptation to respond with “Don’t tell me what to do?”
This past weekend, my wife and I spent 48 hours with seven couples that are the “Friends are Friends Forever”kind. In 1972, during their freshman year of college, 8 young women gathered for Bible Study in the residence hall of Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, VA. Life-long friendships were forged. Forty-seven years later, they are still meeting every year or so. Sometimes it’s just the ladies. Most of the time, their 8 husbands join them. This weekend, it was all 16 of us.
When Michael W. Smith released the “Friends (are friends forever)” song in 1987, it soon became a popular hit at farewell parties, high school graduations and even weddings. The two phrases, “friends are friends forever” and “a lifetime’s not too long to live as friends”always echo in my mind when I hear that three-decade-old song. I used to believe it was true—once a friend, always a friend. That’s not necessarily true. I’ve come to believe that only some friends are friends forever. Some are for a season, or a specific time and place.
In reflecting on this unique group of eight women who met while they were young, they are uniquely diverse: nurses, teachers, homemakers, college professors, bank tellers, township council members, housekeepers and more. They came from Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Virginia. Their journeys over the last 47 years have taken them through the experiences of marriage, birthing children, adopting children, nurturing grandchildren, PhD’s, around-the-world mission assignments, retirement and more. One lost a husband to suicide, became a single parent and then remarried. Others have faced cancer. All have lost one or both parents.
The eight husbands are an interesting mix: two farmers, two pastors, a hatchery maintenance worker, a corporate pilot, a builder and a high school teacher. Yet, all are uniquely bonded through their wives. And, they too have become friends and look forward to connecting every year or two.
So what is it that keeps these 8 college friends connected nearly five decades later? As I’ve listened to the conversations all these years, here are three observations:
1). Shared Experiences—college, marriage, parenting, grand parenting, ministry and international travel. Over the years, the themes of the conversations at their gatherings have morphed and transitioned as the experiences and seasons have shifted. It used to be boyfriends, engagements, wedding plans, and the arrival of children. Then it was children getting married and having children, job promotions and travel experiences. Shared experiences of parent’s passing, health challenges and retirement plans are now a part of the current conversations. Whatever the season, there always have been updates on the shared experiences. In the early years, it was a “circle letter” that made it’s way around the group each year between gatherings about every five years. Then it was email and more frequent gatherings. Now it is a private Facebook group.
2). Shared Faith—all attended a faith-based college where they connected horizontally with each other while joining a Bible-study to nurture their vertical relationship with God. Each was raised in spiritual and church backgrounds that gave them a similar framework to express their faith. Every gathering over the years has been marked with shared spiritual journeys, prayer and worship.
3). Shared Purpose—each one grasped the concept of living with purpose. Parents, churches and a faith-centered university instilled this intentional living. All have lived out their unique sense of call to a higher purpose. Each has lived a determined life. During the dozens of times we’ve been together over the years, I’ve heard the encouragement of the others to “keep the end in mind” when one of them was facing a difficult season.
Some friends are friends for a season. And we should learn to be grateful and okay with that. Some friends are friends forever. And that is a rare and highly treasured gift.
QUESTION: Do you have a friend or two that are the “friends forever” kind of friends? What would you add as to what makes them “friends forever” kind of friends? I’d love to hear it below.
It’s now a couple weeks past the beginning of a new year and most everyone is probably done reflecting on the past and planning for the future. Life has gotten busy again. The weekly routines keep us on autopilot. Many of our New Year’s resolutions have fallen by the wayside. Well, I’m just getting started.
I’m just getting started because I had a sister visit from Oregon the week after Christmas. I had a wedding to officiate at Disney on January 2. We had our family holiday gathering. It was a very busy time. Very little time for reflection and planning.
So, I’m reflecting for just a bit on 2018. Some major things happened in my world. My father died. We welcomed a new successor in the lead role of the church I planted. Our board made some tough decisions about how to respond to the discovery of financial fraud by a previous successor of mine. Our fifth grandchild was born, Ava Grace. Our oldest grandchild became a teenager. Our son finished up 6 years of hard work to get his nursing degree. We celebrated 44 years of marriage. I had a birthday that required me to sign up for Medicare. We had a complete personal financial review that included making some specific projections and glimpses about what the future might look like. I developed a habit of walking two miles at least 6-7 mornings every week. The church we founded surpassed all of our previous attendance records. I took some risks with my photography and changed my entire website after a decade or more of the same format. I received a community-wide award for inspiring generosity in others.
Of the above. It was mostly really good. Very good. Excellent. Exhilarating. Life-giving. Some of it was “kicked in the gut” difficult. There was laughter. There were tears. But that is life. So here’s what I’m looking forward to in 2019.
- More of the Same. Laughter, tears, hard work, disappointment, victories, valleys, mountain-tops. That is life. A mixture. Wins. Losses. Ups. Downs.
- More of God’s Grace. It’s new every morning. It transforms my life and the lives of others. I’m thankful. I’m abundantly blessed. I don’t deserve it but He gives it anyway.
- More Growing. I love to learn. But sometimes learning is through the “hard way.” I grow when I face challenges. Pressure strengthens my leadership muscles. I look forward to growing in my relationship with God, with my wife, and in my leadership skills and capacity.
- More Focus. This year, I’ve gone back to putting the writing of this blog on my calendar. That’s not a brand new idea for me, but I’ve not done that for a couple years. I know it will help me to be more consistent. More focused with my time.
- More Intentionality.For the last decade or more, I’ve been learning that I have to be intentional if I’m going to live a life of significance and leave the legacy I want to be known for. More than ever, I’m choosing to place what I value most at the top of the priority list.
2019 is going to be an amazing year!
QUESTION: What’s at the top of your priority list for 2019? I’d love to hear it!
This week was special. I have received hundreds of congratulatory social media comments, some text messages, a newspaper interview and many personal compliments. On Tuesday, I received a significant local award—The Elmer Tabor Generosity Award. Here is what it represents: “The Elmer Tabor Award was established by the Cape Coral Community Foundation with the purpose of recognizing outstanding philanthropists in our community, those who have a record of exceptional generosity, show civic and charitable responsibility, and demonstrate leadership that inspires others to a life of generosity.” I was suprised just to be nominated and then honored to be named as a finalist. I was very deeply humbled to be the one selected to receive this special award.
But here’s the real truth I’ve learned over my 40 year leadership journey. Legacy leaders understand that leadership is not about them, but it begins with them. To me that means that I accept my role of leadership in inspiring others to generosity. At the same time, thousands of others could have been on the stage beside me receiving that reward. Let me name just a few:
- Linda – my best friend and life partner for the last 45 years. My wife inspires me, encourages me, believes in me, challenges me, coaches me and more! We have been partners together in planting and building a thriving church over the last 32 years. While she has never been a staff member of Cape Christian, Linda has had an extraordinary influence in shaping the church and leading from the sidelines. I wouldn’t be the leader I am without her. The church wouldn’t be what it is without her.
- Co-Leaders– During the description of all the reasons why I received the Elmer Tabor Award, many of the mentions were about ways Cape Christian has given back to our community over the years: A park built for the families of our city; a non-profit health clinic for the uninsured or underinsured initiated by Cape Christian; and involvement in food drives, community-wide events. Successors, staff members, board members, congregational leaders and community leaders have all been instrumental in making the above examples happen. They bought into the vision, refined the vision and did the hard work to carry it out.
- Followers and Supporters– Leaders are only as successful as the many volunteers who follow and support the vision. So many people at Cape Christian have given sacrificially of their time, talent and treasure to accomplish some amazing things over the last three decades. Without that kind of generosity, there would be no award. Thank you so very much to many more than I can possibly begin to name.
- Family– My heritage has set me up for success. Grandparents and parents demonstrated the value of generosity and giving back to the communities in which they lived. Service above self was a top value in my family. My mother is a woman of prayer and has prayed much for me. My father always told me how proud he was of my accomplishments and impact I was having. (In fact I had a few tears this week because I wanted to call my father and tell him of the award, but he died about 7 months ago). And, I’m grateful for my children who have always been my cheerleaders.
- Pastor’s Small Group– I am blessed to have a group of fellow ministry leaders in our city who have mentored, inspired, supported, encouraged, affirmed, challenged, and prayed for me for over 22 years at our weekly lunch meetings. They help me to be a better person and a healthier leader. Thanks guys!
So thank you to all of the above and many more! I am a very blessed leader! I wish I could give each of you a generosity award!
The whole world held its breath for days! Ten days! The search was intense for 12 young Thai soccer boys and their coach. The world was captivated as they watched and prayed for this team—stranded by rising waters that drove them further and further into subterranean passages. And then they were found. Everyone took a deep breath. And then we all watched as frantic efforts were started to figure out a way to remove them from over two miles deep inside a mountain. It took 8 more days to get the 13 safely out.
During the interlude between discovery and rescue, my attention was captured by a news network editorial by Dr. Marc Siegel, author of the book, False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear. Dr. Siegel wrote his editorial about the trapped soccer team before the rescue began. He predicted:“I believe there are already several good signs that the rescue will ultimately be a success.” Why did he have such confidence? Dr. Siegel stated, “In the first place, the young soccer players are a cohesive team, already skilled in relying on each other, and are working with experienced divers to set up a well-organized, panic-free escape.”
Dr. Siegel went on to give another key reason for his confidence in a successful rescue: “Consider that the trapped boys have already shown bravery and mental fortitude in the way they survived for nine days without knowing when or if they would ever be found. Yet when they were found they were calm, several were laughing, and they assured rescuers they were in good health.” Here’s the main point Dr. Siegel was making. The above evidence “is a very good sign that the boys can control their negative emotions.”
Both fear and courage are contagious. Dr. Siegel’s book is grounded in research that demonstrates both fear and courage are strong emotions that engage the same primitive centers of the brain. However, they can’t both engage these brain centers at the same time. Laughter is an antidote for fear. As so is comradery. Both were clearly displayed in a video rescuers captured during the first few minutes of finding the soccer team.
I’ve been thinking about this concept of both fear and courage being contagious. I’ve observed it and experienced it as a pastor, a board chair, a soccer coach, a police chaplain, a husband and a parent. As a leader, my choice of courage or fear, was contagious. Sometimes I unintentionally chose fear and it spread through those around me. Other times, I chose courage. And those around me caught it and spread it. Both are contagious. Strong emotions. Mutually exclusive. Today, I choose courage. What will be your choice?
QUESTION: Do you remember a time when you saw the result of a leader choosing courage? Fear? Would you be willing to share it in the comment section below?
It’s as natural to me as breathing. I instinctively look for solutions. Not sure why. But it’s how I’m wired. My whole life has been about helping others find solutions to moral, spiritual and relational problems. And I confess, I really get annoyed when others don’t look for a solution to a problem.
Last week, I received a text while officiating at a funeral. Our local rental car agency was informing me that two reserved vans through corporate weren’t made available to them for transporting our 15 team members heading to Haiti early the next morning. In my mind, no big deal. There should be an easy solution. When I finished the funeral, I contacted the rental company. The reserved vans were not available as promised. They were apologetic. Had I caved, that would have been the end of it. No vans available. Period. But leaders are solution-seekers. As Sam Chand says, “Every leader got into a leadership role because they were a solution or provided a solution to something or someone.”
Without a doubt, I knew I could find away to get 15 Haiti team members from Cape Coral to Fort Lauderdale airport the next morning. I called our regional airport location of the company because the local agency said they have a much larger inventory and just might have the needed vehicles. The airport agent couldn’t find any vans anywhere in the area. He told me that he had no solution and then suggested I call their competitors to find two passenger vans.
Seeking a solution, I called the corporate office because we are corporate members with a direct-pay account. They quickly apologized and focused on the problem: the two reserved vans are not available. My response: “I understand what you are saying, but let’s get on the solution side of things.” I interrupted more excuse-making and asked the agent a simple question. “Will you help me get 15 people and all their supplies from point A to point B?” I politely told the corporate agent, “I would like to see you as a rock star by the end of this conversation. You will make you and your company super heroes. I just need your help to figure out a solution to get a combination of vehicles together to move our team and their luggage from the church parking lot, 150 miles across the state of Florida, to the passenger check-in area of the Fort Lauderdale airport. If you can do that, we will continue to use your company as our preferred provider. If not, we’ll have to seek out other solutions and other partners to provide our transportation needs. Is that something you are willing to do?” Finally, for the first time, I heard, “Yes, I will try.”
With that simple three-letter word, Y-E-S, she realized she had permission to find a solution. We went to work. We ended up reserving 5 large SUV’s to transfer a team of people and hundreds of pounds of supplies to their destination. As a consummate solution-seeker, I had my wife calling another local van rental company while I was on the phone making these vehicle reservation changes. As soon as I hung up with the rock star corporate rental agent, I called one of the mission team leaders because I wasn’t fully satisfied with the solution. Two heads are almost always better than one. He suggested using his pickup truck to transport the 30+ suitcases filled with supplies and then we could rent two SUV’s rather than five. Furthermore, instead of driving 25 miles to the regional airport during evening commute traffic to pick up the SUV’s, we decided to check back with our original local rental agency and see if they could now provide a solution by getting the two SUV’s directly from them. Bingo!
Here’s what I learned. Some people aren’t leaders. They only look at the obstacles. They make excuses. Leaders are solution-seekers. In fact, every leader’s trajectory is built on one thing. They provide solutions. In a business, a church, a non-profit, a government entity, solutions are needed above everything else. Whether it is increased sales, more revenues, better customer service, refined training, projects completed, products produced or additional employees—discovering solutions—is the key. It’s all about cultivating a positive-can-do attitude. Opening your eyes. Noticing. Looking. Vision. Creative out-of-the-box thinking. Listening. Collaboration. Leaders seek out solutions.
QUESTION: Is your tendency more toward solution-seeking or excuse-making? What is one thing you could work on today to grow your leadership by searching for solutions?
For nearly four decades, I’ve often been in the role of comforter—caring for those going through the death of a loved one. As a pastor, I’ve been with hundreds of families before, during or after saying goodbye to a family member. But I learned something from Barry a few weeks ago that will help me be a better pastor.
When my father died several weeks ago, hundreds of people expressed their condolences on Facebook, through emails, texts, phone calls and in person. Some sent cards in the mail. Every single one of those efforts of extending consolation and care were deeply appreciated by our family. But Barry’s care touched me the most.
Barry is a volunteer in our church office. For years, he has faithfully shown up twice a week to shred sensitive documents or insert offering envelopes in the weekly program handouts. He always has his coffee in hand, a cheery smile on his face and a warm hug for all our church staff.
After I returned to Florida from our family gatherings to celebrate my dad’s life, I was back in the office for the first in a couple weeks. Barry came into my office and told me he missed seeing me around. I told him my father had died so I had been in Oregon. Then the unexpected happened. Barry walked around the side of my desk, leaned over and hugged me. He said he was “so sorry to hear that news.” But then it got even better. Barry started praying for me. I couldn’t understand every word he prayed. In fact, I often have to ask him to repeat words to me so I can fully understand what he is saying. But I just listened this time. It was a heart-felt prayer to God on my behalf. Exactly what I needed. It made me cry. Still does.
The prayer-filled caring of my friend Barry, who has Down Syndrome, taught me to be a better pastor. No fancy prayer is needed. Just pray from the heart. And, a spoken prayer on the spot is better than a promise that you will be praying for them. No perfectly crafted words can bring greater comfort to someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one. Simple words are enough. Even the mumbled words by Barry were understood because they were authentic and real. And, a hug from a friend is always powerful.
In the future, I will seek to be more like Barry when I’m in the role of comforter. I will never forget. Barry is the Best. Teacher. Ever.
REPOST – It has been a year since my dad changed his address from an earthly one to a heavenly one. This repost in honor of the one year anniversary.
Two incredible men died nine days apart—February 22 and March 3, 2018. One was 99 and one was 88. One was a world-renown pastor and evangelist. One was a local farmer and businessman. But they had many things in common and one thing can be said of both — “He lived the message.” Billy Graham and my father, Thurlowe Gingerich, both lived the message. Billy preached and lived the message. Thurlowe didn’t preach it, but he lived it. Both left a legacy.
This is what I said at my father’s memorial service on March 12, 2018:
Multiple times over the last several years, our father Thurlowe Frederick Gingerich (TF is what he preferred), asked my brother Galen (also a pastor) and I to lead and speak at his memorial service. We assured him it would be an honor and we would do our best to do it when the time came. We’ve both been pastors for around 40 years—each leading hundreds of memorials over the decades. We usually share words of hope and comfort from the Bible. We want the family and friends of the deceased to be given courage and peace. But what do you say at your own father’s memorial?
While I was with my dad a few days before his death, this thought came to mind: His life was the message. He lived the message. Just share what he is remembered for by family and friends. He lived his faith out loud. He didn’t preach it in stadiums to tens of thousands. But just like Billy Graham, he lived it in all situations. TF’s life was characterized by the 2 Corinthians 2:15-17 scripture that says, “we are the aroma of Christ.” We either attract people like fresh-baked cookies or we repel people like a dead animal that is covered with flies and maggots. My dad was the first of those. In reflection, there are seven words that come to mind that describe how my father lived the message.
FAITH – Jesus summarized the whole Bible with four words. Love God. Love People. Moses wrote it the first time, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5). And Jesus added, “the second is like it, love your neighbor as your self” (Luke 10:27). Those four words characterized the way TF lived his life. He loved God and he loved people. He demonstrated his faith in how he built loving, caring relationships with his neighbors and how he served strangers. It didn’t matter if someone knocked on the door in the middle of night because they had run out of gas near our farm, 10 miles away from the nearest gas station. TF always got out of bed, went out to the bulk fuel tanks and got them five gallons of gas and he wouldn’t take any money for it. He served his church. He served on multiple non-profit boards. He went to Mexico multiple times to encourage missionaries that he supported. Mom & Dad hosted them in our home. He loved God and he loved people. His faith in Jesus Christ was evidenced in how he lived his life, how he treated people, and how he did business.
FAMILY – Next to his faith, family was at the top of his priority list. He was committed to his marriage to Mom for nearly 67 years. He loved his kids, grandkids and great grandkids. He especially loved it when all five of us children came home at the same time. He always showed an interest in his grandchildren, their work, their plans and their families. As recently as two days before he died, TF did video conference calls with nearly all of his grandchildren who couldn’t be present.
INTEGRITY – Dad’s word and a handshake on a several hundred thousand dollar deal was more certain than most people who sign highly detailed legal contracts. If TF said he would do something, he did it. I don’t recall a single time when I ever saw him cut corners or shade the truth. Even if it cost him more than he thought it would, dad always fulfilled what he promised.
EXCELLENCE – TF’s philosophy was “If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right.” He practiced excellence in every area in life. Whether it was making sure the furrow was straight when he plowed; the fertilizer on the grass fields was spread evenly so there were no yellow streaks; or making sure all the screw heads were turned precisely the same direction on a truck or trailer bed he built, dad lived with excellence. As a child and a teen, there were times I thought he was too precise and expected too much perfection, but I learned from my dad, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” And I passed that same viewpoint on to my children who were also sometimes annoyed by how precise and demanding I was when it came to excellence. But now I just smile when I see my adult children winning achievement awards, being promoted or doing their work with excellence. TF influenced them too and I see them passing on the same qualities to their children, his great grandchildren.
COURAGE – Dad was a man of courage. He was not afraid to try something new. He often did that while farming. TF demonstrated courage while trying new crops, purchasing newly introduced equipment, implementing innovative soil conservation ideas or new irrigation methods. TF had the courage to follow his conviction that every week, one day should be devoted to worship and rest. During the grass seed harvest, Dad had the courage to be about the only farmer in the neighborhood who didn’t take the equipment out in the field on a Sunday when rain was forecast for Monday. One of the neighbors would said, “I don’t understand it Thurlowe, you don’t work on Sundays and I do. But you always get it all done before me and you don’t seem to have equipment break-downs like I do.” Dad was a man of courage.
When TF was age 50, he sold the farms and started multiple new business adventures—owning and managing mini-storage operations, small and large office buildings and even owned a group of restaurant buildings across the Willamette Valley. TF had courage. He was an entrepreneur. He wasn’t afraid to step out of the crowd.
My father also had spiritual courage. Mom and Dad were one of three couples from their home church in the early 70’s who were willing to risk being misunderstood as they left their traditional church to start a new outreach focused church to connect with their neighbors. In fact, they hosted this new start-up church in a large room they built on the back of their house. Three decades later, we are sitting in that same church they helped birth, recounting his life. They had courage to follow God’s call, even when it meant stepping outside the customary boundaries of their church and family traditions.
GENEROSITY – Dad was always a generous man. Generous with his time, talent, & treasure. TF had the spiritual gift of Giving. I’ve discovered in my pastoral ministry that people who have the spiritual gift of Giving usually have the ability to generate money and they love to give money to God’s vision and mission. They see a need and meet it. I am aware that sometimes TF gave away 50% of his income to his church and other ministries.
I distinctly remember a time period when the Internal Revenue Service and the Oregon Department of Revenue audited him year after year after year. Because he was a man of integrity and excellence, the tax authorities found never found any thing out of order. In fact, they owed him money because he didn’t claim as many deductions as the might have. TF finally got really tired of all the time and effort it took every year to gather all the information for these auditors. He questioned their repeated audits when they never found anything amiss. They admitted the reason for these recurring audits with this explanation: “Mr. Gingerich, you trigger all of our computer’s red flag alerts because you give such an abnormally high percentage of your income to your church and other charitable causes.” They never audited him again.
TF was a generous man. He taught us kids to give of the first tenth of our income at a very early age. We learned from dad that we could never out give God. We saw him care deeply for each of the local churches he has been a part of. In farming, the income from the harvest of crops is seasonal. I know, at times, he would borrow the money to pay his tithe to the church in advance of receiving payment for his crops because he knew the church needed the money now rather than later.
Dad lived life the way that Winston Churchhill described it, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Our dad also knew the reality of what John Wimber once said, “What ever you don’t give away, you don’t get to keep.” And then a final characteristic of our father.
HUMILITY – Honestly, Dad would be a bit embarrassed by the way I’m talking about him tonight. But I have the microphone, he doesn’t. And remember, he asked me to speak. But seriously, he embraced humility. He shunned arrogance. Humility is not thinking less of yourself. Humility is thinking of yourself, less. When I called him on the phone from my home in Florida, dad didn’t spend much time talking about himself—unless I asked. Instead, he asked me about my family and my ministry. He always showed an interest in others. He walked in humility.
TF’s life was a message. It is a message that our world desperately needs. In these days when arrogance, greed, cowardice, inferior work, dishonesty, family neglect and anti-faith are predominant, I’m privileged and greatly blessed to have been raised by a man whose top priorities in life were his faith, family, integrity, excellence, courage, generosity and humility. And I pray, my children and grandchildren can say the same about me—that I didn’t just preach the message to others. But, my life was the message. I lived the message, just like my father did for me.
I hate to be misunderstood. I know my inner intentions. I recognize my motives. But I found great comfort recently. I read this quote by Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, “You have to be willing to be misunderstood if you’re going to innovate.”
Even though it has been nearly 30 years ago, I’ve not forgotten the comment by a peer of mine. I was embarrassed because it was in front of other peers. But it was more than just embarrassment. I was angry. I had been misunderstood. And, my motives and my intentions were questioned.
Here’s the backstory. I had just started a new church a few years before that encounter. We had started to buy land to build future church facilities. But it wasn’t an ordinary land purchase. We were doing something very innovative at the time. I’ve been told this was the first project of its kind in our city. I was also told by a few that it “couldn’t be done.” I was reminded of the fact that someone in the middle might be a holdout and not sell to the church and then the project couldn’t be completed. You see, we were assembling three adjacent city blocks of properties, individually held by 48 residential land-owners who were scattered half-way around the world. Once all 48 properties were acquired, the city and county would officially vacate the streets that separated the blocks and combine all of the pieces into one large 14-acre tract and the rezoning would permit the property to be used to build a future church campus. But buying all of the properties was the key. It did happen. It took ten years and about 60 closings—with all the various trades and transactions. But, it did happen.
But back to the comment that made me angry because I felt misunderstood. I was just practicing something that I heard Bruce Van Horn say decades later: “You know those ideas you have that are so big you’re embarrassed to talk about them? You should act on them!” God had given a vision to start a church that would reach thousands of unchurched families. I was acting on a vision. While a minimum of three acres was required in our city to build a church and the largest property that was owned by any other church at that time was seven acres, I felt we needed to be prepared to carry out the calling we had been given. So it stung a little (honestly, a lot) when an older much-more experienced colleague said to me in front of a group of other pastors, “What in the world are you going to do with all that land, build a university?” Given the tone of voice by which it was said, my interpretation at the time was: “Are you a young stupid kid or are you just arrogant? Who do you think you are? Do you think you can come to this city and start and build a larger church than all of the rest of us?” Innovation and vision was misunderstood.
David Brinkley of TV-News fame good-humoredly said, “A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him.” Now as a 60-something well-seasoned leader, I’m grateful that as a 30-something leader back then, I was able to use that brick thrown by another leader who was then about the age I am now. I look around each weekend and see nearly three thousand people gathering on our brick-paver covered campus for worship and watch the five-acre park being used by hundreds of families every day. And, I’m grateful. I’m so very blessed. Being misunderstood is a small price to pay.
Just two weeks ago, I sat and listened to an audacious church-planting vision from another 30-something leader. He recounted how some have told him his ideas are too grandiose, unreasonable and ambitious. I remembered how I felt when others threw bricks at me. It felt good to simply encourage his extraordinary vision, pray for him and to commit to give start-up financial support for the next three years.
QUESTIONS: What great vision have you been given for 2018 that you might need to start sharing? When have you been misunderstood because you were innovative? I would love to hear more of your story in the comment section below.
“True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure–the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation.” This was a recent daily inspirational quote I posted on my social media channels. This slight paraphrase of something Robert McKee wrote is very evident right now in my neck of the woods. We residents of southwest Florida are 24-48 hours away from an attack by a large mad woman named Irma. She’s one of the most aggressive hurricanes ever birthed in the Atlantic. Only time will tell her legacy.
So we are in the final preparation stages: Hurricane shutters installed, gas tanks filled, outdoor furniture brought in, water stored, food secured and evacuation plans in place or already executed. But here’s the deal. Sandwiched in between the weather reporters and their Class A moving graphics, is a story of a compassionate and generous shopper at Home Depot who gave the last generator out of his own cart to the woman in line behind him who needs one for her father’s oxygen machine. There are stories of off-duty Cape Coral Police officers installing shutters for the elderly. Neighbors helping neighbors. Churches blessing their communities. People at their best.
But, I listen to my police radio (issued to me as a chaplain for our department) and I hear the call to Sam’s Club to quell a fight of 10 people over a newly arrived shipment of water. Another friend tells me of his friend who picked up the last case of water at Lowe’s only to have someone try to pull it out of his arms. When he held on, he was met with a fist in the face. Other news reports tell of $3-4 cases of water being sold for $39. People at their worst.
Here’s another recent post I placed on social media, “What is down in the well, will come up in the bucket.” These kind of crisis events will reveal what is deep inside of us. This shouldn’t surprise us. An amazing teacher, prophet, rabbi and Savior said it this way: “A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thornbushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.” ~Jesus (Luke 6:43-45).
Transformation happens from the inside out. God is in the heart transformation business. You can’t give away what you don’t have on the inside. Start with asking God’s love and presence to fill you. And then, there are other forces that shape our character. Michael Hyatt talks about three of them:
- The Input We Consume—books, blogs, TV, music, social media, etc.
- The Relationships we Pursue—Jim Rohn says, “you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” Positive, negative, big-picture thinkers, problem solvers, critics, successful, etc.
- The Habits We Acquire—The consistent ways we think, speak and act in different situations. What we become known for. Our brand. Late, organized, disorganized, tense, relaxed, gratitude, or grumbling.
What gets squeezed out of you when the pressure is on? What do others see? The best or the worst of humanity? If it is the best, rejoice in the character you’ve allowed God to develop in you. If it is the worst of humankind, it’s never too late to ask God for a heart transformation and begin to change the forces that shape your character. You can’t change the past, but all of us have the power to change the future. As Steve Maraboli said, “Don’t let your history interfere with your destiny.”
QUESTION: When you do honest self-inventory, are you satisfied with what gets squeezed out of you under pressure? Would love to have you share your thoughts in the comment section.