Sometimes I Don’t Like Me Very Much …

Can you relate to this title? I am not looking for pity and this is not a passive aggressive attempt for pats on the back. I am simply stating a fact. There are times that I don’t like me very much. These times are usually triggered by my failure to do something that I know needs to be done. Or at least putting it off so long that it becomes an emergency that must be rushed. I don’t like myself in those situations. I usually have some intense conversations with myself in these moments. It is not a pretty picture. But it is true, at least for me. Do you ever have times like this?

I have been wrestling with the why of all this recently. Why do I do this? Why don’t I simply do what I know needs to be done, especially considering that I am painfully aware of the feelings that will pop up if I don’t? Why do I repeat this behavior and put myself into such a frustrating cycle?

After much reflection, I have come up with 3 big whys for this tendency of mine.

My 3 Whys …

-I often delay, avoid, or run from, what I know I need to do because I will have to change some behavior. Ironically, I am a person who generally likes a lot of change. When I hear “We’ve never done it that way before”, my default response is “Great, let’s try it!” And yet, I still resort to familiar, comfortable or convenient behavior when I don’t really want to do something. When this happens, I don’t like me very much.

-I sometimes don’t want to do something because I am not sure I can do it well. As much of an adventurer as I normally am there are times that I back off just because I don’t think I can something well enough. This seemingly random reaction on my part reveals some natural insecurities. Whether it is normal or not, doesn’t help me to like myself any better for not doing it.

-There are also times when I just don’t want to do something because I am afraid that it will work. Think about it. While it is true that if I attempt something and it doesn’t work or I fail at it, I will be sad, maybe embarrassed or mad. It is also true that if I don’t do it well the expectations for the next time will be lowered or, I might not even be expected to do it again. However, if I go for it and it works, then things may never be the same again. This can be a little overwhelming when you think about it. And I think about it a lot. I don’t like myself much when I realize this is the reason I don’t do what I know to do.

I am convinced that these 3 whys are not just issues for me, but that many people struggle with the same or similar issues. I am certain that they show up every Sunday in churches of all sizes, shapes and styles.

What are your whys? Is there one that plaques you more than others?

I am comforted to know that God’s grace is sufficient for all of us. I am motivated to reduce those times of not doing what I know to do by this same amazing grace and by the fact that there are others watching. Let’s encourage one another to make a change, to get over our fears and do what God has created and called us to do and to be who He longs for us to be.

 

Dennis

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What are you expecting?

(This post was first run 2 and a half years ago. I edited it slightly and added a few thoughts. I thought it was appropriate for this time.)

Expectations are wonderful and dangerous things. They are wonderful because they point us in a certain direction and can give us sharp focus. If you are not expecting anything you are likely going to be unenthusiastic about whatever you are doing. Without expectations, others don’t know where you are going and will not follow. Without expectations, it is hard to know if you accomplished your goal, after all isn’t a goal something you are expecting?

So, what are you expecting? What are you expecting from this day?

The dangerous part of expectations is they set you up for disappointment. Disappointment, by definition, at least my definition, is failed expectations. So, if what I am expecting does not happen then I will be disappointed. Understanding the connection between expectations and disappointment is critical for establishing productive expectations. Knowing that a failed expectation leads to disappointment can lead some to the conclusion that they should not set any expectations. Their logic is that if they don’t set any expectations then they won’t fall short on any expectations and therefore they won’t have any disappointments. There are major problems with that logic. First, without expectations you will just wander with no clear goal or motivation. Second, you may end up following the wrong plan as you get swept along by someone else’s expectations. Third, you will miss the joy of seeing fulfilled expectations.

         

Don’t avoid expectations, instead set expectations that will motivate you without being too unrealistic. Be willing to adjust expectations without compromising your vision or goals. Don’t get so caught up in “realistic” expectations that you leave no room for the power of the Holy Spirit and the moves of God.

What are you expecting from this day? What are you expecting from the next time of worship at your church? What are you expecting from this next week, month or year?

Let’s expect great things. Let’s expect God to do amazing things. Let’s encourage each other in our expectations.

Dennis

The Power of Pain …

As I sit here it is 4:00 AM on a Saturday morning. My thoughts are on the fact that my stomach hurts. Don’t feel bad for me there is considerable evidence that I created this pain. I created it because I ate too much Chinese food last night. It tasted so good that I thought a little more was okay. The problem is, I thought a little more was okay several times. So here I am sitting at my computer instead of sleeping.

Then I thought of pain. I am feeling some right now, evidence suggests it is due to the afore mentioned overeating. That led me to thinking about the power of pain. Pain can destroy or it can strengthen and there is much debate about which is more likely. We have all learned, there is no denying that pain is powerful.

Pain often dominates our thoughts when it is present. (It is dominating my thoughts tonight.) Anything that dominates our thoughts is powerful.

Sometimes it is physical pain. It can be temporary, the way I am hoping mine is this morning. Temporary pain can be from an injury that we know will get better quickly. The temporary can be planned, knowing that what we are doing is for our benefit and will be gone in a short time. Exercise can even fit in this category, as in “no pain, no gain”. A minor medical procedure can fall into this category. The key to using the power of temporary pain is to focus on how soon it will be gone and look for how it can bring strength for the future.

There is long term pain. Chronic illness or when an injury is not going to heal in a short time are examples. It is often heard around this type of pain “I am just going to have to learn to live with it”. The power in this pain can be how it can chip away at us physically and emotionally.  This type of pain can wear a person down. There can be strength gained in long term pain when we look at how we are surviving in ways we hadn’t imagined before the pain.

There is another type of pain that might be the most powerful. That is the pain of shattered expectations. The pain that comes when what we were planning and expecting doesn’t happen. This can be somewhat minor as when our team loses or the package doesn’t arrive on time. It can be major such as when the job is gone. When the person we loved is no longer present. When a person we depended on doesn’t do what we expected them to do. This type of pain can be devastating.

When the pain is from shattered expectations we need help from outside ourselves. We may turn to a friend. We may turn to family. We may turn to a counselor. We may turn to God and the Bible.

The intersection of our pain and the need to gain strength to go on is a great place for a turnaround to begin.

In our pain, it is likely that our vision is clouded. The pain can be so dominating that we struggle to focus on anything but the pain. That is where having someone else to grab our hand and guide us in toward a turnaround. Turnarounds are not “scar free zones”. It is rare to come through deep pain without some scarring. But scars are signs of healing.

If you are in pain I am praying for you.

Recently I have had an overwhelming burden for people struggling with pain. Some in physical pain and especially those with long term physical pain. Some in the loss of a loved one. Some of those losses have come through death, others through divorce and some through indifference, but all feeling the pain of the loss. I have also been grieving for those who have been devastated by shattered expectations.

Take some comfort in knowing that someone is praying for you today and part of that prayer is for a turnaround.

Dennis

Why not?

Have you ever had a unique thought that just seemed to make sense but then you realized that as far as you know no one is doing it that way? What has been your next thought? Was it, “It must not be possible because no one else is doing it”? Was it, “It must not work because no one else is doing it that way”?

What if you turned those thoughts around and instead asked, “Why not?”

Isn’t it possible that no one has tried it the way you are thinking? Isn’t it possible that no one with your unique skills has tried it before?

Many years ago I sat in Lyle Schaller’s living room with a few others. We were there to interview him and ask his impressions of some discipleship ideas we were considering. I was part of a group in my denomination who were attempting to create a new approach to disciple making that would excite and inspire our people, and the churches they were attending, to do discipleship in whatever way would work for them.

While sitting and talking with Lyle Schaller that afternoon we listened as he shared from his years of research and experience. In the midst of our discussions Lyle made a statement that deeply impacted me and my ministry. He said the church is not really afraid of failure. He went on and said that the church’s hesitation to try new things was not from a fear of failure. That statement went against the traditional thinking of trying to bring change to a church. I asked why he thought the church wasn’t afraid of failure. His response was that the church was used to failure. That if a church tried something new and it failed then everything was likely to go back to the way it was before the new thing was attempted.

He went on to say that what the church (meaning those of us in the church) was afraid of in trying something new was success! Because if we tried something new and it worked, then that church would never be the same again. That, he said, is what frightens us and gives us pause about trying something new!

Wow!

I have found that Lyle Schaller was correct all those years ago and unfortunately that same thinking is still prevalent in most of our churches today.

In fact as I was reading, thinking and praying today I have come to the realization that I have been getting squeezed into that thinking in my own life and somewhat in my ministry. I have been struggling to pull the trigger on trying some things that I believe God is prodding me to do personally and I have been dragging my feet in leading my churches toward some change that is absolutely necessary.

I believe it is time to start stepping out in some fresh ways in my life and in my leadership. This afternoon as I have been processing all of the thoughts racing through my mind and all of the possibilities I keep coming back to this thought, “Why not?”

If I go for it and I bomb it will have been quite an experience and I am confident I will get many sermon illustrations from it. However, if I go for it and it works … I have a big smile on my face and tears in my eyes as I consider the possibilities. The same is true for my churches.

So, why not?

What is your why not? What is it that you have been sensing the thumb of God in your back to do? Why not give it a shot?

Should you pray about it, absolutely! But I am guessing that you have already done that and still not started. Why not? Should you consider the good, the bad and the possible ugly of going for it, certainly! Then consider this, why not?

Here’s hoping and praying that my courage holds and I go for it. Actually it is several “its”. Here’s hoping that you really ask “Why not?” and then consider going for whatever you are sensing from God.

If my going for it crashes and burns at least it will provide some warmth for a while and will likely attract some others to investigate what happened when they see the flames.

So, why not?

Dennis

I’ve Got Nothing to Say …

“I’ve got nothing to say”. This is a phrase that I rarely utter, but it does happen from time to time. It usually happens when I am in the midst of studying for a sermon. It is not because I have nothing at all to say, but rather because I am feeling the weight of the responsibility of preaching God’s Word. So the truth is that I have too much to say. My real struggle is that while I am wrestling with what to say, I desperately want the people who will be in worship to hear the message I am convinced needs to be shared.

I realize after several years as a pastor, that the less I say and the more I allow God through His Word and by the Holy Spirit to speak, the better the sermon goes.

I guess I should “have nothing to say” a lot more. For someone who is a talker and enjoys teaching, preaching and speaking this is a very real struggle.

Maybe I need to adjust my thinking on all of this a bit. Instead of having nothing to say, it should be that my words decrease so that His words will increase.

This week, and today in particular, the struggle was very real. I prayed that I would have some things to say. I prayed that most of the words would be His words and that there would be no mistaking that they were His words.

So here’s hoping that I will continue with this struggle. Here’s hoping that all of us will recognize the need for less of our words and more of His.

Dennis

My Bad …

“My bad.” I have found myself thinking this a lot lately and saying it out loud some. This is a period of some brutal self-evaluation for me. Not sure exactly what triggered it but it has nearly consumed me for the past 10 days or so. It is not a fun process, but it is a necessary one. I truly desire to lead well. To lead myself, the ministry leaders in my churches and the churches where I am serving.

The trigger point for this evaluation period is likely the result of a few things that have not gone well, or at least did not go as I had envisioned. After every event, or ministry moment, I attempt to evaluate what went well and what fell below expectations. I am convinced that these evaluations are necessary, but I also acknowledge that often they are not fun experiences.

Recently there have been a series of experiences that though they may have looked okay from a distance, they left much to be desired. These evaluations have led me to think, mutter, say out loud and now write that I did not lead well in these situations.

My first reaction to these realizations was to look for someone to blame. My next realization was that the key person responsible for these less than stellar results was me.  Now that was the moment when I should have stood tall, accepted and even embraced the blame and began working to see that the outcomes would be different the next time around. The brutal truth is that instead of standing tall, I shrunk and slipped into some wonderfully miserable self-loathing and pouting.

Not my best moments for sure. I would love to tell you that this is the first time for this type of reaction and behavior on my part. Unfortunately it is not.

In the midst of this wallowing in self-pity God began speaking into my selfishness and to pile on, a book that I had ordered entitled “Extreme Ownership” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin arrived. This book’s premise is explained clearly in the simple title. It is written by 2 former Navy Seals and they share some real battlefield experiences and the leadership lessons learned that apply in any leadership position. The bottom line is summed up in these quotes from the book: “there can be no leadership where there is no team.” “The only meaningful measure for a leader is whether the team succeeds or fails.” And “Leaders must own everything in their world. There is no one else to blame.” Did I mention that I began reading this book while God was digging into my self-pity and excuses? Did I mention that I had been wallowing in the muck of attempting to figure out who messed up in these recent mediocre happenings? Ouch!

I am still reading the book. I am still trying to listen carefully to God’s guiding for me. I am still trying to figure out what to do different next time. But I am taking the first step of recognizing, and confessing that it is “my bad.” I am not seeking pity and I don’t need anyone telling me it wasn’t “my bad”, but I need to come clean and confess that “My name is Dennis and it is my fault.”

Now, it is time to starting climbing out of the muck and get back to leading as God directs and to take ownership of what is happening. It is time to really show loving leadership and figure out how to better communicate and how to be a better example for those around me.

Dennis

The Approval Trap …

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Politicians seem to live and die by their approval ratings and in an election year we are inundated with reports of the various candidates and their approval ratings. It is easy to be critical of them for making decisions and adjustments based how they think others will react. But politicians are not the only ones caught in the approval trap, many pastors, and others are as well.

There is a great temptation as a pastor to judge things in our ministry by how much approval we receive for the things we do. This is not a fun thing to confess but it is huge temptation for pastors and many others.

Approval is a very enticing thing. Who doesn’t prefer approval over disapproval?  But this seeking approval can create problems such as …

  1. We may avoid difficult topics or conversations – If we are seeking approval we are looking for more “thanks, that was nice” than we are “I hadn’t thought about that” comments. As pastors we often seek the “nice sermon pastor” comments rather than “ouch, that one really hit me hard”. I told one of my congregations to not bother telling me “nice sermon” because I was more interested in my sermons making an impact than making them feel good. That was a bit of overkill on my part, but I knew that I could become addicted to “nice sermon” comments and preach in order to receive them. I am not proud of that truth, but it is the truth. I am confident that I am not alone in this area. Have you avoided some conversations recently because you were seeking approval?
  2. Seeking out those who give us approval rather than those we can help – We are here for a purpose and a major part of that purpose is to help others. We may be motivated to spend our time and energy doing things for the approval of those who will give it rather than seeking to help those who may not heap their gratitude upon us.
  3. We may become discouraged or depressed when approval is not received – When we seek approval we easily become discouraged when we do not perceive that we are receiving enough of it. When we continue to seek the approval of others and continue to believe that we are not getting it we can eventually become depressed. This is not an overnight event, but if we don’t recognize why we are discouraged we can spiral down this path.
  4. We can begin to make poor decisions while chasing the approval we crave – If we are chasing approval and not receiving it while doing what we believe to be right, we can start to make compromising choices hoping for approval. It starts out slowly and those first poor decisions can be easily rationalized in our minds. But unless this is recognized, confronted, confessed and changed we may begin to make some very harmful choices, all for this elusive approval.
  5. We are hesitate to confess that we have been snared by the approval trap – A powerful statement used in recovery ministries is that you are only as sick as your secrets. When it comes to recognizing that we are in the approval trap, we (especially pastors) can be very slow to confess this issue. The main reason is that we convince ourselves that it is not a real trap and that it is really not a big deal. The second reason for our hesitation is that we are usually ashamed to admit that we have been trapped by the desire for approval.

There are other problems with the chase for approval, but these 5 should be more than enough to make us stop and consider if we are being trapped. If the answer is yes, then admit it and talk with someone. I will try and address some steps to conquering the approval trap that I have had to take, and continue to take, next week.

Here’s hoping you can be honest with yourself as you determine if you are caught in this trap. Here’s hoping that you can talk with someone you trust about this possibility. I will be praying for all who read this post, and if you would like for me to pray for you specifically then leave me a comment and if you do not wish for others to see the comment just add that to your comment.

Dennis

A Pastor’s Thoughts on Saturday Night …

Saturday nights are interesting for a Pastor. You have been preparing for Sunday morning all week so Saturday night becomes Sunday Eve. It is the night before. It is the night before the culmination of a least a week’s worth of studying, praying, fretting, practicing, worrying, anticipating, wondering and questioning. It is the night before the big test and there is another test just a big coming in a week. It is the night before an evaluation of how much your congregation likes you, at least that is how many pastors think. Saturday night thoughts are not all logical or helpful but for a pastor, at some time or another, they are all true.

There are many questions and thoughts rattling around in a pastor’s mind on Saturday night. Those questions or thoughts create a unique Saturday night prayer list for pastors. Such as …

…I studied, did I study enough?

…People were scheduled to get the building ready for tomorrow, I pray that they all did their part.

…Our teachers and small group leaders have been preparing all week, I pray the people in their classes or groups show up tomorrow.

…I am burdened for ______________ I pray that they are in church tomorrow so that they can be encouraged by the message and the people.

…Our giving has been running behind the expenses recently, I pray the offering is good tomorrow.

…I am really burdened for tomorrow’s message, I pray that I am able to get the right words to come out of mouth as I preach. I pray that the words I have prepared are understood and reach people’s hearts and minds.

…I pray that everyone who is scheduled to minister tomorrow shows up.

…I pray that our technology works tomorrow.

…I pray that some of my people are praying for me tonight.

…We have a lot of things happening in the church, I pray that people pay attention to the announcements and the bulletin.

…Many people have been invited to attend tomorrow, I pray that some of them show up. I also pray that our people really welcome any visitors.

…So many people are hurting in many ways, I pray that our people embrace one another and show real compassion.

…There are several who regularly attend without their spouse, I pray that tomorrow some of those spouses show up.

…What have I forgotten? I pray that I haven’t forgotten anything.

…I pray that I am able to stay focused amidst all the chaos that can take place just before the worship service begins.

…I pray that I don’t fall down as I go up to preach.

…I pray that I don’t mispronounce anything tomorrow (again).

…I pray that I am able to rest well tonight.

Here’s hoping that those of you who are pastors can rest well this Saturday night and that all your prayers are answered tomorrow. Here’s hoping that those of you who are not pastors will spend a little time thinking of and praying for your pastor this Saturday night. If you do pray for your pastor be sure inform him/her on Sunday, you just might be an answer to their prayers.

Dennis

If I Could, I Would … 4 Steps to Get Started

If I Could, I Would … 4 Ways to Get Started

“If ifs and buts were candies and nuts we’d all have a merry Christmas.” Have you ever heard this phrase? I had a relative that tried to use this phrase often, but they sometimes got the words out of order which made the phrase lose it’s real meaning. The point of the phrase, as I understand it, is to remind us that things are rarely perfect and we should therefore just do what we need to do. That is a great thought but not always easy to do.

When we seek to attempt something new, or something we know we should do, there are often mental obstacles that interfere. Then we don’t even get started. Some of these mental objections might be …

Everyone would think I’m crazy.

I don’t have the funds.

I am afraid.

What if it didn’t work?

I am too old, or too young, or don’t have any experience, or …

Do any of these look familiar? What is your “go to” excuse whenever you hesitate to do what you know you should do or when you think of attempting something new?

4 ways to get started:

  1. Quit worrying about the timing and take the first step – Often we hesitate by worrying about the perfect time to try something. We convince ourselves that a better time will come soon. This is a favorite of many people. They then let themselves off the hook of getting started because it is just not the right time. Let me ask you, how long have you been using that one?
  2. Be intentional in getting started – Make a decision and get started. Do it intentionally. Give yourself a deadline and go for it. (I am preaching this to myself at this moment.) If you want to get very serious about this tell it to someone else and ask them to hold you to the deadline.
  3. Don’t go alone – You have all kinds of resources at your disposal. Resources of people, of experiences and with the internet you can search for help in an instant. You don’t have to invent everything. I struggle with this one often. I love creating. But this interferes with getting something done at times when there are helpful resources all around me.
  4. Just do the next right thing – Don’t get hung up on everything that might be needed. Just do the next right thing. Take the next step and the one that is to follow will likely become obvious. You can’t get to the end of a project until you take the next step. So take the next step.

Just get started and see what happens. I can’t guarantee that you will be successful. I can however guarantee that you will be unsuccessful if you don’t get started.

So what will do today to get started? What is your next right step? Take it and watch what happens.

I would love to hear what you are working one and what is happening. I would love to encourage you and pray for you.

Dennis

If I could, I would …

This unfinished statement has recently been rolling around in my mind. Granted there is a lot of open space in there, but I keep coming back to it. Then it turns into a question, “If I could what would I do?” That leaves a lot of space for fill in the blanks.

I am in the process of trying to fill in the blanks got myself. It is an exciting and scary process. I am confident that this is going to find its way into a sermon very soon.

How would you finish the statement “If I could, I would ____________________________________________”?

I would love to hear your story on filling in the blank of that statement. You can leave me a comment if you would like, but in some way I would love to hear from you.

I will write more on this very soon.

In the meantime, have some fun and ask people how they would finish that statement. It just might provide some very interesting conversation.

Dennis