Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Humility - the hardest character quality to keep

One of the most challenging parts of my job is also a blessing.  Constantly, people come to me to tell me what a fine message I brought or what a fine funeral I did or what a fine wedding I performed.  I'm not saying I don't like it - it's always nice to be liked.  The problem is that it's not about us.  It's tempting to believe all of the things people say.  That you're God's gift.  That people should always say such kind things and hang on every word you speak.  That your gifts extend far beyond mere mortal capacity to receive or even understand it!  Believe me - I've been there.

The reality is when we believe things like that about ourselves it leads us to the wrong conclusion.  it leads us to believe that it's about us and our calling.  As if God can't use anyone other than me.  Or us.  Or as if our gifts exempt us from our own humanity.  Don't believe it!  Satan will sell you that lie as long as you'll buy it.  

So how do you avoid it?  By making certain humility is a key part of your life.  For me, I do this by learning a new skill each year.  Generally speaking, to do so means you must swallow your own pride and ask for help.  You must be teachable and - worst of all - vulnerable to criticism. . . . especially from yourself!

I learned a lot about this back a few years ago when my friend Larry Folden invited me to learn to skurf.  For those unfamiliar with skurfing, here is video of some guys doing it ridiculously well.  To learn, I had to submit myself to doing something I hate to do - look foolish.  I had to agree to swallow my foolish pride and strike out where I'd never gone.  For 17 weeks - 13 weeks one some and a full month of the next summer - I tried unsuccessfully just to stand on the silly board!  I drank about half of Lake Jacksonville and wasted about $400 worth of Larry's boat gas!  Finally - FINALLY - on the 18th week - I stood up.  I didn't throw the rope in and I looked anything like I was supposed to - but I at least got that far.  Because I was willing to keep trying.  I was willing TO STAY HUMBLE.  

I'm not exalting myself here - I'm very much still a work in progress - but humility is one character trait that I'm constantly pursing.  The thing about humility is this - you can choose it or it will choose you.  Humble yourself or someone else will do it for you.  I choose to humble myself with the knowledge nothing I do to serve the Lord is about me.  I invite you 

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Remember why you exist

Last night, Julie, Joshua and I decided it was a great night to go out to eat!  Who DOESN'T like that?  So off we go to a Mexican restaurant - a part of a chain we've enjoyed before.  We even found a front-row parking spot!  On a Friday evening!  How about that!  Sadly, that was as good as it got.

I let Julie out to go get us in line.  When Joshua and I joined her a few minutes later, she greeted me with "The hostess will be right back - and I don't like her."  My gentle and gracious wife isn't often like that.  She likes everyone!  We stood there - no joke - at least five minutes with literally no waiters or hostess in sight.  At 6:00 PM on a Friday.  I thought I was on a funny video show - "how will people react when there's no one to help them!"  Hahahahaha.

Finally, a new hostess shows up.  She's just as surly as the one before.  She leaves too.  We're at the head of the line which has grown behind us now.  The first surly one came back with the second surly one.  "We're short staff tonight so you'll have to take a booth."  For my long legs, that's a challenge, but okay.  They took us to a freshly cleaned table that was literally soaking wet.  We wiped it down so WE didn't get that wet.  A waiter passed but didn't speak.  Another couple came in and were seated.  They got waited on.  We didn't.  After 10 minutes of sitting there alone, we got up and left before we were even greeted by a wait staff.  Wow.  They think they're in the food business.  No.  I submit that they are indeed NOT in the food business.  They're in the PEOPLE business as are most of us.

Our experience there made me think of a book I encountered.  "The $6000 egg."  (  The essence of the book is the same as our experience.  Author Todd Duncan had a similar experience and reminds us we're about people!  Don't allow your organism to forget why you exist!  It happens to restaurants but it also happens to churches.  In the push and pull of life every day, we miss the opportunity to be about our mission - to serve people!  At FBC, we're definitely not in the religious business - we're in the people business.  The two are definitely not the same.

My friend Don

I'm glad to say Don Cornelius was my friend.  He blessed me with his kindness, wisdom, grace, generosity and strength more times than I can count.  For the last six years, every single time - EVERY SINGLE TIME - I saw Don, he would hug me and tell me "I love you preacher!"  He meant it with every fibert of his being!  It wasn't just words for Don.  It was a way of life.  Even with all of that, however, I'll never get over what happened in the 10 months between August 2010 and June 2011.  Let me tell you a story only Julie, Don, Carolyn and I know. . . . .

It was a Sunday morning.  Early.  Deacons meeting day.  We had been at Central right at a year, all the while seeking to sell our home in Frankston.  It wasn't that far back and forth, but we knew we were leaving a lot on the table by staying there and working in Jacksonville.  Thus, we made a decision that we would seek temporary housing while we tried to sell.  Seeking help in that department, I asked the deacons to prayerfully consider where we might find such (the market for housing in Jacksonville isn't as strong as some other markets).  Immediately after the meeting, Don was waiting for me.  "Preacher, I've got an extra lake house we're trying to sell.  We'd be delighted for you to live there."  It was a home that had belonged to family member who had passed away.  We agreed on a nominal sum - far below what it should've been, but it was all I could convince him to take.  Thus, a few weeks later, we moved into the lake house.  Don was as attentive as any landlord I've ever had.  If something was wrong, he did ALL he could to make it right.  He mowed the yard and kept the landscaping up.  He wasn't a nuisance, but he was always close at hand in a gentle and kind way.  I'm not sure who knew how little Don was allowing us to pay to live in that great house, but we did and were grateful in ways I simply can't measure.  That was great - but it only set the table for what was to come.

March 2011.  Our lives had just been completely inverted.  A call came from a lawyer's office about a baby needing a home.  A short time later, Julie and I learned we would be parents!  As I thought about it, however, we really needed to talk with our landlord.  He had signed on for two adults and a dog.  How about a baby?  I thought I knew, but . . . so I went to see Don and tell him our situation.  I really can't remember now - 5 years later - I was so concerned.  When I told Don what was happening, tears well in his eyes and he hugged with a hug only one father can give another.  More than a yes, Don was at least as excited (maybe even more so!) than we about Joshua's birth.  When we got home with Joshua, Don and Carolyn were some of his first visitors (I think they were the very first, but I can't remember for sure).

It wasn't long until we sold our Frankston home and bought our place on Augusta in Jacksonville.  When we did, we left Don's lake house, but definitely not the same way we found it.  We left so much richer and fuller as a family - not monetarily but definitely spiritually and emotionally.  And Don was a big part of why.

And now, Don has gone home.  Far too soon for my tastes.  I don't know why the Lord took him home so soon and there's a hole in my heart that his absence leaves.  I'm grateful, however, for the goodness the Lord showed me a my family by loaning us Don, even if only for a short while.  I'll miss his laugh, his passionate work-ethic, his good sense of humor, his generous nature, his compassion and his constant reassurance of his love for me a my family.  God speed, my friend - I'll see you later - and we love you too.