Tag: Character

Kick the “t” out of can’t

Several years ago I heard a message with this same title.  Unfortunately, the title is all that remains lodged in my memory.  But I like the phrase, so I decided to write my own message.

 “Can’t” is one of those unique words in the English language that both reveals the attitude of the speaker and triggers an emotional response from the hearer.  Ask a four-year-old to tie his shoes, or a seventeen-year-old to do his calculus homework, or a thirty-three-old husband to fix a clogged garbage disposal, you’re likely to get a common “I can’t.”   Of course, what each means is, “I don’t feel like it”, or “Why don’t you do it instead”, or “It’s not convenient for me to do at this time.”  On the other hand, if a person in authority, (a parent, a teacher, a pastor or a policeman) tells the four-year-old, “You can’t go outside and play,” or the seventeen-year-old, “You can’t associate with that boy,” or the thirty-three-year-old male, “You can’t drive over the speed limit,” watch their reaction and see if their behavior doesn’t try to prove the authority figure wrong.

 An attitude of “can’t” is also unique in that it doesn’t even need to be spoken to be “heard.”  It can actually be “heard” via a person’s behavioral response to a request or suggestion.  More often than not, that response reflects fear (of not wanting to fail) and/or pride (of not wanting to be seen as a failure.)

 This morning I was reading a passage in 2 Kings 5 that demonstrates both of these points.  The chapter is about a Syrian general named Naaman, whom the Bible says God chose to give Syria a great victory.  When the man contracted leprosy an Israeli servant informed him of a prophet who could heal him.  The King of Syria sent Naaman to the King of Israel with a letter asking to have this great warrior healed.  But the King of Israel saw the request as a demand upon him personally – and he knew he didn’t have the ability to heal anyone of leprosy.  He didn’t even consider the possibility that God might want this man healed.  He didn’t tell Naaman “I can’t” but his fear captivated his behavior.  In the meantime, the prophet Elisha heard about the request and said, “Send him my way.”  Elisha knew his ability resided in God.

 Then when Naaman went with his horses and chariot, and he stood at the door of Elisha’s house, Elisha didn’t even come out to talk to him.  Instead, he sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.”  Naaman’s pride kicked in and he started to leave and return to Syria.  His “I can’t” was buried in his reaction.  Fortunately for him his servants again intervened and reminded the general, “If the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”  So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.  Once Naaman recognized that his healing was dependent on his obedience to the one true God, and not anything he or any other human being did that mattered, he was healed.

 I think I stand on pretty firm ground when I say that the Bible doesn’t like the word “can’t,” either spoken or unspoken – because it reflects a lack of trust in God.

 We’re told to encourage one another to be the best we can be.   And that’s exactly what the Bible does for us.  It encourages us by telling us: You can do all things through Christ, Who strengthens you”; or when it says: you are the head and not the tail – you are above only and never beneath;” whenever you are obedient to your Creator.  Even if you think you’re the one exception to the rule and you believe you are physically and intellectually challenged, the Bible has a word of encouragement for you, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.”

 History is filled with people who overcame physical and emotional handicaps.  T.D. Jakes was told as a young boy he’d never be able to preach because of a bad lisp.  Now he has a vast ministry that reaches millions.  Smith Wigglesworth lacked self-confidence and couldn’t speak from the pulpit for more than 2 or 3 minutes before breaking down in tears and asking someone else to finish for him.  But God gave him the ability to preach and travel all over the world.  And nearly everyone has heard of Helen Keller, who contracted a disease at nineteen months of age that made her both deaf and blind – still she became a prolific author, political activist, and lecturer.

 It is especially important for parents to avoid using the word “can’t” in dealing with your kids.  In his letter to the church at Colossae, the Apostle Paul put it this way: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, that they may not lose heart.” And when he wrote to the Ephesians he said it a little differently: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”   If I were interpreting Paul, I’d say, “Guide your kids, but don’t nag them.”  I really believe most parents sincerely desire to create a positive, constructive environment in the home; one where they’re involved in their children’s lives.  Parents need to learn to balance discipline and trust, protection but not overprotection, helping them set and meet realistic goals, all the while communicating love both verbally and physically. No one said it’s going to be easy.

 So the next time you’re tempted to say “I (or you) can’t do that!” just hold your tongue.  And the next time someone tries to discourage you by telling you, you can’t attain one of your dreams, ignore them.  Believe in yourself – the highly valuable person God sees when He looks at you – and trust in Him to draw that out of you.  And trust God to bring out the best in your family, your friends and those He puts before you to minister to.

I no longer have the capacity for boredom

I got the title of this blog from a quote I heard on WJR radio several months ago.  I can’t remember the person who said it; but, after thinking about it, I felt comfortable adopting it as my own motto.  Poet and essayist Criss Jami once said: “The writer’s curse is that even in solitude, no matter its duration, he never grows lonely or bored.”   Actually, I consider it the writer’s blessing.

 Anyway, as I was out riding my bike this beautiful sunny Monday morning – something I do nearly every weekday, except when precluded by spring showers or winter ice and snow – God began speaking to me about the vast contrasts in life that keep it from ever becoming boring.  One moment we’re feasting on the wonders of nature, the next we’re fighting a cultural battle, in writing or before a local governing body.  Every day, even every moment is unique and ordained by God – both for our good pleasure and for our involvement in His plan.

 So many people who mourn that they’re bored, seem to believe it’s life’s responsibility, or their family’s and friends’ duty to make their personal world interesting.  That’s a sure formula for becoming even more bored.  The sooner they learn that it’s their own responsibility to make life exciting, the better off they’ll be.

 Even secular comedians’, Hal Sparks and Louis C.K. tongue-in-cheek quotes express this wisdom: “Boredom is your mind and body’s way of telling you you’re not living up to your potential.” (Hal Sparks)   “‘I’m bored’ is a useless thing to say. I mean, you live in a great, big, vast world that you’ve seen none percent of.  Even the inside of your own mind is endless; it goes on forever, inwardly, do you understand?  The fact that you’re alive is amazing, so you don’t get to say ‘I’m bored.’ ” (Louis Szekely)

 I personally have too much to do and too little time to do it – in ministry, in private life, and in exercising all the talents and opportunities I’ve been afforded by my Creator.  I long for quiet moments, tedious moments, when I can just slow down and be at peace before God and with my wife.  But I’ve come to anticipate that even those moments will be interrupted by a call to watch and entertain the grandkids, or to counsel some man who is hurting, or even by a brilliant thought that I just have to write out before I lose it.

 I can’t remember ever being bored, even as a kid.  Though I did a lot of things I shouldn’t have done – but I wasn’t bored.  Young author and blogger, Amit Kalantri explains this as, “People fear nothing as much as boredom and they will do unimaginable things to make it go away.”  I’d rephrase that to, “Creative people will stretch themselves to make even the humdrum exciting.”   And twenty-six year-old Amit fits that profile exactly.  An electronics and telecommunications engineer from India, his interests spread wide and far into writing and film-making.  He is by no means bored with life.

 We’ve all been given tremendous gifts and talents by God.  If you don’t know what else to do, come by my local church (or one in your neighborhood.)  Share those gifts with others.  You’ll be amazed at how exciting it is working in God’s Kingdom with His people.  I’m having a ball, and developing new skills at the same time.  I don’t have the capacity to be bored.

Masterpiece

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.  Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)

 In 1980 Sandy and I went on a Marriage Encounter weekend, and followed up with an ME group for several months.  ME seemed to have two main goals: first, to improve communication skills of both marriage partners; and second, to improve individual self-images as well as the image we each had of our mates.  When it came to the first goal, I think we benefitted more out of the fact that we were both willing to do whatever was necessary to better our relationship, than from the actual “tools” that ME gave us to help us to improve our communication skills.  However, with regard to the second of these goals, during the initial weekend marriage enrichment experience we must have heard the slogan “God doesn’t make junk” at least two dozen times; and I think it sunk in.  In fact, if you asked me today what my purpose in life is, I’d have a list; but near the top I’d have the encouragement of others, to see themselves as God sees them – as His Masterpiece.

 The primary thing ME lacked in this area was the recognition that a strong image of self is primarily dependent on an understanding that each of us is a special creation of God Almighty, crafted in His own image, and for a specific important purpose.  Not only did God Himself breathe life into each one of us; at the moment of our conception, the God of the entire universe began crafting a masterpiece.   Each unique person is intended to perform a significant role in His kingdom.

Bitter childhood memories will blind a person to God’s goodness

Unfortunately, we have an enemy that does everything in his power to keep human beings like you and I blinded to this wonderful truth.  Over the years I’ve provided spiritual advice to many people, men mostly, who have had some pretty difficult childhoods.  Some endured years of physical and verbal abuse.  Some whom their mothers tried to abort using drugs or throwing themselves down stairs, but who only hurt themselves.  When their sons survived, they blamed them for all their problems – making sure they knew it was “their fault” for their screwed up lives after that.  Still others were abandoned by one or both parents – and other relatives made sure they knew they weren’t wanted. 

 I’m sure there are some reading this blog who have had very tough childhoods.  Maybe you had one or both parents that you weren’t real proud of, because of the life they chose to live.  Or maybe they ignored you and just went about thinking only of themselves.  And you had to grow up by yourself and learned things the hard way – and often the wrong way.  You may “get older” and think you’ve put that all behind when you become an adult (even a Christian) – but if God doesn’t intervene, it’s going to affect everything you do in the future.  It’s going to continue to affect your self-esteem.

 God stands waiting to change your situation

 Only God can change that – and He stands waiting to step in and free every person from this burden.  Regardless of your personal background – no human being is immune from the temptation to compare self with another – and there’s always someone who can do something better or faster than you, or more to the crowd’s satisfaction.  You were not created to compare.  You were created to please an audience of One and make a significant difference with your life.  You are God’s special treasure, selected by Him and for Him. You are created in the image of Almighty God.

 Whenever you feel “not good enough” or whenever the devil tries to put condemnation on you for past, forgiven sins, just read what God has to say about you and what He’s already done for you.  You are the apple of His eye (Psalm 17:18); you were worth dying for (John 15:13); He gave His best for you, His only begotten Son (Romans 8:32); He thinks of you all the time, even when you’re asleep (Psalm 40:5); He takes it personal when anyone offends you (Matthew 25:40); He’s assigned personal body guards (angels) to watch over you (Psalm 34:7).  And the list goes on and on.  Then repeat the words of Psalm 139:14-16, making it your personal prayer:

 “Thank You for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in Your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.”

 And remember: He made you exactly the way He intended, and He equipped you with everything you need. You have the strength (through His Holy Spirit) to stand strong in the midst of difficult situations, and the wisdom it takes to make good decisions.  Understanding exactly Whose you are, and how you fit-in God’s plan.

 You are a person of destiny. You have an assignment and you are full of gifts, talents, encouragement and love. You have rich treasure inside you that people need. You have more in you that you realize, and you can accomplish more than you ever thought possible.  You are a person of destiny, because you can leave your mark on this generation.  Understand you are important, and out of your importance, know that you are called to add value to the world around you. No matter where you are in life today, you have potential to increase, grow, to be strengthened, and to move forward.  God created you for His good purpose, and know that beyond a shadow of a doubt, you are His masterpiece.