Defeating Self-Doubt

Let me begin and end with stories about two bearded presidents. The twenty-third President of the United States was Benjamin Harrison (1833-1901). He was a Republican from Indiana. He served as president from 1889-1893. It was during his term the White House was wired for electricity. The White House was wired for electricity in 1891. Electricity had only been around about ten years. Many were still skeptical. Harrison was one. He must have wished it would have waited for his successor, Grover Cleveland (1837-1908). Historians tells us Harrison was intimidated by electricity. He and his wife, Caroline (1832-1892), refused to touch a single light switch. They were afraid of being electrocuted. They were so paralyzed by fear the Harrisons often slept with the lights on. If no servants were present to turn them off. I tell you that story for one reason. Our fears and self-doubts have a way of paralyzing us. It is a common fact today. That takes us to today’s scripture lesson.

We find ourselves in the seventeenth chapter of Genesis. Abram is ninety-nine-years-old. (I do not play the numbers game. If the Bible says he was ninety-nine, then he was ninety-nine.) His covenant with God was yesterday’s news. It had been twenty-four years since God made the great promise to make his descendants a great nation. There is only one problem. He still has no children with Sarai. Abram must have feared he was the reason for God’s inactivity. Abram had made many mistakes. You can find those mistakes between Genesis 12 thru 16. Yet in Genesis 17, we discover that God’s great promise had not been forgotten. To underscore this reaffirmation, God changes Abram’s name. Abram is now to be called Abraham. Abram means “exalted father.” Abraham means “father of many” or “father of the multitude.” The covenant is not just reestablished. It is expanded. Abraham’s self-confidence must have been restored. The way you look at yourself changes everything.

My goal today is to help you restore your self-confidence. That is no small task. How many people do you know struggle with self-doubt? Do you struggle with self-doubt? It is a serious issue. Have you ever stopped to consider Satan puts self-doubt into your life because he does not want you to maximize your full potential? He wants you to live in a shell, afraid to come out. God, on the other hand, wants you to live up to your full potential. He wants you to have the greatest impact on your little corner of the world because you are His ambassador. After all, you are a disciple of Jesus Christ! I am going to restore your self-confidence by asking you three questions. Each correct answer is illustrated in Abraham’s story.

This is the first question. Do you know yourself? Abraham was 99 years old in the Bible story. That means he had 99 years to learn about the world and himself. That is one of the things I like about growing older. Proverbs 20:29 says, “The glory of the young is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old.” Experience has taught me age makes us secure. When you are young you feel like you have something to prove. You must be the fastest. You must be the strongest. You must be well versed in automotive repairs, construction, and French cooking. You must be the best looking and the most successful. Being young is exhausting. The older you grow the less you must prove and the more you learn to like yourself. Today, the only person I am trying to impress today is myself. I am no longer trying to impress you and I do not care if you do not like me. I do not want to sound arrogant. However, I do want to sound secure.

The most liberating words in my life are the words, “I don’t know!” I am quite comfortable confessing my ignorance. I know nothing plumbing, auto repair, foreign policy, sewing, crafts, and the finer details of physics. I cannot speak a word of Portuguese. I cannot read music or play a musical instrument. Except for my awarding winning chili, I do not cook, but I will eat anything. I do not know anyone interviewed on the late-night talk shows. Saying, “I don’t know,” does not mean you do not know anything. It means only means “I don’t know” about certain things. I do not know anything about cardiology, but I know something about God, preaching, the Bible, church growth and group dynamics. I know I love my wife and my wife loves me. This is the truth. I like being sixty-three years old because I have had sixty-three years to learn about myself, my strengths, and my weaknesses. I have grown secure. Abraham had ninety-nine years to learn about himself. Does anyone here know everything? When was the last time you uttered those three little words, “I don’t know?” Abraham knew who he was, and so did Jesus. Let me ask you the first question again, do you know who you are? Self-confident people know themselves.Do you know yourself?

This is the second question. Do you know whose you are? That is Abraham’s story. We can relate to him because he was so much like us. Genesis 12-16 is filled with one story after another about his mistakes. If God was looking for perfection, then He would have passed over Abraham. However, this is the good news. God was not looking for perfection and accepted the imperfect Abraham to be the father of a great nation. It is still true today. If God was looking for perfection, then God would have passed over us. God hungers to be with us not because we are perfect. God hungers to be with us because he loves us.

One of the great preachers of yesteryear was Philip Brooks (1835-1893). He was extremely confident and optimistic. A close friend asked him what the source of his attitude about life was. He replied, “It is really quite simple. I am a Christian.” Once you discover God’s love for you, everything changes. Just think about it for a second. God claims you as a child. In the end, God will be victorious, and He wants to share the spoils of that victory with you! It really does not matter what the world says about you. The only thing that really matters is that God loves you! Jesus was self-confident because he knew whose he was. Abraham was self-confident because he knew whose he was. You should be self-confident because God loves you too. Let me ask you the second question again, do you know whose you are? Self-confident people know they are loved by God. Do you know who you are? Do you know whose you are?

This is the third and final question. Do you know where you are going? Abraham had hope. He knew he had a bright future. He was going to be the father of a great nation. In the Christian faith, Jesus had hope. He knew he was going to heaven when his suffering in this world was over. May we never forget that Jesus suffered. The Apostle’s Creed says: He (Jesus) suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Jesus knew he was going to heaven when it was all over. All he had to do was hold on, but it is not just Jesus’s story. It is our story too.

Has there ever been a time in your life when you felt completely defeated? There did not seem to be any escape and every day was a challenge. It was a challenging situation, but you have hope because you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. You know the main event is not this world. The main event is heaven. Someday the challenges of this world are going to be over and you get to go heaven! I have said it a million times. The only things that really matter are the things that will matter in one hundred years. The only thing that will matter in one hundred years is Jesus. Someday we are going to heaven! Let me ask you the third question again, do you know where you are going? Self-confident people are hopeful. When you find yourself defeated by self-doubt ask yourself these three questions. Do you know who you are? Do you know whose you are? Do you know where you are going? Let me end with this story.

History tells us Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) was the sixteenth president of the United States. His life is well documented, so it should come as no surprise he was shot at Washington DC’s Ford Theater on April 14, 1865. He died at the Petersen House across the street from the theater a day later. Due to his height, they laid him sideways on the bed. He is considered the last casualty of the American Civil War. The political climate of America on that day was ugly. The country was in turmoil and was ripped to shreds by hatred and a cruel, costly war. In the past, I told you about the items found inside of Lincoln’s pockets on that horrible evening. Do you remember them? In President Lincoln’s pockets were found:

          1. A handkerchief, embroidered “A. Lincoln”
          2. A country boy’s pen knife
          3. A spectacles case repaired with string
          4. A purse containing a $5 Confederate bill
          5. Some newspaper clippings

One of the newspaper clippings was an article written by British statesman John Bright (1811-1889). He called Lincoln, “one of the greatest minds of all times.” Today, that is common knowledge, but that was not the case in Lincoln’s time. Lincoln’s critics were fierce. Lincoln kept Bright’s words for one reason. He could not believe anyone would say he had a great mind. All these years later, we can confess the truth. Lincoln suffered from depression and self-doubt.

I do not have an article which says you are one of the great minds of all time, but I do have a divine truth that cannot be debated. You are a child of God! There is no reason to be filled with self-doubt. You are so valuable to God. You are so valuable to God He sent Jesus into the world so you can spend eternity with him. I hope you do. Canadian author Marty Rubin (born 1964) once said, “Self-doubt inflicts the deepest wounds.”

What Dads Deserve

Today, we are in the twenty-second chapter of Genesis. This story does not stand in isolation. It is just one in a series of stories about Abraham. Do you remember what has happened to Abraham to this point? When we are first introduced to him, his name is Abram. That name means “the father of many.” Of all the people on the face of the earth, Abram caught God’s eye. Not because of his sinless nature or his good looks. Instead, he caught God’s eye because of his character. In other words, he was a man who simply wanted to please God. In one of the great stories in the Bible, God promised Abram that he would someday be a father of a great nation. In time, his name is changed from Abram, the father of many, to Abraham, the father of the multitude. Everything sounds great except for one glaring fact.  It is as true today as it was then; God does things in God’s time. Abraham and his wife, Sarah, welcome their first-born into the world at the age of ninety-nine and ninety-eight. That birth not only ruined their retirement plans, but it demonstrated the power of God. They named their long-awaited son Isaac. All of this is necessary to understand this morning’s scripture lesson.

When Isaac was twelve years old, God decided to test Abraham. God must be number one in your life. The father-son team head off to make a sacrifice. Isaac does not know until the last second that he is the sacrifice. In the end, the life of a goat was taken, and the boy is spared. It is a cruel story in many ways. However, what I love about the story is it illustrates for us Abraham was a good father. It has been said, it is must easier to become a father, then to be a father. Let us look at three things dads deserve. Each one is illustrated in our story for today.

Dads deserve to be respected!

First, dads deserve to be respected. In the Genesis story, Isaac respected his father. He even let him tie him up and lay him on the altar. Let me say this clearly. Respect should never be given blindly. Respect must be earned. Fatherhood is not simply a biological act. Fatherhood is a relationship. What are you doing with your life to earn your children’s respect? Dads deserve to be respected. Do you, did you, respect your father?

Dads deserve to be trusted!

Second, dads deserve to be trusted. It really is quite a scene. Abraham and Isaac travel to a remote location. When the time comes for the sacrifice the father bounds the son. Abraham draws his knife to slay his son. At the last second God stops the killing. All these years later it is still shocking. Yet, there is no sign in the story Isaac stops trusting his father. Dads deserve to be trusted. Do you, did you, trust your father?

Dads deserve grace!

Third, dads deserve grace. Isaac must have needed some serious counseling after that day. He must have had a million questions and he must have had some sleepless nights. Yet, the relationship between Abraham and Isaac moved on. He forgave his father. I have never known a perfect father. However, I have known countless fathers who made mistakes and who needed to be forgiven. I have known fathers who have experienced grace. Maybe it is time you forgave your father? Dads deserve grace. Have you shown you father grace?If not, it is not too late.

My father, Ronald Adams, was born in Ashtabula, Ohio in 1920. His father, my grandfather, Roger Adams, had a variety of jobs during the Great Depression. Growing up I never heard the word poverty, but money was tight. My father was just a child during the depression, but the poverty of those years never left him. I have worked with many who lived through the Great Depression. They reacted to the Depression in one of two ways. Either, they rejected the poverty and became very generous. Or, they feared poverty and became very frugal. My sister, Susan, is a much kinder person than me. She says our father was frugal. I say our father was cheap. He would not even buy new socks. He held the old ones up with rubber bands. He never handled money easily. Saving money was one of his great preoccupations. Through my eyes he was cheap.

On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese Empire. My father was twenty-one years old. He and his brother, my Uncle Carlisle, volunteered for military service. My father joined the Army. My uncle joined the Navy. My uncle went to the Pacific. My father was in the medical corps and started off in North Africa. In time, he moved up to the boot of Italy as the war progressed. He must have experienced some horrible things. He died with those tales. He never spoke of those experiences. When the war ended in Europe, he prepared to move to Manila. The day before they were to leave, the orders were canceled because the first of the atomic bombs was dropped. When the war itself ended, my father arranged to stay in Europe. He wanted to do some sightseeing. It seemed to be a wise choice. He was in his mid-twenties, single with a high school education, and unemployed. He saw many things that most only see in pictures. Those may have been the happiest days of his life.

When he returned home, he used his G.I. Bill to get an education. He was an interior decorator by trade. He first went to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, then he went to the New York School of Interior Design. It was while he was in New York that he met my mother. They met at a social gathering at the Marble Collegiate Church. They were married at a Dutch Reformed Church in Brooklyn and had their wedding reception at my grandparent’s home around the corner. They spent their wedding night at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Staying in New York was never an option. He wanted always wanted to return to Ohio, his home.

In time, they would move to a magical place called Warren, Ohio. They bought their first home when my twin sisters, Susan, and Janet, were born. I was born seven years later. My mother was a dietitian who worked at Trumbull Memorial Hospital. My father was a buyer for Carlisle-Allen Department Store. As a child, I thought our home was boring. It was not until I became an adult, that I discovered it was exceptional. Our home was always stable, and my parents rarely fought. My parents went to church every Sunday and to work every day. In those days’ loyalty was a big deal. My father stayed with the store for over thirty years. On the day he retired, no one noticed, because no one cared. He gave his life to “the store,” and he deserved better. Yet, several years later when “the store” closed, he grieved.

On this Father’s Day, can I be honest with you? I never felt close to my father. I really do not know why. I like to think we were both good people. Everybody seemed to like him. He intimidated me. I do not want to sound critical. However, I want to be honest.

My father showed very little tolerance with me. I cannot remember a single time standing next to my father not feeling nervous. He never hit me, but I was always ready for his backhand. I was often the brunt of his jokes for his stand-up routine. I think, it is better to be yelled at and taken seriously, then laughed at and be dismissed. I yearned to have a relationship with my father, but it never came. My father died in 1996. I grieved when he died. However, I did not grieve for the relationship we had, because we had no relationship. I grieved for the relationship we never had and never will.

Several years ago, my sister’s mother-in-law died. Mrs. Naylor was 92 years old and she was part of my family’s life for decades. I attended the service and drove to the cemetery for the committal. It was not my first trip to that mausoleum. It is the same mausoleum that holds the remains of my parents. Ironically, Mr. and Mrs. Naylor are directly across from my parents.

As I stood by my parents’ names on the wall, three things struck me. First, time goes fast. My father died almost twenty-five years ago. How could it be almost twenty-five years? How fast will the next twenty-five years go? I wonder where I will be twenty-five years from now. I wonder if I will still be alive. Second, I have a good life. I can trace all the best things in my life back to my parents. My mother made sure our home was filled with love. There was always enough to eat and drink. Our clothes were clean. Our home was warm. My parents gave me what every child really wants and needs – stability. Third, the time has come for me to stop being critical of my father and start remembering him with grace. Time has taught me the best you can do is the best best you can do. Perfection is impossible. I like to think my father did his best with me. It is not easy being a father. It is not easy being a parent. I am doing the best I can with my children. I hope they do not look for perfection. They did not receive it in me. I hope they look at me with grace. I have heard it said, “It is much easier to become a father than to be one.”   Happy Father’s Day!