Sometimes you have to stand alone as the crowd numbly follows.
I was tasked with grilling some hamburgers for dinner the other day. While they were cooking, I decided to try out the panorama photo feature on my iPhone. These photos are the result. This is the most beautiful city in the world, and this isn’t even the best view.
I love this city so much.
(Part of “The Things Cai Taught Me” post series)
Cai was a very talented individual. He couldn’t sing very well, but that’s about the only thing he didn’t do very well. That and basketball. Anyone who ever played against Cai in basketball knows that he was a fouling machine. But in most other things, Cai was abundantly talented.
He was an excellent teacher that always challenged his students. He was gifted at making everyone feel happy. I’m sure any TBC’er will smile when they hear, “what’s kickin’ chickin’?” He was an anointed preacher. He was an invaluable friend.
One of the things he taught me is still something I’m trying to master. Cai never promoted himself. He was always doing his best to give others a shot at success. I think that might have been one of the key qualities that made him such a dynamic leader.
I struggle to do the same.
It’s like playing golf. You know the guy that is on the other team can drive 300 yards straight down the fairway every time. He’s waiting patiently for you to hit your shot. The inevitable panic of looking like less of a man sets in. So you put on your nice, white glove. You adjust your Ping visor. You make sure your golf shoes look good. You walk out onto the tee box with a swagger. You want everyone to believe that you are a good player too. You swing as hard as you can and the ball sails into the water. Three fairways over. You mask it with some excuse.
Two months later you’re invited to play again and you know that “that guy” is going to be playing. You come up with some excuse or injury to avoid embarrassing yourself again.
Cai, I’m sure, struggled with insecurity as much as anyone else. However, Cai was able to move past that. He never seemed intimidated in the face of talent. On the contrary, he looked on other’s talents, not as a threat, but as a tool.
Cai brought me to Louisiana to help make a video for the district kids’ camp. He saw a small talent in me and plugged me in where I could do some good. A year later, he did the same thing at TBC. He brought me in with nothing but praise of what I was really good at.
He provided entertainment at several banquets. When he did, he was always bringing students along.
He didn’t want to be the star, he wanted to be on a team.
He didn’t want to be the best teacher on the faculty, he wanted to help train the best teacher ever.
He didn’t desire to be the best preacher on the platform. He wanted to give the best preacher the pulpit.
He didn’t desire self-promotion. He valued putting the right people in the right places, even if it meant he wasn’t center-stage.
He viewed his rightful place as promoting others to their rightful place.
His willingness to promote and push others wasn’t his weakness. It didn’t cause him to be passed over for the talent that he was promoting. It worked much differently.
Cai was busy promoting the talents that he discovered others. That made him even more valuable. He learned to bring out the best in others rather than showcase their shortcomings. This made those who came in contact with him focus on their best and not their failures.
So many times we feel we need to bring others down so that our stature looks better standing next to them. We have to make someone look foolish so that we don’t feel so inadequate. Subconsciously we think that, if we bring others down, then other people will hold us in higher esteem in contrast to those we lower.
Cai proved that type of thinking is completely flawed. Promoting others’ talents, even those greater than our own, doesn’t make us look any less than we are. The ability to selflessly promote others actually makes us grow. Maybe that’s why Cai’s stature was like a giant to those who he pushed and promoted.
I know there were things I was better at than Cai. Ping Pong, for instance. (that’s a joke) I had talents and knowledge that he didn’t have in some areas. But without him pushing me in the areas of his inadequacy, I sometimes no longer feel adequate. Without someone devoid of my talent, pushing me to improve that talent, sometimes I don’t feel a need for those talents.
Cai taught many lessons but seeing the abilities, talents, and potential in others and learning to kill pride and exalt them instead of self is one of the more important lessons we could ever learn from him.
Perhaps the greatest talent of all is being able to look at someone and say, “I can’t do this as well as you, so use me as a stepping stone and be all you can be.” That could be why so many felt, and still feel, such void in their lives without Cai around. He was a solid foundation many who knew him could stand on.
Let us learn from that and become pedestals, not for our own gain, but so others can stand taller and accomplish more. After all, isn’t that the essence of leadership?
An orchestra conductor was once asked what the hardest position in the orchestra was. Everyone expected him to say the first chair violin. But, to everyone’s dismay, he claimed the second violinist was the most difficult position in the orchestra.
When asked why, the conductor replied, “Because the second violinist plays just as well as the first violinist. He practices just as long, and plays just as flawlessly but he get’s none of the praise.”
I remember being about 11 or 12, playing computer games all day long, not really caring about preaching that much. I had better things to do, I was just a kid. Someone brought a tape to me, I don’t even remember who it was. It was a tape (why does the word tape sound funny now?) of a seminar from some conference on being a second man.
I shouldn’t have even been interested in it. I didn’t even really know what a Second Man was back then. But I did listen to it. A minister by the name of Scott Graham, who now pastors in St. Louis, MO was the teacher of the seminar.
I don’t know why it clicked with me, it just did. This is going to sound funny, maybe nerdy, but I used to listen to that tape while I played computer games on my new 56k modem. No other kid was listening to seminars when they played, but I was.
So from memory, I will give you the main points of the art of being a second man.
- Ministry is not a trade school.
Too many times young ministers take their ministries for granted. Their ideal spot is a pastor of some huge church out there that has thousands beating the door down to hear their great preaching. All the positions they fill in ministry before that dream happens is just stepping stones.
- They take student ministry positions with no burden for youth because that’s just what young preachers do.
- They make sure and marry someone who can do music really, really good.
- They want to make sure every ministry decision reflects well on their resume.
- They aren’t emotionally connected to any position they see as just temporary.
- Your ministry focus is not to be successful
What? This flies in the face of the irrefutable laws of growing in the ministry!
Actually, it’s true. The Christian way of life, especially in the ministry, is usually upside down to the logical way of life in the world.
If you’re an assistant manager, you need to be successful so the district managers will give you the better job one day. As long as you are climbing that ladder to success, you have got to succeed quicker than anyone else.
In ministry, your job is to lose all ideas of self-success. You’re supposed to take the position God leads you to as the utmost position you could possibly hope for. You’re supposed to focus on it with pleasure that you have the opportunity to serve God in that capacity.
Ministry focus, as a Second Man, is not to be successful. It’s to make the one you are serving under successful.
- No job is unnecessary or beneath you.
Maybe you are mowing the lawn in 105 degree weather. Perhaps you are painting the outside of the church, with a brush, when the humidity is about to suffocate you. Maybe you’re cleaning the bathrooms because someone’s kid went crazy in there on Sunday morning and nobody found it until Tuesday.
In every situation like that, it’s easy to get distracted by your so-called qualifications. It’s easy, in light of your accomplishments and potential, to become annoyed at such chores.
According to Scott Graham, if you find yourself griping about having to work, realize that it was probably not much fun on Calvary too. Sure you could be inside sitting at the computer but you could be lost. I remember this statement, “you should be singing on the back of that mower!”
On a side note, don’t sing while mowing. It’s easy to get really loud and then people look at you like you’ve lost your mind. I’ve tried it, and it happens.
- Pick a wife that will help you rather than sit by waiting to be glamorous
Short and sweet from the tape, and my memory:
She may not be singing a special at General Conference, but honey, if she can pray… She may not be singing specials on Sunday, but if she is willing to clean the baptistry…
- Realize you are nothing without God.
- You may not get to travel to all the fancy conferences. You may have to stay home playing babysitter to the church while the pastor goes off networking with all of the preachers at the conferences.
- The pastor may have been blessed by God and driving a Lincoln, you better be happy with your Fiat.
- Realize, knowledge doesn’t do you any good if you don’t sharpen the sword.
Peter was with Jesus but he didn’t understand what was really going on. The Romans were fixing to take Jesus and Peter wasn’t mature enough to realize it was Jesus’ plan. So he took out a sword and tried to split the man down the middle. Instead, Peter caught the man’s ear.
It doesn’t matter how many degrees of theology you have hanging on your walls.
It doesn’t matter how many awards or pats on the back you got when you preached your favorite message.
If you aren’t sharpening the sword, and learning how to wield it, you will find yourself trying to reach people’s hearts, and only getting to their ears.
Then a old, grey-haired pastor can get up with his 8th grade education, and the Spirit of the Lord begins to move in the sanctuary. And you can turn all shades of green or get discouraged in your ministry.
Maybe you should concentrate on being the second man.
- Being a Second Man has benefits
There are tons of situations Bible College doesn’t prepare you for. Things that the professors couldn’t think up or imagine. Scenarios that are stranger than any fiction book. And they happen at church. The minister is the one who has to figure them out and find God’s will.
- As a Second Man, you have the luxury of operating in the Spirit while having a safety net.
Many young ministers will get hurt, aggravated, or downright vengeful if a pastor ever pulls their coat tails or corrects them.
You should be thankful that your immature hotheadedness was check by the safety net before you crashed on the ground and destroyed yourself, your ministry, and maybe your family.
If I had to do it once, I had to do it a thousand times. I would be working feverishly on my current project, or projects when you’re working in a Bible College, and Cai would come into the office with his next idea. He would either sit or pace in the office and spill out his idea and then he was gone. The problem was, he usually took something off my desk or bookshelf in the process.
Cai was a thinker but for some reason he needed to be playing with something for his mind to work. Ink pens, stapler, the cool little dagger, a paper weight… these are all objects I had to go looking for after his brainstorms. Usually they would be on his desk and he would have no clue he took them until I asked for them back.
I realized one day that I do the same thing. My mom had some porcelain dogs on her end table by the couch. Whenever I was sitting there daydreaming I would somehow finish by realizing I had the dog again. If memory serves me right, I broke a leg off of that poor dog before she finally found a better spot for it.
Anyways, the point is, everyone has creativity inside them. Some just don’t believe they do and some have suppressed it. Cai was an inspiration to be for the sheer volume of ideas that poured out of his Danish brain. Some of them never to be heard from again, and some that panned out to be great ideas.
I wanted to be like that. I wanted to be the guy that was constantly spitting out ideas that could possibly make things better, easier, or more productive. Cai taught me one simple, yet very important, lesson about being creative. That is what I’m going to write about in this third post of Things Cai Taught Me.
Creativity is a Choice
There is no secret to being creative. For some people, it flows effortlessly. For others, they lack creativity. They admit it as if creativity is fanciful dragon that flies away if they dare get too close. And if they dare sneak up on an idea, it burns them with a blast of fire from it’s nostrils and flies away again.
To Cai however, it was as simple as learning from children’s books: let your brain go and keep your heart out of it. That is hard to do for some, even the more creative people among us. But that is the main thing we have to master is keeping our feelings reigned in from the ideas our brain creates.
Reasons Some Might Fear/Shun Natural Creativity
- People usually think their ideas are silly.
- They are too bashful about their ideas and too shy to put them out in the open.
- They were sold on a past idea and believed in it only to be shot down by everyone they told it to. Now they keep themselves from having ideas to keep that from ever happening.
- They don’t think they have the talent be creative.
- They fear failure of the idea.
Here is the main idea: Having ideas is not dumb, but there are a lot of dumb ideas. Having a dumb idea is not dumb. Having volume of ideas is independent of the quality of the ideas. With a volume of ideas, chances are one or two are going to be valuable ideas.
The trick Cai taught me was to not let my emotions into the picture when I come up with an idea. Yet, follow these simple steps before allowing your emotions to become the fuel that drives the idea:
- Have the idea.
- Think about the idea.
- Present the idea to a friend.
- See where the idea will take itself.
- If the idea has promise, put effort with it.
- If the idea is trying to take off, attach your emotions to it and give it fuel.
The problem a lot of people have when manufacturing ideas is they put #6 between #2 and #3. They have the idea and think about it. Then they allow their emotions in and before you know it, their idea to recycle toilette paper into upholstery has already made them a million dollars before they run it by anyone who has objectivity.
When the friend or colleague says that toilette paper upholstery is a bad idea, it offends the creator of the idea. Why does it offend when it is clearly an idea? They haven’t invested thousands in it yet. They haven’t hired a PR firm or come up with a slogan yet. It’s just an idea. Why get offended by someone saying it’s stupid? Emotions.
Emotions are powerful things and can be the downfall of creativity. Emotions can also be harnessed and become the catalyst that drives an idea into a life-changing product. But you have to learn to put the emotions on the field in the correct order.
If you use all your emotions on the bad ideas, what are you going to do with the good ideas?
I know toilette paper upholstery is a bad idea. But I have had other ideas just as dumb. I’ve had ideas that everyone told me wouldn’t work but I believed in, pushed through, and it worked. I’ve had ideas that people said wouldn’t work and I’ve pushed them through and they blew up in my face.
I’ve had ideas that made people laugh at me. Two seconds after they start laughing, I have seen the goofiness of the idea. But how much of a fool will we make of ourselves if we emotionally charge on with every half-wit idea that comes through our head?
What kind of fool are we if we let the fear of having a bad idea, or being laughed at about our bad idea, stop us from coming up with more ideas?
Cai taught me to have ideas all the time. Present ideas all the time. Just hold back your emotions until you are sure the idea will fly. If you keep your emotions out of the way, your bad ideas can fall without hurt feelings, and the good ideas can take priority.
I’ve now been married almost 4 years. It’s already to the point where, whenever I say, “I have an idea,” my wife gasps, “Oh no!” I take it as a complement that I’m still imagineering to the best of my ability. I choose to be creative and keep my feelings out of it.
How many ideas have you had that could have been groundbreaking that you put on a shelf and forgot about because you were fearful of the feedback?
Who was Cai Larsen?
When I enrolled into Jackson College of Ministries back in 2000, I had no idea what to expect. I had grown up attending a small, private school and the thought of going to college where the learning style was completely different was a little frightening.
Thankfully, I fell in love with the school within the first two weeks and made a lot of friends. Most of my closest friends turned out to be members of the staff and the instructors. Two men that made a huge impact on my life were Danny Aber, a former missionary who was Dean of Missions, and Cai Larsen, the Dean of Christian Education.
Cai was from Denmark. He came to the United States as a foreign exchange student to Louisiana Tech where he finished a degree in Child Psychology. While he was attending LATech, he started visiting a church in Hodge, LA. He connected with the church through volleyball and eventually was baptized and received the Holy Ghost.
Cai, though, was still a foreigner. He did things Americans thought were weird, like rollerblading for miles on his way to church and back. And some of those quirks made him an amazing friend. His thinking was backwards from mine in a lot of ways and, just talking to him would open my mind to possibilities I hadn’t thought of before.
After graduating from LATech, Cai attended Jackson College of Ministries where he recieved a BA in Theology. After graduating, Cai, and his wife Gill, were asked to stay as faculty members. Cai took the position of Dean of Christian Education the semester before I enrolled.
When I got to school this foreign guy was an amazing teacher. For one, his accent kept my attention. But he was also so goofy. His slapstic comedy put him in the realm of Jerry Lewis to me. His teaching style was also brilliant. He refused to allow us lazy Americans to slide through his class. He often made students angry because he challenged what they thought to be true but had never studied out for themselves.
Long story short, by the time I graduated, I had worked with Cai on a number of projects. When I graduated, Fred Foster, the president of JC M, asked me to stay as a staff member, and be the advisor to the Theology club. Because I was put into a new position as Marketing Director, or “Computer Guy” as Cai called me, Dr. Foster put Cai as my somewhat supervisor.
That put the icing on the cake and Cai became one of my best friend. Although, he had his “best buddy wayne” we became very close. After Fred Foster retired from JCM, the college closed down to relocate its campus. (Something they are still trying to do, sadly) The staff had to move on. I went south about an hour to Natchez where I became the youth pastor. Cai, went west to Texas Bible College where he would become the Christian Education Dean.
About 6 months after we split up, Cai drove through Natchez and met me at the mall. He asked me if I thought I was done with Bible College. I told him I still had a burning desire to teach at a Bible College but figured it would be a while before I could get back into it. For the following 3 months I would travel to Lufkin, TX to help Cai with a few projects and we stayed closely connected.
As luck would have it, about 9 months after I went to Natchez, the Promotions Director at Texas Bible College resigned to pastor a church in south Texas. Cai called me up and asked me to put in my resume. I did, and before I knew it I was moving to Lufkin Texas to once again have an office right next to this goofy foreigner.
Even though Cai was no longer my instructor, he remained my teacher. He taught me so much through discussions and simple statements. We made stupid videos to promote events at TBC. We acted absolutely stupid in skits for banquets at area churches. And we did our best to spread passion for the work of God in the students we came in contact with.
One thing that was unique to our friendship was the influence of Danny Aber, who I mentioned before. Bro. Aber had tons of amazing little diagrams and lessons he would teach using the whiteboard when both Cai and I were students. Now that we were both teachers, and Danny Aber was pastoring in PA, we would race each semester to see who could use the “Aberisms” first.
I would also use the cool stories Cai used when he was my teacher to which he would cry out, “you thief! you stole that!” when I would tell him what I had done.
Through all of the ups and downs of academic life, Cai remained a close friend and, whether he knew it or not, an invaluable advisor to me in all my life’s problems.
Almost two years after I moved to Texas, Cai was killed in a tragic accident at his home. He was cutting down a tree when a branch fell out of the top of the tree crushing his skull. His wife and their three children were suddenly plunged into grief.
Since then, I have had to adjust to life without that friend that I could talk to about anything. I have yet to find another friend like Cai. He taught me so many amazing things inside and outside of the classroom.
This post series will be on the things Cai taught me. Some will be complex, some will be extremely simple. But these are the little things I will never forget about my friend and mentor.