What Are You Thankful For?

(Thanksgiving Week)

ThanksgivingTurkeyThis is Thanksgiving week and I am grateful to God. Like you, I can make quite a list of what I am thankful for.  I will give you some of the reasons why I am grateful. Perhaps in the comments you will be willing to share what you are thankful for.

*I am grateful to God, that through Jesus, I can have relationship with him.  As a result, I am also privileged to have relationship with many, many people in his church.

*I am grateful to Charlotte, for decades of marriage, for being a partner with me through each chapter of our adult lives. Together we have lived in Florence, Ala.; Pulaski, Tn.; Dallas, Tx.; Abilene Tx.; Florence, Ala. (again); Kansas City, Mo.; Waco, Tx.; and Memphis, Tn.

What Your Preacher May Not Tell You

shushRecently, I was with a number of ministers from across the country. Many of them were fairly young.  I would guess that most of these young ministers are conscientious people who want to do the right thing for their church.

I have preached for over three decades. I know many preachers. Most of them are good people.  The following are some realities of ministry that may not fit every single minister, but it is certainly characteristic of so many of us.

  1. Your preacher may not tell you about how difficult this task really is.  Of course it is true that there are some lazy ministers who do not honor their calling through their lack of a work ethic.  However, most ministers I know work very, very hard.  Most work long hours.  When I was a young minister, I remember hearing several times someone use the old line about preachers working one hour a week.  Those were awkward moments for me.  I knew how hard I was working.  I knew the stress I felt.  Somehow, this old line was supposed to be funny or relevant.  I never quite understood that.
  2. Your preacher may not tell you how hurtful and frustrating some remarks really are.  Some years ago, we were seconds away from beginning our morning service.  I was about to say, “Good morning!  I am glad you are here.”  I was standing at the front of our auditorium, on the floor, just about to speak, when a lady in the second or third pew said aloud to me “I am so angry with you!”  I was not expecting that at all.  I paused for a few minutes and then said “Good morning!”  However, her comment felt like someone had let all the air out of my spirit for the morning.  I talked with her later and things were made right.  It’s important to choose words that encourage rather than harm.
  3. Your preacher may not tell you how difficult it is to preach week after week. Someone asked me a few years ago, “Jim, how do you come up with new and fresh material week after week?”  I don’t remember my answer.  However, after thinking about his question for a few years, I realize that whatever he saw in my preaching each week reflected many hours of prayer, paying attention to the congregation and culture, reading, and intentional growth.  Know that most preachers don’t simply have the gift of gab.  Rather, they work hard.
  4. Your preacher may not tell you that he is right in the middle of life right along with you.  Marriage concerns.  Child concerns.  Dealing with aging parents.  Health issues. Problems with siblings.  Financial issues.  Problems with elders, etc.
  5. Your preacher may not tell you that he is a person who probably needs encouragement.  Yes, in most congregations, there are people who are generally very encouraging to their preacher.  However, I believe that elders often underestimate how much encouragement their preacher needs.  Quite often preachers (particularly in small to medium sized churches) deal with many troubled people, address family issues in the congregation, and minister to the sick and dying.  Encouraging words help greatly. Some congregations may have a couple of people who are constant critics.  Unfortunately, in far too many congregations, the people who love their preacher and appreciate his ministry are silent.  They don’t criticize.  They don’t praise.  They say absolutely nothing.   If you appreciate the person who is preaching to your church each week, it might mean so much if you were to express encouragement to them in person or through a note.

Monday Start: Resources for the Week


I’m not sure how he does this much reading. Nevertheless, you might be interested in this piece by Albert Mohler “Some Thoughts on the Reading of Books.”  It fascinates me to see the systems that others use for their reading.


Not surprising but still disturbing.  “Many Children Under 5 Are Left to Their Mobile Devices, Survey Finds.”  Also see the piece by Claire Cain Miller in The New York Times “Stressed, Tired, Rushed: A Portrait of the Modern Family.”


Also see this feature article in The New York Times MagazineThe Displaced: Introduction.”  Very sobering look at the plight of 60 million people.

This May Interest You

Right now, I am reading Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel.  I just read Dr. Ruth Chang’s How to Win Your Child’s Heart.  (Kindle $2.99)  A good little book with some very important reminders about what it means to be a parent.  Just finished listening to John Maxwell’s new book (Audiobooks)  Intentional Living.  An excellent and helpful book. Maxwell is very biographical in this book.  Just listened to the latest Mars Hill Audio (vol. 127).  I especially enjoyed Kevin VanHoozer.  I look forward to each edition.  This audio resource has helped me appreciate the offerings from Christians who work in a variety of disciplines.

Do any of these interest you?  Hopefully.  Of course I am also interested in any nuggets that you have discovered recently. Please leave these titles/authors in a comment or on my Facebook page.



Don’t Let Your Fears Take Control

Generalized-Anxiety-DisorderOver and over the Bible says, “Do not be afraid.”  

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  (Isa. 41:10)

Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” (Ex. 20:20)

But now, this is what the Lord says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. (Isa. 43:1)

Are you like me in that you know fear?  

I suspect I have overreacted in a number of situations with my children through the years because of my fear.  I also suspect this has caused me on occasion to be self-protective with my wife.  Fear has been a part of my ministry at times.  There have been times when my view of God was rather small compared to what I was fearing.  Fear has its way.

Fear can have its way when we consider our future.  Some people may allow their fear to cause them to seek perfectionism.  Nothing in their eyes is ever quite good enough.  They may obsess about the smallest details of most anything.  Such people may believe that they really can’t begin a project until everything is near perfect.  Still others allow their fear to lead them to procrastinate.  Out of their fear they put off starting what they could have actually finished months ago. 

How to Murder Your Own Ministry

church144-300x300There are many ways a person can murder one’s own ministry.  Sometimes ministers self-destruct by unwise choices and decisions.  Ministers who serve on a staff at a church can kill a perfectly good ministry through foolish words and actions. Sometimes such choices result in a minister being “fired” or “let go” from a church.  Yet, in some situations one might self-destruct and yet continue to stay in the same role for years.

A minister can get intoxicated by his own sense of self-importance.

This person can begin to believe that since he is retweeted regularly on Twitter or invited to speak at out of state events, that he is important and unlike the ordinary people.  This is the person who might place in his own biography, “He is a highly sought after speaker.”  Really?

A minister can regularly function by asking for forgiveness from others rather than asking their permission.

Do what you want to do knowing that later if you appear to be contrite, you will be forgiven.  After all, this person reasons, it is far easier to get forgiveness than go through the process of getting permission.  Of course, this person might never use the word “manipulation” to describe such  may never be used.  Yet, this is manipulation.

A minister can become focused on money for his own gain.  

This minister may move to a different church primarily due to a larger salary.  Or, this minister might keep score as he learns about the salaries of other ministers.  The problem is not money per se.  There is certainly nothing wrong with trying to support your family.  However, one can become totally focused on financial gain.

A minister can give himself permission to do what is apparently wrong for everyone else to do.

Through rationalization and self-justification, this minister may give himself permission to think too much about a particular woman in the church or community.  Instead of protecting his marriage, he seems to be playing with fire.  He pridefully rationalizes, “I’ve done nothing wrong. I’m not even tempted.”

Yet, instead of dealing with the temptation, he seems to be getting as close as he dare.  Then one day he says, “I never thought this would happen to me.”

A minster can self-destruct in relationships with elders.

A younger minister would do well to find out why ministers sometimes have difficulty in their relationships with elders. In fact, this person might become a student of such relationships.  What are ministers doing in churches where these relationships seem to work well?  Are they doing something intentional or do they just have a good group of elders?

A minister can be a taker instead of a giver.

You know the givers.  These are the generous people.  They consider how they might encourage and help others.  Then, there are the takers.  These are the ministers who seem to always concerned about who gets the credit.  They want to position themselves to be able to be seen by any large urban congregation that might be looking for a preacher.  As one guy said to me, “I’ve got to keep my resume up to date.  I’m ok with the church I’m with but I want to be ready in case one of the large churches has an open position.”  When ministers model “taking” as a legitimate form of ministry, they are modeling before the church anything but servant leadership.


Monday Start: Resources for the Week


From Business Insider see “How to Start an Interesting Conversation with Anyone.”  This is a good piece.  Far too many people are passive in the company of others.  This could be very helpful.


This post from Life Hack is a reminder that there is value in reviewing one’s goals.  See “5 Actions You Should Take to Plan Your Next 5 Years Well.”


This is a good post by the former Stanford University dean.  See “Former Stanford dean explains why helicoptering parenting is ruining a generation of children.”

David Brooks

I like New York Times columnist David Brooks.  Like any writer, I don’t agree with everything he says.  I like Brooks because he makes me think.  I also like him because he is not predictable.  See his recent columns here.

On Being

I occasionally listen to NPR’s radio program On Being with Krista Tippett.  Recently I listened to a portion of the podcast with Adam Grant, “Successful Givers, Toxic Takers, and the Life We Spend at Work.”

Monday Start: Resources for the Week


Some very interesting articles appeared recently regarding children, play, etc.  See “Schools Hire Consultants to Make Recess Safe, Structured, Sad” and “Kids Need To Get Out And Play.”  Also on the subject of children be sure to at least skim  (from the Washington Post) “Are parents ruining youth sports?  Few kids play amid pressure.”

Conversation and Technology

See the interview with Sherry Turkle in the Huffington Post regarding her new book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age.  The article is “Texting Isn’t the Problem: A Conversation with Sherry Turkle About Reclaiming Conversation.”


See Adam Toren’s “7 Healthy Habits that Maximize Your Productivity Every Day.”  (Reading these kinds of articles often reminds me of a bad habit I’ve acquired or a good habit that I’ve neglected.) See also “7 Invaluable Lessons from World Class Achievers.”


Be sure to read my recent blog post “What Good Parents Do.”  These are some reflections on the practices and habits of good parents.

Odds and Ends

I am reading Tim Keller’s book Preaching.  This is an excellent book written by a seasoned minister who has been preaching for many years.  I especially pay attention to Keller’s footnotes as he is apparently one who reads widely.

This weekend I read several two articles and an interview by James K. A. Smith in Comment (print edition).  (See online edition here.)  In particular I enjoyed his “An annotated reading of your world.”  I will quote one section of this article:

The world needs your (continuing) education, and your soul is starving for it.  We are remarkably well-educated dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants who could only dream of what we enjoy.  Let’s not squander our inheritance. (p. 11)



What Good Parents Do

child-and-adultThose of us who have children are always learning, or at least we should be.  We have two daughters who are adults and are still learning what it means to be a dad and mom to two adult children.

James K. A. Smith, in an article in Comment journal (fall 2015) speaks of “the currents and dynamics of society that are essential but often ignored because they are banal and taken for granted.”  He observes that “While headlines focus on spectacles and draw our attention to controversy, the things that make a society tick hum away in the background, in the quiet of life-giving homes and the energy of formative classroom . . . .”  (“Health Beyond the Hospital” p. 2-3).

As parents, we need to be aware of the significance of the “quiet of life-giving homes.”  This may be where some of the most significant work of our lives will be done.  Yet in our busyness and fatigue, we may also ignore some of the most important realities of being a good parent.

What do good parents do who wish to raise children in life-giving homes?

Good parents continue to learn.  Pity the child who is being raised by a dad or mom who won’t learn, grow, read, or ask questions of others.  Their default is often their own experience.  “This is the way I was raised.  This is good enough for my children.”  Granted, all of us can learn something from our families of origin.  However, we bless our children when we continue to grow and mature as parents.

Who Are You Trying to Please?

(From Self-consciousness to God-consciousness)

1978cadillaceldoradoAt the time, it was a new luxury car.  It was a car that I could only dream of owning.  The owner was a wealthy man in our small church. I was a newly married, young preacher.  That morning, as I walked out of our church building, I could see him already sitting behind the wheel of his parked car, puffing on a big cigar.

As I walked by his car, I waved to him.  His window slowly came down.  He glared at me and sternly said, “Let’s don’t talk about race anymore!”

That morning I had preached a sermon and at some point had said something about race and the way we treat one another.  As I recall, I spoke regarding the way we as Christians are called to treat others, regardless of ethnic group.

Apparently this man did not like what I said.  This was a new experience for me.  I had never had someone immediately snap at me like this regarding what was just said in a sermon.   I responded by saying something like, “I was just applying the message of the text that I was preaching this morning.”

I thought about his remark throughout the day.  I knew he was used to having his way.  I also knew that he gave more money on Sunday morning than anyone else and that our small church was impacted by his gift.  I reflected on what I had said in the sermon and genuinely believed that what I said was appropriate.

On one level his comment was about race but it actually was about much more.  His comment forced me to reflect on why I preached and why I did any kind of ministry in the first place.

Monday Start: Resources for the Week

start3Why seminary?

Steve Norman has written a very fine post on some of the benefits of seminary.  Working with Harding School of Theology, I obviously believe there are great benefits that one can receive at a seminary.  See 4 Surprising Benefits of Seminary.

For your brain

These two articles deal with the kind of food that might enhance the brain.  See 7 Back to School Breakfasts that Boost Brain Power and Researchers Find 8 Superfoods That Drastically Boost Your Brainpower At Work.


Bill George, a Senior Fellow at Harvard Business School has written a good article entitled Self Awareness: Key to Sustainable Leadership (Huffington Post).

Being with people in grief and loss

Maria Popova has written a great piece in Brain Pickings.  See Barbara Walters on How to Be There for the Newly Bereaved and Brokenhearted.  (Maria Popova often writes thoughtful and useful posts that are helpful and interesting.)

American Culture

Terry Rush has written a post entitled Anti-Religion is a Religion.  Worth reading.

Public speaking and preachers

Don’t miss this fine post.  Volume and the Public Speaker: Be Heard and Be Effective.  This post contains important reminders to anyone who does public speaking.

Marriage and the dangerous question

See this post by one of my favorite writers, Gary Thomas —  The Question That Can Destroy Your Marriage.