- Start. John Acuff was right in his book, Start. Sometimes you just need to begin. Start doing what you have put off. Start doing what you know you need to do. Start doing before you have it all figured out.
- Beware of toxic, mean people in your life. Some people are mean! These toxic people want to hurt you. This may be your ex-husband, a former neighbor, or a total stranger. This meanness is evidence that you are dealing with a person who will stoop to most any level of behavior in order to get his ego stroked. This calls for wisdom and care in dealing with such people.
- Pray. Listen to children pray. Listen to how they pray without being self-conscious. Prayer is a reminder that all of life is larger than yourself and that each one of us desperately needs live in dependence on God.
- Show up. Think about those people in your life who are important to you. Is there an event in their lives that calls for your presence? Simply showing up and being fully present at funerals, weddings, showers, receptions, is huge! Being present in body while staring at your screen isn’t exactly what it means to be fully present.
- Remember names. You might say, “Oh I’m bad with names.” Ok. Most people I know have to make an effort at remembering names. At least they are making the effort. Remember that we all love to hear our name.
- Get over yourself. Growing in knowledge does not mean that you get to depend on God less while you control others more (Zack Eswine, The Imperfect Pastor, p. 113). Too some, competency seems to suggest that simple trusting faith is no longer necessary. Is your perception of your competency so important that you are almost offended when others go to someone else for counsel or advice.
- Don’t quit the first time you hit a wall. Yes, marriage is hard. Raising children is hard. Work can be hard. Ministry can be hard. Yet, hitting a wall does not mean that something is wrong. Some of the most valuable things that we are doing are hard! Anything that is important is bound to be hard at times. Instead, pray for the grace you need to persevere.
- Get focused. I saw a sign in Memphis the other day that warned drivers about getting distracted while on the road. That same day I saw a car racing across the freeway while the driver was texting. Some of us don’t text while driving, but we are nevertheless distracted, while we dart about from one distraction to the next. People who are focused put a value on the discipline it takes to pay attention.
- Learn. “…you were never meant to repent because you don’t know it all. You are made to repent because you’ve tried” (Zack Eswine, The Imperfect Pastor, p. 104). Smug and self-assured? Not exactly a learning posture. Yet, when I begin to sound very sure and certain about a situation I am in, my attitude may simply be an effort to mask my fear and shame.
- Laugh. Enjoy the laughter of children. Laugh with them! One little boy said to his mother not long ago when they were playing, “Mom, I just love to hear you laugh!” Laugh at yourself (most of us have plenty of material to work with). However, stay away from the mocking, evil laugh. You’ve met that person. He says something snide, hurtful, and condescending and then mockingly laughs. Such laughter is designed to hurt. Its intent is to demean and destroy the confidence and the strength of another. This is beneath the dignity of a child of God.
We had been seated in an outdoor area. The restaurant was very busy. We were waiting on our pizza. The people at the next table were inches away. They spoke no English (apparently). We certainly spoke no Italian (their language).
Yet, it did not take an understanding of their language to know that they were angry with one another. They glared at one another. Occasionally they spoke. We could not understand what they said but it certainly didn’t seem pleasant.
I wonder how long it took them to work out their problems. I wonder how long it took them to get beyond this quarrel.
What does it take for men and women to step up to the plate? Far too many of us are waiting for someone else to make the first move. We say, “If only she would do this or that, then things would be good.”
A young wife e-mails an elder in their church about the bullying behavior of her husband. It took everything she had to write the letter. Her arm still throbbed from where her husband had grabbed her the night before. She had known this elder for many years and now was reaching out to him. After an hour of thinking through every word of the short letter, she sent it.
She heard nothing. Weeks went by. Nothing.
One Sunday morning, she saw him at church and asked if he had received her note. “Yes, I did.” He said, “I’ve known you both for years and I just can’t imagine him doing that to you. I didn’t know what to say.”
So, he was silent.
When families suffer. When a marriage is in crisis. When someone is depressed. When a young woman has questions.
What does it mean when we are silent?
A sixteen year-old boy is about to go out on a Friday evening. His dad has heard rumors about his friends. Their reputation is not good. Just the other evening, the dad went to his son’s car to check an insurance card. As he opened the glove box, he saw under the seat the corner of an unused condom still in the package.
This dad said nothing.
How is this boy to interpret his father’s silence?
- Silence can mean that we are fearful. We would rather be silent than speak and risk conflict.
- Silence can mean that we don’t care. Perhaps this is the language of the apathetic.
- Silence can mean that we do not value another enough to get involved.
Consider Adam’s silence in the Garden as the tempter goes after Eve. There is nothing in the text that suggests that he ever stood up for her. Rather, he was silent as the tempter went after her. When the tempter began to question her, Adam was silent.
I wonder if one of the most powerful ways that other human beings are devalued and diminished is through our silence.
At times throughout my life, I was confused – very confused. Maybe you weren’t. I do know people who appear to have had it together all of their lives. Not me.
When I was in college, I stayed up all night writing page after page of areas of life where I was confused. I still have these writings – I think – somewhere.
Yet, I have learned so much about life. I am still learning. However, I can point to growth in things I have learned. I wish I had known these five much earlier.
1. I wish I had known the value of being gracious. Gracious people have a way of extending grace in their different relationships. People who are not gracious can be curt, rude, self-centered, and even self-absorbed. The gracious person has an extended hand – always willing to be helpful. The ungracious person looks out only for themselves. “Don’t ask me for help. That’s not my problem.”
In December 2013, Charlotte and I moved to Memphis, Tennessee. I began working with Harding School of Theology, a wonderful seminary with some of the finest students anywhere. We moved from our home of 20 years in Waco, Texas. This was quite a transition. For 36 years, I preached in primarily three different congregations in Texas, Missouri and Alabama. I love serving a congregation. It was a very difficult decision to move my ministry from a congregation to a seminary.
I serve as an administrator for this seminary. Yet, I have never stopped preaching. I continue to preach many Sundays and teach Bible classes either Sunday morning or Wednesday evenings. The transition was not about ending ministry but changing its form and place. Yet, it was a transition and transitions are not easy.
In three years I have learned much.
- I have learned the beauty of an unexpected phone call or note from someone whom I have known many years. People from our congregation in Texas have been so good to us!
- I have learned how wonderful people are in Memphis. So many people have been gracious. I can’t count the number of lunches and coffees that I’ve had with various people.
- I have learned the importance of silence. Ruth Haley Barton has said, “… I believe silence is the most challenging, the most needed and the least experienced spiritual discipline among evangelical Christians today.” (See Invitation to Solitude and Silence, Ruth Haley Barton, p. 19)
- I have learned how precious it is when people give financially to help these students. Specifically, when people give to help provide scholarships, they really bless these students. As a result, the congregations and cities where these students will serve will be blessed.
- I have learned (again) the importance of maintaining a rhythm of life that renews. Like many of you, I have no trouble finding something to do. Consequently, it is very important that I build into my life practices that can renew me. A time for exercise. A time to think. A time to read and reflect. A time to rest.
- I have learned that transition is difficult, even if it is a good transition. Transition takes a lot of energy. Sometimes transition is imposed upon you. At other times, it is something you choose. Regardless, it is difficult.
- I have learned much about developing habits that give a person endurance and energy. This is been a very important theme for me in the last few years.
I knew a man who was alive and vibrant in his church in his 30s. He seemed to grow and connect with others in a meaningful way. However, something happened in his 40s.
He found his recliner. That became his location for much of his life. Sitting and mindlessly watching hour after hour of television.
Then there are others who seem to live vibrant meaningful lives until the day they die. Don’t misunderstand. For many of these people, life is anything but easy. They might have family struggles and health challenges. Yet, these people are fully alive.
So what can a person do to stay fresh all of her life?
- Build rhythm into your life (Luke 4:40-43; 5:15-16; 6:12-13). Many have no rhythm at all. Rather, they respond to every distraction (Facebook, Twitter, texts, e-mail, for example) that might come their way. People with rhythm understand that they must determine the priorities in their lives and manage their energy, or the distractions will consume them.
- Practice some of the spiritual disciplines to help with your formation. There are numerous spiritual disciplines available and various resources that might be helpful getting a better handle on this. However, two very important disciplines are prayer and Scripture reading.
- Invest in your family – even if they are grown. There is something life-giving about serving one’s family.
- Be aware of your own emotional maturity. Some of us carry baggage from the past into our marriages and the church. Many people have sought professional counseling and have received tremendous help. Grappling with these issues can take time, but will ultimately bless your relationship with your spouse and children.
- Be a good steward of your body. My entire being is impacted by exhaustion, and a lack of sleep. This, coupled with little exercise, is a recipe for fatigue and lethargy. Ignoring my physical body impacts the rest of my being.
We don’t all live forever, of course. However, I would like to stay vibrant as long as I am alive physically. So much of this has to do with intentional decisions that you make today.
Joe Baisden of Belton, Texas passed away after battling cancer. He was 79 years old. For 33 years, he served the Belton Church of Christ as their preacher. His funeral was in Belton on Saturday (August 20, 2016).
I am thankful to have known Joe and Janelle. For 20 years, I served the Crestview Church, maybe 45 minutes from the Belton Church. During those years, I had the privilege of being with Joe on numerous occasions. I listened and watched this fine man as he served the Belton Church.
There is much that ministers who serve churches can learn from Joe Baisden’s life and ministry.
- Joe loved the the congregation he served. Did he ever! He spoke about the people in the church with such love and affection. The Belton congregation was precious to him. He would speak of a sick child, someone who had just lost a spouse, or someone who experienced job loss with care and affection. It was obvious to those who knew him that he loved the church he served.
- Joe loved the community where he served. He deeply cared about the city of Belton. He spoke of the city with great pride and affection. He invested himself in the community and sought to make a positive difference. He didn’t just publicly speak of the city with affection but privately, when he was simply talking one on one.
- Joe had an infectious enthusiasm for life. He was a person of tremendous energy and stamina. He brought energy to most any room. Yet, his focus was not on himself but other people. He loved people. He communicated this love when he preached but he also communicated this love in his relationships.
- Joe felt deeply. When he spoke about a family who was grieving over the death of a family member, he felt that grief deeply. You could see the pain on his face as he described what a particular family was going through with a family member who had experienced a tragedy. When someone was hurt, he hurt deeply. Likewise, when someone was joyful in the Belton church, Joe felt a sense of deep joy for that person.
- Joe enjoyed the ordinary moments of life. Joe might speak of a favorite breakfast place with the same enthusiasm that he would talk about their annual family beach vacation. Some years ago, we were both in Austin for the annual Sermon Seminar (Austin Graduate School of Theology). Joe asked me if I had ever been to a particular place for breakfast. I told him I had not. “What! We have to go there! Tomorrow!” Early the next morning, we met at a little place for breakfast, not far from the University of Texas campus. After we ordered, Joe talked about the qualities of this restaurant that made it one of his favorites in Austin. This occasion was his treat and he wanted me to experience the best this restaurant had to offer.
- Joe was gracious. For years, I watched him interact with young ministers at this annual Sermon Seminar. He would look a young person in the eye, introduce himself, and then listen to the name of the young preacher. So often, during the conversation, he would make a connection. “I knew your preacher!” or “Did your dad go to ACU?” or “I once preached at the church where you grew.” He had a way of putting others at ease and listened with genuine interest.
- Joe looked for the best in people. One one occasion, I met him for lunch. As he talked, he referred to several people in the Belton church. With a genuine affection, he spoke about another minister on staff as well as well as other members of the Belton congregation. He spoke of their extraordinary gifts and personal qualities. I remember thinking at one point, “Wow, that Belton church really has such amazing people!” Yet, this was the way Joe saw these people. He saw the very best in others and highlighted this to others.
Many of us who serve as ministers can learn from Joe. He poured himself into the lives of the people in his congregation and city. He understood that ministry was a calling, not a career. I am glad to have known him.
I had only been with this congregation for a short time. A woman came to my office and wanted to visit. She sat down, looked at me and said, “I hope you don’t think we (at this church) have a lot of problems.”
“Well actually, I think people at this church do have a lot of problems,” I responded. “Every church I know anything about has people with many problems and issues because that is just people. People are broken.”
I then said to her, “I am a lot more concerned about a church that pretends they really don’t have problems.”
On Sunday mornings, preachers need to occasionally think about what might have happened the night before (Saturday night in the lives of the people to whom they are speaking.)
- The night before, one woman wondered how she would get up the nerve to go to church by herself. She feared walking into that church building and not having anyone to talk with or sit with. What if I go to church and just feel more alone?
- The night before, a mom and a dad were screaming at one another in their house, while the younger children went to their big sister’s bedroom until the yelling stopped.
- The night before, a widow thought about how lonely she was ever since her husband passed away.
- The night before, parents went to the county jail where their son was released to them after being arrested for public drunkenness.
- The night before, the young couple talked about visiting the congregation again. They did not grow up in Christian homes but they really appreciate the values of the people in this church.
- The night before, a mother hung up the telephone, hurt by the complete disrespect from her adult son. She is tired of being insulted on the telephone.
- The night before, a middle-aged man tosses and turns in bed as he worries about the cancer that has invaded his body.
- The night before, a college student had been drinking at a club and then had sex with another student. She wonders what will become of her life.
I was a young minister. I began preaching for a small church in North Alabama. In this community there were many, many churches. I was grateful for the opportunity to serve in this congregation. I preached each week. I taught Bible classes. I began to meet with people and learn to listen to their stories.
I spent a lot of time listening. Sometimes it might be a conversation that took place on the parking lot after church. Or, it might a conversation that took place over a cup of coffee at a local coffee shop. I met with some at lunch, some in my office and others in their homes. I learned to listen. In fact, I learned that many people longed to have someone really listen to their story.
What I heard:
Many men and women are deeply wounded. So often those wounds came through their own families of origin. Perhaps they had a domineering father who was heavy handed with his wife and children. Sometimes a mother refused to draw near to her children emotionally. With other people, these wounds seemed to focus adults who portrayed a commitment to the Lord (on Sunday’s and Wednesday evenings) while living a very different lifestyle during the week. One person told me of a father, had several “emotional affairs” with women, which seem to be one of the family secrets. At the same time, he was heavily involved in the life of their church. The children (adults now) have been deeply wounded by this behavior.
Many men and women bear lingering guilt from their own sins. I heard from people who wondered if there was anyone else like them in the congregation. Sexual sin, drug use, drunkenness, stealing from work, abandoning one’s wife and children, etc. Many people wondered if they will not be forever tainted by what they have done. Others attended Sunday morning assemblies and concluded that others just didn’t seem to have any problems.
Many men and women wonder if there really is any hope for someone like themselves. Many of us might be amazed if we knew the stories of people who are in churches with them each Sunday. I remember the beautiful young woman who told my wife and me that she was called “lard bucket” (as a child) by her father because of her weight issues. One mother raised her children to deceive their father, telling them to not tell him what she bought at the store. Some grew up with families that were a mess and they, as children, spent their childhood and emotional reserves trying to keep their home together.
To say that the nation is tense almost seems like an understatement at this point.
In recent days:
- Five police officers in Dallas slaughtered.
- Two more African-American males dead. St. Paul. Baton Rouge. A significant portion of this population does not feel safe and that has to be a real concern.
- Marches and protests. Some very peaceful. Others violent.
Meanwhile, in the midst of this is much noise. Talk. Loud talk. One can hear opinions 24 hours a day, seven days a week on the news channels. Others go to Facebook and argue online. We are in a fierce political season. Both political parties have much to say and some say it very stridently.
According to many, this all seems to come down to either/or!
- We can listen well. I watched one news show recently where guests screamed at one another during their segment. I doubt that either really heard the other much less caused the other to think. Of course we have ideas and opinions. Yet, so often we seem to put very little energy into listening. We may even find ourselves appearing to listen when in fact we are simply waiting for the other to stop talking so that we can say what we want to say. When we really listen, others feel respected and valued because we actually listened.
- We can love well. I’m not suggesting that we reduce our relationships to sentiment. Sometimes love will confront and challenge. Sometimes love will apologize and admit wrong. Sometimes love will name a particular behavior as unjust. Love may even attempt to correct a wrong. For a Christ-follower, this kind of love is not fueled by rage but by the love of God (I John 4:7-21).
In both our loving and our listening, we can practice humility. Humble people realize they don’t have all the answers. Humble people don’t posture themselves as if they are several steps ahead of everyone else. Such an attitude is presumptuous and even arrogant.
During tough times, we hopefully will realize that we all have a long way to go in terms of living as a genuine disciple of Jesus before others. Living well in a tense time will call for men and women who are serious about both their loving and their listening.