When All Around Us Seems Tense

To say that the nation is tense almost seems like an understatement at this point.

In recent days:

  1. Five police officers in Dallas slaughtered.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

tension_smallA few suggestions:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

When Men Leave Emotionally

(The Frustrating Silence of Emotional Withdrawal)

basement_series_sadness-500x332What does a man do with pain?

Many men simply leave.

No, they don’t necessarily leave physically. Rather, they leave emotionally.

I recently heard a friend of mine talk about this as he reflected upon a very difficult time in his life.  I could identify.

Many men have learned that the safest place to take one’s pain is within.  While withdrawing may be one’s default for dealing with pain, it is not conducive to connecting with another.  In fact, to family members and friends it can feel like the person has “gone away.”

Most men who leave emotionally do not do so maliciously.  I don’t believe most have the intention of being difficult or hurting their family and friends.  Rather, this may be the comfortable default that has been a part of one’s life for many years.

So when we leave one another emotionally, where do we go?

  1. Some of us just stay very, very busy.  We lose ourselves in our work.  Maybe we can stay so busy that we are not preoccupied with the pain we feel.
  2. Some of us look for substitutes.  Alcohol.  Drugs.  Pornography.  Or, a man may lose himself in his children so he doesn’t have to address the issues of his marriage.  Or, he can volunteer for numerous activities at church.  It may be hard to argue with someone who is heavily involved at church.  Yet, this can be a way of not dealing with pain.
  3. Some of us retreat to a room within ourselves which may seem safe but actually serves to disconnect us from the people we love most.  This “man cave” might be a place where we occasionally revisit the moments of shame, humiliation, and disappointments in our lives. Perhaps it is the place where we house the pain we experienced as children.  Or, it may be the place where we occasionally sift through the ashes of our hurts and resentments.

As a result, many men live with an anger that quite often comes to the surface.  Or, such men can experience depression.

Are You Discouraged Today?

(This may be helpful to you)

discouragement (1)Are you discouraged today?

Perhaps only you know the reasons. You know the issues. Your marriage. Your children.  Your job.  Your health. Life can be so hard and so complex.

Maybe you have been on Facebook already today.  So many posts speak of “amazing marriages” or “awesome kids.”  Or they speak of incredible jobs or once in a lifetime vacations. That is great, but I do know that in times of discouragement, such words may be difficult to read.

At the moment you may not feel amazing or awesome.  Yes, you’ve had some amazing and awesome times in your life. However, right now, you may be discouraged.  Perhaps you just spoke with a friend about her week.  After she updated you, she said almost glibly, “It’s all good.”  You thought, “Well that’s not my life.  It’s not all good!”

Sometimes, I also experience discouragement.  At times, I feel boxed in, not knowing what to do. On some occasions, I have felt completely out of emotional and spiritual energy. During such times, one can even feel fatigued physically.

I want to share with you what has helped me.  No magic.  No silver bullet or quick fix.  However, during discouraging seasons, one of the best moves that we can make is to be intentional about our lives.  Do what contributes toward what is good, right, positive, and constructive.  Avoid behaviors that only make matters worse.

The following have been helpful to me:

What Shame Can Do to a Minister

Wall-of-Shame

Brene Brown is a best selling author whom I have found helpful.  In particular, I have found her work regarding shame and vulnerability to be helpful.  Basically, she distinguishes shame and guilt like this:

“I did something bad.” — Guilt (focus on behavior)

“I am a bad.”  — Shame (focus on self)

Shame tells us that we are never good enough.  Shame basically says, “Who do you think you are?”

I can’t begin to tell you the number of ministers whom I’ve met who are full of shame.  These ministers believe they are just not good enough.  They live with the constant internal message that in some way, they just don’t measure up to what a Christian minister should be.  They believe they are lacking in so many areas that they are not the “real deal.”  In fact, they may feel like frauds. Listen to shame speak:

  • Something is wrong with me.  My congregation has never grown.  (Meanwhile, some of the popular preachers seem to be serving larger congregations that are growing.)
  • Something is wrong with me.  I experienced sexual temptation.  (Not only should I not sin, I shouldn’t even be tempted by sin. Really?)
  • Something is wrong with me.  My wife and I don’t have the marriage we should have.  (I just don’t measure up to what my spouse needs.)
  • Something is wrong with me.  My preaching isn’t good enough.  (I’ve seen people yawn and even go to sleep.  I know I’m not as good as other preachers.)
  • Something is wrong with me.  Very few people talk to me about their problems.  (Surely if was a better person and a better preacher, they would come to me for counsel.)
  • Something is wrong with me.  I don’t pray enough or read my Bible enough.  (Surely if I was really godly, I would be reading my Bible more.)
  • Something is wrong with me.  Others are invited to speak at lectureships but not me.  (I’m probably just not good enough.)
  • Something is wrong with me.  People in the church seem to prefer to listen to other preachers’ podcasts rather than my sermons.  (I’m sure I must be a real disappointment to all of these people.)
  • Something is wrong with me.  I have only preached for very small congregations.  (I have friends who have been invited to serve as the preach for large congregations.  What’s wrong with me?)

Such ministers may feel inept, inadequate, and “less than”.  They may feel as if they have lost all joy in their ministry. Some actually expect very little from their own ministries.  They just don’t feel like they are good enough.

Such ministers may feel very alone and isolated.  They may even resort to most any means that might make them feel good even if it is temporary.  For some, pornography, an affair, alcohol/drugs, or a combination of these may seem like a way to “medicate” the pain.  Others continue to withdraw inward and may experience depression.

Some feel as if they are losing any sense of connection with either God and others.

Getting unstuck may not be easy.  A good Christian counselor can be very helpful.  Many ministers who live with such shame were living with this long before they began to serve a congregation. Having the right person to help you unpack the baggage of the past can be extraordinarily helpful. God never meant for us to live with the burden of shame.

Does a “Thank You” Really Matter?

National_Thank_You_DayDoes a “Thank You” really matter?

Yes.  It really does!

Many of us perceive ourselves to be grateful people.  Often it is because we feel grateful.  We think about how thankful we are to others.  We may hear someone’s name and immediately feel very warm and thankful for them.  Yet, many, many people rarely, if ever express their gratitude.  Far too many people rarely say “thank you.”

You ask your sister to pick up a sandwich for you on her way home from work.  (She has called asking if you would like anything at fast food place where she is stopping.)  She gets home, hands you your sandwich and the first thing you say is, “I told you I didn’t want onions on this sandwich!  And where is the mustard!”  Not exactly a “thank you.”

So often, it is those closest to us who rarely, if ever, hear a “thank you.”

For example:

A young father asks his parents to keep your children for the evening while you and your wife go out to eat.  During the evening, your little girl falls off her bike and skins her knee.  Your parents explain what happened when you return to pick up the kids.  He responds by saying, “I told you that you have to watch her closely!”  Yet, they have set aside an entire evening to care for these children.  Not exactly a “thank you.”

A friend buys a gift for your child’s birthday.  She sends it in the mail.  Its not exactly the gift you would have chosen.  You never mention the gift to your friend.  If someone had mentioned this to you, you might have said, “Of course I appreciate her sending the gift.”  Yet, this is not exactly a “thank you.”

  • Maybe some may not express their thankfulness because they feel entitled to receive whatever people will give them.
  • Maybe some assume that others know they are thankful.
  • Perhaps some of us think we are expressing our gratitude much more than we really are.
  • Finally, some may say “thank you” but then behave in ways that really don’t reflect any kind of graciousness.

At this point, you might think, “Wait a minute, I tell people ‘thank you.z’  I express my gratitude for whatever someone does for me.  Many of us do express our gratitude to customers, co-workers, and the people we interact with everyday.  Yet, some of us take for granted our family and our closest friends.

The following questions might be worth some reflection as they pertain to friends and family:

  • Do others see me as a thankful person?
  • Is there someone in my life who feels taken for granted by me?
  • Are there people in my life who are long overdue for a word of gratitude?
  • Is there someone who has done a favor, sent a gift, or who has shown kindness who still has never received a heartfelt thank you from me?

Of course, one can simply dismiss this as irrelevant.  It could be, however, that regular expressions of thankfulness, as well as simply being thoughtful to friends and family could do wonders for these relationships.

When Your Child Cries in the Middle of the Night

baby-hand-holding-mothers-hand1

It was the middle of the night.

Our girls were very young.  We lived in North Alabama.  One of them was crying.   She wasn’t feeling well and she cried out. Charlotte heard the cry first and within moments, she got up and made her way down the hall to our little girl’s room.  A few minutes later, I went to her room as well.  Charlotte held our sweet daughter close and began to rock her.

  • No one ignored her cries.
  • No one screamed at her for crying.
  • No one was rough with this little girl.

Why did her mother get out of bed?

Why did her father get out of bed?

Mom and dad get out of bed because this is what parents do!  The cry of their children is more important than their sleep, their comfort, and their preference.  Yes, they work the next day.  Yes, they might be tired.  However, when mom or dad hears the cry of a sick child, all of that is pushed aside.  What matters is their little child.

Parents who serve, who give, and who sacrifice are more concerned with their children than themselves.  This is who they are.

When God hears you, as his child, cry out to him, he listens.  Your cries do not get old.  He doesn’t snap at you.  He isn’t rough with you.  He doesn’t ignore your cries.  Rather, like a loving mother and father, he leans in to hear you.

Why does God hear our cries?  Why does he turn his head and lean in when we pray to him?

God hears our cries because this is who he is.  This is his nature.

“Hear my prayer, Lord, listen to my cry for help; do not be deaf to my weeping. I dwell with you as a foreigner, a stranger, as all my ancestors were.” (Psalm 39:12)

Have you cried out to God in the middle of the night?  In the middle of the night, I’ve prayed for our children.  In the middle of the night, I’ve cried out to God about a seemingly impossible problem at church.  In the middle of the night, I’ve cried out to God during times of my own discouragement.

God will hear your cry, even in the middle of the night.

 

The Charmer, the Bully, and the Church

woody-selfieSome secrets need to be exposed.

One of those secrets exists in families where the husband/father is a narcissistic man. During thirty six years of congregational ministry, I noticed that occasionally a certain kind of man would emerge who could be quite a problem for others.  This person had a view of himself that was completely self-absorbed.

Sometimes the issue was marriage related. At other times the issue centered on the problems that adult children had with a certain man in the family.  Today, this particular pattern in a man is often referred to as narcissism.  This husband/father is a narcissistic man in terms of the way he sees himself and consequently the way he relates to others.

For example:

One Sunday morning, a husband flies into a rage toward his wife.  He calls her several demeaning names and then tells her she is crazy.  Yet, a few hours later, he leads the opening prayer at their church.  Others comment to her regarding how “lucky” she is to have such a husband.  She wonders for a moment if she is not making a big deal out of nothing.  After all, these people at the church think he is such a good man.  She concludes that maybe she just needs to try harder.

Resources You May Find Helpful

links-resources-iconResilience

Don’t miss Eric Barker’s post “This Is How To Boost Emotional Resilience: 10 Research Backed Secrets.”  This was helpful to me.

Burnout

Be sure to read Margaret Marcuson’s fine post “The minimalist guide to clergy burnout.”  I find Margaret’s posts very helpful.  (Some years ago, she and I both studied under Dr. Edwin Friedman in Bethesda, Maryland about the same time.  Her website is full of good resources.)

Audiobooks

I just listened to Dana Perino’s book And the Good News Is.  This was a good book with some very interesting behind the scenes stories of her time as the White House Press Secretary.  I am also listening to Krista Tippet’s newest book Becoming Wise: An Inquiry Into the Mystery and Art of Living.

What I am reading:

  1.  What God You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith.  A fine book about work habits that may be defeating and others that may cause one to be more effective.
  2. You Are What You Love by James K. A. Smith.  The importance and power of spiritual habits.  Smith discusses what we should love and how we can learn to love the things that are important.

Besides books, I also do a lot of skimming.  I skim the print editions of Books and Culture, The New York Review of BooksChristianity Today, Comment, and Fast Company.  I also skim the online editions each day of selected American and International news sites.  More than anything, I have found that cultivating the habit of skimming these sites has helped me stay current.

Ministers, Finances, and the Danger of Ignoring This Subject

Man Sitting In ValleyThe interview with the prospective minister was over.  The elders felt very good about this young man and his family.  He was a good preacher and also seemed to have some good social skills.  Several of his former professors and an older minister gave high recommendations.  The elders were ready to make this young man an offer.

Upon agreeing to begin his ministry with this congregation, this new minister agreed to the financial considerations that were offered for his role there.

Unfortunately, this might be the last time this subject would ever be brought up with this minister in this congregation.

In fact, such financial matters may not be talked about again by the congregation’s leaders until this minister eventually leaves and they discuss how to financially compensate the next minister.

Some ministers receive a very adequate salary (as well as health care and retirement), but many do not.

Far too many ministers and their families are barely getting by financially.  They moved their family to serve a congregation and a community.  Now, however, they are drowning in debt.  Yes, ministry is service but at the same time, these families must pay bills, feed children, and keep up with a mortgage.

We All Need a Do-Over

(Both the Prodigal Son and the Elder Brother Need God's Grace)

prodigal-son-by-charlie-mackesyDo you ever wish you could have a do-over?

As a teenager, I used to play golf frequently at the Tenison Golf Course in Dallas.  One of the first times I played, I hit a terrible drive off the tee.   Someone said, “Take a mulligan.”  I learned that “mulligan” was just another word for “do-over.”

There is nothing like a do-over.  Grace through Jesus is the ultimate do-over.  

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.  (Ephesians 2:8-9)

A do-over is what so many of us want and desperately need from God.  

We would like to be forgiven. We would like to be washed clean of our sins and failures. Many of us look back at the last decade, the last year, or even yesterday and realize how we have strayed from the desires of God.  Maybe, you know all too well that you desperately need the grace of God.

The sins that are mentioned in I Corinthians 6 are all too familiar.  Consider some of them: Those who are dishonest, those who are sexually immoral, those who swindle others and the list goes on. Paul tells these people that this is what some them were (6:11).  “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and By the Spirit of our God.”  Today, as in Paul’s day, Jesus gives each one of us the opportunity to experience the ultimate redemptive d0-over.

It may seem obvious that some need a d0-over.  After all, they did something really bad. We know we have sins but theirs seem so much worse.  Yet, even the best people need Jesus. The truth is that we make a big mistake when we focus on those who have committed certain sins while minimizing our own.

Every single one of us desperately needs Jesus.  In the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15), both the rebellious younger brother and the self-righteous older brother need Jesus.

Consider two kinds of people:

The “Younger Brother or Sister”  This person lives a lifestyle of sin and may be in complete rebellion to God.  As a woman told me on one occasion, “Nobody is going to tell me what to do.” She was involved in a lifestyle that tore apart her family and seriously hurt her children.  Yet, she was determined to do what she wanted to do.  She didn’t care what anyone thought and more importantly, didn’t seem to care what God thought about the choices she was making.  Fortunately, she eventually returned to her senses.  She surrendered to the will and the desires of Jesus and her life was changed.

The “Older Brother or Sister”  This person wrestles with sin as well.  Yet, in her mind, her sins are not near as bad as the sins of the prodigal son or daughter.  She would quickly acknowledge that “we all sin” and yet, she treats others as if their sins are far worse than her own.  Like the older brother in Luke 15, she may resent that some who have changed their lives for God are getting so much attention and affirmation.  In fact, she may even resent that the prodigal son was forgiven.  In her mind, the prodigal son might be better off if God would occasionally remind him of his past sins.

The good news of the Gospel is that in the cross, God’s love is big enough to forgive the unrighteous and the self-righteous.  Now that is good news!