Don’t Stop Living Before You Die!

Man relaxing in a reclining chair

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Invest in your family – even if they are grown.  There is something life-giving about serving one’s family.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

What Ministers Can Learn from the Ministry of Joe Baisden

JoeBaisden1Joe 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.

  1.  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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

What Happens the Night Before

(Maybe there are others like you)

 

troubleshooting-and-repairing-windows-10-problems

 

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.

What I Heard When I Began to Listen

question-markI will not forget these stories.  

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.

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.