As the Year 2016 Comes to a Close

(This is why I am grateful)

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Today, I am grateful.

I am grateful for my wife Charlotte, my daughter Christine, my daughter Jamie and our son-in-law, Cal.  Charlotte is one of the hardest working school teachers I know.  I am so proud of Christine, Jamie, and Cal.  They communicate to me regularly just how important I am to them.

I am grateful for three wonderful grandsons.  Brody.  Lincoln.  Sully.  These are three little boys who make me smile and laugh regardless of what might have gone on that day in the world.  We play blanket man, boy in a box, basketball, and other games which are created in an instant!

I am grateful for the great people who I work with at Harding School of Theology such as Dr. Allen Black (Dean), Jeannie Alexander (Administrative Assistant) and an outstanding faculty and staff.  I could go on and on about our students.  What a wonderful place to be!

I am grateful for wonderful churches where I’ve preached and taught this year.  Highland Church of Christ (Memphis) where I teach Bible classes regularly.  Millington Church of Christ (Millington, Tn.) where I preach once a month, as well as churches in a number states.  I am also blessed by the weekends I have spent with groups of elders/ministers in various congregations.

I am grateful for the opportunities to encourage and the opportunities to be encouraged.  I think of unexpected but encouraging calls, texts, e-mails, notes that I have received.  I am also grateful that the Lord has used me to send texts, e-mails, and notes to those who really needed to hear a kind and encouraging word.

When You Are Disappointed

disappointments-e1422507719551

They are in their late 40s.  They don’t like talking with other families about their adult children.  It is just too painful. Besides they really don’t think anyone else would understand.

Many, many people know disappointment.

Do you know disappointment?

  • Your children haven’t been to church in years.  You are disappointed.
  • Your adult son was indicted for fraud and found guilty.  You are disappointed.
  • Your college age son is living with his girl friend.  You had hoped for more.  You are disappointed.
  • You were just fired from the church where you have served for two years.  You are disappointed.
  • You have a new boss.  She has made it very clear that she has no interest in keeping you in your current position after having worked in this role for two years.  You are disappointed.
  • Your daughter is pregnant.  She has no job and says she isn’t sure who the father is.  You are disappointed.
  • Your husband received a DUI after rear ending a car on the freeway.  You are disappointed.

As an adult, I have learned that disappointment seems to be a part of life.  I do not know how to escape it.  A disloyal friend.  An immoral church leader.  A person who lied about you.  Are any of these familiar?

Remembering People Who Deserve Much Credit

post-it-noteThese people deserve much credit. I suspect that in many congregations, administrative assistants do not receive near the credit they deserve.

Today, I am thinking about how grateful I am for a couple of people who I served with in Waco, Texas.  For 20 years, I preached at the Crestview Church of Christ.  Ministering anywhere for 20 years says much about the church.  Many wonderful people make up this fine congregation.  I am grateful for the men and women who encouraged me, and in so many ways, helped me in my ministry in the Waco community.  These include grandparents, parents, singles, elders, deacons, other ministers, etc.  I even received much encouragement from people outside the congregation that helped me greatly.

I am especially thankful for two people in particular.  These are the administrative assistants who I worked with for 20 years.  During the early years, I worked with Rita Johnson.  Rita served the Crestview Church for many years.  She was gracious, kind, and loves the Crestview people.  She was invaluable when I first came to that congregation years ago.  She knew the people and was in touch with them.  When I had only been there for a short time, he helped me figure out how to best serve and how to best respond to particular situations.  She seemed to know who was discouraged, who needed a little attention, and who probably just needed to be heard.  She had good instincts, was trustworthy, and could relate to people of various ages.  (Charles Siburt would occasionally refer to her as “Saint Rita.”)

In the later part of my time in Waco, I worked with Joy Weldon.  Joy brought a heightened professionalism to our church office and had very good organizational skills.  These organizational skills were helpful to me as I began to juggle more and more ministry opportunities and responsibilities. She was thorough and paid keen attention to detail.  She was an English major who helped me immensely with my writing.  She was incredibly dependable.  I could count on her to come through with any project she worked on.  She, too, had good instincts and was trustworthy.

Are You Worried?

worried-woman

I know what it is to worry at 3:00 A.M.  Do you?

If you are like many, worry can take center stage in your mind and refuse to leave until it has exhausted your imagination with all sorts of frightening possibilities.

Do you worry about what someone thinks?  The truth is that you just can’t control what another thinks.  One can become anxious about another’s thoughts.

Do you worry about what a certain person has said?  Is this a person of integrity?  Is this a person who is wise and discerning?  Or, is this a person who is mean and cruel and evil?  There are evil people who are always seeking to hurt and do damage to you.

Do you worry about what might happen?  Listen, I have laid in bed in the middle of the night imagining the worst possible outcomes.  Yet, what I am worrying about rarely comes to fruition the way I have imagined it.

Jesus said, “Do not worry about your life” (Mt. 6:25-34).  “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you” (I Pet. 5:7).

So as you think about tomorrow:

1.  Instead of replaying in your mind what that mean, cruel, evil person said or wrote about you, focus on God who will carry your anxiety.  After all, He is the one who cares for you.

2.  Instead of rehearsing over and over what could happen after the sun comes up in the morning, focus on God, the One who cares so deeply about you.

3.  Instead of reliving every sad moment that caused you heartbreak, focus on God whose power to bless, heal, and restore is greater than anyone who might ever hurt you.

Do you really want to spend the best years of your life worrying?  Or, do you want to spend these years focusing on the One who has your best interest in mind?

 

Ten Street Smarts for Men and Women

streetsmartsThe following are ten “street smarts” that may be very valuable to you.  They cost you nothing but have great value. Consider what you might add to this list.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

Will You Make the First Move?

start (1)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.”

When Men Are Silent

enjoy_the_silence

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.

Silent?

Completely 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?

  1. Silence can mean that we are fearful. We would rather be silent than speak and risk conflict.
  2. Silence can mean that we don’t care. Perhaps this is the language of the apathetic.
  3. 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.

 

What I Wish I Known Earlier

earlier-faster-better-precocious-kids-Nov06-istockI admit it.

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.”

What I Have Learned in the Last Three Years

harding-school-of-theology (1)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.

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

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.