When Sunday Morning is Just Too Silent

Many of us who have been a part of churches for years know all too well about the silence.

I was a young minister.  Actually, I was a young minister, husband, and father.  Not much experience in any phase of life.  The one thing I knew with certainty is that I had a lot to learn.

One afternoon, a guy called my office saying that he wanted to come by and talk.  He told me that a friend of his referred him to me.  He said that he had never visited our congregation and that he was the general manager of a local restaurant.  Hours later, that afternoon, I saw him wheel his new yellow corvette into our parking lot and get out. He was handsome and well dressed.  I knew immediately that I did not like him.

I didn’t like him because of anything he did, but because I was dissatisfied with my life.   We were barely getting by financially and had school loans to pay off.  I was preaching for a small congregation and quite frankly felt sorry for myself.  Now this guy, driving a new yellow Corvette, is well dressed, and in my mind must have it made.

He sat down in my office and began to cry.  I was stunned.  Again, I was so focused on my own self-pity that I wasn’t fully present with him.  He then explained.  HIs wife and young children were leaving him with plans to divorce him.  He had been involved in affairs and made other mistakes.  He said, “I would give up everything if I could just have them back.”

Over the next few years, I learned that churches are full of people who are having a difficult time with life.  For many people, life is just hard.  Now perhaps you have never gone through a chapter of life that is hard.  I can assure you that many whom you are with every day find life to be hard.

Yet, on Sunday mornings, there is often silence regarding life being challenging as it is to so many. In fact, those who find life to be hard may look around on a Sunday morning or take a glance at Facebook and wonder if they are the only ones.

If You Want to Live as an Encourager

Part 3

20.  An encourager may encourage another in important ways and yet be completely unaware of the significance of his/her actions.   In other words, our capacity to encourage may be much larger than our awareness of what is actually happening in the relationship.

21.  An encourager has learned that paying attention to another’s successes and failures is critical.  These are special moments for people.  Both can offer significant opportunities for others to encourage.

22.  An encourager communicates value that may be long remembered by the hearer.   In some cases, these words are the only positive, encouraging communication that person may have received in a long time.

23.  An encourager understands that many people grow up hearing disparaging, insulting, vile remarks directed toward them.  Meanwhile, an encourager’s words may feel like a drink from a fresh, cool mountain stream.

24.  An encourager pays attention to the details of another’s life.  The encourager notices what another person is doing that might be noble, good, or worthy of imitation. She takes nothing for granted.  Rather she might express her appreciation to a person who has worked hard to do a task right.  For instance, someone may have gone to a great deal of trouble to prepare a meal or to purchase a gift.  An encourager will express gratitude to that person for what they have done.

25.  An encourager understands that one size does not fit all.  What encourages one may not encourage another.

26.  An encourager is sensitive to other people and does not wish to discourage or demoralize another.

27.  An encourager is very careful with humor.  Many people have been embarrassed by someone who said something that was insensitive and even humiliating.   When a person cringes upon hearing such a thoughtless remark, the person who uttered the remark becomes defensive and says, “I was only joking.”  (Often this means, “Don’t hold me responsible for what just came out of my mouth.”)  Meanwhile, an encourager uses humor that is self-deprecating or is in some way safe.

28. An encourager steps in when someone is discouraged.  Perhaps a high school student has run for student government president and wasn’t elected.  Perhaps another person interviewed for a new job and wasn’t chosen.  These can be very discouraging moments.  An encourager is sensitive to these moments and seeks to encourage.

29.  An encourager remembers the forgotten people.  Is someone in the hospital?  Is someone in a nursing home?  Is there someone who rarely gets included at social gatherings?  An encourager encourages the forgotten. 

If You Want to Live as an Encourager

Part 2

11.  An encourager often doesn’t realize how much he or she might actually be encouraging another. Rather, this person is fully present in another’s life, fully engaged with that person.  Never underestimate the power of God working through your presence with another. 

12.  An encourager builds another up instead of focusing on how that person does not measure up. The encourager does not communicate empty, flattering words.  Rather the encourager focuses on behavior that is good, right, and even exemplary behaviors and actions.  

13.  An encourager has a way of communicating real value to another instead of communicating a critique reminding that person that she or he is inadequate or “less than.”  

14.  An encourager never loses sight of what another might be doing that is noble or virtuous.  Some people become so focused on another’s failings that the person is left feeling hopeless.  

15.  An encourager can help another  make a comeback long after that person has failed.  So many people fail and then assume that they are permanently disqualified from ever being cherished and valued by God again.

16.  An encourager understands that people are often encouraged in various ways.  For example, sometimes the most encouraging thing one can do is to really listen to another.  At other times, it might be especially encouraging for a person to be present at a significant event, such as a funeral, wedding, shower, retirement reception, etc.

17.  An encourager may be outgoing and gregarious.  Or, this person more introverted and a person of few words.  God can use a person to encourage through his or her own personality through a word, a smile, a hug, or in any number of ways. 

18.  An encourager knows the value of paying attention to another.  In a culture that is distracted through technology, social media, etc., this can be huge!

19.  An encourager communicates hope.  Some live with constant verbal abuse, put downs, insults, and words of contempt.  Far too many people live in environments that are discouraging, demoralizing and toxic.  Many people need a word of hope.

If You Want to Live as an Encourager

(Part 1)

If you want to live as an encourager:

1.  Know that your smile really makes a difference.  God can use you to actually brighten someone’s day through your smile.

 
2.  Know that many people are just one step away from significant life change.  That difference may come as God uses you to encourage.

 
3.  Know that God uses encouragers who are single and married, rich and poor, old and young.  Never assume that God will not use you to significantly encourage someone because you appear to be so different from that person.

 
4.  Know that an encouraging word can make an incredible difference to someone who is discouraged.  Meanwhile, a negative or harsh word can crush another and be remembered for many, many years.

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 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:

3 Questions that Can Change Your Life – Really

3questionsAre you grappling with important questions?

Some people are preoccupied with their image.  (How do I look?)

Some are preoccupied with their success.  (How can I win?)

Others, however, have discovered that one’s life can really change for the good when you deal with some very important questions.

  1. The question of character.  What is the most important thing in life to you?
  2. The question of legacy.  What do you want to be known for at the end of your life?
  3. The question of the present.  At this stage in your journey, what do you need to learn next?

(Thanks to Walter Wright for these three questions found in Mentoring, pp. 2-3.)

Some of us consider such questions but seem to think our thoughts are enough.  Consequently, while we may say what we believe to the the most important thing in life, our actions do not reflect such values.  Or, we may tell others what we want to be known for at the end our our life but them allow our compulsive desires to determine what we do.

Dealing with these questions are game-changers!

What Has Helped Me With Fear

fear (2)Fear.  We have all experienced it.

Of course our fear is expressed in a variety of ways.  Yet some will declare that they have no fear.  When I hear someone desperately trying to convince another of their fearlessness, most of the time it is unconvincing.  In fact, such declarations often leave me wondering why they are so determined to convince another of their fearlessness.

When I hear a person candidly tell another that she or he is sometimes afraid, terrified, nervous, worried or scared, I know I am dealing with someone who is being real and transparent about their lives.

I know fear.  I have been afraid and at times I still deal with fear.  Most of my fears occur in the middle of the night.  I will awaken after sleeping for several hours and then think of something unpleasant that could happen later in the week.  I can sometimes imagine the worst possible outcome.

The resurrection of Jesus can give us great security and confidence for the future (Matthew 28:20). Resurrection gives us power to live in the future. We live in the power of his living presence.

“I am with you always.”

  • How do I make it through this cancer? “I am with you always.”
  • How do I deal with such a difficult marriage? “I am with you always.”
  • How do I go to that high school and live the way God wants me to live instead of lowering my standards?       “I am with you always.”
  • How can I be a person who has the courage to reach out to others who are not Christ-followers? “I am with you always.”
  • How do we rear our children in such a godless world? “I am with you always.”
  • How do we pray believing that things will be different as the result of prayer? “I am with you always.”
  • How can we be a church that is dead? Dead to sin. Dead to self-centeredness. “I am with you always.”
  • How can we be a church where we build up, encourage, and commit instead of give up, cave in, and live in fear? “ I am with you always.”

This promise from the living Jesus really has helped me.  His presence in my life is greater than whatever fear I might experience.

When You Feel Insignificant

billboard_DiscouragedFeeling insignificant?

I am writing this to you.

You may be a preacher or a minister in some role in a remote area. Or, you may be in an urban area but you feel alone and isolated. There are days when you ache with loneliness. To make matters worse, some of your minister friends talk about getting together regularly with others with a kindred spirit. You are certain they have no idea what this kind of isolation is like.

Perhaps you are an elder. You had hopes and dreams of making a impact. You thought you might have the opportunity to address matters that might make such a kingdom difference. However, the group continues to gravitate toward the trivial. You come home from meetings tired and worn out. You didn’t agree to endless discussions of things that are small and inconsequential.

Is Real Life Happening Yet?

reallifelogoFor years, I waited.

My perception of my life was all about circumstances. I saw myself as not being in the ideal circumstances but assured myself that one day things would be different. As I saw it, the present was always lacking in some way. However, things would really be good when, one day, life would be what I wanted it to be.

When I was single, I thought life would really begin when I got married.

When I was in college, I thought life would really begin when I graduated.

When I was in graduate school, I thought life would really begin when I finished the program.

When I was married, I thought life would really begin when we could settle down somewhere.

When we were renting a house, I thought life would really begin when we could own a home.