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.

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.

What Are You Thankful For?

(Thanksgiving Week)

ThanksgivingTurkeyThis is Thanksgiving week and I am grateful to God. Like you, I can make quite a list of what I am thankful for.  I will give you some of the reasons why I am grateful. Perhaps in the comments you will be willing to share what you are thankful for.

*I am grateful to God, that through Jesus, I can have relationship with him.  As a result, I am also privileged to have relationship with many, many people in his church.

*I am grateful to Charlotte, for decades of marriage, for being a partner with me through each chapter of our adult lives. Together we have lived in Florence, Ala.; Pulaski, Tn.; Dallas, Tx.; Abilene Tx.; Florence, Ala. (again); Kansas City, Mo.; Waco, Tx.; and Memphis, Tn.

What Kind of Community is Waco, Texas?

Waco,_TX,_welcome_sign_IMG_0664Sunday morning, 150-200 bikers gathered at a local restaurant.  They are members of five different gangs.  They are wearing their colors.  A short time later, there is violence.

9 bikers dead.  18 in the hospital.  Motorcycle gangs.  Guns.  A shoot-out with police.  Blood.  Death.

This takes place on a Sunday morning in one of the nicest shopping areas in Central Texas.  Wow. I would have thought something like this would have happened at a seedy bar late one Saturday night.

In December 2013, we moved from Waco, Texas to Memphis, Tennessee, after having lived in that city for twenty years. The news is filled with details of these gangs and the shootings last Sunday.  No doubt people will be talking about this tragedy in Waco for many years.

Having lived in Waco for twenty years, I can tell you that there is another important story about this city.  This city has much that is good and is actually a wonderful place to live, raise children, and serve God.

What You May as Well Forget

deleteHe snarled and complained about his job.  A friend of his, who worked for another company, had recently received a promotion.  “Some people get all the breaks!” He went on to talk about his friend who didn’t have to work near as hard as he did.  There was no sense of joy for his friend.  Nor did this man seem to take responsibility for anything related to his own career. Rather, he complained about how everyone else seems to get all the breaks.

I have learned there are some things in life that are best forgotten.  Now I haven’t always practiced this.  I can think of years in which I was stuck in unproductive thinking.  I allowed too much futile thinking to take up space and time.  Yet, how I think and what I focus on really do impact my life.

I want to suggest that some things need to be forgotten.

Forget what might have been.

Some people spend much of their energy focused on what might have been.  For them, life would have been great “if only.”  They are stuck in the past.

“If only my wife (or husband) was different.”

“If only I had taken a different job.”

“If only I had been treated fairly in my career.”

“If only I had gotten the breaks my brother-in-law received.”

Forget the entitlement.

Some people go through life believing they are entitled to a certain life.  This may be the young couple who believe they are entitled to a certain lifestyle (that may have taken their parents 35 years to afford.)  Others believe they are entitled to happiness and seem willing to break whatever commitments they’ve already made in order to experience this.  Years ago, a woman used this very expression in a conversation with me.  “I’m entitled to be happy” she said.  Two weeks later she left her husband and children.  People who are focused on their own sense of entitlement will break commitments and abandon relationships if they seem to stand in the way.

Forget the focus on someday.  

Some people are preoccupied with “someday.”  They speak as if life begins in the future.  Someday they plan to save money, get their finances in order, and live within their means.  Many people speak of changing their lives someday and quitting bad habits someday.  Yet life is experienced today not someday.

Each one of these approaches to life is a dead end street.  No progress is made when I am focused on any of these.  Life is happening today, not yesterday or someday.  I am entitled to nothing. Whatever good thing I experience in this life is a gift of God to be received with gratitude.


What else needs to be forgotten?



Ministry Inside.133

thankful (1)I am very thankful. (Each Thursday I write a post with church leaders in mind. However, today I want to focus on what I am grateful for. Perhaps this will simulate your thinking and even your gratitude as you consider your own life.)

I am grateful for my family.

  • I am grateful for Charlotte who dared to move to Memphis at this point in our lives to begin a fresh new chapter in our ministry. I am blessed.
  • I am grateful for Christine, mother of two wonderful little boys. I can’t imagine a more attentive mother. So thankful for Phillip, a good and devoted husband and father.
  • I am grateful for Jamie, the social worker with such a heart. Thankful for the way she is thoughtful to so many. So thankful for Cal, an unassuming, gracious husband and man.
  • For those whom I’ve known for so many years. So grateful to receive those texts, e-mails, and handwritten notes. I take none of this for granted.

When You Fail to Show Respect


I suppose it may not a word that immediately gets your attention.  Perhaps it doesn’t have much buzz or flair.

Yet the importance of showing another respect is huge.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.

  • A young husband is condescending to his wife, making her feel as if she is less intelligent than he is.
  • A teenager has a confrontation with his dad.  He tells his dad to “shut up” and walks away.  Thirty minutes earlier the boy was in a Wednesday evening Bible class.
  • A young woman is disrespectful to her mother-in-law, speaking to her in way that is demeaning and hurtful.
  • A man disrespects his wife, flirting with women at the office.  One woman at the office remarks, “You mean he’s married?”
  • A minister degrades the elders to others in the congregation and then kisses up to them in an elders meeting.  Disrespect.
  • An older man in the church abruptly approaches a young minister and says something insulting and crude in front of a visitor.

I am not suggesting that people needed to be “nicer.”

Is Your Gratitude Obvious to Others?

GratitudeA few years ago, I read everything I could find by Henri Nouwen.

His writings were formative and very encouraging.  On one occasion, I read his book Gracias.  The book is actually a journal chronicling Nouwen’s time spent in Peru and Bolivia.  Near the end of the book, he writes:

The title of this journal summarizes what I found, learned, and heard.  The word that I kept hearing, wherever I went, was: Gracias!  It sounded like the refrain from a long ballad of events.  Gracias a usted, gracias a Dios, muchas gracias — thank you, thanks be to God, many thanks!  I saw thousands of poor and hungry children, I met many young men and women without money, a job, or a decent place to live.  I spent long hours with sick, elderly people, and I witnessed more misery and pain than ever before in my life.  But in the midst of it all, that word lifted me again and again to a new realm of seeing and hearing: Gracias!  Thanks!  (Henri Nouwen, Gracias!, p. 187)


When have you felt particularly moved by someone’s gratitude?  What made the situation particularly moving?


What is a Gracious Person Like?

Gracious. coffee_cup (1).jpg

Now I like this word.

Like you, however, I have been around some people for whom the word “gracious” doesn’t seem to fit.

It was a busy evening. This particular church was attempting to feed a lot of people. Volunteers had been working in the kitchen in their church building throughout the day to prepare for a big crowd that evening. Other volunteers had come the day before after purchasing food at the local Sam’s. Here were lots of people working together. Again, all were volunteers.

One couple came through the line. He complained because his portion was smaller than what he wanted. The person serving apologized and explained that they were trying to give small portions of this particular dish because they wanted to make sure that everyone got some before they ran out. The man was visibly displeased and muttered something about the volunteers needing to do a better job of planning. No thank you. No gratitude.

That is not graciousness.

On the other hand, I have known gracious people. For example, I witnessed one gracious man interact with people many times in social settings. He would never humiliate, embarrass, or in any way communicate displeasure over something like the above example. He spent his time thanking people and expressing gratitude to them for the work they had done. At such dinners, he often wandered through the kitchen complimenting people and thanking each person for their service.

Graciousness is reserved for people who recognize 
that they are privileged to receive what they have been given. Or as Fred Craddock once said, “The final act of grace is graciousness.”  

So what is a gracious 

A gracious person is slow to take credit and quick to lavish praise.

A gracious person never seeks to embarrass another. Humiliating another is not in this person’s vocabulary. (Please don’t say something that humiliates another and then try to escape responsibility by saying, “I was only joking.”)

A gracious person is always thanking others. Do you go through an entire day without thanking another?

A gracious person doesn’t monopolize the conversation. Someone else has something to offer.

A gracious person doesn’t try to play one-upmanship. (“That’s nothing, you should have seen what I did!”)

A gracious person pays attention to people. Sometimes people come away from such conversations saying, “He made me feel like I was the most important person at that moment.”

A gracious person desires to say what is appropriate. (There is no redeeming value in emptying one’s mind of whatever fleeting thought has happened to land at the moment.)

A gracious person looks out for the comfort of others. 

A gracious person looks for the good. Maybe 
you are visiting a friend who lives in another place. Instead of 
pointing out the inadequacies of your friend’s community, you are 
constantly finding things that are good. “This cafe has outstanding
 peach pie! That was delicious.” “I just love the way you have planted
 your garden. It is beautiful!”

I believe that in so many of us, there is a genuine hunger 
to experience the beauty of graciousness. After all, this is nothing
 more than grace lived out. And — that grace originates in the heart of God.


What else would you add to this list? What have you observed about gracious people?