Don’t Let This Hold You Back

What holds you back?BabeRuth.jpeg

What keeps you from doing what you know you need or want to do?

Maybe you’ve said what I’ve said at times:

If only I had the money.
If only I had the time.
If only I had the right person/people to help me.
If only I had the right opportunity.
If only I could get the right break.
If only I didn’t have this other obstacle in my way.

What about you? Have these been your words?

Far too often, I put off taking action because I didn’t think I was prepared. These were often my words (at least in my mind):

I don’t know enough.

Now if you had asked me how my knowledge was lacking, I don’t know that I could have answered you. Far too often, my thinking was rooted in insecurity and fear rather than a serious assessment of the situation.

These days I’m thinking differently.

These days I ask, “What is the first step that I need to take?”

So often, I have found that if I will take the first step, then I am already down the road. I then have a better idea of what to pray for. I know more about how to trust in God at that point. Trusting God becomes a reality instead of something I think about while I remain immobile.

What holds you back?

Do you simply need to take the first step?

This week, what is the first step that you need to take?

Ministry Inside.60

Most Thursdays, I post something with pastors, preachers, and church leaders in mind. Maybe one or more of the following will be helpful.

6 Things Your Writing Must Have to Wow Readers by L. L. Barkat. This is a very good post for writers and preachers. Also, don’t miss this interview with L. L. Barkat regarding her book Rumors of Water: Thoughts On Creativity and Writing.

I really like these words from Eugene Peterson regarding the essence of pastoral ministry:

Incrementally, without noticing what I was doing, I had been shifting from being a pastor dealing with God in people’s lives to treating them as persons dealing with problems in their lives. I was not being their pastor . . . But by reducing them to problems to be fixed, I omitted the biggest thing of all of in their lives, God and their souls, and the biggest thing in my life, my vocation as pastor . . . I knew I had turned a corner when a year or so later I visited Marilyn in the hospital. Marilyn was in her mid-twenties, married, and newly employed as a lawyer with an established firm in our country . . . She said she was in the hospital for tests — she hadn’t been feeling well, and the doctors were having difficulty diagnosing anything . . . Feeling cautiously safe, I ventured ‘Is there anything you want me to do?’ Marilyn hesitated. And then, shyly, ‘Yes, I’ve been thinking a lot about it. Would you teach me to pray’ (Eugene Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir pp. 140-141)

Do you read Jeff Goins’posts regarding writing? I really find so many of his posts helpful. Not only do his words apply to writing but also could be helpful to anyone who uses words through speaking.

This might be useful to think about as many of us spend much of our time in one to one conversations: “7 Tips to Know if You’re Boring Someone.”

Came across this quote this week attributed to C. S. Lewis (quoted by Faith Barista):

“The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are.”

Ministers might ask themselves, “Do I surround myself with people who are wise? Are there men and women in my world who are wise and thoughtful?” This is very important to me. I purposefully seek out people who are wise.

3 Words That People Never Get Tired of Hearing

“I appreciate youcoffee cup (1).jpg .”

So many, many people rarely, if ever, hear these words, “I appreciate you.”

These are three words that people never get tired of hearing.

In the absence of these words, many people feel unappreciated, devalued, and taken for granted.

One of the best encouragers I know is Jerry Rushford, who for 30 years has been the director of the Pepperdine Lectures (thousands of people on campus for classes, worship, conversation, etc). Each year he publicly praises missionaries from faraway places throughout the world. Or, he might recognize people who have served in ministries for decades. This is so important and encouraging.

Recently, I was on a retreat where a friend/longtime minister prayed for me specifically. We were in a group of about 15 people and he prayed a prayer of blessing. He prayed in such detail that I was very moved by this moment. A part of what made this moment so moving for me was that he communicated value, worth, and genuine appreciation.

You can communicate value to someone in a variety of ways:

1. You can tell someone how valuable they are to you as a friend or as a co-worker.

2. You can “catch them” doing something right and bring it to their attention.

3. You can praise their work before others.

4. You can listen — genuinely listen — to their thoughts and ideas.

5. You can send a note, card, e-mail, text, or any other kind of communication to communicate value.


What else would you add to this list? How has someone communicated value to you?

What I Learned From Other Men

If you are confused about what it means to be a man today, you are certainly not alone.   

Notice some of these articles:

*Why men are in trouble.

*The End of Men.

*Where Have the Good Men Gone?

Many men today are very confused.

Quite often sitcoms portray them as goofy, less than bright, and typically immature. It is assumed they would rather play golf than do anything noble or heroic. Again and again, a dad is portrayed as one who doesn’t get it. Of course, some do not. Some men seem to remain in a perpetual state of immaturity. As William Bennett notes, one of the common complaints from young women about young men is their failure to grow up. Bennett goes on to say:

Movies are filled with stories of men who refuse to grow up and refuse to take responsibility in relationships. Men, some obsessed with sex, treat women as toys to be discarded when things get complicated. Through all these different and conflicting signals, our boys must decipher what it means to be a man, and for many of them it is harder to figure out.

So how does this change?

Men need other men to mentor, guide, and correct them. The church is a place where this can happen. This is especially important if younger guys did not have fathers in their lives as they were growing up. Other guys had fathers who were silent, passive, and disconnected.

Several men blessed me during my 20s and this has continued to make a real difference decades later. They taught me through their words, manner, and willingness to speak into my life. What I did learn from some of these men?

1. Loyalty. One husband and father talked with me in our conversations about his marriage. I heard him express loyalty to his wife and children. I watched him as he spoke to his wife and saw his tenderness toward her. He esteemed her both in her absence and in her presence. I wanted to have a family where I treated my wife and children similarly.

2. Courage. One evening when I was still a college student, a church elder, I greatly admired talked with me about the way I was handling myself with a young woman I had been dating. He witnessed my behavior as I quarreled with her one evening and talked with me about how to handle my behavior in such situations. I had acted immaturely (and knew it), and he was trying to help me. I admired his courage for being willing to step into my life to help me mature.

3. Emotional Connection. It is true. Men and women are not wired the same. When I was in my early 20s and single, I had no idea how to connect emotionally with a woman. No way was I ready for marriage. I certainly had no idea how I would connect emotionally with children if I had them. Later, I began to learn how to stay connected emotionally with my wife and children as I watched (and talked with) two men in particular. I still had much to learn, however, these two men helped me get started and gave me a picture of what an emotionally connected family might look like.


Is there a person (outside your immediate family) who has made a significant investment in your life through friendship or mentoring? How has this relationship impacted you?

Ministry Inside.59

If you are a preacher, pastor, or minister in any role, what do you wish you had known when you first began your ministry?

(Please leave a comment today regarding this. I think your reply could be very helpful to some who are just beginning their work.)

Ministry Inside.58

Most Thursdays, I post “Ministry Inside” which is a collection of a few thoughts and resources especially for church leaders. Perhaps you will find one or more of these helpful.

1. Chuck Degroot writes some significant posts that address some important issues in the lives of church leaders. This week I read “On Self-Deception” in which he discusses self-deception and the importance of confession as a means of helping us see who we really are and what is really going on in our lives. I like this quote from the post:

Sometimes we find ourselves becoming more like Jesus not because we’re good, or because we’ve succeeded, or because we’re doing the right thing, but because we’ve seen the log in our own eye instead of the speck in another’s. We may feel powerful reciting the narrative we believe about some other screwed up person, but confessing our own deceit invites us into a holy powerlessness, a place where we need Jesus more than we know.

2. I have just finished reading Scot McKnight’s new book, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. I had difficulty putting this book down. After several years of reading N.T. Wright, this book helped connect some dots. There are two forewords in the book, one by N.T. Wright and the other by Dallas Willard.   

Also, Scot McKnight has been delivering the Parchman Lectures at Truett Seminary (Baylor University) this week. This series is entitled “American Evangelicalism and the Pastor.” Video and audio of this series will be available at the Truett website soon.

3. Jeff Goins has written a very good post entitled “Self-Leadership.” This good post addresses the tendency of many of us to blame others instead of taking responsibility. I pay attention to what Jeff writes. He consistently writes good, helpful posts.

4. This was a helpful post! “An 18 Minute Plan for Managing Your Day” by Peter Bregman from the Harvard Business Review Blog Network. These three suggestions sound simple but were very helpful to me. If you need help staying on task, you might find these helpful as well.

Your Work May be More Important Than You Think

I am sat at our kitchen table having finished a cup of coffee.  

It was early in the morning. I was thinking about my work and the day I anticipated. I wanted the day to matter and count in some way. Typically, the day seems to really count if I lived in the moment with a sense of my own identity and purpose in Jesus.

This is not as easy as it may sound. At least, I don’t find this easy! Yes it is true. Sometimes I get up in the morning and I sense the presence of God and I feel like I in rhythm, living the way I was meant to live. On many other occasions, I find life to be very hard.

Years ago, I was walking with a friend and his wife through the student center at Abilene Christian University. I think we were all there for a special event. What I do remember is that I was apparently discouraged with my work/ministry. The three of us were walking down the stairs to get a coke and visit. This couple was a few years older than me. They had served in a full-time ministry role much longer than me.

As we were walking down the steps to the lower level of the student center, my friend’s wife said to me,

”Jim, our work is far too important to allow it to be destroyed by another mortal.”

I have remembered this for many years. She saw that I was getting overly focused on a certain person’s destructive attitude and behavior. I was allowing this one person to discourage and distract me.

Such discouragements can happen to us all.

Discouragement can happen to you in your ministry or your family. Discouragement can take place at work. Discouragement can happen as you try to deal with life. Does this sound familiar? Or is this limited to just a few of us?

Sometimes, we allow discouraging situations to finally wear us out. Imagine being in a canoe with another person. You would like to go straight down the river. You use your oar in such a way as to cause the canoe to go straight. Your friend, however, seems to be interested in going from one side of the river to the other. You paddle and paddle and find yourself heading to the side of the river and finally hitting the bank. You get the canoe headed in the right direction again and a minute or two later, you are heading to the other side of the river toward the other bank. Eventually this kind of canoeing becomes very tiresome.

Life can be exhausting!

Perhaps I need to be reminded that the Lord is at my side and gives me strength. Perhaps I need to remember that the Lord does not leave his children to fend for themselves. Rather, he is with us.

At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

(II Timothy 4:16-18)

(Adapted from a previous post)

Ministry Inside.57

Most Thursdays, I post thoughts that might be particularly applicable to ministers. Perhaps the thoughts below will be encouraging. If you are not working with a church in similar role, I want to invite you to use these words to reflect on your own ministry whatever that might be.

I have been a minister for over thirty years. This is thirty years of sermons, classes, conversations, funerals, weddings, and meetings. This is thirty years of work that is often complicated, painful, and even heartbreaking. Yet, much of it is joyful and energizing. There are many ways to spend a life serving God. I don’t know that one role honors God more than another. However, I am thankful for my role in the life of our congregation.

Perhaps there certain aspects of your ministry that energize you. I would love to hear about them. Please leave your thoughts in a comment below or e-mail me.

Much of my work really does energize me.

I love the sense of being on the edge. For me, preaching/teaching is not a casual moment where one yawns his way through some material to be presented. There is far too much at stake to be cavalier. Any preacher who no longer feels the edge in ministry, really ought to examine any sense of call that might be left.

I love the opportunity to participate in another’s faith journey. There is not a week that goes by that I am not given the privilege to step inside someone’s heart through teaching, preaching or conversation. It is a sacred moment when one allows another to mediate the Gospel into their lives and perhaps into areas that they have spent a lifetime avoiding, denying, or hiding. The gospel has a way addressing the impossible situations in our lives to heal, confront, forgive, and bring hope.

I love the sacredness of conversation. Whether it is conversation over coffee at Starbucks or in my office, these people trust that I will honor what they say, which is both humbling and sobering. Often, I will have a conversation in which that person will reveal an important thought, a painful memory, or a future dream. This is a sacred moment.

Finally, I love the opportunity to read, think, question, and explore. I find this incredibly stimulating. There is hardly a week that goes by when I do not learn something new. Often, I learn something that really matters.

I’m not going to tell you that everything about my work energizes me. There are aspects of my work that I could live without. There are days that are draining and demoralizing. Sometimes I wonder if I am accomplishing anything. Yet, the positives far outweigh the negatives.


Are there particular aspects of your work that are quite energizing? Or, maybe even unrelated to your work — what do you find particularly energizing in a given day?

Called or Just Employed?

We were a small church meeting in what was formerly a convenience store. Smoking-cigar.jpg

Less than 36 months earlier, I was single, driving a UPS truck and a recent graduate of the University of North Texas. Now I was married, living in North Alabama and driving two hours each Sunday to preach at this church in middle Tennessee.

On this particular Sunday, I had just walked out of the double glass doors onto the gravel parking lot. Parked near these doors was his white Cadillac convertible. Inside was our wealthiest member. He was in his 50s, divorced, and gave the largest dollar amount each Sunday morning. He was already in his car, lighting his cigar. He motioned for me to come over to his car. The electric window on the driver’s side began to slowly come down.

He glared at me, looking very angry. He told me not to mention African-American people in the sermon anymore. (“African-American” wasn’t exactly the term that he used.) That morning, I had mentioned racism in my sermon and he wasn’t happy.

I stood there for a few seconds and didn’t say anything. I was stunned. While I had faced this attitude before, I had never had anyone demand that I not preach on something that seemed so biblical. Finally I said, “I will not ignore an obvious application in the Bible.”

Needless to say, he was not happy.

This was an important moment for me. I had to decide whether I was employed by the church (having a “preaching job”) or whether I was called by God, with my obedience to him being at stake.

The call makes all the difference.


Can you recall a time when you had to decide if you were called or just employed?

Ministry Inside.56

I had lunch with a friend of mine who is a wonderful seminary professor. During lunch we talked about a number of concerns related to life, ministry, church, etc. At one point, I asked him what he thought about the number of seminary students who wanted no part of ministry in “traditional” churches.

no-church.jpg(I asked this question not suggesting that the desire of someone to participate in a church plant, inner city ministry, is a negative. Rather, I was interested in hearing from my friend who interacts with seminary students every day.)

He said that he suspected that there were a variety of reasons for this. We talked about some of those reasons. Then he said, “I can tell you what students said ten years ago in answer to the question of why students did not want to be in the role of pastor in a traditional church.”

The students who were asked this same question gave two reasons for not wanting to do this:

1. They did not want the 24/7 lifestyle that this ministry seemed to demand from pastors.

2. They did not know any pastors who were happy.

Later, I thought about what my friend said. “They did not know any pastors who were happy.”

Now that is a dose of reality!

Why is it that some ministers seem to get bitter and cynical?

Yes, I know that some ministers have been shamefully mistreated by some congregations. I know that some have been thoughtlessly disposed of by congregations. Some ministers receive very little if any encouragement from their elders.

It is also true that some ministers have behaved immaturely before congregations. It is true that some have used poor judgment with the members of their churches. Some ministers (like some elders) have pursued their own ego needs instead of modeling what it means to be loving and selfless.

Yet, I think about my friend’s statement. “They did not know any pastors who were happy.” Could it be that some of us who have preached for churches for many years are obscuring the vision of ministry for others? Could it be that they have never seen in some of us anything they wanted to emulate or duplicate?

Isn’t the gospel larger than our frustrations? Isn’t the joy of the Lord possible for a person even when that person is experiencing hardship and persecution?