How Someone Like You Can Stay Fresh and Alive for the Long Haul



Many of us are very busy, overcommitted, and burdened. Some of us feel as if we are carrying the weight of it all on our shoulders.  And yet, we want to stay fresh and alive for the long haul.

Taking steps to stay fresh for the long haul is important because too many people crash and burn. 

Perhaps there have been too many disappointments and too many meetings in which the unthinkable happens. After a while, you become angry, bitter, and cynical.

Some of us know what it is to be angry.  We are resentful of what happened behind closed doors in a church meeting, resentful of being treated unfairly, resentful of being underpaid, resentful of unkind words. Or, you are just tired. You are tired of being the point person.  You are tired of having to be the responsible adult.

Some of us know what it is to feel self-doubt. You went to seminary and worked hard, but your ministry just hasn’t gone the way you thought it would. You hear some of your fellow ministers say their churches are doing well. Yet, so many of us are ministers who are disappointed and confused about the way things have turned out.

Some people begin to feel entitled and complacent. We feel like we deserve a life better than this. We may begin taking some shortcuts. Maybe these are shortcuts to quick pleasure.  These moments of quick pleasure may become a secret.  We rationalize that we deserve this after all we’ve been through.  (Sounds like a rationalization from the father of lies.)

Some of us know what it is to feel lonely. To not have real friends. To feel as if no one in the church knows what we are going through or dealing with. In the meantime, some of us may realize that we really have not invested in our marriages in earlier years and we may not be that close to our wives/husbands.

Eleven Things Married People Need to Know

1.  We have been married for almost 39 years.  There is no magic formula.  Much of marriage is about a committed friendship that a man and woman have with one another.  Marriage may be more than simply a friendship but it is at least that.  It is building a history of friendship together.  It is so important that I treat her/him as I would treat a true friend.

2.  Know that marriage requires forgiveness.  Are there difficult and challenging situations?  Of course.  Such situations will mean that we will need to offer and receive almost daily forgiveness.  As a Christ-follower, I can’t store up instances of my spouse’s failures, mistakes, and sins only to spread them out on the kitchen table for review every time I get angry and resentful. Before I focus on what my spouse has said or done, I might first consider what I have done in my life that put the Son of God on a cross.

3.  Be committed to growing up.  It is tough when a husband acts like a 12 year-old boy instead of a grown man.  It is tough when one’s wife continues to behave, well into her 30s, as if the world centers around her.  Husbands and wives are called to grow up and mature.  Marriage is meant for grown-ups.

4.  Deal with the baggage that you have.  If you were hurt, abandoned, or abused as a child, no man can make up for what you experienced.  No spouse can heal the hurt or make up for the insecurities that one experienced as a child.  Such expectations put unrealistic pressure on a marriage.

Baseball, Bikes, and One Warning From My Mother

(Growing Up in Dallas)

I grew up in Southeast Dallas, the old Pleasant Grove area.  During those years (1960’s), most of my memories of living in our neighborhood are good.  I don’t remember my parents being concerned about crime in our neighborhood.  Things were relatively calm in that neighborhood.

In my memory, life was full.  Baseball in the summer and touch/tackle football the rest of the year. We had a field behind us that belonged to a nearby Baptist church where we played both sports.  It was the gathering place on hot summer evenings.

In the summers, when we were out of school, I would get on my bike in the morning (often with my friends Kip and his brother Dale) and stay gone most of the day.  I rode with friends to stores, to the park, to nearby streets, and to the community swimming pool.  These were different times. In fact, the one warning that I got from my mother (who would be working at a bookstore all day) was “Don’t be late for supper.”

5 Habits That Have Given Me More Energy Throughout the Day

(Starting the Day)

Your habits will either contribute to your energy or work to deplete your energy.

Three years ago, I made a huge change in my life.  For 35 years, I had served churches as a preacher.  My life was busy.  Rearing children.  Preparing sermons and classes.  Conversations with people.  Walking with others in our church through various crises.  Then in December 2013, we moved to Memphis where I would begin serving as Vice President of Harding School of Theology. That was quite a change in many ways.

What has helped me maintain energy more than anything is to establish certain habits that I do every day.   In other words, I try to cut down on the number of decisions that I make each morning related to time, and simply carry out the habits which have already been established.  In the past, far too often, I began each day by making numerous decisions about how I would spend that time. Even going to the gym to work out has become a habit.  (This has been far more effective than trying to decide every day whether I will go or not.)

The following are five daily habits that give me energy.

I begin every day by getting up early enough to read my Bible, pray regarding the day ahead, and thinking about what I plan to do this day. There is something about this intentionality that centers me and makes me ready to take on the day.  Ideally, I do this before checking e-mail.  I have found that when I begin by checking e-mail, there are often those surprise notes that have a way of preoccupying my mind and emotions.  I like to vary what I do during this time.  Sometimes I will read the morning reading from Phyllis Tickle’s Divine Hours.  On other occasions I will listen to the brief Pray as You Go podcast.  I find the variety to be very helpful.

I begin every day with a list of three things that I want to get done that day.  Typically, I will write these three things on a Post-it note and keep it in front of me in my office.  These are three important things that I really want to get done that day.  Now I also use Nozbe, an excellent organizer.  I have lists of action steps I need to take regarding a number of projects.  I also have a list of action items that are fairly urgent.  However, when it comes to the “must do’s” for the day, I have found a list of three to be very helpful.

5 Practical Ways Church Leaders Can Make a Difference

Church leaders sometimes wonder if they are really making a difference. Elders, ministers, and influencers in a variety of roles may wonder, “Am I really making a kingdom difference in my congregation?”  Others may even feel discouraged wondering if their service, as a part of a congregation, really matters.

Remember that we serve by faith, understanding that we might not necessarily see, or be aware of the difference we are making.  By faith, however, we believe that God uses our lives beyond our awareness and even beyond our time on the earth.

So how can you invest your time and life to make a difference?

Listen well.  Listen to fellow leaders and to the members of the congregation.  Listen for content and for the emotion behind the spoken words.  Let people say what they need to say.  Follow up with questions that reflect your genuine interest.  “How did you reach this conclusion?  Was there a defining moment for you when this became apparent?”  Or you might just respond with “Tell me more.”  Good listeners genuinely want to understand.

Pay attention.  If you are in a conversation with someone in your congregation, pay attention to them.  Use that person’s name.  Don’t know their name?  Ask–again.  Write it down.  Pay attention to the details.  Frances Hesselbein (former president and CEO of the Leader to Leader Institute) in her book, My Life in Leadership, writes concerning her grandmother “Mama Wicks” (p.12):

When I would walk into the room, I was the only person there.  When she talked to me, I still remember, she would look into my eyes intently.  For that moment she made me feel like the most important person in the world.

Follow through.  Did you agree to take care of a situation?  Perhaps you agreed to set up a meeting with a particular person.  Maybe there was a detail you promised to take care of.  Follow through on what you have promised to do.  Much time and energy are wasted as leaders find themselves dealing with fellow leaders who do not follow through on what they promised to do.  If you promised to take care of a situation, do it in a timely way.  We make a difference when others know that we will follow through with our commitments.

Multiply your influence.  Church leaders have some influence.  Some may have more influence than others. Nevertheless, we still have influence which can be invested in such a way so that your capacity for good is multiplied. One of the best ways to do this is through encouragement.  When you encourage another, you help to bring fresh energy to that person.  In far too many congregations, church leaders receive very little encouragement.  Some of these people serve for many years and only rarely hear a “thank you” or a kind word regarding their service.  You can multiply your influence by encouraging these people.

Likewise, look for opportunities to encourage a mom or dad in your congregation.  Encouraging a struggling parent could make a huge difference in what their children experience in that home.  Single parents, in particular, need such encouragement.

Wrestle in prayer for others.   Are there people whom you specifically pray for regularly?  Paul noted that Epaphras was “always wrestling in prayer for you” (Colossians 4:12).  As a church leader, you can make a significant difference by wrestling in prayer for those in your church.  Start with a list of five to ten people.  Be sure to include some of your fellow leaders.


When You Are Worried

Are you worried?

Worry can be terrifying.  We worry about our children, our health, our finances, our marriage, and on and on.  Worry asks the question, “What is going to happen?”

One night I was worrying.  What if this happens?  What am I going to do?  What are we going to do?  Worry is like a frightening play being acted out in your mind.  The cast of characters in the play are terrifying!  Each one comes upon the stage promising doom, failure, and humiliation.  To spend much time worrying can be exhausting and so discouraging.

Maybe you are worried about:

The unfinished.  “Oh my goodness, how will I ever get all of this done?”  You haven’t finished the project or the paper for your class at the university.  You haven’t finished preparing that message, that talk, or that sermon.  You are not ready for that meeting.  You have a special event coming soon at church.  Things are not where they need to be in terms of preparation.  You feel behind.

The unresolved.  “What am I going to do?  You have some dilemmas for which you have no answer. Perhaps you have made a mistake — maybe a big mistake.  Or, you are dealing with the ramifications of someone else’s mistake. You aren’t sure what to do.  These problems can range from annoying situations that keep you, your church, or your company from being effective, to heartbreaking situations that involve people you care about deeply. 

The unpleasant.   “Oh my goodness! Just the thought of doing that is depressing!”  You have an unpleasant conversation to initiate.  You are in conflict with someone and you are to meet with that person later in the day.  You have a task that you need to begin.  The task is something you really have no desire to do.  Maybe you are tired of having to do this one more time.  Many of us feel a sense of dread when we think about the unpleasant.  

What I’m Reading

The following books, articles, represent what I have read recently.  Perhaps something here will interest you:

Blackstone’s Byron Wien Discusses Lessons Learned In His First 80 Years”  This is a good and thoughtful article.  (I read a summary somewhere but can’t remember where this was cited.)

I have been listening to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism.  A great book!  I loved reading this book by way of audio books.  This is the first book by Goodwin that I have listened to as an audio book.  It probably won’t be the last.

Every morning I read a few pages from Mark Lanier’s new book Psalms for Daily Living: Daily Prayers, Wisdom, and Guidance.  I really like what he does in this book.  Each reading is short (one page).  Often, however, there are some real gems on these pages.

Recently I read Brian Harris’ The Big Picture. Building Blocks of a Christian World View.  This is a very fine book which made me think.  He is a good writer and is capable of communicating complicate difficult material in a manner that is user-friendly.

I recently began reading Dr. Harold Shanks new book GodWorks.  This is an excellent and encouraging book!

This is a very good piece by Mel Robbins, “Take Control of Your Day.”  Mel advises against starting the day by checking e-mail or looking at texts.  Rather, she encourages the reader to start with one’s own priorities.

This may interest you if your are a sports fan.  David Axelrod interviews Chicago Cubs Director of Baseball Operations, Theo Epstein.  A very good interview!

Men and Their Spiritual Battle

The spiritual battle for the hearts and lives of men is very real.  Our struggle as men, is not against flesh and blood (though is all too often where we put our focus) but is against the powers and principalities of the dark world and the spiritual forces of evil.

I have spent much of my life learning how to be the right kind of man, husband, and father.  I am thankful to have had the opportunity to watch other men attempt to live a godly life.  Of course, as I look back, I can see times when I really fell short of what I was called to be as a man, a husband, and a father.

Most men I know would do anything to protect their families against harm.  Most would do anything to protect their families against someone who might be physically threatening to their spouse or their children.

Yet, the greater threat that our families face is the threat initiated by the devil’s schemes.

Start 2017 With a Commitment to Get Unstuck

We are just days away from 2017.  This new year might be one of my best years ever!  How about you?  I do remember a few years ago when in December, I felt stuck.  I needed to make progress in my life but felt immovable. I felt like my intentions were good but I really had nothing in place that developed beyond my thoughts. Consequently, I had no reason to believe the new year ahead would be any different than the current year.

Some people move ahead. They get better. Meanwhile others remain the same or even digress. Many people end the year with regrets, excuses, disappointments, and “buts.”  They are stuck.

“I should be more attentive to God in prayer and Scripture reading, but . . . .”

“I need to deal with a particular sin that keeps reappearing in my life, but . . . .”

“I need to spend more time with my wife.  I know I haven’t invested much energy into our marriage, but . . . .”

“I have a habit of making commitments and starting projects that need to be completed, but . . . .”

“I know I need to make progress in my walk with God this year, but . . . .”

“I can be pretty harsh and overbearing at home. I know this is wrong, but . . . .”

“My job takes so much energy and time. I feel exhausted much of the time. I need to nourish my inner world, but . . . .”

“I’m losing the emotional connection with my children. I know the answer is not to buy them more things to compensate for this, but . . . .”

“I know I should make this right with my friend, but . . . .”

Think about these statements. Each one describes the reality of a person’s life. However, the description of this reality is then derailed by the word “but.” When you and I stop short of our intentions, we are sabotaging our own lives. Instead of thanking God for the insight and awareness into the reality of our lives, we discount the first statement with “but.”

Random Thoughts for Ministers

1. What you are doing within your congregation is good, important, and a significant way to spend your life.  What a gift you have been given!

2. Stop trying so hard to be cool, liked, valued, etc.  When you do this, it is painful for some in the congregation to watch.  It can seem like a desperate way to get validation.  Just live authentically before these people.

3. Ok, no one is perfect.  However, you don’t have to go out of your way to prove this just so that you can relate.  Seek to be a Christ-like person.  You are most valuable to a group of people when you simply take your own spiritual transformation seriously.

4. You and I both know how difficult your work is.  I did congregational ministry for many years.  I know some of the unique challenges.  However, many other men and women in your church also work very, very hard.  Some may have two jobs.  Rather than talk about how hard you work and how much you are in demand, just serve and let your life speak for itself.

5. Remember that behaviors which seem like no big deal may turn out to be costly.  Failing to return phone calls and ignoring texts or e-mails can become the very irritants that could eventually undermine one’s ministry.  Neglecting to respond to people over a period of time really can hurt a minister’s credibility.