Don’t Ignore the Obvious

(I am away on a vacation/study break during the month of July. The posts that appear during the month are from the archives.)

I really don’t want to ignore the obvious, and yet I do at times.

I graduated from the University of North Texas with a degree in business. I recall taking a variety of classes including some in business management, accounting, business law, finance, statistics, etc. Yet, in spite of these courses, I ignored the obvious.

I actually paid very little attention toward thinking about the kind of work that I might do for the rest of my life. I am not suggesting that I should have known exactly what I was going to do. I am saying that I did not even give it very much thought. Oh I knew what I was going to do when I graduated. I had been working for UPS while in college and I knew that I would be driving and then going into management with them. Yet, beyond that, I gave my future little thought.

Maybe the following is obvious to you. Yet, I need to be reminded to not ignore the obvious.


Am I thinking ahead?

1. In five years, I will be somewhere doing something.  In five years, do I want to be able to say that I have invested in my growth and maturity over these past five years? What will that mean TODAY in terms of the practical decisions that I need to make?

2. At the end of this year, I will be somewhere financially.  If I continue to spend money the way I am currently spending money, what will be my financial condition in January 2010? Do I need to make a change TODAY in terms of the way I spend money?

3. As I begin my week, I am going to make choices about the way I invest my time. Who needs my attention and time this week? Are there significant people in my life who have not been receiving the time or attention the need? Do I need to make a decision TODAY regarding this?

4. In front of me is an unread book.  I can easily say, given what I already have scheduled, “I don’t have time to read a book this week.” Yet, could I carve out thirty minutes each day to read? Could I carve out fifteen minutes each day to read? Do I need to begin this TODAY?

Four Ways to Take a Vacation Today


Take a free vacation today.Vacation.jpg

Yes, free.

I once read an interview featuring a busy business executive. He spoke of his work, his responsibilities, and the stress that came with his job.

In the interview, he said that during his busy, hectic day he might call a longtime friend. For a few minutes, they might talk about a river they planned to raft or a football game they wanted to see. These conversations with friends were brief, but for him they were a breath of fresh air in the middle of a busy, stressful day.

These conversations can be mini-vacations. For a few minutes, they allow you to get away. Such conversations can be a refreshing pause in the middle of a day that is draining.

There are other ways to take a mini-vacation.

I have spent a few moments reliving last summer’s vacation. My mind doesn’t know the difference between these memories and the actual vacation. I have found this to be relaxing.

One person I knew would pause during the day and for a few minutes work a crossword puzzle.

I once knew a guy who watched old movies during his lunch hour.

Some people work out at the YMCA or another gym during lunch.

These are endless ways people have found to refresh themselves in the middle of the day.

You have your own ideas about what might be a mini-vacation for you. You might consider trying this. I am not talking about a long period of time. Try doing this for two minutes. Two minutes. Spend two minutes thinking about a pleasant hike, a nice vacation, or an evening you recently enjoyed. You might be surprised at how long two minutes can feel.

Yes, like most anything—this could be abused. One could stay on a mental vacation and only occasionally come to work mentally.

For so many of us, however, these breathers can help bring clarity and perspective to our day. When I am behind in my work, my tendency is to get more intense and more focused. Of course, this kind of focus can be useful and can spur on productivity. However, doing my work with this level of intensity day after day only makes me weary. I don’t feel creative or energized.

These mini-vacations can be very helpful. They can restore and motivate. They remind me that God has created me to be a whole person. I am mind, body, soul, emotion, etc. I am a social being. One of the greatest gifts I can give the people I love the most is to take care of myself. Selfish? No. Self-care is about being a good steward of what God has given me.

Suggestions:

1. Call a friend with the intention of talking about a subject that is very pleasant to you both. Do you both like to fish? Do you like to compare coffees? Spend a short time talking about the subject.

2. Sit in your chair, close your eyes and relive one of the most enjoyable experiences of a vacation or special trip. Seek to remember the sounds, smells, and sensations of the place.

3. Cultivate friendships with at least a few people who will talk with you about something other than your work, your responsibilities, etc.

4. Look for opportunities to laugh. One woman used to cut cartoons from the newspaper and put them on her refrigerator for her family to see. She believed her family needed to laugh more. There are days when I eat lunch at my desk in the office. I will sometimes watch a few You Tube clips that I know are very funny.

When You Feel Spiritually Dry

Are there times when these two words describe you?DryCreekbed.jpg

Spiritually dry.

I suspect that most of us experience this at various times.

There is a creek that runs along the edge of our property line. Much of the time, there is water in this creek. However, during the hot Texas summer, the creek will often dry up. In fact, it will be so dry that the creek bed cracks due to the lack of rain and intense heat of the blazing sun.

There may be times when your soul feels parched and depleted.

There are often a number of factors that may be at work to create this sense of dryness. In addressing this, however, it is important to begin with your own heart.

Remember the story of Samson (Judges 16)? Part of his vow to God was not to cut his hair. However, the Philistine woman, Delilah, wore him down and he finally told her the secret of his strength. In the middle of the night when he was asleep, she cut his hair. As a result, he lost his strength. He ignored his covenant with God (symbolized by the vow he made regarding his hair) and lost his strength.

Whenever I experience a period of dryness, I need to ask at some point, “Have I ignored my covenant with God?” Of course, this is not always true. However, maybe one place to begin is with my own repentance. Unfortunately, this is the last possibility some people consider.

Darryl Tippens, in his fine book Pilgrim Heart, writes:

Our inability to confess our obvious and hidden failures greatly damages our spiritual lives and our credibility. Our witness rings hollow. Our carefully packaged faith that hides faults haunts us and angers others. When things go awry, as they will, it becomes second nature to blame others rather than take responsibility. Thus, Christians can reside in communities where the truth is rarely spoken and where disappointment, bitterness, cynicism, and anger simmer for years. Finally the day comes when the frustration explodes. Nearly everyone is surprised at the intensity of the blow-up. What happened and why?

Often the explosion is the inevitable consequence of Christians not telling the truth of their lives – hurts over their troubled marriages, the disappointment with parents and children, their sadness and anger over harsh and unfair words spoken at church, the chronic pain of a dysfunctional relationship at work. Mark it down. A Christian who is not confessional is in peril – a danger to himself and to the community (p. 100).

Perhaps during a season of dryness, when my heart feels parched and cracked, I ought to consider the possibility of my need for confession and repentance. Maybe, like Samson, I have not been attentive to the covenant relationship I have with God. Perhaps I have allowed myself to become worn down by the nagging temptations of the evil one.

Sometimes, confessing my sin and neglect may be the first step toward freshness and life again.


Question:

What have you found helpful during periods of dryness?

Church Leaders Can Become Depressed?

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I felt like I was in a deep black hole. I could look up and tell that I was in a pit but had no earthly idea how to get out.

Over 20 years ago, a friend of mine called from another state. He had a weekly subscription to receive audio copies of the Sunday morning messages from our church. He was straightforward and to the point.

“What’s wrong with you? In some of your recent messages, you sound hesitant and unsure.”  

That was jarring to hear but it actually helped. It jarred me enough to realize that this sense of hopelessness and the numbness were impacting my life. (This had gone on for a number of months before I realized it.)

Charlotte and I visited with a friend of ours, a physician, about this. Our friend suggested that I was experiencing some depression. She wanted me to see a counselor, but I might not have done so without her encouragement because I wasn’t motivated to do anything (part of depression). I saw a Christian counselor for six months and took an anti-depressant during that time. Seeing this counselor every other week was a life-changing experience. Nothing happened overnight, but months later Charlotte and I could definitely tell that things were better. I was handling the stress that I was experiencing in my ministry much better.

Much of this was related to my work: ministry. I worked in a tough situation and the church was experiencing severe conflict. Those were lonely and extraordinarily difficult years. By no means am I unique for experiencing a form of depression.   

Many people deal with some form of depression. For some people, it might be fairly mild (no less frustrating) and related to difficult circumstances in life. On the other end of the chart are people who suffer with severe and even clinical depression. Some have a long family history of depression. They can name various persons in their family who have struggled with this. It may be business people, young mothers, college students or older people. Both new believers and longtime Christians may find themselves dealing with this.

Some of the conversations may go like this:

“He has been having a tough time. Things at work have not been going well. And, he’s dealing with some depression.”
“I keep the curtains closed most of the time. Some days I don’t want to get out of bed. I know I’m dealing with some depression.”
“My wife has been trying to get me to see the doctor. She thinks I may be dealing with some depression.”
“How long does it take for this medicine to make a difference? The doctor said it might help with my depression.”

A few observations:

1. Being trite or flippant about someone’s depression doesn’t help them get through it. “He just needs to ‘man up’ and get on with his life.” Not sure how helpful that is.

2. Seek a counselor you can connect with and have confidence in. (The counselor I mentioned earlier was the second person I saw. I just didn’t click with the first person.)

3. Depression is not shameful. To struggle with some form of depression doesn’t mean that you have a weak faith or that you don’t depend on God. Remember that self-condemnation may actually be the depression playing itself out.

4. When dealing with situational depression, don’t depend on any one approach to help you get better. In other words, be open to whatever might help. Medication might help. Exercise might help. Working on your thinking might help. There is no silver bullet. Be open to whatever might contribute to getting better.

5. Pray. If you have difficulty praying, ask family members and friends to intercede for you daily regarding your life.   

Question:

What would you say to a church that desires to be helpful to people wrestling with some form of depression?

New Year: 4 Ways to Move Ahead Instead of Remaining Stuck

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.”But.jpeg


“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, starting projects and not following through 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

This no scrunching it before tried the takes cell lip to reviews!

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 the kind of friendship I have with this man really isn’t right 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 do this, 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.”

Maybe some of us do not grow, develop, or mature because we rarely address the reality of our lives. Maybe we have allowed “but” to excuse our behavior. The following are 4 ways to move ahead into this New Year instead of remaining stuck.

1. Seek the truth regarding your life without punctuating this reality with an excuse. Look in the mirror and simply describe what you see as you reflect on your life. At this moment, the last month of the year, what does a truthful snapshot of your life look like?

2. Thank God for his love for you in spite of the areas of your life that really need attention. Keep his love and power before you. This will enable you to acknowledge the reality of your blemished life instead of sweeping it away.

3. Pray to God for wisdom to know how to address these areas in your life. Know that you probably did not get this way overnight and, by the grace of God, it will take time to press through some of these issues.

4. Look for a step to take immediately. The time to address the condition of your life is now. Know that your procrastination will only complicate matters, not solve them. You are making progress by taking a single step.

(I recently read a portion of the book Get Off Your “But”: How to End Self-Sabotage and Stand Up for Yourself by Sean Stephenson. This book was useful in helping me think through this post.)

Interview With Trevor Hudson (Part 1)

Trevor Hudson lives in South Africa. He is a Christian minister, author, and encourager to many. I have mentioned his latest book Discovering Our Spiritual Identity: Practices for God’s Beloved on this blog.

I recently asked Trevor several questions that might be of interest to Christians in general and ministers in particular. The following interview will appear in two parts. I will be giving away one copy of the book just mentioned in a drawing. To be eligible, please leave a comment below, on my Facebook page, or post a link on Twitter.

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Trevor, I have just read your book Discovering Our Spiritual Identity: Practices for God’s Beloved. I enjoyed the book greatly and have been recommending it. What was behind the writing of this book?

Thank you, Jim, first of all for your warm affirmation of the book. It is very close to my heart! What was behind the writing of the book? I am deeply aware that we live presently in a historical moment characterized by a profound searching for a vital and life-giving spirituality. In the midst of all this searching there is a critical need for careful discernment. Many expressions of spirituality doing the rounds within Christian congregations can only be described as foreign to the spirit of the crucified and risen Jesus. Often they are obsessively absorbed with the meeting of personal needs and reflect minimal concern for those who suffer. Alternatively, a spirituality of social struggle and involvement is frequently endorsed which avoids the biblical imperative for personal conversion and deep inner change. I wrote the book as a modest attempt to describe a spirituality that is centered in Jesus Christ, faithful to some of the treasures of the diverse streams within Christian Spirituality, accessible to those in the local congregation and responsive to the deep suffering all around us.


What do you suggest to congregations in which members desire to stay centered in Christ, but find daily demands and the needs of others around them are exhausting? How does the average Christian begin to see his/her way through?

I would say to congregational leaders, “Please be careful not to exhaust your members more than they are already!” As a pastor I want to be very respectful of the daily demands that those in my congregation face everyday. I would help them to see their daily lives at home and work and in the community as the primary place for their formation in Christ. They don’t have to be in the church buildings more in order to do mission. I would explore in our moments together very down-to-earth ways which help us remain mindful of Christ’s active presence within our daily lives—ways of turning our minds towards Christ on a regular basis, inviting him into our daily activities, remaining thankful, recognizing him in those we encounter and trusting him with outcomes. The promise of Jesus is that, as we learn to walk with him in our daily lives, we will live more lightly and freely. It is a wonderful thing when we in our local congregations can discover the reality of these words in our own experience.


(More to come)

While I Was Away

This is the first post I have written after being away from this blog for four weeks. During this four weeks, I not only took a break from this blog but also from my normal responsibilities at our church.

A couple of these weeks were vacation and a couple of them were to enable me to think and plan some of my teaching/preaching for the coming school year. (It is much easier and more natural in our setting for me to think about the academic year instead of the calendar year.)

Now for some good things that happened while I was away:

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1. I was able to spend much time reading. I probably read more than any summer in recent years. I read Embracing the Love of God, The Poet of Tolstoy Park, The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery, Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me, Resonate and pieces of other books. I was amazed at how often there were threads that took me from one book to the next.

2. I spent one week co-teaching a D.Min. class with Dr. Allen Black at Harding School of Theology (formerly Harding Graduate School ofReligion). This was stimulating for me as I listened to Allen talk about various passages in the Gospel of Luke. Those in the class also stimulated my thinking with their comments, questions, and perspectives.

3. While at Harding, I had several very good conversations with Dr. Mark Powell who teaches theology. These conversations were particularly helpful to my thinking. I was glad to get to know Mark better and look forward to more exchanges in the future.

4. Charlotte and I spent some time with her mother, sister Carole, brother-in-law Keith, and nephew John. It was also a good time to see old friends such as Doug and Dereece. We then went to Murfreesboro to see our daughter Christine, son-in-law Phillip, and grandson Brody.

5. I enjoyed spending a number of mornings drinking Intelligentsia Coffee, which I bought at Fresh Market in Memphis. Oh my! What wonderful coffee! (I’ve heard Scot McKnight mention this incredible coffee a number of times. He is right. It is wonderful!) Along with a cup of this coffee, I ate Biscoff cookies. Nice.

6. For a week, Charlotte and I stayed in a little cottage in Fairhope, Alabama. Fairhope is on the coast, about 20 miles from Gulf Shores. It is a quaint little community. What a wonderful, relaxing setting! We ate shrimp and more shrimp and had no schedule. I was away from the blog, Twitter, and Facebook (with only a few exceptions).

7. Charlotte and I spent three days of our vacation in Oklahoma City with our younger daughter, Jamie. She is getting married in two weeks and we wanted to help her by doing some projects around her house.

8. It seems that some of the most profound moments in life come at the most unexpected times and places. This summer the heat has been very intense across the nation. Any sign of rain is particularly welcome, especially in areas like central Texas where the rain has been scarce. The other day, I was coming out of a Wal-Mart as another family was walking toward the store. Suddenly, it began to rain. Just as the family was about to enter the store, their little child (looked to be about 6 years old) raised his arms, looked toward the sky and said, “Thank you God!”

What a moment! To hear the gratitude of a child, coupled with his complete lack of self-consciousness about expressing himself.

(Tomorrow’s post is “These 5 Habits Really Will Help You Enjoy Your Family More.”)

  

Putting Your Marriage Before Your Kids (Guest writer-Trey Morgan)

The following post was written by guest writer, Trey Morgan. Trey is a husband, a father of four boys, and a minister in Childress, Texas. He has a very good blog and has especially written some good posts regarding marriage and family. You can read more from Trey on his blog which you can find here.


When it comes to marriage, Lea and I struggle with the same things you struggle with. We often find ourselves taking one another for granted for the sake of less important things. Things like busyness, ministries, work and hobbies will always crowd a marriage for time, but I think the biggest challenge for any marriage, including ours, is balancing marriage and raising children. This is especially a struggle when you have young children.

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I firmly believe that the ONLY thing that should be more important than your marriage is your relationship with God. Raising your children should be of the utmost importance, but not to the degree that you put your relationship with your husband/wife on the back burner. One couple recently said this about their marriage, “We don’t have a marriage. We have a business. We make money, pay bills and raise kids, period.” How sad!

I’m amazed at how many people justify putting their marriages on the back burner for their children’s sake. If you invest all your energies into your children and none into your marriage, your marriage will struggle to survive when the kids are grown. What happens is, once the kids are grown, you’ll look across the table at your marriage partner and realize you really don’t have anything in common anymore.

So to keep your marriage happy and healthy, you’re going to have to be willing to invest time in it. Finding time to reconnect in your marriage is healthy. Lea and I strongly feel that raising our boys takes lots of time and energy, but not to the point that we lose the healthiness of our marriage. We personally feel that we must reconnect regularly for our marriage to remain healthy. Sometimes we reconnect in our marriage by simply …

• Making time a couple of times a week to go for a 30 minute walk together.
• Going on a date once a week and trying to talk about things other than just the kids.
• Calling home from work just to say “hello.”
• Spending twenty minutes at a Sonic drive-up just to talk.
• Having lunch together.
• Going grocery shopping together.
• And it’s very healthy when we can occasionally spend a night away somewhere or have a whole weekend away.

Our children are SO important in our lives, and we should be investing a ton of time into the ministry of parenthood. But our children also need to see their parents display a healthy marriage, and for that to happen it takes investing time. That’s why finding ways to reconnect is so important.


Question:

What has been important to you in reconnecting in your marriage?


Strengthening the Soul (2)

I really needed to slow down. In fact, I needed to tendingthesoul.JPG stop.

Just two weeks ago, I was in Ruth Haley Barton’s class, “Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership” at Wheaton College. The class was not only lecture but included times for prayer, worship, and silence.

It was an opportunity to slow down. In fact, it was an opportunity to stop.

After all, it is very, very easy to stay really busy. Have you noticed this?

  • Phone calls, texting, e-mailing, tweeting, and updating the Facebook status
  • Meetings (even meetings to plan the next meeting)
  • Projects
  • Talk and more talk
  • Squeezing in several activities in one evening

Yes, most of us are very busy. I certainly am.

Yet, I have have found that constant activity day after day can leave me feeling empty, cold, energy-less, and even resentful. This busyness is all about doing and achieving instead of living, really living from the inside-out.

On Friday, I awoke early. I read the “practice” section of chapter 2 from Ruth Haley Barton’s book Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership .

Take at least ten minutes to sit quietly in God’s presence with your growing awareness of what is drawing you into solitude at this time. Allow yourself to experience the hope that comes with knowing that there is a safe place for you to acknowledge what is true about you and to wait for God’s action in your life. (p. 45)

I went upstairs to our den and then outside to the little balcony overlooking our backyard. I sat still in the darkness, staring at a brightly lit moon. I sat in silence before God. After a few minutes, it became very clear what was weighing on my heart/mind. I brought this before God.

The point?

There is no substitute for tending to my soul.


Question:

Consider your own life. Now think about others who are around you. What is the constant (and even frantic) busyness doing to us?

Strengthening the Soul (1)

Last week, I was in Chicago for a three-day class at Wheaton College with Ruth Haley Barton, author of Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership. busy.jpg

The class was great.

It was an opportunity not only to listen to Barton but to reflect on my life and relationship with God. There were wonderful times of silence, teaching, prayer and conversation. One of the blessings of the week was getting to be with the four wonderful people at my table.

Much of her material came from her book. What was incredibly helpful was the opportunity to spend time in another setting thinking my life and about my ministry.

The following are several statements that she made in class that were significant to me. (The quotes here are directly from the book.)

  • If Jesus were speaking to us today, he might also point out that when leaders lose their souls, so do the churches and organizations they lead. (p. 13)
  • These cries are gut-wrenching and consistent: there has to be more to life in leadership than many of us are experiencing. In all this listening to my own life and to the lives of others, I have become convinced that the more that we are looking for is the transformation of our souls in the presence of God. (p.14)
  • Truly, the best thing any of us have to bring to leadership is our own transforming selves. (p. 19)

I once knew a person in a church who routinely referred to the ministry of the church as “business as usual.” He spoke as if this were a good thing! Listen, business as usual is what is killing churches. In far, far too many churches, good, well meaning people are incredibly busy with church activity and yet experiencing no real life. They are simply doing what their leaders are doing. Their leaders are often good people who also are incredibly busy with church activity.

Barton is right. The best thing any of us have to bring to leadership is our own transforming selves. There is something powerful about a man or woman whose life is open before the Lord and who is experiencing real transformation into the image of Christ.

I came away from this class this week resolved to do several things:

1. I want to spend more time in solitude and silence tending to the needs of my own soul. I have just not been as attentive to these needs over the past year as I have been in previous years. I really became aware of this in this class.

2. I want to spend less time on things that just do not matter. I really enjoy this time of life. Yet, I want to spend my physical and emotional energy on things that matter. Yet, so much of the busyness of everyday life often involves doing things that just don’t matter. I find myself thinking: “Why am I doing this? How did I get in the middle of this?” So I am really giving some thought as to how I am spending my time.

(For the next few weeks, I will be posting a series each Monday entitled “Strengthening the Soul.”)


Question:

Do you sense that many people around you live with a parched soul?

What has busyness cost you?