Learning to Finish What You Start

Many people start. Fewer finish.finish.jpg

Consider what we begin:

  • A marriage begins with a wedding.
  • A student begins an academic program.
  • A homeowner begins a do-it-yourself project remodeling the family’s kitchen.
  • A person begins a blog.
  • A church member takes on and begins a project for the congregation.

Many people begin. Fewer finish.

This past weekend, our family and some friends gathered in the Lloyd Noble Arena at the University of Oklahoma to support our daughter Jamie, as she received her Master of Social Work degree after several hard years of study and work. As you might imagine, I was a very proud father.

I was especially proud that she had finished.

Years ago, I received a Doctor of Ministry degree from Harding Graduate School of Theology. Shortly after graduation, Ken Dye, a longtime friend, said to me:

“You finished! A lot of people start things, but you finished!”

I especially appreciated this because I once came very close to dropping out of college as an undergraduate at the University of North Texas.

I was a first semester junior and was very discouraged. I was struggling in several of my classes. One day, I decided to quit. I cut my classes that day and went to Dallas in search of another direction. I first went to an electronics school and talked with them. Then I went to a school that trained radio announcers. Finally, I went to the Dallas Police Department.

At the police department, I talked with a person about the application process. Then at the end of the conversation, another officer joined us. This officer was an African-American gentleman in his late 40s. He was dressed in plain clothes, a sportcoat and slacks. He sat across the table from me and smoked his pipe. At one point he said,

“Son, if you are interested in this, we will be glad to talk with you. My suggestion to you, however, would be to finish college. Don’t quit now.”

Graciousness: Daring to Live a Graceful Life

Gracious.relationship.jpeg

Have you ever noticed that some people speak of grace but they are not gracious? I once heard Fred Craddock say that the final act of grace is graciousness. He was right. Meanwhile, others – regardless of their gifts or personalities – extend grace and make an incredible difference in the lives of people.


What does it mean to be a gracious person?


A gracious person is slow to take credit and quick to lavish praise. In fact, a gracious person is not addicted to the attention of others. A gracious person is very comfortable in expressing appreciation and praise to another.

A gracious person never seeks to embarrass another. Humiliating another is not in this person’s vocabulary. Nor does such a person embarrass another and then attempt to escape responsibility by saying, “I was only joking.” Instead, a gracious person seeks to encourage and uplift another.

A gracious person regularly thanks others. This person chooses to express gratitude and never takes anything for granted.

A gracious person does not monopolize the conversation. He or she learns to ask good questions and creates opportunities for others to talk.

A gracious person does not play one-upmanship. Have you ever told a story about something that happened to you only to get this response: “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.” Wow! Don’t underestimate the power of simply paying attention to another.

A gracious person speaks thoughtfully. This person doesn’t say what happens to be passing through the corridor of his mind at the moment. There is nothing particularly redeeming about expressing every fleeting thought that floats through the mind. A gracious person tempers words through the filter of wisdom and love.

A gracious person does not have to be the center of attention. There are people who seem to crave constant attention. These people are so insecure they feel threatened if they are not noticed or acknowledged. There is a humility in realizing you are dispensable.

A gracious person points out 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!” Gracious people look for the good.


Where to begin today:

1. Today, pray that God will create an awareness of the opportunities to express graciousness to others.

2. Think ahead to the people whom you anticipate interacting with. Which one of the above attributes do you especially need to be conscious of when you are with this person?

3. Be intentional about thanking others. Your spouse. Your co-workers. The clerk at 7-11. A vendor. A client. Go above and beyond what you normally do.


Question:

What would you add to this list?

Four Ways to Pursue Wisdom

Do you put a premium on pursuing wisdom?wisdom.jpg

Do you know this pursuit can make all the difference in your future?

  • Some people are intelligent, yet they don’t seem to have much wisdom.
  • Some people are articulate, yet they use poor judgement.
  • Some people are very talented, yet they make some very unwise decisions.
  • Some people are charming, yet they place themselves in some unwise and even compromising situations.
  • Some people gain much attention from others, yet they are shallow and lack any depth.
  • Some people advance quickly in their careers only destroy themselves and their family through unwise choices.

Here are four ways to pursue wisdom:

1. Read the wisdom literature of the Bible. Read books such as Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and James. Examine wise and foolish persons in Scripture. Be a student of wisdom.

2. Pray that the Lord will give you wisdom regarding your habits, your actions, your words, and your decisions. Confess to him when you have behaved foolishly.

3. Learn from people whose lives reflect wisdom. Ask them questions. For example, suppose you know a Christian businessperson whose life reflects wisdom and godliness. You might ask questions such as:

  • What habits or practices have helped you grow in wisdom?
  • How do you maintain a growing vibrant marriage while under stress and pressure at work?
  • How have you dealt with sexual temptation in your life? Are there any particular practices or habits that you have while traveling and staying in hotels for meetings, conventions, etc.? What would you recommend to a young man or woman?
  • How have you kept your priorities God-centered?

4. Listen to the words of godly people in your life who raise questions or voice concerns about some aspect of your life.

  • Does your wife (husband) tell you that he feels uneasy about a particular person in your life?
  • Does a friend raise a question about changes that he is seeing in your behavior or moods?
  • Does a co-worker (who happens to be a Christian) raise questions about some decisions you have recently made?

Question:

When you think about wise men or women you know, what words might you use to describe their lives?

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?

Come Home

The following prayer is from the late Ray Hardin’s new book Here’s My Heart.


I hear your voice in the breeze, Lord. Whispering

Come Home. Come Home. That plea takes me by

surprise. Unnerves me. Makes me wonder how I

got this far away. How I got in this shape. How

things went so wrong. But here I am. Out of

bright ideas. Out of luck. Out of strength. Wondering

if I come home, will I find mercy? Will you

even recognize me? Will you like me any more?


Come Home. Please come home. I feel the pull

of your longing. You are loved. Always. I’ll pay

the price. I’ll bear the shame. You will be

received as my precious child. Your offer of grace

amazes me. I’ve been looking for you. Waiting.

Hoping. My heart hurt every hour you were

away. Come home. Come home. Let me sing

over you. And I see you running to meet me.


Running to meet me? Me? And when I

see you–holy, good, true, forgiving–

only then do I know how ragged I must

look. How beat up I am. How weak. How

hungry. Then, only then, Lord, does my arrogance

melt. And I see how outrageous my plan has been

to save myself. To work my way into your

favor. I feel the power of your Come home.

When You Find Life Difficult, Beware of these People

This life is often difficult.


Maybe that is why I have always identified with the people in our congregation and the community who often find life to be tough. For a lot of people, life is very hard.

Marriage is sometimes difficult. My wife and I have a good marriage but that has not come without hard work at times. I love our two daughters. However, rearing our two children was challenging at times. Yes, there were plenty of fun and gratifying moments. These years, though, were not pain-free.

  

Do you sometimes find life difficult? If you do, beware of the following people:


1. Beware of people who pretend that it is spiritual to talk as if everything in life is always wonderful. These people can create a level of expectation that causes those who struggle to conclude their spirituality must be lacking. There are good people who suffer with chronic excruciating pain. I think of the woman in our church whose pain was so intense one Sunday morning that she went to her car and rested in the back seat.

2. Beware of people who see themselves as some of the very few who “get it.” They are often condescending to those they perceive as lacking in insight. These people spend much time and energy evaluating and critiquing others in the body of Christ. What happens as a result? As a result, many people in congregations no longer express honest thoughts, real feelings, and honest doubts. After all, who wants to be critiqued, evaluated, and talked to condescendingly?

3. Beware of people who are so focused on themselves that they really have little interest in anyone else’s life. When you talk with such a person you may feel as if he is not really present in the moment.


Why is it that some of us go to great lengths to convince one another that our lives are almost perfect,

Competently THIS same The it leaves easy http://www.orisala.com/jara/staxyn-reviews.php used It’s bring http://www.instantreplaygoods.com/moty/over-the-counter-tetracycline.html that beginning seems.

without struggle? What is our fear? What impact do we have on those who are really struggling when we communicate that our lives are almost without struggle?


I like what Randy Harris says in Like a Shepherd Lead Us (p. 31) — in the chapter entitled “Spirituality for the Busy, Frantic, and Overwhelmed.”

Glenn Hinson argues that what the church needs most are saints — people who have truly placed their lives under God’s will and control. We don’t just need leaders with greater skill, we need leaders who are deep people. Do you hear the call to lead out of your own deep spiritual life?

If we learn to pray the way Jesus prayed, read the Bible in a transforming way, practice God’s presence in the everyday routine of life, and catch the vision of the God who works in all things, we can be the deep leaders the church needs. And in the process we will discover that true spirituality is not one more activity to add to overburdened lives but a way of living that drives our drivenness away. Then we discover the blessedness to lead without guilt and that the promise of Jesus rings true — the yoke is easy and the burden is light.

(Harris, Like a Shepherd Lead Us, p. 31)

The Key to Having a Lasting Impact on the People You Influence

Most of us have an influence on someone.key.jpg

  • Your spouse.
  • Your children.
  • Your grandchildren.
  • Your parents.
  • Your co-workers.
  • Your employees.
  • Your church.


But — will you have a lasting impact?

I once had a very sobering conversation with a minister who said to me, “We know what to do, we just need to do it!” He went on to suggest that all of the books, conferences, etc. were basically useless because it all came down to “doing it.” I knew this man. He seemed to be in a perpetual state of exhaustion. His marriage was strained. He was quick-tempered. In the midst of his good intentions, there was a hollowness that came through.

Later, I had a conversation with another man who was quieter and less active. He seemed to try very hard to communicate that he knew more than the people he was with. I felt as if I was always being critiqued and evaluated when I was with him. He saw himself as being one of the few who really “got it” and it was his mission to communicate to others what the “deeper life” was all about. Yet, to be in his presence did not seem either joyful or encouraging.

I mention both of these people because I think I understand these tendencies. How easy it is to be something other than Jesus. For many years, I saw myself as primarily a person who was doing things for God. Whether I would (or could) have articulated this or not, my faith was basically centered around doing the right things — an ever increasing number of right things. As a minister, my ministry was about doing the right activities. I lived with a constant sense of guilt and inadequacy. The goal seemed to be seeing how much I could get done. I eventually realized this was a dead-end street.


The key to having a lasting impact on others is to stay true to what is at the center of our being — who we are in God.


Ruth Haley Barton expresses this well:

A sobering truth about life in leadership is that we can be very busy and look very important, yet be out of touch with that place in the center of our being where we know who we are in God and what he has called us to do — that place where we are responsive to the voice of God above all others. When this happens we are at the mercy of all manner of external and internal forces, tossed and turned by other’s expectations and our own inner compulsions. This inner emptiness then becomes the source of frenetic activity that is un-tethered from any kind of grounded-ness in God. This is a scary place for a leader to be.

Christian leaders in particular can have a hard time distinguishing between the work we do for God and time to be with God, resting in him and enjoying his presence. Over time Scripture can be reduced to a textbook or a tool for ministry rather than an intimate personal communication from God to us. Prayer can become an exhausting round of different kinds of mental activity or a public display of our spiritual prowess.

(Ruth Haley Barton, “You Say You Don’t Have Time for Retreat? Think again!“)

7 Steps That Will Make a Real Difference in Your Future

The following are seven steps that will make a real difference in your future. Whatever happens to you and wherever God leads, these steps could be incredibly important. They have certainly made a difference in my own life.

seven.png


Grow up.

It is sad when a woman discovers that she has married a guy who refuses to grow up. This boy/man is immature and primarily interested in playing while his wife has to be the adult and responsible. He assumes that she will take care of the kids, prepare the meals, etc. so he can do what he wants. Meanwhile, real men seek to be mature. Maturing people still have fun but they refuse to do so at another’s expense. Maturing people take responsibility for their emotions and actions. They grow up.


Start now.

Stop waiting for the perfect circumstances. Stop waiting for everything to fall into place. If you know what you need to do, take a step now. Perhaps the next step seems small. But at least you’ve taken a step! Far too often, I have waited for just the right circumstances. “Some day, I’m going to. . . .” Instead of taking a small step, I waited and sometimes missed the opportunity to make a difference. I have learned that quite often the perfect moments never come. Again, rather than waiting on perfection, take even the smallest step.


No excuses.

Many people attempt to explain away their circumstances in life by making excuses. “I never got any breaks.” “I didn’t have much help from my parents.” “No one gave me a chance.” “I didn’t get to go to graduate school.” “I had to work during college.” The Bible is full of people who had many obstacles in their lives and yet learned to trust God and live a life of faith.   


Be authentic.

Authenticity means that you want to be the real deal. You are not simply concerned with what others might think about you. When I first began my ministry, I felt a tremendous pressure to somehow make people in my congregation “happy.” (Whatever that is.) At times, some even verbalized that a good minister tries to make people happy. This is ridiculous and a sure way to prematurely end what might have been a long ministry. Authenticity is about being the right kind of person and doing — not for the approval of others, but because it is right.


Work graciously.

Don’t just get by. Don’t just put in your time. Don’t just live for the weekend. Know the joy of working hard and doing what you were meant to do. Yet, working graciously is more than staying busy or keeping your nose to the grindstone. Working graciously is about doing what matters in a manner that blesses others and makes a difference. Working graciously is about valuing co-workers and treating others in a way that makes them glad to work with you.


Give care.

Give care to the people in your life. Be a good steward of these relationships. Honor and nurture the relationships that you have with your husband, wife, children, etc. I am married and have two grown daughters and sons-in-law. Charlotte and I both have jobs. We each have certain tasks and responsibilities at work. Meanwhile, our children live in other states. It takes intent, time, and effort to stay connected emotionally with them. This doesn’t just happen. However, there is great joy to be found in staying connected and giving care to the people who matter most to you.


Trust God.

Do more than give God a polite nod. Trust God by yielding the control of your life to him. Many people say they trust God, but they seem to be speaking philosophically rather than about a trust that impacts daily life in a meaningful way.


Question

Which one of these steps has been especially important in your life? What difference has this made?



Replenish: Leading From a Healthy Soul

Last week, I read a very good book entitled Replenish: Leading From a Healthy Soul by Lance Witt. The Foreword was written by John Ortberg. The book is a great discussion of what it means for a leader to be attentive to his/her own soul. The following quotes come from the book and hopefully will give you a taste for this important discussion.


“We will never grow healthy churches with unhealthy leaders.” (p. 12)


“We have neglected the fact that a pastor’s greatest leadership tool is a healthy soul. Our concentration on skill and technique and strategy has resulted in deemphasizing the interior life. . . . We’ve all witnessed the carnage of leaders who’ve had to leave ministry (at least for now) because of moral failure. The headlines are always about the scandalous and shocking behavior, but rarely mentioned is the back-story.

“It is the story of a neglected soul and mismanaged character. Of a slow drift into relational isolation. Of being seduced by ambition. These leaders didn’t intend for it to happen, but somewhere along the journey they stopped paying attention to what was going on inside of them.” (p. 19)

replenish.jpg


“We may be better leaders than we used to be, but the evidence seems to say we are not better pastors or husbands or Christ followers.” (p. 20)


“A good place to start is acknowledging that many of us in leadership feel like we have a hole in our soul. Ministry drains us, sucks the life out of us, and the result is we are running on empty.” (p. 24)


“But there certainly have been seasons through the years when I lost that clarity. My ministry became my identity. My ministry became my first love. My ministry consumed all my spiritual passion. My ministry (not Jesus) was my life. The unintended byproduct during those seasons was a slow disconnect from Jesus.”

“When this happens, you begin to do ministry in the flesh. You begin to think serving God is all about working hard, being strategic, developing leaders and executing vision. You fundamentally begin to believe that it’s up to you.”

“When you have become disconnected from the Vine (Jesus), ministry will become joyless striving and stressful pushing.” (p. 29)


“It’s about making Jesus your life and then letting the ministry flow out of that relationship.” (p. 32)


“Image management is what we begin to do when our inner world becomes separated from our outer world.” (p. 35)


“In ministry, the perfect storm for a personal disaster is also the convergence of three elements: ambition, isolation, and self-deception.” (p. 46)


“Whether you use the word approval or applause, here’s the bottom line. I was living for people and finding my worth, value, significance, and identity in what others thought of me. . . . You run decisions through the filter of ‘What will people think?’ rather than ‘What’s the right thing to do?’” (p. 50)


“For some reason, in our culture we have swallowed hook, line, and sinker the lie that busyness equals importance.” (p. 61)


“Your busyness will damage your soul. Over time you will develop a hurried spirit. And even when your body is still, your soul will be racing. Your busy spirit will constantly remind you of everything you need to be doing.” (p. 62)


“One of the spiritual health questions every ministry leader must answer is, ‘Am I willing to serve in obscurity?’” (p. 88)


“In the earlier days I didn’t realize it, but I had a belief system behind my performance mentality: Work hard, be responsible, perform well, and people will love you. Work hard, be responsible, perform well, and God will love you.” (p. 110)


“The disciples find him and say, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’ Music to the ears of codependent ministry leaders. The feeling of being in demand can be intoxicating.” (p. 133)

6 Important Qualities that Children Possess

Just the other day, Kathryn gave me the picture that you see on the right.

KathrynsPic.jpg

I was impressed. Kathryn drew this in watercolor. She gave it to me and it has been in my office ever since. This picture is a keeper. What a thoughtful gift!


Children often give the most valuable gifts.


One Sunday morning, two children (a brother and sister) came into our church building on their way to Bible class. When I saw them, I greeted them:

“What’s going on?”

The sister, about age 8, said “hello” and her brother, about a year younger, just smiled without saying anything. As I passed them, I heard the brother say to his sister “What did he ask you?”

She replied “I don’t know. He says that every week.”

Isn’t childlike honesty great?


Think for a moment about the childlike qualities which may have been a part of your life at one time. As a child, you may have possessed qualities such as:

  • Playfulness.
  • A lack of self-consciousness.
  • An open expression of affection.
  • Delight that is expressed without reservation.
  • Transparency about your feelings and thinking.
  • An open sense of dependency on the care of the adults in your life.

As I read this list, I realize that these wonderful qualities are often dismissed by adults who live in the “real” world. Yes, the world is complicated, unsafe, and at times, unpredictable. At the same time, maybe we have lost something valuable that we first learned at children.


Question:

Is there a particular quality that had as a child, that you would like to recapture?