Wanted: Moments of Grace

It was an embarrassing moment as a young minister.

Charlotte and I had been living in Abilene while I finished seminary. I had just completed my studies and moved to north Alabama where I began preaching for a church. Now, I was a full-time minister for a congregation.

I was overwhelmed and had no idea what to do.  So, I began doing what many young ministers do: I watched several experienced ministers to learn how to do this work.

One preacher I had been watching seemed to put a lot of energy into welcoming guests.  He was at the large urban church near where I grew up.  Some hotels get four and five stars for a rating.  This church would probably rate five stars in somebody’s review. People in my circle talked about this church as if they were the group that seemed to do most things right.

I did notice that they seemed to do things smoothly, unlike me.  I handled things awkwardly at times.

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One of my first Sundays I introduced a new family and asked them stand. After all, I had seen the minister at this church do the same.  I then moved on to introduce another new family.  Upon introducing them I asked them to stand.  The couple stood, but I noticed the man had a puzzled look.

“Jim, I’ve been a member of this church for a number of years.”

I froze.  I wanted to hide.   


Monday Start

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Pete Scazzero (The Emotionally Healthy Church author) announces transition. Read about it here.


Tweet

I love this powerful tweet by Mark Batterson (June 3, 2012) “if you are LOOKING FOR AN EXCUSE you will ALWAYS find one. quit making excuses and start making choices.”


Interview

Lee Camp interviews Walter Brueggemann as he reflects upon his life.


Encouraging

“Stop Looking for Excuses not to be Awesome” by Jeff Goins. A very good post!


Standing up!

Ernest Hemingway at his standing desk.


Twitter

Evangelical leaders on Twitter (New York Times).


A must read

Five Secrets Pastors Refuse to Tell” by Thom Rainer.

The First Question Ever Asked a Human Being

They heard footsteps. They were frightened. They hid. Then, they began blaming one another for where their lives were at this point.

God asked this man and woman this question:

Where are you?

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They hid because they had disobeyed God. God had given them the freedom to enjoy a wonderful creation. He did tell them not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He is God after all.

Yet, they chose to ignore what he said.

How would we respond to this same question?

  • Some of us may hide. We are doing fine. Everything is wonderful!
  • Some of us may blame. I know this isn’t right, but after what my husband did to me, you can’t blame me for ….
  • Some of us may be fearful. What if I try this and it doesn’t work?
  • Some of us may deny that anything is wrong. I haven’t done anything wrong. I’m a good person!

Yet, when God asks “Where are you,” he really wants us to think. He wants us to take a good look at where we really are.

Perhaps you and I need to reflect on some of these questions:

  • Where am I in my relationship with the Lord?
  • Where am I in my marriage? Am I loving my spouse in a way that brings delight to his/her heavenly father?
  • Where am I with my children? Are they better able to grasp the character of God by looking at my life?
  • Where am I with this world? Do I pray for others? Am I following Jesus and genuinely living for others?

(See Genesis 3: 1-13)

Question:

What has been helpful in re-centering your life on occasion? Are there any particular habits or disciplines that have been helpful?

3 Suggestions to Help You Persevere

One of the questions every Christian ought to wrestle with is: “Will I finish well?Persevere.jpg

Life with God is very much a journey. You would like to know that everyone will eventually finish. However, many do not. Some started off with you and rounded the first curve but for whatever reason didn’t finish. What happened? Think long enough and you can probably come up with names.

Some emotionally checked out long ago. They are in the pew but that may be about it. They are here but not fully present. Consider these words from Charles Spurgeon:

You know what one cold-hearted man can do, if he gets at you on Sunday with a lump of ice, and seizes you with the information that Mrs. Smith and all her family are offended and their pew is vacant. You did not want to know of that lady’s protest just before entering the pulpit, and it does not help you. Or, even worse, after the service it can happen. What terrible blankets some professors (professing believers) are! Their remarks after a sermon are enough to stagger you . . . you have been pleading as for life and death and they have been calculating how many seconds the sermon occupied and grudging you the odd size minutes beyond the usual hour.

Will you and I finish well?

Consider why some people fail to finish well.


“I have had too many disappointments.” Sometimes a disappointment impacts your will to persevere.

Maybe you are dealing with a chronic illness. You wonder if you will ever be any better.

Perhaps you have a child who seems to learn everything the hard way. What bothers you the most is that you are not sure that she is learning. You have great anxiety about her total indifference to the Lord.


“I have experienced too much disappointment with churches.” The disappointment that you experience in the church impacts your ability to persevere. You see and experience what should not have happened. It is hard for you to be hopeful or encouraged. You find that you are surrounded with others who have shared this same experience. Your negative thoughts feed on one another, and it is an endless cycle.

Eugene Peterson, in his book Leap Over a Wall: Earthy Spirituality for Everyday Christians (p. 10) wrote the following:

Every time I move to a new community I find a church close by and join it – committing myself to worship and work with that company of God’s people. I’ve never been anything other than disappointed. Everyone turns out to be Biblical through and through: murmurers, complainers, the faceless, the inconstant, those plagued with doubt and riddled with sin, boring, moralizers, glamorous secularizers.

“I have failed way too much.” The problem of your own failure impacts your perseverance. Your own sin can contribute to this loss of vital optimism. You have made some poor personal choices. In moments of weakness and vulnerability, you did something you really regret.

In his book Mid-Course Correction: Reordering Your Private World for the Next Part of Your Journey, Gordon MacDonald refers to some people who have lost their “vital optimism” – the spirit possessed by a person who believes the best is yet to be. Reality can chip away at our lives and erode our dreams.

The truth is that God in Christ is greater than whatever obstacle might stand in our way.


Today:

1. Lean in to your your life. Don’t hold back.

2. Push forward. With God’s Spirit in you, the wind is at your back.

3. Take at least one step in the right direction. Quite often, we know what the next step ought to be, but we hesitate.

Question

What has been particularly helpful to you in persevering? Is there anything you wished you had learned sooner?

Monday Start

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I found this post by Mike Martel helpful: “Ten Ways to Make Your Writing Quick and Easy.” I am not sure if the suggestions necessarily make writing quick and easy. However, these are excellent suggestions for anyone who is challenged to be creative.


Regarding the Truth

Don’t miss this excellent article from the Wall Street Journal (appeared in the print edition on Saturday, May 26, 2012). Dan Ariely has written a thoughtful piece entitled “Why We Lie.”


Jesus Creed

You might enjoy reading “Before You Quit.” It appears on Jesus Creed, Scot McKnight’s blog. I wrote this after seeing my youngest daughter graduate with her Master’s degree which caused me to reflect on a time when I almost quit.


Reading

I just read Alyce McKenzie’s very fine book Novel Preaching. Each year, I read several books on preaching which help me in evaluating where I need to grow in my own preaching. McKenzie’s book offered some very good suggestions.


Commencement Speech

In his column on CNN online, William J. Bennett featured the commencement speech of former Navy Seal, Eric Greitens who spoke at Tufts University. The speech is featured in the column and is excellent. Greitens is a 38 year old Rhodes scholar and humanitarian worker. (Thanks Mark M. for calling my attention to this.)

Ministry Inside.81

Each Thursday, I write a post focused on the needs of church leaders. The following is the first in a series of habits for church leaders (in particular) who wish to grow and develop.

Habit #1 Practice self-awareness.

With whom am I spending time? I have to monitor just how much time I spend with negative, critical people. Too much time spent with others who are constantly griping and complaining will sure enough drain me of energy. I have a friend who described one preacher as so negative that his sermons on grace had a negative edge. Yet, I can’t listen to (what seems like) an endless stream of negative talk because it really does impact me.

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What am I putting into my mind? On a typical day, I talk (email, phone call, personal conversation) with people about matters that are very serious. Someone has learned that they have cancer. Someone else is deeply concerned about personal financial debt. Still another is wrestling with marriage issues. At the end of the day, it is easy to go home and immerse myself in the national news, which much of the time is going to be very negative. As a result, I have to be very intentional about what I put into my mind. I can’t think about sad and tragic situations all of the time.

Often I make sure I watch something funny on television. I might watch a good ball game. I might read a biography, especially one that is not filled with tragedy. What I put into my mind really does matter.

Whom am I resenting? Unresolved conflict and resentments can be such energy drainers! It is amazing how much energy I can spend thinking about a person I am frustrated or angry with. Occasionally I need to ask myself, “How much time do I spend thinking about old resentments or things that long ago should have been forgiven?”

When do I re-create my body? I generally work out at the gym four times a week. My motivation for doing this is not my weight nor is it because I am a health nut. My motivation is rooted in the way it makes me feel when I am regularly working out versus how I feel when I am not. If I am not getting some kind of exercise, it really does impact how I feel. Not only do I feel sluggish, but I also tend to have less energy and motivation, particularly in the afternoons.

Some ministers get their emotional strokes by talking about how hard they work. They go on and on about what everyone has asked them to do and how busy they are. There are ministers who do not even take a day off. Not taking time to rest, to get away, and to recharge will eventually catch up with a person.

Thanks for Your Patience

My blog has experienced technical difficulties lately. Hopefully, these problems have been worked out now. Thanks for your patience with this. Please let me know if you experience difficulty with the blog in any wayThank_you_small.jpg

I am really indebted to all of you who read this blog, some for a very long time.

Book Review: The God Box

I just ordered a copy of this book for both of my daughters.God_Box_book_cover.JPG

No, I don’t do this on a regular basis.  However, after reading this book, I wanted them to each be able to hear this story.

The book is The God Box. The author is Mary Lou Quinlan.

Mary Lou Quinlan has written a fine book. On one level, the book is about Quinlan’s mother, Mary Finlayson, and her relationship with her daughter, Mary Lou. Yet, on another level, the thread that runs throughout the book is the prayers of Quinlan’s mother.

Her mother regularly prayed for others. Many of these prayers came after others poured out their hearts to Mary Finlayson regarding their problems, worries, and fears. For twenty years, she would write down these concerns on random pieces of paper and slip them inside her “God box.” This was a box in her home in which she placed her petitions to God.

The book is well written and attractive.  Not only does it contain numerous pictures of the family, but there are many photocopies of her mother’s prayer requests.  To see these prayer requests handwritten on pieces of paper is very moving.

There is much to be said for the book. I especially appreciated the portrait of this mother who, in the course of her life, prayed to God regarding her husband, her children, her friends, and many other people.

“She inhaled a worry. She exhaled a prayer.”

Mary Finlayson connected with many other people in a compassionate and caring way.  Family members, friends, and people she had just met poured out their problems and difficulties to her. She in turn took these petitions to God.

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.”

Monday Start (Resources for the Week)

Do you have a dream?

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This may be one of the best posts Jeff Goins has written: “When You’re Scared to Death, Do Something Anyway.” I really enjoy reading Jeff’s posts. You might enjoy this great interview with Jeff Goins.


Pictures of the day

You might enjoy these pictures from The Telegraph (UK). I especially like the first one.


Do you read fiction?

I confess. I read very little fiction. I am wondering if I should not be reading more. See this post from Scot McKnight.


What they are thinking

You might be interested in this chart from Scot McKnight’s blog entitled “What Young Adults Care About.”