Five Suggestions for Cultivating Freshness

5Some of you may find this post particularly helpful.

I am going to share five practices that have been helpful to me in cultivating freshness. Hopefully, at least one of these might be helpful to you as you prepare your mind and heart for a new school year.

Each July, for the past nineteen years, I have stepped away from my daily ministry/work duties for the month.  Two weeks are vacation and two weeks are devoted to study.  I do no public preaching or teaching during this month.  The congregation that I serve has graciously supported this rhythm.

This month not only allows me the opportunity to rest and enjoy vacation, but has enabled me to spend focused time reading, praying, and thinking.

I want to share with you several practices that you might find valuable as well.

How to Grow in Marriage and Parenting

(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 have no idea what I am supposed to do.”

That statement came from a very gifted and intelligent young man who was about to be married. I appreciated his honesty. He had never seen a marriage up close before. His parents divorced when he was very young. He deeply loved his mom and dad. Yet, he had never been close to a healthy marriage and so it was difficult for him to imagine what it would be like to be married.

Many other people have seen a marriage up close but it was a dysfunctional marriage with dynamics that were anything but healthy or even godly.

So what is a person supposed to do?

1. Plan to unlearn. So often, we are at a disadvantage because of our own faulty assumptions. “Surely this won’t last my entire life.” We also make assumptions about sex, parenting, and other roles. Our assumptions often come from a variety of sources and experiences. Yet, they sometimes set us up for failure.

For example, much unlearning often has to be done regarding sex and marriage. Some people enter marriage with assumptions borrowed from this culture. A person might think that sexual experiences with multiple people give one an advantage in marriage. Really? Where did that assumption come from? Did the creator ever tell human beings that this was a good thing or an advantage? Sometimes unlearning has to be done due to a long history with pornography. Such a history will often give a person some very unreal expectations regarding marriage.

2. Be intentional about learning. Maybe you have never seen a healthy marriage up close. Or, maybe you are realizing that marriage is more complex and more difficult than you imagined. Read good marriage books, particularly those that address marital concerns from a Christian perspective. Talk with people who have been married for many years and obviously love one another. Invite a couple who you admire over for coffee and desert and ask questions about marriage. Look for resources in your church. Bottom line: Be intentional about learning.

What Has Helped You Feel Less Self-Conscious?

(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 never intended to be a minister.

Never.

I grew up in a church. Over the years, there were probably a half-dozen ministers who preached at this church. As a child, I really didn’t know much about them. I only saw them from a distance. Yet, most of them seemed “different.” Not different in a Christian sort of way. Just different in terms of manner. I remember dark suits, pulpit voices, and distance. I don’t say this to be critical. I am just expressing what I sensed as a child.

So, I never intended to be a minister.

Yet, I am a minister. I have been in this role for 30 years. I mean the kind who preaches each Sunday and does various kinds of ministry “full-time.” (Whatever that means!)

How did I end up in this role? How did I come to believe that God wanted me to do this for a portion of my life? That is a long story. Yet, I can honestly tell you that during my younger years, I never gave a thought to wanting to be a minister.

If You Are Not Praying for Your Children

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

If you as a parent are not praying for your children, then who is?

This occurred to me a few years ago as I thought about my prayer life and my own children. If I am not praying for my own children, then who is? Perhaps one of the greatest gifts that I can give to my children is faithful prayer.

Our children, whether small children or adults, live in a very difficult world. How important and encouraging for mom and dad to lift them up in prayer every single day of their lives.

 

My two children are now adults. Both are married. They each live a great distance from Charlotte and me. In some ways, we have little influence over what they do each day.

Yet, we lift them up in prayer each day, believing God will work intimately and powerfully in their lives wherever they are. We believe that God loves them, cares for them, and calls them to live under his rule. It is important that we pray for them.

If You Could Change One Thing About Your Church

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

What is it that would help your church be more effective in its ministry?

I suspect that the answers to such a question might be varied. For example, some might say they wish that someone would give more attention to what actually happens during a Sunday morning worship service. Others might say that they wish their church offered more for children or teenagers. Still others might suggest that the preaching could be more engaging, challenging, or relevant.

What about your congregation? What would help your congregation in its practices?

Maybe you see room for improvement in a certain area. In seeing such a need and acknowledging it, you are not discounting your church. Nor are you suggesting that the leaders of your church are not making an effort and working hard. (You may be one of those leaders!) No, you are simply paying attention to the effectiveness of your church and acknowledging what you see.

I Have Heard So Many Secrets

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

Through the years, as a minister, I have sat with person after person and listened to sad, difficult stories.

I have heard so many secrets.

The alcoholic father who told me of his affair with his high school daughter’s friend.The foster children who told me of a cruel woman who isolated them in a basement each evening, while the rest of the family ate dinner together. Later, they were brought the family’s leftovers.The mother who grew up constantly hearing critical, demeaning words from her mother.

The man, who as a child, had lived with a brutal, bullying father. Yet at church, his father was perceived to be very godly.

The young woman who told me of the abortion she had while in college and how she had lived with this secret for several decades.

I am reading Joe Queenan’s memoir,

It is the story of a boy who grew up in a

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Philadelphia housing project. He and his three sisters are forced to make do. They live with their father and mother in an atmosphere that does not feel emotionally or physically safe. Their mother repeatedly said to her children that she wished she had never had children. Their mother seemed emotionally disconnected from the family. Meanwhile, their father was a violent man — especially when he drank:

My father got broke when he was young, and he never got fixed. He may have wanted to be a good father, a good husband, a good man, but he was not cut out for that job. He liked to drink, and unlike some men who like to drink, it was the only thing he liked to do. Among our relatives, he had a reputation as a happy-go-lucky fellow who, once he got a few beers in him, would turn into the life of the party. He was not the life of our party. Most of the time he was already dead drunk when he came home from work, spoiling for a fight with whoever crossed him first. (p. 7)

His father, when he was drunk, beat his children, quite often. The rest of the family, instead of condemning such behavior, seemed more interested in providing excuses for such behavior. Queenan says that, “Manufacturing excuses for my father’s behavior was a family industry.” (p. 9)

Fear

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

Fear.

It is everywhere! No, I am not talking about the fear of the Lord. Nor am I talking about any sort of healthy fear.

No, I am referring to another kind of fear — an unhealthy fear.

She sat just outside the main doors to our auditorium (sanctuary, worship center, etc.). She was in her late 40s, had alcohol on her breath, and looked as if she had been crying for days. The doors were open and the service was about to begin. She sat in a chair and refused to go in. She said something about not being worthy. She sat in that chair, legs crossed, and rocked.

I knew this woman and some of her family. She was an alcoholic and had lived in much pain and had caused much pain for many years. She had lived a sad life.

Deep within this woman was much fear. She was fearful that God no longer loved her. She was afraid to stop drinking and afraid to continue. She had been hurt deeply by others. She had been through one broken marriage and wondered if she would be loved again.

Burying Those Feelings Never Works

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

There is often a high price to pay when you bury your feelings.

Feelings exist.

I may not like these feelings.

I may not feel comfortable with these feelings.

I may be very uneasy by what I am feeling.

I can try to bury my feelings but they will not stay buried. At some point in time, they will surface again. Quite often when they do surface, they impact us in negative ways.

Consider:

*Your father dies of cancer. A few months after his funeral, you lose your job. Then, to top this off, your daughter files for divorce. One day you say to a close friend, “I don’t think that I have really begun to grieve the death of my father. So much has gone on in the last few months. There has been so much loss.”

*You are a minister in a church. You are so tired. It seems like there has been loss after loss. You have done one funeral per month in the last twelve months. A few of these were people you knew well and loved. You really don’t feel as if you ever grieved any of these deaths. You were too busy trying to deal with the conflict in your church. You’ve experienced conflict before in churches but this was particularly hurtful. You learned that a man you thought one of your best friends in the church was being openly critical toward your ministry and was accusing you personally of lacking integrity.

*You dated this girl while both of you were students at the university. To this day, you can’t figure out why you stayed together so long. She was manipulative and untrustworthy. Again and again, she cheated on you with other guys. Now, several years later, you find yourself in a similar relationship. You wonder what you are doing to attract these kinds of people. Some very negative feelings are starting to surface that you thought long ago were buried. You never went to counseling after this traumatic first relationship or even process these feelings with another person.

Feelings may be buried for a time but eventually they will bubble up and surface.

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?

21 Ways to Upgrade Your Relationships (Part 4)

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

Need to “upgrade” your relationships? The following suggestions might be helpful:


10. Come to grips with any anger and rage issues in your life (Colossians 3:8). Who knows how many relationships have been damaged and even ended because of uncontrolled anger? Years ago, I was in a meeting and watched a guy have a meltdown. People were talking in this meeting and there was some kind of disagreement. This man’s face turned beet red and then he just lost it. For a few seconds (that seemed like a long, long time) he exploded and chewed out the group. Later, he acted as if nothing had happened. No apology. No remorse. Nothing. Life went on until some months later, he had another fit of rage. This happened again and again. This man lost much of his influence and damaged numerous relationships over this behavior.


11. Be honest in your relationships. Paul says, “Do not lie to each other, . . . .” (Colossians 3:9) Lying is a part of the old self and not the new self. Lies are absolutely destructive in relationships. Once a friend or a spouse discovers that you have been lying to them, it is very difficult for that relationship to ever really go anywhere. After all, relationships are based on truth, openness, and transparency. Not long ago, I spoke with a person who realized that a good friend had been lying to her for many years. There had been so many lies that she wondered what she could believe. The relationship has been severely severed now that these lies have been discovered.