Monday Morning and Life at Street Level

Life at street level is often difficult. Sometimes, it is very difficult.sunrise3.jpg


It is Monday, the beginning of a new week, but you may feel no optimism nor sense of anticipation about the week. Instead you feel a heaviness as you think about a particular problem in your life.

You may be single.   

You may be a young mother.

You may be a minister.

You may be a business person.

The roles and experiences may differ, but so often we share very similar feelings. You may know what it is to wake up early in the morning (maybe too early) and feel:


Disappointed–The job just hasn’t worked out. You really thought this was the right job and now you just aren’t sure.

Embarrassed–You can’t believe some of the recent decisions your child (married and in his late 20s) has made. You wonder at times where you failed as a parent.

Anxious–You realize you are completely over your head in dealing with a particular problem. You feel as if you have no options.

Sad–You grieve over recent losses. A death in the family. Close friends divorce. You lose your job. Now you are having some health problems.

Alone–You are not sure what to do about your marriage. You haven’t told anyone about the situation you are dealing with.

On one occasion, I woke up very early one morning. I remember being overwhelmed with a feeling of sadness. At the moment, I don’t remember what exactly triggered that sense. I suspect, however, it was rooted in some kind of disappointment. As I sat at our kitchen table during those early morning hours, I felt very discouraged. Yet, this discouragement was not permanent.


Again and again, I have been encouraged during these times by the faithfulness of God. In particular, I am encouraged by his promise to be a forever presence in our lives.


“I will be with you always” (Matt. 28:19-20)


Even as I write these words this morning, I think about how much I need this reminder for this new week.

God is faithful.


Question:

What is particularly encouraging to you when you feel overwhelmed by discouragement?

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1. This may seem obvious but I want to stress how important it is to your sanity as a minister to choose your attitude. It really is a choice. Now before you move on to the next item in this post, let me encourage you to stop and think about this. Ministry is hard, difficult work. Things don’t always go well. There are often discouragements, heartaches, and aggravations. Consequently, it is important to be very intentional about the attitude that you wish to display. I have to think about this regularly or I can easily default to a negative attitude.


2. Dean Barham has written a good post entitled “The Bridge: The Danger of Over-Responsibility.” This is a good post and much needed. Many of us who are ministers over function and take on the responsibility that actually belongs to others.


3. Are you isolated? Some ministers serve in populations that are sparse and there may be few churches or ministers anywhere nearby. On the other hand, there are many ministers who make no real effort to meet other ministers/church leaders/pastors, etc. You might ask yourself whether or not you have made any real effort toward meeting others in similar roles.

Why not make a list of churches in your area and seek to have coffee/lunch with a minister at some of those churches. When we first moved to Waco, I would often drop by church buildings to meet people. These brief visits often turned into a time for coffee or lunch later on.

Now many years later, I am very blessed by friendships with ministers from a variety of denominations.


4. I have always admired Dr. John R.W. Stott who is about to turn 90 years old. Read this piece from Christianity Today entitled: “John Stott: The Man Who Wouldn’t be Bishop.”


5. Be sure to read this interview with Dr. Tanya Brice, Professor of Social Work, at Baylor University. (She is also a part of the Crestview Church where I serve.) She is working on an important project examining the history of race relations within Churches of Christ. You can read this interview here.


6. Are you aware of Tim Schraeder’s blog? I have found Tim to be a great resource after an event like Catalyst is over. Tim takes very good notes of major sessions of such events and then posts them. For example the notes to Eugene Peterson’s talk at the recent Catalyst can be found here.


7. Interesting. Waco artists reveal how they recharge their creative batteries.   


5 Questions to Ask Before You Quit

I was a junior at the University of North Texas when I decided to quit. quit.jpg


I was tired of school. I was working late nights at United Parcel Service. I went to bed each evening about 2:00 am and then got up in time for my 8:00 am class the next morning. My grades were not good and I was exhausted. I decided I was going to quit college. I thought about some people I knew who were not college graduates and yet seemed to be doing well.

One day, I skipped classes and drove to Dallas, determined to find something else to do with my life. First, I interviewed at a school that trained radio announcers. The interviewer told me how difficult it was to break into a major market like the Dallas-Fort Worth area. (I think I had in mind replacing my favorite announcer on the Dallas station I listened to!)

Next, I interviewed with the Dallas Police Department. My interviewer was a Dallas police sergeant. He was African-American, in his late 50s, much gray hair, and was smoking a pipe. He asked me about college. I told him that I was a junior at North Texas and that I was going to quit. He looked at me in this fatherly way and said, “Son, why don’t you just finish school. Then if you are still interested, come back and see me.”


His words were important. I decided to stay in school. I am grateful for this very wise police sergeant.


Through the years, I’ve tried to handle my uncertainties, my frustrations, and my need for direction in a much different manner. I have sought the counsel of people who have helped me think through various decisions. I am grateful for those who have shared their wisdom.


Before you quit your ministry, your job, or even your marriage, consider the following:

1. Have I sought and received the counsel of wise and godly people?

2. Does this decision have to be made today?

3. Does quitting really solve a significant problem? In other words, does this action solve a problem (it may) or will it actually serve to create new problems?

4. Have I talked through my possible action with those who will be directly affected? In other words, have I talked with those who will be directly impacted by my decision?

5. Have I spent sufficient time in prayer regarding this decision? Did I decide and then ask God to bless my decision or did I seek God’s wisdom first?

  

Question:

What has been helpful to you in making a decision that involved quitting? Is there a particular question you have found to be valuable in the process?


Are You a Lover or a Manipulator?

The truth is that some manipulate and others love. Manipulators are not loving people because love is not on their agenda. Their agenda is control.


Some observations about manipulators:

1. Manipulators can be the elephants in the middle of the room who are ignored, but after a while they are not even seen. It is sort of like living in a house for a long time and no longer seeing scratches on the wall. They become a part of the scenery.

2. Self-centered, immature people have a way of draining the life and energy from people around them. To disagree with such a person is to risk being labeled “not supportive.” Consequently, you may believe you cannot honestly express what you are seeing in that person’s life. You may feel that whenever you are candid with this person, she pulls away.

3. Manipulators do not love others. They use others for their benefit. They use others to draw attention to themselves.

• “See how overworked I am.” — Poor guy, we need to back off.
• “What would this church do without me?” — Why I don’t know what we would do without you!
• “With all of the talented people we are bringing on staff here, you will probably fire me one day.” — Oh no, we’re not going to let that happen.

Over and over manipulators do or say whatever might elicit a certain response. The focus is not on loving other people. The focus is on using others for gain.

There are, however, those people who love. They love family, friends, and people in the church. These people love you and regularly do (or attempt to do) what is in your best interest. They are looking out for you, not themselves. Using you? Not at all. Relationship is not about self-interest with these people.


Some observations about people who love:

People who love can be trusted. Even when they are mistaken or do not handle something well in the relationship. It was just that — a mistake. It did not occur because of some manipulative ploy, etc.

People who love are in some way imitating God. Isn’t this where loving people originates?

People who love are “safe” people. They do not use, manipulate or hurt people in any way.

People who love do not need a lot of attention. They are not forever turning a conversation back to themselves.


Question:

What are some characteristics of a manipulator? What are some characteristics of a loving person?


Getting an Education from the Classroom to the Street

I need to be reminded that “the sovereign Lord is my strength” (Habakkuk 3:19). Street.jpeg

God has always wanted his people to depend on him.

Yet, life at street level is often difficult. In fact, it can be very difficult.

Years ago, I went to seminary. I studied and worked hard. I took courses in biblical texts, theology, church history, and practical ministry. I wrote research papers. I read and read. This time of study was very important in my own development as a person and minister. Yet, in no way was my education complete.

As I entered a congregation and began my ministry with these people, my street level education began.


These moments included:

Standing in a dusty West Texas cemetery with a young couple who were about to bury their little baby who was stillborn.

Having coffee with a union steward, asking him about how the economic conditions of our area were impacting families of workers who had been laid off.

Sitting in a living room one week after we had moved to a church, only to have a very wealthy man tell me I had just begun working with a church full of losers.

Getting called to an emergency room to sit with a family whose father/husband had just had a serious car accident while drinking.

Watching from a front row seat what happens to a family when the marriage vows are broken. I had no idea the pain of betrayal was that intense.

Listening in my office to two young foster children as they told me the story of the abuse in their previous foster home and how they were moved to a safe home. Finally, these sweet little children were freed from this hell on earth.

Preaching and teaching message after message and realizing just how difficult this could be.

Entering a funeral home, only to hear a father wail as he grieved the death of his daughter, whom he had accidentally run over with his truck.

Witnessing baptisms and seeing the radical change in some peoples’ lives.


I am still learning. Sometimes this learning takes place because of what I read in a book. Sometimes this learning takes place within the congregation, the community of believers that I work with. Quite often, however, this learning takes place on the street where life unfolds and we are reminded again of our desperate need for God.


Question:

What has been one of the most important lessons you’ve learned from being an observer of life?


The Kind of People I Love to Be Around

There are certain people I love to be around. These people have a way of adding energy and value to most any situation. I like to be around these kinds of people:


  • People who desire to encourage others. They have a way of making every one around them feel good.
  • People who generally look for the good in others.
  • People who seem to go out of their way to not embarrass others.people1.jpg
  • People who seem to take the high road (the way of Jesus) in their manner.
  • People who are secure and don’t always have to be noticed.

  • People who are just as courteous to the weak and the unlovely as the are to those who seem to be strong and beautiful.
  • People who are safe. They wouldn’t think of deliberately hurting another person.
  • People who are genuine–even when no one is looking.

  • People who notice those others generally ignore.

  • People who seem grateful for what others often take for granted.


On the other hand, there are some people I do not enjoy being around. They have a way of diminishing the joy of most any situation. I don’t particularly enjoy being around these people:


  • People who only seem comfortable when the attention is focused on themselves.

  • People who are too insecure to give others credit.

  • People who constantly talk about their “toys.”
  • People who put others down through their humor and then in laughter say, “I was only kidding” (refusing to take responsibility for what they just said).
  • People who act as if another’s victories are insignificant.

  • People who run others down in their absence and yet act chummy with them when they are present.

  • People who are so “prickly” and moody that one must be extremely careful not to say the wrong thing around them.

  • People who almost seem eager to throw a bucket of cold water on someone else’s hard work and creativity.

  • People who find a way to be critical about most anything.

  • People who constantly harp on the negative.


Jesus must have been such an enjoyable person to be with. He had a way of making people around him feel comfortable. No one was ever repelled by Jesus because of his attitude or manner. If they were put off by Jesus it was because they rejected his teaching. I have a feeling that if you had grown up with Jesus, he would have been just the kind of guy you would want as a friend.


Question:

What kind of people do you especially enjoy being around? What kind of people do you not enjoy being around?

10 Things I Don’t Have Time For

Time.

Does it ever pass quickly!

Today, I am looking into the eyes of my infant grandson.
Today, I am talking with his mother, our 28-year-old daughter.
Today, I am having a conversation with our 23-year-old daughter about her upcoming wedding.

Next week, I will get another haircut. I will ask the stylist the question I often ask: “Does it look like I have even more gray?” She will answer as she usually does: “Be thankful you have hair.”

End of that conversation.


All of this reminds me that I don’t have time for some things.


1. I don’t have time to waste on things that don’t matter….I have plenty of time for the things that count.

2. I don’t have time to get moody, self-centered, and irritable….I do have time to love my wife and children.

3. I don’t have time to wallow in the past at what might have been….I do have time to focus on what God wants to do in my life today.

4. I don’t have time to play self-importance games (Whom do you know? What kind of house do you live in? What have your kids accomplished? What are you driving?)….I do have time to build up others and forget myself.

5. I don’t have time to coddle worldly, immature Christians whose idea of church is getting their way….I have plenty of time to love fellow Christians who may express a variety of opinions.

6. I don’t have time to be a peacemonger (doing whatever it takes to keep others from getting upset)….I do have time to be a peacemaker (loving people no matter what).

7. I don’t have time to play it safe. My life will soon be over….I do have time to risk. I can trust God who has promised to never leave me or forsake me.

8. I don’t have time to whine and blame others for being obstacles….I do have time to take responsibility for my own actions and behavior.

9. I don’t have time to complain and focus on the negative….I do have time to speak a word of hope to people who are overwhelmed by heartache.

10. I don’t have time to settle for the mediocre….I do have time to be passionate about what matters most to God.


Question

Time is moving quickly. What do you have time for this week?


Ministry Inside.35

1. I’ve mentioned this before but can’t stress enough the usefulness of Evernote. Evernote really is a wonderful filing system. In fact, this is the best filing system I have seen for those of us who deal with a variety of resources. Be sure to read this fine post by Michael Hyatt regarding the usefulness of Evernote for a speaker. I found this to be very helpful.

Be sure to note Hyatt’s comments regarding the usefulness of the Amazon Kindle for posting the highlights directly to Evernote. This is done by taking your quotes directly from your “personal highlights page” and posting them. I realize these comments may seem a bit muddy at this point, so let me encourage you to start by reading the Hyatt post.

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2. I heard Richard Hays speak last week at Truett Seminary (Baylor University). For some time I have appreciated his book The Moral Vision of the New Testament. I was quite impressed with his material last week regarding the use of the Old Testament by various writers of the New Testament. Not only was his content excellent but his speaking style was very engaging.


3. Do you read Seth Godin? His posts are short but thoughtful and provocative. I read what he writes and come away thinking.


4. For years, I have loved reading William Willimon. Read this article from The Christian Century, “Voice Lessons: Learning to Preach.”


5. Last Friday, Tim Keller and Rabbi David Gelfand were interviewed on Morning Joe about their upcoming sermons. A good discussion. Serious and thoughtful. Also hear Keller interviewed on Fox News.


6. I have now read forty pages of Eugene Peterson’s new memoir, Pastor. Peterson walks through his life in these pages and speaks about what has contributed to his view and perspective of pastoral ministry. Very refreshing!


You Never Know What Someone’s Been Through

Five minutes earlier the police officer I was riding with had gotten a domestic disturbance call. He pulled his car in front of the house. Another officer arrived moments later. They knocked on the door.

I was standing behind them.

(For almost five years, I rode with area police officers one night each week. Generally, I rode for about four hoursadchild.jpgs, sometimes with officers on the evening shift and sometimes with officers working the midnight shift. I was one of three volunteer chaplains in our police department.)

It was about 12:30 a.m. A child opened the door and the officers and I went into the house. The husband who had been fighting with his wife had left. In the house was his wife, holding a towel to her bloody head and four children scurrying throughout the house. The officers looked through the house and stepped into the bedroom where there was blood on the bed and floor.

Meanwhile, the television blared. The EMTs came into the house and began to work with this woman.

I tried to stay out of the way and talked with a couple of the children. Then I saw the stack of school books on top of a dresser. It was now almost 1 a.m. The school bus would be coming in a matter of hours and these children had not even gone to bed yet.

Finally, the officer I was with had all the information he needed for his report.   

These children went to the same elementary school where Charlotte was teaching. I tried to imagine these four children at school later that morning. A teacher would be at the board talking about a math problem or a science project. How did these children manage to keep from falling asleep at their desks after such an exhausting night.

Yet, who would look at them and give any thought about what they had been through just to get to school that day.


This is a reality that I want to remember: You never know what someone has gone through.


Suppose you interact with five people today. What have they gone through just to get to today?

  • Perhaps one person is deeply concerned about a rebellious married child. She is awake all hours of the night, praying and thinking about this.
  • Perhaps one person finds it hard to trust people. Again and again she has been hurt, by men in particular.
  • Perhaps one person seems to lack energy. The medication he is taking leaves him without much energy for the afternoon.
  • Perhaps one person is having serious financial problems. He has been trying to support his aging mother and this is really hitting his family hard financially.
  • Perhaps one person seems really preoccupied at times. He wonders if he will survive the next cut at work.

Are these excuses? Not at all.

However, knowing the story of a person can sometimes prevent inaccurate assumptions and overreacting. Maybe knowing someone’s story can create some compassion.


Question:

Do you recall being amazed by the resilience of a person in your life? How did the knowledge of that person’s story impact the way you viewed her?


  

Marriage 101 (Where Do You Learn How to Be Married?)

Marriage can be difficult, in particular, when you have never seen a healthy marriage up close.marriage.jpg

Yet, this is the situation in which many young married couples find themselves. The couple, through no fault of their own, never had the opportunity to witness up close a healthy, godly marriage. I am referring to a marriage where two people love each other, and this is reflected in their attitude and behavior.

Ideally, a person witnesses such a marriage from a front row seat in their own family of origin. She sees their love for one another and observes how they function as a couple. Perhaps she even sees how they deal with each other’s mistakes. They may witness both hurt and forgiveness. Yet, many people do not grow up in such a home.

So where else can a person learn to be married?

  • You can learn about marriage by observing married people who seem to be doing something well. These married people may be one’s grandparents, a brother, or a neighbor. Be a student of good marriages.
  • Be a part of a community of faith which puts great value on the quality of marriages. Look for couples who seem to invest in their marriage. What are they doing right?
  • Seek the counsel of an older couple who is experiencing a good marriage. Ask that couple for permission to ask questions about their marriage and the positive disciplines or habits that have contributed to their marriage.
  • Read books written about marriage from a Christian perspective. Consider purchasing books by Gary Thomas, Gary Roseberg, or others who write regarding marriage.
  • Spend time carefully listening to the words of Jesus in the Bible. Pay attention to what he says regarding kingdom relationships. Read the letters to various churches in the New Testament. These writers will often address some aspect of relational behavior for Christ-followers.   


I often tell couples before they marry that marriage will probably be better than they ever dreamed and more difficult than they ever imagined.


Many people never had the opportunity to witness a healthy marriage up close. Even people who grew up in churches sometimes never had the opportunity to witness a healthy, godly marriage. Yet, it is possible to become a life-long learner, a student of marriage, and by the grace of God become a part of creating a marriage that will bless generations.


Question:

Who taught you most about marriage?