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.”

Life Can Be Exhausting

Life can be exhausting.  exhausted.jpg

Think of what takes so much energy:


  • Tasks to be done. (And, dealing with situations where the task was not done or was not done well.)
  • Maintenance and stewardship of finances.   (And, dealing with finances when you have overspent and lived beyond your means.)
  • Care and feeding of relationships. (And, dealing with relationships where there is conflict. Friends. Marriage. Parents/children.)
  • Expressing emotions and managing them. (And, dealing with emotions that expressed in certain ways can actually be harmful.)

You can probably think of more factors that account for life being so exhausting.  

This morning, I want to leave you with Scripture. Think about these words from Isaiah 41 that have been so helpful and encouraging to me:

You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth,

And called from its remotest parts,

And said to you, “You are My servant”; I have chosen you and not rejected you.

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help
you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.

Behold, all those who are angered at you will be shamed and dishonored;

those who contend with you will be as nothing, and will perish.

You will seek those who quarrel with you, but will not find them.

Those who war with you will be as nothing, and non-existent.

For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand,

Who says to you, “Do not fear, I will help you.”

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?


Rookie Mistake

I thought I would simply go to Target on Friday morning to pick up a GPS that was on sale. I couldn’t believe the price.

Turned out to be more complicated than I thought.

Retail Sales Outlook

We were in Dallas for Thanksgiving. We were with my parents, my brother, and my sister’s family. We spent the night at my parents’ house. I decided to get up early and buy the GPS at the nearby Target.

At 5 AM, I walked into the Target near Town East Mall. The parking lot was full. Hundreds of paper cups were scattered outside the store where many people evidently had waited for the store to open. Inside, it was unbelievable. I had never seen that many people inside a Target at one time. Check-out lines were backed up with long lines that snaked throughout the store. People were even checking out at the snack bar.

These shoppers were veterans. They were intense shopping warriors making their way through the store, doing battle with the full power of bulging carts. They looked tired but determined.

I was out of place. A rookie.

Ten minutes later, I headed toward the exit. The GPS had sold out shortly after they opened. I was way too late.

I went across the street to Town East Mall. (It was 5:30 AM and I was already out. May as well go someplace!) I walked through the mall watching people. It was amazing! Every restaurant in the food court was open. Inside Macy’s, there were people at the perfume counter. 5:30 in the morning? Others were trying on clothes. I could not believe the number of people in that mall before the sun had come up.

Ok, I realize that some of you are shaking your head at this point. You’ve been there and done that on Black Friday. You may be a shopping warrior yourself.

No doubt it is obvious to you that I was out of place.

A clueless rookie.


Question: What Are The Issues at Work?

I am thinking through some of the issues related to being a Christ-follower at work. What are some of the issues that you have faced as you have tried to follow Christ in the midst of your career? What are some of the issues that your friends have faced?

work hard work.jpg

I first began thinking about this issue (how to be a Christ-follower at work) when my friend Steve began to follow Christ and his teachings. After a tragedy in their family, my friend began to take seriously the call of Christ to follow him. Steve took his baptism seriously and repentance seriously and began living out the teachings of Jesus.

One night Steve called me and asked if we could meet for coffee. We met at a local resturant late that evening. My friend explained to me that the following morning, he would speak with his boss and that conversation would mean the end of his job. I asked him why he was so sure that a job loss would be the end result of this conversation. He said, “I am going to tell him that I have become a Christian and I can no longer close my eyes to some things that are going on in this company.” (My friend was in business with a man whom he had known since he was a child.)

Sure enough, the next day Steve called me and told me about the conversation. It went as he expected. Steve no longer had a job.

This story has reminded me that many, many people face great challenges as they follow Christ and attempt to go about their work and career.

My question to you is:

What are some issues at work that you have faced which challenged you as a Christ-follower? What are some of the challenges? What are some of the temptations?

(I really appreciate your comments and input to these questions. Thanks!)

What Kind of Future Do You Envision?

The other day I read a story about the relationship between actor Michael Douglas and his father, legendary actor Kirk Douglas. Michael Douglas is 65 and Kirk Douglas is 93. Kirk Douglas has been in 80 movies. Michael Douglas is a star in his own right.
KirkDouglas.jpg
When Michael Douglas was 65 years old, he had both knees replaced. One day his dad called to check on him. Michael Douglas told him that he had been in some pain since the surgery. His father told him, “Michael, I was 88 when I had my knees replaced.” Michael said that he knew he could say no more.

Imagine being 65 years old, a grandfather, and having your father check on you after your knee replacement surgery.
I doubt that either one of these men could have envisioned this in their future.
Maybe it is difficult to envision your own future. I know it is for me. I really don’t have a clue about the details of my future. Yet, I do want to enter the future on purpose. I want to be a certain kind of person.

For example, I would like to enter the future, whether tomorrow or five years from now, with these characteristics in my life:

1. Missional. This summer, I am focused thinking and reading about the “big story” of Scripture. God has been doing something in this world since creation and he has not quit doing it yet. He now invites us all to be a part of the mission of God in this world. He will one day bring everything to a grand culmination and it will be good.

2. An Instrument of Blessing. During the course of an ordinary day, I want to ask: “Today, what can I do to bless those who are in my presence?” Are people blessed by your presence where you work? Is God working through you to bless others? If someone goes to lunch with you, are they blessed by your presence? Some people do not bless. Instead the are a real pain to be with. They whine and complain. They are rude and obnoxious and then act as if they did nothing wrong. Some people want to be with others for what they can get, not what they can give.

I would like to be the kind of person who is refreshing to be with. In fact, I would like to be a person who others find energizing and encouraging.

3. A Positive Cheerful Attitude. I can’t exaggerate the importance of having a positive, cheerful attitude–in spite of the circumstances. Attitude is incredibly important. I once knew a church leader was actually quite knowledgable on many fronts. However, his attitude was so foul that he was more discouraging than encouraging to those in his presence. On the other hand, it is possible to brighten a room by having a good attitude.


Question:

What about you? As you envision the future, what would you like to characterize your life?   

     

  



How To Embarrass Yourself Twice in One Week

I did it two times. Two!

It happened last week when I wore a perfectly good pair of pants to work. Comfortable. Casual. Camel color. I had just arrived at my office for the day. I sat down in my chair. I heard a loud tearing sound. I looked down and the outside seam on my right leg had split. The split was about six inches long.

I had no idea what happened. I just knew that I could not wear those pants all day long. I remembered that I had at the cleaners a pair of pants that was supposed to be ready. So I picked up the clean pair pants at the cleaners and changed clothes. I was in good shape. The next day I went to the alterations place and dropped of the ripped pants to be mended. A few days later, I picked them up chalked that one up to a good experience.

On Monday of this week, I wore the pants again. I walked into the office sat down and heard a rip. The top of front pocket on the right side had caught the arm of the chair. The tear was there again. This time it was only about four inches in length. I had worn these pants only a few hours and there was a tear again.

I kept staring at those pants. Unbelievable!

At lunch, I took these pants back to the alterations place. As I explained what happened, they began to laugh and laugh. I handed one person the pants and she immediately began sewing them while she laughed. I asked her how much I owed. She said, “Nothing, this is worth a good laugh.”

chair.jpg

Good grief! How embarrassing! I paid them anyway and left.

Now I can laugh at this. But some things, I don’t want to do twice.

1. I don’t want to repeat the same ineffective behaviors (in my relationships) again and again and yet expect different results. Some people continue to practice ineffective behaviors (failing to follow instructions, for example). Then they minimize their behavior and repeat again, thinking that it will turn out better this time.

2. I don’t want to repeat bad habits. It is so easy to carry on a habit from the past that may be ineffective or irritating to others. Perhaps you have the habit of being late or interrupting others.

3. I don’t want to repeat dysfunctional patterns. Some people have developed patterns of behavior that do not serve them or their co-workers. Perhaps you have a pattern of procrastination, putting off what is difficult or challenging. Maybe you have the pattern of behavior related to your work so that when you get very frustrated, you exploded and then apologize only to do the same thing in a few weeks.


Question:

What behavior do you sometimes repeat that you would really like to stop?



WInning More Than a Game

Some athletes win more than a game.

I have been a sports fan for as long as I can remember. My favorite team sport is football.

Every fall, I follow my favorite teams. I watch the games on television. I keep track of the standings. I read the sports pages. At the end of the season, some teams will stand out because they won. (Usually, these are not my teams. :)) These teams will have won the big game. A college teams and a pro team will be designated as the best.

Yet, there are others who win. There are individuals who win the respect and the admiration of men and women across the nation because of their character. Coach Tony Dungy has made such a positive impact on people because of his character. His story can be read in his books, Quiet Strength and Uncommon: Finding Your Path to Significance. Hear him reflect on life in this video:

There are several college players who have recently encouraged many people through their character. I think of people like Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow (The University of Florida). Sam Bradford (The University of Oklahoma) and Colt McCoy (The University of Texas) are two positive examples. (See their “We are Second” video here.) I was impressed with Mark Ingram (The University of Alabama) and his humility as he accepted the Heisman Trophy. (See his Heisman speech here).

Just the other night, Alabama beat Texas in the BCS National Championship. Colt McCoy was injured in the opening moments of the game and did not play for the remainder of the game. Even though his team lost the game, McCoy continued to earn the respect of people across the nation as he shared these remarks:

No doubt, there are many, many other men and women athletes who could be listed in this post. I am grateful for these people who are visible before so many people and who represent good character.

They are winning more than a game.



Beauty in a Housing Project

(The following post was written by my younger daughter, Jamie, who is a social worker. She recently witnessed a beautiful marriage–in a setting you might not expect.) sad_man.jpg

My job as a home-based social worker allows me the opportunity to see very unusual or difficult situations on a daily basis.

Once, for example, I walked into a home and witnessed three men getting tattooed at a kitchen table. In another home, a chicken was running through the house. In still another home, the police came and picked up the person with whom I had an appointment. This work, however, also allows me the opportunity to witness unexpected and encouraging moments in life.

I recently visited a client at the home of her aunt. My client wasn’t there yet, so her aunt talked with me while I waited. When I walked inside the house, I breathed in the usual aroma of incense that was typical in this home. The grandfather, mid-50s, was lying on his pallet on the couch. The nearby coffee table was strewn with medication. On other occasions, I had witnessed the aunt carrying her husband up the stairs into their home and setting him up on the couch where he spent the day. I would often talk with her as she fed him, gave him his medicine, and even held his cigarette for him.

Over these few months, I had witnessed his health rapidly decline. She told me that this had gone on for a couple of years. Her husband was a war veteran and was now suffering from a variety of ailments: a blood clot on his lung, liver cancer, and so on. She had left her job to take care of him and his daily needs. Caring for him had become her full-time job.

As I spoke with her this day, she grew quiet as big tears welled up in her eyes. She told me that the hospital had given her husband two weeks to live. She began to tell me that she didn’t know what she was supposed to do with that information. She took care of her husband, and he was her life. She didn’t know how she would live with him gone. She went on to say that her brother had died in a car accident the week before. She asked why God was testing her like this. “How do I live without the only thing I ever knew?”

During this tender moment, her husband called out to her for water. About the same time, my client walked into the house ready for her appointment.

It was only 9:00 a.m.

Did I mention that this couple was deeply imprisoned by poverty, one had literally been in prison, had taken care of their three toddler grandchildren while their child was in jail, had survived on the man’s benefits from the VA, and had allowed my client (their niece) to live in their home?

This family has helped me question my life and whether or not I am living to the full extent of its potential. Their giving hearts reflect the attitude of Christ. They have very little, but that doesn’t stop them from trying to help as many people as they can.

You never know who you might impact. You never know in whose life you will make a difference. You never know who will make a difference in your life. I hope you live every moment conscious of your reflection to the outside world.

Sometimes, I catch myself stereotyping people long before I even know their story. This aunt helped me see that people are more than what I might see externally. Things aren’t always what they seem.

Finally, this woman knows what it means to be married to someone “in sickness and in health.” Maybe all of us should take a good look at her example.

Interview with Darryl Tippens (Part 4 – Conclusion)

Darryl Tippens is Provost of Pepperdine University and the author of Pilgrim Heart: The Way of Jesus in Everyday Life.    In this interview, Darryl has made some very interesting and thought-provoking observations about what it means to follow Jesus in the 21st century. His words have been encouraging. darryl_tippens.jpg

These concluding remarks are a reminder of the compelling nature of Jesus.

(Remember that by making a comment in this or any one of the other three posts, you become eligible to win a free copy of Pilgrim Heart. You can find part one here, part two here, and part three here.)


In the Introduction you challenge the church to believe Jesus call “…not just to believe what he taught, but to act like him” (p. 14). What is there about Jesus that you sense 21st century men and women might find attractive and even compelling?

Darryl Tippens: The fact is, Jesus stands very well on his own, without much help on our part, when he is simply received as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John present him. Jesus doesn’t need to be “gussied up” or sanitized or modernized or edited or explained.

There is considerable respect for Jesus in the non-Christian world, to the degree that he is known. But his bickering, checkered followers are another matter. Too often we stand in the way, obstructing the view of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Not everyone will follow Jesus, of course; but when he is seen as the original Evangelists present him, it’s hard to treat his call or his claims trivially. We’ve got to do a better job of getting Jesus outside Sunday school literature, the sermon, the church, and the machinery of American politics (left and right), and back into the marketplace, the lecture hall, the workplace, and the home where he can stand on his own quite powerfully.

What men and women of the 21st century will find most attractive and compelling are people who incarnate Jesus, people who have “learned Jesus” or “learned Christ” (Ephesians 4:20). When people see the “way of Jesus” in ordinary people “in everyday life,” they will find it rather hard to ignore him. It’s happened this way in every century since AD 33. It will happen in the 21st century. Indeed it is happening now.

Question

What has been your experience when you have seen people in the world actually exposed to the incarnate Jesus?