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(I posted the following article on Facebook yesterday.  You might enjoy this.)

Many of you are preaching tomorrow. Know that God is at work in you. Pray that he might strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being. Know that in this power, you are doing a work that is beyond your own abilities and strength.

You will be preaching to a group of people who are deeply loved by the Father but who desperately need to hear his Word. Most of these people, regardless of how they might appear outwardly, are just trying to “keep it between the ditches.” They are trying to deal with life. Some are deeply fearful. Some are distracted by illness and family messes. Still others come to these assemblies feeling such a sense of failure. All – every single one of them (including their preacher) – desperately need the Lord.

What you are doing tomorrow is important. May God richly bless

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Perhaps you have been there.  Someone wants to talk with you about a problem.  This person is asking you for suggestions.  You silently pray to God that you might say the right thing.  You begin to speak.  However, the conversation does not go as you expected.  This person has a strenuous objection for most everything you say.

I was thinking about this recently and it occurred to me that there are certain roadblocks to our own progress and growth that just get in the way.

Roadblock #1 – My defensiveness and denial

“Nothing is wrong with me.  I don’t have a problem.  In fact, I am now angry with you for suggesting that I have a problem.”  My own defensiveness can actually get in the way of any progress at all.  Consequently, months go by without any real positive movement.

Roadblock #2 – My refusal to listen

“What do you mean I don’t listen!  Why my friends tell me that I am a very good listener!”  Such a person may put up a wall before you can even finish your sentence.  Meanwhile, someone who is really listening might choose instead to ask a clarifying question or two to take advantage of an opportunity for self awareness.

Roadblock #3 – My lack of self-awareness

This might be the person who loses friends, deeply offends co-workers, and alienates others but does not see a problem with his or her own behavior.  In fact, this person might lack self-awareness to the point that he honestly doesn’t see what he is doing to damage these relationships.  In his mind, the fault is to be found with everyone else.

Roadblock #4 – My refusal to get help

This might be the person who says he/she needs help and even asks for suggestions.  However, the person opposes every single suggestion offered.

“Why should I see a counselor?  I already know what a counselor is going to tell me.”

“Me, see an attorney?  Why would I do that?  I can handle this.”

“Why should I see a doctor?  That’s ridiculous!”  On and on it goes.

The question I really need to reflect on is, “How do I make progress as I grapple with this problem?”  No you shouldn’t listen to everybody, that will only lead to confusion.  However, if you seek out a few wise, godly people, especially those with experience in navigating some of life’s difficulties, you might want to at least listen – really listen – to that person.   And — before quickly saying “Of course I listen!,” you might ask the person to whom you are talking whether or not they feel like you have really listened.

Life is hard.  However, it can become even more difficult when we put up roadblocks to our own progress.

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This morning as I drove to work, I thought about some of the blessings I have and how thankful to God I am for various people and places.

  1.  I am thankful for Charlotte (my wife), for Christine and her two boys, Brody and Lincoln.  I am thankful for Jamie and Cal and their little boy Sully.  To have three grandchildren is such a blessing!
  2. I am thankful for the years of preaching to congregations in Florence, Ala.; Kansas City, Mo.; and Waco, Tx.  To this day, there are people in these places who are some of our dearest friends.
  3. I am thankful for the privilege of serving at Harding School of Theology (Memphis).  This school has served students well for decades.  (Have you ever considered taking a course at a school like this?  You can do this in the privacy of your home or office through HST Live.  Contact Matt Carter – mrcarter@hst.edu)  I am also grateful for the wonderful people whom I have met and worked with at Harding University.
  4. I am thankful for the opportunity to grow.  I read books and articles.  I listen to audio books.  I regularly listen to podcasts and recordings of sermons and talks.  More than ever, I have a great hunger to grow.
  5. I am thankful for churches who invited me to speak and teach.  I have been with some wonderful groups of people this past year.  I am honored to be invited.  In particular, I am grateful for the Millington Church of Christ where I have been preaching once a month for over two years.
  6. I am thankful for the ministers who I talk with across the country.  I regularly talk with ministers over coffee, on the phone, or by way of Zoom.  These conversations often bless me more than them.  I am thankful to know such g00d people.
  7. I am thankful for unexpected moments of encouragement.  The unexpected phone call or note.  The unexpected conversation.  These moments are often great times of joy and satisfaction.
  8. I am thankful for good, sweet people who spend their lives doing good.  These are people who often need little maintenance themselves and who bless others through giving their time and resources.  At the moment, I have in mind some of the donors who invest in the students at Harding School of Theology.
  9. I am thankful for God’s help in navigating through life’s messiness.  Sometimes, life is just hard.  People can disappoint and even hurt.  Nevertheless, God is faithful.
  10. I am thankful, most of all, for God’s goodness, love, and holiness.  When I ponder these aspects of God, I quickly realize that he is much larger than my problems or my concerns.
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This afternoon, I read a portion of Jon Gordon’s book, The Power of Positive Leadership.  (A friend had recommended this and I was eager to read something that would be motivating.)  I love this particular section (p. 51):

Dr. James Gills accomplished the remarkable feat of completing a double triathlon (two triathlons back to back with only a 24-hour break.)  Even more remarkable is that Gills completed a double triathlon six times, and the last time he did it was 59 years old.  When asked how he did it, he gave the best advice I’ve ever heard.  He said, “I’ve learned to talk to myself instead of listen to myself.” He memorized scripture and would recite it to himself when he needed a boost.  Gills continued, “If I listen to myself, I hear all the reasons why I should give up.  I hear that I’m too tired, too old, too weak to make it.  But if I talk to myself, I can give myself the encouragement and words I need to hear to keep running and finish the race.”

Far too many of us (including church leaders) seem to be almost obsessed with listening to the negative, fear-based, anxiety rooted messages that are within us.  We listen to ourselves and we hear hopelessness, futility, and reasons to give up.  We just don’t have enough of this or that.  Of course, we then talk to our spouses, fellow church leaders, colleagues, etc.  and our anxiety spreads like a highly contagious disease.

Perhaps it would be more helpful to focus on talking to ourselves.  For example, I could ask the following:

  1.  How does God’s presence, power, and love impact this situation?
  2.  How would I behave in this situation if I really trusted in God?
  3.  How might the most Godly people in my life handle this situation?
  4.  How might Godly people whom I have admired through history have handled this situation
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In the last week, I have read or listened to several resources that may interest you.  Of course, I am listing these because in some way each had some value for me.

Are You a Procrastinator?  This Simple 5 Minute Trick Will Completely Change Your Life.  (The title is quite a promise.  Nevertheless, I did find this very helpful.)  From INC magazine.

Just listened to a podcast featuring Harvard Business professor, Francesca Gino.  Why It Pays to Break the Rules in Life, Work & Leadership.  Very thoughtful interview.  Made me think.

This weekend, I re-read two chapters from Trevor Hudson’s book (1996) Christ-Following: Ten Signposts to Spirituality.  Hudson is an excellent writer who has blessed me greatly.  If you are not acquainted with his works, you are in for a treat.

Finally, I read a very sobering interview from the Guardian about the relationship between Apple founder Steve Jobs and his daughter, Lisa Brennen-Jobs.  The article is entitled, “The daughter Steve Jobs denied: “Clearly I was not compelling enough for my father.”

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Life is hard.  Sometimes, it is really hard.

Isn’t it great, however, to have friends, family, church members, and others who will come along side you and help!  I am thinking of one Texas friend who I loved being with.  We often ate lunch together.  We would talk to one another about our lives including family, work, and church.  When times were hard for my friend, he would typically say at some point, “But the good new is . . .”

He was always looking for something good within the context of any mess.  He had a way of always looking for evidence of God’s grace.  He was not in denial.  In fact, he would admit pain and difficulty.

I found that when I was with him, I typically came away refreshed and energized, regardless of the topic of conversation.  Other friends also energized me as they communicated their love, care, or just a sense that we were in this together.

Then there are others.

There are other people who can drain you dry in a matter of minutes.  This may be a family member, a friend, a church member or even a church leader.  This person may talk with you about a problem but there seems to be nothing life-giving about the conversation.  In fact, such conversations can suck the life out of you.  This person may speak with such certainty about you ought to be doing with the situation at church, in your family, etc.  However, there is no sense in the conversation that this person is with you or alongside you.  They may leave the conversation with you feeling burdened or heavy.

Such conversations sometimes go like this (about most any topic):

  1. “I see a mess.”
  2. “I certainly know what needs to be done.”
  3. “You (looking at me) are the one to fix this.”
  4. “Goodbye.”

As I write this post, these thoughts make me want to consider the impact I have on others in conversations.  I don’t want to leave someone’s presence with them feeling even more burdened and troubled than before the conversation.

Lord, may the life of Jesus be present and displayed in me as I deal with others throughout the day.  May my actions and words be life giving and not draining.  When others are in my presence, may I make a positive difference in their day.

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