What Do Your Relationships Weigh?

For ten years I was a campus minister, first at Memphis State University and later at Southwest Missouri State. I did a lot of premarital counseling and performed a lot of weddings. I helped these students prepare to begin, but I rarely was called upon when things were ending.  This is because college students hardly ever divorced or died. But all this changed when I shifted from the role of campus minister to the role of preaching minister.

At the very beginning of my preaching career, my first funeral message was for a ten year old girl who died due to a medical mistake. I was ignorant. I was inexperienced. I did not know what to say or do. So, I called an older, wiser minister and asked, “What do I say?” He said, “Get a pencil” and in that moment, and in many future moments, he was my mentor.

In 1992 Gary Collins wrote a book entitled, You Can Make A Difference. He tells of a team of analysts from Yale University who spent several years collecting research about moving from youth, through middle age, into old age. One major idea emerged — mentoring.  A mentor is someone who guides, corrects and serves as a model for someone younger. Stories of mentoring go back to Homer’s ancient story of Odysseus who simply asked his good friend, whose name was “Mentor” to counsel his young son while he was away. And the mentoring style hasn’t changed much since that time. Mentors encourage and challenge their protégés to go beyond their comfort zone and explore their potential. Mentors listen. They observe. They advise. And there is nothing about mentoring that is done quickly. It all takes time.

I read a fascinating story about twelve executives grouped at the very top of AT&T’s international communication empire.  Though they were very different from each other, still they had one common link in their background. Robert Greenleaf, a researcher for AT&T, found that each man had some early mentoring that greatly accelerated his progress. But most surprising was the fact that the same man mentored four of the twelve.  As Greenleaf put it, this man had mentored one-third of AT&T’s top management. He went on to say that this man was probably the most influential manager of his generation.

Throughout history the leaders who have made the most out of life all had one thing in common — they all had mentors.

Forty miles south of Turkey, in the Mediterranean, is the small island of Cyprus. There a man named Joseph started a spiritual tidal wave that flooded the Roman world and changed history. And all Joseph did was mentor two men. One was an older teen that wrote down the story of Jesus. The other man Joseph mentored was a traveling tent-maker, a man who wrote 32% of the New Testament, planted dozens of churches and pioneered cross-cultural evangelism. The two men are Mark and Paul. And their mentor? Joseph’s Greek name is Barnabas, which means encourager.

Of course the greatest mentor of all is Jesus. And I think it’s interesting and important that Jesus did not begin his movement the way we begin movements today. He did not plan an advertising campaign. He did not write a book and launch a multi-city speaking tour. Instead, when Jesus began, he immediately chose a small group to mentor. In fact, his most well known sermon, one usually thought of as addressed to a crowd, is called the Sermon on the Mount.  But have you ever taken a close look at who the teaching is actually given to? Matthew 5:1-2 begins this way, “Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying, …”

Now I know that large crowds followed Jesus.  I know that Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead. I know that everywhere he went large masses of people formed. But I also know, as Mark 9 puts it, “Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples.” 

I like the way one writer described the style of Jesus — “He choose twelve, focused on three and graduated eleven.” I especially like the admonition by the late Dallas Willard said in an interview, “Don’t count your people, weigh them.”  That was the style of Jesus.  What’s your style?

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Posted in Dallas Willard, Funeral, Gospel of Mark, Gospel of Matthew, Group, Growth, Jesus, Listening, Mentoring, Prentice Meador, Relationships, Robert Greenleaf, Small Groups | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Closest Neighbor

I can usually remember where I am when something is said that greatly influences me because I will stop and write it down. 

I was in St. Louis, in a class on a Sunday morning.  There was nothing new or outstanding about the class.  The teacher had just read Mark 12:28-31.

“Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

I had read these verses many times and had thought about the meaning of loving God and loving people.  And, in my pride (isn’t this often the case), I wasn’t expecting to learn anything new that day. 

But then, the teacher asked a question that was so simple and clear that I wrote it down. “Who is your closest neighbor?”  He waited a few calculated seconds, just long enough for me to wonder where he was going with the question, and then he provided his own answer.  “My closest neighbor sleeps right beside me.  And my next closest neighbors sleep just down the hall from me.”  I continued to write as my mind was filled with new thoughts and implications.

Suddenly, loving and serving my “neighbor” was no longer an interesting theological discussion or even a complicated global missionary strategy.  No, it suddenly became highly personal, intensely practical and crystal clear. I knew exactly were to begin. 

Our closest neighbors are those living under our roof, or those who brought us into the world and gave us a home.  And guess what?  These “closest neighbors” can be the most difficult ones to love and serve.  We know their faults all too well, and they know our faults.  How sad, that the ones we know the best are the ones we are most likely to take for granted.

And so I would like to suggest an idea. Determine to put your closest neighbors at the top of your list of people to love and serve.  In one sense, they can be the easiest to serve because you know them so well.  You know their hurts, their needs, their fears, their temptations and their weaknesses.  In fact, no other person is better suited to offer them the kind of help and service that you can offer. And, they are right there, all the time, close enough to touch.  Here are a few places to start your thinking:

  • Each day, as you arrive back home, determine that you are not “off” but “on” duty for your family.
  • Give them daily affirmation, hugs and praise.
  • Ask questions about the day and listen without offering advice.
  • Call your parents and ask them what they did today.
  • Take your turn with the household duties.
  • Take a walk through the neighborhood with your spouse to talk and reconnect.
  • Sit in silence with that “closest neighbor” who may be hurting.  Let your presence communicate your love.
  • Pray with your family on a daily basis.

One day, when our children were small, as I was reading the story of Jesus’ baptism and temptation, I noticed once again that between the two events there is this message from God.  Mark makes it a highly personal family message, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (1:11).  It occurred to me that Jesus had just made a decision to go to the cross (baptism) and Satan had just made a decision to stop him (temptation), and so God plants this wonderful message of love, confidence and affirmation right in the middle of it all.

I determined right then that if Jesus needed this message, then my closest neighbors, my wife and children, needed it as well.  From that point on, each time I tucked David into bed I gave him some form of: “David, you are my son, I love you very much and I’m so very proud of you.”  And then, I entered Jessica’s room, knelt beside her bed and gave her the same message.  I did this every day until “tucking in” matured into a phone call of encouragement or a text or email of confidence. My son is now married and my daughter is thinking about it, but they will always be my closest neighbors.  Along with Pam I will always feel a deep sense of “you are my wife/son/daughter, I love you very much and I’m so very proud of what you are becoming.” 

Jesus was only asked one question, “What is the greatest commandment,” but he in essence said, “I can’t give you only one answer.  I have to give you two answers because loving God always involves loving your neighbors.”

So, how do we love and serve our neighbors?  Let’s begin with our closest neighbors and what God teaches us there will help us move out through the circles of relatives, friends, work associates and strangers. 

Posted in Affirmation, Approval, Baptism, Encouragement, Family, Gospel of Mark, Growth, Love, Neighbors, Relationships, Walking, Words | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

No Regrets

My mother died at the beginning of this year at the age of 81. She was a happy wife of a very loyal husband. She was a serving mother of four children who shared with her our deepest hurts and our greatest dreams. She joyfully hosted guests in our home, taught the ladies Bible class, and stood at the very heart of our family.

My mother lived a life with no regrets. And so, I read with great interest, an article that was published the day following my mother’s death. It was written by Susie Steiner and appeared in the Guardian Weekly, a British newspaper. It is the story of an Australian nurse, Bronnie Ware, who spent several years caring for patients during the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded their dying thoughts in her blog and eventually published a book entitled The Top Five Regrets Of The Dying.

Ware noticed the remarkable clarity that people seem to gain at the end of their lives, and she identified several lessons that we can learn from their insight.

She writes, “When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again.” Here are the top five regrets of the dying that Ware observed:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. This was the most common regret, realizing how many dreams had gone unfulfilled. In essence they were all saying that health offers the opportunity to pursue our dreams, until that health is gone. Most wished they had acted when they were younger and healthier.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. This came from every male patient that Ware cared for. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship as they spent their lives on “the treadmill of a work existence. ”

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. In order to keep peace with others many had suppressed their feelings. Some had even developed illnesses due to the bitterness and resentment they carried deep inside. Looking back, they wished they had been more open.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. Many would think about old friends in their final weeks and would even try to track them down. There were many regrets about not giving these relationships more time and effort over the years.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier. Surprisingly many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. Old habits, the comfort of familiarity, and the fear of change kept them stuck in unhappy routines, while deep inside, they longed for a deeper joy. They discovered that it had always been available, but they had not chosen it.

When I read this list of regrets it brought two thoughts to mind.

First, these stories of regret remind me that my journey of faith, modeled by my mother, can be filled with great joy and end with no regret.

Second, I am grateful that God helped my mother to discover her dreams and live a happy life. She was surrounded by great friends and by a loving family. Both she and my dad worked hard, but they also played hard. She lived a long and full life that took her to several very different parts of our great country, ranging from the sand storms of west Texas, to the swamps of southern Louisiana, to the lake-effect snows of upper Michigan, just to name a few. In each place she built a warm home, made good friends, and experienced joy and fulfillment.

I miss her greatly, but I know that her journey here prepared her to live in a place where regret does not exist.

It’s one thing to look back and regret the direction your life is going. It’s easy to make a list of regrets. But it’s another thing to look at the present and the future with hope. God offers hope. Can you name your greatest regret so far? If you can, then you can begin now taking steps to change it.

Posted in Burnout, Busyness, Change, Choice, Death, Dreams, Emotion, Friendship, Happiness, Health, Meaning, Purpose, Regret, Relationships, Rest | Tagged | Leave a comment

See Israel In November !

There are 22 going with us to Israel in November and we still have a few open spots.

Go with us!
Take the trip of a lifetime!
We will be gone 10 days (6-16) and the weather in November is long sleeve, light jacket. Perfect!

Here’s the tour link – http://www.fowlertours.com/pdf/4580.pdf 

Here’s a video tease –http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPQI6Y …

Posted in Bible, Faith in Process, Footsteps of Jesus, Garden of Gethsemane, Holy Land, Israel, Jesus, Sea of Galilee | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Spiritual Journey

Walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Experience a sunrise over the Sea of Galilee.  Visit ongoing archeological sites.  See the breathtaking vista from the top of Masada.  Take a boat ride out on the Sea of Galilee. Enjoy a quiet moment in the Garden of Gethsemane.  See desolate mountains, sparkling springs, ancient cities, and blend each day of travel with a customized devotional guide written by Bob that will combine the sites of the day with the stories from scripture. Whether you have been a Christian a few days or for many decades, this will be a life-changing, unforgettable experience.  Space is limited so reserve a spot soon.

November 6-16, 2012 – Fly from Dallas, Texas

For more information contact:

Bob Chisholm at 972-233-2392
chisholm@prestoncrest.org

or Fowler Tours at 1-800-747-5670

Posted in Footsteps of Jesus, Garden of Gethsemane, Holy Land, Israel, Latest Post, Sea of Galilee, Vacation | Tagged , , | Leave a comment