Jim Martin's Encouragement Note #60

Inspiring presence . . . Dealing with fear . . . A note to a younger self . . .

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man siting on wooden dock

(Unsplash - Ante Hamersmit)

Welcome to this Encouragement Note. If something is helpful to you, I would love to hear from you (jmartin9669@gmail.com).

The List of Five

When Fear Gets in the Way (a few suggestions for dealing with our fears)

At times, most people I know (including myself) wrestle with fear. Yet, repeatedly the Bible says, “Do not be afraid.”  

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  (Isa. 41:10)

Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” (Ex. 20:20)

But now, this is what the Lord says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. (Isa. 43:1)

Because of my fear, I have sometimes overreacted in situations with my children. On occasions, I have allowed fear to cause me to be self-protective with my wife.  Fear has even been a part of my ministry.  As a result, God sometimes seemed smaller than what I was fearing.

Fear can get in the way of our future. Some people allow fear to cause them to seek perfectionism. Nothing is ever quite good enough.  Still others allow their fear to lead them to procrastinate.  

You may have seen what fear can do in congregations. Fear can cause church leaders to be intimidated by some who are loud and self-assured. In the meantime we might become timid, uncertain, and insecure. Fear prompts knee-jerk reactions instead of maintaining a cool head and thoughtfully pursuing a course of action. Fear may move us toward appeasement instead of a good solution.  It has a way of shifting the focus away from God whose forever presence was meant to instill courage and hope.

Consider some possible fears:

  • Fearful of losing control and humiliating myself.

  • Fearful of having to make a decision and being wrong.

  • Fearful of having to depend on God and yet not quite sure what God is going to do.

  • Fearful of being alone, of having my spouse abandon me for someone else.

  • Fearful of being seen as incompetent.

  • Fearful of failing and then looking silly.

  • Fearful of communicating my genuine concerns and then having these dismissed as “none issues.”

  • Fearful of speaking out and having no one to back me. 

As a young minister, I feared the anger and disapproval of others. At some point, I realized this was a dead-end street. After all, in a congregation, someone in the congregation typically doesn’t like something. I had to learn how to mature and grow up in terms how I functioned with others.

A few suggestions for dealing with your fears:

  1. Admit your fear. Confess to God that a particular situation has caused you to be fearful.

  2. Read Scripture, particularly texts that remind you of how large, majestic, and powerful God really is.

  3. Consider the times in your life when God has shown his faithfulness. Thank God for these faith building moments which have the capacity to increase your trust in him.

  4. Pray that you might dare to trust God, even though your problem is not resolved.


Unscripted Moments (Learn to pay attention to the subtle work of God)

As I drove across north Mississippi on highway 72, I was gripped by a compelling audio book. From Memphis to north Alabama, I listened to Ernie Johnson Jr’s book, Unscripted: The Unpredictable Moments That Make Life Extraordinary. Johnson, the father of six (four of whom are adopted), is the host of TNT’s, “Inside the NBA.” The audio book is spoken by Ernie Johnson Jr., himself.

During portions of this book, I was teary-eyed. The book is both moving and inspiring.

  • Regarding a job, Johnson said “Your job is what you do, not who you are.”

  • He told the story of “Michael,” a three year old boy who couldn’t walk or speak. His wife Cheryl encountered this child in a Romanian orphanage in 1991. The boy had been abandoned in a park as a baby. She and Ernie talked about the possibility of adopting him and acknowledged there would be difficult challenges. The nurse in the orphanage said, “Don’t take this boy. He’s no good.” Johnson responded with these words: “Well bring him home!” They adopted him only to then learn that he had Muscular Dystrophy.

  • He spoke of a high school basketball coach, Phil Bollier, who worked to make Michael a part of his team. He thought his team could learn much from Michael about the importance of making real effort. Michael enabled Bollier to teach students in his classes about the importance of loving one another and that everyone has value.

  • Throughout the book, he spoke of the importance of going “unscripted.” This includes being willing to do the unplanned and the unpredictable, as you learn to trust God.

  • Finally, Ernie Johnson spoke of his own battle with cancer, discovered in 2003. He talked about the words a technician told him that meant so much: “You may have cancer but cancer doesn’t have you.” He learned to “trust God - period.” This would become his personal mantra.

I have included this book in this Encouragement Note primarily because of what Johnson says about “blackberry moments.” This was a family term that originated from a time when Johnson was eight years old, playing little league baseball.

The other team was at bat and a ball was hit over a chain link fence. Several of Johnson’s teammates began looking for the ball. However, they discovered several blackberry bushes filled with luscious blackberries. They stopped looking for the ball and ate the blackberries. Through the years, the family has talked about “blackberry moments,” the unexpected but sweet moments in life that we all need to savor. These are moments in which God seems to work through and even orchestrate the unexpected.

Do I have my eyes open for those unscripted blackberry moments? Instead of totally focusing on my challenges, could I savor the blackberry moments? Could it be that many of these moments actually reflect the subtle work of God?

  • Can I savor a spur of the moment coffee time with a colleague?

  • Can I savor a pleasant conversation I experienced at the grocery store?

  • Can I savor a kind gesture by one of my co-workers?


Note to Self (time well spent with this 10 minute video)

I have already mentioned sportscaster Ernie Johnson. You might enjoy this excellent video which was recently shown on CBS Morning. Johnson reads his letter to his “younger self.” This is excellent!

Regarding his cancer, he wrote to his younger self, “Medicines and surgery may fix you but it is your faith, your family, and your friends who will sustain you.”

What would you write to your younger self? What would you want your younger self to know about life, marriage, a job, etc.? What would you say to your younger self about challenges and discouragements?

I encourage you to watch this beautiful video.


The Big Surprise for Me (Especially for ministers and church leaders)

It was Friday evening and I was getting ready to board a plane for a flight from Seattle to Austin. The plane was scheduled to leave at 7:00 PM but was late. Most everyone waiting to board was standing. Many of these passengers had most likely put in a full day’s work and were now getting ready for a long flight.

There was one guy in the crowd who stood out. He was talking and laughing and entertaining those around him.

He was dressed in an open collar shirt, in what appeared to be a very nice suit. He was tan, in his 50’s, and seemed very confident. I also perceived that he was doing well financially.

I watched him for a few minutes as he talked to those around him. He seemed full of himself and I decided I didn’t like him. Just like that? Yes, just like that.

Group A was called. (This was Southwest Airline. We were boarding in groups of three — groups A, B, and C). I boarded the plane and found an aisle seat near the front. Apparently, this flight was almost full. As other passengers boarded, they continued to walk by the row where I was sitting, avoiding the vacant middle seat. Maybe this middle seat might just remain empty for this flight.

A few minutes later, he came down the aisle. Yes, the obnoxious guy who had been entertaining the large group of passengers moments ago. He stopped when he got to my seat. 

“Mind if I sit here?” 

“Sure!” (Not quite sincere)

Inside I thought, good grief, I am going to have to listen to this guy all the way to Austin!  

Minutes later, the plane took off.  The guy in the middle seat looked at me and asked where I was going and what I did for a living.  I figured that once I told him I was a minister, this would end all conversation. I told him that I lived in Waco and was a minister for a church there.  He then said, “You are a minister?  Wow.  You make such a difference!”

He told me that his life had been a mess and then he begun going to a church in Austin. His whole life changed as he encountered Jesus. Now he was a part of a recovery group for recovering alcoholics.

He talked about the difference the Lord had made in his life.  Of course, I had to quietly talk to the Lord about my own pathetic, immature attitude in a situation that may have been a divine appointment.

Perhaps this was a “blackberry moment.”

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Reading and Listening

  1. I am enjoying a book by Dan Reiland, “Leadership Alone Isn’t Enough: 40 Devotions to Strengthen Your Soul.” A wonderful book for ministers/church leaders in particular.

  2. Alan Noble has written a concise but excellent article entitle Friendship and Belonging in Middle Age.

  3. Joanne Woolway Grenfell has written a very fine article on one of the prayers of Josephine Butler (1828-1906). This particular prayer was written to her husband.

  4. See Julie Beck’s article in the Atlantic, “The Six Forces that Fuel Friendship,(June 10, 2022).


Each Thursday/Friday, I post about ten tweets especially for ministers and other believers as they anticipate Sunday. You can find me @jimmartin.

I serve as Vice President of Harding School of Theology, Memphis, Tennessee. Every other Monday morning, I publish this “Encouragement Note.” You can subscribe at jimmartin.substack.com. You can also find me on Facebook - @jim.martin or Instagram - @jimmartin.jm. My e-mail address is: jmartin9669@gmail.com. Feel free to write. I would love to hear what is encouraging or helpful. — Jim Martin

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