Working Too Hard?

Pastoring is a profession like any other. I am constantly working to hone and upgrade my skills and become a true master of my craft. This takes diligence, effort and a lot of punching the clock. Pastoring isn’t nearly as sexy as I thought it would be.

Pastoring is also a profession unlike any other. I am a midwife and surrogate parent. I am responsible for the spiritual care and well being of my spiritual family, arguably the most important part of their lives, and yet I am given little power to affect anything in their lives. I only have the influence they let me have. Hence, much of my job is persuasion… and it is wearisome.

In my more melancholy moments (like this one), I wonder about the effectiveness of the model of church we have embraced in the West. We, the church leaders and pastors, have tried to make everything so easy — we break down the teachings of Jesus into three point sermons complete with application points; we do much of the heavy lifting in prayer, intercession and service; we try to set the bar as low as possible so it is easy for people to participate; and we pour ridiculous amounts of time, energy, focus and creativity into preparing messages that are usually dismissed with little more than a “good message pastor.” This last piece has me particularly vexed.

The last time I bothered to look up the figure and poll my peers, the average pastor spent around 20 hours of their week preparing a sermon. For those whose sole purpose is preaching and teaching, that number can inflate to 35 or more. I live in a town with 20 churches, each pastor preparing a message each week. That is 400 hours and more being invested into the people of God each and every week, almost 21,000 hours in a year. With that kind of focused investment from highly trained and highly passionate people, why is 50%+ of the city still unreached and the rest of the city relatively unchanged? I’ve been noodling on that for some time and still don’t have the answers I’d like.

It does occur to me, however, that I might be working too hard. Working too hard to make the sayings of Jesus easily digestible, working too hard to apply those teachings to other people’s lives and situations. For me, sermon prep is a worship experience because it forces me to submit to a God who does not think like I do and to rework what I thought I knew in order to follow his train of thought. Perhaps more people need to be doing that each week than the 19 other pastors and I? What if the model we’ve embraced, comfortable as it is, has actually incapacitated the church and is barring us from actually doing what Jesus commanded us to do?

Like I said, I don’t have any good answers, just a lot of nagging questions. I’d love to hear from you guys though. Have sermons changed your life? Are they worthwhile? What would make them more transformative?

Ben

Equipping or Enabling

I spent a good portion of last week pondering the Kingship of Jesus in preparation for last Sunday’s message. At the most basic level, the Gospel is that Jesus came as a King to announce the arrival of his Kingdom. People could get on board with that Reality or not, but he said in no uncertain terms that failure to submit to him would result in death and/or being cast into outer darkness/ the lake of Fire (see Luke 19:27 for the clearest example). It is True that Jesus is much more than a King, that the Gospel talks about other issues besides God’s Kingdom, but even a cursory read through of the book of Acts reveals that it is the message of Jesus as King of the Earth and Judge of the Living and the Dead that provoked repentance and conversion, nothing else. To be quite blunt, the Apostles didn’t walk into a pagan city, say “Jesus loves you” and have thousands of people submit their lives to Christ. Through powerful words (and even more powerful actions) the Disciples argued and demonstrated that Jesus was indeed the one God had chosen as King by raising him from the dead and that they were Jesus’s delegated authorities on the Earth. It is True that Jesus loves us and died for our sins because of that Love. It is equally true that he is a King who demands obedience from his followers. In fact, to love him is to be obedient to him and to disobey is the same as not loving him (John 14:23-24).

The Church is an army

If Jesus has delegated the forceful advancement of his Kingdom on the earth to the Church (Matt. 11:12 and Matt. 28:16-20) then that makes the Church an army. Just as the Marine Corps is not the government of the United States, but a representative thereof, carrying out the will of our Commander in Chief and advancing the interests and ideologies of the American people throughout the world, so too the Church is the organization designed to advance the Kingdom of God and the will of our King on the Earth.

This has a number of implications for us as followers of Jesus, but I’m going to hone in on my call as a Pastor. Biblically speaking, my job is to work in conjunction with other leaders in order to “equip the saints for the work of ministry”(Eph. 4:12). To carry on with the army metaphor, I need to teach the recruits how to identify the enemy and dispatch them, stay in formation and achieve the objectives of the mission, make sure no one gets left behind and develop people’s specialities so that we have the right people for the right job. (I’m not an army man so my list is far short of what actually happens, I’m sure.)

Let’s take target practice for an example.

What were to happen if a batch of new recruits went down to the firing range and the drill instructor said, “Wait. I know this is hard, so let me do it for you.” The instructor then proceeded to fire every shot for each recruit. Sure, the targets would display the work of an expert marksman, but the instructor would be exhausted and the soldiers still untrained. What happens when they are deployed? The instructor can’t take every shot for them — they need to learn to do it for themselves. They need to be equipped or else they are done for.

Equipping not Enabling in Pastoral Ministry

As clear as that seems in the Army, when we switch domains and start talking about the Church, things get fuzzy for some reason. Broadly speaking, Pastors are trained to enable people. We are trained to take away pain, to shepherd people and care for them, to speak reassuringly and to come running when we are called to do battle with darkness. Pastors are good at this kind of work and well loved for it. Even better, by enabling people rather than empowering them, we have excellent job security.

I’ve been as guilty of enabling people as anyone I know. My desire is to care for people, but this past week of reflection has revealed that I tend to be short sighted in my approach. When people ask me a question that is in the Book, it is easier to tell them a straight answer than to suggest they take the time to find it for themselves. (After all, I’m trained and paid to know the answer, right?) But I’ve come to realize that teaching people to be Biblically literate, to teach them how to find answers for themselves is much more important than giving them the right answer.

A more difficult example would be when someone comes to me asking about divorce. What should they do? Well, the truth is, the Bible has stories on both sides. David fled from abusive authority and broken covenant while God told Hagar to return to an unhealed and abusive authority because God had more he wanted to do there. And so, the only thing I can do responsibly is to turn things back on them and, after explaining the Principles of the two stories above, ask them which Principle applies. They have to make the decision after talking it over with Papa. It isn’t compassionate or loving for me to tell them to bail if God wants them to stay. (To be gut level honest, I cringe while I write this even though I know it is the Truth, but that is due to my sin and immaturity. I’m not more compassionate than God and God definitely commanded Hagar to return to an abusive relationship.) That story and Principle may not apply to 99.9% of cases, but it does apply to someone or else it wouldn’t be in there. In cases like this, I can’t give someone a straight answer. I can only explain Principles and then point them back to Papa. For some reason, that is exceptionally difficult for me to do – I feel like I wasn’t helpful or kind, but it is the right response nonetheless.

The place I am growing into is going to require me to become much more skilled at equipping instead of enabling. I’m going to have to learn a new way of communicating and I will need an extensive overhaul of my internal belief structure. But if I am going to become the person I want to be and lead God’s people where he wants them to go, then I’m going to have to belly up to the bar and suck down some strong medicine.

Wish me luck.

Ben

 

Blessing Your Spirit

My Introduction to spirit blessing

A few years ago, Dani and I came across a book called Blessing your Spirit, written by Sylvia Gunter and Arthur Burk. We had been introduced to Arthur’s a short time before at a marriage workshop. The couple leading the workshop used Arthur’s material to do “on the spot” deliverance/inner healing and marriages that were about to end in divorce turned around almost instantly. It was quite astonishing, even miraculous.

One of the things Barry and Lori (the couple leading the workshop) did frequently was bless the spirit of the person they were ministering to. This was a new idea for me, but seeing it modeled many times a day made it normal fast. Whenever the person had a blockage in hearing God’s voice, started to bad mouth their spouse or otherwise get distracted, Barry or Lori would gently stop them, look the person in the eye, speak words of blessing and strength to their spirit and then call their spirit back to the place of authority and dominion over their soul and body. The person’s spirit seemed to responded quickly and whatever blockage had been hampering progress was dealt with and removed.

Dani and I got the book Blessing Your Spirit shortly thereafter and started working through it. Dani did a lot more with it than I did, because the idea of speaking to your spirit, encouraging it and instructing it seemed a little “out there” to me. As is often the case, I needed time for this idea to take root in my theology while Dani sprinted with it right out of the gate. For the other slow processors out there, the rest of this article will be devoted to my understanding of the theology behind blessing your spirit or someone else’s spirit. I will say, however, that well before I had what I considered an adequate theology, the fruit of this exercise was apparent. I knew it worked, I just didn’t know why.

Foundation and Framework

It is generally understood within most Christian circles that human beings are made up of three parts — body, soul and spirit. This comes from Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” and from the study of Genesis 2:7 “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground [body] and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life [spirit], and the man became a living being [literally “soul”].

Within this framework, we typically say that the soul is our “mind, will and emotions” that our body is relatively inert, just a holding tank for our soul and spirit, and that our spirit is the part of us that connects with God. Truthfully, this is a really anemic understanding of all three parts of us.

Looking through all of the references to the human spirit in the Bible, it becomes apparent that our spirits have their own thoughts, desires and feelings, and even work through our bodies to inspire certain actions (though most of the time it is so underfed that it cannot exert such control).

Take for example the following passages…

  • The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” Matt. 26:41. The spirits of the disciples wanted to stay awake, pray and comfort our Lord in his moment of need, but were incapable of overriding the disciple’s bodies. This is opposed to passages like Ezra 1:5 where the spirits of certain Israelites were stirred and caused the people to go to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. These people had no natural reason to leave their lives in captivity, it was a spirit prompting.  Passages such as these show that our spirit has its own will and desires.
  • I, Daniel, was grieved in my spirit within my body, and the visions of my head troubled me,” Daniel 7:15. Daniel’s spirit showed the emotion of grief as it processed the vision God had shown Daniel concerning the fate of the holy people.
  • This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only of the baptism of John,” Acts 18:25. Though Apollos had only received an initial revelation of what God was doing through Jesus, his spirit was able to accurately perceive and extrapolate who Jesus was and could convincingly argue that he was the Christ even though he only knew Jesus had been baptized by John (not crucified, resurrected or ascended). This reveals that our spirits can think, perceive and communicate information that our souls don’t actually know.

We could similarly demonstrate that our bodies (flesh) are much more that inert material, but that is beyond the scope of this article. I simply mean to say that our spirits, souls and bodies all have their own thoughts, desires, emotions and will. When humans were first created, all of these entities were in harmony — thinking the same things, wanting the same things, doing the same things, etc. The Fall fractured and disintegrated our nature and our souls and bodies went into rebellion against our spirits. The spirit was designed to be the leader of our life, keeping us in alignment with the will of God. However, the human spirit is rarely the dominate force in human beings nowadays.

Who is in charge?

In most human beings, our souls are the ones calling the shots. Our souls take in the information gathered by our senses, make sense out of it and plot the course forward. They do a marvelous job considering their many limitations. For instance, they have incomplete information, they don’t always know what is important and, therefore, overlook many crucial elements and they have a severely limited understanding of what it possible because they can only include finite resources (time, energy, skills) in their calculations.

But humans are designed to have their spirit in the place of leadership and dominion.

When a person’s spirit is leading their soul and body, a number of fascinating things take place. They have better discernment — they make decisions based on supernatural elements their soul knows nothing about. They live longer and healthier because the spirit controls the regenerative capabilities of the body and mind — look up how many verses that talk about the human spirit mention it in terms of health or disease. Also, think about how long people used to live compared to now. Their lives are more in alignment with the will of God (i.e. they sin less and have less desire to sin or be in rebellion against God).

Now, the above paragraph describes someone who has a strong spirit and a strong soul.  I would like to contrast this with the rare example of someone who has a strong spirit and a weak soul. I say “rare,” but I think this describes many people in ministry.

Someone with a strong spirit and a weak soul has lots of good ideas that never happen. This person is terrible at follow through and follow up. They are unorganized and tend to live quite joyfully in crisis management mode. They live in the moment and don’t plan ahead. They think this is quite spiritual, even fun, but they leave the people around them with hurt feelings, uncertain expectations and a lot of stress because they never know what is coming next. The Senior Pastor who can never return a call in a timely manner, who is constantly changing focus after the latest conference and who leaves people feeling violated and unspiritual because they can’t “go with the flow” as well or as quickly as he can is the classic example of a strong spirit and weak soul. This person needs to beef up their soul skills and realize that spontaneous does not equal Spirit led.

Now, onto the good stuff. How do we strengthen our spirits and get them in charge?

We all recognize that we can exercise our bodies and that they will get stronger if properly fueled and given time to recover. Similarly, our mental faculties can be exercised and grow far beyond our initial skill sets as infants through systematic educational programming. Even our emotions can be trained to respond in certain ways through effort (count to 10!). But we tend to not apply this same principle to our spirits because 1) it seems weird, and 2) we don’t know how.

So, in an attempt to demystify this endeavor, I’ll offer four exercises for you to try.

Acknowledgment

This is simply acknowledging that your spirit exists, that it has a right to exist, that is is made in the image of God and that it was designed to be the leader of your soul in body. This is ideally done by another person — men in particular are especially powerful in the area of acknowledgement and validation. If this is something you pursue as a family, I highly recommend the man of the house acknowledge and validate the spirits of his spouse and children. Because so many of our spirits are used to being ignored like the ugly stepsister, this can be a powerfully emotional time. Here is how you do it:

  • Have the person doing the acknowledgement look the other person in the right eye. I can’t explain this fully right now, but I’ve found that if someone needs fathering a right eye to right eye connection seems most powerful and if someone needs mothering/nurture a left eye to left eye connection is best. For now, you are calling something up into the fullness of what it was created to be — the very essence of fathering.
  • While looking into the other person’s right eye, have the person doing the acknowledgement say something along the lines of: “(Name), I call your spirit to attention in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth and I invite you to come and take your rightful place as the leader over (Name’s) soul and body.” Wait a few moments. Having done this enough, you will notice a change in the person’s pupil I can’t quite explain. The spirit is now present.
  • Go on to legitimize and validate the spirit as a beautiful creation that reveals part of the image of God, something that is perfect because of the blood of Jesus and that is destined to powerfully expand the influence of our God and King on the earth. (The hardest part of this is getting started. As you continue to speak, your spirit and the Holy Spirit will help you know what to say.)
  • Once you run out of Identity Statements to proclaim over the individual, shift to Blessing.

Blessing

Arthur’s book is invaluable here. You don’t have to recreate the wheel — go and get it. At first the language may seem a bit strange, or it will be difficult to make significant eye contact while reading. You’ll get used to it. This is basically a warm bath for the other person’s spirit. Invite them to receive the words of blessing you speak or read over them. This is the powerhouse for the women. Blessing, nurturing and mothering are what our souls need at this step. Again, if you are doing this as a family, after Dad has finished affirming and acknowledging, have mom join in to bless at this point. Here is the step by step:

  • Look the person in their left eye.
  • Invite them to receive the words, blessings and promises of God
  • Minister to their spirit through your own words or Arthur’s blessings.
  • This is the time to exercise your prophetic gift to affirm, bless, encourage, strengthen and otherwise uplift.
  • This is not the time to try to impress someone with your fancy phrases. Simple truths are immensely profound. Don’t be embarrassed to say things that someone already knows. “You are a beloved son,” hits the spirit differently than the soul.

It isn’t unusual for the recipient to feel markedly refreshed, energized or “lighter”. This is normal. I’ve occasionally experienced a “buzzing” in my fingers after a particularly thick blessing.

Binge Read the Bible

The Word of God is food for the spirit, the Bread of Life. While this is primarily a Truth about Jesus, it also applies to the Bible. The Bible is a collection of God’s words, a testimony of his character, a light to our feet. Just as you need to eat more food than you are used to in order to gain muscle, you need to force feed your spirit in order to get it to support rapid growth. Depending on your starting point, a “binge” session may be 15 minutes or an hour. I’ve made an hour every work day my normal and I’d like to increase it to an hour every day, but my season of life hasn’t cooperated yet. Again, much like working out, it sucks at first, but then you get used to it and then you look forward to it. I’m at a point now where reading is the first thing I do — I’m anxious for it.

Don’t stress about the time, just read as much as you can.

Pray in the Spirit

For those of you who have the gift of tongues, use it. Pray consistently because it is the one Gift of the Spirit designed primarily to benefit you, not other people. It is a great way to keep infusing your spirit with light, life and truth and it can be done while doing a lot of other things.

So there you go. I know that was like drinking out of a fire hydrant, but I wanted to try and give you a solid framework for you to explore and expand at your leisure. I definitely encourage you to pursue this in more depth and detail — the rewards far outweigh the effort.

Thanks for reading,

Ben

A Kick in the Pants to read your Bible

A few weeks ago I was listening to a message and the speaker mentioned that it took a little over 75 hours to read the Bible out loud, cover to cover. Turns out he was right.

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Now, that is 75.5 hours of dramatized (slow and with music) and unabridged reading. How much time gets cut off if you read in your head and skip the boring genealogies? I think cutting off 5 hours wouldn’t be a stretch.

So that leaves 70 hours. To read the WHOLE Bible cover to cover.

That means, if I read the Bible an hour a day every day of the week I could read the entire Bible five (5!) times in a year. Why am I not doing this?

Just thought I’d share my new found enthusiasm for binge reading with you.:)

Living with Free Will for Eternity

I get to preach on one of my favorite topics this Sunday — how the Cross changed the Law. It is something I have written about elsewhere, and it is a topic that is endlessly fascinating to me. By tracking how Jesus upgraded, reinterpreted and ignored various categories of the Law, I feel like we get a much clearer picture of the heart of our Father. I’m certain I’ll expand on that in future posts, but I’m pretty anxious to write about what I’ve been meditating on this morning.

One of the categories in the Law is something I call moral law — the actions, attitudes, thoughts and beliefs that God expects of those made in his image. In the Old Testament, those laws were things like “Do not murder. Do not steal. Do not commit adultery. Do not lie. Don’t scheme to get something that isn’t rightfully yours (covet).” Since many of those are in the 10 Commandments, we are pretty familiar with them.

In the New Testament, Jesus upgrades this portion of the Law. He says things like “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder…’ but I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment… and anyone who says ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” He also said “You have heard that is was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” In the Old Testament, as long as a man and woman didn’t actually have sex they were OK, but in the New Testament, Jesus talks about the condition of our minds and hearts — the seedbed of our actions. Indulging in thoughts and feelings of anger acclimates us to it and allows us to progressively take steps towards acts of violence. Similarly, indulging in a lustful fantasy life makes it that much easier to do things we otherwise wouldn’t. It is said that if you put a frog into boiling water it will jump right out, but if you put it into room temp water and slowly raise the heat it will stay in until it cooks itself to death. I don’t think people are much different.

What I find fascinating is that, in so many areas, Jesus looses the restrictiveness of the Law or ignores it completely and yet, in the area of character and integrity, Jesus intentionally sets the standard beyond anyone’s ability to reach on their own. Of course, as Christians, we understand that this was so that we would be perpetually dependent upon the Holy Spirit. Indeed, as those reborn as the children of God and those who have the Spirit of God living inside of us, we should look more like our Father than anyone. But Jesus is also doing something else, he is teaching us to live in freedom with free will for eternity.

Would you consider something with me?

When God created the world, everything was good. There wasn’t sin, sickness, demons or death. We don’t know how long the world remained in that state, but we do know that Satan eventually came to tempt Adam and Eve.  And let’s pause right there. Satan. Where did he come from?

Those who have far more interest in this than I do have pieced together various portions of Scripture and come up with a storyline for Satan. He was originally created as Lucifer, one of the three Archangels alongside Gabriel and Michael. Some traditions say that he was the most beautiful and the most glorious of the Three and the worship leader in the Throne Room. Eventually, Lucifer decided that he wanted to receive the same kind of praise as he was giving. He convinced one third of the angels to rebel against God in hopes of setting up their own kingdom. He failed in his revolt and was banished from Heaven. Supposedly, this happened before Adam and Eve were created and Satan then worms his way into the Garden.

But here is the point I want to make — when Satan was created, he was created good and with a free will. He didn’t have a sinful bent, nor did he have anyone entice him towards sin and rebellion. He came to that choice out of his own free will. He coveted God’s glory and praise and schemed to take it for himself. He indulged in the fantasy of what it would feel like to be on the receiving end of that angelic worship and it ended with him in rebellion against God. Does it make more sense now why Jesus cares so much about the thoughts, attitudes, emotions and opinions of our hearts?

In order for love to flourish between people, there must be freedom. Freedom to make good choices as well as bad. In upgrading our understanding of what it means to be made in God’s image, Jesus is teaching us how to make good choices. He is teaching us how to nip evil in the bud before it grows up into sin in our lives. He is teaching us how we are to look at and feel towards those around us who are also God’s sons and daughters. Jesus is teaching us how to be free and how to live in his Kingdom before it has even fully arrived.

Thanks for reading friends.

How I Stay Organized

The Struggle

I spent the better part of a decade figuring out how to get (and stay!) organized. For much of my college career I had the nonchalant attitude of If it is too much for me to remember, then it is too much. I had very limited commitments and an abundance of free time, yet I frequently told people how “busy” I was with no sense of irony.

Due to my love of leisure and highly invested mother, I never had to learn organizational/administrative skills when I was younger. All my appointments were made for me, I had daily reminders about upcoming events over breakfast and chose to limit my extracurricular activities to theater, dance and church.

Then it all changed. I got engaged and my future spouse wanted to see that I was hardworking and dependable — a good provider. Then I graduated college and got a real job, then several real jobs at the same time. Then I was asked to be the Lead Pastor of a church, then my son was born. With each progression into adulthood my life and calendar became much more complex, the demands on my time more insistent and the need for an organizational system more apparent.

I didn’t want to be the husband coasting through life at the expense of an overworked wife. I didn’t want to be the friend constantly running late or forgetting get togethers entirely. I didn’t want to be the Pastor jostled about by a calendar out of control, constantly running from one thing to another and feeling like my life was being lived for me by other people’s needs. I wanted to live and enjoy my life. I wanted to be in control. I wanted to do the things that were important, but not urgent.

Enter the Bullet Journal.

The System

I owe my exposure to the Bullet Journal to my sister. She was working on her Master’s degree when she introduced me to the system. I gave it a one month trial run, got hooked and have been swimming in the deep end ever since. After years of starting and stopping journals, trying Post-It Notes and iCal and having a wife who constantly had to remind me of things, having a one stop shop for all of my various interests and duties was intensely liberating… and productive. Like, through the roof productive. I would guess I get twice to three times as much accomplished in a day as I used to. It is a little crazy when I look at a day’s output as opposed to what I did a few years back.

I now teach this system to every man I do premarital counseling with. It is amazing how many of us need help managing our time and getting stuff done. A disciplined and well organized man is a force to be reckoned with. To paraphrase the old Stoic Philosopher Seneca, “Life is more than long enough for those who use it wisely.”  Here is how I roll.

The Journal

I started my adventures with a black, graph paper Moleskin. After I got into fountain pens and needed better paper, I dabbled in a few others, but I think I have finally landed on the Leuchtturm1917 black, hard cover graph paper notebook.

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Beautiful isn’t it? Coincidentally, Leuchtturm1917 is also the brand Bullet Journal chose for its own official notebook. I’ll get an official one in the future, but for now I am quite content with the regular cheaper one. This journal has a list of features that make it an ideal place to start:

  • Page numbers – Make using the index much easier.
  • Large table of contents – 3 pages is more than enough to index all your ideas
  • Stickers – Super cool to use for archival purposes. You can add the date the journal spans to the spine and also note any major entries on the cover. As my shelf grows with little black notebooks, these stickers become ever more valuable.
  • Nice paper – Important for fountain pens. It feels good to use quality tools.
  • Expandable pocket in the back – For all the little bits of paper one tends to accumulate.

I am a pretty rigid personality, particularly with scheduling and organization, so I prefer the graph/grid paper. I recently tried a larger, unlined journal — disaster. It was great for sketching, journaling and generally feeling more creative, but I felt things starting to slip through the cracks. Try a few different kinds of paper, but start with the grid.

How it works

This video (4 min.) explains this really well and is a slightly updated version of the system I use. However, for the more text oriented among you, here is my basic run down.

IndexYour first page is the index. If you get the Leuchtturm1917 it is already done for you. This is the Table of Contents for your journal. Put any important entries here as well as the months you are journaling in. Each month will take up a different number of pages, so simply write them in as needed.

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In this picture you can see that I have three items, Future Log, the first month I will use this notebook (Feb. 2016) and a meeting I had this morning. The Future Log is on page 1 and February starts on page 2. When March comes along, I will make up a new monthly calendar, and add it to the index. If I write in February from page 2-22, then March will start on page 24 (explained below).

Future LogThis is a different method than explained in the video, but is talked about on the website. It is a great addition to the Bullet Journal system. The Bullet Journal system is wonderful for short term organization, but can make long term planning difficult. Since I use my Bullet Journal in conjunction with iCal it is less of a problem, but I love the Future Log too. This log goes 6 months ahead. Whenever I have a date I need to remember I write it on a fresh line, put a dot in the month column and then add the date. Then, when I start a new month, I reference this log, copy over any relevant information and then cross it off my log. For instance, you will see in the picture below that Ash Wednesday is on Feb. 10 this year, Easter on Mar. 27 and Pentecost is in May.

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Monthly Calendar and To Do List At the end of each month, I create I calendar and To Do List for the following month. This always happens on a “spread,” two pages facing each other (which is why in the above example, March would start on page 24 rather than 23). The calendar is always on the left, the To Do List on the right. It is much more convenient for planning purposes to have it this way than to flip one page back and forth all the time.

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You will notice that there isn’t much room to write in dates. This is where the idea of Rapid Logging comes in. Rapid Logging is simply being efficient with words. Use the fewest possible that will sufficiently jog your memory. For instance, if you work out every day at 6am, then you don’t need to write it down, it is already habit. But if you have a meeting crop up at an unexpected time, write the person’s name and the time.

You will also notice that Feb. 10 has Ash Wednesday on it. I took that from the Future Log and put it on my monthly calendar and then crossed it out on the Log. Moving an item from one page to another is called Migration and is one of the great strengths of this system. Writing things down, then rewriting them, keeps things fresh in your mind and they aren’t likely to get buried. Also, if you find yourself constantly migrating a certain task from one day to another and one week to another, it serves as a filter. Either get it done or decide not to do it, no sense in writing it down over and over.

At the start of each month, I sit down with my wife and talk about our goals for the month, hence all the house projects on my To Do List:-). If there are any items that pop up on my iCal that are month specific, they go here too. This is really my catch all for the month. Then, when I sit down to plan out my week, I am able to incorporate these items into my days.

Weekly To Do List and LandscapeMy job involves a lot of important but repetitive tasks. Writing them down each week keeps them fresh in my mind. I’m also able to write down anything that needs to be done that isn’t part of my regular routine. One thing I have added to my planning sessions is Roles.

My “Roles” section is where I write down my most important roles/relationships in my life – husband, father, brother, son, friend. I plan specific ways to invest in those relationships so that I’m never just coasting in life and taking people for granted. I could easily include “writer” or “pastor” in that list, but I’m already taking specific actions towards bettering those things in my life.

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Once I have dumped everything out of my brain and onto the page I can set up my weekly Landscape, my birds eye view of the week.

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In the Landscape, I start assigning tasks to different days. In the beginning, it is hard to know what you can do in a single day. You may possibly over schedule but, more likely than not, you will under schedule yourself. You will come to find that when you plan out your month, week and day that some part of your brain will work on finding out the most efficient way to do things. And when you have a list that need to be knocked out, your energy and ambition will kick in as well. I routinely knock out in 2-3 hours what used to take me a whole day to complete. All that extra time can them be devoted to more important/creative tasks.

The Landscape also allows you to block out time for uninterrupted creative work. Weather it is your side hustle you’re trying to turn into a full time job, a hobby you’d like to pursue or simply time to think, having a chunk or two of time each week that is sacred and set apart is imperative. Going back to the reason for this system — you are the one called to live your life, not other people. Give yourself the margin you personally require to get to appointments, have down time and otherwise enjoy life.

Daily Entries This is the heart of the system. Each day you write the date, copy over your To Do List and start kicking butt. This is also the place to record your thoughts, observations, notations and future To Do items. Use Rapid Logging to keep it short and sweet.

As I’ve used this system, I have moved away from Rapid Logging and Bullets and instead use my Daily Entries to journal, reflect, record prayers and write. I still record To Do List items here, but I’ve honed my Landscape in to such an extent that it is usually the only structure I need.

 

The Bullet Journal gets its name from the “bullets” used in the Daily Entries to signify different things. To Do List items get a box that is checked off when the item is completed, meetings get a circle, thoughts or other items a bullet point. You can also add signifiers (an exclamation point or a star) to highlight more important items. My preferred method is to look through my items for the day and number them inside the box. Then I get to work.

iCal

In addition to the Bullet Journal, I also use iCal to schedule things. I use it primarily for reminders of recurring events. Since I have a lot of meetings and other items that are particular to certain times or seasons, iCal functions as my long term memory. It is wonderful. The combination of iCal reminders and long term planning along with the Bullet Journal for monthly and daily planning has made a huge difference in my life. I highly encourage you to try it out if you don’t already have a system that works for you. I pray you get as much benefit out of it as I have.

Putting it all together

It isn’t enough to get organized, one needs to stay organized. In order to do that, I block out and hour every Sunday evening to work on my “Battle Plan.”

At the designated hour of the evening, I go up to my study with my journal and begin to put things together.

The first thing I do is write out my top priorities, my “big rocks” as it were. Since Pastoring really is my life, my personal and professional goals are the same. It will likely be different for you. My top priorities are communion with God and communication with his people. Practically, this looks like 6 major things: 1) reading the Bible, 2) Quiet Reflective Time, 3) Prayer, 4) Sermon Preparation, 5) Blogging and 6) Writing.

Then I look through the past week and see if I failed to complete any To Do List Items. If I did, I migrate them onto the new week’s To Do List and put a “right arrow” in the box.

Next, I pray about my roles and who God and I want to invest in for that week/month.

Lastly, I pull out my iPhone and copy over my list of Weekly To Do’s, any appointments and whatever else comes to mind. Once I have compiled a whole week’s worth of work I begin making my Landscape, chunking tasks together in groups for most efficient dispatching.

I find that once I get into the groove, this goes very quickly and is quite enjoyable. I enjoy being able to look back over the past weeks and months and see how things have gone. I also delight in intentionally building up friendships and important relationships in my life.

Once my Battle Plan has been made, I go to sleep with a mind so blank it is almost numb. I know that everything has been planned out and that I have time to do everything I need to do. I wake up the next morning ready to work and it is quite a lot of fun.

Well, thanks for reading this (overly) thorough guide to my system. I hope you can take something from it and make it your own. It took me a long time to settle on something I’d actually stick with, so don’t despair if you haven’t found “it” yet.

As always, thanks for reading.

Ben

 

 

No Guarantees

My alarm went off at 6:00 this morning and I promptly hit snooze. Then the Debate began. Do I get up to do morning devotions or do I try to catch a little more sleep? My little guy has been teething for the last couple months and I’ve been feeling the effects of accumulated fatigue on my mood and thinking. Would getting up to be with God make that better or worse?

Also factoring into this decision is the near absolute fact that, no matter how early I get up, my son is up with me in about half an hour. I’m used to, and greatly enjoy, hour to two hour long chunks of time to enjoy God, journal, read, drink coffee and otherwise become a human being fit for society. When I don’t get that time I feel like a Grump.

As my alarm went off for the second time, I found myself praying something along the lines of God, I want to get up, but if I do, I want it to be good. So could you make sure Emory sleeps for another hour or so? I’m not sure exactly what word triggered it, but I had a flash of revelation. This moment was a picture of my walk with God.

You see, I’m willing to do just about anything if there is a guarantee that God will come through. Sure, I’ll pray for that person… if you give me some sign that you’re with me. Of course I’ll evangelize… if you give me a word of Knowledge that validates me as a person and makes me look impressive. Certainly I’ll get up for devotions… if you make sure everything goes the way I want it to. 

Maybe it is a control issue or maybe it is the fear of looking foolish, but for whatever reason, I try to hold God hostage and extract some guarantee that my behavior will make me look good or that things will go the way I want them too. Most of my time seems to be spent trying to tame the Lion of Judah. Let me tell you, it hasn’t worked.

My revelation this morning showed me that I have a lot of growing up to do. I now know that the next stage of my growth is to start doing things 1) because I want to or 2) because they are the right thing to do. And I need to start doing things without any guarantees. This strikes me as a more powerful way of living than what I have been doing so far. Make a choice, deal with the consequences and circumstances along the way and keep becoming the person I want to be. Seems right.

So, I got up and, yes, Emory was up in about 30 minutes and I got to start my day earlier than I wanted. But as we were playing with his farm animals I had a peace I hadn’t had in a long time. I wasn’t able to do it as long as I wanted, but I had made the decision to enjoy my King. Those are the choices I want to make because that is the person I want to be.

Thanks for reading friends.

The spirit of Mammon and the Love of Money

The Bible has no clear stance on wether or not Christians should be rich or poor. It appears that the Early Church contained both types of people and everyone in between. Instead, the Bible coaches us on how to posture our hearts in relationship to money so that it doesn’t overwhelm us and also offers us several Principles on managing the money given to us so that our hearts remain pure, our family’s needs are met and God’s Kingdom is advanced.

In the Old Testament, money was seen as the blessing and favor of God. The more money, the more God liked you. This belief changed over the course of the Old Testament, the Psalmists and the Prophets often talked about the wicked prospering while the righteous were impoverished. By the time Jesus comes on the scene, it was widely accepted that money was not a good indicator of God’s blessing or lack thereof. But money is a form of power, so Jesus talks a lot about it and its proper use. The main aim of Christ’s teaching on money in the New Testament is to promote brotherly love and affection. With that as our backdrop, let’s dive in.

Heart Posture

While the Bible doesn’t discouraged being wealthy, it is plenty honest about the dangers of accumulating large sums. Money has a seductive property to it and, if we aren’t careful, it can take the place of God in our lives. We can start looking to our bank accounts for a sense of security, we can start to measure our self-worth by our net-worth and we can start to make decisions based on their effects on our bottom line rather than on God’s word. It doesn’t have to be that way — the Bible is replete with wealthy people who loved God and served him well — but it is a real danger. We will talk about two common pitfalls which the Bible calls the love of money and the spirit of Mammon.

Mammon – Mammon is the personification of money in the Bible, it is Money with a capital “M”. Jesus talks about Mammon as an idol that some people choose to worship instead of God. We fall victim to the disease called Mammon when we start to value the tangible and temporal benefits of money more than the intangible but eternal benefits of belonging to God.

Mammon looks like finding a sense of security about the future in a large bank account rather than in God’s good will towards you. Mammon is feeling important and valuable because you’re rich rather than because you are God’s son or daughter.  Mammon is when you spend more time thinking about your investments and talking to your financial advisor than you do talking with God and doing the things he has created you to do.

The love of money is primarily about consumption and loving the things that money can buy and Mammon is primarily about accumulation. To those worshipping Mammon, wealth has no use other than to provide a sense of security. Mammon is about storing up treasure on earth and finding value in it. Interestingly, those infected with the spirit of Mammon always seem to suffer from a sense of lack, of never having enough. Mammon wants more, more, more, out of fear of the future, rather than any desire to be generous or to even spend it. Mammon makes money the master of your life, directing your every action to protect and increase your treasure.

Several parables of Jesus demonstrate what it looks like for people to be infected with this disease. One is the rich man and Lazarus and the other is the man who died just after building bigger storerooms to house his wealth. Both men died and their wealth secured them no reward in eternity. It isn’t supposed to be that way.

The Love of Money – The love of money affects rich and poor alike. Again, this is a heart condition, not a financial one. Our hearts are vulnerable to the love of money when we believe the lie that “just a little more” money will fix all of our problems. There are some people in the world who truly have income problems and they can’t earn enough to make ends meet, think bonded labor in Pakistan or refugees trying to find work in foreign countries. However, the truth is that most of us have a spending problem. The problem lies in our consumption, not our production.

Most people who are sick this with the disease the Bible calls “the love of money” love money for what it offers them — comfort, status, luxury, and the ability to consume more and more, be it food, drink, clothes or experiences. The love of money distorts our sense of reality. It convinces us to lay aside our morals and relationships in the pursuit of more because it convinces us that our relationships and integrity can always be repaired once we have earned enough. It makes us think that a good and happy life is based on the number of things we can consume, rather than what we can create. It makes us think that, with just a little more, we can really and truly be happy. But, as the saying goes, “The gap between ‘more’ and ‘enough’ never closes.”

I read an abstract of a study some years back comparing people’s psychological responses to wealth and perceived wealth. This study found that people would rather have $50,000 and all of their peers have $25,000 than for their peers to have $200,000 and the person have $100,000. This means that, even though the person in the second scenario would have twice as much money as in the first, people would rather be poorer on the whole if it means they have more money than the people around them. That is a superb example of the love of money.

That is pretty wild, isn’t it? It reveals some pretty yucky things about the human heart — about our tendencies towards selfishness and the desire to have power over other people. This is why the Bible goes so far as to say that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil,” 1 Timothy 6:10. Just to clarify, it isn’t money, but the love of money that causes so much evil in the world.

I wanted to clarify that because I heard that verse misquoted often in my youth as “money is the root of all evil” and that led to the belief that, if having money was bad, then not having money was good. And there are a large number of people in the Body of Christ who believe this. They equate poverty with holiness and that isn’t true, it isn’t what the Bible says. In fact, the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 13, “I can give all I have to the poor and my body over to hardship, but if I don’t have love, I gain nothing.” Poverty and wealth are not indicators of holiness, love leading to action is.

In truth, the poverty mentality mentioned above is still the love of money, but in its inverse form. The poverty mentality loves not having money because of what that gives them — mainly a sense of superiority, holiness and self-righteousness.

We ought never feel pressured into being rich or being poor for those two things are up to God. What we are commanded to do is to use a portion of our money in some very specific ways and to let God take care of the rest. On the whole, I believe that God has set things up so that, if we do what he says, we will prosper throughout our lifetime. However, there are enough exceptions to that rule that it is better to focus on being faithful to do what we are called to do and trusting our Good and Gracious Father to take care of the rest.

Neither of these two — Mammon or the love of money — is a way to live. Life isn’t found in excessive consumption or accumulation. Life is found in creativity, generosity, enjoying good things without being enslaved to them, helping others, caring for the poor and needy and leaving behind a legacy that will make the generations after you better off. I think it is the Biblical model of wealth to prosper almost in spite of extravagant generosity. You give and give and give and yet your wallet is always full. And that giving is pure, you aren’t giving in order to get, you give because that is what you desire to do, what you love to do, and what brings you the most joy.

Prosperity Gospel

I think the Prosperity Gospel has gotten a lot of bad press.

Does God want you to prosper? I think so. What good Father doesn’t want to see their child succeed? But that is not the same thing as saying God wants you to be a multimillionaire. Money is the least important (but most talked about) aspect of prosperity.

“Beloved, I wish above all things that thou may prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers,” wrote the Apostle John to a good friend (3 John 2). A prosperous soul is the chief thing John longed for in his friend, but he didn’t equate that with poverty or sickness.

Above all, God wants your soul to prosper. He wants you changed, renewed and transformed into the image and likeness of Jesus. He wants you to grow in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. He wants you to have healthy relationships and to love others in the same way Christ loves you. He wants you to grow in wisdom, knowledge and the fear of the Lord. He wants many things for you. How those things happen in your life, your route to a prosperous soul, is uncertain. The story of the rich young ruler comes to mind. In this man’s individual circumstance, wealth was keeping him from obedience and reliance on God. The only way for his transformation to happen was to lose it all. But to take that story as the blueprint for all people is irresponsible. In fact, many of Jesus’s parables advocate the increase of wealth as the sign of faithfulness (see Luke 19:11-27)

Does God want you to be healthy, wealthy and wise? Yes, I believe he does. But that doesn’t mean it is going to happen in this life. For instance, we know that in God’s Kingdom there isn’t any sickness or crying or pain. Yet how many good and godly people die prematurely due to sickness and disease? You and I are caught between the times — between the time of Jesus’s victory over sin and death and the time in which that victory is fully established in every life and every sphere of society. Until Jesus returns and forever establishes the Kingdom of Heaven on the Earth there will be opportunity for the enemy to steal, kill and destroy — in part or in full. This is why I advocate faith in God’s Goodness and obedience to his Principles. You can do everything right in this life and a freak accident or the enemy’s schemes can undo all your work. That isn’t the end, you will be repaid by the Lord many times over, but that may not come until Judgement Day. All we can do is to love and serve God with all that we are and trust that he will take care of us.

Thanks for reading friends.

7 Principles of Personal Finance

Happy New Year everyone! It’s been a little while since I’ve posted, but I wanted to jump into the fray with some of the things I’ve been learning about as I’ve been preparing my messages these last couple weeks on the topic of personal finance. I hope these are helpful to you.

Disclaimer: The Bible has a lot to say about finances, almost more than on any other topic. However, out of that large body of literature, only a very small percentage of it pertains to personal finances. The vast majority of God’s Word speaks about how businesses and governments should use money, not individuals. So, while I am presenting these Principles as solid recommendations from the Word, please understand that much of how you handle your money needs to be worked out in your relationship with God.

Principle One: Actions over Outcome

I believe this principle is both the most important and most liberating, so I wanted to start with it first. The principle of Actions over Outcomes means that it is our job to do certain things with the money given to us and that it is God’s job to make sure it is enough to meet (and even exceed) our needs. The focus is on faithfulness, not net worth.

For the sake of those reading this who have not heard these last two Sunday’s messages, money is not evil. It is a tool that can be used for evil, and it has certain seductive properties on the human heart, but wisdom and obedience to God’s Word allow us to avoid the pitfalls of having money and use it to do good in the world. Being rich does not mean someone is evil and being poor does not mean someone is holy.

This Principle allows us to rest in God’s faithfulness. We know that whatever comes our way, feast or famine, we can be content and know that God will be sure to feed, clothe and shelter us just as he does the birds of the air and the flowers of the field (see Matthew 6).

It isn’t always the case, but the general rule is that, if we abide by the following six Principles, we will flourish — and greater wealth is but the smallest portion of that.

Principle Two: One Tenth goes back to God

Also know as the tithe, this principle is older than the Law of Moses. In fact, this Principle predates that Law by several hundred years. The tithe was first introduced when Abraham encountered Melchizedek, the Priest of God Most High in Genesis 14. He gave his tenth after Melchizedek brought out bread and wine and reaffirmed the covenant YHWH had established with him. The context isn’t extremely helpful, but it seems that Abraham gave this as a form of worship and thankfulness. In any case, tithing is not part of the Old Covenant done away with at the Cross, tithing is part of the Law of Faith and, as spiritual descendants of Abraham, it only makes sense to follow his spiritual practices as well.

Tithing, again, offering one tenth of your income to God, has tangible benefits. Spiritually speaking, tithing is a reminder that everything we have comes to us from a Good, Gracious and Generous God. Tithing reminds us that, not only are our finances God’s, but we are ourselves. Everything we are belongs to him, we were bought with a price — the blood of his son Jesus. And just as we live in response to that Love and offer ourselves to God’s service, we offer our finances to the work of his Kingdom as well. Tithing also offers us the spiritual benefit of God’s protection and provision in our lives. I don’t mean to say that God abandons you or doesn’t bless you if you don’t tithe — that isn’t true — I simply mean to say that the Bible, especially the book of Malachi, seems to imply that supernatural favor rests on those who practice tithing.

The tithe in the Law of Moses had three distinct purposes: to care for the priests and Levites, to care for the poor and to be used in celebrating the Lord. The New Testament doesn’t spell out specific uses for the tithe, but there is still the expectation that the corporate Church will care for those whose work is preaching and teaching, care for the poor and those in need in the Church community, and celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

Last point on this subject — you will have far greater purchasing power with 90% of your money blessed by God than if you kept all of it for yourself.

Principle Three: Pay your Taxes

It seems silly to say this, but pay what you rightfully owe, not only to the government, but to everyone. Though our citizenship is in heaven, we still live on the earth and are, therefore, subject to the laws of the land in which we live. We are not exempt. While our government does do things I don’t approve of as a Christian, it does many good things too. But even if it didn’t, it is still required of me. Don’t pay more than what you owe, but don’t pay less either.

Principle Four: Save/Invest

It is wise to save at least 10% of your income each month and 15% is better. We never know what is coming down the chute and it is better to be prepared. Remember, what happens to one person can happen to anyone. In this life we aren’t guaranteed a steady job, perfect health or freedom from disaster. So be prepared. Have proper insurance as well as 3-6 months of expenses (not income) in an emergency fund.

Once you have a fully funded emergency fund, start investing. The Bible has very little to say about investing, but it is a necessity in this day and age. The US Government has decided that things need to get 3-4% more expensive each year (called “inflation”) to keep our economy buzzing along. So, unless you are getting a 5%+ raise each year, you are actually getting poorer (i.e. losing purchasing power) by keeping your money in a bank account that gives you tenths of a percent in interest each year. Investing is necessary to beat inflation.

I am not a finance expert and I will not pretend to be one on the Internet. Instead, I recommend you check out The Bogleheads Guide to Investing  for more. Or you could start your own business. Historically (also Biblically) owning a business was the greatest investment and the most secure route to financial prosperity and security.

Principle Five: Give to Charity

We are called to help the poor and needy, be they orphans, single moms or folks on the side of the road. Jesus expects that of us (see Matthew 6:2 “When you give to the needy…”). Unlike tithing, there is no set percentage or amount we are supposed to give. Instead, we have the (rather vague) words of the Apostle Paul, “On the first day of every week [Sunday], each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper [ or “in keeping with his income”], so that there will be no collecting when I come.” The collection Paul mentions is what he was going to bring to Jerusalem to care for the Church there which was going through a famine.

We are to give to the poor “in keeping with our income.” That seems like the rich are supposed to give more (both percentage based as well as the objective amount) and the poor are to give less, but they are still supposed to give. For the sake of simplicity, I will recommend that everyone give  at least 1% of their income and those who have greater amounts of disposable income can give more.

Principle Six: Give to Missions

We are called to go to the ends of the earth in order to make disciples of all nations. Clearly, not all of us are going, but some of us are. For those called by God to preach and teach and take the Gospel to unreached group of people, that in itself is a full time job. We benefit the cause of Christ in the world if those of us who have regular jobs will give a portion of our income to those called to evangelize the lost.

The Apostle Paul chose to go against this paradigm in his own life, but he defended it for others whenever he was asked about it. Paul was looking for a special reward for himself, but he taught that it was only right that the Church should support those whose full time occupation was preaching, teaching and modeling the Gospel for unbelievers. I believe this is in addition to the money we give to the local church, but you can ask God about that. I think 5% given to missions is money well invested.

Principle Seven: Avoid Debt

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another,” writes Paul in his letter to the Romans. Paying off debt can and does eat up a huge portion of the average American’s paycheck. Kicking the debt habit frees up a staggering amount of income that can be used to invest in the Principles above and still have some leftover for personal use.

Pay cash whenever possible. Pay off credit card bills in full at the end of each month. Doing simple things like this make a huge difference in your financial health. Avoiding debt also gives you a large amount of freedom to follow the call of God in your life. It is hard to go overseas for a 3 month tour if you are up to your eyeballs in bills. It is much easier if you have no debt, low expenses and 6 months of savings in cash. Don’t underestimate the power that comes from not being enslaved to debt.

What does this look like in real life?

All this is well and good in theory, but does it actually work? What does this look like in real life? Here is a hypothetical scenario of a single income family of 3 that make $50,000 a year:

  • Income: $50,000
  • Tithe: $5,000
  • Taxes: $6,500 (15% tax rate, this would actually be much, MUCH lower in real life)
  • Save/Invest: $5,000
  • Charity: $500
  • Missions: $2,500
  • Debt: $0
  • Leftover for Living Expenses: $30,500 or ~$2,541 per month
  • Breakdown of the $2,541
    • Mortgage: $800
    • Utilities: $250
    • Groceries: $600
    • Gas: $250
    • Healthcare: $100
    • Car Insurance: $30
    • Cell Phone: $100
    • Miscellaneous: $411 (for spending, chiropractor visits, gym membership, sink fund for car repair/replacement, whatever)

Clearly this family isn’t rolling in the dough, but they are meeting their needs, having fun, and doing a lot of good in the world. Perhaps on some really lean months they end up dipping into their savings, but they are usually able to pay it back with the various windfalls they get throughout the year – Christmas or birthday money, random surprises from generous friends and family. All in all, they are making it work and can feel really excellent about their contribution to the world.

I hope you enjoyed this article. Thanks for reading friends!

Intimacy Strategies

Our thoughts, emotions and bodies can be helpers or hinderances to our walk with God. Part of Christian maturity is learning how to “train ourselves for Godliness,” how to get our biology working for us and not against us. David once said, “My heart and flesh cry out for the Living God” so it is possible to overwrite our fallen nature through conscious action. Here are some ways to do that.

If you’d like to hear my audio explanation of some of these strategies, you can find it here.

Anticipate – Participate – Savor

(To build emotional awareness and physical sensitivity)

Anticipate – Envision an intimacy “feel good” moment with as much sensory detail as possible. Rehearse it frequently.

Participate – Be present when the event comes. Don’t be distracted by past or future events. Instead, focus on experiencing everything you can.

Savor – Remember in vivid detail how things happened and what you felt. Enjoy and relive the experience. Then ask yourself what could have made it even better and use that upgraded scenario for your next Anticipation.

Recognizing, Receiving and Rejoicing in God’s Gifts

(To experience God seeing you and knowing you)
Recognize – Realizing that what just happened (or didn’t happen) is God’s gift to you. The more specific your requests, the easier they are to identify when they come along. Small things happen to be the most meaningful.

Receiving – Take a moment to actually receive the gift and say “thank you.” God sees you and the precision in which he gives you gifts will blow your mind. He is constantly giving you things, but we rarely receive them because we don’t realize they are from him or take the time to apprehend them.

Rejoicing – Similar to Savoring above. Remember the story, drill deep into it. Your Father loves you and delights in giving you unique and precious gifts.

30 Day Challenge

(Realizing how Good he really is)

For the next 30 days, don’t ask God for anything. Instead, try to discover the gifts he is already giving you. Look for them each day and record them in your journal. Each morning pray,“Father, open my eyes to the gifts you are giving to me today.” If you get to the end of the day and didn’t find anything, ask Holy Spirit to rewind the tape and help you to see what you missed.

Declaration Prayer

(Aligning your emotions with Reality through Truth)

Select some Scriptures and truths you feel you need to grow into. Formulate them into a declaration statement. Write down this declaration every morning and then speak it out loud over yourself. You believe your own voice more than any other.

This is kind of like Neo in the Matrix. Biblical Truth is the Real World, but this present darkness feels more true. Aligning ourselves with the Truth of who God is and who we are takes courage and perseverance.

Becoming Aware of Your Design

(God speaks your love language)

Each evening, take a minute to ask yourself two questions and write down the answers in your journal. The two questions are: “when did I feel most alive/vibrant/joyful?” and “when did I feel most scattered/anxious/angry?” Keeping track of your answers to those questions will help you discover how God has made you. The quirkier your answers the better, because intimacy thrives on specificity.