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.

IMG_1068.JPG

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.

IMG_1070

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.

IMG_1071

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.

IMG_1072

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.

IMG_1076.JPG

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.

IMG_1074

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.

REVEL: EVER BETTER October 2015

I just got back from spending three and a half days in the mountains of Colorado with some of my favorite people. What a trip! I’m going to share a few highlights here, mostly so that I can keep record of them, but also to whet your appetite for what’s available when God is involved.

Healing Backs

I thought I’d start out with a couple of stories of God healing.

The first story is about a man I’ll call LJ. LJ has suffered for years with intense back pain for the last 7 years. He’s had several back surgeries (3 if I remember correctly) and nothing has really helped. I don’t know exactly when his healing happened, but I do remember him saying that he was pain free for the first time in a long time after some people prayed for him. And he proved it. I really enjoyed seeing him run up and down stairs with a smile on his face. Jesus is so good.

Another story is from a friend of mine. His back was really jacked up – his hips were out of alignment, causing his left leg to be about one inch shorter than his right and this led to pinched disks and nerves, inflammation and lots of pain. After 6 hours of travel sitting in a car and plane, he got to the Ranch and we dove right in to the retreat. I got to pray for him one night while he was laying on the floor and I felt/heard his hips pop. I kept my hand on his stomach and prayed for his body to come into alignment with God’s template for it. I got a call from him this morning after he visited his chiropractor — except for a few lower lumbar adjustments his back was completely restored and his hips were level and balanced. His chiropractor said that it would have taken 4-6 weeks of treating him 3 times per week to see that kind of change, yet Jesus did it in about 30 seconds and kept it in place for an entire weekend and 6 hours of travel home. Absolutely stunning in my opinion. He’s going to send me his X-rays in a few days and I’ll post them here.

Encountering God

Another friend of mine came to the Ranch for the first time. I remember him telling me how nervous he was that nothing was going to happen, which I totally get. When you hear so many stories about people having life changing encounters with God in a particular place, it can be stressful. We can start to think things need to look a certain way and that if nothing happens, then something is wrong with us. Happily, my friend had several profound encounters with God. It was super fun to see his countenance change from head down and nervous to head up and care free. Seeing this change in my friend reminded me of God’s Goodness. He really is better than we think.

I also had a neat encounter with God this weekend. I was journaling one morning and really in need of a reminder that God saw me. I happened to be writing the word “revelation” when I got a ping from Holy Spirit. I processed what God was telling me for a little while and then carried on with my day. A few hours later, in a staff meeting, Matt handed out some gifts he had gotten for the staff. As soon as he opened his bag, I saw a small metal box with the word “revelation” printed on it. I thought, “That’s mine!” Sure enough, Matt handed me the box. I don’t even remember what he said about it because I was caught up in an intimacy moment with Papa. I was floored that he not only saw me, but that he had set me up. I was amazed that days beforehand, God had told Matt to pick up this particular item for me, knowing that I would journal about my desire for him to reveal himself to me and that this one particular word would mean so much.

Letting Go of Doubt

The last highlight I’ll share is also a personal story. I went into this retreat emotionally beat up. I had lots of questions about God’s Goodness and Power, even about his existence. I had so many questions I wanted answers to and was spiraling downwards into doubt and depression. One night at the retreat, after some really incredible moments of teaching and worship, I found my heart really heavy. I went downstairs and laid under the pool table to complain to God. Through the help of Holy Spirit and some friends, I was able to come to the realization that my doubts and questions just weren’t helpful. None of them were leading me to love Jesus more or live a life of joy — just the opposite. So I set them aside. I gave up my desire to control and understand and took up once more my trust in God’s Goodness and Kindness. It feels really good. I feel really good. Sometimes questions are good and lead us into deeper encounter with God and sometimes questions make us feel like a turd in the toilet, swirling lower and lower until we find ourselves in the sewer. Some questions just aren’t helpful. Discovering that was intensely liberating for me.

Psalm 73: The Deceitfulness of Wealth

Whenever I have a hard time praying (which is a frustratingly common occurrence) I like to pray the Psalms. My common practice is to read the Psalm out loud, think about what the writer is trying to get across, and then pray the Psalm back in my own words. My brain thinks better when I write than when I speak, so I often journal these prayers. Here is my prayer from this morning. It really benefitted me to remember these truths and I hope it blesses you too.

Psalm 73: The Deceitfulness of Wealth (Ben’s Paraphrase)

I know God is Good to those whose hearts are pure, but I’m not one of them. I know this because my heart was recently captured by the things of this world – the love of money and envy for those who had it. Can you blame me?

Look around you! God says that those who love money and those who do as they please with no regard for Him and His ways are wicked, but I don’t see it. What I see are men and women living untroubled lives of luxury and elegance. They don’t have the worries of the poor. They stand outside of God’s Law, happy and content. I smell pride on them like strong cologne and the way they treat others is full of disdainful superiority. Everything about them speaks of wealth, luxury, power. They speak condescendingly to their “lessers” and threaten those under them with financial oppression. They speak arrogantly — even blasphemously! — against God and what does he do? Nothing.

Maybe they are right — maybe there is no God to dispense Justice or care for the oppressed. Maybe this is all there is. The ones who believe this are certainly doing well.

I’m beginning to think my devotion to God has been in vain, that I’ve read His Word and followed His commands for nothing. Every day I hear how foolish it is to serve Him, how foolish I am to believe in myths. But deep down I know the Truth.

I don’t understand why the wicked prosper or why God lets them go unpunished. Those mysteries are too great for me. But what I do know is that when I quiet my heart and come into Your Presence I’m reminded of what is Really Real.

Those well dressed men and high heeled women – they are walking uphill on a sheet of ice. Any moment now they will trip and fall. Everything they have trusted in will be stripped away and they will never recover. Everyone who sets themselves against God will be swept away. They will be forgotten faster than a dream upon waking.

Lord, I’m sorry… When my heart was lost in the love of money I grew bitter against you and I called your Way foolish. Thank you for never leaving me. Thank you for holding my hand throughout my temper tantrums – you are a Good and Loving Father. Thank you, too, for steadying me with your Word and reminding me of what is True by your Spirit. This world will soon fade away and when it does, I will be taken into Glory.

God, You are my sole desire. You are my greatest reward. I know I am frequently distracted from loving You, but I always return because, deep down, I know that there is no Life apart from You. 

So let the wicked revel in their wealth and the comfort it provides. I just wish they knew how fleeting it is and how much their pride will cost them in Eternity. It is better by far to have You, the Comforter Himself, than all the riches of this world. I have set my heart to know You and love You. You carry me through my doubt, You steady my through the storms. I will proclaim Your marvelous deeds forever!

Feeding the 5,000

On Sunday I got to preach from one of my favorite passages – Luke 9:10-17, the miraculous multiplication of bread. I’m still living in that story and I wanted to share some additional thoughts with you. This will be hodgepodge collection of nuggets rather than a formal post – hopefully you can follow along. :)

Jesus doesn’t despise weakness.

  • The prelude to this story is that Jesus has spent the last several months raising up a second tier of leadership while the Twelve have been away. He has been preaching and teaching, modeling and investing. He has been the sole minister while his team is away. On top of that, just as the Apostles return, Jesus gets word that his cousin, John (the Baptizer), has just been beheaded by Herod. Jesus and John were undoubtedly close – John was the only person (other than Mary) who really knew who Jesus was. What is more, a couple chapters back, in Luke 7, Jesus basically told John that he wasn’t coming to rescue him, that John would die in prison. Tired, grieving and looking forward to reconnecting with his friends, Jesus decides to slip away for some R&R.
  • The crowd, however, gets wind of Jesus’s intentions and quite literally runs around the lake to meet him. As Jesus and his disciples get to their destination, Jesus, tired and grieving, looks over the bow of the ship and sees a huge crowd pressed up against the shore – 10,000 people with their emotional vacuums pointed straight at him.
  • How does Jesus respond? His heart doesn’t sink, he doesn’t curse them in his heart or despise their neediness. Instead, the Bible says that he looked on them with compassion, like sheep without a shepherd. It says that he graciously welcomed them, taught them and healed them.
  • I love how compassionate Jesus is. I love that he can see beneath the surface, to what is really going on. These people were desperate for hope, they were aching to hear words of Life about Our Father. Jesus didn’t hold their sin, their neediness or their selfishness against them. Instead, he gave and taught and healed. He cared for them the way he wished they would have cared for him. Absolutely beautiful.

Bread from Heaven is far superior

  • I’m fascinated that, at some point in time, this entire crowd decided that it was better and more important to listen to Jesus than to go get dinner or find a room for the night. As long as Jesus was willing to speak, they were willing to listen. How good does a sermon need to be for people to be willing to override their legitimate human needs and choose something superior? I don’t know, I lose people about 10 minutes in.
  • What Jesus had to offer brought thousands upon thousands of people into the middle of nowhere. There was no shelter, there were no provisions, yet they came out in droves. Why doesn’t the world do that anymore? We have the same message, the same mission and the same Spirit… don’t we?

The Insignificant and Unworthy were the Seed of a miracle

  • In the original texts, only the men were counted. Women and children were considered insignificant, second class, less than. Yet it was a little boy, not the Apostles, who had something to offer. The Apostles, for all their spiritual power and ministry knowhow, hadn’t thought to bring anything to eat. But a young boy (more likely his mother) had. The boy was willing to give what he had, regardless of how small it was and that is what fed the multitude.
  • No matter how unworthy you feel or how insignificant you are in the eyes of the world, you are a miracle waiting to happen. What you have to give is valuable and, in the hands of Jesus, just might change the world.
  • The disciples really biffed it in Luke’s telling of the story. We know from John’s Gospel that the boy was the one with the food, but in Luke, the Apostles try to make it seem like they were the ones who had thought to bring some extra. It is an age old human tendency – we often try to make ourselves look better by taking credit for someone else’s idea. I think our challenge as followers of Jesus is to receive from “the least of these” in a way that broadly honors their contribution.

Expectancy is Key

  • When Jesus ordered the crowd to sit in groups of fifties, there had been no miracle. There was no mountain of food, no catering table. But the crowd obeyed. Even though they didn’t see the food, they acted with expectancy on a promise. The Master had said to sit and get ready for a meal. They didn’t know where the food was coming from, but they trusted it would show up.
  • I wonder how many miracles are waiting for the People of God to act on a promise? What would it look like for us to take Jesus at his word – to actually believe him?

Hoarding would have killed the miracle

  • When Jesus took the bread and blessed it, bread didn’t fall from Heaven like manna in the wilderness. It wasn’t as though thousands of loaves suddenly appeared for the Apostles to distribute. No. Instead, Jesus ripped apart a loaf and gave a chunk to Peter and said, “Go feed that group of fifty over there.” He gave another to Andrew and James and John and all the disciples, each with the same message.
  • When Peter got to his first group, I imagine his instructions to the first guy were, “Tear off some and pass it on down the line.” I think this is HUGE!!!! If they guy had looked around and said, “This is all there is, I’m keeping it” the miracle would have died. The miracle happened because each person shared what they had. They took a chunk and then passed it on.. and kept passing when it came around again. No one hoarded it. Instead, they shared freely.
  • But what if someone had hoarded it? Not only would the miracle have ceased to progress, but they would have still been hungry. The bread multiplied in the giving, not in the eating. Assuming each group of 50 got roughly half a loaf, that would not have been enough to fill one person up. Selfishness and greed would have resulted in no miracle and an unsatisfying meal for one person.
  • Think about the spiritual implication of this. Are you regularly sharing your faith, the life of Christ within you, the Bread from Heaven that made you a new creation? If not, then I’m assuming you’re not seeing miracles on a regular basis and that you are spiritually hungry. I’m guessing that hunger looks like:
  1. you’re dissatisfied with your current church because the music sucks, the preaching is lousy or the fellowship is superficial and you think some other place will “feed you”,
  2. you feel disillusioned because it seems like the Gospel isn’t quite as good as people claim it is,
  3. you feel like God doesn’t hear your prayers,
  4. you’ve compromised yourself morally because sinning seems like more fun and God loves you anyway,
  5. reading the Bible seems dull and irrelevant to your life
  • If any of those symptoms fits you, it is likely you’re fault – not your church’s fault, not your pastor’s fault and not God’s fault. You are hoarding what you’ve been commanded to share. The Dead Sea is dead because water flows into it but can’t flow out of it; therefore, it stagnates. Clear up the blockage, start sharing, start being life-giving to those around you and you’ll be surprised how quickly things turn around. The best part about things being your fault is that you have the power to change them. :)
  • Also, at the end of the story, once everyone has eaten their fill, the disciples collect the leftovers – twelve baskets full. They ended with more than they started with. Selah.

This story is the Gospel in miniature

  • I’m fairly certain that this story is the absolute apex of the Gospel narrative. Why? Because it is told in every Gospel and within a page or two after it is told (in Luke it is immediately after), Jesus talks to his disciples about his coming sacrifice for the very first time. It is almost as those the Apostles needed the object lesson in order to understand what Jesus was really about – he is the bread from Heaven, broken for the needs of the world. Jesus may have done “cooler” things, like walking on water, but nothing demonstrated his mission better.
  • Think about it this way: a son offers up everything he has so that it can be broken to satisfy the needs of many. That sure sounds like a Gospel presentation to me.
  • Jesus was broken so that we could be put back together. The Father rejected Jesus so that he would never have to reject us. God said “No.” to Jesus’s prayer in Gethsemane so he could say “Yes!” to us at Calvary. One man, blessed and broken, is what was needed for a new creation.

I’ll end this post with some notes I didn’t get to share yesterday. These are the promises I see contained in this passage for us as individuals and as a community. I know some of them may be redundant, but I trust you’ll bear with me. Thanks for reading friends.

Promises

  • The Promise to the Giver – What you have, no matter how small it appears, is enough in the hands of God. These stories abound in the Bible. It is a recurring theme in Scripture that if you will offer what little you have in service to God it will be enough to satisfy the needs of the day. And as long as you keep doing it, God’s provision will go on indefinitely. Most of the time, however, you will never appear “full.” The widow’s jar of flour was never overflowing, but every time she reached into the jar there was always enough for one more day’s worth of bread.
  • The Promise to the Receiver – Did you notice that the crowds sat down in anticipation of a meal before Jesus had broken the bread. There was no catering table being set up, there was no physical evidence that food was coming. But the crowd had an instruction from the Master, “Sit down in groups of fifty and get ready to eat.” So they did. They may have grumbled. They may have looked around and been confused. They may have said, “Well, it sure doesn’t make sense to me, but OK.” Who knows what they were thinking at the time. And remember, this isn’t a small group of people, this would be like the city of Waverly getting together in some farmer’s field and expecting a meal. The promise to the receiver is simple – do what he says and you’ll get what he promised. We don’t have to understand. We don’t even have to agree. We just have to obey. Simple acts of obedience are profoundly freeing when we approach them with an expectant heart.
  • The Promise to the Hungry – You can’t buy enough to satisfy your hunger. No amount of food, no amount of drink, no amount of sex, no amount of entertainment, no amount of stuff, no amount of anything will ever be enough to satisfy your spiritual hunger. Nothing except Jesus. Life will always feel shallow and pointless until you submit your life to Jesus. This passage is a major turning point. Shortly after this passage appears in each of the Gospels, Jesus begins to talk to his disciples about his betrayal and crucifixion. The symbolism is clear, the bread is Jesus’s body. The bread was broken to satisfy their physical hunger, but that satisfaction was short lived. Jesus’s body was broken to satisfy the wrath of God and to open for us the way to Everlasting Life, and that is eternal. Life finds meaning and purpose in Jesus. Suffering and pain find purpose in Jesus. He is the Master at taking the broken and making it beautiful.
  • The Promise to the Broken, the Abused and the Insignificant – You are a miracle waiting to happen. It wasn’t the Apostles who were so thoughtful and wise so as to bring along some extra food. It was a child. It might have been the lunch his mother packed for him, it might have been something he thought of himself, either way, it was all he had and he gave it freely. He gave it freely even when the disciples tried to take credit for it. Without that little bit of generosity this miracle would have never happened. The promise to all of you who feel hurt, wounded, insignificant, unwanted, unloved, broken, abused or otherwise unworthy is that you have something to offer and that something is valuable. What you have to give might never become a miracle recorded in a book or blog, but it will change the world. Furthermore, God sees you. He sees you as you are and he sees you as you will one day be. If you can learn to see yourself the way God sees you, you won’t want to be anybody else. Your story isn’t over. God isn’t finished with you yet.
  • The Promise to the Community – The Gospel is for everyone. Jesus didn’t just miraculously feed himself, his disciples or a select group of followers. He saw the needs of the group. He saw that everyone needed something to eat and he commissioned his disciples to be the ones to meet those needs in a systematic and sacrificial way. Church, if we believe what the Bible says, then we have what the world needs. We have the Bread of Life, the Living Water, we have every spiritual blessing, all power and all authority. We have everything we need to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. Said a little differently and specifically, we have the capacity to make Waverly an outpost of the Kingdom of God on the earth. There don’t have to be hungry people in Waverly. There don’t have to be poor people in Waverly. There don’t have to be sick people in Waverly. There certainly don’t have to be people destined for Hell in Waverly. The answers to all of those problems are locked up in the Church – in us! If that sounds extreme, hard to believe, even a little “out there” then I submit that maybe our God is a little too small and our Devil a little too big. For real guys, if what the Bible says is true, then we have the Spirit of the Living God inside of us and we are promised that every time the Kingdom of Heaven collides with the kingdom of this world our side will win. Why are we not running into everything!? The promise to our community is transformation. It is the promise that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, within our reach, if we will only stretch out our hands and lay hold of it.

Savoring the Moment

Earlier today, I posted the following on Facebook:

Screen Shot 2015-08-23 at 8.50.45 PM

I wanted to give you a little more of the story.

Full Disclosure

While Dani and I were eating at Tony’s the girls running the raffle were walking around and stopped by our table. I wasn’t particularly interested in them – I was there to have an unhurried dinner with my wife, not win a t-shirt. So I took a number and they continued on.

As Dani and I were waiting for our waitress to get our change, I happened to look over and notice one of the girls walking with a limp. I opened my mouth, then closed it. My mental dialogue went something like:

“Huh, she’s walking with a limp. I wonder what happened? I wonder if I should pray for her? Does she know Jesus? Oops, she’s already walked past and I don’t really feel like tracking her down. Maybe if she comes around again…”

Dani must’ve noticed because she looked at me and said, “Why didn’t you pray for her? You’re the one who always says you want to do this stuff. Why didn’t you?” I didn’t really have any words worth saying just flimsy, flimsy excuses.

The truth is, I’ve been really shy about praying for people lately. A month or so ago I had a convicting realization that the inner voice I’d been listening to, that had been directing much of my effort as a Pastor and a Christian, wasn’t God at all. I had fallen into the lie that healing and salvation are attained through my efforts rather than God’s. It was humiliating and disheartening and I took a huge step back from prayer and evangelism and for the last couple months have felt rather aimless.

Fortunately, God’s call is irrevocable and He doesn’t change His mind. He’s been slowly moving me back to a place of trust in Him and His word. It was His idea to give us the ministry of healing, I’m just trying to be obedient. (I really suck at that most of the time.)

Also, this morning we had a great testimony from Mason (video coming soon) about stepping out in faith to pray for people and had stirred up those longings again. So, between Mason’s testimony and Dani reminding me of what is really true and important I was trapped. I had to do it. I excused myself to the bathroom to work up some courage.

When I came back, the girl was standing at my table! She had drawn my number in the raffle and wanted to get my size for the t-shirt. Holy setup Batman.

Obviously, I had to go for it. I did a short interview and found out that she had just had her third knee surgery (she was in her mid twenties) and was actually in a lot of pain. I asked her to sit, explained that I was a Pastor and that I wanted to pray for God to take away the pain in her knees. She gave me the “you’re crazy” look but let me pray for her.

After a short prayer I asked her to test it out. She felt better. Her pain had gone from a 10 to a 5. I asked her to sit again. After a second prayer she was down to a 1 and had increased her range of motion about 20 degrees. I didn’t notice any reduction in swelling, but I’ll take a 90% reduction in pain.

I asked her if she knew Jesus and she said she did, and that she and her fiancé were in-between churches. Since she lived in Waterloo I directed her to some friend’s churches and we left.

Some Take Aways

I’d like to reiterate that, on my own, I would not have prayed for this girl. I probably wouldn’t have even noticed her pain. I was too busy and then too afraid. A healing would have gone undone and my intimacy with God wouldn’t have grown simply because I was too busy. Ugh.

BUT, the healing did happen because Mason’s testimony had stirred up my heart and my wife reminded me to be the man I am called to be. Testimony and community are powerful force multipliers in the Kingdom. They call us to higher standards. They remind us that it is God who is great, not us, but that we have the privilege to serve alongside him. It is a beautiful and humbling thing to be used by God to take away someone’s pain and share with them the Good News of the Resurrected King.

That girl wasn’t healed because I am special or gifted or anointed. She was healed because Jesus is awesome. Our Resurrected King shattered the powers of sin, death and the devil on Calvary and we are messengers of that fact. We have the privilege of enforcing His Kingdom wherever we go and the kingdom of this world must give way. It is a glorious existence my friends.

Savoring the Moment

Satan can steal from us in at least three ways. He can constrict the flow of life from God to us and slow down the answers to our prayers so that we give up. He can take something we have when we give him legal access through unrepentant sin. He can also make us forget. This last seems to be his favorite tactic and the one most devastating to the Church.

The enemy causes us to forget our victories, our histories with God. He convinces us that we have to fight old battles again or that the successes of previous generations do not belong to us. He gets us busy and tired and we forget the multitudes of times God has intervened in our lives. He sucks us dry, like a bug caught in a spider’s web until we forget God’s goodness and his work in our lives.

A forgotten work of God isn’t much different than one that never happened as far as its impact on our lives. If we don’t constantly savor the presence and power of God in our lives then we become ever more paralyzed and ever more religious. What was once a vibrant interaction with God becomes a formalized ritual – an appearance of godliness devoid of life changing power.

I think that one of the best things we can do for one another is to share stories. We need to share testimonies of God’s Goodness, we need to remind one another of the words spoken over us and the call of God on our lives. We need to call out what is best in one another and remind ourselves of what is eternally true. This is what I hope our home groups can be – a launching pad for Kingdom invasion as the saints are fed, equipped, encouraged, empowered and healed.

I hope my story gives you courage to take your own step of faith. You are made to carry the Spirit of the Living God into the world around you. There are miracles waiting to happen, stories as yet untold. Some of them, maybe many of them, will happen wether you decide to participate or not, but don’t you want you?

Getting UnBusy

BECOMING UNBUSY

I hate the word ‘busy’. I hate it with growing fervor. I hate that it is the sacred, unassailable and unquestioned excuse our culture uses to avoid events and people. I hate how it is used to flatter, to express sympathy and to keep relationships on a superficial level.

I also hate how everyone is ‘so busy’ yet little of consequence ever seems to get done. What is really getting accomplished in our frenetic hustle? Have we eliminated poverty or found a cure for cancer? Or have we simply succeeded in maintaining the economic engine of our society – mindless consumption?

I hate the cultural norms that excuse employees for checking Facebook or ESPN at work and then sympathizes with their “heavy workload” that keeps them from riding bikes or playing in the dirt with their kids. I hate that over half of the meals in America are eaten in cars or in front of a TV screen.

I am on a crusade against busyness. I realize that I run the risk of offending a lot of people because I am attacking one of our most cherished idols, the one we sacrifice our lives and families to, but I believe the risk is worth it. There is a better way of living that is more satisfying, more productive and more enjoyable.

MY STORY

Burned out Pastors

The first year I pastored was tumultuous. I had no previous experience pastoring or leading an organization and it was everything I could do to keep from drowning. A whole lot of things went undone that first year because I didn’t yet have the capacity to manage it all.  My days were hectic and scattered. I never felt that I accomplished anything or that I was on top of my workload. In the worst moments I fantasized about quitting and sympathized with the estimated 1,700 pastors who quit the ministry every month. (By the way, that statistic isn’t true – it is urban legend. However, that first year of pastoring made it all too believable.)

On top of it all, that same year, two Pastors whom I highly respect went through terrible health issues and burn out. Each Pastor was a veteran saint who had spent decades building his congregation. Each was lauded by their respective city and denomination as a model Pastor and church, the kind wet-behind-the-ears-whipper-snappers like me were supposed to emulate. However, I had a very privileged view into the lives of these men and their congregations and I saw what pushing for growth cost them personally and professionally.

No Thank You

Because I got to see the terrible effects of burn out first hand, I had absolutely no desire to pursue the kind of ministry they had mastered during my lifetime. If building a “successful” church meant that I had to be a driven, Type A workaholic who demanded much from myself and more from others and resulted in a mental/physical/spiritual/social breakdown then I didn’t want it. I’d rather be happy and healthy instead. Thus, the name of this blog, “The Happy Pastor” was born. My intent at the beginning of this blog was to scour the internet and accumulated wisdom of the ages to see if their was a better model of pastoring. My focus has shifted since then, but that was the genesis of this site.

Lifeline

In one of my darkest times, when my fantasy of quitting was about to become a reality, my friend Marty made me aware of a book by Eugene Peterson called The Contemplative Pastor. I was familiar with Peterson’s name from The Message, but I hadn’t read any of his work. Based on Marty’s recommendation I picked it up.

To say The Contemplative Pastor was life changing wouldn’t be much of an overstatement. It came at a critical time in my life and career and has formed me in more ways than I know. I have yet to put it into practice in all the ways I would like, but I return to it again and again as a model for the kind of Pastor I want to be.

Peterson’s manifesto includes three adjectives he uses to describe pastoring and he develops each in turn. The three adjectives Peterson applies to Pastors are: unbusy (hence the name of this post), subversive and apocalyptic. I’ll only deal with the first here, but the others are worth exploring at another time.

THE UNBUSY PASTOR

There are so many good quotes it is hard to choose, but perhaps the most salient is the following:

“THE ONE piece of mail certain to go unread into my wastebasket basket is the letter addressed to the “busy pastor.”

Not that the phrase doesn’t describe me at times, but I refuse to give my attention to someone who encourages what is worst in me. I’m not arguing the accuracy of the adjective; I am, though, contesting the way it’s used to flatter and express sympathy.

“The poor man,” we say. “He’s so devoted to his flock; the work is endless, and he sacrifices himself so unstintingly” But the word busy is the symptom not of commitment but of betrayal. It is not devotion but defection. The adjective busy set as a modifier to pastor should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife or embezzling to describe a banker. It is an outrageous scandal, a blasphemous affront.”

Eugene H. Peterson. The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction (Kindle Locations 149-154). Kindle Edition.

Peterson continues to rail against our “blasphemous anxiety to do God’s work for him,” but much of the above section can readily apply to all of us, not just pastors.

REASONS FOR BUSYNESS

Peterson also identifies several reasons for busyness. I have drilled down a little deeper and offer you my own take on why it is so easy, even rewarding, to be busy.

Pride

American culture idolizes busyness. Busyness is a status symbol, a way of showing our importance. A full calendar tells us, and all who will take notice, that we are important, vital, highly sought after. Our understanding of economics supports this. A commodity with little supply and huge demand is far more costly than one with a large supply and little demand – therefore, limited time because of endless demands means I am valuable.

We use busyness as a badge of honor, a way of reminding ourselves that we are essential lynchpins in the mechanism of society. I’ve known people who refuse to take vacations because they are so certain they are the only ones who can do their jobs and that the company would fall apart without them. Their job security rests on them being the only one capable of doing certain things. Then they get sick and (horror of horrors!) life goes on without them.

None of us are irreplaceable. That doesn’t mean we are just widgets or cogs in the wheel a la Henry Ford. Rather, it means that the world will adapt to our absence with little to no side effects. We aren’t nearly so important as we think. I find this intensely liberating because it means emails, text messages and voicemails can wait – people really can solve their own problems.

Impotence

I also find myself being busy when I can’t say no. Especially in Christian circles we confuse powerlessness with holiness. The inability to say no, the constant devaluing of our own needs for the sake of others, the lifestyle of being constantly on the go yet never getting anything done – this is not what God intended and it is not a sign of maturity.

One of the most liberating books I have read in the past year is Keep Your Love On by Danny Silk (seriously, go get it) because Silk does an outstanding job of explaining what it means to be a powerful person. It isn’t holy to live without boundaries, it isn’t healthy or God-honoring to never say ‘no’ or to give people unlimited access to your heart, home and time. This was a serious battle for me. I’m a bleeding heart and want to help, but without boundaries I will bleed out.

Jesus said to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” I don’t know about you, but that sounds like I need to love myself before I can love my neighbor. If I don’t love myself, care for myself, value myself, nourish myself, shepherd myself, or protect myself then I am simply unable to do that for others. But the Religious Spirit in America says “No! You must give and give. To say ‘no’ to others is selfish. You are a servant, you are supposed to give, you are supposed to be last.” I don’t even try to argue with this anymore, I just douse them with holy water and say “Be gone in Jesus’ Name!” Not really, but I want to. I’ve never found myself able to convince someone to value themselves when this is their mindset. They either have to burn out and learn it the hard way or Holy Spirit has to make it real to them – I can only step aside and pray after I’ve spoken to them.

Fear

Finally, some of us are busy because we are absolutely terrified of being alone. If we ever have a moment of unoccupied time it seems like all of the monsters start crawling out of the closet and from under the bed. In a desperate attempt to keep from thinking or processing at a deeper level, we pursue busyness with a vengeance, even taking our smart phones with us to the bathroom so we can read or play a game. Boredom is the enemy we are determined to conquer.

This has always been the case for humanity. In times past it was movies, newspapers, books or work. We have always been afraid to be with ourselves and run the risk of recognizing how shallow and insignificant our lives really are. Perhaps that is why Christians have so long recommended the Disciplines of Solitude and Silence and means to spiritual growth. Confronting our demons, our insignificance and our impotence is, surprisingly, the only way to actually influence the world and accomplish anything of worth. Solitude and Silence is hard work and strong medicine, but it has helped to make sinners into saints for centuries.

CLARIFICATIONS

Now, before I go on, I’d like to clarify one thing. I am not advocating that you quit your job, cancel all your appointments and activities and go be a monk. I’m also not saying that you can’t have fun, enroll your kids in enrichment activities or have a full schedule.

What I am saying is that busyness is a quality of the soul. Busyness is when our minds are distracted, our energy dispersed and we are unable to be present to the world around us. Busyness is when we cannot listen to another human being because our lunch hour is up or we’re preoccupied with the seven other things on our To Do List. Busyness is being self-consumed, totally cut off from communion with God and fellowship with others. What I am advocating for in my crusade against busyness is primarily a change in mindset that will overflow into a change in our schedules.

THE GOALS OF BECOMING UNBUSY

Being Present

I get having a full schedule, I have my day planned from 5am to 10pm every day of the week. But because I have a plan and have dedicated myself to the hard work of being a powerful person, I am not busy. I certainly have things to do, but I’m not busy. My schedule allows me to be fully present wherever I am and whatever I’m doing because I know everything has a time and a place. I find it difficult to describe how liberating it is to enjoy a nap guilt free because you know your work is going to get done.

Even more valuable, as I go about my day and work I find myself better able to talk with God because my mind isn’t cluttered with multitudes of projects and ideas. When I go shopping I carry a list which frees me from trying to remember things and also frees me to pay more attention to the people around me. I find myself praying more and asking God better questions. It is really quite fascinating to see how taking care of myself allows me to take better care of others.

Living on Mission

And that brings me to the main point of this post. Busyness distracts us from our proper work as citizens of God’s Kingdom. We are called to be salt, light and leaven to the world around us. We are called to give to others the unhindered flow life which flows in to us from God. We are called to make disciples of all nations, immersing them in the character and nature of God and teaching them to obey all Jesus commanded us. We can’t do that when we are busy.

Seeing people and having compassion on them requires a presence of soul that is rarely found in the world today. The ability to listen is in short supply and those able to speak words of life even more so. Getting unbusy is the first step in making ourselves available to God so that he can use us to advance his Kingdom.

Once again, I’m not saying you need to quit your job or the activities you love. Instead, I’m suggesting that if we are going to truly live into our calling to make disciples then we will need to learn how to be powerful people who take control of our schedules and who fight against the cultural norms imposed upon us. We need to reject the notion that our worth comes from our busyness and we need to learn to be alone with ourselves. In doing so, we open ourselves to the possibility of God speaking to us and moving through us.

So, by all means, take your daughter to dance class or football practice, but while you’re there, please stay off of your phone. Sit by yourself and pray or start asking God to speak to you about the other parents present. Strike up a conversation – invite them to your home group – who knows what will happen?