Faith, Family, Life, writings

Don’t Give Up on Prodigals

In 1949, a spontaneous revival broke out on the island of Lewis, a remote part of Scotland. Hundreds of lives were changed over the next three years. One story sticks out to me and that is the story of Willie.

Willie was what we would call a prodigal, meaning that he had known the “straight and narrow” but lived a life that was far from God. His mother prayed for Willie his whole life. As he would spend his youth in trouble with his friends and his early adulthood in a continual drunken stupor, many gave up on Willie. Not his mother.

When revival broke out, Rev. Duncan Campbell was summoned to go preach at a spontaneous gathering at the church. On his way he found Willie laying in a ditch with his mother at his side. But Willie wasn’t overcome with alcohol as Campbell supposed. No, he was under conviction of the Holy Spirit to the point of weeping over his lost soul. His mother stayed beside of him, half praying and half begging “Oh Willie, Willie, are ya comin (to Jesus) at last?”

Willie changed that night. Rather, Jesus changed Willie. He later became a parish minister and led a life devoted to Jesus and seeing others coming to faith in Jesus.

Friends, don’t give up on “prodigals”. You may have been one once yourself. Keep praying for Jesus to get ahold of them.

Devotionals, Faith, Family, Life, Ministry, writings

Secret Pain

One of the themes that I’ve often connected to in God’s Word is the idea that eventually secrets will be made know. It’s something we often relish when we’ve been wounded by others: the idea that the truth will eventually come to light, either in this life or the next.

As a pastor, I’ve used the verses that back this idea. Numbers 32:23 says “be sure your sin will find you out.” Luke 8:17 says, “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.” Luke 12:2 says, “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” Never mind the context for most of these verses refer to the judgement at the end of time or the mysteries of the Gospel (that God would use those considered foolish by the world and accept those deemed “unacceptable”), part of us relishes the idea that right will prevail and what is wicked will come to light and be punished.

And while I at times find that comforting, I also find it incredibly disconcerting. You see, just as others have done things in secret, so have I. God is causing me to relish the thought less and less. God has been dealing with my heart that my desire for the “truth” to come to light is dangerously close to seeking revenge or a misguided belief in “karma” which is a totally wicked concept fully foreign to the Christian life.

The truth is, we all do or have struggled with secret sins. Sometimes when we hear that phrase, “secret sins”, we easily think of some salacious sin or social taboo. But in reality, any sin or temptation we don’t share with others is by definition a secret. That temptation to tell your boss what you really think… The second look you take at someone who’s not your spouse… Hating your neighbor… All of those can be secret sins. So the next time you wish for someone to get their just desserts, remember how that can cut both ways.

But there is another kind of secret that God knows about… Pain. And that’s what I really want to focus on.

God sees your secret hurts as well. David says this in Psalm 56:8, “You have kept count of my tossings (or wanderings); put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” David recognizes that God is keeping track of David’s sufferings and sorrows. He knows the pain that David experiences.

God knows the pain you carry as well. The shame you struggle with from enduring abuse. The miscarriage that no one knows about. The struggle of same-sex attraction that you felt you could never open up about with your Christian brothers and sisters. The pain you carry from hearing what people “really thought” of you. The accusations that were false. The broken heart that you never even journaled about. The pain of unfulfilled dreams. The sorrow over a wayward friend or loved one. God sees this. He knows. He cares.

And someday, he will deal with not only secret sins, but he will deal with secret pains. Those apart from Christ will have their secrets made known at the judgement. But those who are in Christ have the promise that is found in Revelation 21:4, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall their be mourning, nor crying, not pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

So, friends, let’s take comfort in that God sees our pain, he knows our hurts. Jesus, who lived among us, sympathizes with us and has experienced much of the same pain we have. And someday, he will make all things new and there will be no more pain.

Family, Life, Time

25 Ways to Save Your Schedule and Your Mind

25 Ways to Save Your Schedule and Save Your Mind

In my last post, I shared how if the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy. The truth of it is, it’s not usually the fault of evil forces lurking in the shadows that cause us problems. It’s often our lack of prioritizing what’s great over what’s good.

Here are 25 (ok, technically 26) ways to save your schedule and your mind:

1. Say No Nicely—This is #1 in order of importance. It’s also #1 in degree of difficulty for most people. We say no all the time, just in a different way. When we say yes to something, we say no to a hundred other possibilities. Instead of passively saying no to opportunities we should take, learn to politely decline invitations or offers. Will people be offended? Sure. But if they’re as well meaning as they seem, they will either get over it, or eventually understand.

Say no to the good so you can say yes to the great.

2. Delegate—Unless you are on a deserted island, you can probably find someone else to help or do it entirely. Sure, somethings can’t be delegated. Likely, those are the essential things for you. But many things can be delegated. Enlist your co-workers, family members, or small group members. And if you can’t find someone to delegate to, don’t be afraid to drop it.

Delegate the good so you can focus on the great.

3. Clicklist Shopping—I admittedly haven’t tried this out. But Kroger’s has this new feature where you can shop on the app, pay for it, and have the grocery order delivered to your car, saving you hours each month in the store. Now, I’m sure Kroger’s isn’t the only store to do this, just the only major chain of supermarkets that I’m aware of. I’ll gladly pay a small fee to save this amount of time.

P.S. I personally enjoy grocery shopping. I usually do it alone. But if you have kids with you, why not try it out?

4. Family Sports—I know that this isn’t popular with a lot of people. But if you have three kids who are into sports, it’s likely that you have practice nearly every night of the week not to mention have to be in several places at once. Besides straining the laws of physics, it can strain your brain. Try to find some activities that can involve the whole family, or at least a big chunk of them.

Downside: No playoffs, no titles, not a lot of prestige. But your kids can still learn the fundamentals and develop leadership and sportsmanship qualities.

Also, these may be sparse in your area. But it may be worth a shot. The other alternative would be telling your kids “no.” Heaven forbid. See # 26.

5. Family Small Groups—Our church is in the launching phase of small group ministry. A small group is a Bible Study type of program you get into. Usually they involve lots of discussion, snacks, and meeting at someone’s home. Every church does groups a little different. But one option for you is to participate in a group where the whole family can be present. Or if that’s not your fancy, attend a group that meets the same time as your kid’s student or children’s ministry.

It saves time and may save you a couple of hours each week.

6.  Limit Meetings—I’m weird, I like meetings. Wait, let me rephrase that… I like meetings with a purpose. I detest sitting around talking about things only to meet again in a few months and be talking about them again with no progress made. Life is busy and I simply don’t have time to meet with everyone who wants to. So I need to prioritize meetings. If it can be done over text or email, great.

Honestly, this area is hard for me, because as a Pastor and small business owner, meetings with congregants and clients are very important. But many things can be dealt with completely in a timely manner.

Especially if you have a family, you need to limit your meetings. Better yet, have meetings at breakfast or lunch with someone, and don’t let it linger much longer than the meal.

7. Get Important Stuff Done First—2 benefits: 1, the task is done, so if you fall behind, its less pressure on you;  2, it will give you a sense of accomplishment, helping you dive into the rest of your day/list of things to do.

8. Limit Meetings—Lots of meetings are redundant, just like this line.

9. Ask Why—This question will likely get you in trouble, whether you’re asking yourself of someone else. It can cause you re-evaluate conventional wisdom, which is usually a good thing. But to some people, it’s threatening. Again, focus on the great thing, not just the good thing. It something is pointless, why are you doing it?

10. Cook Multiple Meals at Once—Ah, food. I like to cook. It relaxes me. There is something satisfying about taking a set of ingredients and transforming them into an edible creation. We don’t cook enough. Largely because we lack time. So tonight, while you’re making hamburgers, go ahead and prepare some ground beef for tacos later in the week. Or if you’re making soup, make some extra and put it in the freezer. This way you can still have a home cooked meal that tastes good and allows you to put your feet up.

11. Work Ahead—”But Adam, I can’t do what I have to do as it is!” I know. Same situation here. But most of us can find a little margin here and there. If you’re not totally exhausted, work a little ahead. You never know when you’ll need that time invested when a crisis comes up. Life is unpredictable so being a little ahead can be a real lifesaver.

12. Give Kids Chores—For any kids reading this, I apologize in advance. Now most kids have age-appropriate chores. But it is surprising to me the number of kids I know who have very little household responsibilities besides cleaning their room. Hey, some kids don’t even have to do that. I hated chores as a kid. But as a parent, I now realize those little household jobs can really add up. If you have kids, give them responsibility. That’s the only way they learn it. And yes, that means you’ll have to check to make sure it got done, but over time it can develop your child’s work ethic. And it can save you some time.

13. Keep A Notebook—I was diagnosed with ADD as a kid, before it seemed like everyone had it. On top of that I struggle to remember things anyway. If you add those two together you get the perfect storm of poor follow-through. Many times I simply forget. I’m learning the importance of keeping a notepad with me at all times. Yeah, I don’t look so cool. But I’m becoming more productive and less busy at the same time. Working from a list keeps you engaged, speeds up your day, and you’ll have more time and maybe even more energy at the end of the day.

14. Get Some Sleep—This seems obvious, but you can’t function well if your body isn’t well rested. I love the new Bedtime feature on my iPhone. It’s a conscious reminder that I need to wind down my evening, go to bed, and get some rest. And I’m waking up earlier and more refreshed because I am getting a good night’s sleep. Why is it we work hard to get our kids on a good bedtime schedule and then neglect doing that in our own lives? I like the occasional late-movie date-night, but I can’t function well on less than 9 hours of sleep.

Rest well so you can tackle the great thing God has for you.

15. Get Up Early—Yikes! I was never a morning person until the last year or so. We have three kids, and I largely work from home, so quiet time is at a premium around here. If I get up at 5 AM, I have between 2-3 hours of uninterrupted time to study, write, read, pray, you get the picture. Yes, it takes time to cultivate the habit, but my morning coffee and Bible reading are becoming precious to me. It’s also my most productive hours of the day.
I’m not advocating everyone get at 5 AM. If they did, it wouldn’t be quiet time for me. But I am advocating getting a head start on the day. There is a positive psychological effect to having accomplished more than half of a work day before noon.
16. Do Small Tasks in a Rush—My wife is the queen of this. When it comes to cleaning up after the kids and just the craziness of the day, my wife can clean more in 15 minutes uninterrupted than I can in 2 hours. This could be anything from sorting laundry while starting a load, combining errands into a single trip, or handling all your email quickly at one time.

I read somewhere that the constant checking and replying to emails is a huge time waster. Doing it all at once maybe twice a day can really save your schedule. Get the good things done and out of the way so you can focus on the great thing God has for you (notice how I keep saying something like that? Hmmm… It’s like I have a theme or something).

17. Listen to Some Good Music—I get distracted easily, which makes some tasks take longer than they should. If you see me with my headphones or earbuds in and I seem to be non-responsive to you, I’m not being rude. I am doing what I need to do to be productive. Pick your favorite music and get to it. Personally, I find soft piano or classic rock works best. I love praise and worship music, but sometimes I get caught up in it and forget what I was doing.

It’s about what helps you to focus on the great things.

18. Hire Out What You Can—I realize not everyone has lots of money. Truth is, I’m not what you would call wealthy by American standards. But there are some things that aren’t worth the hassle or time commitment of me doing myself. If that means paying the neighbor kid to mow the lawn (mowing is sacred to me so that’s not something I would do) or paying someone to do your taxes, or paying for a part-time assistant, do it.

You may think it’s cheaper to do it yourself, but I think you’d be surprised. If you did a cost-benefit analysis of some of the tasks you do, what it costs you in lost productivity or peace of mind, it may be worth hiring it out.

19. Consider a Digital Assistant—This is something I have considered but have not done yet. Our church employs a great administrative assistant who saves my bacon weekly. But she’s only 6 hours a week. I need someone constantly, for my church work and for my side business. I don’t have the luxury of being able to afford one right now, but there are some great options out there.

Belay is one company that is making a huge impact by offering numerous services, including personal assistants who work remotely from their home or office space. For a reasonable rate, they can help with all sorts of tasks. If you work in the business or non-profit world, they could be a real time saver and problem solver for you.

20. Pray—Pray. “Adam, you’re a pastor. Of course you’re going to berate me about spending too little time in prayer.” Ok, easy, calm down. Maybe you feel convicted because you do need to pray more. But that’s not what I’m really getting at.

Yes, pray and ask God to help you make better use of your time, to focus on the great things instead of the good. But you should already be doing that.

No, I’m talking about the purely selfish reasons to pray. Study after study by secular researchers show that praying, meditation, or a similar discipline not only increases productivity, it also reduces stress. Reduced stress will save you time as you feel less worn down.

21. Move Up Deadlines—Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow? Bad idea! Why not do today what isn’t due until next week? Again, you’re making extra time in your calendar and you’ll have a head start on everyone else. So if the paper isn’t due until next Friday, start working on it like it’s due this Friday. You’re not preaching until Sunday? Get that message ready by Friday night.

You’ll build discipline, earn the respect of your colleagues, and hey, maybe even get a raise.

22. Schedule Social Media Usage—If you’re a business owner like me, you know important social media can be to your business. It builds your client base and keeps you in contact your customers. Just like idea #16, you can schedule several posts at once using a social media managing app like Buffer or Hootsuite.

Also, resist the urge to check your phone every 5 minutes. Schedule time. Like for our church, we use several social media accounts and platforms to communicate 
announcements, prayer requests, and for me to keep in touch with the congregation. It’s a great tool. But it can be overwhelming if I’m checking it constantly. It could be all I get done in a given day. As part of my morning routine, I will take about 20 minutes to scan my newsfeed, see what I need to respond to, and do it. Then I can go about my other tasks.

Again, focus on the great things not just the good things.

23. Calendar Everything—I am by nature perhaps the most disorganized person on the planet. Calendars and me don’t have a great track record. Day planners have been purchased only to be used for like a week, and then discarded.

But with each new update for iOS for Apple, they’re improving calendar features and making it easier for my wife and I to sync our appointments. It’s not just Apple Calendars. Google has some great resources.

Have trouble with keeping a priority a priority? Schedule it. Put Tuesday evenings down as family time and make it repeat forever. Scheduling your priorities makes it easier to tell people no. When someone asks you for a meeting Tuesday evening, you can honestly say, “I’m sorry, I’ve got a commitment that evening.”

As a pastor, it’s rare I have a slow or peaceful weekend. It’s my busiest time. So I try to take Mondays as a day off. But I find that if I don’t schedule it on my calendar, tasks and people tend to creep in on the time I should be holding as sacred.

24. Clean Your Desk, Dresser, or Work-space Each Day—A cluttered desk is a cluttered mind. When I sit down at my desk, the last thing I need to do is try to remember what I was thinking yesterday with stacks of papers.

I truly stink at this. But hey, I at least keep the spot in front of my keyboard clean.

Even if you stuff it into a file marked “to do”, you’ll find yourself less stressed and feeling ready to tackle the day.

25.  There’s An App for That—No, seriously, there probably is. Whether it’s mobile banking, a calendar app, an app that allows for collaboration between team mates, use it. By the time you read this post, the Apple App Store will have more than 3 million apps. 3 Million! And sure, lots of them are glorified time wasters, but there will be some that help productivity or with scheduling. My favorite time saving apps are Facebook Messenger, Hootsuite, and Dropbox.

26. Tell Your Kids “No”—See #1. Look, I get it. It’s hard to tell anyone no, especially your kids. You brought them into this world and you would give them anything. But just as we need to learn the discipline of saying no and choosing the great over the good, we need to instill this in our offspring.

Unless you have a rough home life and a negative family situation, your kid does not need to be in every sport, event, class, group, club, or organization. I know, Scouts, 4-H, Lacrosse, and Little League are good. They teach life lessons, provide amazing opportunities, and instill important values. Not denying that. But what I do deny is that every child needs all of them to have a worthwhile existence.

In our culture today, many of us engage in what I would call child idolization. We put our kids first, on a pedestal that belongs only to God. Or we’re trying to make our kids have the childhood we never had. If we could read most of our kids minds, what they need is what we do, love, respect, and self-worth. They don’t get that because you give them everything. Learn to balance. Tell your kids no. Teach them to focus on the great instead of lots of good.
I realize not all these tips may help you. There is no magic pill or silver bullet to make your schedule less hectic or reduce the stress you face. But if you will pick a couple of these, consistently apply them, and focus on the great, not the good, I believe you’ll start to see significant improvements in just a few weeks. Dialogue with me: What tips would you add? Which one has worked for you?

Epilepsy, Faith, Family, Life

Walking A New Path

A New Path

Today our family begins a new chapter in our story. It’s an unexpected chapter, one we never saw in the Table of Contents, one we didn’t choose or wish for.

Today, Sophia, our middle child, was diagnosed with epilepsy. She had a seizure on Monday morning, three months to the day since her first and up to now only episode. It has been a long week, but now we have some answers. And yet, at the same time we have even more questions. I’d like to say that this post has some great point, but frankly at this point I am just processing.

Epilepsy? Really? Isn’t that when you have convulsions frequently? My mind is running with stories of people I know with epilepsy. Interestingly, Christina told me that she learned from the doctor that Epilepsy is kind of an automatic diagnosis when there is no other known cause of seizures. Epilepsy is not a one-faceted disease. It is varied and encompasses numerous and diverse symptoms and reactions.

So, we’ve begun a medical regimen that will last at least two years. Two years! That’s half of the life she has lived so far! Hard to fathom.

But I’m glad we have an idea of what’s going on. I’m thankful for all the love and support our family has received just the past few days. The texts, the calls, the visits, the offers of help. They mean a lot. Frankly, we’re tired. Christina and I are at just drained. Trying to understand this as best we can, while raising three kids and all while in the midst of the busiest week of the year for me (Holy Week). It’s an adventure that I don’t recall having signed up for.

But that’s the way it goes. Life is a continual unfolding of God’s story for us. He’s not freaked out by this. He knew what He was doing when He formed Sophia. He knew this would happen before time began, and somehow He will be glorified in all of this.

Sophia obviously doesn’t have a grasp of what is going on. But she’s brave. So many kids her age are scared of doctors and hospitals. But not Sophie. Oh, she’s not the biggest fan of them, but she has been a real trooper this week. 

By the way, I’m not going to call Sophia an epileptic. She will not be defined by this. This doesn’t change who she is, it just affects her. She is defined by God’s love for her. She’s defined by her piercing blue eyes, her love of animals, her love of families, and her love of all things purple.

It’s only fitting that the color of Epilepsy Awareness is Purple… It’s her favorite.

Each of my kids have taught me so much. May Sophia teach me to be brave. And to trust God more each and every day.