Devotionals, Faith, Life, Time

Don’t Put Your Pen Away Just Yet

One of the best habits I’ve developed in the last few years is that of journaling. I still struggle to keep track of to-do lists and reminders, but I’ve gotten good at journaling my devotions or quiet time with God. It usually goes like this: I get a fresh cup of coffee, my journal, Bible, colored pencils for marking passages, and my ink pen. If a verse sticks out to me, or a prayer forms in my mind, I try to make note of it. Each day, I fill 3/4 to a page of notes from my devotions.

But this morning, as I was finishing filling up the page (lots of good stuff this morning!), something clicked in my brain. You see, as I was finishing, I closed my eyes for a time of reflective prayer and I instinctively clicked my ink pen. After all, I was finished, I was done. I had written a whole page! I said all that I needed to say.

But what about what God wanted to say? No, I don’t hear voices and I don’t think I’ve ever heard an audible voice from God. Yet here I was, closing out the time of communication with my creator, having read his words back to him, adding my own petitions along the way, without bothering to ask if he had anything more to add.

Lest some of you more seasoned theologians worry about my beliefs concerning continuing special revelation, rest assured I don’t mean God has some massive revelation for me that I must tell the world. No book deal, no prophecy conference… But what if the Lord has something to remind me of? Have I “been still and [known] that [he] is God”? Or have I finished my prayer time, checking one more thing off the list that I have to do today? God help us when we come to the point that he is just one more item on the list.

Henri Nouwen said about time with God, “Pressing my eyes against my hands is not praying, and reading about your presence is not living in it.” How true! Simply calling my morning routine “devotions” does not make my morning devoted to Christ. It doesn’t mean that I have listened for the leading of the Holy Spirit. In fact, if I put away my ink pen and journal, I might just be closing the door on a great blessing of the Lord showing me some grace or giving me needed assurance. It is one thing for me to tell myself that I am a child of God. It is another thing altogether to hear it from him.

So today, Christian, spend some time in God’s Word. Underline it. Mark it up. Journal. But don’t put your pen away until you’ve listened for the Master’s voice.

Henri Nouwen said about time with God, “Pressing my eyes against my hands is not praying, and reading about your presence is not living in it.”

Christmas, Devotionals, Faith, Time, writings

God is There…

This morning as I was reading God’s Word and praying, I asked that God would be present in my day. How foolish a prayer to be taken literally, for God is omnipresent. He is everywhere.

No, he’s not everything, that’s pantheism, but He is always present.

No, my prayer that God would be present is really a request that I would recognize His being there in my day, not just in the quiet time. With love and respect to some of my more charismatic and more “excitable” brothers and sisters (and even a few United Brethren), God’s presence isn’t limited to dramatic services and hands raised during singing.

God is not limited to being “there” when it’s a “great time in the presence of the Lord”. If this pandemic teaches us anything, oh may it clarify and refocus our theology. Our heavenly Father is at all times present. We simply need to recognize it.

God is in the quiet moments of the morning with your Bible and your cup.

God is in the moments by the fireplace listening to the crackle and pop.

But God is also in the Emergency Room.

He walks the halls of the ICU.

God is there with you in your commute to work and home.

God is with you as you rush to meet another deadline.

God is there when the sirens go off and the volunteers rush to their engines.

God is there with the hospice patient.

God is there at the sewing machine.

God is there as the COVID patient struggles for breath.

God is there as you wash the dishes and take out the trash.

God is there as you disobey him, thinking you’re hiding your sin from Him face.

God is there when you repent for losing your temper or walking away from Him.

God is there as you try for the 1,000th time to tighten that stubborn bolt.

God is there when you are frustrated with your kids, spouse, dog, and/or garbage disposal.

God is there.

See, that is what I love most about the title “Immanuel” given to Jesus. Because Jesus, God the Son, came near, I don’t ever have to doubt the presence of God again. And even though He is already everywhere, for the believer and follower of Christ, there is the indwelling presence of God the Holy Spirit.

And yes, while we must not forsake meeting together, as is the habit of some, I am so thankful that I don’t have to go to a building or a service or a location or even a room in your home. You don’t even have to ask… Because God is there.

Now, do you see Him? No. Do you always feel Him? No. It wouldn’t be faith if you could always feel God. But if we seek Him with our whole heart, we will find Him today. And we’ll discover that He’s been there the whole time. Just as sometimes our eyes don’t focus quick enough to recognize someone passing by, so often we fail to recognize that Immanuel has never left us.

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?

Faith, Life, Time

Is The Devil Making You Too Busy?

“If the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.”

Ever heard that before? I have, and boy if it isn’t true…

Sometimes I can get so busy doing good things that I forget to do what I was supposed to be focusing on.

What about you?

Between work, taking the kids to practice, studying for the next test, trying to keep the lawn looking good, trying to exercise, catching up on laundry, church activities, and parent-teacher meetings, our schedules look less like a family plan and more like a complex algebraic equation.

If I have to be at x by y and then I have to take child 1 to location b, will I have time to go through the drive through or will we all be eating those gummy fruit snacks for dinner for the second time this week?

And we know we need to cut things out, but what? I mean, it’s not like I am running drugs or killing puppies. If I was, it would be a no-brainer to cut those things out. “Hey, honey, if we stop stalking the neighbors, I think we’ll have time for a date night.” Hopefully that’s not the text message you send. I say text because you don’t have time to talk to your spouse. In fact, if it wasn’t for the picture of the two of you on social media, you may forget what they look like.

We’re too busy. I know, you’ve heard it before. But what do you cut out? Our schedules are full of good things. Sports are good. Getting your kids to youth volleyball, dance, and the traveling basketball team is good. Actually showing up to work is good. Folding laundry, that’s’ good. Studying for the exam coming up is good. It’s good. It’s all good.

And I think that’s’ the problem. Let that sink in. The problem is our schedules are full of good things.

And that’s bad.

Confused yet? Do I have your attention? Good. Perfect. Here’s the point: The Enemy of Great is Good.

The enemy of great is good. See, I believe that God has created us for great things that will bring Him glory (see Eph. 2:10). And if you’re a follower of Jesus, God has a task for you to do. And if the devil can’t cause you to walk away from faith, he’ll try to keep you so busy that you’ll be distracted from your faith.

Distraction. It’s a dirty word. It’s perhaps the most commonly committed sin in the North American Church today. In fact, it’s perhaps the root of almost any other sin we struggle with. What’s the first of the 10 Commandments? “You shall have no other gods before Me.”
When we’re distracted, we’re either putting something else ahead of God, or at the very least, we’re regulating God, and His call on our lives, to equal footing with all the other stuff we have going on.

You say: “Ok, Adam, since you seem to have all the answers, what am I supposed to do about it?”  

Well, first of all, you’re not alone. I’m guilty of this too. I get distracted by good things. My schedule is full of good things; things that need done; needs that should be met; obligations that I signed up for. I’m in this too. This post is for me as much as for you, maybe even more so.

But here’s what I am learning: God has some simple steps to stop being so busy and refocus.

Nehemiah was a guy who got things done. And just a quick scan of the Book of Nehemiah gives us 3 steps we can take to reclaim our mission and focus on the great things God wants us to.

1. Realize the Need.

If you don’t see the need to do something different, then you’re not going to change, and the situation is simply going to get worse. In Nehemiah 1, we see how Nehemiah heard about the bad shape Jerusalem was in. The city wall was destroyed, the citizens were discouraged. It was a mockery of God.

We need to realize that there is a problem in our lives. It may be our schedule reveals some deep needs in our lives that we’re trying to meet apart from the redemptive work of Christ, like trying to earn acceptance or praise of others. Or it could be that we just need to realize we’re not making enough time for what really counts. And that’s what leads me to the next step.

2. Reflect on priorities.

The first thing Nehemiah did when he got to Jerusalem was he took a trip around the city to see for himself what was really going on. He checked out the city, inside and out. He did this in secret, not making a show, so he would get an unbiased outlook.

What are you really doing with your time? Have you ever added up the time each week you devote to each task? Have you identified the absolute essentials? We often say “I need to do this or go there…” But that’s not really accurate, is it? Is anyone holding a gun to your head saying you MUST sign the kids up for dance, intro to yoga, softball, and concert band at the same time, in the same week? Did anyone really force to you say yes to helping with the Committee to Appoint More Committees to Do Nothing?

I’m not saying those things are bad. In fact, I think there is a lot of value in those things. What I am saying is that you and I need to reflect on what is most important.

When Nehemiah went around Jerusalem, I’m sure he saw lots of things that needed attention. Streets needed cleaned of debris. Markets needed set up. Wells needed re-dug. Civic institutions needed revamped. But first and foremost, the walls needed built. It was only when Jerusalem was secure could they deal with other important things.
Focus on the priorities before you commit your time to lesser things.

3. Refuse to get distracted.

In Nehemiah 6, some bad dudes named Sanballat and Tobiah were trying to con Nehemiah out of finishing the work on the wall. They didn’t like what was happening. Because when Nehemiah realized the need, reflected on what needed to get done first, and started focusing on the most important things, amazing things happened.

Nehemiah 4:6 tells us that they had completed half of the work in what seemed like record time, because they were focused on it.

So Sandy and Toby didn’t like this. They thought, “Hey, lets get Nehemiah to come to a meeting. He’ll get distracted and then the work will stop.”

Satan and his minions will try to keep you from the most important things. Sure, take another meeting, it’s just one more night away from home. Yeah, sign up for the community group project, it’s just one thing. They need help with coaching Little League? Well, I mean, my kids on the team, so sign me up. Again, good things, but if they take us away from our main goal, they could be distractions.

Nehemiah told his tempters, “Sorry guys, I’m busy doing a GREAT work and I can’t come down and talk. If I stop now, I may not get back.” (Nehemiah 6:3, paraphrased).

It’s so difficult to do this. People will get disappointed. You will feel like you’re letting down your friends. But perhaps they just don’t understand how GREAT the work you’re doing really is.

Next post, I’ll outline some simple ideas to free up time in your schedule.