Friday, August 17, 2018

Alignment - White space and its Purpose in my Tasks

Last week, I shared my general philosophy for how I schedule my time with the promise that I would get more specific this week. To get more specific, I must re-state what I have previously mentioned in this blog. My work-related responsibilities are focused in three primary areas - pastor, adjunct professor, and leader of a non-profit training organization. Additionally, I sometimes assist other churches with administrative/leadership issues. And, I have a wife, two grown children, a son-in-law, a pseudo-adopted son, and a few very close friends. So, yes, like others, I am busy. But it is not THAT I am busy that matters, it is HOW I am busy that allows me to function.

The key for me is stated in the title for this series - Alignment. As I began this series, I mentioned the importance of alignment as I sought to get back on track from my lull in effectiveness. As I mentioned then, my primary method of accomplishing tasks was to find a day with fewer tasks and add any new tasks to that day until I had to move to another day and so on. However, the problem with that approach was the loss of brain power as I moved from one area to the next. One of the challenges those of us who are busy have is finding margin. Juliet Funt calls this whitespace. Funt's organization focuses on helping companies find whitespace (www.whitespaceatwork.com). The idea is to remove as many "low value" tasks as possible to allow people to focus on what is more valuable. This principle is critical, but is not always easy to accomplish in the moment. Besides, as Funt says, "We are too busy to get less busy." (1)

Therefore, let me gently redirect our thinking of whitespace to where we see it most - in the margins of books, newspapers, magazines, etc. A book without margins (or very small ones) is difficult to read. We desire that white space to allow our eyes to better focus, to be less strained, and to be less tired as we read page after page. Likewise, our lives can be better focused and we can feel less strained and tired if we have white space in our lives. But what do we do with that white space?

In a newspaper or magazine, we rarely do anything with it. But, in a book one is meant to learn from (i.e. not a book being read for entertainment), many people will write notes (at least non-Kindle books). Why? To focus their thoughts on what has been read for future benefit. I use my white space the same way in how I schedule my tasks. I want the down time between tasks to prepare me for the next task. (I am only speaking of moving from task to task not taking extended breaks like lunch or something similar). In my previous arrangement when I added tasks based upon my busyness, I had to "switch gears" from my role as pastor to that of adjunct or leading PTC and back. Now, I have aligned my tasks with certain days being focused on on or two of those roles. Within that time of focus, I complete tasks related to one of those roles for the entire day or accomplish everything for one role before moving to the next. Furthermore, I have scheduled a task for each day that reminds me of the intended focus for that day.

My rationale for using the dead time (white space) this way is because with multiple responsibilities, it is not easy to shift from administrative tasks for the church to answering student emails, and then planning a course for PTC. It can certainly be done, but if my mindset is already focused on church-related matters, I gain some synergy by moving from task to task because my brain is already engaged in the general responsibilities of a particular role (pastor, professor, PTC). Although this alignment has only been in place for a few months, I have found my effectiveness has greatly increased.

So, what does this look like practically? Well, Monday or Tuesday is a church-related day. The day of the week depends on which day I teach on campus. If I go to campus on Monday, my church day is Tuesday and vice-versa. This semester, I will be teaching on campus on Tuesday, so my Mondays are largely administrative in nature, but the entire day is related to church-related ministry until I have accomplished each task. This includes catching up on emails, sending a preparatory email for the coming week, preparing for a lesson on Wednesday, as well as any meetings I might have for the week. Currently, another Monday task is working on updating policies and procedures for the church. To gain the maximum benefit, it is helpful for me to combine the preparatory email (for the week's worship service) and the Wednesday night lesson together and all of the other administrative aspects together. In this way, I am focused on teaching and the Bible in one block of time and all administrative matters in another.

This Fall, Tuesday will be centered around gathering materials for class in the morning, generally a meeting over lunch, and teaching from 2:30-5:20. With an hour and forty-five minute drive each way, most of my Tuesday is done. Usually, I am fairly tired when I arrive home, so I use the rest of the evening to relax and prepare for the next day.

I shared a typical Wednesday a couple of weeks ago (primarily church-related), and Thursdays are church-related as well as it is my scheduled day to prepare my sermon, and Sunday-night lesson, as well as any items related to the bulletin that need to be added. When this is finished, I typically will do something related to the seminary (such as grading or checking discussions if I am teaching online).

Friday is primarily a day for PTC when it can be. This includes preparing lessons or thinking strategically. I need the day to become more centered on making contacts and building a network of pastors and churches to be involved in the ministry.

Saturday is often a day for personal matters, but I also use the weekend to catch up on any items that I did not get completed on their scheduled day. (I will have more to say about this in next week's post.) Sunday is primarily a church-related day, but the afternoons can be a time to process other items as well. Sunday evenings after church are typically a time to prepare for Monday.

So, that is a typical week of aligning my tasks. Next week, I will review the idea of prioritizing those tasks with a mention of the software I use. The key for anyone is not which software to use (several good choices exist), but to know how to use the software that meets your needs in the way YOU want to use it. I will say more about this in a future post as well.

For now, I must stop as this post is much longer than I would typically like. So, once again, if anything I have written helps you, I am thankful. So, until next week, take whatever steps you need to become more of the person God would have you to be.


(1) Juliet Funt, Global Leadership Summit, 2017

Friday, August 10, 2018

Alignment - The Philosophy of Scheduling Time

Over the past couple of weeks, I have focused on general aspects of time. Specifically, I have written about the need to take an inventory of our time (here) and the way to begin to prioritize the tasks that make up that inventory (here). In doing these two steps, we are much better prepared to allocate our time according to the work we need to accomplish.

Again, I realize that many people will want to start with an inventory of the work (i.e. tasks) that needs to be done instead of the time. Certainly, the two go hand in hand, but the reality is that tasks change and time does not. God gave man 24 hours in a day, but He gives us different tasks. Noah had 24 hours and built an ark over 120 years. Moses had 24 hours and led the Israelites through the wilderness for 40 years. Jesus had 24 hours and sought and saved the lost over approximately 3.5 years. For the last 2000 years, people of all backgrounds and responsibilities such as the apostle Paul, Luther, Washington, Lincoln, Ford, Gates, Jobs, etc., have all had 24 hours. And each had to measure their time in order to accomplish their tasks.

So, now we are ready to consider how we schedule our time. And to effectively schedule our time, both the time inventory and the priorities matter greatly. The importance of the time inventory is to help us know how much actual time we typically spend on a given task. Many people will underestimate the time needed and thus run into a time crunch. The time inventory can help us mitigate this issue. (Of course, distractions will occur making the inventory less than perfect, but without a starting point - which was likely developed with distractions taking place - we will mislead ourselves in setting our schedule. Likewise, the priorities matter because we can move certain items to different days or parts of a day when our energy and focus is better or not as much needed.

So, for me, two key factors lead the thought process - the day and the number of hours available in that day. The day is important because certain days have pre-established events. On Sunday morning, as a pastor, my day is pre-planned from 9 am to noon and from 5:45-7:30 pm. On Wednesdays, my evening is pre-planned from 6:15-8:15 or so, and we often have some sort of team meeting at 5:30. Additionally, I must prepare for those scheduled times. Sunday morning requires sermon preparation. Sunday and Wednesday evenings requires preparation of a lesson. And to honor the time of my wife (who is the part-time administrative assistant), I must prepare the sermon and lessons before they are "due" to ensure she can prepare handouts, powerpoints, etc. Furthermore, a lesson takes a certain amount of time, but a sermon takes more. And, for me, I prefer to prepare the lessons, and especially the sermon, with a relatively consistent stream of thought. That is, I don't want to work on something for 15-30 minutes, then do something else, then return to the sermon, then do something else, etc. Granted, sermon preparation takes me several hours and is interrupted by lunch, but otherwise the task itself is usually the single focus of work being done on a Thursday until it is complete. Therefore, I need to schedule a large block of time to accomplish the task.

This idea has come to be known as deep work. Cal Newport published a book with the title Deep Work in 2016. Although I have not yet read the book, the premise is that our brains cannot engage in the deep thinking required to accomplish tasks which stretch us mentally. For instance, our society has become so accustomed to hearing pings and beeps and seeing notifications on our phone. In fact, my phone has a blue light "blinking" at me right now. It has been doing so since I started this blog and will continue until I am finished. What would be better is for me to turn my phone face down and disable any sound or vibrations, but I have not done that because writing this blog requires some thinking but not deep thinking like the preparation of a sermon. (I sometimes leave my phone at home on Thursdays until my sermon is done to avoid most every distraction).

So, the schedule must account for the amount of time necessary to accomplish work that requires deep thinking. Combining the time needed to thinking deeply with the tasks that are of the highest priority, begins to define the schedule for me. Furthermore, I find that I am most productive when working through a consistent schedule whenever possible. Like last week's post showed, I can adapt when necessary, but it is best for me to prepare a couple of days in advance at least to give my mind time to consider the lesson and make alterations if needed. Thus, Wednesday night lessons are developed on Monday. Sermons are developed on Thursday. In each case, it is like writing a draft of a paper. I develop the draft and have enough time to "forget" about it, so that when I review it, I can see it with fresh eyes and make appropriate changes. Therefore, I have sufficient time blocks allocated on Monday and Thursday to accomplish these tasks. As a pastor, flexibility is needed at times (for instance, people having surgeries, meeting with the sick or dying, or funeral preparations), but if I do not have a schedule with which to begin, then I will certainly overlook some important tasks later.

This post has provided a philosophy for scheduling time. Essentially, I am most effective when I set aside time based upon the day certain items are "due" and the hours necessary to do deep work first. From that point, I can begin to place other items in place. Over the past few years my random placement of tasks based merely on the time available was adequate but was not allowing my brain to remain properly engaged for a full day. Thus, I needed to take one more step. I needed alignment of my thoughts to be most effective. I have touched on this in a previous post (here), but I will go a little deeper in next week's post. In subsequent weeks, I will then share how I am using certain software applications to tie all of this together.

Again, I appreciate all who read these posts. I write them in the hopes that, at least, one person may benefit from my journey through this process. And, even if the article does not help others, taking time to write is giving me a chance to crystallize my thoughts - which is helping me as I make adaptations to become more effective and be better equipped to become the man God has called me to be. Ultimately, to live in, not of, the world (the basis for fotonni) requires me to live by faith (Heb 11.6) but to do so by maximizing what God has given me to do (Matt 25.14-30; Luke 12.48). So, thanks for indulging me, and I hope it can help you become the person God has called you to be as well.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Alignment - The Covey Matrix and Rescheduling Priorities

Last week I spoke of the need to take an inventory of how we spend our time. Our tasks are important, but over the course of our life, our responsibilities change. What does not change is how much time we have in a day. So, rather than beginning with our list of responsibilities (tasks), we must begin with how we spend our time.

For instance, I usually prepare my blog on Wednesday in order to post on Friday. Today is the exception because I have an opportunity to see a friend from Nigeria who is in America for just a few more days. I only learned he in Kansas City (about 2 hours away) on Tuesday, and fortunately, he is unable to meet today, so we are planning on having a long lunch tomorrow. But means that I must get today's work done as well as tomorrow's (which is usually sermon prep day). But because I know my time inventory as well what is important versus urgent, I can make adjustments when the needs (or in this case desire) arise.

Before I share more about Covey's Matrix, let me provide the time inventory for a normal Wednesday. After I wake up, I usually lie in bed for 30-60 minutes and think. Some will call this a waste of time, but for me, it allows me to process my thoughts and begin to take control of them. What I mean is that you have no control over your thoughts at the moment you awake. Perhaps a noise has startled you, or a dream had control of your mind, etc. So I get those thoughts out of my way and begin thinking about what I need to consider because once I am out of bed, I am normally in "go" mode (except if my back is hurting). Then, I get ready, eat, set out the trash, head to the office and begin my daily work including to post the church blog, prepare my personal blog, prepare for any meetings that evening (not studies, those are completed Monday), do some administrative work, eat lunch, read, do sermon research, do something related to PTC, eat dinner, attend a meeting, go to prayer meeting in summer (Community Groups the rest of the year), check emails and Facebook,  journal (I resume this discipline today), and relax while watching a show with my wife. Finally, the day ends as it started - in bed. (The timeline for a typical Wednesday with the related Covey Quadrant is as the bottom of this post.)

But this week, I must consider what is most important if I am to cover two days worth. This is where having considered the Covey Matrix is helpful. The picture here is a quick review of what each quadrant represents and how to use it effectively. (The full article is worth your time. It can be found at: https://succeedfeed.com/stephen-covey-4-quadrants-to-be-productive/.)
Picture found at:
https://succeedfeed.com/stephen-covey-4-quadrants-to-be-productive/

Most everything on a typical Wednesday is in Quadrant 2, but I can cut time from Quadrant 4 by limiting my thought-processing time early, by eating quickly, and postponing my sermon research and administrative work scheduled for Wednesday this week. Thankfully, four additional factors are very helpful this week. First, my back did not hurt this morning, so I gained time then. Second, I was extraordinarily productive Monday so I can skip the administrative work. Third, much of my research for my sermon was completed last December because I was writing a series of sermon outlines for LifeWay which I am currently using now, and our church is in the midst of some renovations so we are not having a meeting that is typically scheduled for this evening.

So, I can look at my schedule and see what is most important for these today and tomorrow if I wish to see my friend. These are items which I must do (i.e. I cannot delegate), and do not want to become stressed by delaying the work. If you recall above, I mentioned I do my Wednesday lesson planning on Mondays (when it is important, but not urgent) rather than Wednesdays (when it would be both important and urgent). This is why I do sermon research (Quadrant 2) on Wednesday so I can do my sermons on Thursday (again Quadrant 2, since the sermon is not "due" until Sunday morning). However, I must also consider anyone else who is effected by my work. If a powerpoint or handout is to be used, then that person needs to have the information timely. And if I am to be a good leader and set the example, then I need to get my information to the person(s) involved in a manner so they can operate in Quadrant 2 as well (i.e. not putting them in a urgent mode because of my lack of planning).

Therefore, this week, I need to determine if I want to push off my sermon prep (Thursday's primary task) until Friday or do it a day early. The problem with moving it up is that I am normally not mentally ready to do it on a Wednesday. The problem with moving it back is that my Fridays are usually heavily focused on my work as an adjunct for the seminary, and that is especially true this week. So, in weighing the options, today (Wednesday) is the better day. To mentally prepare, I woke up 45 minutes earlier, abbreviated my morning schedule, and began my work earlier. For instance, I am in the final moments of writing this blog and the time is not quite 9:30 am, which is usually about an hour before I would begin it, so I will have about two hours to begin working on my typical afternoon items - one of which I mentioned I will forgo this week because the research is already complete. So, I should be able to complete my sermon and its related components today, which will free me up to be gone for several hours tomorrow and still remain free of Quadrant 1.

As Covey said, "the key is not to schedule our priorities, but to prioritize our schedule." If you review my schedule below, you will see that I have some Q4's at the beginning and end of my day, but otherwise my schedule is prioritized to accomplish what is important before it comes urgent. Therefore, while I prefer to keep to this schedule, I have some buffer in my overall schedule should an emergency arise (such as a member of my congregation having surgery) or if a rare opportunity presents itself (like a friend from 1/3 of the way around the world being two hours away). Of course, the opportunities (rare or otherwise) should fit within the scope of your overall life mission, but that was last year's series. For me, seeing Ayo does fulfill my mission (and my vision) as another friend and I are considering going to Nigeria next year on mission so talking to Ayo while he is here fits perfectly!

Again, my purpose in sharing these posts is ultimately that we become better disciples for Jesus. God is the author of time (as well as life), so learning to manage ourselves related to the time we have been given will allow us to not only be more effective, but to know when worthwhile alterations to our plans are possible and when they are not. Therefore, I hope these musings are profitable for those who read it, not just in me sharing from my experiences, but in helping others to consider how to best organize (align) their lives as well.

--
Time Inventory (Covey Quadrant):
45 minutes (6:45-7:30) - Awake and process thoughts (Quadrant 4)
1 hour (7:30-8:30) - Get ready and eat, set out the trash, and stretch my back (Q2, I often read ministry-related magazine articles as well, thus Q2)
8:30-9:00 - Quickly review 3 websites for news and sports, post Church blog (Q4)
9:00-11:30 - Prepare for meetings, Church-related admin work, prepare blog (Q1, blog is Q2)
11:30-12:15 - Eat lunch and relax (Q4)
12:15-12:30 - Check emails (Q3)
12:30-4:00 - Read Bible, sermon research, and read from a book (Q2)
4:00-5:00 - PTC - related (Q2, usually, could be Q1)
5:00-5:30 - Eat (Q4)
5:30-6:30 - Meeting (Q2 usually, but occasionally Q1)
6:30-8:00 - Community Groups (prayer meeting ends earlier) (Q2)
8:00-8:30 - Get home, prepare a small snack (Q4)
8:30-bed - Emails, Facebook, journal, and watch a tv show (Q3 to Q4)

Friday, July 27, 2018

Alignment - An Inventory of Time Spent

At the conclusion of last week's blog, I mentioned that I would begin to detail my week in the next post. Well, as I conceptualized the blog, I realized I needed to back up to discuss the need of reviewing how our time is spent before sharing how alignment can work. So, bear with me as I discuss the need to be honest in learning to budget our time (this week) and determining the importance of each item (next week).

One of the concepts most anyone who has studied personal effectiveness will share is that it is important for an individual to know what they do with their time. Most people are familiar with the idea of a financial budget, but we are all familiar with a time budget - many just do not know it. For instance, a person who has a job knows how long it takes to get to the proper location and makes plans to be there timely. Or, a parent who is taking a child to school has an idea of how long it will take to get to school AND potential routes to take in case of problems (such as traffic), with a nearly automatic adjustment for the difference in time. Of course, in America, one of the greatest indicators of our awareness of our time budget relates to the meals we eat. Eating out is "faster" than making something at home and microwaving a hot pocket is "faster" than preparing a roast in the crock pot. So, we are aware of our limitations of time and very loosely budget it, but to become effective, we must be firm in our understanding.

Firm does not mean inflexible, but it does mean knowing how we spend all of our time. Just like knowing where our money goes, knowing how we spend our time can be very freeing. As many have noted, many people can have different amounts of money, possessions, family members, and different levels of health, but we all have the same amount of time. Yet, most of us have said something to the effect, I wish I had more time. But we cannot make more time. We are confined to what God has given us, so if we are too busy then it is our fault, not God's. (For Christians, this is particularly important, because as we become busy, we often cut from our time with, or serving, God!)

So, taking the time to review not just our calendars, but the things we do is a great place to start aligning one's life. The challenge for most people who attempt this is they begin to judge the activity before recording it. My encouragement is to avoid that temptation by considering this exercise similar to that of brainstorming. In brainstorming, the idea is simply to record any ideas. Judging the merits of those ideas come later. Likewise, when recording the time you spend, you may have habits that you would rather not record the amount of time you spend. However, if we choose to take that approach, we are not being honest with ourselves. First, record the time, then make the decision on what needs to be adjusted.

For me, I have three primary areas of responsibility related to "jobs." I am a full-time pastor. I am an adjunct professor. And, most recently, I have added the responsibility for leading an organization to train under-resourced pastors around the world (and to-date, I have done nearly all of the training). Those three areas keep me busy, and could lead to burnout. So, last Fall, I began to relieve some of the stress by playing a video game (soccer). This began as an activity a couple of days per week. Then, shortly afterward, my lower back began to ache each morning, so I began to play the game each morning for several minutes (maybe 30), while swaying back and forth and stretching out my back. This worked great for my back, but as I continued progressing in the game, the 30 minutes turned into 45, then 60, and sometimes longer. My back did not need the extra time (most days), but I would get to a point in the season that I didn't want to lose my thought process (if you understand what the transfer window is, you may understand). I was still accomplishing my tasks, because I would get up earlier, but the time I was spending on this game was becoming detrimental to my thought process (and led to my being stuck).

So, I needed to take the time to take inventory on my week. I knew I was spending too much time on the video game, but until I realized that what had been a couple of hours per week was now taking multiple hours per day a few times per week (ouch!), I could not begin to shift my time. I was not unaware of the time playing the game in general, but rather than dismiss the exercise of reviewing my time or negating the truth, I admitted the truth (personally, and now here publicly) and could then begin to work towards returning to functioning much more effectively. Once I had reviewed how I was spending my time, I was able to remove some of the unimportant and less important items and better coordinate the tasks, meetings, and other responsibilities into the time that I have on a weekly basis.

The truth is that books such as What's Best Next (Perman), and Smarter, Faster, Better (Duhigg) will do little to help unless you are willing to change what needs to be changed. But sometimes knowing what needs to be changed means simply taking time to know what we are doing or developing an understanding as to why we are doing certain things (see The Power of Habit by Duhigg). But once that truth is realized, the choice must be made to change. And once the choice is made to change, then the challenge is be disciplined enough to do so.

So, this next week, I encourage you to take an inventory of how you spend your time. This inventory does not need to be shared with anyone (unless you desire to do so), so be honest with yourself. After recording the items, then you can begin to make choices on what should remain and what can be omitted. But, I would urge you not to discard the list yet, because you may want to add one more piece of information to help you make your choices. I will cover that next week, and then begin to turn to how I have re-allocated my time each week.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Alignment -> Synergy

Last week, I mentioned that I was making a distinction between alignment and focus. The idea of alignment and ministry first really captured me in the book Simple Church. The authors define alignment as "maximizing the energy of everyone." (The authors also distinguished between alignment and focus in that book.) As it relates to personal productivity, I am not concerned with the energy of everyone. Although others impact me and my efforts impact others, the alignment I seek revolves around what I need to accomplish and when.

Most who will read this blog will find themselves in a similar position to myself - busy. One of the keys to personal effectiveness is keeping oneself organized. Without a good system of organization, we lose track of our time, our responsibilities, and what we need to accomplish our work. I will cover aspects of each of these areas in the coming weeks, but for now, let me simply say that I have been experimenting over the past few years with a few approaches, and I believe a part of why I am more effective (i.e. productive) now is because I have narrowed down the best option FOR ME. Again, I will say more about this in my next few posts.

As for alignment, however, one of the ways I have managed myself over the past couple of years has been based upon how busy I was on a particular day of the week. If my Monday did not look particularly busy, and I realized I had a new task to complete, I would add it to Monday. Logically, this approach seems to make sense, particularly if, for instance, Tuesday and Wednesday were "filled" with tasks and/or meetings. And, for the most part, this approach was ok - at least until I hit a bit of a wall last Fall. But as I have been reading and contemplating over these past couple of months, one idea came to mind - my approach to completing my dissertation.
With all of the options we have in our lives,
we need to find a way to focus to find what approach
makes most sense for each of us as an individual.

When I first began working on my dissertation, I got distracted from my topic by researching the tangent of discipleship. Of course, discipleship is a broad term, but my dissertation was to focus on how a church's understanding of herself could impact the desire and ability to make disciples. But I lost focus because I was doing my research as I had time - a little each day - in addition to serving as a pastor, etc. But it wasn't until I created a physical space for me to work (my "dissertation station") that I began to excel. When I entered that area, I was not only focused on researching and writing my dissertation, I aligned myself mentally to the task as well.

This leads to the importance of alignment as I am using the term in this series of posts. Adding new tasks to a day without much work to do sounds logical, but for me it isn't the best approach if I have to mentally shift gears from one area of responsibility to another. Again, I serve as a full-time pastor, an adjunct professor, and have started a mission organization to teach pastors in under-privileged areas of the world. All three of these work-related areas are linked by the concept of teaching others, but the individual responsibilities within each vary greatly. For instance, pastoring has many responsibilities other than teaching and leading a small organization requires financial oversight, curriculum development, and developing a donor base, etc. Thus, to focus on a task was not enough. I needed to align my tasks by responsibility and then focus on the tasks at hand.

This has been a major breakthrough for me. While my specific approach is different than when I sat at the "dissertation station," aligning tasks by area of responsibility allows me to maintain a stream of thought, which creates a bit of synergy. So, instead of adding a task to a day which was less busy, I now seek to add the task in alignment with other tasks for that particular area of my life. In doing so, to alter the phrase of Rainer and Geiger I shared above, I am able to "maximize the energy of one." My "to-do list" may seem far more crowded on some days, but the synergy gained is allowing me to accomplish more as I focus on the aligned tasks at hand. (Certainly, this is not possible with every task nor on every day. Certain issues comes up and interruptions happen, but to follow this concept in principle is helping me a great deal.)

So, having generally discussed the benefits of alignment, next week, I will begin to share more specifically how I now approach each week. Again, my purpose in writing this series is in hopes that even one person might benefit. I have found a system that is beneficial to me. It is helping me to better fulfill my purpose as a child of God. You may need to tweak my system or come up with your own all together, but I pray the words I type here might be an encouragement for you to better fulfill your purpose as well.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Alignment, Intro

Over the last several months, I have mentioned my journey to regain a sense of focus, re-energize myself, and begin accomplishing the purpose I believe God has for me. Over the last couple of weeks, I believe I have begun moving in that direction again and feel good about the progress I have made. Along the way, I have promised I would share a few specific insights. In this post, I begin to share the importance of alignment which will be further detailed in subsequent posts. Overall, as I share these insights over the next several weeks, I do so with the intent that what I have learned may help someone else.


If you are a long-time reader of this blog, you know that my primary mantra for life is “When you stop learning, you start dying.” I believe this is true for several reasons, but one primary reason is that when we believe we know it all, we are unwilling to listen to others. When we stop listening to others, we no longer process new information – some of which may give us insights into improving our lives. I enjoy reading, but nearly all of the reading I do is to be encouraged or inspired. That is, I read books that will encourage me to grow in my ability to lead, to organize, to teach, etc. and to be inspired by seeing how the actions of others might help me better understand a situation or a person. This latter bit is usually through history and/or biographies (Currently, I am working my way through American history splitting time between biographies of the presidents (in order) while sprinkling in books about the society and wars during their terms.) So, my reading is meant to learn, which you might recall from my series on vision last year is an acrostic for my personal strategy.


Thus, it only makes sense that I would turn to books to help me move beyond my current rut. Last year, I read Matt Perman’s excellent book (“What’s Best Next”). I made it a goal to return to that book each year to make sure that my intentions were not slipping. The date set for that is July 1 of each year, so I am just now getting to it. But this Spring, his next book (“Unstuck”) was released and the timing of the release coincided with me beginning to seek answers to why I was stuck (although, that was not my word choice – I thought “distraction” was better at the time). But before Unstuck was released I began reading Duhigg’s instant classic on habit (The Power of Habit). And, because I had a fresh understanding of Duhigg’s work, I decided to begin his next book (Smarter, Faster, Better) immediately after finishing the first one. Then, finally, I turned to Unstuck. If I had to do it over, I would read Unstuck before Smarter, Faster, Better because you cannot move faster while you are stuck – you simply spin your wheels more. Nevertheless, having worked my way through these latter three books, and now reviewing What’s Best Next, I am no longer stuck, and a big part of that is alignment.


Alignment is the word I have ascribed to my current state. A couple of posts ago, I used the word “Focus” which is more common in society, and is prevalent in Unstuck, for instance. In fact, a couple of sentences from the latter third of the book speak to the idea of focus in a manner which has already benefited me.


“If you work with a low degree of focus, you will have to work a much longer time to get the same results. Conversely, if you work with a high degree of focus, you can do the same amount of work in much less time.”

– Matt Perman, Unstuck, p. 192

This statement is not from the pages of a book on rocket science. But sometimes getting unstuck is simply returning to principles we know to be true, but have forgotten to apply. Thus learning is only the first step...application must follow. And effective application of what is true is wisdom. So, for me it was a call to return to focusing on the right things. But as important as focus is, over these last two weeks, I have discovered that what I had considered to be focus, has actually become alignment. Focus is definitely a critical component of personal effectiveness, but focus is about the task at hand. For me, I needed to connect tasks from differing areas of my life into those specific areas. Connecting related ideas is known as alignment, and thus, while I agree wholeheartedly with the need to focus, it was not until I adopted an attitude of alignment that I truly began to move forward and accomplish what I need to accomplish.

Next week, I will share how I began to align my time.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Big “Mo” + Schedule Change

Note: Beginning next week, my regular posting day will be Friday.

If you have been reading for the last month or so, you know that I have been stuck in a couple of areas in my life. Both are administrative in nature, and have not reached a point of being critical – yet. But being stuck in these areas has led me to do some deeper thinking and reflection on other matters in my life and I altered the selection of books I would be reading to help me discover and, hopefully, unlock what was necessary to get moving again. In last week’s post, I mentioned that movement was taking place. This week, I can share that the movement has become momentum – I think.

Momentum is a fickle thing. We say we have momentum when things are going well, and perhaps we do. But momentum is not as real as we might think – at least not in all areas. In the realm of sports, momentum is discussed all the time, but really, it does not exist. One team may be doing well for awhile, but then the game shifts and the announcers say the “momentum” has shifted. Really, it is about one team making more (and better) plays than the other at any given moment. Certainly, a person’s or team’s confidence may be different, but momentum is a term from physics which measures mass and velocity. It does not measure confidence or performance. And, thus, to say that my movement has become momentum is likely not the right choice of terms.

But the movement that began is seemingly moving faster (an element of true momentum). As I evaluated some areas, I made some changes in my life and schedule and found that the movement over the first week has created even greater efficiency, and, more importantly, effectiveness over these last few days. Thus, I will hold to the idea of momentum being the right term.

That said, I do intend to provide some specific thoughts on this issue in the coming weeks. Instead I will close this post with an explanation of the initial sentence. As I have re-evaluated some aspects of my schedule, I have determined a few changes are in order. I have re-assigned certain activities to certain days and have added a few elements (through delegation) to make me more effective overall. One of those additions relates to this blog and the timing of it being posted each week. I considered moving other responsibilities to keep Thursday as the day for posting, but those changes will not work once my teaching schedule increases again in the Fall. So, the best approach for me is to change my posting day and make it Friday instead of Thursday.

The change will begin next week and I will then outline some of the ideas that have helped me and that may be of benefit to you as well.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

A Push + Focus = Movement

If you have read my posts recently, you know that I have been struggling to get over the hump in a couple of areas. I have been reading books and seeking to discern why I cannot move past this time of being stuck. I have had ideas floating in my mind for months, but nothing concrete has emerged. And then, in reading Smarter, Faster, Better (by Charles Duhigg), I was reminded that writing things down makes a difference for most people in not only retention, but also in our ability to process information.

The issue for me is that, like many pastors and educators, I am on the computer a lot. I am a believer that we need three main systems to track our lives – a task list, a calendar, and a place to store information. I have those and they are all accessible on my computer and/or phone (ToDoist, Google Calendar, Evernote, respectively). I am still trying to develop the system to work perfectly for me, but I have the system in place. So, if I have a note to type, it goes on the computer. And that can help, because I can see it before me rather than floating in the nebulous of my mind. But, in one of the stories Duhigg mentions, the difference between writing something down versus typing it on a computer can be significant.

So, I am resolved to write down some items that I believe are inhibiting me from being as effective as I desire to be. (And after these ideas are written and better understood, I will type them into Evernote to have them for future use.) I have already taken two main steps this week to correct some of the issues even as I seek to uncover more. And, sometimes it just takes a push.

Last week, I received a call about an opportunity to teach a class. This class will be a stretch for me in many ways but is perfectly inline with the work I did on my dissertation. Perhaps, I could state it this way – my dissertation covers one element of the class I have been asked to teach. But the preparation will be intense. And it will be important. This class will be the first opportunity for me to teach doctoral students so the bar is raised considerably. I do not take teaching lightly and this past Spring I taught an undergrad class that had a few students who are certainly capable of earning a doctorate someday. Thus, I seek to be prepared for any class. But doctoral students are more demanding (I know, I remember), so I must be fully prepared. And that was the push I needed! I believe that push has allowed me to crest the hump. I believe I am back on the path where I can be more effective than I have been in recent months. Certainly, the books have helped, and I will continue to read (and intend to immediately re-read the most recent set I mentioned a few weeks ago) to prevent myself from slipping off the path again just as I gain momentum. But, it is good to be moving forward again.

Even as I say I am moving forward, I must confess, that the two areas where I have been stuck are not the area where I was pushed. But the push forced me to consider my overall schedule, my overall objectives, and the overall scope of work which needs to be done in a certain time-frame. Thus, I have re-cast my schedule. I have created “Focus” days where each weekday will focus on tasks related to a certain responsibility (i.e. Mondays are focused on administrative issues related to the church, Fridays are focused on seminary-related work, etc). Seeing this ON PAPER (yes, I wrote it down) and not in both my daily task and calendar as visual reminders has helped me immensely just in the first few days. Of course, some tasks and responsibilities will need to be handled on non-focus days, and that is fine. But if the focus for the day is church-related, the church must be the primary focus which should bring some synergy of thought instead of simply attacking unrelated tasks across my various roles. (This is going beyond prioritization of tasks. I still do that as well, but I am better aligning tasks on the particular days where that segment of my life (i.e. role) is focused.)

So, again, a simple push has set me in motion. But the push came because I was seeking answers. And, in light of my current sermon series on Seeking the Heart of God, I hope my seeking was truly after what God wanted. I believe it is/was and now it is up to me to continue seeking Him and focusing on moving forward as He wants me to move. Ultimately, whatever God has planned for me (big or small) does not matter – my job is to be faithful to Him! And being faithful meant that I had to get unstuck. He has helped me do that. Now it is up to me to follow which means I must try to avoid getting stuck again.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

It Begins With One

The current sermon series I am preaching is entitled, “Seeking the Heart of God.” It is based upon the life of David (“a man after God’s own heart”) and is covering 2 Samuel. Of course to seek God is not to be perfect, but should lead us to better reflect Him and His character. Last week’s message was on the need for our motivation to be from love. This week’s message was on reconciliation.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I am also working through several books to help me be more productive (i.e. personal effectiveness) and one to get me “unstuck” in a couple of areas. Well, to bridge the gap between the effectiveness I seek and the reconciliation God desires for me, I must seek a solution that begins with me.

To reconcile means to bring into balance. That is what I am trying to do. At present, a part of my life is out of balance. I am not actively engaged in anything wrong, I am just stuck. And a part of that “being stuck” might be considered procrastination. I am not actively procrastinating (I don’t think), but I keep pushing off two particular tasks which do not have a definitive timeframe for completion, are very cumbersome, and for which I can not seem to determine a good approach (for one especially). However, I am beginning to see a possibility for that one item and have gained a bit of momentum on the other this past week. How? I took inventory.

Again, being reconciled means to bring into balance. Some will reconcile their bank balance to the personal records for instance. Others immediately think of reconciling with a person or a group of people (the focus of my sermon this week). But oftentimes, one of the biggest challenges to true reconciliation is that as an individual, I (and perhaps you as well) do not stop to take the time to see where I am out of balance with myself (or you with yourself). This is a real issue and can best be resolved with pen and paper or at a minimum seeing the words on a screen.

The reality is that we often think we know what may be wrong, but let half-developed ideas ramble around inside our heads and never force ourselves to deal with those ideas. By writing them down (or typing them), we can visualize the problems and begin to make sense of them in a more tangible way. We are also likely not to combine as many ideas; rather, by listing out a few, and taking time to truly analyze each one, many discover deeper challenges or realize that certain issues dominate others and deserve more attention in the short-run.

The truth is that whatever the focus of reconciliation, the process can be the same. Instead of needing to improve personal effectiveness (like I do right now), perhaps another time I will need to reconcile with another person. In that case, I can still take an inventory about the situation and list areas where I need to focus. Bringing myself into balance will be important before trying to bring another person into balance with me. In others words, I should learn to better know myself before I seek to better know others. Now, that statement is not an excuse to ignore others until I am perfect (because I never will be), but sometimes I have found that when tension exists in a relationship, it is not necessarily what someone else has done, rather, it is how I interpreted the action because of something that I was dealing with (or not dealing with) personally.

So, reconciliation begins with one. And for me, that one is me. And for you that one is you. It is that simple. But as you begin to know yourself and I begin to know myself, we should then seek to reconcile with others. After all, that is what God did for us on the cross and, as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5, we now have the responsibility to be agents of reconciliation for God – first toward Him and then towards one another.

With that, I encourage you to stop and take inventory about whatever is troubling you in your life and/or relationships. It must begin with one. For me, I have begun that process, and plan to see it through. And I am writing this post as a reflection of what I am learning and as an encouragement you take inventory of yourself as well.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

When Doing Nothing Is Something

As I mentioned in last week’s blog (here), I have been stuck in a couple of areas lately. Neither area is critical at this moment, but both are important for me to complete – and the sooner the better. Thus, I have reason to be focused, but perhaps, a part of my challenge has been a lack of motivation. So, how have I done, or specifically, what have I done towards either effort this week? Nothing! And I feel good about that.

Technically, I have moved forward in one of the books I mentioned last week (Smarter, Faster, Better). I have picked up some points that are helping me to process a bigger picture and to take an even better inventory of my life than I have done in the past. I have not yet really begun this process, but I am re-considering the importance of it. However, the idea of motivation is, in part, why I have done so little. And not because of the lack of motivation, but because my motivation is returning – and is changing.

In my sermon this past week, I spoke about motivation using the first couple of chapters from 2 Samuel. A particular Amalekite was motivated by greed (looking for some kind of reward from David). David and the men of Jabesh-Gilead were motivated, at the very least, by respect for the king (Saul). And, if we expanded the study, we can find others within the Bible who are motivated by many different factors. And so are we. And so am I. So, my challenge to the congregation (which includes myself) was to align our motivation with the Great Commandment – to love God and love others. Now, this is not easy. As I mentioned, living a life of love is tiring, and that is true because some people are tiresome. And, although, I am one of those people whom God might find tiresome, He loved me enough to send Jesus to die for me, and loves me enough to guide me through these times of being stuck so that when I overcome, I can serve Him better than before (at least, that is my hope).

The application for the week was to do something you normally not do from a motivation of love. Just one thing. The idea being that if we do one thing, we might do more. Well, my one thing was already scheduled on my calendar, but it is something I do not do often enough, and I found myself having a magnificent day because of it although I “accomplished” nothing. But, in doing what I did, I accomplished a great deal, and I was refreshed as well.

What did I do? I listened. Yes, I talked some too. And depending on the interaction, I talked less and more. In fact, I would characterize the day by saying I listened much, listened equally, listened some, and when those scheduled opportunities were done, I listened a lot more. But I did not “do” anything yesterday. I checked a couple of emails on my phone, and had some texts related to an issue that I needed to review, but I did not get on a computer, because it was a day to listen and to hear – and to do that requires some aspect of love.

I listened to a student whom I have have known for a little more than a year who is facing several transitions in his life. I listened to him describe the excitement he experienced over this past week, and the concerns he faces regarding one particular decision that must be made within the coming months.

I listened to another student whom I have known for approximately 10 years and would consider a friend as we were in school together for part of that time. Now, I listened as we caught up with each other on our ministries and, specifically, on some goals he has related to finishing his dissertation in the coming months.

I listened to an uncle who has provided a great deal of guidance for many young men and women over the past several decades including myself. We both shared some of the challenges we face, challenges our country faces, and life in general. A conversation with this uncle can go any direction and cover nearly any topic, but are nearly always rewarding and yesterday’s conversation was no different.

Apart from those scheduled encounters, I listened to my daughter describe her current social happenings, hopes for the coming weekend, plans for a trip she is planning, etc. Later, I listened to my son-in-law describes with great enthusiasm how God had worked in a particular situation to not only allow him to take a class that is needed, but provided the materials necessary free of charge!

Thinking my day was largely done I returned home from the city and had a short conversation with a church member who recently battled some health issues. I listened to my wife as she described her day while I had traveled to KC. Then, I received a call from a church member and friend who needed to simply vent about an ongoing challenge her family is facing.

It was a good day of listening. And as I thought about it while lying in bed, it was tiring, because I had listened with love. None of the people were tiring, but the day was. However, as physically tired as I was (leaving early/returning late), my mind was refreshed. Why? Because friendships were strengthened, students were helped, family bonds were deepened. And all because of love.

So, while I did not check off one item on my to-do list, I had a productive day. And that day showed me the truth of the statement that we can get so busy do ministry that we forget to minister. Yesterday, I ministered. Now, I must return to ministry. But I do so moving out of a place where I have felt stuck, knowing that doing ministry in love will mean I better minister as well, and realizing that taking time to simply listen (and talk some) is something to schedule – not as a task to check off a list, but as a way to both refresh myself and refresh others as well.

Perhaps this post might encourage you to find a new way to find a way to be purposeful by doing something not on your typical to-do list. If so, I hope you find yourself as refreshed as I am.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Beginning to Break Free from Blah...

Over the past several months, much of my life has been going well; however, I cannot seem to get over the hump in a couple of areas. The main part of the challenge is in completing two primary goals – each of which contain several tasks. I largely know what to do, but have struggled to get there. The problem is that I have prided myself so long on accomplishing the goals before me at a relatively quick pace (not burnout pace). Both of these goals are important to complete for various reasons, and I definitely have the motivation to complete them, but I have not been able to find the usual drive to do so.

Additionally, I have found myself reading less this year. While last year’s reading goal of one book per week was rather aggressive, this year, I have only read a handful so far (although two were VERY lengthy biographies on John Adams and Thomas Jefferson). (Incidentally, my usual “reading” of bios is by listening to them while driving.) Overall, I estimate I have read about 6-8 books this year, which is ok, far less than usual. However, recently, I have begun to snap out of the reading funk, and I believe that will assist me to snap out of my overall lack of productivity.

In 2017, one of the books I read was What’s Best Next by Matt Perman. I highly recommend the book, and awaited the sequel which was released at the end of April. I am reading this book more slowly, in part, because the title, Unstuck, is exactly what I need to be! But alongside this book, I have recently listened to The Power of Habit and now Smarter Faster Better (both by Charles Duhigg). (I will purchase these in print later, but for now, the idea was immersion in all of these ideas.) Overall, these four books are giving me the “courage” to get moving again, in part, by understanding why I have not been able to engage as I usually do. Ultimately, I am realizing that the issue I face is common while I am responsible, my ability to move forward relies on my ability to incorporate (or help) others as well.

In the coming weeks, I will likely fuse some of the thoughts I am having with the usual reflections I share from my weekly sermon. The sermon series begins this week on the life of David from 2 Samuel, so personal effectiveness and understanding is certainly in play. However, I also see the principles of these books at play in the series I have planned for this Fall related to the Church, and specifically our church. How might The Habit Loop or Personal Effectiveness impact our individual lives so as to impact the collective life of the church? These ideas are just beginning to take shape in my mind, but I suspect I will flesh out many of them in this blog over the coming months. Hopefully my reflections here will not only help me to process my thoughts, but perhaps they can encourage each one who reads this as well. Either way, what I share here will only touch on certain aspects of each book. I highly recommend the four books mentioned above to stir your thinking, and to help you move forward in whatever direction God has for you to move.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

True Authority

This week, I preached on the final two verses of Matthew 7. The sermon was the last in a series of 22 messages that began at the beginning of the year. As I have commented a few times over these past few weeks, studying Jesus’ words at a level I had not done previously gave me an understanding of how well Jesus’ message was truly crafted, and how powerful it was then, and should be today. I guess what I am saying is that like the people who heard the Sermon on the Mount nearly 2000 years ago, I recognize the authority with which Jesus taught.

As one who has pastored for several years, been in ministry for many, has a doctorate in educational ministry, teaches part-time at a seminary, and has recently started a training organization to equip pastors and church leaders in under-resourced areas around the world, I take the Word of God seriously. That is, I take the written Word of God seriously. And I do that because I follow the living Word of God. I recognize the authority of Jesus and desire Him to have authority over me (most of the time, at least – I am not perfect!). Additionally, I appreciate the Kingdom perspective of His great sermon, for it is this sermon that has helped form my understanding of living beyond a church or denomination (as important as those can be) for the sake of the Kingdom. However, despite having read Matthew 5-7 many times and studying it to some degree multiple times, I never comprehended it like I do now. And one of the aspects I appreciate better is the authority of Jesus to teach (preach) that message.

Last week, I taught many church leaders in Kenya. It was the first instance of connecting with these pastors over the internet to provide the training we hope to do around the world. Having trained dozens of pastors while in Kenya on my two trips there so far, some who were in attendance, knew me. Additionally, my friend Simon is well-trusted by the individuals in the area. Simon set up this training and is helping to establish other sites for training, and because he knows and trusts me, I had instant credibility with each of the pastors and leaders in attendance even though I was not there physically. Such a truth is humbling because some of these individuals had little background with the Bible (others had a solid background), so they placed great trust in my words. In other words, my words and teaching had authority. I certainly did not want to misrepresent myself, but more importantly, I did not want to misrepresent God’s Word. In other words, I did not want to mislead them and betray whatever authority I had.

Any authority I may have had, however, was really no different than that of the scribes as per Matthew’s comments in Matthew 7.29. Like me, the scribes had their sources to gather understanding on the sacred texts. For them, the text was what we call the Old Testament, and the sources were tradition (oral and written) and comparing the teachings of other religious leaders in their present and past. For me, the sources represent trusted commentaries and lexicons (dictionaries to help with the Greek or Hebrew). But, in both situations (the scribes and myself), the authority we have comes from rightly proclaiming God’s Word, not from restating or re-interpreting truths from a higher perspective. That is what Jesus did – and He did so because He was, and is, the true authority. For the written Word of God (the Bible) is fully encompassed within the Living Word (Jesus).

Again, I cannot express how much this series has helped me to understand Jesus and to better appreciate His authority. But appreciation does not necessarily lead to obedience. As I wrote last week, Jesus is looking for people, who, “hear these words of mine and does them,” not just people who find them intriguing or challenging. So, the best I can do is to seek to observe what Jesus taught in this great sermon He preached and then to teach others not only what He said, but how to observe these truths as well. Doing so, will show Jesus that I not only know Jesus is the true Authority, but that I believe it as well. And in Jesus words (Matthew 7.24-25), all those who wish to be considered wise, will do the same thing.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Wise, But Worn

Many have likely been keeping up with my daily posts on Facebook regarding the training this week. This training is the first attempt to train pastors there over the internet through our new organization – Pastor Training Community. As I mentioned last week, the training opportunity arose very quickly although the planning has been in stages for months (and was set for May during my trip there in January). But the rains and flooding have postponed it, and then with all of the added burden the people of Kenya have right now, many would not have been able to attend with the financial support we requested and received.

So, thank you again to all who donated. We did reach the goal of $700 and surpassed it by almost $100.

The training has been going well, but given the eight-hour difference in time, I have been training them from 1 am to 9 am CT here in the US. Given my usual responsibilities during the week and a funeral yesterday, my sleep has been disrupted greatly and, in fact, I was not able to answer the bell for the last two hours of scheduled training today. That is, at 7 am, I had to rest, so one of the pastors who is also serving as a translator did the teaching for the last two hours.

And that is a direct tie-in to last week’s sermon. On Sunday, I preached about the wise and foolish builders from Matthew 7.24-27. Jesus said those who hear and do are wise and those who hear and don’t do are fools. But what He doesn’t say is that those who do will do perfectly all the time. This week, I have been doing what I know God has asked me to do. I have been doing it to the best of my ability. And, without a doubt, I have been doing it in His strength (Colossians 1.29). But this morning, my strength ran out. That was not God’s fault, it is my lack of sleep this week. Just because we rely on God’s strength does not mean that we are invincible. I have tried to rest as often as I can, but although I have laid down, I have not always been able to sleep (day or evening). And, thus, after almost four full days of training, I was worn out. And so, I was not able to finish this morning’s training.

But tomorrow is a new day. And my day today has less overall responsibilities, even though what I have scheduled is important (sermon preparation, primarily). But taking the extra couple of hours this morning has given me more rest today and should allow me to finish strong overnight tonight. But, to truly be wise, I must apply what I have learned. As I have said many times (because it is my number one mantra in life), “When we stop learning, we start dying.” But learning is more that just taking in information; rather, it is about processing that information and doing something with it. That is wisdom. And that is what Jesus was saying nearly 2000 years ago as He concluded His message on the mountain. Many people may hear, but only the wise will do.

So, this week, I believe I have been wise because I have done what God began to lay on my heart nearly two years ago. I believe I have been wise because the plans we have made over the past many months have now come to fruition in Kenya and are being scheduled for Honduras. But, if I am truly wise, I cannot stop doing what He has commanded now. No, I must continue to do “these words of mine” (as Jesus said), for as long as I shall live. Doing so may make me tired, and may wear me out at times, but it is the only way I will hear the words I desire to hear someday – “Well done, good and faithful servant.” If I hear those words, I know, I will indeed have been wise – not in my eyes, but in the eyes of the only One who truly matters, the eyes of Jesus.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

A Request

For the full details of this request, please read the rest of the post below. If you would simply like to make a donation to help us reach our Flash Goal of $700, you may click here to do so. The link is included at the bottom of this post as well.

–––
I am breaking from my normal blogging this week to present a financial request. Last summer on this blog, I announced that a new organization had been created to train pastors around the world. (You can see the website for Pastor Training Community (PTC) and get more information here.) Until very recently, we have not had much to report since I returned from Kenya in January. However, over the past three weeks much has happened. The most recent PTC blog post details a couple of key items including our recent approval as a 501(c)3 corporation. However, one item is missing from that post and is the basis for my request.

Due to the heavy flooding in Kenya, the training I was supposed to do was postponed. While I am comfortably situated in America ready to train over the internet, the pastors were not able to travel to the selected site due to high waters and washed out roads. However, roads are reopening and I learned this week that we can train next week, so plans are being made. 40 pastors are scheduled to attend the training and the topics will be The Gospels in the morning and Spiritual Disciplines in the afternoons. It is an abbreviated class for both, but the two important matters are that a foundation will be laid for these pastors AND our internet training will be officially underway. That is the good news. The challenge is that our ministry partners in Kenya are in need of financial help to make this training fully possible. The biggest challenge is having the money to feed the pastors who come for the training, but a few other expenses bring the the total need to nearly $700 for the week.

When PTC was conceptualized the idea was to provide more of a Q&A time after the pastors/church leaders had done some pre-work. The Q&A would be one to two hours in duration and then each would go, do some more work, and reconvene a few weeks later. However, in Kenya (and presumably other places), this approach will not work. The desire of PTC is to reach under-resourced leaders in under-resourced areas. Most leaders from these “areas” will be required to travel many hours (often by foot) which makes a one or two-hour training session not worth the time for most. For the leaders to benefit from travelling a few hours means they need to stay for a few days and that requires added expense. In my trips to Kenya the expense of providing food and shelter was built into our cost, but I had not properly considered this aspect of the online training based upon the Q&A aspect mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph.

The PTC Board is evaluating how we will approach this issue long-term. But with the class now scheduled for next week, the need is real now. I should let you know that I am an advocate of the phrase, “Your lack of planning does not constitute an emergency on my part.” But as I considered that thought this morning, I began to wonder how God might respond. In speaking with the other Board members today, we agreed to expedite our efforts to get our online donations up and running today to see if / how people might respond to this urgent need. (We just received our tax-exempt approval a couple of weeks ago, so we were preparing to launch an appeal for donations soon, but this issue has expedited our efforts.) So, we are making this appeal to see what happens within 72 hours in our effort to not only train, but to also provide food and some shelter cost for the forty pastors in Eastern Kenya next week.

I appreciate your indulging my request. If you cannot give, please pray that we will reach our goal and for the training next week. Whatever happens in these next 72 hours and beyond, may God receive the glory!

If you would like to make a donation, you may do so through PayPal by clicking on this link. You do not need a PayPal account to make a donation. We have also included a Donate link on our FaceBook page (@pastortrainingcommunity – look immediately under the banner on the page), and on our website (click on Give, then on the PayPal link).

As of May 17 at 1:50 am, we already have over $100 towards the goal. I will post an update on the PTC Facebook page (in the comments of the post with the original request) each day through Sunday. Please note: If we exceed the goal, any extra money will be used to provide food and shelter the next time training occurs at this same location.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Helping Others Along The Hard Way

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the primary teaching of Jesus regarding judging. As I mentioned here, we are to judge, but with the proper measure. A part of that measure is then further described as Jesus begins to conclude His sermon with the following statement – do to others what you want them to do to you (Matthew 7.12).

As I mentioned in my sermon blog this week, this command is active, not passive. It requires doing something to fulfill it rather than doing nothing because we don’t want something done to us. (You can read more here.) In the context of what Jesus has just taught, that certainly applies to judging others. Again, we are to judge (Paul even says we will judge the angels – 1 Corinthians 6.3), but it is how we prepare ourselves that is critical. First, we pull the plank from our eye and the we can see clearly to help another (Matthew 7.5). And the key word is help. And helping is important because the way is hard (Matthew 7.14). We are certainly to correct others when they stumble, just as we would want to be helped if we stumble (consider Ecclesiastes 4.9-10).

In recent weeks and months, many high-profile Christian leaders have “fallen” publicly due to something they have done or said. And because the profiles of these individuals is high, the criticism has been swift – from within the Church and without. Certainly each leader should be held accountable by those with the authority to do so. Furthermore, each of these individuals have put themselves in a position where others will question the authenticity of their faith as well as their past teaching, their intent and motives, etc. And certainly, each will have a difficult time building trust in the future. But that is why the previous paragraph is so important.

Christians who try to walk along the hard path realize the temptations of the world. We see those on the easy way. We notice the gate that is wide. And, we stumble. Like Peter when he walked on the water, we take our eyes off of Jesus for a moment and we stumble. But, oftentimes, we catch ourselves, and justify our actions that no one was hurt. So, in time, we take another step towards that wide gate –perhaps, hoping to just get our foot in far enough to experience the “pleasures” offered along the easier path. But eventually, we stumble hard. And, we soon realize that we cannot get up easily. And that is where Jesus command, directly within the context of this passage, is so necessary. We want to be lifted to our feet. We want to be restored to our place – whatever that place is. A place of leadership may not be possible at that point (again, responsibility and accountability matter), but most importantly we want to know our place with Jesus is secure. Therefore, having someone come along to help us – someone who has a clear eye with which to see – can lift us up to help get us back on the right path.

As you read this perhaps you are unaware of some of the issues I mention. But the issue of stumbling does not have to be national news to have an impact on the Kingdom. Whether the issue is related to our sexual impulses, fraud, fits of anger, gossip, or some “lesser” sin, we all fall short somewhere. And, thus, knowing how hard it is to stay true to our Lord, we should seek to help others along the way as we would have others help us. Again, that is the essence of the Golden Rule in the context in which it was preached.

So, my encouragement to each of us is to take Jesus’ words to heart when we hear of someone “falling.” We may not be in a position to physically pick them up, but we can spiritually lift them up through prayer. Yes, accountability matters, and actions do have consequences, but as recipients of grace, we must learn to extend it as well. Accountability is not condemnation; rather, it should lead to restoration. So, seek to help another who has fallen knowing next time it may be you who needs to be lifted up.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

What Is “It?”

Most weeks on my personal blog I reflect on something that personally affected me from my sermon the previous Sunday. This week is no different, but really I am just extending my thoughts from the sermon. (You can read the sermon blogs each week at our church’s blog – ffxbc.blogspot.com or listen at http://www.fairfaxbaptistchurch.org/listen.html.)

Before I get to the heart of the post, I must state that I realize many consider the latter part of Matthew 7 (if not all of it) as individual bits of teaching that were later added to Jesus sermon because the information does not seem to mesh as well with the earlier portion. However, I think such thinking is unnecessary because Chapter 6 is quite different than Chapter 5 and yet the common theme of righteousness is prevalent in both – and in Chapter 7 as well (although the term itself is not be explicitly stated). But the concept is very much present and I intend to show that here.

Beginning in Matthew 7.11, Jesus does take a bit of a new direction in His sermon. But really He is circling back to the idea of prayer which is explicitly mentioned in Matthew 6.5-13 (and really through 15), and is a part of the fabric of storing up treasures in heaven, serving the right master, and not being anxious that concludes Matthew 6. And, I would argue, that judging with the proper perspective can only be done by coming before God which involves prayer as well (see last week’s post for the tie-in from the end of Matthew 6 to the judgment passage in Matthew 7). So the concept of prayer has been present for more than one full chapter in Matthew’s text. And now, Jesus gives some specific commands about prayer. We are to ask, seek, and knock. But the question we must consider is for what are to to ask or seek? And where are we to knock?

The answer is not given clearly for Jesus uses a pronoun – “it” – to describe what we will be given for our asking. But a key word in verse 8 can help us determine the antecedent for this pronoun. In verse 8, Jesus states that God promises those who ask will receive “it,” that those who seek will find, and that those who knock will find “it” opened. So what is “it” and what is the key word that unlocks the answer?

The key to understanding what “it” is to to realize that Jesus has promised that God will honor “everyone” who is actively asking, seeking, and knocking. Jesus does not say those who believe will receive their request or those who do not believe will find. He says the promises are for “everyone.” So, if everyone who asks receives, and everyone who seeks finds, and everyone who knocks will find something opened, what could it be that could allow Jesus to make such a promise and not compromise the integrity of God. I believe the answer is quite evident if we look at the text. The problem is too many people isolate the text at hand, and the answer lies just a few sentences prior to this statement and is the theme of all that Jesus has taught in His sermon thus far.

The answer: the righteousness of God (which includes God’s Kingdom, Matt 6.33). Again, chapter breaks in the Bible do us a disservice. Certainly, the indexing system of ascribing chapters and verses allow us to find information more quickly, but most people do not realize that ask, seek, and knock are only nine (9!) verses away from Jesus command to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. With that realized, let me explain why I believe this answer makes the most sense for the text.

First, if everyone receives, finds, or has the door/gate opened (see Matthew 7.14), then God is not restricting this to any one group of people. Of course, Jesus could be using hyperbole here, but must He be? I don’t think so. I think everyone means everyone. Thus, if Jesus is not going to trap God into keeping promises He can’t keep, then the answer must be something that could be given to anyone and everyone. In the context of the text, we can either consider the answer to be food (such as the fish and bread in the same paragraph), something related to judging others (in the previous paragraph), or the righteousness of God from the paragraph before that. And the righteousness of God has been the primary theme of the sermon (see Matthew 5.6; 5.20; 6.33). Plus, although we have been instructed to ask for our daily bread (6.11), we are instructed not to be anxious about it (6.25, 31, 34). And while we must seek God to measure our judgment properly, seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness is the prerequisite for doing so. So contextually, righteousness is the answer.

Secondly, everyone needs the righteousness of God to be satisfied (Matthew 5.6). Those who do not believe may ask and have it given to them. They may seek the Kingdom and find it. They may approach the gate (again 7.14) and find it opened to them. But for those who are already a part of the Kingdom, the righteousness of God must still be desired. I am still far from perfect. However, if I ask and keep asking, seek and keep seeking, knock and keep knocking day after day after day, then I receive, find, and have the gate opened continually that I might be a little closer to the man God wants me to be tomorrow than I am today. Thus, those who do not believe need to ask to receive, seek to find, and knock to have the Kingdom of God and His righteousness made available to them, and those who do believe need to keep asking, to keep seeking, and to keep knocking so that we can continue to grow in Him and be satisfied. Thus, everyone (the pronoun in verse 8) is covered, and God’s promise can be perfectly fulfilled to “everyone” who earnestly asks, seeks, and knocks.

As we will see in the remaining verses of this sermon, Jesus then divides all people into two groups – those that ask, seek, and knock, and those that do not. The ones that heed Jesus’ command take the narrow road will “find” the hidden gate, bear good fruit, and are considered wise for building on a solid foundation. Those that do not heed Jesus' words take the easy road, bear bad fruit (if they bear any at all) and are considered foolish by using sand as their foundation.

The choice is up to each one of us. “Everyone” has the same opportunity – if we will simply ask, seek, and knock. Which will you choose?