New Year: 4 Ways to Move Ahead Instead of Remaining Stuck

Some people move ahead. They get better. Meanwhile others remain the same or even digress. Many people end the year with regrets, excuses, disappointments, and “buts.”But.jpeg


“I should be more attentive to God in prayer and Scripture reading but . . . .”

“I need to deal with a particular sin that keeps reappearing in my life but . . . .”

“I need to spend more time with my wife. I know I haven’t invested much energy into our marriage but . . . .”

“I have a habit of making commitments, starting projects and not following through but . . . .”

“I can be pretty harsh and overbearing at home. I know this is wrong but . . . .”

“My job takes so much energy and time. I feel exhausted much of the time. I need

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to nourish my inner world but . . . .”

“I’m losing the emotional connection with my children. I know the answer is not to buy them more things to compensate for this but . . . .”

“I know the kind of friendship I have with this man really isn’t right but . . . .”

Think about these statements. Each one describes the reality of a person’s life. However, the description of this reality is then derailed by the word “but.” When you and I do this, we are sabotaging our own lives. Instead of thanking God for the insight and awareness into the reality of our lives, we discount the first statement with “but.”

Maybe some of us do not grow, develop, or mature because we rarely address the reality of our lives. Maybe we have allowed “but” to excuse our behavior. The following are 4 ways to move ahead into this New Year instead of remaining stuck.

1. Seek the truth regarding your life without punctuating this reality with an excuse. Look in the mirror and simply describe what you see as you reflect on your life. At this moment, the last month of the year, what does a truthful snapshot of your life look like?

2. Thank God for his love for you in spite of the areas of your life that really need attention. Keep his love and power before you. This will enable you to acknowledge the reality of your blemished life instead of sweeping it away.

3. Pray to God for wisdom to know how to address these areas in your life. Know that you probably did not get this way overnight and, by the grace of God, it will take time to press through some of these issues.

4. Look for a step to take immediately. The time to address the condition of your life is now. Know that your procrastination will only complicate matters, not solve them. You are making progress by taking a single step.

(I recently read a portion of the book Get Off Your “But”: How to End Self-Sabotage and Stand Up for Yourself by Sean Stephenson. This book was useful in helping me think through this post.)

This is a New Year

Today begins a new year and a new calendar2.jpg decade.

Amazing!

As this new year and new decade begins, I am reflecting on three characteristics that are very important to me. I want these qualities to be exhibited in my life. These are not recent values. These have been important to me for a long time.


1. Graciousness. I love to be in the presence of gracious people. These are people whose very demeanor exhibit grace. They are thoughtful and respectful in their relationships. They do not look for ways to take advantage of others. Instead, they are known for treating people right.

Many years ago, I went on a camping trip with a number of guys, most of whom lived in different parts of the country. We had been camping for a number of days and and were ready to return home. We decided that after we broke camp we would drive into a nearby town for a hot meal in a local cafe. At the conclusion of this meal, one young man volunteered to charge everyone’s order to his credit card, instead of asking the waitress for separate checks.

While we waited at the table for his credit card to be processed, we began reimbursing this young man with cash. For the most part, the guys were very gracious. They made sure that they gave him enough cash to cover the cost of their meal including tax and tip. One person asked the young man to count the money to make sure that he was fully reimbursed for the amount that he had charged onto his credit card. “We want to be sure that you get enough money.”

He counted the money and came up short.

One man in the group had not given him enough money to pay for his meal (much less covering the tax and tip.) This was not a situation in which the man had forgotten his money. Rather, it was an awkward moment because he apparently knew he had not fully reimbursed the young man and was not going to give any explanation. Finally, an older gentleman who was sitting nearby quietly insisted that the guy give the young man more money so that he did come up short.

Gracious people do not try to take advantage of someone else in order to save themselves money. In fact, gracious people do not try to take advantage of another for any reason.


2. Generosity. I love to be in the presence of people who are generous. Some people are generous with their time. Others are generous with their encouraging words. Still others are generous with their money.

Far too many people are less than generous. They seem focused on keeping instead of sharing. They live out of their scarcity instead of their abundance. Meanwhile, some people hardly ever, offer to pay for a friend’s coffee or lunch. In fact, they rarely offer to share in any expense. They will gladly receive someone else’s offer to pay but do not display the same spirit of generosity.

Suppose several families get together for pizza one night in someone’s home. Several plan to go to the grocery store after the meal to get the ingredients for a dessert that they are making that evening. Before these people leave for the store, several hand them cash to help cover the cost of the dessert. Generous people offer to help cover the cost. They want to participate and not just consume.

Generous people are not cheap. They don’t look for ways to avoid paying for something. Rather, they are eager to join in and participate.

This example involves money but there are often opportunities to be generous with time. Have you noticed that some people who are stingy with their time often leave the impression that they are busier than anyone else? Meanwhile, some who are generous with their time rarely call attention to their own schedules.


3. Learning. I love to be in the presence of people who continue to learn and take intentional steps to practice life-long learning.

During the holidays, I read a new biography on the life of Flannery O’Connor (written by Brad Gooch). As I read this wonderful book, I was struck not only by her commitment to write but also her commitment to learn. She read widely and deeply on a variety of subjects. She was interested in theology and philosophy but also birds and her peacocks in particular.

Meanwhile, some of the most boring people are those who long ago became bored themselves. Some people grow older and lose any desire to grow. Their bodies and minds are stuck in a recliner. They get sentimental about past years while they squander the time they have in the present.

Meanwhile, learners never lose their desire to grow and learn. They maintain a genuine curiosity about life.

Do you want to avoid losing your edge? Do you want to keep from being stagnant and stale?

Keep learning!

These three qualities are not New Year’s resolutions. Rather, they reflect some of my values for life. As the new year and new decade begins, I want to consider again some of these values which are so important to me.


Question:

What about you? What values are important as you begin this new year?

  

Getting Out From Under the Clutter

Today, the world’s tallest skyscraper opened in Dubai. It is 2,684 feet tall, with 160 floors. The building has space for 1,044 apartments, 49 floors of office space, as well as an Armani hotel. Supposedly, the 160 floor tower can be seen as far as 59 miles away.

The building was designed by a Chicago based firm. According to one structural and civil engineer with the firm, “We thought that it would be slightly taller than the existing tallest tower of Taipei 101. (Emaar) kept on asking us to go higher but we didn’t know how high we could go. We were able to tune the building like we tune a music instrument. As we went higher and higher and higher, we discovered that by doing that process… we were able to reach heights much higher than we ever thought we could ”

No doubt this building will receive the attention of a lot of people.

Today, is the first Monday of the new year.

Most of us are not beginning the year with a grand opening nor are we making headlines in some way. No, most of us are beginning the week doing the ordinary. We got up this morning and made a cup of coffee just as we do every day. Most will go to work and expect an ordinary day.

Yet, we might use this rhythm of time (this New Year) as an opportunity to pause for a moment and think about the way we have been living (2009) and the way we intend to live (2010).

One question to consider: Do I live in clutter? dubaitower.jpg

Maybe you know what it’s like to have a home that is cluttered. (No, I haven’t seen your garage.) In the house there might be stacks and piles of things: papers, magazines, and all sorts of gadgets. Rarely is there anything thrown away. Perhaps you have an office. Maybe there are stacks of papers or books on your desk.

Perhaps such clutter is not even an issue for you. Yet, there are many people whose lifestyles are very cluttered. Sometimes we find ourselves so busy that we feel like our lifestyles have become cluttered. When our children were growing up, they were involved in all kinds of extra activities and team sports. There were times when it just got to be too much. They (or we) has said “yes” to too many things. Does this sound familiar?    

Some of us may be constantly on the go. Yet, we may not be experiencing any depth at all in our lives. We simply skim the surface, bouncing from activity to the next. People have described such a lifestyle as: “… frustrating; like I can’t breathe; I feel like I’m under constant pressure; whatever I’m doing I feel like I should be somewhere else; I feel trapped; I hear the clock ticking; life is zooming by and I’m missing it.” In his book Margin, Richard Swenson writes:

People are tired and frazzled. People are anxious and depressed. People don’t have time to heal anymore. There is a psychic instability in our day that prevents peace from implanting itself very firmly in the human spirit.  

Beware of a cluttered mind that has no sense of purpose or mission.

Peggy Noonan wrote a terrific piece in the Wall Street Journal regarding the problem with organizations and institutions that have lost their mission or purpose:

And as all these institutions forgot their mission, they entered the empire of spin. They turned more and more attention, resources and effort to the public perception of their institution, and not to the reality of it.

Everyone gave their efforts to how things seemed and not how they were. Press secretaries, press assistants, media managers, public relations experts—they abound more than ever in our business and public life.


Question


When have you recognized that your life had become cluttered with too many activities, projects, etc.? What was helpful to you in addressing this problem?



Before You Move On With Another Year

Yesterday, Charlotte and I spent the day in Austin. Much of the time was spent looking for another car. (My Ford Explorer was pronounced “near death” by our local auto repair shop.) We also spent time wandering through various stores, just enjoying the day. At lunch, we enjoyed a delicious pizza at Mandola’s Italian Market, a wonderful place to eat. It was an enjoyable, leisurely way to close out the year, the end of 2009.

So today is January 1, 2010

Before you continue on with life — pause for a moment.

market_lg.jpg

I know. There is nothing magical about a New Year. Yes, we talk about New Year’s resolutions and how those are often broken shortly after we make them. At the same time, the New Year is a wonderful time to pause and reflect on the past (2009) and consider the future (2010). The New Year is a part of the rhythm of our lives. Perhaps this is why I use this time each year to reflect on my life, both where I have been and where I seem to be going.

Questions:

I would love to hear your response to either/or both of these questions:

*What are you especially thankful for, as you reflect upon 2009?

*What is one of your prayer concerns as you anticipate 2010?

Dear Son/Dear Daughter

In just a few days, we will begin a new year.

2010.

Sounds strange, doesn’t it? Yet, I love the beginning of a new year. For me, it is a good time to think about my life, both the past and the future. It is a time to think about where I have been and where I am going.

A few days ago, I wrote the following for a young friend of mine. She graduated from college and is embarking on a new time of life. She is also, like the rest of us, beginning a new year. I write to encourage her. Perhaps you will find this encouraging or useful. You might even think of these thoughts as words for a daughter or son.   

1. Look in the mirror and know that you are just right. You do not have to look a certain way, dress a certain way, or have a certain amount of money in order to be fully human. Look carefully at Jesus and you will see what it means to really live a full life, as a complete human being.

2. Cherish your character. Do what people with great character do. Make decisions that you think people of high character would make, even if you feel like you are the only person trying to do what is right. You will never, ever regret doing the right thing but the reverse can’t be said.

3. Enjoy being you. You don’t have to look like others or talk like others. In fact, you don’t have to meet the approval of others. You are worth knowing, worth loving, and worth being treated right. Don’t settle for anything less.

4. Be friends with people who take the high road. Yes, these people may be harder to find. There are far more people who are content to just get by. There is always someone around who will drag you down. There are people who have no shame and very low standards. Choose to be with people who really want to live right and who appreciate someone else who desires the same.

5. Live a significant life. Having a life that is significant or important doesn’t come by having lots of money or by having a glamorous job. A significant life belongs to a person who serves other people and makes a positive difference in someone else’s life.

Question:

Which one of these five statements might be especially important for a younger person to hear? Why?

If I Could Do It Over . . .

What would you do differently?

The year has almost come to an end. Can you believe this?

Sometimes I think about what I might do if I could start the year (or years) over. There are some things I would do differently.

As a teenager, I used to play golf frequently at Tennison Golf Course in Dallas. I remember one of the first times I ever played. I hit a terrible drive and someone said, “Take a mulligan.” Mulligan is just another word for “do-over.” I remember taking a lot of mulligans at the golf course. There is nothing like a do-over!

As I think about 2009 and even earlier years, I wish I could have some do-overs. Yes, I know I am forgiven and am in a loving relationship with God. At the same time, I would like to go back and handle some situations differently. I would like to make some different decisions.

How about you? Do you ever wish for a do-over? Here are some do-over’s I would take if I had the opportunity.

1. I would enjoy the moment more. Far too often I have been anxious about the future instead of living fully in the moment. Can you relate to this? I remember once being on vacation. At the time, I was so concerned about some future event that it was difficult for me to enjoy the moment. Not only did I waste good energy on worry and anxiety, but I also missed the present moment which could have been fun.

do-over.jpg

2. I would laugh more. Yes, we all experience difficult, frustrating, and anxiety-producing times in our lives. Yet, there is something to be said for laughter. A few evenings ago, I sat on our living room floor against a chair and watched an old Andy Griffith program on TV Land. Black and white. Old. Yet, for those few minutes, I laughed and laughed. It did me good! Charlotte and I once knew a woman who cut out cartoons from the Kansas City Star newspaper and posted them on the refrigerator door just to encourage her family to laugh. I am drawn to people who make me laugh. Such people often poke fun at themselves or tell stories that simply describe the lighter side of life.

3. I would spend less time worrying about people who choose to be miserable. I once thought that if a person did everything just right, then the people around him/her would be happy. I did not realize that there are some people who enjoy being miserable. There are others who have chosen to have a foul attitude. Yes, these people need ministry. However, such people can drain you dry if you get entangled emotionally with them.

4. I would pay more attention to people who need love and less time worrying about why I wasn’t being loved, or encouraged, or appreciated. Many people wallow in self-pity. I’ve been there and been defeated by it. Self-pity does no one any good. Furthermore, wallowing in such pity typically does not make a person feel any better. How sad to be a person who spends a lifetime feeling sorry for himself!

5. I would focus more on loving my wife and children in very practical ways. In most areas of my life, I am dispensable. One day, long after I am gone, my name will be recorded in the congregational history, in the list of ministers who served this congregation. The only thing that will separate me from the next minister will be a comma. Not so with my wife and children! I am the only husband and father that my wife and children have. They need to hear and see this love in very practical ways.

Are you the mother of two children? Are you a professor? Are you an auto mechanic? Are you a university student?

No matter who you are, you have probably learned from your past that knowledge will make all the difference in how you live in 2010.

Question:

What do you wish to do differently in the future than you did in the past?

(I posted something similar to this a few years ago. Nevertheless, these are words I still need to hear and remember.)

Update and New Look

new_year.jpgThanks for coming back to this blog.  I have taken a break from this blog for the past week or so and now plan to continue posting about four times per week.  

This blog exists to encourage people who follow Christ daily.  The posts vary.  For example, I will soon continue the series, "Before You Marry."  I will also conclude the series, "41 Things Ministers Ought to Know."  Most of the posts, however, are not focused toward a specific group of people.  As I write, I think about you, a normal everyday person who is just trying to deal with life.  These thoughts generally come from my own walk with God, my reading, experiences, and what I am learning each day.  

I really do value your comments and read each one.  As time permits, I attempt to acknowledge each comment.

You may want to look closely at the sidebar.  A number of links are new.  Others have been replaced.

(By the way, I have noticed that on this new template, previous posts have an extra space between each paragraph.  Hmmm.  Not sure what to do about that.)

Have a happy New Year!

2009 — A Year With Promise

I love the New Year.

Yet, the New Year 2009 sounds rather oddI suppose we will get used to saying "2009" until it no longer sounds odd but normal.  Nevertheless, it is here.  For some people the New Year means little more than getting off work for a day, watching football, and perhaps having family or friends come over for a meal.

The New Year really can be much more than this.  It can be a wonderful, powerful time of the year during which we take a good look at life, where we’ve been, and where we are going.  For me, it is a time for a lot of reflection, which is usually very helpful.  I often spend time thinking and praying about where I seem to be in my thinking, my feelings, my behavior, and my commitments.  After all, sometimes we move so quickly through life that we don’t really reflect on our day, our week, our month, or even our year.  Instead, we are in perpetual motion.  Have you ever known anyone who just could not be still?  Some people have difficulty stopping long enough to think.  In fact, some may be fearful of doing this kind of reflection and having to face life as it is.

Maybe a good place to begin is to look at both our "outside" and our "inside."  Think of your life as a house.  Most of the time, we only see the outside of someone’s house.  We may drive through a neighborhood and see house after house.  Yet, the outside of these houses really does not say that much about what is going on inside.  You’ve heard stories about the police entering a nice home only to discover scores of cats, filth everywhere, and piles and piles of garbage/trash.  What may look nice when you are driving by may actually look quite different once you get beyond the front door.  Beyond the front door may be a family that is barely functioning.  In fact, they may be strangers living under the same roof.

What are you like beyond the "front door" of your life?  Once you get beyond your appearance, your image, and what you hope to project to others, what are you really like inside?  Let me encourage you to join me in looking beyond the front door.  The New Year is such a good time to do this kind of work.

Is there a particular "room" in your life that needs attention?  For example:

1.  Health — Are you a good steward of the body God gave you?  Do you pay attention to how you care for and nurture your body?  Are you attentive to your need for nutrition, rest, and recreation?  Or, do you pay little, if any, attention to caring for your body?

2.  Relationships — What is it that characterizes your relationships?  Do your friends and family see you as "high maintenance"?  Are people in your life seeing Jesus in you?  Do they see you as a person who is serious about life as a Christ-follower?  Or, do they see you as little more than a person who "goes to church" on Sundays?

3.  Money — Are you growing in your stewardship?  Do you give liberally to your church and other kingdom-advancing causes?  What about the financial crisis that we, as a nation, are experiencing?  Are you learning to trust God during this time or are you worrying more?

Do you desire intimacy with God more than anything else?  After all, he deeply desires to have an intimate relationship with you.  As Ken Boa (Conformed to His Image, p. 32) has said, "Our Lord invites us to the highest calling of all — intimacy with him — and day after day, we decline the offer, preferring instead to fill our stomachs with the pods of short-lived pleasures and prospects."

"Thanks be to thee, O Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits which thou hast given us; for all the pains and insults which thou hast born for us.  O most redeemer, Friend, and Brother, may we know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly; for thine own sake."  (St. Richard of Chichester, 1197-1253) 

 

2009 is a year with promise.  The promise of the year is rooted in the goodness and sovereignty of God.  Thanks be to God that the future does not rest with us alone.

Question: What Would Help the New Year?

question_mark_778895.gif.jpgWe are just a few weeks away from 2009, a new year.  For many people, a new year is a time of beginning again and starting over.  For some it is a time to rethink our health, our priorities, and the overall way in which we approach life.

 

I would like to speak to our church family regarding the new year and the opportunities and possibilities it brings.  What do you think might be helpful or even important in thinking about the near year?  What could be addressed that you might find helpful?

 

Your comment or reply will be very helpful to me.

Do You Need to Re-group?

coffeecup4.jpgThe last few weeks, I have spent time just trying to clear away clutter.  The motivation?  I came across a brief, one page article by David Allen, author of Getting Things Done.  (Allen’s book has been very helpful to me in many ways.)  So the other day I stumbled upon an article that Allen recently wrote about beginning a new year.  The short article motivated me to clear out some clutter.  Last weekend this included a closet that needed cleaning, my desk at home that needed overhauling, and several "stacks" that I had been ignoring.  

 
The last few weeks, I have been skimming through a number of book reviews.  You may have noticed on the sidebar of this blog a section for book reviews (i.e., The New York Times, Books and Culture).  These book reviews are very helpful to me in terms of keeping up with what is being written and discussed.  It only takes a trip to Barnes & Noble for me to realize that there are far more books coming out than I will ever have the time (or inclination) to read.  However, I do want to have an awareness of what is being written that is either significant or has become a part of the conversation in this country.

 
For a minister, this is one reason why a site like Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed is so helpful.  He regularly reviews many books that I at least want to be aware of.  In the last few years, I have read a number of these books.  His review of a particular book will often help me notice an author I want to read and spend time with.

 
During the last few weeks, I have been thinking about some projects I have actually been avoiding.  Sometime around Thanksgiving, I began to realize that there were several big projects lurking out there that I had been avoiding.  A few of these relate to work and a few of these relate to our house.  I began to notice that I would acknowledge to myself that the project was there but I would never break it down into the steps I needed to take.  Consequently, I didn’t get anything done on the project.  These have a way of becoming like dark gray clouds looming overhead.  Anyway, I made a short list of these and then began to think about what I needed to do with each one of these.

 
The last few weeks, I have done some thinking about my Bible reading.   For several years, I have spent much time in the Psalms.  I have done this for my own nourishment.  On one occasion, I read through the Psalms highlighting in yellow every attribute of God, every description of God, etc.  I was amazed and strengthened by what I saw.  This kind of reading nourishes and strengthens me.

 
I am finding, though, that there is another kind of Bible reading I need to do.  Tim Keller speaks about "rapid Bible reading."  That is, there is value in reading through the Bible in such a way so as to regularly be exposed to the vast terrain of Scripture.  This is not a substitute for slow, thoughtful and prayerful reading of Scripture.  I want to continue to do that.  However, I realize that it has been a long time since I have read some significant books of the Bible.  So, I am thinking about a way to do this slow reading and yet also have time to read at a rapid pace.

 
Finally, during the last few weeks, I spent some time thinking about my/our future.  Far too often, I get so wrapped up in what I need to do today or this week that I don’t really step back and look at the past/present/future as one big picture.  I especially want to do this as I think about what it is that I believe God wants me to be about today, tomorrow, and in months and years to come.

 
I don’t know if any of this is helpful to you as you think about your own life.  (It certainly helps me, though, just to think about it as I write.)