My Most Important Hour

Of all the hours in the day, the hour after I get up in the morning is probably the most important.

For many years, I have practiced an early morning discipline of preparing for my day.  This takes place before anyone else in my family awakens.

I am convinced that this hour helped me to become a better man, husband, and father. At times the hour helped me thrive in my growth and development. At other times, the hour simply helped me survive the turmoil.

I generally get up about 5:00 AM. For years, this worked because I knew our children would not be up at that hour. Long after our children have grown up and married, I continue the same general schedule now.

What I do each morning is not magic, unique, or a secret known only by a few. The power of this practice is that it is a daily discipline that I usually practice the five days each week.

What I do during this hour varies, but I have continued the same basic practice for many years.

w-Giant-Coffee-Cup75917What I do during the first hour of the day:

1. Emptying my mind. Generally, I sit in silence for a few minutes. I keep a notepad nearby and often begin making a list of whatever occurs to me. Quite often things come to mind that I need to do that day or have been trying to remember. I have found that writing down these thoughts frees my mind. This may take only a few minutes but is very helpful. I keep the pad in front of me during the hour in case anything else randomly comes to mind.

2. Practicing spiritual disciplines.  I read Scripture, pray, and read anything else that feeds my soul. Most recently, I have been reading through the Psalms in The Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible. At other times I might use Phyllis Tickle’s, The Divine Hours. During this time I will often practice some of the ancient spiritual disciplines. Basically, I try to vary what I do during this time.

I write in my journal during this time. I might reflect upon a scripture I just read or something that happened the previous day. At other times, I might write a prayer in my journal. There are also days when I write nothing.

3. Planning my day. I think about my goals and priorities. I consider the progress that I would like to make on two or three projects. (The tool I am currently using is Donald Miller’s Storyline Productivity Schedule. These are available here.)

Remember, the point is not that you need to get up at 5:00 AM or that you need to do exactly what I do. The point is that a habit/practice such as this can be very useful regardless of your age or circumstance in life. Many mornings I will spend about an hour with this. Most mornings, it will be about an hour and a half. Again, the time is not the point. Find what works for you.

 

Soul Starvation

soul_550When Christian leaders are not regularly nourished, burnout can be the result.

Ministry can become something that one gets done by sheer willpower.  There is no longer any sense that one is drinking from strong and deep spiritual wells.

This can become deadly.

The demands of life and ministry become intoxicating.  Our lives are fueled by an adrenaline rush that results from feeling needed and important.

The pressures of life and ministry can become intoxicating.  There is no sense of rest, silence or recreation.  Instead, we find ourselves thriving on the pressure.

The appearance of spirituality can become intoxicating.  We can put tremendous energy into creating the illusion that we are spiritual people.

This intoxication is deadly.

Maybe the place to begin is by praying that God might nourish and water the parched soul and that the demands of life and the church will not be allowed to take precedence over what is essential to the soul.”

Do This and Your Problems Only Get Bigger

Problem StatementIn the minds of some people, there is a fast way to make your problems go away.  Lie.

Didn’t do your homework?  Tell the teacher you weren’t feeling well. 

Stopped for speeding?  Tell the officer you were trying to get to the hospital quickly because your mother is very sick. 

Trying to sell your home?  Tell the prospective home buyer only what will help sell the house.  Don’t tell about that leaky roof. 

Is the amusement park too expensive?  Tell the attendant that your children are younger than they really are so they can get in with children’s tickets.  

So many of us try to solve our problems by not telling the truth.  Now of course we usually don’t use the word “lie.”  That word sounds bad.  We would see ourselves as simply trying to fix a problem.

However, these really are lies.  When you lie, you do so at a very heavy price.

A number of years ago, I was watching a television news program about prisoners on death row.  At one point, the reporter interviewed a man who had grown up in a very good family and had many advantages in his early years.  Yet, he had murdered someone and now was on death row.

The reporter asked him, “How could this have happened?  You had a good home and a good upbringing.”

The death row inmate said, “A person’s character is much like a tow sack of rocks that one is carrying over his shoulder.  Each time you make a poor decision, lie, or compromise your character in some way, you lose a rock.  That may seem like no big deal at the time.  However, as you go through life lying and compromising, you one day realize that you have no rocks left.  You have compromised your character.”

When we lie, our character is being chipped away little by little with each lie.  If you are like many who lie, you one day look in the mirror and realize that you are not the man or woman you used to be.

Maybe there is a way to deal with our problems through the grace of God instead of only making them bigger.

Question

What are we often tempted to lie instead of facing our problems?

 

Did Becoming Older Bring Me Closer to Jesus?

Nouwen-In-the-Name-of-JesusDid becoming older bring me closer to Jesus?

Henri Nouwen in his book In the Name of Jesus, reflects upon a time when he asked himself this question.  The book is not new.Perhaps you read the book some years ago.  I did — and now have read the book five or six times.

That question from Nouwen will not go away.

Did becoming older bring me closer to Jesus? 

  • As I reflect upon my behavior,
  • As I think about my attitude,
  • As I consider my words,
  • As I get honest about the thoughts in my heart,
  • As I ponder my life before Jesus,

That question from Nowen will not go away.

Did becoming older bring me closer to Jesus? 

I am blessed to know many older believers who seem to grow in their love for Jesus and their trust in him.

I have witnessed some of these people become more tenderhearted, more singularly focused, and more of a blessing to be with as they grow older.  I have known people whose very presence reminded me of Jesus.

I have also known older believers who allowed their fear and anxiety to completely engulf them. Some become bitter and cynical, ready to lash out at whoever appears to be a threat.  Others pull back, withdraw, and talk about having “put in their time.”

Maybe you will join with me in reflecting on this important question.

Did becoming older bring me closer to Jesus?

Once you and I have considered this question, perhaps we now need to think about what we might address in our lives in order to have a better outcome in the future.

Questions:

1.  Envision the kind of person you want to be five years from now.  What kind of husband/wife or father/mother do you wish to be?  What kind of friend do you wish to be?  How do you need to grow up or mature in order to become closer to Jesus?

2.  What is one area of your life that you are willing to address so that you will be closer to Jesus?

 

Today, Wake Up to More

fluoride_toothpasteWhat do you expect when you wake up each day?

For some people, waking up to another day is no big deal.

  • Same paralyzing problems.
  • Same bad habits.
  • Same negative attitude.
  • Same procrastination.

What if you woke up to more?

What if you believed that the living God was active and moving right in the middle of the ordinary moments of your day?

In David Rohrer’s fine book The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry (p. 41), he discusses the ministry of John the Baptist and has some very fine comments about a person’s calling.  The context here is congregational ministry, but I think his point might be helpful to most anyone who is a Jesus-follower.

The prophetic tradition points us in a direction where we see our call not in terms of running the institutions we lead but in terms of inviting people to wake up to God.  If we look at the call narratives for Isaiah and Jeremiah, it doesn’t take long to see that institutional reform is not the thing that is primarily on God’s mind.  What is on God’s mind is that the people who have fallen asleep might have a messenger who would invite them to wake up out of their religious slumber and pay attention to the truth that the living God was in their midst. 

In order for me to practice this, I have to intentionally begin my day remembering this reality.  Otherwise, I simply wake up to another ordinary day and allow it to be shaped by my attitude, my habits, and my anxiety.

So here is how I would like to live today.  Perhaps this will be helpful to you as well.

  • Today, I want to move through my day believing that God is living and active in the ordinary moments.
  • Today, I want to stay awake.  I don’t want to doze off in my religious slumber and totally miss what God will be doing today.
  • Today, I want to pay attention.  I want to look for the gracious hand of God instead focusing on what is lacking, what is wrong, and what is inadequate. 

Maybe you would like to join me in this pursuit.  Don’t worry about having it all together.  Don’t worry about whether or not you will maintain this perspective throughout the day.

Just start!

Question: 

Which one of these three challenges, each of which begins with the word “Today,” do you need to remember today?

 

Ministry Inside.105

ego(On Thursdays, I write a post particularly for church leaders.  However, I suspect that most anyone can relate to many of the topics explored here.  This is especially true of the post today.)

Have you ever realized that you were becoming the main point of your life?

Or, to put it another way, have you ever realized that you have been living out of your ego instead of your soul?

A number of years ago, on a Sunday morning, I was sitting next to my wife at church.  I had already preached that morning.  We were just about to conclude the assembly.  Then, one of the elders (at the church where we were at that time) went to the podium to talk with the congregation “on behalf of the elders.”

He then proceeded to explain to the congregation how the elders had decided to move ahead with a particular project.  He explained the project and then encouraged the congregation to get behind this initiative.

As he spoke, I gradually became irritated.  This initiative was something I had proposed but that was received with less than expected enthusiasm.  As I continued to discuss the project and the possibilities for our church, several elders expressed that they thought it might be a good idea.

Now on a Sunday morning, this was being communicated as their idea and their initiative.  The longer this elder talked, the more irritated I became.  After church, I heard several people talk about the leadership of our elders and how they were challenging us with this project.

I recall thinking, “Good grief!  These guys get up and take credit for the idea I brought to them and now these people are convinced that these guys are showing leadership and creativity.”

Then I began to wonder.

Why is this so important to me?

Why did I find this so irritating?

What does this say about me and my ego?

The truth is: I was living out of my ego instead of my soul.

What does that mean for one in Christian ministry to live out of the ego?

  • You may be constantly critiquing others in an effort to elevate yourself.
  • You may be extraordinarily concerned with how others perceive you.
  • You may may feel a burning anger and resentment when others are noticed and receive attention.
  • You may feel a sense of worthiness only if you’ve written a book, been a keynote speaker at a particular event, etc.
  • You may find passive aggressive ways to communicate a sense of self-importance to others.  ”I’m booked for speaking events for the next three months!”
  • You may find that you rarely experience joy unless you are noticed, appreciated, or recognized in some way.

One afternoon, I sat in a counselor’s office in Kansas City.  I was in the middle of a church mess and really looked forward to my appointment with this therapist.  Yet, I was nervous and fidgeting in the chair as I waited for our conversation to begin.

He asked me about my week.  I told him that it had been a good week.  A high profile minister had called me and asked me to be the resource person for a retreat with the elders and ministers of his large metropolitan congregation.  I talked on and on telling this therapist how important it was to me to receive this invitation and the affirmation because of it.

Then he asked me a question that shot through my soul.

Jim, what if there was a way to experience joy even if you didn’t receive the affirmation and approval of others?

I had been living out of my ego, instead of my soul.  Something needed to change.

 

Question:

Is this familiar territory to you?  If so, I would love to hear your thoughts.

 

How to Pay More Attention to Character than Image

woodenmirrormuseumThe Penn State scandal has underscored a fundamental issue that is present in far too many of us:

Some of us are more concerned about the image we project than the kind of person we really are.

I once heard the story of a couple that purchased a house in an exclusive neighborhood north of Dallas.  They moved into the house and immediately put up coverings over each window.  Months later this couple was arrested and indicted for their participation in some fraudulent scheme.  Authorities came to their home and discovered that the house was basically empty.  They had a cardboard table, a couple of folding chairs, a television, and a single mattress.

The story revealed that the couple had sold their previous home and belongings.  They moved into this exclusive neighborhood to create the impression that they were doing quite well financially.  This home was way beyond their means, and they were able to live there only after selling all their belongings.  Neighbors noticed they never opened their blinds or curtains.  That was because they didn’t want anyone to see that the house was practically empty.

Some people are willing to do most anything to create a particular kind of image.  Image, however, is not a substitute for character.

Image people want to appear cool wherever they are.  If they are on the road traveling with business associates, they want to appear totally with whatever is happening.  If they are at church, they want to appear to be the devoted family person.  Image wants others to know they are “in.”

Image people want others to think they are not lacking in any way.  They may make statements to their family members such as:

  • You don’t want people to think we can’t afford to buy nice things.
  • You don’t want people to think we buy cheap clothes.
  • You don’t want people to think we can’t go on great trips.
  • You don’t want people to think we don’t get invited to nice parties.
  • You don’t want people to think we live in an old neighborhood.
  • You don’t want people to think our kids are not as good as theirs.

Image people are far more concerned with the way they appear than the way they are.  Their Facebook status always communicates that they live one awesome, glorious life every moment of the day.  Really?

They are more concerned about the way others perceive them than the reality of their lives.  This is one reason why a person’s public and private persona can be so different.

Focusing on our image while we neglect our character is like having a manicured lawn around our home while we neglect the cracking foundation.  The house may look appealing at first glance but may be in serious trouble due to a neglected foundation.

What Has Helped You Feel Less Self-Conscious?

(I am away on a vacation/study break during the month of July. The posts that appear during the month are from the archives.)

I never intended to be a minister.

Never.

I grew up in a church. Over the years, there were probably a half-dozen ministers who preached at this church. As a child, I really didn’t know much about them. I only saw them from a distance. Yet, most of them seemed “different.” Not different in a Christian sort of way. Just different in terms of manner. I remember dark suits, pulpit voices, and distance. I don’t say this to be critical. I am just expressing what I sensed as a child.

So, I never intended to be a minister.

Yet, I am a minister. I have been in this role for 30 years. I mean the kind who preaches each Sunday and does various kinds of ministry “full-time.” (Whatever that means!)

How did I end up in this role? How did I come to believe that God wanted me to do this for a portion of my life? That is a long story. Yet, I can honestly tell you that during my younger years, I never gave a thought to wanting to be a minister.

When You Finally Let God Be God

Sometimes people look very silly trying to impress others. Have

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you noticed this?humility (2).jpg

When I was sixteen, I was driving through a neighborhood after school. I passed by a sidewalk where girls from another school were walking home. I drove along, with music from my car blaring loudly, and trying to get the attention of two girls in particular. All of a sudden I heard the horrible of a wreck and at the same time heard the sound of glass breaking. I had just rear ended the car that was in front of me.

I now had the attention of everyone. Good grief! I felt ridiculous.

Sometimes, even as adults, we go to ridiculous lengths to convince one another that we are a step ahead.

Of course, there do seem to be some people who have a real edge. They are intelligent. They have social skills. They seem to be mature at 16 years of age. For others, growing up, maturing, and developing seems to take a lot longer.

Regardless of how mature or immature we happen to be, no one was ever created to live a self-constructed life. No one.

You may remember the man in Scripture who attempted to live such a self-constructed life. He focused on building bigger barns as he assumed he would continue to enjoy the life he designed. Meanwhile, God called him a fool and said that he would die that very night (Luke 12:13-21).


Humble people are those who let God be God.


Humility is not a word describing someone soft and passive. Rather, grace creates a vibrant humility that enables others to experience a life they could never construct themselves.


The First Question Ever Asked a Human Being

They heard footsteps. They were frightened. They hid. Then, they began blaming one another for where their lives were at this point.

God asked this man and woman this question:

Where are you?

Where_Are_You.jpg

They hid because they had disobeyed God. God had given them the freedom to enjoy a wonderful creation. He did tell them not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He is God after all.

Yet, they chose to ignore what he said.

How would we respond to this same question?

  • Some of us may hide. We are doing fine. Everything is wonderful!
  • Some of us may blame. I know this isn’t right, but after what my husband did to me, you can’t blame me for ….
  • Some of us may be fearful. What if I try this and it doesn’t work?
  • Some of us may deny that anything is wrong. I haven’t done anything wrong. I’m a good person!

Yet, when God asks “Where are you,” he really wants us to think. He wants us to take a good look at where we really are.

Perhaps you and I need to reflect on some of these questions:

  • Where am I in my relationship with the Lord?
  • Where am I in my marriage? Am I loving my spouse in a way that brings delight to his/her heavenly father?
  • Where am I with my children? Are they better able to grasp the character of God by looking at my life?
  • Where am I with this world? Do I pray for others? Am I following Jesus and genuinely living for others?

(See Genesis 3: 1-13)

Question:

What has been helpful in re-centering your life on occasion? Are there any particular habits or disciplines that have been helpful?