Discipleship, Personal Development, spiritual formation

Monday Rewind: Attraction

In relationships, attraction gets traction. If you are looking for a future spouse, I’m sure you’ve got a short list of qualities that you’re looking for. What’s at the top of your list?

In the Song of Songs, it’s evident that Solomon and the Shulamite woman (let’s call her Shulamith) were attracted to each other. They weren’t shy about expressing this. When you dive into the book you encounter 18 compliments within the first 24 verses. These reveal what they found so attractive about each other. One can put together a pretty good short list of qualities from what they admired.

What was at the top of Shulamith’s list? Surprisingly, it wasn’t charm, good looks, or a sense of humour. Here’s what she said about her beloved in Song of Songs 1:3 (NIV):

Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes;
your name is like perfume poured out.
No wonder the young women love you!

Shulamith was dropping a heavy compliment. In her day, people bathed infrequently, since large quantities of water were hard to find. People might have gone days without a good full-body scrub. But Solomon smelled good. I can envision her doing a “Wiser Slow Clap” and saying, “Well done. Thanks for taking care of yourself and thinking about the rest of us. The Axe Body Spray is working overtime.”

But what impressed her more than his breath-taking bouquet, was his character. Notice what she said: “your NAME is like perfume poured out.” What she was referring to was his reputation, which flowed from his character. He was known as a person of integrity. People looked up to him, thought well of him. He was a fragrance, not flatulence.

The Bible places tremendous importance on a person’s name. Names had meaning. This is why Jesus changed Saul’s name to Paul. It’s why he renamed Cephas and called him Peter. Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”

The thing most attractive about her beloved was his name. He was more than eye-candy or a babe with a bod. What reeled her in was his character.

Are you single and looking for a future spouse? Here’s a question to consider: “What are you most attracted to?” Our culture greatly emphasizes physical allure. Hear me out – it’s not that looks don’t matter. It’s just that the hottie-with-a-body you marry today will look a lot different thirty years from now. You see, every human succumbs to the same inescapable reality – it’s called gravity. Gravity is as certain as death and taxes. Thanks to gravity, your skin will sag and your body will droop. Your nose and ears will elongate. The skin on the back of your arms will wobble. Your finest features will slide four inches south.

When the body fades, character remains. Character matters – more than cut abs or a clean-shaven face. Character trumps curves or cleavage.

So if character matters, then it’s important to do your homework. Before you dive head over heels into a relationship, maybe ask around about that person. Find out what their name stands for. Spend some time on social media digging into their profile (yes, this is a prescription to creep but not to stalk). Check out their pictures and comments. What do these say about their character?

If a boy wants to date my daughter, he has to ask me. We sit down and have a long conversation, discussing many important matters (yes, my daughters encourage this practice). One thing I insist is that they don’t just couple-up and disappear from the rest of the world, filling their days with private dates, while abandoning their friends. Instead, I suggest that they date in groups, with other people. You see, when you’re alone with someone, you only get to see what they are like when they’re with you. But when you’re in a group, you get to observe who they are with others. You get to see how other people respond to them. You get to see how they treat others – if they are kind, courteous, or compassionate. You discover their character from a third-person perspective.

Character matters. So, the more important question is, “What does your name represent?” In other words, what do people think of when they hear your name? Are you admired as a good, kind, honest, and trustworthy person?

Here’s a hint about attraction. Like attracts like. People of character are most often drawn to people of character. If you want to date people of character, you need to be a person of character. Andy Stanley has said: “Become the person that you’re looking for, is looking for.” If you’re looking for a person of character, you need to become one.

A great relationship doesn’t start with finding the right kind of person. It starts with becoming the right kind of person.

Do you have a good name? Are you a person of character?

This is a rewind to one of my recent teaching messages at Crosspoint Church. You can hear the full message here.

Discipleship, spiritual formation

A Love Story?

This Sunday, Crosspoint launches a new teaching series called Love Story. We’ll be diving into the Song of Songs and exploring a number of its themes including attraction, courtship, marriage, intimacy, and conflict.

Some might wonder…Why are we doing this series? I’m aiming to answer this question.

But first, let me talk about the subject matter. Song of Songs is an interesting book. For much of church history, it’s been treated as a taboo text, most often interpreted as an allegory that reveals how Christ loves the church. A strictly allegorical interpretation is problematic, which I won’t get into here. That said, we will be taking the book at face value and interpreting it literally. I understand the book to be a real, flesh-and-blood love story between a man and a woman. It has a lot to teach us about romance, love, intimacy, and sex.

Now, why the series? First, I know a lot of people need help in their relationships. Every week I hear agonizing stories of marriages falling apart or calling it quits. I also do a lot of premarital preparation with young Millennials and I know many of them are eager to learn about building relationships that will thrive and endure. I think most of us in marriages will agree that our relationships could use a tune-up on a regular basis.

Second, our culture is sending mixed messages about romance and sex. Have you ever stopped to think about how confused we have become? On the one hand, we have seen the #metoo and #timesup movements gaining incredible popularity in the Twitterverse and beyond (which they should because there is absolutely no excuse for the sexual harassment or exploitation of women). And yet, on the other hand, in the United States, the porn industry generates $13 billion per year and 1 in 5 searches on a mobile device are for porn. Certainly, most of the women in those videos are being exploited (we can perhaps argue about this point later). Are we culturally confused about sex?

Third, the Song of Songs is in the Bible. If you accept that the Bible is God’s Word for the world, then you should probably accept that God gave it for a reason. 2 Timothy 3:16 (NIV) tells us that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful…” Did you catch that? ALL of Scripture is useful. Not some of Scripture. It doesn’t say, “All Scripture is useful…except for that naughty bit of poetry after Ecclesiastes…you can ignore that one.” The Song of Solomon is useful. Boy, is it ever.

Finally, in a world preoccupied with sex and romantic love, the worst thing the church can do is say nothing. Romantic love is the topic of countless movies and songs. Sex is on the minds of billions of people, every single day. The world is talking about it – why isn’t the church? For example, did you know that the movie Fifty Shades Freed topped the box office a couple of weeks ago? It has raked in over $150 million dollars so far in world-wide sales and the franchise itself has made over one billion dollars. Hollywood has figured out what sells. If this topic is so pervasive, why are we so silent about it? Interestingly enough, Jesus wasn’t. And here’s the kicker…sex and romance were God’s idea in the first place. Why should we take our cues only from Hollywood? Wouldn’t it be great if we could hear from the Designer?

Now, I realize that some would rather avoid this topic, for different reasons than it being a taboo topic. For some, this series could expose deep pain. Maybe you’re single and you don’t want to be. You’ve wrestled with God about it and feel deep disappointment. Or maybe you’re in the middle of a relationship war, or you’ve just been through a break-up. Maybe the last thing you want to hear about are relationships.

First, let me say that my heart breaks with you. I’m not walking in your shoes, but I see your limp. I get it – this series might not be specifically for you. But I hope you understand why we’re doing it. What is more, I hope you will join us each Sunday, because what you don’t need when you’re struggling is isolation. Church isn’t just about hearing a message. It’s about belonging to a people. Christ’s vision for his body is that when one part rejoices, so do the other parts; and when one part is heartbroken, so are the rest.

Also, please know that we don’t believe that a person with a “married” status is of greater value than one with a “single” status (read 1 Cor 7:25-35). At Crosspoint we hold a high view of marriage AND a high view of singleness. People in each status have different concerns, capacities, and challenges. We never want to exclude singles. We’ve taught about singleness in the past and we’ll do so in the future. This just happens to be a series about relationships.

As it turns out, a lot of the relationship principles we will be exploring will apply in other relational contexts such as friendship, workplace, and family. The topics also focus much on becoming the right kind of person. There’s going to be something for each of us to learn. Plus, what you learn you can always pass on to somebody else who needs to hear it.

At the end of the day, Song of Songs is a fascinating book that’s worth getting to know. I hope you will come to love it as much as I have. Join us!

 

If you can’t make it out to the series, but would still like to tune-in to the messages, you can listen to our podcasts from Crosspoint Church. To subscribe, click here.

Personal Development, spiritual formation

Monday Rewind: Almost Famous

Perhaps happiness isn’t found in being noticed or liked, followed or admired. Here’s a paradox: what if joy can be found in diminishing?

John the Baptist’s story began with promise. He had an astounding birth story – angels, pronouncements, miracles. Rumours spread far and wide: “What kind of man will he become?” In his thirties, he appeared in the wilderness, dressed as a prophet (grasshopper soufflé anyone?), calling people to turn back to God. His job was to prepare them for the coming Messiah. People flocked from all over the Judean countryside to hear his message and be baptized by him in the Jordan. His popularity was on the rise. Everything was up-and-to-the-right.

Then Jesus came to the Jordan to be baptized by John. And everything changed. Doesn’t it always, when Jesus shows up? Thus began the time of John’s diminishing popularity. Once John recognized who Jesus was, he began to nudge his followers toward the Messiah. After all, isn’t that what God called him to do? His popularity dwindled. There were fewer high-five’s and “atta-boys.”

During this time of diminishing, one of John’s people piped up and said, “Uh, Rabbi, not sure if you noticed, but we’re kind of bleeding followers. And what’s weird is that they all seem to be following that other guy. You know…the guy you endorsed the other day? The one you called, ‘the Lamb of God who will take away the sins of the whole world?’ You know, the one you said, ‘would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire?’ It looks like everybody’s heading over his way.”

What he seemed to be insinuating was: “Teacher, aren’t you bothered by this? Doesn’t it get under your skin a little? You’re losing your fan-base. You’re taking a dip in the polls. This Jesus guy is getting more likes, more retweets, more visits. Your algorithm is shot. His platform is expanding, but yours is…well…diminishing.”

Diminishing.

Being forgotten. Overlooked. Abandoned. Fading away into obscurity. Who likes diminishing? Nobody likes diminishing, unless of course they’re on a diet plan. And yet John seemed to take it in stride.

As a matter of fact, while diminishing, John made this profound statement: “That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.”

And this is why, among all the amazing men and women in Scripture, John the Baptist is one of my heroes. In a day of posturing, platform building, selfies, and Snapchat, John has something to teach us. That while our world is trying to get noticed, John was okay with blending into the background.

What is more, he was able to do it with JOY.

As I said already, perhaps the key to happiness isn’t found in being noticed or liked, followed or admired. Perhaps John gives us some clues about how joy can be found even while diminishing.

 

This is a rewind to one of my recent teaching messages at Crosspoint Church. You can hear the full message here.

Leadership, Personal Development

Reaching Zero Inbox

Clutter. We all love it, right? Well, no.

What if you could unclutter your email inbox? What if you could create a system and rhythms that will leave your inbox empty at the end of each day? I’ve been working at this for the past couple of years and I’ve discovered a system that works. I can’t take credit for any of it – my process is a synthesis of advice and techniques accumulated from other sources. So because “sharing is caring,” here goes:

Create a “#Backlog” folder.

You need to find a landing place for emails that you will follow up at a later date. I recommend creating a sub-folder in your inbox called “#Backlog.” I add the hashtag to ensure that this folder appears at the top of my list of sub-folders when they’re sorted alphabetically. I’ll explain how this folder gets used later.

Consolidate all your task lists.

As I explained in a previous post (“The Task List“), a fundamental key to getting the right things done, is to consolidate all your task lists into one. If you’re the kind of person who has multiple tasks lists (or sticky notes), you will be hard-pressed to implement the next few principles.

Track your emails through your task list.

Do you realize that your inbox is a task list? You need to somehow fold your emails into your consolidated task list. Otherwise, you’re back to having two task lists.

There are many ways to do this. You could do it through Outlook. Any email you flag will automatically be added to Outlook’s task manager list thingy. I’m personally not a fan of this task manager – it’s not a very versatile system. I like a system that allows start dates and deadlines for tasks. So I don’t recommend this option.

A second option is to manually add each email to your task list (e.g. Follow up Ronald’s email about wall removal in Berlin). There are two downsides to this approach. First, it takes time to manually enter this data into your task list. And if you receive over one-hundred emails a day, it could get tedious. Second, it will take time to search for the email when you decide to respond to it – even if you put it in a sub-folder. But hey, if you grew up loving Hide-and-Go-Seek or Kick-the-Bucket, have at it! The rest of us will spend our freed-up time spinning in our chairs and eating avocado toast.

The third option is to use an app that enables you to automatically insert emails into your task list. I personally recommend using Todoist because it can be installed as an add-on to Outlook and is also available over multiple platforms. At the click of a button, you can add any email to your task list, and then prioritize and date it for follow-up. Even if you move the email to another folder, Todoist will automatically search for and open the email when you click on the task item.

Create sub-folders for filing and automation.

To create breathing room, create sub-folders in your inbox. Some examples of my sub-folders include: banking, education, subscriptions, consulting, finance, reports, receipts, income tax, staffing, personal development, governance, etc. These sub-folders will vary, depending on your personal and organizational needs.

Sometimes I’ll receive an email that I need to read, but am not required to respond to. I’ll give the email a quick scan and then tuck it away in its respective sub-folder.

I also receive emails that I do not need to read, but may need to hold onto for future reference. Rather than having them clutter up my inbox, I automate these emails so that they get sent directly to their relevant subfolders. Both Outlook and Gmail allow you to create rules that automatically take care of this for you.

I will admit that it takes time to set up these sub-folders and to automate your emails. But if you take a couple of hours to get it done,  you will create more time for yourself in the future. Short term pain can lead to long term gain.

Cancel your subscriptions.

This requires a moment of honesty. How many subscription-based emails do you receive in any given week? You probably had good intentions when you signed up for these subscriptions. But now you’ve discovered that you rarely have the time to even look at them. Some of them are important to you, and you hope to eventually read them. But there are likely other subscriptions that you signed up for on a whim, maybe because you ate a bad burrito. You might even have subscriptions that unexplainably appeared in your inbox and you have no idea where they came from (maybe there is something to this spontaneous generation idea after all?).

So…honesty. Do you ever read those subscriptions? You probably don’t. So why clutter up your inbox? Why create unnecessary guilt for yourself every time you open your inbox? If it’s highly unlikely that you will read these subscriptions, you’d be better off unsubscribing yourself from them. Most email subscriptions have a link near the bottom of the page that says “unsubscribe.” It’s usually in small print. Just click the link and follow the steps and Voila! you’ve just liquid plumbered your inbox.

Now, you if you have an important subscription that you may read from time to time, then I recommend creating a “subscriptions” sub-folder as well as a rule that automatically sends the subscription to this folder. You might even create a recurring task item in your consolidated task list that reminds you to read your subscriptions (or create a recurring calendar event). The key is to get the subscription out of your inbox and into your task list.

Use the “Touch It Once” principle.

I’m not sure who originally came up with this principle, but it’s brilliant. The principle is  simple: do something with every email you open. Your only options include respond to it, delegate it, or save it for later. But you only touch it once and you never leave it in your inbox.

Can you write a response to the email in less than five minutes? Then do it. Get it done and out of the way. Should someone else be following up on the email instead of you? Then send it forward to the right person. If you answered ‘no’ to either of these questions, then drag the email to your “#Backlog” sub-folder, add it to your task list, and set a more appropriate time to respond to it.  You might also send a brief reply to the person who sent it, letting them know that you will be responding later. And because it’s in your consolidated task list, you won’t lost track of it.

For a helpful explanation of this principle, watch this video by Asian Efficiency.

Conclusion

I truly believe that obtaining zero inbox is possible for most people. If you receive hundreds of emails a day, throughout the day, zero inbox might only be possible for an hour or so. However, the principles I have shared will still help you have a less cluttered, more manageable inbox.

If you put these into practice, I’d like to hear about it. And if you have other suggestions for email efficiency, let me know!