Discipleship, Leadership

Honour the Emperor

It’s the morning after and many Canadians are suffering from a 2019 Election hangover. Nobody’s really happy with a minority government as it indicates progress for some, regress for others, and distress for anybody who wants to get anything done. As for me, I choose to be publicly non-partisan.

I was nudged this morning to consider that no matter who is in charge of my country, I have the opportunity to follow Jesus with gladness. In his first letter, Peter writes these words:

13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.   (1 Peter 2:13-17, ESV)

How are we to relate to our government leaders? The general posture here is one of deference, which is mind-blowing when one considers who Peter is referring to. The leader of Rome at the time is none other than Nero. Peter likely wrote this letter just a couple of years prior to Nero’s public persecutions. He would blame followers of Jesus for the fire in Rome and launch his campaign of mass arrests, tortures, and public burnings. Nero’s decision didn’t come out of nowhere. Persecution was already escalating against believers when this letter was written.

Followers of Jesus are free. When the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. We are free from the power and bondage of evil and corruption. Yet we are still servants of God. We have exchanged the tyranny of sin for a new Master who surrendered his life for us. And so, “for the Lord’s sake” (v.13) we are to live in glad submission under our government as God’s servants. Peter says this is how we serve our ultimate Lord.

I understand that this raises questions and potential exceptions. But the general posture still remains.

Fear God. Honour the emperor. And be glad it’s not Nero.

Discipleship, Leadership, Personal Development

Monday Rewind: Trust Accelerator

Trust is the accelerator in all relationships.

I’m not the first one to frame this concept. You can read about it in Stephen M.R. Covey’s book, The Speed of TrustAll relationships move at the speed of trust. This includes our relationships with people as well as our relationship with God. Without trust, relationships move ahead as fast as a car spinning its bald summer times in a snowbank. (Yep, a shameless Edmontonian cultural reference.)

Trust in every relationship tends to move incrementally. We’re cautious creatures. So trust isn’t given automatically. It takes time to build trust. This includes every kind of relationship: friendships, work-groups, sports teams, marriages, even the political sphere.

You might remember the story of Paul in Acts 7. He began as a young religious zealot, dragging followers of Jesus from their homes into the streets and then putting them in prison. Then one day on the road to Damascus, he met the resurrected Christ. The encounter erased all doubt from Paul and several days later he was baptized as a new believer in Christ. Paul stayed in Damascus with the other disciples and began to boldly speak about the resurrection. He was so convincing that his fellow Jesus plotted to kill him. Paul had no alternative but to flee back to Jerusalem.

But now the church leaders in Jerusalem faced a dilemma. What were they going to do with Paul? It wasn’t long ago that he was beating and imprisoning them. How could they TRUST him? And here we pick up the story in Acts 9:

26 And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord.

In this account, trust was gained incrementally. It didn’t happen automatically – it took time. Paul lingered in Damascus, proving that he was legit. Barnabas was his advocate, making time to convince the disciples that Paul was the real deal. If you’re going to build trust with others, don’t expect it to happen overnight.

Generally speaking, trust is gained slowly and lost quickly. One author writes that it’s like putting chips into a ‘trust bowl.’ As you build any relationship, you’re essentially putting trust into this bowl one chip at a time.

It’s always easier to break trust than to make trust. And there are lots of ways to break trust: making mistakes, not keeping your word, being a jerk-face, and so on. A sure-fire way to break trust is through betrayal. This includes things like cheating, stabbing someone in the back, destroying someone’s character, or a huge moral failure.

Betrayal is taking your bowl of trust, turning it upside-down, and dumping all the chips on the floor. Trust is lost and the relationship grinds to a halt.

Trust moves incrementally. It is gained slowly and lost quickly.

Which surfaces a really important question, perhaps the most important question in human relationships. Am I a trustworthy person?

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!

Leadership, Personal Development

The Hour of Power

How do you calibrate your life so that you’re doing the things that matter most?

One of the personal development rhythms that I’ve tried to keep for the past two decades is what I affectionately call my weekly Hour of Power. To be honest, I’m not sure where the name came from. And no, it’s not a nod to Robert Schuller and the Crystal Cathedral. But it does sound like a throwback to the eighties – a decade of power suits, power ties, power metal bands, and power shoulder pads. But I digress…

During the hour of power (usually Sunday nights), I sit down and deliberately evaluate and plan my life. Sometimes it takes more than an hour – sometimes less. I first look back and assess my previous week, then look forward and direct my upcoming week. I also spend time doing some long-term planning, by looking months down the road. I’ve discovered that when I incorporate this weekly rhythm into my life, I excel at putting first things first, accomplishing my goals, and paying attention to the things I value most.

This weekly discipline is most effective if you have concrete personal goals and are guided by a strong personal compass (I’ll post more about these concepts later). If you only schedule events in your calendar, you may find yourself succumbing to the tyranny of the urgent, rather than focusing on what’s most important. Besides, how can you measure personal success by only looking at a calendar? You need higher principles and goals that govern what you put in your calendar. If you want to get your head around these concepts, I’d recommend the late Stephen Covey’s First Things First.

With my goals in hand (physical, spiritual, relational, emotional, intellectual), I evaluate my previous week. It’s important during this time that I pay attention to outcomes (productivity) and not just outputs (activity). If I only measure outputs, I’ll only be able to determine whether or not I was busy. This is again why personal goals are so important. During this evaluation time, I ask these questions: How did I do at reaching my personal goals? Did I have the right rhythms and habits in place to help me reach them? What can I celebrate? How can I thank God for this past week? Where do I need more grit? Where do I need to graciously cut myself some slack?

Next, I look forward and plan my week, in light of my personal goals and compass. I employ the principle, put first things first. The things that are most important get into my calendar first. Early morning workouts. An appointment with God. Time with my darling spouse and family. Study and reading. Sleep. Humans are creatures of habit, so I try to create a consistent weekly schedule, in order to develop rituals and habits. There’s plenty of brain science on the importance of forming these types of rhythms. If you’re looking for a good, inspiring read on this subject, check out The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.

Want a more productive and focused life? Start incorporating this rhythm into your weekly grind. It’s the rhythm of all rhythms. One rhythm to rule them all, one rhythm to find them. One rhythm to bring them all, and in the hour bind them.

Try it out for a month. I’d love to hear how it’s working for you.

Since we’re talking about power, here’s a throwback video which ended the power decade. This is just for kicks. Got the power?

Books, Leadership, Personal Development

Book: The Power of Full Engagement

Time management is important. But don’t ignore energy management. This is the premise of The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. Feeling flat at work? Tired all the time? Unfocused or down? You might want to check under the hood of your life to see what – if anything – is fuelling your engine.

As human beings, we are continually expending and replenishing our energy. What is energy? It’s your capacity to do life. You might be stellar at checking boxes on your task list, but if you aren’t managing your energy, you’ll tether your performance and may even set yourself up for a break down.

If you want to step up your game or pursue mastery, you need to keep your eye on your energy levels. “Energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance….Performance, health and happiness are grounded in the skillful management of energy” (4-5).

Success in life means becoming fully engaged. Full engagement requires managing your energy. I appreciate the author’s four energy-management principles:

Principle 1: Full engagement requires drawing on four separate but related sources of energy: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.

Principle 2: Because energy capacity diminishes both with overuse and with underuse, we must balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal.

Principle 3: To build capacity, we must push beyond our normal limits, training in the same systematic way that elite athletes do.

Principle 4: Positive energy rituals – highly specific routines for managing energy – are the key to full engagement and sustained high performance.

Here’s the bottom line. When you frequently lack energy, it can probably be traced to one of four diminishing sources: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Think of these as four large batteries. These batteries are special – they can be continually developed over time to hold a stronger charge, and last longer. You draw from these four batteries (sources), but you also need to build capacity in each. The more you do this, the more overall energy you will have. For example, if you develop your physical battery (diet, sleep, exercise), by applying stress and recovery (working out, hiding the Twinkies), you will increase your physical capacity. Over time, this will give you more physical energy to draw on. To increase any capacity, you must be willing to endure short-term discomfort for the sake of long-term reward. A large part of the book is focused on how to increase your capacity for each source.

From a faith perspective, energy management is not at odds with a Christian worldview. You were uniquely created by God – the pinnacle of his creation. You were made to bear his image in the world. You were fearfully and wonderfully made, with physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual capacities. God’s care for you is wholistic – he cares for every part of you. He wants you to take care of yourself more than you do.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of this book. So to get to the good stuff, you’ll have to dig deeper yourself.

Listen, engaging in life requires more than efficiently managing tasks. You need to manage your energy. And in case you’re wondering…no amount of excessive caffeine consumption, binge-watching, hurry, or self-obsession will build your energy capacity.

Discipleship, Leadership

The Church Needs Leaders?

The church needs leaders – always has and always will. So where do church leaders come from?

In recent decades we’ve witnessed an enormous push to develop leaders within the church. Much of this has been influenced by the leadership development movement in the marketplace – which hasn’t been a bad thing. The church has needed to increase it’s leadership game, so we shouldn’t diss or dismiss the movement. To be honest, I’ve got an entire shelf of leadership books in my personal library. I’ve also had my fill of leadership conferences and even have a graduate degree in organizational leadership and management. So, yeah, I think leadership is important.

But I’d like to propose that the starting point for finding and making great leaders, in the church, is the path of discipleship. It doesn’t begin by sending somebody to a leadership conference.

When you read about Jesus in the gospels, you discover two significant groups of people who chased after him: the crowd and the disciples. The crowd was the mob who shadowed Jesus during his Palestinian ministry tour. Some were captivated by his teachings, others by his miracles. But at the end of the day, the crowd was somewhat fickle. They sometimes laughed at Jesus in their unbelief, or walked away when he spoke hard truths. In the end, it was the crowd who called for Pilate to crucify Jesus.

Out of the crowd, Jesus called his disciples. He didn’t pull his punches with the masses. There was no soft-peddling of hard truths. He called them to come and die, and to step into his new life. This meant – to borrow the often used distinction – they needed to stop being fans and become followers, fully devoting themselves to Jesus and his teachings. If you want a good dose of his message for the crowd, check out Luke 14:25-35.

Many people responded to this call and followed him wholeheartedly. It was from this larger pool of disciples that Jesus called The Twelve. These men would have a unique role to play in Jesus’ kingdom movement. They would become the future leaders of the church, heralding the good news to the ends of the earth.

For Jesus, the starting point for leadership development was discipleship. The apostles were disciples first, leaders second.

Over the years, I’ve observed that the best leaders are, first and foremost, disciples. They succeed because…they’re a lot like Jesus. They’re loving, courageous, and good. They’re committed and sacrificial. They’re emotionally healthy and relationally connected. When we live like Jesus and lead like Jesus, we impact the world around us.

What would it look like if the church made discipleship its primary objective? What women and men could we discover, to lead in the kingdom movement of Jesus? Who would naturally rise to the surface?