Discipleship, Leadership, Personal Development

The Worth of Lost Work

These are hard times. Many people have lost jobs or have had significant reductions in work hours. Some have had to shutter their companies or radically reorient their business models in order to survive. I sympathize with those who are going through this. In my household, we have experienced some work setbacks, but not to the degree that others have. 

Last week, Albertans lost 117,000 jobs. Nation-wide we experienced a national unemployment reduction of five percent in just one month. This is the largest and fastest monthly decline in recorded history, even topping numbers from the Great Depression. The Alberta Premier, Jason Kenney predicts that unemployment could rise as high as 25% during this COVID-19 crisis.

Besides losing our livelihoods, there’s another downside for those of us not working. We are missing the opportunity to worship. 

We were designed to work. As humans, we were made in the image of a good and great God who worked for six days, creating the cosmos, and then rested on the seventh day. Work was never a downer for God. He delights in his work. When he finished all that he created, he stepped back and admired his work, declaring it “good” (Genesis 1:25). In Psalm 104:31 we even find God rejoicing over his work. Work is what we were designed for – we were marked with the image of our Maker who loves work. 

But we weren’t just designed to work – we were also deployed to work. Of all the creatures on the planet, we were given the responsibility to manage the creation on God’s behalf (Genesis 1:27-28). We were tasked to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and to steward it. This is what theologians often refer to as the “cultural mandate.” God not only created us to work, but he also commands us to work.

What this means is that all work has dignity. When we work, we are reflecting God’s image and are participating with him in his cultural mandate. This ultimately means that all work is a means of worship. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Note that…whatever you do, do it for God’s glory. This includes our work. Through our work, we worship. 

This rubs against the grain of a common belief about work. For many, work is a necessary evil. “We shouldn’t live to work,” they say, “We should work to live.” They might think, “It’s a real downer to have to work – but at least it pays the bills, puts food on the table, and helps me maintain a standard of living I’m accustomed to. Real living begins when I can throw off the shackles of work.” Not everyone believes this, but I find it surprising how often this sentiment is an undercurrent in our conversations about work – including with those who follow Christ. In the biblical view, the presence of work is freedom, not the absence of work. This is because when we work, we are living true to our design and when we live according to our design, we experience the greatest expression of human freedom. Human freedom isn’t merely the absence of constraints – it’s becoming who you truly are (more on this in a future post). 

The problem with unemployment is it has the potential to dislocate us from our design. Sitting around at home can get pretty lame, pretty quick. For some, it can lead to depression and even despair. What makes it worse is there’s nowhere to find work. So even if you are motivated to work, there are few job opportunities out there. It’s not like you can simply go and “pound the pavement” to look for work.

So what to do? Here are two possibilities to consider. The first is to find meaningful work to do. Is there work to do around the house? Maybe there are some projects that you have been meaning to “get to” for quite some time. This could include sorting, filing, renovating, transplanting, fixing…the list goes on.

Is there a way you can serve in the community? Volunteering is work. Yesterday my wife Karen volunteered to drop off groceries for a local community agency. This was meaningful work for her. It goes without saying…please serve in a way that is compliant with our current health orders. Practice social distancing. Wash your hands. Stay at home if you’re sick. Avoid speaking moistly

I think the worst thing you can do during this time is to whittle your life away scrolling through social media feeds and binge-watching the newest, undiscovered, unconquered television series.

Please, please, for our own sakes, let’s get up off the couch. There is plenty to do. Make plans. Set goals. Get to work. Worship.

If the first possibility is to find work to do, the second is to find God’s purpose in the work you already do. This includes work at home. Many of my friends have no shortage of domestic labour opportunities, especially those parents who are trapped indoors with a gaggle of screaming banshees suffering from cabin fever. What if you reframed how you view your work? Pivot your thinking. Remember, all work is sacred. All work is good. Your work at home is an opportunity for you to reflect God’s image and participate in his good work in creation.

One simple practice might help you. At the beginning of each day, pray to God and say, “I offer all my work to you as worship.” You might even remind yourself of this truth throughout the day. This diaper-change is worship. This IKEA furniture assembly project is worship. These dishes are worship. These daily rhythms, this mindfulness, could be a game-changer for how you see your work. 

So may we worship well and may we work well. May our work be glorious, no matter what our work is. I end with a well-worn, well-loved statement about work, from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.

 

 

 

Discipleship, Personal Development, spiritual formation

Monday Rewind: Making Peace

Your roommate eats half of the meatball sub that you packed for tomorrow’s lunch. What do you do?

When somebody wrongs you, often your first instinct is to get others involved who aren’t part of the problem. Why do you do this? Let’s face it, most of us have insecurities and work hard at self-protection. So it could be your ‘fight or flight’ instinct kicking in. You might be looking for affirmation to prove that you are right. You could even be subconsciously attempting to build an alliance against the wrongdoer. In your more insidious moments, you might even be trying to destroy this person’s reputation. 

Jesus teaches us how to respond when someone personally wrongs us: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Mt 18:15, ESV).

The goal of confrontation should always be reconciliation, to “gain your brother.” Reconciliation means to re-align a relationship, to bring people back together. So the goal of confrontation shouldn’t be to shame the other person, to prove that you’re right, or to put them in their place. These shallow and shadow goals shipwreck relationships and never lead to reconciliation.

This is why Jesus taught that the starting point of confrontation is a personal and private conversation: “between you and him alone.”

So if somebody personally wrongs you…

Don’t go and blab about it to everyone.

Don’t tell your mother, your mechanic, your masseuse, or your meteorologist.

Don’t share it with the prayer team.

Or your BFFs or your BFAs.

Don’t post it, tweet it, or blog about it.

If they are not part of the problem, they are not part of the solution.

The moment you start talking to people who aren’t part of the problem, you are slandering or gossiping.

You are not acting in love. You are not seeking reconciliation.

A peacemaker will seek out the person directly in order to make things right.

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

 

Discipleship, Personal Development, spiritual formation

Monday Rewind: Forgiving Is Not Forgetting

Peter once asked Jesus, “How often do I forgive someone who sins against me? As many as seven times?” The rabbis of the day taught that you only had to forgive a person three times. Peter may have felt he was being quite generous. He wasn’t a second-chance person or even a third-chance person. He was a seven-chance person. 

But Jesus’ response was as radical then as it is today. He said, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Some versions even translate this as seventy-times-seven (which is 490 times…unless you’re into subjective math). This was a very Jewish way of saying that there should be no limit to the number of times you forgive someone.

God’s grace is boundless. He’s not a second-chance God or a seven-chance God. He’s a seventy-seven chance God. And if we truly follow Jesus, there should be no limit to our forgiveness.

Some believe that forgiveness is showing weakness but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Forgiveness is powerful. When somebody deeply wounds you that person has power over you. As long as you hold onto what they did, the wounds from that person will continue to dominate your life, colouring your perception and controlling your participation in relationships. They will stall you from healing and moving forward. When you forgive someone, you are engaging in a very powerful act. You are taking back control of your life, taking the power back from the person who has wronged you. You are saying, “I will no longer allow this to control my life.”

Forgiving someone isn’t condoning what they’ve done. You’re not saying what they did was okay and you’re not being passive about what happened. In fact, you are being active about what happened. You are acknowledging that something wrong has happened. Otherwise, there would be nothing to forgive. God forgives us but that does not mean he condones our sin.

A common misunderstanding is that forgiveness is forgetting. To forgive someone means to no longer hold them to account for what they’ve done. It means that you wipe the slate clean. But it doesn’t mean you forget. In some situations, forgetting what someone has done could be dangerous or destructive. If the person you are forgiving is toxic, dangerous, or abusive, you need to remember that. What happened should make you wiser about the future.

It is a huge theological misunderstanding to say that God forgives and forgets. You might wonder about verses that say, “I will remember your sin no more” (Isaiah 43:25). But these are misleading translations. The original language more accurately carries the idea of not bringing something to mind or not holding someone to account. The point is that God is not going to keep bringing up past sins. Besides, can an all-knowing, omniscient God really forget something? And keep in mind that at the final judgment, everyone will be judged according to what they have done. God forgives but he doesn’t forget.

Recently Rachael Denhollander released her book, “What Is a Girl Worth?” where she accounts her story of sexual abuse at the hands of Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor. This courageous step inspired two-hundred other women to come forward and testify against Nassar. In her statement to the court, Denhollander asked the question: “How much is a little girl worth?” She pleaded with the court to impose on Nassar the maximum sentence, “because ‘everything’ is what these survivors are worth.” She forgave Nassar but didn’t confuse forgiving with forgetting. “But we are here now, and today that message can be sent. With the sentence you hand down, you can communicate to us, to every predator, to every little girl or young woman that is watching — how much a little girl and woman is worth.”

Forgiving is not the same as forgetting. Sometimes a person will have to face the consequences for their actions, even when forgiven. These could be legal consequences. They may need to make restitution for what they did. And whether they pay or not, you can still forgive them.

We must forgive. Forgiving is not forgetting.

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

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.

Discipleship, Personal Development, spiritual formation

Monday Rewind: Customized Jesus

This week I bought a grande, triple-shot mocha, with whole milk, and whipped cream. Heart-attack in a cup. I like to live dangerously. I custom-designed it myself.

I can remember a day, back in my teens, when coffee was a lot simpler. There were three fundamental elements for coffee drinkers: black, sugar, and cream. The number of permutations you could come up with was pretty limited. Artificial sweetener wasn’t even an option. You could ask for two lumps of sugar, or if you liked to walk on the wild side, three lumps. If you were a psycho, you’d swap out cream for milk.

Life was simpler back then.

Did you know that Starbucks once boasted that it has 80,000 customizable drink options available to its customers? Imagine that…the thought is almost paralyzing. It’s probably why some people are so confused when they visit a Starbucks for the first time. Classic paralysis by analysis. You can always spot a Starbucks rookie because they usually just gawk at the sign for ten minutes and then order a medium, black coffee, or a large double-double. Amateurs.

Starbucks has mastered what is known as customization. It’s the ability to offer consumers custom-designed products, both efficiently and inexpensively (relatively speaking). Presently, we are living in an era of advancing customization. Having your goods and services customized or personalized, is very much in vogue and is likely not going away. You can order customized t-shirts, cars, eyeglasses – even denim jeans. There are restaurant chains built around customized burgers or pizzas. Coca cola is personalizing it’s bottles by putting people’s most popular first-names on its labels (good luck if your your name is Razzmatazz, or Meshiboleth). Netflix offers personalized channels for each member of your household and websites offer you personalized shopping lists or playlists.

If you’re under thirty, you might assume that this has always been the case. It hasn’t been. Once upon a time, coffee was much simpler.

Customization used to be something only available to the rich or the elite. But now, thanks to the speed of communication and advancements in technology, it’s accessible to the masses.  And what has made it most possible is the DEMAND. It’s hard to sell something that nobody wants. It turns out we’re a culture of consumers. We’re also a culture that highly values individualism. And when you put these two things together, you’ve created a potent mix: “I want it my way, and by golly, I’m gonna have it my way.” Customization is the logical outcome for a culture of consumers.

So gimme my grande, triple-shot mocha, with whole milk, and whipped cream. I’m very important.

The question I’m hoping you will consider is this: Could our demand for customization somehow affect our faith?

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

 

Discipleship, Personal Development, spiritual formation

Monday Rewind: Before the Bedroom

Before our wedding, my wife (Karen) and I made the wise decision of getting premarital counselling. Our counsellor made a statement that I will never forget: “Foreplay begins in the kitchen.” Before you let your imagination run wild, let me explain what she meant. Her point was simple – as you go about your day, how you treat each other determines if you are moving closer together or further away. Intimacy is something that develops throughout the day.

In short, sex begins long before the bedroom.

Solomon understood this. In the fourth chapter of Song of Songs, he wooed Shulamith with his words before pursuing physical intimacy. This chapter depicts a night in the honeymoon suite (maybe even the first night). Here’s what he said in verse 1 (NIV):

How beautiful you are, my darling!
Oh, how beautiful!
Your eyes behind your veil are doves.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
descending from the hills of Gilead. 

Solomon understood the power of words. He began by declaring his bride’s beauty. In fact, he did it three times in the first seven verses. Then he continued to poetically describe her beauty, working from the top of her head, to below her neckline. While his metaphors could get lost in translation, in his day, they would have been Pulitzer prize-winning prose.

But what’s most astounding is that the couple hasn’t even touched each other in the first seven verses. Solomon didn’t come charging into the bedroom like a caveman, beating his chest. “Me Gronk! You Woman! We make love!” Rather, he understood that emotional intimacy should precede physical intimacy.

Did he want her? Absolutely. He was quite eager to climb his mountain of myrrh and hill of incense, and he wanted to do it all night long (4:6). But even so, he didn’t rush in, grabbing and groping, like a monkey searching for bananas in the dark. Instead, he wooed her.

Sex begins long before the bedroom.

And so, practically speaking, if you are a complete loser during the day, bullying, manipulating, or mistreating your spouse, don’t be surprised if you get the cold shoulder in the bedroom. This applies for both husbands and wives. But if you are tender, kind, supportive, and affirming throughout the day, you will build trust, security, and intimacy. Foreplay begins in the kitchen.

I wish I could take a poll of my friends’ wives and ask them: “What do you think is one of the sexiest things your husband does during the day?” I bet their responses might surprise their husbands. Chances are that flexing your gluts in front of the mirror in your tightie-whities doesn’t top the list. And neither does jumping out of the shower, and shouting “Woo hoo!” while doing the funky-chicken dance. So not sexy.

Surprisingly, the answer(s) might be:

  • When he texts me little love notes during the day
  • When he helps get the kids bathed, reads them a story, and tucks them in at night
  • When he serves others without complaint
  • When he prays with me and spiritually initiates
  • When he hugs me and tells me I’m beautiful – just because

I was surprised to discover what sexy looked like from my wife Karen’s perspective (she’s given me permission to write this). When we bought our current home, I did a lot of renovations prior to our family moving in. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to complete the baseboards. For months, we lived in our home without them, and my beloved was very patient with me as I tackled a demanding new job. Every once in a while, she would kindly hint about how nice it would be to have them installed. Finally, I took time off work and tackled the project. It was about mid-afternoon on the first day that she stopped me and said, “Just seeing you working so hard for us, finishing the baseboards…I am so attracted to you right now.”

Cue the Barry White music. Bow-chicka-wow-wow.

For the next year of our marriage, installing baseboards became a metaphor for something else. To my dismay, I finally installed baseboards in every room of the house. I did consider secretly removing some of the baseboards when she wasn’t looking…

God-honouring sex begins early, long before the bedroom. Intimacy grows throughout the day.

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

 

Discipleship, Personal Development, spiritual formation

Monday Rewind: Infatuation

Dating? Courting? Crushing? Chances are you will catch a good bout of infatuation early in your relationship.

It’s intriguing that the Bible doesn’t shy away from this very human experience. In the Song of Songs – the big book on relationships – the two main characters are clearly twitterpated. Hear the poetic words of Shulamith, ogling her beloved, as he returns from a time away:

Listen! My beloved!
Look! Here he comes,
leaping across the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.
Look! There he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
peering through the lattice.

There are tell-tale signs of infatuation here. Did you notice how she describes him? He’s like a young horse, galloping and leaping across the mountains. It’s like a scene from a Bollywood romance. That’s how she envisions him. And then when he arrives, he doesn’t even make it to her front door. He stops and stares at her through the window. He’s not creeping or stalking – he’s just admiring her from afar. Tongue-tied, doe-eyed fool that he is.

That’s infatuation. The experience is so common we’ve got hundreds of ways to describe it. Star-crossed lovers. Love-sick puppies. Spell-bound. Enamoured. Punch-drunk love.

Did you know that there’s actually a scientific term for this experience? It’s called limerence. It was the psychologist, Dorothy Tennov, who came up with the term. She dedicated her professional career to studying this phenomenon by interviewing thousands of people who were truly, madly, and deeply in love. Her findings weren’t pulled out of Twilight novels or Ed Sheeran songs – they were completely research based. Some of the symptoms she observed included mood-swings, a literal heart-ache (chest pain), an irrational fear of rejection, passion and longing, and constant distraction. Limerence can make you do things outside the norm – like leaping over mountains as a gazelle, or playing peek-a-boo through the shutters.

Infatuation is great. It’s lovely. It’s wonderful. Ever felt it?

But here’s the thing. A lasting relationship cannot be built solely on infatuation, no more than your body can survive on Twinkies and cream soda. Sure they might taste delicious and give you a mid-afternoon sugar spike, but they won’t provide the nourishment you need for long-term health. And besides, you’ll be a diabetic in your thirties if you keep it up.

Infatuation occurs early in a relationship, but it doesn’t last forever. Eventually, it comes crashing head-first into reality. It might happen with your first fight, your first failure, even your first flatulence. But at some point in a relationship, you realize that infatuation isn’t enough. This is why relationships sometimes end prematurely. Some falsely assume that infatuation is the only mark of a good relationship.  And when the infatuation dissipates, they ditch the person they’re with and drive off looking for a new candidate.

Infatuation won’t sustain a marriage. It won’t sustain you through job-loss. Or the demands of parenting. Or cancer. But what will sustain your relationship is sacrificial love: true, biblical, agape love, where you lay down your lives for each other, serve one another, and sacrifice for the relationship. It’s a love that’s committed for the long-haul: for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do you part. When you live in the love of Christ, and you allow his love to live through you – this is what sustains a marriage.

Can I recommend something? Early on in your relationship, take your foot off the gas. Ease up on the infatuation and instead, take time to build your friendship. Divert that energy toward getting to know each other. Discover more about the person you’re courting.

You pick this up in verse 14. Whispering through the window, the beloved says to Shulamith:

14 My dove in the clefts of the rock,
in the hiding places on the mountainside,
show me your face,
let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet,
and your face is lovely.

What’s he saying? He’s saying that he wants her to leave the house and talk to him. And more than anything, he wants to see her face (notice he mentions it twice). The face was very important to the Hebrews. It represented a person’s presence. To see somebody’s face was to know that person. This is why they would “seek God’s face.” Your face reveals everything about you: your personality, character, and emotions. He wanted to see her face. He wanted to know her.

What if, early in your relationship, you made getting to know each other the primary goal? What if you focused on building a solid, lasting friendship? I’d recommend asking questions that go deeper than where you recently ate lunch or your favourite episode of Friends. Find out what each other’s joys are. Tell your faith stories, like when God first became real to you. Talk about your fears and your weaknesses. Truly get to know each other.

Expect infatuation, but build friendship.

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

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.

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!