5 DISCIPLINES THAT MAKE ME A MORE PRODUCTIVE PERSON

gearsIn my entire adult life I have never had a boss who actively manages my work load and schedule.  Therefore, it is up to me to make sure that I am maximizing my productivity toward being successful in achieving personal and professional goals.  Here are five daily disciplines that I have found to be very strategic in helping me toward this end.

STUDY

Every day my morning begins the same way: up early, brew a strong pot of French Roast coffee and read.  I generally read from two books.  The first one is always the Bible. As a pastor, I need to invest in my own soul as I learn more about the Almighty and His plan. It has been said, “You can’t draw water from an empty well.”  My personal study in God’s Word keeps my personal well full as I must draw from it many times each day to walk in the works God has planned for me.  Next, I will read a chapter from whatever book I am currently reading.  I make it my goal to read several books a year ranging from biographies, leadership, theology and personal interest.

ORGANIZE

I am a goal oriented person.  Every day it is important for me to review those goals and organize my time accordingly.  That way the tyranny of the urgent will not keep me from doing the things that are most important.

INVEST

One of the things that are important to me is spending time investing in people. Personally and professionally, I want to cultivate and nurture relationships with key people in my life.  Foremost is my family.  My relationship with my wife and daughters is easily neglected if I am not purposeful to invest in them daily.  If I want to be successful in nurturing key relationships I have to set aside appropriate time in my day.

CREATE

At least once a day, I schedule time to be creative.  This takes on various forms: blogging, journaling, music, creating short films, or preparing to teach.  The biggest obstacle for me in accomplishing this daily goal is waiting for inspiration.  I make it a practice to write down ideas as they come.  If I don’t write them down, I have trouble getting “inspired” when the time comes to create.  That way, when I come to the part of the day that I’ve scheduled to be creative, I have a list of items to get me started.

EXERCISE

I am a physical person and I love achieving fitness goals.  Regular exercise keeps my energy levels up during the day and provides an outlet to blow off accumulated stress.  It also keeps my mind focused.  Sometimes I have a difficult time concentrating and it is often during long runs or bike rides I have mapped out strategies for accomplishing goals or solving problems that I can’t seemed to get a handle on.  Also, many creative ideas come to me while exercising.

Though life sometimes gets in the way, these five disciplines have become a regular part of my routine to ensure I am living purposefully.  I feel better about each week that passes and have more energy and focus to invest in things that are important.  They have served me well and I hope that perhaps one or all of them may help you maximize your ability to pursue your goals.

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LOOKING BEYOND THE PRESENT

Glassing AMIn Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (1:15-23) he prays on their behalf that they might understand more fully what they possess in Christ. He prays that they might know (1) what is the hope of God’s calling, (2) what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance and (3) what is the surpassing greatness of God’s power.  These three are best understood as they relate to one another.

The Hope of God’s Calling

God has performed a wondrous work by redeeming every believer from their debt of sin.  This has enabled them to see beyond their own circumstances to the larger story of God and their part in it.  Hope always looks forward.  It gives the believer perspective that whatever they face today, God is working on their behalf and enabling their efforts to have eternal purpose.

The Riches of His Inheritance

The inheritance that God promises to all believers is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit which permanently indwells them.  While Paul does not elaborate here, he certainly does in other writings.  Romans 8 tells us that God’s inheritance includes the redemption of all creation and the glorification of our weakened mortal bodies.

Creation itself has been subject to frustration due to sin.  Natural catastrophes that devastate humanity are viewed as temporary groanings that will one day be removed as all creation is restored.  At that time, we too will experience the redemption of our bodies through the resurrection.  God will equip us with glorified bodies like Christ’s resurrected body.  We will no longer experience pain, aging, disease or suffering.  This is a certain hope in the midst of difficulties we face today.

The Surpassing Greatness of God’s Power

The word “greatness” is a term that describes the highest mark of measurement.  On a scale of 1-10, “greatness” is 10.  When describing the power of God, Paul says that his might surpasses greatness.  In other words, His power is off the scale!  This power which God displays on our behalf is the same that he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand at the throne of heaven.  Even death has no victory over God’s power which he extends to us.

In life it is easy to fix our attention on our current circumstances in which our experience is not a preferred one. For those who have placed their faith in Christ, God gives hope that rises above our perceived limitations.  God is bigger than our shortcomings.  God is bigger than disease.  God is bigger than poverty.  God is bigger than relational conflict.  When we experience these challenges, Paul’s prayer should come to mind.  Instead of limiting our perspective to the frustrations that beset us in life, may we fix our attention on God who is working powerfully on our behalf now and promises unimaginable glory to us in our future.

 

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Thinking Little of Jesus

cross - crumpledIn our day to day lives we don’t often realize that our everyday choices reflect that we are undervaluing who God is and what he has done on our behalf. Then God reveals something about Himself to us that elevates our view of Him. We are then compelled to make a change reflective of our newly magnified understanding.

I’m beginning a new study of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. In the opening verses, Paul identifies himself as the author and the recipients as the saints who are in Ephesus. An important part of understanding the meaning of any text is to see it through the eyes of the original author and audience. In this case, we can glean from Luke’s account of Paul’s time in Ephesus (Acts 19).

Ephesus was a port city and the major commercial center of Asia Minor. Its inhabitants were diverse and its architecture rich. It boasted the temple of Artemis – one the seven wonders of the ancient world (Acts 19:23-41). There was a modest Jewish population (19:9-10), the city was primarily inhabited by Greeks. It was to this primary audience Paul is writing.

Though Paul ministered in Ephesus for three years Luke gives us few details of his ministry there. Therefore, what details he gives are significant. One major event that inspired Luke to put pen to paper was a failed exorcism that resulted in a major shift in the value system of these young Ephesian believers.

The magic arts were widely practiced in the Mediterranean basin, primarily to ward off the evil intent of demonic forces. Seven men who were known to be traveling exorcists observed the extraordinary miracles performed by Paul in the name of Jesus. Seeing the power of God manifest, they decided to incorporate the name of Jesus in their incantations thinking no more of Him than a source of power and a means of gain. The result was that when they treated the name of Jesus in this way it backfired terribly in a very public way (19:11-16).

News of this event became known all throughout the city. Luke records that great fear fell on all those who heard of the failed exorcism and the name of Jesus was being magnified (19:17). What happened next is what seemed to impress Luke the most.

When confronted with the incompatibility of faith in Jesus and practice of the magic arts, the young believers were compelled to make a choice. They must abandon their fear based belief that magic protected them from demons and turn to fully embrace Jesus – the one who truly had power over the spiritual forces of darkness.

Luke records:

Acts 19:19 (NASB95)
19 And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.

The Ephesian believers made the choice to fully trust Christ and put their lives squarely in his hands. Their faith was demonstrated by the public destruction of costly magic books that they once dearly valued. The estimated value of these documents was, according to Luke, fifty thousand pieces of silver. If a piece of silver equated a day’s wage, that would be the modern equivalent of 192 years of labor based upon a five day work week. That is like four lifetimes of income!

This experience would profoundly influence Paul’s writing when addressing the Ephesians in his subsequent letter. A major theme of Ephesians is the magnification of our understanding of who God is and what he has accomplished on our behalf in Christ. Do we think too little of Jesus? May our faith be challenged and enriched as we understand the riches of God’s love and grace in Christ.

Action Steps:

  1. Read Luke’s account of Paul’s experience in Ephesus recorded in Acts 19.
  2. Examine your life’s choices and pursuits. What do we value most? Is there anything that competes with your love for and trust in Christ? Is there anything that you value that is contradictory or incompatible with the character of God?
  3. Consider what step of faith God is compelling you to take today in your life that reflects your full trust in Him.
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GOAL 2016: Do Less Better

DO LESS BETTERSo with 2016 well under way, I’ve got a long list of goals that I am trying to successfully accomplish this year. One of these is: “DO LESS BETTER.” Now before all of you English Nazi’s out there get too bent up over the poor grammar, let me explain what I mean. This is really two steps toward a larger goal – to do all things to the best of my ability. In order to accomplish this, I realize I must first DO LESS. That’s step one.

I am naturally a “doer.” If there is a need or opportunity – and I have the ability – I generally do it. This attitude has served me well generally because it has provided me a broader life experience for which I am thankful. However, it has also filled my schedule with so many things that I cannot do any of them with the level of excellence I desire. I know that there is a balance to this but put simply, in order to do some things with excellence, I have to have more time to dedicate to those things. The only way I know to create more time is to DO LESS.

This means I must learn to say “no” to some good things so I can say “yes” to the best things. It’s not like this is a new idea. I’ve endeavored to practice prioritizing my time for years. However, each year requires a re-evaluation and adjustment to stay on course to achieving the highest goals you have for yourself.

Here are a few examples of the areas I want to prioritize and improve this year:
• Better Husband and Father
• Better Communicator
• Better Bible Knowledge
• Better Leader

After I’ve decided what my highest priorities are and have begun to create more time to pursue them, I must throw myself into the work it takes to achieve those goals. Someone has said that “excellence is the basics mastered.” Understanding what the basic components of a particular skill may take some research. Observation, reading, interviewing others who have achieved excellence are all helpful tools to determining the important tenets of excellence in a particular area.

Once you’ve identified these tenets, the next step is practicing them until you’ve mastered them. This requires dedication, perseverance and focus. As I practice these necessary skills I will see progress and become BETTER. After a while, I will become proficient.

What are some areas that you would like to achieve a greater level of excellence? Sometimes the answer is to DO LESS so you can be BETTER.

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The Good and Powerful God

Grasping the nature of an infinite God is an impossible task. Thankfully, God has revealed Himself in ways that finite man can not only apprehend His reality but even have relationship with his Creator. Two aspects of this revelation are God’s divine attributes of omnipotence and goodness.

God is all powerful. The revelation of God begins with a tangible display of His might with the words, “In the beginning God created…” (Gen 1:1). Genesis chapters 1-2 explain that God created all things in six days. A common phrase used in each creative act is “God said”. God spoke and the universe leaped into existence. Stars and planets that did not exist a moment before were now fully present – from nothing.

If God’s power displayed in his creative acts in all their complexity were not impressive enough, God accomplished all of this without burning a single calorie. He expended no effort. He simply spoke and it came into being. He needed no recovery time, no time to think about the next step, he simply spoke into existence day after day what had previously existed down to the smallest detail in His mind.

God not only created all things but he continuously sustains all things. Colossians tells us that “in Him all things hold together” (Col 1:17). The natural laws of gravity and the changing seasons are examples of God’s constant and dependable power to preserve the world as we know it. He silently and effortlessly accomplishes this for our benefit and for His glory.

With this kind of power, it is important to also know that God’s essential character is completely good. He will never wield this limitless power to commit evil. The scriptures tell us God is not tempted by evil (Jas 1:13) and that in Him there is no darkness at all (1Jn 1:5). James goes on to say that in fact every good thing is from the Father of lights, with whom there is no shifting shadow (Jas 1:17).

What a combo! We can know a God who is not only all powerful but can be completely trusted to act in his essential character of goodness at all times! What circumstance exists in our lives that God is not in control of? What scenario exists that God is not powerful enough to intercede? Not only can God act powerfully on our behalf but we also can trust that whatever he does on our behalf it is essentially good. What are we experiencing today in which we have yet to trust God?

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21 Days in Papua New Guinea

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God Can Move Mountains (But most of the time He doesn’t)

Mount ShastaWhen encountering a painful circumstance, how many times is the subject of my prayers, “God, please remove this painful trial from me” or “Lord, I know nothing is too great for you.  You can move mountains. Move this mountain from my life that is causing me so much difficulty.”  The answer I get 99% of the time? “Mark, instead of changing your circumstances, how about I change YOU.”

God is in the business of developing fullness and maturity in his children.  This growth is founded upon the development of trust in the strength that God provides.  How can we develop this trust apart from exercising it?  God, in his great wisdom, knows this full well.  He allows us to endure difficulty in this life knowing that our faith is strengthened as a result.  He walks with us and provides all that is necessary to travel the rocky terrain with success.

This idea is so vividly pictured in Habakkuk’s psalm in Hab 3:17-19.  God has just revealed to the prophet that Judah will go into exile at the hands of their enemy.  Habakkuk’s response is one we all should emulate when facing a rough road in life:

17 Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls, 18 Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. 19 The Lord God is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, And makes me walk on my high places” (NASB95).

The picture of the deer (hind v.19) traversing a steep rocky slope comes to my mind.  Having spent many an hour on such slopes hunting this quarry, I can tell you that it is a treacherous environment for man.  Yet, in this same perilous terrain, the deer is surefooted.  This is the image God is teaching Habakkuk.  As if God is saying, “I will not change steepness and peril of the terrain you must walk, but I will be your sure feet as you walk it.”

This reality of God’s wisdom and love toward me helps me to pray differently about my circumstances.  Instead of praying that God would miraculously remove the mountain, I pray that God would miraculously give me the ability to scale it.  Instead of asking God to change my circumstances, I pray that he would change ME.

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