Sharpen Your Chain

This past fall I got to use a chainsaw for the first time. I say “got to”, because if you’re a man and haven’t used a chainsaw, you need to stop reading this right now and go use one and then come back and keep reading and you might be able to appreciate the invigoratingly manly satisfaction I experienced in such an activity**. Seriously, grow a beard and go do it and thank me later. I digress…

In my case, I had a huge old dead tree in our yard that I was going to cut down and use for firewood. After a long time cutting, I finally got the tree down and after another long time, I cut it into a few sections. They were way too big to use for firewood, but I was too worn out to keep cutting! I suspected the chain wasn’t sharp (foreshadowing…), but being inexperienced I thought perhaps chainsawing was just hard work and not much fun (o me of little faith). I wasn’t able to finish the job until the next weekend, so in the meantime I took the chain to get sharpened at Cahall’s John Deere store over in Georgetown.

Little did I know the wonder of a sharp chain. 

The next Saturday when I fired up that thing, I was like a Beaver-super-hero on steroids who just had a double-shot of expresso! It was amazingness! Hot knife through butter doesn’t even begin to describe the ease and therefore exuding joy of chainsawing with a sharp chain. I didn’t have a beard at that time but I think I sprouted one while sawing. That’s how incredible it was! In a quarter of the time it took me the weekend before, I had the tree cut up into small pieces. Not only did my work take way less time, it was much more effective and enjoyable because of the sharp chain. 

If you’re a lumberjack, a chain is an essential tool for your job. But the best chainsaw in the world is useless with a dull chain. Lumberjacks with dull chains are frustrated and worn out all the time. Similarly, if you find yourself frustrated and worn out in your job, it may not be that you’re in the wrong profession. It may just be that your chain isn’t sharp. 

Ecclesiastes 10:10 (NLT) says it this way:

Using a dull ax requires great strength,
    so sharpen the blade.
That’s the value of wisdom;
    it helps you succeed.

So what’s your chain? What tools do you use to get your job done? Is there a way you can improve what you do or how you do what you do?

How can you sharpen your chain?

For example, I’m a pastor by day (lumberjack by night now that I know the wonder that is the chainsaw). Therefore, being able to craft and deliver an excellent sermon is essential to my job. When I first started preaching several years ago, though, I didn’t enjoy it much. It took me a long time – 30-40 hours a week – to study, write and practice a sermon before I was ready to deliver it. It was hard work. It wore me out. Not to mention I about had an anxiety attack every Saturday night! I could have determined that I wasn’t cut out to be a preacher. But thanks to some encouragement and good coaching, I came to realize my chain just wasn’t sharp. I had to work on becoming a better preacher. Was there a better way to prepare? Was there a quicker way to study and sift through the immense amount of material to cut down on study time? Was there a better way to outline it to make writing go faster? These questions helped me sharpen my chain, but what helped me the most was good old fashioned practice. Getting opportunities to preach again and again and again. Preaching still wears me out sometimes, but by and large I’ve got my prep time down to about 15-20 hours per week and I’m preaching better than when I used to spend 40 hours. And I’m actually enjoying it more because I’m starting to get good at it***. These are all benefits of sharpening your chain!

So what about you? How can you sharpen your chain? Maybe it’s taking a class in order to master Excel because you use spreadsheets and work with numbers on your computer all day. Maybe it’s finding a more efficient way to organize your schedule or manage your time. Maybe it’s writing a script to use for all those phone calls you make to ensure you’re communicating consistently with all those customers.

Whatever you do and however you do it, there’s a way to improve it, save time, and make it more effective. There’s always a way to sharpen your chain. 

 

**Make sure your chain is sharp, though. Seriously. It’s not much fun chain-sawing with a dull chain. More like hard work. Think: forced labor. But with a sharp chain – o baby, baby, like a hot knife through butta, only with wood chips flying everywhere! I could do that all day!!

***And trust God more with it. You can only “sharpen your chain” so much, especially when it comes to preaching. Eventually you have to let go and let God! 

The Ice Cream Salesman & The Leader

I’m just going to get it out there so you know where I’m coming from: I love ice cream. My wife says I have an ice cream “habit” (sometimes she says “problem”. Like the way you say someone has a drug “habit” or “problem”). But, come on, who doesn’t love ice cream?! It’s amazing. I have heard it said and believe it to be true:

You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy ice cream,
and that’s kind of the same thing.

Wow. Truer words were never spoken.
Dishing out ice cream to people must be an amazing job. Smiles all around.

I used to think that leadership was the same way. My job is to lead in such a way as to make everyone happy. The only problem is, in pretty much every “position”  I’ve had in life where I’m a leader (those with a title and those without), I’ve had to make decisions that were not popular with everyone. Here’s what I mean…

I’m a dad. Dads are leaders of their families. As a dad, I’ve often had to make decisions for my family that were unpopular with a few of our members. Sometimes these unpopular decisions are unpopular with the majority of our members, namely those under four feet tall! These decisions are things like limiting video game and TV time, not letting them eat candy right before supper and so on. Sometimes these decisions result in people on the floor kicking and screaming and crying for 5 minutes. Then after I’m able to pull it together I realize I made the right decision (Just kidding, it’s my kids who are on the floor throwing fits! But not kidding about making the right decisions). My kids aren’t happy with these decisions. But dads aren’t ice cream salesmen. They’re leaders. And leaders have to make decisions that aren’t always popular.

I’m also a pastor of a new church. Just like being a dad, I’ve realized that as a leader of a church I sometimes have to make decisions that aren’t popular with everyone. These decisions are things like style of music, sermon content and so on. Sometimes people are unhappy or even leave over these decisions. In our case, because we’re new, we get a lot of first time visitors who are there to see what we’re like, and I can always tell if they didn’t like it because they don’t come back! But pastors are also not ice cream salesmen (although I’ve often fantasized about how incredible it would be to serve ice cream during church!). They’re leaders. And leaders have to make decisions that aren’t always popular.

Jesus gave us a heads up about this when he said:

“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” - Luke 6:26

In other words, only fake leaders are liked by everyone, because they tell people what they want to hear – not what they need to hear. If God has called you to be a leader – whether it’s a dad or a pastor or a boss – you will have to make decisions or tell people things that they are not going to always like.

Jesus exemplified this as well when he was teaching a crowd of people in John 6 about some truth that was hard for them to swallow:

Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. – John 6:59-60; 66

Jesus said some things that were unpopular sometimes (like “eat me”. Seriously, read John 6 if you don’t believe me! Talk about hard to swallow. Ok, I’ll stop). Even some of his disciples were so unhappy that they quit following him! But Jesus didn’t stop them. In effect, he looked around and said, “Anybody else want to leave?” (John 6:67) Jesus knew the decisions he was making and the things he was saying were pleasing to God. So he wasn’t going to change it or soften it to try and make everyone happy.

Because it wasn’t his job to make people happy.
Because Jesus wasn’t an ice cream salesman**.
He was a leader. And leaders have to make decisions that aren’t always popular.

If you find yourself in a leadership position at some point, whether it has a title or not, don’t fall into the trap of trying to please everyone. Your first priority is to please God and lead the people under your influence in a way that honors him first. Sometimes that’s bitter medicine for your followers, and they’ll cry and throw fits or want to leave. Proverbs 29:25 says:

The fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.

That means if you trying to please everyone all the time it will lead you off course, and you will end up not pleasing God. But if you make pleasing God your priority, he will keep you and whatever group you’re leading safe – even if some people are unhappy or leave.

So if you want to make everyone happy, go sell ice cream. But don’t be a leader. Because leaders have to make decisions that aren’t always popular. 

**I don’t think they even had ice cream back then. Man am I glad I live in the 21st century! 

Lean In

Whenever I’ve engaged in an extended time of prayer and fasting, like I have been for the last few weeks now with my church, somewhere about half-way through I start longing for the things I’ve given up. Coffee. Movies. TV. Red-meat. Mmmm.

The last few days I’ve found myself saying “I can’t wait until this fast is over.” Usually I say this while thinking about coffee or hearing from a friend about the latest and greatest movie that’s out. After hearing this come out of my mouth a few times, my loving wife pushed back a little in the most meek way and said,

“Don’t wish this time away. Let the fast do its work. Lean into it. Lean into God.”

She is so wise. And I am such an idiot sometimes!

In other words, she was reminding me that we don’t fast just to be miserable and so prove our devotion to God. We fast to seek God, eagerly expecting he will actually speak to us and guide us and answer our prayers. Therefore by wishing the time away, I was wishing away a word from God. I was wishing away an answered prayer. I was wishing away soul-nourishing encouragement and guidance straight from my Father himself.

Fasting can be hard because of how we deny ourselves. But my wife was reminding me to let the fast do it’s work. The hardship is meant to drive us to a greater dependence on God. Therefore, when we feel the longing for the food or media we’re craving, we need to lean into God. If we’re fasting for something specific, lean in and say another prayer about it. If you’re not fasting for anything specific, just lean in and ask him what he wants to reveal to you through this time. Every time I’ve ever fasted God has revealed himself to me in a new and unique way. That’s worth far more than a cup of coffee or a movie I can always see a few weeks later.

So if you’re part of our church and fasting alongside of us, I want to pass onto you the wisdom given to me for this last stretch of time:

Don’t wish this time away.
Let the fast do its work.
Lean into it. Lean into God.

Or maybe you’re just a casual reader and have never fasted a day in your life. But here’s what I’ve learned: sometimes life forces us to “fast”. Sometimes life itself can strip us of our joy or pleasures and leave us feeling stark and deprived. The Apostle Paul writes about one of those times in 1 Corinthians 1:8-9…

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.

 

Paul says the reason the hardships came in his life was so that he might not rely on himself, but on God. So if you’ve found yourself in a season where life has stripped you bare, don’t run toward the comforts of this world – TV, movies, food. Those things might help you forget for a short while, but they can’t heal the pain or change your circumstances. Only God can do that. The hardship is for a purpose – to remind you of your need for Him. So if you’ve found yourself in that place I offer you the wisdom offered me…

Let the hardship do its work.
Lean in.
Lean into God.

Prayer Is A Waste Of Time

When you’ve got a ton of work to do and everybody NEEDS you and the phone is ringing and the notifications are buzzing and you feel completely overwhelmed, my guess is, if you’re like me, the last thing you think to do is pray. We say we believe in prayer, but in reality when we’re really busy, our actions say “Prayer is a waste of time.” Because we have stuff to do. We have to check some of this stuff off of our to-do list so we don’t feel so overwhelmed. So when we get busy with life, prayer is the first thing to go because we have too much to do.

It’s interesting that Jesus had the exact opposite reaction. When his life got busy, the first thing he did was make time to get alone with God and pray. Check it out for yourself:

Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” - Luke 5:15-16

In other words, the more people needed him and the more he had to do, the more Jesus made it a priority to pray. Jesus refused to believe that prayer is a waste of time.

I don’t think Jesus was just trying to “set a good example for his followers” so that we wouldn’t forget to “say our prayers” when we’re busy (like some trite bedtime routine kind of praying). I think he believed there was something prayer actually accomplishes that is absolutely essential – especially when we’re the most busy. I think he believed that because I’ve experienced that to be true.

Here’s why…

1) Prayer keeps you from feeling overwhelmed.
Feeling overwhelmed and worried about all you have to do will only make it harder to get stuff done or help the people in your life. It’s amazing how prayer literally lifts these feelings every time I engage in it and tell God how I’m feeling and ask him to help me. God actually promises to take away our anxiety when we pray to him:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” - Philippians 4:6-7

So if you’re sick of feeling worried and anxious about all you have to do and everybody you have to help, refuse to believe prayer is a waste of time.

2) Prayer will actually SAVE you time, not waste it!
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve prayed in the morning telling God about problems I can’t figure out or things I need help with, and WHILE I’M PRAYING ideas pop into my head that are the answer I am looking for or something I can do that will lead to resolving the problem. This has saved me so much more time than if i had just “worked my butt off” or “grabbed the bull by the horns”. That’s because prayer is a conversation. You are talking to God, but God can talk to you too. He knows what you’re going through, and he knows the answers and what you need to do in every situation. He loves you and wants you to make the best decisions in every circumstance. So ask him for help. He will guide you in what is right and true.

“In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” - Psalm 5:3

God can either give you guidance through prayer to help you, or, as I’ve often experienced, problems and issues have a mysterious way of RESOLVING THEMSELVES whenever I pray (and I don’t have to do anything)! In fact, just yesterday, a MONDAY (the day we all should be praying the MOST!), I was thinking about all of the planning I have to do for the future of our church – things like volunteer teams, bylaws, starting new groups, special events, teaching series, and on and on. I felt pretty overwhelmed and my first reaction was to start working right away. But because this topic of PRAYER had been on my mind, I decided to spend some time talking to God instead. What I thought would be a few minutes of rushing through prayer to “check it off my to-do list” and get on with my day turned into 20 minutes of pouring my heart out to God. When I got done I felt completely at peace, even happy, about facing my day because I was so hopeful that God was going to help me figure stuff out (see #1). Just a few minutes later I got a phone call from a volunteer leader in our church who had a simple question. That question turned into a 2 hour conversation that helped give me a lot of direction and answers on what I was feeling overwhelmed by. That conversation saved me a ton of time, and I know it wasn’t a mysterious coincidence. It was an answer to prayer.

3) You can’t change people, but God can.
When people are your problem, life can be really difficult and the anxiety can be overwhelming because you know that you can’t change those people (again, see #1). Sometimes the more you talk to them to try and help them, the more resistant they are to change. The simple fact is you can’t change people. But God can. And yet again, I’ve experienced the power of prayer in this area. I’ve seen God change people’s hearts and attitudes simply by praying for that person. When all the advice and all the intervention and all the kindness in the world fail to help the people in your life – prayer is not a waste of time.

The Bible says God answers prayer.
Jesus said, “ask and it will be given to you.
And James 4:2 says:

“You do not have because you do not ask God.”

The tragic thing is that most of our prayers go unanswered because they go unasked.

Because deep down we think prayer is a waste of time. We’ve got too much to do. We feel too overwhelmed and the only way to not feel overwhelmed is to get stuff done. And sitting still for 5 minutes to talk to someone we can’t see does not seem like getting stuff done.

But in reality, when we pray, God goes to work for us. He calms our nerves and gives us peace amidst our busyness. He saves us more time by our prayers than if we hadn’t prayed in the first place. He can change people’s hearts in ways that we never could with all the work and time and effort in the world.

So today…
Refuse to believe that God cannot take your anxiety and give you peace.
Refuse to believe that God cannot give you real help that saves you time.
Refuse to believe that God cannot change people’s hearts and attitudes.

Refuse to believe that prayer is a waste of time.

PUT IT INTO PRACTICE (Matthew 7:24-27):
A commute to work makes an awesome “prayer closet”. So turn off the radio for the first 10-15 minutes and just PRAY about everything you have to face that day. Then, as you go through your day, look for how God is answering your prayers. You’ll be amazed how more at peace you feel and how often God answers the specific prayers you spoke that morning! 

How to get out of debt and be financially free

As a follow up to the message I preached this past Sunday at our church, I wanted to post some resources about how you can get out of debt and manage your finances the way God wants you to. In the sermon I told the story of how my wife and I paid off over $60,000 in debt in under a year (you can hear the full message here), but I forgot to mention the resources that helped us accomplish that.

During our research for tools about how to get out of debt and manage our finances, we discovered the teaching of Dave Ramsey. Dave is an evangelical Christian and his principles for managing money are biblically based. Not only this, Dave has taken biblical principles for handling money and turned them into a proven step-by-step process for getting out of debt (and staying out of debt), saving/investing, and giving to church and to help others in need.

His book, “The Total Money Makeover” will tell you everything you need to know. It lays out the principles and the step-by-step process (buy it here on Amazon.com).

total-money-makeover1

You can also check out Dave’s website for more resources tools to help you get started including free budgeting worksheets. Check them out here: http://www.daveramsey.com/category/tools/

Dave is also a great communicator, and you can check out his teaching online for FREE by checking out the following videos:
http://www.lifechurch.tv/watch/life-money-hope/

I hope and pray these resources help you on your journey to getting out of debt and being financially free!

What’s your dunk?

Almost every young boy dreams of being able to dunk a basketball one day. Defying gravity to authoritatively slam a ball through a hoop is more than a pro basketball  maneuver – it’s a powerful symbol of overcoming obstacles and being able to do something few others can.

Enter Brandon Todd. A 5’5″ young man from Ohio who loves basketball. Most would tell him to pick a different sport. But Brandon had a dream of dunking, and he worked until that dream became a reality. (check out the mini-movie below for an inspiring look at Brandon’s full story)

 

So what’s your dunk? You may not be a basketball fan, but we all have things in life that we would aspire to, except the obstacles to achieving those things seem too overwhelming. But what if it’s not impossible? What if you just haven’t really tried? You’ll never know unless you give it your ALL.

The Bible says it this way in Ecclesiastes 9:10…

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…” 

We are often capable of far more than we think we are. Too often we fail in life because we don’t give it everything we have. The way to live with no regrets is to go after it with all you have within you. If you fail, at least you’ll know that you gave it everything. But if you work at it everything you have within you, failure may not be as likely as you think it is.

What’s your dunk?

Happy Birthday

I had a teacher in high school named Martha Rutherford who always brought donuts in on her birthday and gave them away to her students. I loved Mrs. Rutherford (for obvious reasons), and as I chowed down a few glazed rounds I would think, “Man I’m glad she was born!” 

Yesterday was my 30th birthday. We went to my favorite restaurant and did things that I wanted to do since it was my special day. Lots of people on facebook told me “Happy Birthday” because they wanted me to feel happy that I was born. One person told me, “I hope God is blessing you in all the ways you’ve dreamed.” 

It occurred to me that God has not blessed me in the ways I’ve always dreamed –         for which I am profoundly grateful. 

I’ve had dreams, plans, and desires that have gone unmet, but they were selfish desires and plans. God hasn’t always given me what I wanted, but he’s always given me what i needed and what’s best for me – things of far greater value that I was too ignorant or immature to ask for. He is such a good Dad.

I think most of us live our lives like its our birthday every day. We want to be happy we were born, so we do what we want to do and pray God blesses us with what we want. But we find that we only grow more and more unhappy. Maybe even unhappy we were born.

It’s ironic how the more we stuff we try or buy to fill the void of happiness in our soul, the more empty we feel.

My sister has a decorative picture frame in her bathroom with a quote from Thoreau on it that reads…

Happiness is like a butterfly. The more you chase it, the more it eludes you. But if you turn your attention to other things, it comes and sits softly on your shoulder.

Turn your attention to other things. Like other people.

Mrs. Rutherford always seemed so daggone happy to be giving away donuts on her birthday. She would laugh and smile and find so much pleasure in it. I think she was happier to be giving the donuts than we were to be eating them.

Jesus said, “It’s better to give than to receive.” I used to think that meant giving was the more responsible thing to do even though it’s a sacrifice and doesn’t feel good. But the literal translation is, “it’s more blessed [happy] to give than to receive.” In other words, it’s actually more enjoyable to give than to get. No wonder Mrs. Rutherford seemed so happy to be giving us donuts on her birthday. She was.

God is teaching me that the secret to being happy I was born is to make others happy I was born. 

One small way God has taught me this is through my relationship with a boy named Bryan Jose Alarcon Landa. He loves soccer and lives in Ecuador. But Bryan’s family is so poor he couldn’t go to school or even rest assured he would have a hot meal every day. Through an organization called Compassion International, I was able to give $38 a month to make sure Bryan has food, clothes, and education. I’m even able to give an extra $20 twice a year so that Bryan gets a gift on his birthday (October 13) and Christmas. I’m always giddy with excitement when I’m giving those gifts. It’s one thing to give obligatory birthday and Christmas gifts to people that will get a bunch of other stuff, but it’s a whole different level of joy to give to someone who won’t get anything otherwise and who desperately needs it.

Bryan and I write letters back and forth and he draws me pictures. He always tells me again and again how happy he is to receive my help. But he has no idea that I’m much happier giving it.

If you’ve been struggling feel happy you were born, don’t fill the void by focusing on yourself and what you want. Try turning your attention to someone else. You could go to Compassion’s website and find a child with your birthday and sponsor them. Or maybe you could just buy someone a box of donuts.

Either way, they’ll be happy you were born and so will you.