Focus Grasshopper

Let’s face it, if you’re artistic, you most likely have a wondering mind. Focusing on a task requires silence, caffeine and absolutely zero distractions. Unfortunately, in the middle of church office life, this scenario is pretty difficult to come by. So what do you do? Here are a few things that have helped me over the years.

Structure: By its nature, creativity is random and resistant to structure, but your weekly “to do” list is not. Structure the things you have to do each week and create a routine. For me, I work through line ups and schedules on Monday’s, Work on next week’s music on Wednesday’s and schedule meetings on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s. Everything else randomly falls in place between these structured elements.

Environment: Get out of your office. For some people that means catching up on email at Starbucks or working from home for a day. For me it means going to a quiet part of the building where I can experience an environment change and concentrate on the task at hand.

Lunch: I struggle with this one, but don’t be a “lunch skipper”. Even if you’re slammed, you’d be amazed how much more you can accomplish when you leave the office and grab a bite.

A Quiet Start: We all struggle with this one at times, but closing your office door and getting even 10 minutes with God can pave the way for a productive day and can put your focus on the very reason you do what you do.

Planning: I’m blessed to have a great creative team around me and a Sr. Pastor who is scheduled almost a year out, but I haven’t always had it this good. Don’t be afraid to push people for the info you need. It’s impossible to be focused and productive if you have no idea what you need to be producing. Most Sr. Pastors or non-creative types have no clue what it takes to create great art…it’s up to you to open their eyes and get what you need.

These are just a few things that have helped me out, but the list could go on for quite some time. The bottom line is you need to be focused to be creative and it’s up to you to put yourself in a position where this is possible.

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Movement

move

In life and ministry, everything is about movement. It’s about the pursuit of God…the thrill of chasing after Him with all we are. It’s about forward motion and momentum. We’ve all seen it. People, churches and ministries that are thriving, changing lives and changing perspectives one day and fading into spiritual obscurity the next.

I’ve been there more than once in my life. Flying at the face of God in the morning and crashing and burning by night fall. How does this happen? How can we so easily go from thriving in victory to wallowing in the muck of life?The obvious answer is that we’re all flawed and broken creatures, but what’s the deeper cause of our motion becoming motionlessness?

I believe the answer is found in our joy. Life gets heavy. Circumstances get difficult, people become obnoxious and we quite simply lose the joy of the pursuit. Chasing after God becomes secondary to fighting fires and dealing with personalities. It’s hard to find joy or even keep pursuing when we’re so weary from life.

But there’s a reason the Apostle Paul said to “rejoice always”. The truth is, God is bigger than the circumstances, personalities and fires that seek to steal our purpose. He is bigger than anything that tries to stop our momentum.

Everything really is about movement…and it’s through Christ that we get to keep that momentum on our side.

Following God

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Let’s face it…following God isn’t always the easiest thing. It’s not so much that it’s hard to go where He’s asking as much as it is difficult to navigate the path through the muck and mire of life. God says; “I need you over here” and we say; “sure…after I fix this failure, right that wrong and repair what I’ve broken.”

This is where the incredible graciousness of God comes in. I will never cease to be amazed how God not only calls us, but also helps us navigate through the junk in our lives so we can accomplish His purposes. God has a plan and His plan is going to play out. He will never let our shortcomings get in the way of His purpose.

It’s hard to fathom this from a human perspective isn’t it? After all, don’t we find it hard to let go of  how we’ve been wronged? Don’t we find it difficult to move on after a hurt? Fortunately, God handles it differently. Even though we wrong Him every day…He still uses us. Even though we fall short of His glory consistently…He still loves us…and even though we have failed Him over and over again…He still calls us.

Following God is challenging because He is perfect and we are not. Thankfully, it’s through His perfection that our imperfections are no longer obstacles to following His leading.

Let’s Try This Box On For Size

So what is this preoccupation the church seems to have with “the box” anyhow? We’re “out of the box”, you’re “stuck in the box”, they’re “all boxed in”. I don’t get it. Even if you’d call yourself an “out of the box” thinker, aren’t you simply getting out of one box and moving your thought processes to another?

I say trash the box and put it in the recycle bin! All these boxes do is limit our potential. The reality is, as the church, we should be in a constant state of flux. We should always be moving forward, cutting off what doesn’t work and nurturing what does. Investing in life change and withdrawing from the “same old, same old”. Leading forward instead of focusing backward. There simply isn’t time to stop and sit in a box for any length of time.

What if Jesus were stuck in a box? Would His ministry have been different? Would things have gone differently in the garden? Would calvary have even happened? Jesus constantly challenged the religious norm and refused to be boxed in as just another Rabbi. Why should things be any different in the church?

Our communities don’t need another cookie cutter church that’s just like the other 150 churches in town. Our communities need churches that don’t give a rip about their walls. Don’t care about the way things have “always been” and are willing to forgo life in a box, for the sake of the gospel.

More thoughts on our “boxiness” later…

Taking Inventory

Before I was in ministry full-time, I was in inventory control. It wasn’t always the most glamorous job on the planet, but it paid the bills and provided for my family. Every year, we would have a giant inventory count. Everyone would work overtime, grab a scanner and count everything twice. This was a huge task…especially considering the size of the inventory we were counting. But, what I remember most was the pressure for the counts to match what our system said we had in stock.

You see, my job was to do all the little things necessary to ensure those counts came out right…if they didn’t, it meant that I hadn’t done my job very well. Now, after nearly 3 years of full-time ministry, I’m realizing that those skills I used in the warehouse still apply today. If a team came in and took a scanner to my life inventory, would it all add up? Would there be a balance between my family time and my ministry time? Would they find a balance between doing my job and ministering to people? Would they find that my actions balanced with my purpose? Would they find that I was living up to the calling God has placed on my life?

In the end, just like my warehouse days, I find myself feeling some pressure. Because, let’s be honest, the balance I mentioned above is very difficult to accomplish. I want my family to have the best of me. I want my team and my church to be cared for. I want my actions to reflect my purpose…and I want desperatley to live up to the call God has on my life. The key isn’t found in the big inventory…the key is found in all the little things. The extra time spent tucking your kids in at night. Helping your daughter with 4th grade math (even if you don’t understand it), coaching your Son’s football team even though you can’t imagine fitting it into your schedule. Cooking your Wife breakfast (even if you really only know how to make one thing). Taking a team member to lunch. Remembering a birthday or sending an encouraging email. Taking time to have a conversation after church even though you really just want a cup of coffee and a nap. Digging into the Word…even though you have 2 meetings to prep for.

If we can somehow remember those small things, our overall life inventory will line up every time.

Beyond the Peaks and Valleys

Let’s face it…ministry is a struggle. Just when you seem to crest the latest hill you’ve had to climb, there, in the distance, stands Mt. Everest ready for you to conquer next. At times, the never ending run of peaks and valleys becomes overwhelming and deflating. I think it’s important however, to identify why these peaks and valleys exist, why ministry is a struggle and why we seem to have to constantly conquer giant after giant just to accomplish the kingdom work in front of us.

Why?… Simple, we need to exercise the conqueror in us. Romans 8:36-39 says: “As it is written: For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”

The key is to overcome…not by our strength, talent or giftedness, but as “conquerors through him who loved us”. Ministry is a struggle because we need to be reminded to lean into God. We go through peaks and valleys, so we can have landmarks to look back on and see the conquering hand of God at work. In the valley’s we are forced to lean in harder and on the peaks, we are forced to honor the one who carried us up the long climb…this struggle is necessary…the struggle gives perspective…the struggle grows us…the struggle solidifies the partnership we have with Jesus.

This is truth. It’s truth on the highs and truth on the lows. Wherever and whenever…we are more than conquerors through Jesus. Knowing that, makes every ounce of struggle worth it!

I.Q. vs. E.Q.

I was talking to my neighbor the other night and he made an interesting observation. He said so many people have a great I.Q (intelligence quotient), but lack any assemblance of an E.Q. (emotional quotient). This got me thinking.  Does more intelligence mean less emotion? Do emotional people struggle to think logically? Is there a way to strike a balance between the two?

I started thinking about some examples and remembered the story of the rich young ruler. Here was an intelligent guy. He had followed the law since he was a small child. He had done everything culturally necessary to be considered intelligent and righteous. Yet when confronted with the words of Jesus to sell all he had…he walked away dejected. He responded emotionally. Why? Because all of his intelligence had still sold him short of obtaining the prize. In the end, it seemed illogical for him to do what Jesus had asked…his intelligence became an obstacle.

But there’s a better example. Jesus was the picture of intelligence. He taught on a level that baffled the minds of the educated. He silenced the mouths of the harshest critics. He skillfully molded His disciples into men who could change the world. Yet he was emotional. So emotional in fact that he wept over a friend, had compassion for a prostitute, drove merchants out of the temple and sweat drops of blood in the garden.

If I understand my Bible correctly, I believe we are all made in the image of God. An image that includes the attributes of Gods character. It’s in those attributes we find both intelligence and emotion. As Christ Follower’s, I believe it is essential we posses both of these characteristics. We need to understand God’s Word. We need to discern His will for our lives. We need to honor Him with our actions, our decisions and our thoughts. But, we also need to be passionate worshippers, compassionate friends, providers to those in need, hands to the helpless, shoulders to the weeping and lovers of the lost.

Just like Jesus…we need an I.Q. / E.Q. balance.