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October 01, 2014

Today I am continuing this series on getting things done. Yesterday we saw that we exist to bring glory to God, and that, as Christians, we bring glory to God when we do good works for other people. Christ “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14) and now calls upon each one of us to “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Therefore, “productivity is effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God.”

This definition of productivity calls us to action: We need to structure and organize our lives so that we can do the maximum good for others and thus bring the maximum glory to God.

I mean to get very practical as we move forward today, but first I want to address one misconception about productivity and lay down one challenge.

One Misconception, One Challenge

The misconception is that productive and organized people always hit their deadlines, never have to request an extension, and never feel a crunch at the end of the week. But this is not the right way to measure productivity. Why? Because God is sovereign and we are not. Our responsibility is to plan, organize and execute to the best of our ability, but to realize that circumstances and providence may interrupt and delay even our best-laid plans. There are better ways to measure productivity, and we will discuss those later. For now, though, I simply want you to realize that God has a way of interrupting our plans and that even the best plans may fail.

And here is the challenge. There is really no great gain in being a productivity monster and constantly wiping out massive lists of things to do if the rest of your life is out of control. Productivity—doing good—has to extend to all of life, not just to one part of it. It has been widely shown, and it has been my experience, that when we emphasize one major habit, others inevitably follow. Displaying self-control in one area of life somehow shores up self-control in others. So consider taking this challenge: If you want to have an organized life and get things done like never before, commit to exercising three or four days a week. Or commit to the daily disciplines of reading the Bible and praying. Pick at least one major habit and pursue that even while you pursue getting things done. (Learn more)

And now it’s time to get practical.

Areas of Responsibility

We all have complex lives in which we are constantly attempting to strike a balance between competing demands. We have families, churches, hobbies, and jobs, and all of them are competing for the same 168 hours we are given each week. Though time is finite, the possibilities for using that time are near-infinite. Productivity depends upon brokering peace between each of the different things we could do at any given moment.

The path to peace involves first defining our areas of responsibility. Now hold on. I know some people are going to think this is not practical enough, and they want to get straight to to-do lists and organizing information. We will get there. But not yet. Bear with me, and you will see that this is as practical as anything that follows.

Each of us has areas for which we are responsible before God, areas for which he will require an accounting. We are all responsible for the care of our bodies and souls, parents are responsible for the physical and spiritual well-being of their children, husbands are responsible for provision, church members are responsible to extend love to the other members of the church, and every Christian is responsible for caring for the poor and for sharing the gospel. And that is only scratching the surface.

Here is what I want you to do today. I want you to think carefully about your areas of responsibility and list them. Now here’s the challenge: You need to have everything you are responsible for in life encompassed in one of these categories, yet with as few categories as possible. You will need to think about all of life and try to create broad categories.

I have structured my life into five areas of responsibility:

  • Personal
  • Family
  • Social
  • GFC [Grace Fellowship Church]
  • Business [Web site, speaking engagements, books, and so on]

There is no responsibility I have in life that falls outside of these five areas. If I am asked to be something or do something, if I am asked to dedicate time to something, it will fit into one of them.

I will tell you more about those categories in a moment, but first, a word of clarification: As a pastor, I am able to combine both my vocation and my local church involvement into a single category of GFC. You may need to have one category for work and another for church. You may also wish to have a category for your hobby if you are heavily involved in it, or a charity or ministry if you dedicate a lot of time and attention to it. Your areas of responsibility may be very different from mine and vive la difference!

FlagAction: Create a list of your areas of responsibilities.

October 01, 2014

Every week Zondervan lets me choose one ebook to offer at a sale price and this week I chose A Place for Weakness by Michael Horton ($2.99). Crossway has a big list at $0.99 each: A Meal with Jesus by Tim Chester; John Newton by Jonathan Aitken; Joy by Lydia Brownback; How to Argue Like Jesus by Joe Carter; Holy Subversion by Trevin Wax; The Immigration Crisis by James Hoffmeier; Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons by Thabiti Anyabwile; Church History by Christopher Catherwood; Learning Evangelism from Jesus by Jerram Barrs; Game Day for the Glory of God by Stephen Altrogge. Other deals include Collected Writings on Scripture by D.A. Carson ($1.99). And don’t forget Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung, probably the best $0.99 you’ll spend today. Here is Amazon’s monthly list of books at $3.99 or less.

3 Ways to Avoid the “Children’s Church” Ditch - Sean Sawyers has some wise and winsome comments about children’s church and having children in the worship services.

Norway - This is a beautiful time-lapse of Norway. Full-screen and HD it if you can!

Worship At A Crossroads - This is great stuff from Jamie Brown: “This is about a fundamental distinction between two models of worship leading (irrespective of the style of music). The first model views the congregation’s engagement as integral. The second model views the congregation’s engagement as incidental.”

The Week Dominator - A few times I’ve featured the NeuYear calendar; the people behind that calendar have a new product on Kickstarter: The Week Dominator.

Calvin for Everyone - This week’s deal from Westminster Books is a good one and may finally be what you need to get into Calvin’s Institutes.

3 Truths about Spiritual Gifts - Here is a brief article addressing some misconceptions about spiritual gifts.

Mercy is God’s Benjamin; the last born and best beloved of His attributes. —C.H. Spurgeon


September 30, 2014

They are questions I receive often: “Do you ever sleep? Do you work all the time? Do you ever stop?” There seems to be this impression among certain people that either I am an unrepentant workaholic or that I am remorselessly neglectful toward life’s other responsibilities. The truth is far less sordid: I have invested a lot of effort over many years in learning how to simplify life and how to maximize productivity. I love to make the best use of my time and energy, and I am constantly fine-tuning the systems that allow me to remain that way.

Today I am beginning a series of articles that will share some of what I have learned along the way. I do not really know how to teach how to get things done except by allowing you into my life and into my systems. I intend to give examples from my own life, not because they are necessarily the best or only way of doing things, but because they work for me and may give you something to build from. You can take those examples as far as you want, and adapt them so they work for you. If all goes well, we will look at systems and tools and organization and planning, and all kinds of exciting things. But first we have a little groundwork to do.

It all begins with an understanding of our purpose in the world. What follows is a brief “Productivity Catechism” that provides a foundation for everything else I will say. It is only when we properly understand our purpose and mission that we can excel at systems and tools and all the rest.

Q. Ultimately, why did God create us?

A. God created us to bring glory to Him.

“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36).

“…[I]n order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:11).

Q. How can we glorify God in our day-to-day lives?

A. We can glorify God in our day-to-day lives by doing good works.

“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

“Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12).

September 30, 2014

Here are some new Kindle deals: Taking God At His Word by Kevin DeYoung ($0.99); The Journey to Joy by Josh Moody ($0.99); Boring by Michael Kelley ($2.99); Why Business Matters to God by Jeff Van Duzer ($2.99); A Place for Weakness by Michael Horton ($2.99); The Insanity of God & The Insanity of Obedience by Nik Ripken ($2.99 each); Manhood Restored by Eric Mason ($2.99); Connected by Erin Davis ($2.99); Recovering Redemption by Matt Chandler ($2.99); The People of God by Trevor Joy ($2.99); Embracing Obscurity by Anonymous ($0.99).

The Ata: God’s Narrative Continues - I really enjoyed this film recounting God’s work in Papua New Guinea. Watch it and be encouraged!

Five Questions With a Former Muslim - Nabeel Qureshi was raised in a Pakistani-American family and grew up a devout Muslim. Here’s a short but excellent interview with him.

Why Keep Sexual Boundaries? - Ed Welch shares a helpful reflection on sin (that is applicable to all sin and not only sexual sin).

Where Satan Will Attack You Today - “You wonder why it’s so hard to find some peace of mind? Well, peace is hard to come by when you live in a warzone. And like it or not you are in a war — a very serious one. This war is cosmic in its proportions. It involves God, humans, angels, demons, principalities, powers, nations, and antichrists. And do you know where the front of the battle is? It’s in your head.”

Busting a Book Buying Myth - Yes to this, on the whole. 

Only One Life - Nathan Busenitz provides a short introduction to C.T. Studd, a name you ought to know.

Take heed you speak not peace to yourself before God speaks it. —John Owen


September 29, 2014

I found an old video of my son, a video I did not even know we had. He was two, playing at his grandparents’ house while Aileen and I were at the hospital, waiting for his sister to arrive. He spoke in a little baby voice, talking about his “wittle sistow” who was in mommy’s tummy. It almost broke my heart. Wasn’t it only yesterday that he was two years old? But then how did he get to be six feet tall, and when did he start to shave, and what on earth is he doing in high school? What happened?

I consider it one of the great tragedies of life: All those things I will leave undone. All those things I mean to do that I will never do. All those things I will begin but leave incomplete. All those things I long to master that I will not even be able to start. All those things I will actually do, but do partially or badly.

I am an ambitious person and when I’m not busy I’m bored. Not can’t-stop, can’t-talk, can’t-breathe busy, but simply keep-going, be-zealous, push-hard, take-life-seriously busy. Having lots to do keeps me structured, it keeps me organized, it keeps me honest. That’s where I like to be and that’s where I am at my best.

But doing takes time, and time is a fleeting resource. It is a finite resource. When I use time in one way, I cannot use it in another. When I give time to one thing, I take away from something else. To prioritize one area of life is to de-prioritize all the rest.

When I give more to the church and the people of the church, it means I give less to the writing I love to do. When I increase my writing, I take time away from my family. If I give a lot of time to family, that time comes from something or someone else. I always come up short. There is never enough time to do all the things I want to do, never enough time to learn all I want to learn, to be all I want to be. At some level, I fail at everything.

I love the book of Ecclesiastes, and especially its closing chapters. In chapter 12 the Preacher calls to the young man—maybe his younger self—and says, “Remember your Creator before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain.” He describes life as a day that extends from dawn to dusk, and here, in old age, he sees his own life as dark, as gray, as a day that is about to give way to night. And I can’t help but believe that he is looking back on life and seeing so many of those things that will remain undone, projects that will remain incomplete, dreams that will remain unfulfilled. If he was young he could claim, “This is only a setback! Better days are ahead.” But now the best days are behind him. The sky darkens. The night falls. That is life in this world. Life is a vapor, dust that rises for a minute, and is blown away by the wind. There is no author more gut-honest about life than this Preacher.

Life is a vapor, too short, too fleeting. But I believe this: I may not have time to do everything I would like to do, but I have all the time I need for those things that God expects me to do. If there are 168 hours in a week, I know that God has not given me 169 hours of responsibility. If there are 24 hours in a day, God has not given me 25 hours of work.

The call, then, is to find the best things I can do with the time allotted to me, while waiting for the great day when time will no longer be finite, when opportunities will no longer be limited. It is to prioritize those few things I can actually accomplish, and to learn to let go of the rest. It is to live the life God has for me, and not to attempt to live a different life altogether. It is to obey the words of God: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). Evil, and far too few. No, that’s not it. Evil, and just enough to do all He calls me to do.

Clock image credit: Shutterstock

September 29, 2014

Why We Neglect Our Bibles - “Many Christians find it difficult to get into a daily habit of Bible reading. So this week John Piper addressed four common causes of Bible neglect in the Christian life, like: ‘I don’t read my Bible because…’”

The 6 Ingredients of Jesus’ Bitter Cup - “When Jesus looked into the cup He saw–from every dimension of His sufferings–all that He would suffer, both at the hands of men, Satan and God Himself. Isaac Ambrose captured so well the meaning of the cup when he set out what he believed to be the 6 ingredients that made it so burdensome a sight to the soul of the sinless Son of God…”

Sermon Introduction Mistakes - Here are ten sermon introduction mistakes.

Six Reasons To Live More Simply - Randy Alcorn gives six reasons to live more simply and give more generously.

The Cure for Shame - This is a powerful bit of writing from Sammy Rhodes.

The Long Fall of B.J. Upton - For the baseball fans.

He who crowned the heavens with stars was Himself crowned with thorns. —Thomas Watson


September 28, 2014

This week I dug up an interesting quote from Charles Spurgeon. He was thinking about the easy-believism of his day. A vast quantity of people professed faith in Christ, but so few showed compelling evidence of genuine salvation. Spurgeon reflected on this and on those parts of the Bible claiming that Christians will necessarily suffer. And then he said this:

I am glad that there is some trouble in being a Christian, for it has become a very common thing to profess to be one. If I am right, it is going to become a much less common thing for a person to say “I am a Christian.” There will come times when sharp lines will be drawn. Some of us will help draw them if we can. The problem is that people bear the Christian name but act like worldlings and love the amusements and follies of the world. It is time for a division in the house of the Lord in which those for Christ go into one camp and those against Christ go into the other camp. We have been mixed together too long.

And I guess he was wrong, at least to some degree. Because today there are still so many—too many—who call themselves Christians even though they display so little evidence to back their profession. Those sharp lines remain to be drawn.