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October 27, 2014

I rank it as probably the funniest little off-the-cuff comment I’ve made while public speaking. During a Q&A at a conference the moderator mentioned that I had blogged every day for a decade and then asked, “Is there anything else you’ve done so consistently?” I fired back, “The only other thing I’ve done every day for ten years is not exercise.” It was funny at the time, but a couple of days later I began to feel that the punchline revealed something that wasn’t too flattering.

In the weeks that followed I thought about my little comment and realized it revealed a problem—I had drawn too bold a line between mind and matter or soul and matter. I was all about caring for my soul and tending my mind, but all the while was rashly neglecting the body that is inextricably connected to mind and soul. In this way I was living as a pagan, not a Christian. This is gnosticism which says that the immaterial is intrinsically good while the material is instrinsically evil. Or perhaps it is dualism which inserts a chasm between body and soul. But it isn’t Christian.

As Christians we know that body and soul are both good and are both meant to be cared for. We know that God created humanity body, mind and soul and declared it all good and very good. We know that who we are is not so easily divided into neat little parts; it is easier to develop Christian character and easier to have a well-trained mind in a fit body than in a neglected body. We are a cohesive whole.

I knew I needed to do something, but what? I thought of the health club just up the road from us. I had seen their banners outside and mocked the red-faced, sweat-stained people walking out of it. “You know, if they could even just look a little bit like they had fun I might be tempted to try it.”

I recruited Aileen to the cause and said, “We need to get fit.” She loves me enough to play along. Neither of us had ever been to a gym or health club before. We did not know what to expect when we walked through those doors, but we steeled our nerve, took courage from one another, walked in, and asked to speak to someone. Our conversation went something like this:

“What are your fitness goals?”

“I want to not die for now.”

“Hmm. Could I say, ‘general health?’”

“I guess that sounds about right.”

“What do you want your body to look like?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, do you want lines? Do you want definition? Do you want a six-pack?”

“I don’t even know what you mean by all that. You’re the expert—You tell me what I ought to want and what’s realistic for thirty-eight.”

“Alright, we’ll just stick with general health then.”

He took us for a tour of the facility, showing us the studios where they do Zumba (Confession: I still have no idea what that is), the room where they do cycling classes, and the rooms stuffed full of strange-looking machines that look like they are straight out of the middle ages. I told him not to even bother showing us the hot yoga room.

“Have you ever been a member at a health club before?”

[Laughter]. “Let me explain. I am a pastor and I think, for the first time, I understand what an atheist feels like when he walks into church. I know that everyone is looking at me now and thinking, ‘That guy doesn’t belong!’ I don’t know what the expectations are here, I don’t know how anything works, and I feel like a total outsider.”

Despite the ignorance and the awkwardness, he convinced us to give the club a try. Aileen and I stipulated that whatever we were going to do, we intended to do together. He recommended we hire a personal trainer to help us, at least in the early days as we learned how to use the equipment and to build a program that could get us from inactive to some degree of fitness. And then we got to work.

It has been several months now, and both Aileen and I agree it is one of the best decisions we have made. We aren’t exactly ready to set out on a triathlon, but we’re actually fit and growing in fitness. Fat is melting away and stamina is growing. Perhaps best of all, we feel better. We feel better mentally knowing that we are doing the right thing; we feel better spiritually knowing that we are faithfully caring for the bodies God has given us; we feel better physically as our bodies adjust to being used and stretched and strengthened. Perhaps best of all, we know that we addressed a problem far more spiritual than physical.

I can’t say that we love exercise now, or that we look forward to holding two-minute planks and doing an endless success of squats while clutching twenty-pound weights. We don’t love lifting heavy objects, and lunging all over the club, and working tiny little muscles we didn’t know we had. I can’t say that we’ve discovered the runner’s high as we jog our way toward a twenty-five-minute 5K. But I can say we’ve built the habit, love the results, and are even beginning to enjoy the process.

Image credit: Shutterstock

October 21, 2014

As I continue this series on getting things done, I want to remind you of our definition of productivity: Productivity is effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God. I would like to briefly address that “good to others and glory to God” because I know it can be a little bit abstract. 

Let me confess: Doing good to others and bringing glory to God is not something I think about every moment. When I sit down to do paperwork for the church I don’t think, “How can I glorify God in this?” When I take my son out for breakfast I don’t think, “How can I do him good and glorify God over the next hour?” Perhaps I should, and I probably have a lot of room for growth here. But what I ensure I do is reserve moments of deliberate thoughtfulness and in these times consider and plan how I can do good to others and in that way glorify God. I structure my life and live within a system so that day-by-day and week-by-week I am executing plans and projects that reflect the time I spent considering how to do those good things that bring glory to Him.

Task Management

Today I want to turn to the very practical subject of task management tools because they represent the heart of an effective productivity system. The task management tool is tool you use to store and organize your tasks or actions. While each of the four tools is important, none is more crucial to the functioning of the system than this one. There is a real sense in which all of the other tools are supplemental to it, because this is the one that will determine and propel your actions each day.

I use OmniFocus as my task management tool. I appreciate its rich feature set, its attractive design, its excellent desktop and iPhone apps, and the way it comfortably complements the way I like to get things done. However, most of the principles I am about to lay out will also work with ToDoist or similar packages.

Let’s talk about how to get your life into a task management system, and how to structure a basic workflow.

Projects

No two people use OmniFocus exactly the same way, and most people don’t use it exactly the same way for very long. That’s just fine. I will tell you how I use it in the hope that you can use that as a starting point and adapt it to fit your life and your responsibilities.

If you went through the previous article, I trust you have already installed your task management tool and begun the basic setup. I organize OmniFocus according to my 5 areas of responsibility: Personal, Family, Social, GFC [church], and Business. Each area of responsibility contains what OmniFocus calls projects and these projects represent my roles, duties and projects. Within each of these OmniFocus projects I have one or more tasks. Here are some examples of this hierarchy of area of responsibility → project → task.

Area of Responsibility: Family

  • Project: Finance
    • Open: New Savings Account
    • Update: Budget
    • Research: New Insurance Policy
  • Project: Home
  • Register: Keurig
  • Complete: Kitchen Paint
  • Buy: New Fire Extinguisher

Area of Responsibility: Business

  • Project: G3 Conference
    • Decide: Text to Preach
    • Prepare: Sermon
    • Book: Flights
  • Project: Free Stuff Fridays
  • Verify: This Week’s Sponsor
  • Launch: This Week’s Giveaway
  • Choose: This Week’s Winners
  • Send: Winners to Sponsor

Area of Responsibility: Church

  • Project: Young Adults’ Ministry
    • Set: Next Meeting Date
    • Decide: Next Meeting Topic
  • Project: Members’ Meeting
  • Create: Members’ Meeting Agenda
  • Discuss: Agenda with Elders
  • Send: Agenda to Members

Adding Tasks

Whenever I think of something I must do, or may want to do, I immediately add it into my OmniFocus inbox. The inbox is a place to hold unfiltered and unsorted tasks, so I add tasks to it indiscriminately. Because OmniFocus is on my laptop, desktop, and iPhone, I have it with me just about anywhere I go, and this allows me to enter items the moment I think of them.

October 17, 2014

I am now deep into this series on getting things done, but before I go any farther, I would like to pause for a quick review. I began this series by explaining what productivity is and why it matters [Part 1]. Then I had you look at your life from a high-level perspective so you could divide it into areas of responsibility [Part 2]. Once you defined those areas of responsibility, you listed specific roles and projects within each of them, and then you worked on some brief mission statements that define what you mean to accomplish in each of them [Part 3]. In the most recent article I explained the four categories of tools required for top productivity, and told you the ones I use [Part 4].

Today I want to explain and demonstrate what your areas of responsibility have to do with your tools (and why you will be missing out if you skip the hard work of defining those areas). As it happens, they have everything to do with one another. Your tools will only be as helpful as your understanding of your areas of responsibility and the duties and roles that fall within each of them. In other words, your tools function best when you combine them with a thorough understanding of your responsibilities.

Over this article and the ones that follow, I will help you use your tools to develop a system that will help ensure you give appropriate attention to each of your areas of responsibility. That word system may sound intimidating, so let me begin by distilling that fear factor.

Living in Systems

What is a system? I know it is considered bad form to quote a dictionary, but in this case the dictionary definition is very helpful. A system is “a set of connected things or parts forming a complex whole.” A system has multiple parts that work together toward a common goal.

Imagine that you were tasked with building a railroad to transport goods from your town to one twenty miles away. You would need to construct a system, and the system would need to involve all kinds of components: tracks, switches, locomotives, boxcars, mechanisms to load the trains, signals to control traffic flow, and on and on. This system would be comprised of a complex collection of parts, but once it was constructed, it would work and function as a whole. If it was constructed well, it would function smoothly and efficiently.

But you don’t need to build a railroad, you need to build a system that will allow you to be productive. A productivity system is a set of methods, procedures and routines that allow you to be most effective in knowing what to do and in actually doing it. An effective system involves identifying, deploying and relying on appropriate tools. When functioning together, these tools allow you to function smoothly and efficiently, dedicating appropriate time and attention to the most important tasks.

The fact is, to be productive, you need a system. You need to build it, use it, perfect it, and rely on it. Your system needs to gain your confidence so you can trust it to remember what needs to be remembered, to alert you to what is urgent, to direct you to what is important, and to direct you away from what is distracting.

An Organizing Principle

Our system will require tools, and in a moment we will begin setting up those tools.

First, though, I want to talk about an important organizing principle that will serve us on various levels. This principle extends to any area of life: A home for everything, and like goes with like. If you applied this all over your life (your home, your office, your computer) you’d never again find yourself scrambling to find your wallet, your keys, your passwords, or anything else.

When it comes to our productivity tools, we want to apply the very same principle: A home for everything, and like goes with like. This means that appointments need to go where appointments go, information needs to go where information goes, communications needs to go where communications go, and tasks need to go where tasks go. It means that communication and tasks should not be in the same place, and appointments and information should not be in the same place.

We can also get more specific with the principle. Information that is alike should be kept in the same place. Communications that are alike should be kept in the same place. This means that all of your information about one area of responsibility should be kept with the other information about that area of responsibility. All of your tasks related to one project should be kept with the other tasks related to that project.

Preparing the Tools

Last time we identified four different types of tool: Information tools, scheduling tools, communication tools, and task management tools. Now I want you to prepare those tools in light of your areas of responsibility. You will prepare them according to the same principle: A home for everything and like goes with like. We will focus particular attention on our information tool and task management tool.

October 15, 2014

One of my lifelong struggles has been finding freedom in the most basic part of the Christian life—personal devotions. It’s not that I don’t do them, of course, but that they rarely seem to come easily and naturally. I want to wake up longing to read the Bible and eager to pray. I want to get up in the mornings thinking, “I just can’t wait to hear from God and speak to God.” But so often I find myself reading and praying out of simple obedience. That duty is too seldom joined by delight.

It isn’t always that way. There are times—times I love—where there is tremendous joy and freedom. For weeks now I have been in one of those periods, and it has been a joy and a delight to spend time in the Word and to pray. And in this time I’ve been drawn to parts of Scripture that rejoice in Scripture. I was recently transfixed by Psalm 19 and David’s sheer joy at this great gift of God. After listing so many of the benefits of God’s Word he says, 

More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

David tells us that God’s Word is precious. David is king over his nation and has access to all of its wealth, yet he looks at it all and sees that it is nothing compared to the surpassing worth of God’s Word. Where other men’s desire is to enrich themselves with gold, David’s desire is to enrich himself with the wisdom of God through the Scriptures.

David tells us that God’s Word is pleasurable. I don’t think there is any natural substance more delicious than honey (though perhaps maple syrup could be a close contender), and yet David can proclaim that God’s Word is sweeter even than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. As honey brightens the eyes, God’s Word brightens the soul.

David tells us that God’s Word is protective. He knows that the wisdom of God revealed through his Word will warn him and protect him away from sin and its consequences. David can look at his life and see those times he did not heed the warnings and receive God’s protection, and now he knows: God protects us through his Word.

David tells us that God’s Word is profitable. The Word of God does not only warn, but it also profits. Those who heed God’s wisdom and obey his law receive all the benefits that come from walking with God. They receive the greatest reward of all: they are with God and in God today and every day.

God’s Word is precious, pleasurable, protective, and profitable. What a gift it is!

Photo credit: Shutterstock. Also, I have no recollection of where I found the 4 P’s of God’s Word or whether I came up with them on my own; I want to credit David Murray as it sounds like his doing…

October 14, 2014

For the past couple of weeks I have been working on a series titled How To Get Things Done, and am continuing that series today [Part 1: How to Get Things Done, Part 2: Define Your Areas of Responsibility, Part 3: Time, Energy & Mission]. I have spent the first few installments of the series trying to lay a solid foundation. While it is always tempting to skip ahead to get straight to the fun stuff, true and lasting productivity will depend on taking those initial steps.

But today, at last, we get to one of the fun parts: choosing tools. Like any other work, the work of productivity requires tools.

When you are dependent on your tools, you need to make sure you are using the best tools. A doctor can probably do surgery with a utility knife if he needs to, but we’d all prefer that he cuts us open with a scalpel—and a very high-quality scalpel at that. You can go out in your backyard and cut down a tree with a crowbar, but you’ll get the job done better and faster if you use an axe. The point is, many people try to do their work with tools that are poorly suited to the task. To large degree, your productivity depends on identifying and using the best tools for the job, and then growing in your skill in deploying them.

As we look at productivity, there is a collection of tools that can help you a great deal.

  • Information tools. Information tools allow you to collect, archive and access important information.
  • Scheduling tools. Scheduling tools allow you to organize your time, and they alert you ahead of important events.
  • Communication tools. Communication tools allow you to communicate, and they allow to archive and access your previous communications.
  • Task management tools. Task management tools allow you to capture and organize your to-do items.

Almost all of these tools have both physical and electronic variants. For example, you can communicate via postal mail (the physical variant) or email (the electronic variant). My focus will be on the electronic side of things.

Information Tools

Information tools allow you to collect, archive and access important information. Not too long ago these were filing cabinets full of folders and pieces of paper. Today, however, the best information tools allow you to archive all (or most) of your information electronically. Using these tools, you may be able to join the paperless movement and eliminate your filing cabinets and all those annoying bits of paper altogether.

I rely on Evernote (evernote.com) as my information tool. Evernote is a powerful piece of software that allows you to capture almost every kind of information. Once information is captured, it is archived and indexed and ready for future use. Evernote installs on nearly every bit of computer equipment you own (Mac, PC, mobile phones, tablets, etc) and can be with you everywhere you go and whatever you do.

BulbTip: The organizing principle here, as in all of life is this: A home for everything, and like goes with like. I will say more about this soon.

Scheduling Tools

Scheduling tools allow you to organize your time, and they alert you ahead of important events. These tools (minus the alerts) used to be the calendars hanging on your wall, but today there are electronic calendars that are incredibly powerful.

I rely on Google Calendar (calendar.google.com) as my scheduling tool, though I actually access it through Sunrise (sunrise.am), a slick Mac-based program that imports and displays Google’s calendar. I do this for two reasons: First, it improves on Google’s web-based view and, second, I try to avoid using my browser as often as I can, since any time I open a browser I am tempting myself to waste time. I use this calendar to display all of the events in my life, and, through the alerts function, I use it to alert me of any pending meetings or appointments.

BulbTip: Begin every day by reviewing all appointments for that day and the next day, ensuring that appropriate alerts have been set.

Communication Tools

Communication tools allow you to communicate, and they allow to archive and access your previous communications. These can include a host of different tools such as email, text messaging, and good old-fashioned faxes or postal mail. My focus, though, is on the electronic which, unfortunately, means email. Email is a very poor tool in many ways, but one we are stuck with for the time being.

I use GMail (gmail.com) as my primary communication tool, though I access it through Apple Mail. Again, it improves on Google’s web-based view and keeps me from using my browser for anything but browsing, thus reducing a time-wasting temptation.

BulbTip: Unless you absolutely need to, close email except when you are actually writing emails or replying to them.

October 10, 2014

We have a word for doing too little: lazy. We have a word for doing too much: busy. But we don’t have a word for whatever comes in between. Not a good one, anyway.

To say “I’m lazy” is to say “I have taken on too little.” To say “I’m busy” is to say “I have taken on too much.” But what word do we use when we have taken on just the right amount and are carefully balancing life’s responsibilities?

Laziness is a vice, the wallow of people who just don’t care. Busyness is a vice disguised as a virtue, the refuge of people who find their self-worth in activity and accomplishment. But what word describes the person who works hard, and works consistently, but who defines himself in more noble ways?

Lazy is a word of shame, as it should be. Busy is a word of pride, though it should not be. In truth, it is no more noble to be busy than to be lazy, because both are an egregious misuse of time and energy.

We need a word of virtue that fits in the space between busy and lazy. We need to use it, and we need to live it.

October 08, 2014

I suppose Grace Fellowship Church is like most churches in that we have our favorite songs. We sing a great variety of songs, many of which would be familiar to you, I’m sure. But we also sing some that are a little off the beaten path, so to speak. I thought I’d share twelve of our favorite songs with you—twelve of our favorites that may be unfamiliar to you.

We Are Not Overcome

I begin with We Are Not Overcome, the newest song we have added to our repertoire. This one comes from Bifrost Arts and is a powerful song of comfort based on Lamentations 3. Joshua, our lead worshipper, had to do quite a bit of work to make this one suitable for congregational singing, but he succeeded well. “Flesh will fail and bones will break / Thieves will steal, the earth will shake / Night will fall, the light will fade / The Lord will give and take away.” Then the chorus proclaims, simply, “Because of his great love, we are not overcome.”

We Are Listening

We Are Listening comes from Before the Throne, still my favorite of Sojourn’s albums. Because we are one of those churches that continues to have both a morning and evening service, we often sing this one to rejoice in the fact that “Morning and evening we come / To delight in the Word of our God.”

I Glory in Christ

I Glory in Christ is a Horatius Bonar hymn that Sandra McCraken retuned and recorded on her album In Feast or Fallow. It is a cry to God that we would value him above all else, and that we would boast in nothing but the cross. “God forbid that I should glory, / Save in the Redeemer’s cross. / Counting shame for Him but honor, / Counting earthly gain but loss. / All the love of God is here, / A love that casteth out all fear.”

My One Comfort

My One Comfort is Dustin Kensrue’s adaptation of question and answer one of the Heidelberg Catechism. It works equally well with full instrumentation and as an acoustic track (as you hear in the YouTube video I linked to). “My one comfort both in life and death / Is that I am not my own. / I was bought with blood and I confess / I belong to you alone.”

Draw Me Nearer

There are a couple of versions of this hymn. The traditional version is titled “I Am Thine, O Lord,” but several years ago Caedmon’s Call adapted it as “Draw Me Nearer.” Their version is one we sing often, though Joshua adapted it a little bit to make it more suited to congregational singing. “Draw me nearer to the cross where thou has died. / Draw me nearer to thy precious, bleeding side.”

He Will Hold Me Fast

If “We Shall Overcome” is our newest song, He Will Hold Me Fast would be just barely in front of it, as we began singing it just this summer. Already it has become a favorite. Matt Merker of Capitol Hill Baptist Church adapted it from an older hymn, and it is a sweet song of comfort and hope. “I could never keep my hold, / He will hold me fast; / For my love is often cold, / He must hold me fast.”

Grace Alone

Grace Alone is another song written by Dustin Kensrue, and it was recorded by his (former?) band The Modern Post. The song simply rejoices in God for his salvation. “I was an orphan lost at the fall / Running away when I’d hear your call / But Father, you worked your will / I had no righteousness of my own / I had no right to draw near your throne / But Father, you loved me still.”

Grace and Peace

Grace and Peace was written by Joel Sczebel and recorded for the Sovereign Grace Music album Grace Has Come. The song calls us to marvel at what God has done in saving sinners for himself. Joshua has adapted it a little bit, largely to pick up the speed at least a little bit from the recorded version you hear at the link. “Grace and peace, oh, how can this be? / The matchless King of all / Paid the blood price for me! / Slaughtered lamb, what atonement You bring!”

October 07, 2014

I have been writing a series on getting things done and, because I don’t know how else to do it, giving you a glimpse into my world to show how I get things done. To this point I have shared what I mean by productivity, showing how it extends to all of life (not just the world of business) and that the heart of productivity is glorifying God by doing good works [Part 1]. Last time I showed how I have divided my life into areas of responsibility that encompass everything I do, and I showed how I map out my specific roles within each of those areas [Part 2]. And now we are ready to move forward.

In a moment we will talk about getting on mission and staying on mission, but first I want to give you something to ponder over the next couple of days.

Time & Energy

I believe we tend to focus too much on time management and too little on energy management. Yet in many vocations and in many places in life it is energy, not time, that is the more valuable commodity. Like time, energy is limited and needs to used strategically. You can give massive amounts of time to certain areas of life, but if you only give those times in which your energy is at its lowest point, your productivity will still be low.

There is a call here to know yourself. So over the next couple of days ask yourself these questions: At what times of day am I at my mental peak? At what times of day am I least-effective? Am I a morning person, a night-owl, or a mid-afternoon warrior?

These questions are important because before long we will start to look at your use of time and, to some degree at least, manage your time around the ebb and flow of energy. You will want to plan to use your high-energy times to do your most important tasks and your tasks that depend upon creativity. You will want to plan to schedule your proactive and creative work when energy is high, and your reactive and administrative work when energy is low. So start thinking about that now, and we will return to this topic soon.

Getting On Mission

Once you have defined your areas of responsibility, it only makes sense that you would define your mission for each of them. I don’t know how else you could know what to emphasize, what to say “yes” to, and what to say “no” to. So I want to encourage you to work on a brief and simple mission statement for each of your areas of responsibility. Even if it is not a lengthy statement, come up with something that will guide you and define what God calls you to in each of them.

Now, there are two ways that I differ from many of the productivity gurus out there.

First, I do not believe that you need to have a big-picture mission statement that encompasses all of life and all of your areas of responsibility. If that works for you and you want a mission statement for all of life, go ahead and prepare it. But I think there is more value, at least for now, in preparing individual mission statements limited to each of your areas of responsibility.

Second, I do not believe that your mission statements for each of those areas has to be fixed and unchanging. I see the purpose of these statements as guiding you week-by-week as you schedule your time and as you attempt to make decisions about where to expend your effort. So while you shouldn’t change them haphazardly, you can change them in small ways as your mission comes into focus and as it changes through life.  The value of seeing these as “living” statements is that it frees you from having to think about it too hard right now. Come up with something that works, and refine it over a period of weeks or months.

Let me give you some examples of what I mean by mission statements. Here are my statements for three of my areas of responsibility: my work at the church, my ministry to the wider church (primarily through the blog and books), and personal life:

  • GFC: Teach, train, and execute [administer] so the people of the church will mature and multiply.
    • Explanation: I believe that if the people of our church are living as Christians, they will mature in the faith and they will multiply by sharing the gospel with others. My role in the church primarily involves teaching, training and administration; I want to do those things in such a way that it directs the people of the church to mature and multiply.
  • Business: Use the opportunities God provides to help others think and live like mature Christians.
    • Explanation: Over the years my core mission as a writer and public speaker has come into focus, and what I love to do is help people to think and live like mature Christians. This is the focus of my blog, my books, and my speaking opportunities.
  • Personal: Delight in God to the glory of God for the good of all people.
    • Explanation: I believe that if I am delighting in God, my delight brings glory to God and overflows into doing good for other people. I am a better father, a better husband, a better pastor, and a better neighbor when I am finding my delight in the Lord.

Each of these statements serves as a measure or standard so that each week I can look back and ask, Did I do these things? And I can look at the week ahead and ask, How will I do these things? When someone asks me, “Can you speak at our conference?” or “Can you meet with me to talk about this topic?” I attempt to make decisions according to my mission. If it fits my mission, I will give it time and energy and enthusiasm. If it does not fit my mission, I will not prioritize it in the same way.

FlagAction: Write a mission statement for each area of responsibility. Give it your best shot for now, and prepare to keep refining them as time goes on.

Are You On Mission?

You may have noticed that to this point I have only asked you “What are the things you are doing?” and “What are the things you are responsible for?”. Before I move any farther, I want you to take a good look at those roles, tasks, and projects under each of your areas of responsibility to ask whether those are the things you ought to do. Do the things you do actually fit your mission? If not, either you need to adjust your mission or adjust your roles.

October 06, 2014

I love doctrine. Doctrine is simply the teaching of God or the teaching about God—the body of knowledge that he reveals to us through the Bible. I guess I’m one of those geekly people who loves to learn a new word and the big idea behind it. But I hope I do not love doctrine for doctrine’s sake. Rather, I strive to be a person who loves doctrine for God’s sake.

Today I want to give you 6 great reasons to study doctrine.

Doctrine Leads to Love

Doctrine leads to love—love for God that then overflows into love for others. 1 John 4:8 makes it plain: “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” To know God is to know love; to know God is to equip yourself to act in love. Your love for God is limited by your knowledge of him, so that you can really only love him as far as you know him. As the depth of your knowledge grows, so too does the depth of your love. This is why the study of doctrine cannot be the pursuit of dry facts, but facts that lead to living knowledge of God and growing love for God. When you know doctrine, you prepare yourself to live in ways that express love to him and to others.

Doctrine Leads to Humility

Second, doctrine leads to humility. A little while ago I saw a YouTube video of a man breaking the world record in deadlifting by lifting a nearly-unbelieveable 1,015 pounds. I know that if I tried to lift even a fraction of that amount I’d slip a disc and be in bed for a month. The distance between that person and myself makes me face my own weakness. And that is just a glimpse of what happens when you see God as he reveals himself. You see the infinite distance between his power and your weakness, between his holiness and your sinfulness, between his unchangeable nature and your fickleness. And as you see it, you are humbled. You cannot see God and be proud. You cannot know God and be arrogant. When you see God as he really is, you must be humbled by his sheer magnitude and you must be humbled by your inability to box him up, to understand him all the way. The greater your knowledge of God, the greater your humility.

Doctrine Leads to Obedience

Third, doctrine leads to obedience. And here is what I mean: Just like you can only love God as far as you know God, you can only obey God as far as you know God. As you get to know God more and deeper, you are able to obey him better. Think here of the Old Testament and how often God reminds the Israelites of who he is and on that basis commands their obedience. He does this again and again: “Here is who I am, here is what I have done, and therefore you owe me your obedience.” And think of the New Testament which constantly points to Jesus Christ and calls us to conformity to him. What you learn of God and what you learn about yourself through the Word of God leads you to live a life that honors him. Again, theology is not a cold pursuit of facts, but a red-hot pursuit of the living God, and it works itself out all over life.

 

Doctrine Leads to Unity

Fourth, doctrine leads to unity. I once attended a church where I heard a pastor use that old phrase, “Doctrine divides.” He told the church that the path to unity was to hold a very low and basic level of doctrine, because he was convinced that knowledge would breed arrogance and division. But he was dead wrong and that church splintered because of lack of unity—a lack of unity that flowed directly from a lack of sound doctrine. Churches are bound together by the beliefs they share. Of course there will be certain minor variances in a church on lesser matters, but the greater the shared beliefs on the essentials, and the greater the emphasis on the essentials, the greater the degree of unity. In Ephesians 4 Paul talks about the way God gives leaders to churches and says they are given, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” He draws a clear connection between doctrine or spiritual growth and unity between believers.

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.

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