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October 31, 2014

The Christian faith is comprised of both nouns and verbs. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that the content of the Christian faith is comprised of both nouns and verbs. Michael Horton says it well:

All of our faith and practice arise out of the drama of Scripture, the ‘big story’ that traces the plot of history from creation to consummation, with Christ as its Alpha and Omega, beginning and end. And out of the throbbing verbs of this unfolding drama God reveals stable nouns—doctrines. From what God does in history we are taught certain things about who he is and what it means to be created in his image, [what it means to be] fallen, and redeemed, renewed, and glorified in union with Christ.

So drama describes the actions, the verbs, or what God is doing. Doctrine describes the facts, the nouns, of who God is and what it means that he made us in his image. If you put the two together, you have the content of the Christian faith. I was thinking recently about the great “throbbing verbs of this unfolding drama,” and about this universe as the stage in which God is displaying himself and his glory. I was convicted that I think of the world this way too seldom, and was convicted that there is a lot of value in making this shift in thinking. After all, if this world is a stage, there are many implications. Here are 4 of them:

First, if there is a story, there is a play-wright or story-teller. This means that when events happen, when good things or bad things unfold around us, we do not look to fate or chance as if they are responsible. Instead we look to the play-wright, the story-teller, to see what he means to accomplish. Think of the great words of Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” That only makes sense if there is authorship, if someone is scripting and controlling the story.

If there is a story, there is purpose. If history is unfolding in a deliberate and controlled way, we know that what happens in the world is not just a series of isolated, disconnected, purposeless events. We know there is a purpose for everything. There is even a purpose behind even those events we would never have chosen. This story never runs off-script, but continues deliberately and perfectly toward its closing scene.

If there is a story, there is a plot, a storyline. This means there is a plot to our lives. Our lives are not meaningless. Instead, we are actors in this story. We are making real decisions and taking significant actions, and through it all, playing a role in this great drama.

Finally, if there is a story, and if we understand that story, we realize our proper place. The world is not about us. We are not the heroes of the story. We are not the writers of the story. We are merely actors in it. We are important to the story, but we are not indispensable since it really isn’t about us at all.

There really is a drama unfolding around us, and as Christians we get to see what it is all about, we get to interpret what is happening around us, and we get to see how we fit in. This is an immeasurable blessing.

Image credit: Shutterstock

October 29, 2014

For millennia, human beings have looked to the night skies and grappled with their own insignificance. It is difficult to feel big and important when looking at thousands and millions of stars stretching far beyond our gaze and far beyond our comprehension. King David’s experience is one most of us have shared. 

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
(Psalm 8:3-4 ESV)

The Bible tells us that the splendor and magnitude of the universe is meant to force us to acknowledge the existence of a Creator and to force us to acknowledge his infinite power. We, too, are meant to echo David: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).

DeGrasseFamous astrophysicist Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson has dedicated much of his life to looking to the skies, but has found a way to feel big. He was once asked by a reader of TIME magazine, “What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the Universe?” Here is his answer:

The most astounding fact is the knowledge that the atoms that comprise life on earth, the atoms that make up the human body, are traceable to the crucibles that cooked light elements into heavy elements in their core under extreme temperatures and pressures. These stars, when unstable in their later years, collapse and explode, scattering their enriched guts across the galaxy. Guts made of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and all the fundamental ingredients of life itself. These ingredients become part of gas clouds that condense and collapse, form the next generation of solar systems—stars with orbiting planets. And those planets now have the ingredients for life itself. So when I look up at the night sky I know that, yes, we are part of this universe. We are in the universe. But perhaps, more important, that the universe is in us. When I reflect on the fact, I look up—many people feel small, because they are small and the universe is big. But I feel big because my atoms come from those stars. There is a level of connectivity. That’s really what you want in life. You want to feel connected, want to feel relevant, want to feel like a participant in the goings on and the activities and events around you. That’s precisely what we are just by being alive.

He is right in some ways. We all want to feel connected, we all want to feel relevant, we all want to feel like participants in what is going on around us. Ultimately, we all want assurance that we matter precisely because we have an innate understanding of our insignificance.

Tyson says our significance comes when we understand that we are made of the same stuff as the stars—we are one with the universe and part of the big picture of the universe because our bodies are composed of the building-blocks of the universe. That may seem compelling and it may seem encouraging, but if this is the most astounding fact he can come up with, he is a fool. He is a brilliant fool, a man who uses his intellectual gifts to express folly.

The Bible has far better news.

The Bible assures us of two facts that are in no way contradictory: We are very, very small, and we are very, very significant. We are small in comparison to the infinite and eternal God who created us, but we have the utmost significance because we are created in his image. We are microscopic when compared to God, but an integral part of his plan for this universe. We are mere dust, but the Son of God saw fit to clothe himself in this dust. The most astounding fact is not that we are made of the same stuff as the stars, but that God chose to be made of the same stuff as us.

Image credit: Shutterstock

October 28, 2014

Today I am continuing my series on productivity, and I am going to start with a short recap. I began the series by explaining what productivity is and why it matters [Part 1], then 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 worked on some brief mission statements [Part 3]. Then it was time to look at tools [Part 4], and to understand organization and systems [Part 5]. In the last article I provided some basic guidance on configuring task management software [Part 6]. Today I want to advance just one short step to information management.

An information management tool is used to collect, manage and access important information. If you will need to remember or access information in the future, it goes into this tool. If the task management tool is the heart of a productivity system, the information management tool is the brain—the memory. If it requires action, it goes into task management; if it is information you will need in the future, it goes into information management. Task management is for life’s verbs while information management is for life’s nouns.

I recommend Evernote as a powerful tool for information management. Evernote is available for nearly every platform and every mobile device. It is free, but with a premium option for those who are looking for a few extra abilities.

Notebooks

If you read and implemented the article on tools, you should already have installed Evernote and performed a basic setup. I recommend that you organize Evernote according to your areas of responsibility. In my case this means that the basic organizational structure of Evernote is this: Personal, Family, Social, GFC [church], and Business. I have a notebook stack for each of those areas. Each notebook stack contains what Evernote calls notebooks and I have a notebook for each of my roles, duties and projects. Within each of these notebooks I have one or more notes. Here are some examples of this hierarchy of area of notebook stack → notebook → note.

Notebook Stack: Family

  • Notebook: Finance
    • September Credit card statement (a PDF file I downloaded from my bank)
    • How to Get Maximum Value from Air Canada’s Aeroplan (an article I clipped from a web site)
    • Credit Report (a PDF containing my most recent credit score and report)
  • Notebook: Vacation
    • The Best Day to Buy Airline Tickets (an article I clipped from a web site)
    • Hotel Reservation (copy of the hotel confirmation)
    • 2015 Ligonier National Pre-Conference (Information about my duties at the Ligonier conference that gave us the excuse to go to Florida)

Notebook Stack: GFC

  • Notebook: Pregnancy Care Centre
    • PCC Board Meeting Minutes (a Word document sent by the board secretary)
    • Complying with Anti-Spam Legislation (an article I clipped from a web site)
    • 2014 Budget (an Excel spreadsheet)
  • Notebook: Sunday Service Planning
    • November 2, 2014 (a note shared between the pastors and worship leader in which we share ideas and plans for this Sunday’s service)

Again, the Evernote structure is simple and intuitive: notes combine to make notebooks, and notebooks combine to make notebook stacks. In many cases my Evernote notebooks match my OmniFocus projects. I have an OmniFocus projected called Young Adults that contains any actions I need to take related to the Young Adults Ministry; I also have an Evernote notebook called Young Adults that contains any information I need to retain related to the Young Adults Ministry.

Organizing Evernote

Evernote is very adaptable and you can use it in different ways while gaining a lot of benefit from it. There are two broad philosophies on organizing information—using tags or using notebooks and notebook stacks. Neither one is wrong and both have their strengths. Notebooks allow you to find information by clicking through your hierarchy of notebook stacks, notebooks, and notes. Tags, on the other hand, specialize in allowing you to find information by searching. It is important to note that while each note can be in only one notebook, it can contain multiple tags.

I prefer the first approach and rely on notebooks. However, I also add tags as supplementary data where that makes sense. 

If you setup Evernote the way I do, you will want to ensure you add at least a small amount of information to each note you create. You must: Put each note inside a notebook. You may: Add a tag to each note. Whatever else you do with your notes, make sure you file each of them in an appropriate notebook following the familiar dictum, A home for everything, and like goes with like. If you have 20 notes about that new car you are researching, put them all in the same notebook; if you have 5 notes about a forthcoming vacation, put them all in the same notebook.

There is nothing wrong with starting small, starting slow, and building a system that works well for you. Try notebooks and try tags and see what fits best with your life and your mind. The only rule you absolutely need to follow is do something with everything. There ought to be some way that every bit of information has a home and that every bit of information is stored with similar information.

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!”

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