In the Shadows Album Overview

The album is now available on iTunes and Amazon.  To hear the back story of this project, watch this short video.

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Shortening the Lows 

Today is another big day in the life of Tom Brady. Just so happens, I came across an interview of him from last June on demand this afternoon. Seemed appropriate to check it out.

Regarding the outcomes of championships, he was asked two interesting questions: how high are the highs and how low are the lows. About the highs, he didn’t make any distinction from his different experiences of highs; they last the same. However, he answered differently about the lows. For example, when they lost the Super Bowl in 2007 he said his low lasted about a month. But when they lost last year to the Eagles, it was half the time, about two weeks. His explanation-stage of life. Last year he had his children to pay attention to, to help them understand what failure is and how to deal with it. Eleven years of personal development had shortened his low time (my paraphrase).

Trying to avoid the lows is like trying to avoid raindrops. Impossible. Failure happens. Disappointments come, some expected, some not. The opportunity we have is to choose how we respond to them.

I’ve noticed this myself. My lows have gotten shorter. The low in my 30s was almost twice as long as a low in my 40s. After that one, I determined to be more proactive in addressing my lows. I leaned into the verse about the sun not going down on your wrath (Ephesians 4:26) and looked at how that could apply to my lows. Interestingly, the lows continue to be shortened.

So what changed? What did I stop doing? What did I start doing? Here are a few things:

  • I stopped being too concerned about what people wanted from me or could do for me..I started being more concerned about what God wanted for me and what I could do for people.
  • I stopped allowing the decisions of others to determine my steps…I started listening more to the Holy Spirit to determine my steps.
  • I stopped giving self talk free reign…I started admonishing myself based on what truth God had for me.

And my lows continue to shorten. 

Want to shorten yours? Take some time and answer these two questions: 1)What do you need to stop? 2)What do you need to start? 

What About the Books on Your Shelf?

If you’re reading this, chances are you read quite a bit. A growing question for you and other readers these days is how do you buy books. Traditional or digital? (My answer, yes) And then there’s the audio question. Does listening to a book count as reading it? (My answer, yes.)

In a coaching call this week, a completely different question surfaced. The agenda of the call was to determine the various kinds of books this guy wanted to explore reading in 2019. He wanted to determine other genres and topics than he normally chooses, even material that might be uncomfortable. When it appeared the list was about done, I asked him to think about what kind of books give him life, refresh him, maybe even recreate him. I thought I knew how he would answer the question. I was wrong.

I assumed he would talk about style or topics or genre. Instead, he responded by naming titles of several books he’d read that were still meaningful to him. As he talked about them, he realized a simple thing. A good thing to do as a reader is to re-read good books, books that breathed life into you, books that made a difference. So he decided that another source for his quest for building his library for 2019 was to take a look at the books he already has, books already on his shelf practically guaranteed to restore his mind, heart, or spirit.

What about the books on your shelf? Which ones fill you up? Which book have you always said you will read again and still haven’t? Which book are you craving? These questions just might lead you to some exciting reading-traditionally, digitally, or audibly. May the books on your shelf impact your 2019.

Sabbath Model

The subject of rest and Sabbath has become a constant for me over the last twelve months through leading a coaching program and co-leading webinars. If I’ve learned anything in this time, it’s that we could all use more conversing about this as well as more examples of it.

In that light, I thought I’d share how mine went yesterday with some notes.

It didn’t last all day. First thing, I had to deal with some car stuff. Finished and back home at 11.

The next seven hours were my time to “embrace that which gives life.” (Sabbath’s golden rule according to Mark Buchanan, author of The Rest of God.)

Those seven hours included reading devotions and two other books, blogging, meditating, napping, and going to the gym (in this period of my Sabbaths, the TV is not on). None of this felt like work. (Another aspect to Sabbath’s golden rule.) At the end of those seven hours, I could say I had more “life”; you could even say more peace.

No one model of Sabbath fits everyone. While reading may give one person life, it may drain another person. Similarly, playing golf would drain me (probably more like kill me) but would completely bring joy to some friends of mine. So to give us all some kind of guide, here’s a reminder of the golden rule for Sabbath: cease that which is necessary in order to embrace that which gives life.

What could you embrace during your next Sabbath?

The Big Question

Let’s just get straight to it. The big question for whatever you’re dealing with that appears insurmountable, unsolvable, even potentially life-changing is this: What Are You Willing To Do?

  • Are you willing to leave those benefits?
  • Are you willing to downsize?
  • Are you willing to stick your neck out?
  • Are you willing to get messy?
  • Are you willing to start all over?
  • Are you willing to be completely honest?
  • Are you willing to cut that check?
  • Are you willing to give up that vacation?
  • Are you willing to say, “I’m sorry”?
  • Are you willing to admit, “That’s my fault”?
  • Are you willing to drop all the excuses?
  • Are you willing to ask for help?
  • Are you willing to acknowledge your limitations?
  • Are you willing to listen?
  • Are you willing to answer, “Yes,” to God regardless of who else says you should say, “No”?
  • Are you willing to follow?
  • Are you willing to lead?
  • Are you willing to give up control?
  • Are you willing to be still?
  • Are you willing to be alone?
  • Are you willing to do whatever it takes?
  • Are you willing to come out of seclusion?
  • Are you willing to follow the plan?
  • Are you willing to tear down that idol?
  • Are you willing to say, “I need you, God”?
  • Are you willing to admit you’re addicted?
  • Are you willing to be loyal?
  • Are you willing to take on the responsibility for your own healing?
  • Are you willing to stop trying to save the world?
  • Are you willing to stop telling the Holy Spirit, “Hang on a minute. Someone else is calling in”?

What is the big question for you?

What is it that you know you need to be willing to do?

Stop Listening to Yourself

I read this quote yesterday from Martin Lloyd-Jones. I’m guessing we all could use this reminder from time to time.

I say that we must talk to ourselves instead of allowing “ourselves” to talk to us!…Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you…The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: “Why are you cast down” -and say to yourself: “Hope in God”-instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way. And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged himself to do.

*D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1965), 20-21

Get to the Doctor!

Psalm 19 is full, rich, and worth meditation. Verses 12-13 jumped out at me this morning.

Who perceives his unintentional sins? Cleanse me from my hidden faults. Moreover, keep your servant from willful sins; do not let them rule me.

Did you notice the two types of sin he acknowledges? Unintentional and willful. That’s worth chewing on.

We all have a pretty good idea what our willful sins are, if we are honest. Many of them start with our tongue: slandering, gossiping, lying, or stretching the truth for our benefit. Others stay hidden from others in our minds and hearts, but they aren’t hidden to us. These types of sin are easy to address because we are aware of them.

But what about those unintentional sins? How are we supposed to address or acknowledge what we can’t see? 

May I suggest thinking of these sins as blind spots. If you were experiencing strange spots in your vision, what would you do? You’d probably go to the doctor, right? Because of his experience and knowledge, he could explain to you why your vision is spotty. 

What if the difficulty in your emotional/mental/spiritual life is hidden from your view? If you knew what it was or how to address it, you would do it, right? So when we can’t figure it out on our own, we have options similar like going to the eye doctor:

  • Pray these two verses
  • See a counselor or therapist
  • Go to church
  • Lean on a friend/mentor
  • Get connected to a small group

These are just a start. I would say that they could/should also be moved from optional status to non-optional status. If we want to stay clear of experiencing blind spots, ongoing connection with others desiring the same thing is the best place to be. Don’t wait for the blind spots to rise. Expect them. Position yourself in places where they can be seen, and you can receive the answers you cannot see for yourself. Get to the doctor!

The Butterfly Effect, according to an 8th grader

Amalia is her name. She hadn’t really thought about the story she was telling, until she was asked. At least that’s what she said. But when she started answering, she voiced an important story. The story is found in her drawing.


Amalia said the story is about a broken girl who made a choice that has made her “unfixable.” She summed it up by her definition of the butterfly effect. I had my definition of that term, but I wanted to know hers. So I asked. And she answered, “One choice you choose can change everything in your life.” She’s certainly right.

Amalia didn’t know because we just met today, but I’ve been thinking along those lines a bit lately. My thoughts have been less about life-altering decisions and more about day-to-day decisions, which of course can lead to life-altering ones. All your “yeses” mean something to you, about you. Every “no” speaks to who you are and what you value. And each of both of those impact everyone in your world. Like it or not, they leave a wake that is its own butterfly effect.

Thank you, Amalia, for this visual reminder. To hear our full conversation about this drawing , visit https://www.facebook.com/firstpassage/

1st 50 years-5 things I’m Sure Of

Monday I joined the 50 ranks. Whatever that’s supposed to feel like, I’m pretty sure I don’t. By age 50, you’d think I’d feel pretty sure about just about everything. One thing I am most assured of is I’m sure I don’t.

Yet in a reflective mode, I challenged myself to list what I’m most assured of about life after living 50 years. These five things topped the list:

  1. God is Right-He’s right about himself, and he’s certainly right about me. He’s right about good and evil, love and hate, holiness and pride, the present and the future, and power and humility. The depth of my submission to his “rightness” is the depth of my contentment and peace.
  2. There’s More Than This-Although there’s a lot to enjoy about God’s earth, life is more than what I can see, taste, hear, touch, and feel. An eternal perspective reveals the “more” and keeps the visible in its proper priority.
  3. Less is More-Specifically less noise, less doing, less collecting of stuff replaced by more listening, more being, and more margin.
  4. Giving and Receiving are both important-Yes, Paul mentions in Acts that givers are more blessed. I don’t disagree with that. My caveat is that I can’t just keep on giving and giving and resist receiving. I have to receive in order to give. Both are important.
  5. A godly life results in no regrets-“I want no regrets when the horses come for me.” -Margaret Becker

What are you most assured of?

The Gift of Balance: Work (Part 1)

(This is part one of the third topic in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance seemed appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter. We talked in and out of two thoughts, so this entry will be the first half of the conversation continuing tomorrow with the second half.)

Mark: I believe work is beneficial and important, but it isn’t a separated secular and sacred thing that our Christian community has made it out to be. Work isn’t the end all to be all, so the balance is valuing it correctly.

Tonya: Everybody benefits from work.  You feel better about yourself, and scripture backs that up.  My perspective on my work is that it is my calling and ministry. I feel passionate about it and called to do it. Even so, it’s not what gives me value. My work flows out of my “being,” who I am in Christ.  So my work gives me satisfaction as it flows from that place.

John: So is the question how to have balance or how to avoid being unbalanced?

Tonya: I think they flow together. My work is my calling, but there are those who think their work is their means to provide for their families and they don’t connect it with a calling. Colossians 3:23 helps us, whether we see work as a calling or a means to provide, to approach it as unto the Lord. Finding satisfaction in that is important.

John: One way I believe we can get unbalanced in our work is by compartmentalizing life in such a way that we leave God out of our work life, like you were suggesting Mark. For the person who hasn’t grabbed a hold of the fact that God is with us 24/7 and cares about all details of our lives, it’s a challenge to stay balanced because God isn’t acknowledged in all areas of life. He doesn’t have full access. That’s a temptation.

Mark: I see two tempting thoughts there. There’s the “I don’t know how or I don’t want God in my work area of my life.  I’ll keep him contained to my religious area.” The other aspect has to do with understanding the idea of sacred versus secular, like Tonya was talking about.  Maybe that distinction is a myth, and we just need to go do what God has given us to do with the skills we have. Regardless of what that is, it’s opportunity that we don’t have to describe as sacred versus secular.

Tonya: That’s makes me think of Brother Lawrence who talks about being in the presence of God even while he’s washing dishes in the monastery. How do we give God glory in whatever our work is? I think you’re right in saying we as the church have led that in the wrong way with the idea that if you’re called to ministry it looks one way.  We are all called to ministry. What does that mean in your everyday work life?

Mark: That leads into a thought that if we view something as “God’s work,” we can do it 24/7 and get out of balance because it is my calling, it’s sacred. That’s not healthy and particularly in the scenario of when it leads to neglecting your spouse, children or other key relationships. That’s a temptation people can fall into.

John: Is that a misdirection of someone trying to find their identity and worth and using this work as a deflection?

Mark: That’s certainly part of it. They can also be taking on too much responsibility for accomplishing God’s purpose and trying to own too much of it. Other important things in life suffer detriment.

Tonya: I see this happen a lot with the pastors I work with. I think it comes from a misguided understanding of priorities. Every minister can spout out the priorities of God>family>ministry, but their practices don’t always match. There is a confusion between what is my time with God and what I do for God.

I like where this is going because if we go back to what was said at the beginning, a well-defined idea of work will help us across the board. If the most important thing is to understand who we are in Christ first, then what we do comes out of our being. Whether we are a pastor, a doctor, or a garbage collector, everything we are doing is under God’s glory. Our work isn’t where we find our value or who we are. The work flows from who we are. I can’t work to the point I’m neglecting important relationships, my body, or my personal time with God. So for me as someone building a coaching practice, I have to set my hours ahead of time. Otherwise I will allow clients to dictate my schedule. That wouldn’t be good stewardship and balance.

John: This circles around the mentality, “it all rests on me.” Someone can take the savior mentality that the success of the company or ministry is all on them and they have to make it happen. That imbalance is another way of squeezing God out.

Tonya: Like in our coaching practices, “I have to build this. I have to make this happen.”

John: And subtly, we don’t even recognize that we are doing it.  There’s a check on who’s running the ship. “How much control do I have or should I not even try to have?”

Mark: There’s a phrase that I read a while back that has stuck with me. “Do what is yours to do and trust God to do the rest.” We can only do so much. Coming to that conclusion is easier for some than others, but if we simply do what is ours to do and trust God to do the rest, then it’s more likely to work out the way he wants it to work out. It may or may not be what we had laid out, but it will be more aligned with his plan and purpose.