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.

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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.

4 Truths about God’s Promises 

(This post came across my FB feed today from 2015. Based on Joshua 14:6-14.)

Someone should make a movie about Joshua and Caleb. I’ve always imagined they were buds, but who really knows. Not sure if their families shared manna together, but they are linked in the story of their nation.

Here, Caleb illustrates what it means to be totally with God. Not only was he faithful in his task at age 40, he also managed to stick to his guns for 45 more years.

At age 85, he reminds Joshua what happened on their first visit to the land which they now possessed. God spoke to him through Moses that his faithfulness would be rewarded.  Still as strong as at age 40, he was ready to receive the fulfillment of God’s promise.

Through Caleb’s life, we can see these truths about how to live in the light of God’s promise:

  1. God’s promise is worth your lifelong surrender.
  2. God keeps His promises, even if it takes your lifetime.
  3. God’s promise doesn’t give you freedom to do whatever you want while you wait. Remain totally His.
  4. Your family could also live in the light of God’s promise because of your willingness to be totally His. Worth it?

The Gift of Balance-Series Introduction (Part 1)

(This is the first post 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. Side note: for regular readers of this blog, these posts will be longer than usual. We three coaches are used to listening more than talking, so we have a lot to say.)

In getting to know Mark and Tonya over the last few weeks and months, I realized that we all have a similar concern about balance in our lives and helping others achieve it also. So it wasn’t hard to twist their arms to join me for a series on the topic. By way of introducing the series, we will share a little about ourselves, but also look at what drives us to be passionate about this subject and where we’ve found it most challenging in our lives. At the end of each post in this series, you will also find suggested readings and resources on that post’s topic. Mark is going to get us started by answering this first question:

Give us a bio and include your balance journey.

Mark: I grew up in a lower-middle-class, conservative Christian family in southern Michigan. My parents were very involved in their kid’s lives, putting their own needs aside for their kids. After marrying my high school sweetheart, we moved to Columbus where I began what became a twenty-year career in corporate America. Early on in my adult life, I was pretty confident that work and non-work balance was important to me and an important equation that I would have to solve. As our family grew (three kids now ages 17, 15, 13,), I realized balance is nuanced and fluid; it’s not a static, rigid concept. There are seasons where things are askew or you may be focused on one area more than another. What I always retained was that my relationships-wife, kids, God-were the things that I valued. As I navigated the career life, I found that career progression encroached in my home life and balance became really difficult-to the point that I walked away after twenty years to chart a new course. That was the moment I acknowledged publicly and through my actions that life was out of balance and I had to hit reset. I realized I needed a fairly drastic change in order to get back the balance that I wanted and had lost. Now I’m on this big adventure of what does post-corporate America look like. I enjoy coaching clients on this idea of balance in their lives; I’m jazzed about helping people know where they want to go in life and put together a plan to get there. It’s something I’ve learned-and I’ve learned a bunch.

Tonya: I’m also a Michigander. Go Blue! That’s where my husband and I met and married. My family experience was different; I grew up in a single-mother home. After marriage, we went into ministry, starting in campus ministry. We learned very quickly after moving into church staff world that we were going to have to protect our family life. So my story of balance comes from working under workaholics, pastors who had moral failures and were abusive to staff and family. My husband and I had to sit down and say, “What’s right here?” Those times helped us set the balance that God wanted for our marriage and family and to stand strong. Now having been married for 25 years and working as a therapist for 22 years while homeschooling our children, I never worked full time; taking care of the kids came first. So sometimes that meant I couldn’t do some of the things I felt passionate about doing. So seasons was also something I followed like, “Now is a season I’m raising my boys.” My time is beginning to shift since my youngest is about to finish high school, so I’m going to have more time to do those things that I want to do. My husband is now in the corporate world, but we still follow the choice to always talk about job opportunities he has and make decisions together. We’ve gotten push back at times, people telling us we’re crazy, but God has always blessed us. Living in California now for 16 years, we haven’t always chosen to have the income we could have had, but we feel blessed and haven’t paid any penalty for our choices.

John: As I listen to you both, I hear interesting intersections in our stories. I grew up in a pastor’s home; my dad passed away at the age of 40. As a twelve-year-old kid, I can’t say that my dad was a workaholic, but I can’t say that I think he had balance in his life. So that certainly influenced my view of balance as a pastor, as an adult, to not repeat the same history. Being single, achieving balance looks different but is still important. Balance can get out of whack for all of us in any area. I have worked through a couple of seasons where I realized, more from an emotional state, that I was out of balance. Similar to you, Mark, I chose to walk away from staff positions in order to reset. I didn’t have a “next” lined up. So Tonya, I got those same, “What are you doing?” comments. The balance for me wasn’t being concerned about what any one person thought more than what I understood the Holy Spirit was telling me. That doesn’t mean I have it all together, but when I feel like I’m out of balance I step back and let Him speak into what’s going on.

What makes you passionate about the subject of balance?

Tonya: The Oxford dictionary says that balance is an even distribution of weight enabling someone to remain upright and steady. That definition helps us see the importance of keeping things flowing along and not feeling discombobulated and confusing. My passion is founded in my leaving my therapy practice a few months ago to pursue coaching. In my therapy practice, so many pastors were referred to me who had hit the wall. They were dealing with losing their spouses or depression or addiction; so I was desperate to help them be preventative. Coaching pastors is my passion, to help them remain upright and steady. Living for that audience of one, like you said John, is our first priority. Balance helps us stay steady even when the world is unsteady.

Mark: This may sound cliche, but I think it’s in the time of difficulty where we are tested to choose the things that we value. When tragedy happens, when promotions are on the table, we are asked in those situations to reaffirm those things that are important to us. In those times, having clarity on what is important makes it easier to make the hard decision or to get through the season, and to realize the season will reset or that it can be made to shift back once it is over. These times give us the opportunity to prove what is important to us.

I’ve always taken a longer-run view of balance, driven home by working with workaholics lacking a longer view. I decided that’s not what I want. Who gets to their death bed and says, “I regret I didn’t have more conference calls. I didn’t travel more to meetings around the country”? Nobody says that. There is this pressure that organizations put on their people to go the extra mile. I always wanted to maintain this longer view, to not wake up one day and my kids are gone and I don’t know my wife and I’ve missed it. There are more important things to me than a career or an organization’s profit. In the church context, if we don’t exercise our opportunity to say “no” then it doesn’t give others the opportunity to others to step up and say “yes.” So in the church and the business context, I saw how things could be different. So I decided to take this longer view to keep me from having regrets in the end.

Tonya: To piggyback off of that, this summer I just spent three months with my father back in Michigan as he was losing his battle with cancer. It reinforced for me the principle of understanding who we are is not what we do. Unfortunately, he never came to that. He passed without that peace. He struggled to be important by what he did, with the “do.” That was hard to watch, but it determined in me even more so to know who I am. When I introduce myself to others, I say, “I am the daughter of the Most High God”-not to be super spiritual, but to know who I am.

John: Feeding off of your thoughts, two things come to my mind that I’m sure people have heard me say or observed me do. One is, “Relax. God’s in charge here. It’ll be okay.” The other is I share a similar passion to what you were talking about, Mark, in helping people say no. Modeling that is huge. Helping people see the freedom that comes from saying no creates the reaction, “Wow. I didn’t know this kind of living existed.” It’s sitting back and saying, “God is first. I’m not.” 

(Part 2 will post tomorrow, where you’ll find our suggested resources on the subject of balance.)