3 Ways to Improve Your To-Do List

There are too many items on my to-do list today. I am guessing there may be too many on yours. Not only are there too many items to complete, but also when I review this list, it seems that the urgent stuff might crowd out the important stuff. Like Annie Dillard says, “How we spend our days, of course, is how we spend our lives.”
Here is my to-do list today:
  • Write a message for Sunday
  • Write an article for the newsletter
  • Put together a church-wide survey
  • Figure out the problem with the info@plattparkchurch.org email address
  • Invite folks to participate in the pre-marital class
  • Line up a videographer
  • Meal plan and grocery shop for the week
  • Re-schedule the school tour
  • Exercise
  • Drink 60 oz of water
Pretty much every day I create a to-do list like this. Once I create my list, I scan it and prioritize my “top 3” tasks for that day. I like my system; it’s serving me well. But even if I do all these things and do them well, I could miss out on walking in faith, hope and love. God doesn’t call us to be efficiency machines; he invites us to be his children. Remember the story of Mary and Martha? Martha is busy with so many things, but Jesus says, “Mary has chosen the better and it shall not be taken from her.” Mary chose to worship at Jesus feet.
The most important thing is to keep the main thing the main thing! Scripture teaches that the main thing is to love God, and love people.
So here are 3 things I’m going to write into my to-do list today:
  • Spend time with Jesus walking the alleys of Platt Park
  • Tickle the kids and kiss Tim
  • Say hello to the strangers I see throughout the day
I encourage you to include these 3 items on your to-do list today (Write them down to hold yourself accountable):

1.  One way you can go outside and pray.

2.  One way you can notice the people in your life and show them love.

3.  One way you can spread kindness to a stranger.

You can write down anything you’d like, and it can be new and creative each day. What surprising, quirky, new or faith-filled item could you check off your list today?

One Thing Most of Us Agree On

There is a lot of debate going on in our world today. Debate over who will make the next best president, debate over immigration, debate over gun control. But with all the debate, it seems that most of us agree on one thing at this time of year – and that is our desire for peace on earth.
What is the “peace on earth” that Christ came to bring?  Peace on earth is not the absence of conflict, and it’s not the perfect poise of a stress-free life. Rather, it is this: peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled. From this peace we become free to have the humility to say sorry, the confidence to accept when we blow it, the hope that is higher than our worst fears, and the trust that transcends the ups and downs of a world at war. This peace brings stability that is present in the midst of a storm, during the ups and downs of our relationships, and this peace can carry us thru the joys and grief’s of this life.
The heart of Christ’s birth and the peace on earth that Christmas brings is found in those old familiar words we sing, “peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.”
See, we usually tend to think that world peace is the result of certain problems being solved, and so we say:
  1. the problem is just ignorance, we need better information
  2. the problem is just indifference, we need more compassion
  3. the problem is just apathy, we need more motivation
But the scriptures teach that our primary problem is estrangement from God. Like a couple that was once in love and is now estranged, the scriptures say I am estranged from God and so I need reconciliation. Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled. The story of God is that He created the world as a perfect Garden, and because we turned our own way it became a wild jungle. Our planet and all people on it were created for good, but we and our world have been deeply damaged by evil. In Christ we are restored for better – but not just so that we can be better – but also so that we can be sent together to heal a broken and hurting world.
God offers us the gift of peace – not just so we can be at peace – but so that we can go be peacemakers in the world. How will you be a peacemaker this year?

Ecosystem

During our all-church family meeting last month, someone asked, “What is our vision for growth as a church?” Our vision is to help people become passionate, devoted followers of Christ. One dimension of that vision is outreach. 93% of people living in Denver are not connected to a faith community. Many people are neither experiencing God’s great love for them nor God’s purpose for their lives. We hope to respond to that need by intentionally reaching out to more people in our 30-minute footprint with God’s love. We love because He first loved us. We pray God will fill and flood your life, your neighbor’s life, and your families’ lives with His light and love until no seat is left empty when we gather in worship.
Alongside reaching out, our vision is that God would transform you and I into his likeness and form us in community. Transformation happens as we understand and embrace in ever-increasing ways that we are God’s beloved, precious in His eyes. Community happens as we respect, honor, and enjoy each other. Our vision is that God would so knit us together that no one in this city would be alone. Our vision is for little groups of friendship to form all over Denver where love and laughter and friendship would spontaneously spring up, and everyone would know that they are never alone.
Our vision is that when we run out of seats in our sanctuary, we start planting churches, rather than building a bigger building, which furthers the vision of helping more people become passionate, devoted followers of Christ. Here is why we care about this vision: 1) People matter to God, 2) We exist to represent Christ in this world and convey to others that they matter to God. 3) We see our church as an eco-system, similar to a river. Every eco-system has a carrying capacity. If a river has a carrying capacity for 500 fish, that means the river is designed to care for 500 fish. 500 fish can thrive there. But if that river suddenly has far fewer or far more fish than it is designed to carry, the fish will begin to die. Churches, like eco-systems, have a carrying capacity. The carrying capacity of a church is determined by the number of worship services, the number of staff and volunteers, the size of the sanctuary, etc. The carrying capacity of Platt Park Church is about 500-600. Last Sunday we had 225. Platt Park church could double in size today with our exact same facility, staff and programing! Whatever our size, our mission will always be to help people become passionate, devoted followers of Christ. This vision is compatible with growth, and we’re excited to live into it boldly, exercising our responsibility to be good stewards of what God has entrusted to us to continue to reach out to people in Denver.

Lyla, GuGu, & Me

Lyla, our newly adopted 2 year-old, affectionately calls her 4 year-old brother Russell “GuGu,” which means “big brother” in Mandarin. She adores him, looks up to him, follows him around and takes her cues from her GuGu. Lyla has gone through a huge adjustment, leaving her home country for a new country with a family that speaks a new language and looks different from the faces she had grown accustomed to seeing. One of the ways she has coped with this change is to attach to Russell. Russell also has gone through a huge adjustment, from being the only kid in the house to immediately having a 2 year-old sister with whom he does not always want to share his toys, his time, or his parents. He is often tender and sweet towards Lyla, combing her hair and feeding her yogurt, but sometimes he reveals just how difficult this change has been for him. Today, Russell not-so-affectionately (but hilariously) said to Lyla, with great passion, “I am not being your sister anymore!” (yes, he said sister rather than brother 🙂 )
Transitions shape us. Sometimes transitions come to us abruptly or violently, and other times we choose them joyfully, but they usually bring challenges. We will either become bitter or better through them. We will either find a way to embrace the change, or we will find ourselves resisting it and possibly arguing about it at every turn. Through changing seasons of life, our hope is to become more like Christ Jesus, who, during his greatest transition, did not resist but “being in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but rather made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, and being found in human likeness, humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on the cross.” Jesus modeled extraordinary peacefulness and non-anxiety as he allowed transitions to shape him.
After seminary Tim and I moved to Iowa for Tim’s job. Initially, I was eager for that transition and chose it, but once we arrived, I did not embrace the changes easily. In my heart I fought the changes that came my way through that move, the small town, the church culture, and the new life. It was only through a combination of counseling+coaching+spiritual direction+time that I found my way through that season.
In hindsight, I wish I could have done some things differently; I regret my resistant attitude. Yet, as hard as that experience was, I wouldn’t remove it from my journey because in the end it shaped me in so many positive ways. I am grateful for the incredible guides I had along the way, who compassionately listened, provided space, challenged me, and guided me through the valleys and mountain peaks of that challenging terrain.
Now, when I see others in transition – like Lyla and Russell – I remember the part these seasons play in our development, and I thank God for them.

Spiritual Formation at Work

There is so much written in the ancient scriptures about our work! Paul of Tarsus said, “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your work in the Lord is not in vain.” -1 Cor 15:58.
I used to think that my “work in the Lord” was just my church work. So, my small business work, or my working at home, or my yard work did not “count” as the kind of work Paul is talking about here. But, my perspective on this has changed.
I’m starting to see that my “work in the Lord” is really about doing all my work – paid, or unpaid – with Him. It is learning to pray with every breath, with every dirty diaper, with every trip to the bank, and with every meeting, “God, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven – right here in my work.”
Sometimes I hear people ask, “How can I bring Jesus into my workplace?”  Well, you don’t… because Jesus is already there. Jesus is every bit as present in your M-F job as he is when we gather in worship on Sunday. You will probably spend 40+ hours a week at work on average, and you will probably spend 1-2 hours a week at church. The goal is not to undo in the 1 hour at church everything that happened during the 40+ hours at work. The goal is also not to just increase our time at church. The goal is to learn to be with Jesus 24/7 because he is already there in our work, in our play, and in our worship. He cares about our work in the little “kingdoms” of Comcast, or Target, or Kaiser, or Facebook just as much as he cares about our time at church.  He wants to see the big kingdom of God invade all these little kingdoms on earth.
In fact, our primary place of spiritual formation will likely be at work. Spiritual formation is the process of shaping our thoughts, desires, habits and choices. Everyone – Christian or otherwise – is being spiritually formed all the time. It’s not just an extra-credit deal for the super devoted. It is the most important thing going on. We can participate in our own spiritual formation through our mindfulness of our work as a holy space where God is fully present.
So today, when you go to work, remember that you never do that work alone. Jesus is present with every photo you take, post you make, meeting you attend, and meal you cook. May all that we do be to the glory of God today.

Playing with God…all the time

“Russell, what do you think about God?” I recently asked my almost 4-year old son. He replied, “I like to play with God all the time.”
Oh, from the mouths of children!
It’s moments like these when my children become my teachers. Because, whether Russell intended to say this or not, I heard him saying that he sees God as significant in everything he does throughout every day. So often I tend to think of my life in fragments, little parts of a puzzle that make up a whole. I have my ministry job, my business job, my parenting job…
But what if God wants to be the common link between all of these parts, the integral essence of every activity of my life? What if everything I do – whether preparing a sermon, or registering someone for a Sipping n’ Painting class, or changing my kids’ diapers – became not only an offering for God’s glory but also a partnership between God and me, almost like a play project together?
What if I did all of these things with Him – not just for him – but with Him? What if I were never by myself trying to read (or write) an inspirational book? If I understood God to be with me in that process, might I feel less afraid and more attuned? What if I were never alone facing a bad Yelp review from a guest’s experience at my business? Might I be able to see myself and my work through God’s eyes and be freed from shame to instead embrace fresh creativity and adventure? What if I never saw myself as abandoned with my tired and cranky kids? Would I possibly have better access to patience, strength, and humor? What if God always intended for these kinds of daily realities to be play dates together-between Jesus and me?
How could you and I live differently by taking the apostle Paul’s words to heart when he said, “Whether therefore you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31)?
What might the impact on our world be if we, like Russell, viewed God as someone we like to play with all the time-in every dimension of life?

Create in me a clean heart, O God

Psalm 51 may be the greatest, most complete expression of confession and repentance in the Bible. The psalm records David’s prayer to God after Nathan came and confronted David about his sleeping with Bathsheba and murdering her husband Uriah.
David had some good reasons to feel awful about himself. He had broken God’s laws, he had forever hurt the wellbeing of at least two families, and he had failed in his kingly responsibilities of leadership. Surprisingly, in Psalm 51, David made a bunch of statements about who God is right alongside his acknowledgement of his own sin. It is incredible to see how many statements about God’s character are included in this Psalm. David’s confession illustrates for us an important principle: True confession declares faith in God; bad confession expresses unbelief in God’s capacity to forgive.
We seem to have within us a drive to punish ourselves when we have wronged. Maybe we think beating up on ourselves long enough will make us right with God. Or maybe we just intuitively know that someone has to pay for sin. The inconceivable gift from Jesus is that he paid once for all for all of the sin of the whole world! When we make ourselves pay what Jesus already paid, we are essentially choosing a doomed self-salvation plan instead of trusting in Jesus’ atoning work on the cross.
Jesus already died to set us free; our repentance accesses that mercy and freedom. Jesus says, “You don’t have to atone for your own sins. I did that already. I was condemned so that you can live.” Confession is a powerful practice in our lives!
In her recent book Rising Strong, author Brene Brown says this, “The difference between shame and guilt lies in the way we talk to ourselves. Shame is a focus on self, while guilt is a focus on behavior. This is not just semantics. There’s a huge difference between I screwed up (guilt) and I am a screwup (shame). The former is acceptance of our imperfect humanity. The latter is basically an indictment of our very existence.”
True confession is agreeing with God that our behavior fell short of God’s glory or perhaps that we failed to do what we knew we ought to have done. It includes acknowledging the pain and destruction we have caused. But, mostly, it recognizes the beautiful, holy character of God, who invites us to be cleansed and renewed and to leave our sin behind. Bad confession is doubting God (e.g., asking him to do what he has already done, begging him to give what he has already given). When Christ died on the cross, he said, “It is finished” – and it was. So when we repent, we align ourselves with what is already true. True confession leaves us Christ-conscious, but bad confession leaves us self-conscious.

We Welcome Refugees

Sometimes a single photograph can change the world. Sometimes one photo can grab our attention, awaken our senses, and change our perspective. The recent photo of 3-year-old Aylan’s body being washed ashore on a Turkish beach and carried away by a policeman has grabbed the attention of our world. This heartbreaking photo has raised awareness about the refugee crisis in Syria and worldwide.
As followers of Christ, we see the images and cry out, “Lord, have mercy. Things are absolutely NOT the way they are supposed to be!”
Our first response might be to ask, where is God in this?
BUT WHAT IF GOD IS ASKING US, WHERE ARE YOU IN THIS?
Jesus talked of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. Can you imagine if Aylan were your child? What does it mean to love a stranger and empathize with his or her pain even at a great distance? Do we grieve deeply over the displacement and desperation of thousands upon thousands of refugees’ lives? How can we tenderize our hearts to break as God’s does for those who suffer, knowing that He loves each of them as He loves each of us? What does love require of us?
Christ’s love compels us to care and to act, to respond to this crisis now with the urgency that all human life deserves. For this reason, Platt Park Church has partnered with the global movement #WeWelcomeRefugees. I encourage you to visit http://www.wewelcomerefugees.com to educate yourself further on what is going on in Syria and worldwide-and how the American Christian church, including us, can extend practical compassion.
Let the photographs we see and the stories we hear move us from where we are now to somewhere new, through the Holy Spirit’s wisdom and guidance.

Accepting Limits

I’m the kind of person who likes to have a lot of things going on in life. When I was a kid, my mom would tease me about how I would start a project, and then go play with a friend, and then come back to the project, and then start another project in the middle of that project. I also like to break away from all that is going on and embrace solitude and silence right in the middle of a full life. It is how I operate best. Sometimes I have too much going on and have to scale back, and other times there is not enough challenge, and I feel bored, so I think and pray about what the next arena of involvement might be.
But lately, I have been thinking about limits.  I’ve been trying to identify and accept the limits of my season with a new little one at home. Bringing Lyla home has been one of the most amazing and humbling experiences of my life. It is a dream come true! I feel so full of gratitude every single day for the gift of Lyla in our family. Annnnndddd….going from 1 kid to 2 kids is no joke!  Life feels much fuller now!
Vocationally, I am regularly asked to be involved in extra things. Can you speak at this event? Can you mentor me? Can you lead this group? Recently I said yes to an extra speaking opportunity when I knew in my heart I should say no. I really wanted to do it, though and it is for a great church, and so I said yes. Here’s the thing: every time I say yes to something extra, I say no to time at home with Lyla and Russell.  I am so aware that they are “little people” for such a short time, and already it feels like it’s going fast. (Well, some days are long, but the years are going fast!) I don’t want to miss this. I want to be present. I want to be here.
Shortly after saying yes to that engagement (when I knew I should’ve said no,) another request came my way. Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to respectfully decline, and I’m so glad I did!  Accepting the limits of this season is about honoring what God has called me to and recognizing that really and truly there are a multitude of other people – amazing people – who can say yes, when I need to say no.
Can you relate? I’d love to hear your stories of accepting limits.

Words

Do you remember that phrase from childhood that goes, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”
Actually that is not true. In fact, that is a total and complete lie.
Just the other day I was talking with a woman who told me about an intense fight she had with her husband and in the middle of that fight she said, “maybe we should just get a divorce” and then walked out the door.
Words are powerful. Some words kill and others bring life. Words name things. If you name a child stupid or dull, they may live with that for life.  Some words are like toxic chemicals we put in the ground, and nothing good can grow there again for some time. There are likely things that were said to you in childhood that are still polluting the way you see yourself today.
Words can get in you and they pierce you, like a sword, they go inside. Not just physically and psychologically but also in a community. I am incredibly grateful for the spirit of Christ I see in our faith community today, but we’ve probably all experienced hurtful words destroying community. Words have the power to destroy people and groups. That is why the scriptures say that, “gossip separates close friends.”
The reason gossip is so destructive is because it immediately destroys what we need most in life – relationship – and when there is gossip, a barrier is immediately put up. Once that barrier is up, we enter a process of hiding. When we are hiding we cannot be seen or known, and the relationship is halted.
Words have the power to destroy, but words also have the power to heal. “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 12:18
How can you use your words to bring healing and wholeness, encouragement and insight to the people you interact with today?