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?

In the Weeds or Up in the Treetop

“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” -Proverbs 29:18
I studied leadership at Denver Seminary, and one thing most leadership gurus agree on is the importance of vision. This word “vision” can be intimidating because sometimes it feels like vision is about always being energetic and/or crystal clear on what you want and where you’re going. But I think vision is really about caring. It is about caring deeply. If you have a vision for your family, you care deeply for them and want your kids to want to come home when they’re 30. If you have a vision for your marriage, then you care deeply and want to grow old together even as you both change over the years. If you have a vision for your company, then you care deeply and want to retain, develop and engage your customers and staff.  Vision is really about caring deeply.
The scriptures say that where there is no vision the people perish. Perish is a strong word. Perish means die, expire, rot, decay, wither, evaporate, vanish, disappear. Where there is no vision, the people perish. I’ve been fascinated by survival stories. Why do some people survive and others perish in the same set of extreme circumstances? Researchers have found that those who die simply lose hope, they give up caring, and they perish.
Every day you and I wake up and have the choice to be up in the treetop or down in the weeds. The reality is that much of life is lived in the weeds – filling up the car with gas, driving to work, figuring out what to eat, changing dirty diapers, paying bills, running the dishwasher again. But if we are only ever in the weeds and never up in the treetop, we go through a process of perishing. We slowly begin to wither on the inside. We might begin to lose sight of how God uniquely formed us for abundant life, joy, and participation in the Kingdom of God on earth.
I wonder what you can do today to get up in the treetop of your life? Here’s one idea, but if this doesn’t work for you, find something today that does: In your car before you enter the office or your home, intentionally set aside 5 minutes to take some deep breaths, close your eyes, be silent, and listen to the voice of God who has nothing but love and care for you. I believe true vision (deep caring) is born of God and is a gift He gives us as we create space in our lives to listen to Him.
What can you do today to step out of the weeds and foster a little “up in the treetop” time in your life?

The Sacred Practice of Staying Put

Sometimes the most sacred thing you can do is stay put.
I grew up in a church that really emphasized the importance of going. They spoke often about the gospel as “Go ye into all the world and make disciples…” Every year an elaborate missions festival highlighted all of the people who had forsaken everything to follow Jesus by going to another part of the world to minister. I am grateful for the incredible people I know who have listened to this call to go. They are doing important kingdom work, Jesus’ own great commission work.  However, sometimes the emphasis on this particular spiritual path of “leaving everything” to follow Him has diminished the worth of staying.
Tim and I moved 8 times in the first 12 years of our marriage, but we have now lived in the same house for 3 years – a new record for us! I am starting to see the value of staying in one spot. One beautiful byproduct of staying is the opportunity to foster community. Kurt Vonnegut once said, “What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” Like tending a garden, fostering stable communities takes time, energy, love, and creativity. The community to which God calls me may be in another part of the world, or it may be right within my family, neighborhood, or office. For this season of our lives, God has called Tim and me to grow roots right here, in this home, with our two children and with Platt Park Church. We are practicing taking relational risks, extending and receiving hospitality, healthily engaging conflict, and enjoying humor and intimacy.
Another rich blessing of staying has been, ironically, the opportunity to explore how Christ’s invitation to “go” is relevant for every follower of Christ. Whether we travel far or stay close to what is familiar, often the hardest things to leave behind are the instincts that live and wage war inside of us. Relocation will never resolve our resentment, anger, jealousy, lust, fear of failure, competition, and the need to prove our worthiness.  We hold these internal attachments in the secret places of our hearts. They reside in our wishes, hopes, dreams and fears more than in our physical address. Often these things go unnoticed and untended, but we need to leave them in order to fully follow Christ.
When Jesus tells us to “go,” he may have more than one possibility in mind! This Christmas, as we celebrate Jesus’ own leavetaking from his heavenly home to stay with us a while, let’s listen deeply for his particular invitation to us.

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?

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.

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.

The Lowest RSVP Rate in the Nation

Colorado has the lowest RSVP rate in the nation. We are a state of people who like to keep our options open. We don’t want to be too nailed down. We like our freedom.

Open options, extreme flexibility, and self-determination are not bad values. They allow us to express our God-given preferences and explore the wide world which has been entrusted to us, at least partially for our enjoyment. They allow space for the vitality and spontaneity often conducive to creativity.

But living according to a default setting of “low RSVP rate” has some limitations, too. We cannot build a foundation of densely networked communities if we are primarily concerned with keeping our options open, remaining flexible, and determining our own destinies. Densely networked communities require personal investment. Investment consists of some level of risk in the areas of depth and intimacy, as well as some willingness to defer to others’ preferences and even to mutually agreed upon boundaries.

Think of such densely networked communities as Olympic teams, whether relay or basketball or soccer. For the sake of a shared victory, the players invest themselves in a long preparatory process, in which they spend concentrated time together, learning each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They accept correction and counsel from each other and from their coach. They practice together in order to figure out the best ways to honor the rules of the game while also highlighting each member’s unique contribution. Players commit to each other, to their coach, to the game, and to their country because they have a common goal.

Whether in an Olympic team setting or a church family, depth and intimacy require a commitment to “showing up” (and engaging actively) that directly opposes the culture values of keeping our options forever open. How do you see yourself buying into Colorado’s “low RSVP rate”? How has this benefited and/or limited you and those around you? Please share your thoughts!

About Singing to Russell

Every night I sing to Russell before tucking him in bed.  Usually I ask him what song he wants to hear and most nights he requests: 1) “Santa baby,” 2) a made-up song or story about Papa Bear, or 3) a song about his friends Benji and Claire. One night recently, though, he said, “Mommy and Daddy drink wine, I drink juice.”  True confession… that is what my 3 year old requested I sing about! You’ll have to imagine how that song turned out because you’ll never hear it from me. No matter what I sing with Russell, I almost always end the night with a hymn, and lately it has been “Come Thou Fount.”

This past summer we did a message series called “Wisdom of the Hymnal.”  In it we looked at the stories and meanings behind some of the ancient hymns, including “Come Thou Fount.” One of the great lines says, “Tune my heart to sing thy grace.”

I love that line because it sounds like a prayer of invitation rather than of obligation. Sometimes I engage in spiritual practices from a sense of obligation or duty – and practices may legitimately become routine disciplines of daily life. But, I do not like when I find myself living primarily out of pressured duty. We always have freedom to offer our spiritual practices with a whispered prayer that says, “Lord, in this practice, tune my heart to sing thy grace.” Singing, living, embodying God’s grace is, after all, one of the healthy purposes of investing myself in spiritual practices. While my participation may delight God, it certainly nourishes my own spirit and hopefully bears witness of God’s aliveness and relevance.

Some spiritual practices that have become meaningful to me lately are:

-the spiritual practice of slowing in which I put my feet flat on the floor and take several deep breaths in and out…tune my heart to your perspective and pace Lord.

-the spiritual practice of reading in which I aim for depth over breadth…tune my heart to your deep mind and heart, God.

-the spiritual practice of friendship in which I make time for eyeball-to-eyeball, face to face unhurried time with someone else…tune my heart to being present over perfect Lord, available and wholly right here, right now.

Through each of these, I am learning to whisper a simple request, “Lord, tune my heart.”

Pretty Please: about asking

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. -Matthew 7:7-8

I’m not always great about asking for what I need. Maybe its because asking means facing the possibility of rejection. Maybe its because I just want to do it myself. Maybe its because I’ve spent so much of my life trying to fit in that I don’t’ even know what I really want to ask for.

But this is changing for me. I’m getting serious about my willingness to stand apart and not fit in if God is leading me somewhere. I’m sick of all the self-deprecating jargon I hear in myself and other people, like a badge of honor. Can we get beyond all that? Because God has placed grander visions in us. Every.Single.One.Of.Us.  And I don’t want to die someday having stood behind small-safe-selfish-afraid-comfortable living. I want you and I to get downright serious about not standing in the way of God bringing forth the next great thing through our lives in this world. There is too much need, too much brokenness, too much lonely living to play small and be afraid. Our world needs more willing, sacrificing, legacy leaving people who follow the Wild Goose (a Celtic expression for the Holy Spirit) into the great unknown.

Jesus spoke of the need to ask. Rumi also spoke of the need to ask when he said, “you must ask for what you really want.”

Asking awakens a powerful force in our lives because it is an act of faith and trust.  By asking we show our willingness to risk, to believe in a different tomorrow, and we show ourselves and others that hope is truly stronger than fear and that perhaps things could really change.

It is not that we necessarily and always get what we ask for. Sometimes we do not know what we most need. But the practice of asking exercises an important muscle in our lives. So, what do you need to ask for today?