A Dozen Things I Learned Last Year

two elementary school students looking at globe

I strive to be a continual learner. I learned a few things last year.

Here are 12 of them:

Small things matter most in making change.

Shower gel, shampoo and conditioner in one. Who knew? Changed my gym shower life. (Apparently my wife and boys did but they never let me in on the fun!)

A conference room table can also be used as an ironing board.

Certain neckties interfere with our television broadcasts. (This year we are looking to upgrade our system.) For now, it is a good excuse not to wear a tie, right?

Some people aren’t upset with you. They are upset with their life…or others…and you just happen to be in the way of expressing their frustration and discontent.

Transitioning to a new city happens faster when you’re intentional. And one way to do that is to learn all the hamburger joints. Another is to intentionally network with people…especially people who will connect you to other people.

Resistance to change is relative. Everyone struggles with it at some level. It’s just a matter of how we react to it and how it impacts us that determines our response.

Having done both, I have to say, church planting, in many ways, is easier than church revitalization…and more difficult in other ways. But both are needed.

Losing a beloved pet as an adult may be harder even than as a child.

Lexington, KY is one of the friendliest cities we’ve ever experienced. It would make a great, inexpensive, family weekend vacation spot.

Trust doesn’t come with position or title. It comes with time and experience. Yet gaining trust may be one of the most important aspects of being an effective leader.

People transfer emotional baggage and injury to other people and other situations, who had nothing to do with creating the emotional pain. It is unfair to the innocent recipients, but very true.

What did you learn last year?

12 Challenges for the New Year

Challenge Defined

Here are 12 challenges for the new year:

Quit trying to be someone else – God made you to be you and He didn’t make a mistake.

Quit trying to carry all your burdens – God designed you (and me) to be insufficient without Him and to have a relational need for others.

Start embracing today – You can keep hoping your life away, but when you learn the secret of contentment today can become a great day, in spite of the challenges it holds.

Let the past go – As much as we can learn from history, we shouldn’t be bound by it.

Accept God’s grace – It’s always more than we deserve. You can’t earn it. It’s amazing grace. But, denying or refusing it ignores the beauty of it.

Live free of grudges and bitterness – The lack of forgiveness is a hidden destroyer of joy, peace and happiness.

Remember other people exist – Don’t be selfish or always command your way.

Admit mistakes readily – Sincere humility is an attractive quality.

Give generously – Giving opens the heart to contentment. And, there are many needs around us.

Protect your heart – “Above all else” the Bible says. Where your heart is there your treasure will be also.

Take a new risk – The adrenaline will fuel you for future success.

Think and act eternally whenever possible – It will build the most lasting rewards.

Would you add a challenge for a new year?

Which of the above do you most need to embrace?

Three Steps to Setting Achievable Goals

calendar, blue target

In my previous post, I talked about resolutions in a light-hearted manner. Many say they don’t make them, because they don’t work. The news media doesn’t help. Every year I see the same reports telling us how many people don’t keep the resolutions they make. No encouragement there. So, I shared some broad resolutions that are more life directions than actual resolutions. (Read that post HERE.)

I know this, however, seldom do we hit a target we haven’t yet identified or located. So, if you want to improve in certain areas of your life, you need some new direction to get you there. You’ll have to make some changes in what you are currently doing.

Call them goals if you want. That seems to be a more popular word these days, but decide a few areas in which you want to see improvement, then put some goals in place to help you get there. Making positive lifestyle changes isn’t easy, but it really does start with that simple of a process.

To help you get started, here are…

Three guidelines I use for choosing achievable goals:

Quantifiable – Make sure you can make the goal measurable. Don’t say you want to lose weight. Decide how many pounds you want to lose. Don’t say you want to read more. Say you want to read one book a month…something like that. You want to read your Bible more? Then set a goal to read one chapter per day. Not…save more money…but save $50 per pay period…etc.

Reasonable – Set a goal you can actually attain. Otherwise you’ll give up easily. If saving $50 per pay period is completely unreasonable, then decide the reasonable number. It probably should be some stretch to make it worth celebrating later (which is a key component in goal setting), but make sure you can do it. Losing 10 pounds per week is going to be tough…perhaps even unhealthy…but two pounds per week…pretty much anyone can do that with a little discipline.

Motivated – Pick goals you are passionate enough about to put the energy and discipline in it to achieve success. Do you REALLY want to lose weight? Do you TRULY want to do better with your finances? Is reading your Bible ABSOLUTELY a goal worth pursuing? Your degree of motivation will likely determine how committed to achieving the goal you remain.

If you think through setting quantifiable, reasonable and motivated goals, and then you consistently practice them for a month, or two, or better yet three…you’ll be we’ll on your way to successfully completing them. And, the satisfaction from that will be worth celebrating.

If you are really serious about this process and want more, read THIS POST on writing a Life Plan.

Do you set goals (or resolutions) for the new year?

20,000 Days and Counting: An Interview and Giveaway with Robert D. Smith

20,000 days

This is an interview with Robert D. Smith. Robert is the author of 20,000 Days and Counting and a consultant to numerous best-selling authors, speakers, and entertainers. For over 30 years, he has managed the career of New York Times best-selling author and in-demand speaker Andy Andrews. He recently took the time to answer some questions about his debut book and the concept of getting the most you possibly can out of any 24-hour period. The book was released today, and you can learn more about it HERE.

Early on in 20,000 Days and Counting, you introduce the concept of measuring our lives by days instead of years. Can you explain how and why you started doing this?

I started several years ago when I put my birth date into a countdown clock widget on my computer just to see what would happen. It worked the way I thought it might—it showed how many days had passed since the day I was born. And I was astounded. The number was just under 20,000.

Seeing the sheer magnitude of the amount of days you have spent on this planet is truly powerful. It can be a game-changing experience for your perspective on the ways you spend your time.

As people, we almost always overestimate what we can do in the next year, but dramatically underestimate what we can in the next 24 hours. When you become aware of each day, it’s amazing what you can achieve. If this has gotten curious as to how many days you have been alive, I set up a simple calculator here that will show you.

So if we’re in the habit of underestimating what we can do in the next 24 hours, how do we start taking better advantage of the time available to us each and every day?

Something most of us struggle with is waiting for motivation to hit us. We’re waiting to start the next big project until an epiphany suddenly appears.

The reality, though, is that motivation is a myth. Everyone always says they need a little motivation to be more productive when it’s actually the opposite that’s true—increase your productivity, then the motivation will follow.

So how can we start working without any motivation?

Ah, see starting is the hard part. My secret for getting started is focusing on the results. I always think back to a high school teacher of mine who would always say that simply starting a research paper meant you were half finished. You can be halfway to the finish line…just by starting! I love that concept!

I always feel more excited, more pumped up, more motivated after the work has begun. Once you get past that initial nervousness and hesitation of actually starting, you can really get going.

There was a major figure in psychology, William James, who had this same sort of idea as well. He believed that we don’t sing because we’re happy; we’re happy because we sing.

What made you want to base your book, 20,000 Days and Counting, around this concept of counting your days and making the most of each one?

The whole thing started like I mentioned earlier, when I found the countdown widget that told me how many days I had been alive. I wrote an e-mail about the concept of counting my days to over 40 of my closest friends. To my astonishment, every single one of them wrote a lengthy reply full of amazing insights.

About two years later, I began writing out some of these concepts in more detail and was encouraged by some friends to publish a book. Despite my best efforts to say no (I’ve been a behind-the-scenes guy my whole life), I eventually caved.

You talk a lot about living each day as if it’s your last in the book. How do we overcome what has kind of become a cliché and actually apply that to our lives?

Living each day as if it’s your last is a concept that is thought of in the wrong way 99% of the time. Most of us here that phrase and start thinking about all the “bucket list” things we would try to cram into one day. But it’s not about the specific actions you would take; it’s about having a specific mindset that creates a sense of urgency and importance in you every hour, every day.

We have a tremendous ability as human beings to only get serious about life once we know it’s about to end. What “living each day as if it’s your last” is really about is creating that sort of intense urgency well before you near the end of your life.

To create that, you need three things—a sense of your purpose, a sense of awareness that your life will be short, and a sense of gratefulness for the life you have been given. And I aimed to give people those three things with 20,000 Days and Counting.

Thanks for sharing Robert!

To help launch the new book, I’m giving away 4 autographed copies of 20,000 Days and Counting.

Want a copy? All you have to do is:

1. Share this post on Twitter or Facebook
2. Comment on this post. Any comment will suffice, but you might share one thing you have an “urgent sense” about in your life right now. It can be anything. A change. A dream. A relationship. Anything.
3. Make sure I have a valid email address.

I’ll give it a few days, see how the comments are going, and choose four (4) random winners.

If It Worked…I Resolve…

resolve

I don’t make resolutions. They say they don’t work anyway. No one keeps them. So, I guess I won’t. I mean, why try something others say you can’t do? In fact, I read a news report that said a third of all resolutions are broken by the end of January. So, with those odds, better comply with the news. It’s what everyone does. Right?

But, if I did…if I did make resolutions…I’d make some worth keeping. I might even call them goals…or benchmarks…just to feel better about them.

But if I chose to defy the odds…or the popular culture of debunking resolutions…it might go something like this…

I resolve…

To pray more than worry, so I can trust more than doubt.

To choose the healthier food choices when available, and keep unhealthy snacking to a minimum.

To allow my time spent reading to compete against…maybe even win…with my time spent watching television…since I often say “there’s nothing worth watching” anyway.

To value rest and exercise as a vital part of my day, since I know how both impact my productivity and overall attitude.

To keep a close reign on my tongue, saying only those things which bring value to people and make life better for them.

To speak the truth in love, but never be ashamed of the Gospel.

To forgive easily, knowing that a grudge causes me as much harm…or more…as the person I am forgiving.

To use any influence God should give me for His glory and not for my own.

To seek wisdom from those who seek progress, more than from those who only seek to complain.

To speak words of affirmation and encouragement to those God intersects with my life, knowing the value such words have had in my life…often at just the right time.

To enjoy the abundant life, knowing that He who began a good work will be faithful to complete it.

To guard my heart above all things…for it is the wellspring of my life.

What would you resolve…if you actually resolved…and if these things actually worked?

In my next post, I’ll share three steps to set goals you can actually achieve.

Why David was a “Man After God’s Own Heart” (Repost)

shepherd

An often-confusing term concerning the Biblical character of David is the term “man after God’s own heart”.

Have you ever wondered what that really means? What does that kind of heart even look like? There is one verse from the writings of David that I believe perhaps best captures the meaning behind this phrase.

I said to the Lord, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.”

(Psalms 16:2)

That’s it. Pretty simple, huh?

But, it’s really not that simple.

David recognized that the only good in him was the God in him. Great godly leaders and people are willing to step aside from their own need for ego building and self-confidence and humble themselves before an almighty God.

I have heard before that President Theodore Roosevelt often went outdoors at night, looked up into the vastness of the universe, simply to remind himself of his humanity compared to the vastness of the universe. I think that is an important principle for all of us that claim a leadership title.

Next time someone asks you why David was called “a man after God’s own heart”, point him or her to Psalm 16:2. It’s an attitude of heart…of recognition…of worship.

(Every year this is one of my most read posts. You might also read “David Remained a Man After God’s Own Heart (Except that time…)” , “10 Reasons David Is A Man After God’s Own Heart” and “5 Thoughts on Leadership from the Life of David“)

Communicating with Men Tips (Repost)

(Reposting the most read posts of the year.)

I hear from both sides continually. Between the two sexes, communication appears to be the biggest struggle. It’s a constant work in progress in my own marriage. The differences in men and women make communication difficult. (I also posted 5 Tips When Communicating with Men.)

My counseling background and years of experience working with couples has given me insight into some of the barriers men and women face when communicating. I realize not all men are alike, but there are some generalities that can perhaps help a woman better understand a man and improve communication.

Here are 5 tips to communicating with a man:

We meant what we said…not what you heard – Thats true 99% of the time. (Statistically verifiable :) ) Men are usually more literal, and frankly simple-minded, so we aren’t usually talking in a code language. Not that women would be… :) Try to hear only what was said without attaching extra thoughts triggered by emotions. Ask if his statement had a deeper meaning before making assumptions. Most likely he meant only…nothing more…than what was said. (I can’t tell you how many classic examples of marriage problems I’ve seen develop with just this one tip.)

We don’t often like to give details – If we said where we were going, who we had a discussion with or what we had for lunch, that’s usually enough for us. We may not like going into detail beyond those simple facts. I understand you may need and even deserve more information, especially when a man hasn’t proven trustworthy, but know its often out of our realm of comfort to provide it. When it’s not a matter of trust, the less you pump for details the more likely we’ll be to share facts, and even occasionally, details.

Our range of emotions are limited – Most men don’t feel as deeply or multi-faceted as a woman feels about an issue. It’s not that we don’t care. It’s just that we are wired differently. If you ask us how we feel, “happy” or “sad” may be as descriptive as we can get. Because of this, men tend to communicate more factually and less emotionally.

When you may tend to cry we may tend to get angry – I get criticized for this point sometimes, but I wrote a post about this issue HERE. There is never an excuse to misuse anger and abuse of any kind should not be tolerated, but anger in itself is not a sin. The Bible says “in your anger do not sin”, but it seems to assume we will have moments of anger. The same things that cause most girl’s emotions to produce tears, often cause a man to develop testosterone-producing anger. A godly man learns to handle that anger responsibly, but it doesn’t eliminate the response. When an issue riles a man emotionally, it helps if you understand his emotions may be normal and you may even be able to help him channel his response to that emotion. Cheryl does that for me continually.

Sometimes we have a hard time communicating what’s on our heart…often we never do – This is sad and we may even know it. The more you make us feel we’ll be respected regardless of the situation or the emotions we display, the more likely you’ll see our true emotions. You can actually help us with this one!

Please understand. I’m not making excuses for men. The basic premise of all of these is to remember that men and women are different. You can read my thoughts about mutual submission in a marriage HERE and HERE. I’m simply trying to help you communicate with a man.

Men, what did I miss?

Wives, any tips on how we could better understand you? I’ve learned a few and could share them, but thought it may come better from you :) .

Do you care to hear my women’s version…even realizing I’m not one?

Premarital Counseling: Things to Cover

(At the end of the year, I’m sharing the most read posts.)

As with most pastors, I’ve performed a fair number of weddings. Part of being in ministry is helping couples enter the most important of relationships…marriage. It’s a daunting task and responsibility. Prior to a wedding, however, a minister has access to speak into a couple’s life in a way unique to any other time in their life.

I feel it’s important to help couples, as much as I can, be prepared for marriage. With time always at a premium, I frequently suggest couples walk through the book “Preparing for Marriage“. I’ve found it a helpful tool in thinking through many of the issues a marriage will encounter. I also try to make sure, as a minimum, the couple understands a few key principles prior to their wedding day.

Here are 7 issues I try to teach in pre-marital counseling:

You are different – Opposites do tend to attract. Each spouse is not only differently physically, but there are differences in backgrounds, outlook on life and the way to approach a situation. This is not intended as a curse against marriage. God designed those differences for a reason. The more a couple learns to celebrate those differences, the stronger a marriage will become. (I address this issue in previous posts HERE and HERE.)

Leave and cleave – Don’t let either set of in-laws dictate how you lead your new family. Decide in advance that no one, related or otherwise, is going to be a wedge between you two. Every couple has lots of other relationships, including perhaps children someday, but none of them should be allowed to interfere with the oneness God intends to create with the marriage. (I address these interferences more in THIS POST.)

Expect surprises – Life won’t always be as blissful as it is today. There will be hard days, whether self-induced or life-induced. Life brings changes and those times have the ability to catch even the best marriages off guard if not prepared for them. We can never be fully prepared for what might come, but we can prepare ourselves that when something comes, whatever it is and no matter how hard it is, that we will handle it . Couples should use these times to improve the strength of their marriage rather than allow them to pull the marriage apart. (I talk about this issue in a post on keeping the marriage fun. Find it HERE.)

Make a commitment to the marriage no matter what – Couples usually assume they are doing this by standing at the altar together, but statistics would say otherwise. Many times these days a person is saying “I’m committed until it becomes difficult or until the love we have today fades.” That’s not the Biblical picture of marriage God designed. Marriage is more than simply a feeling of love, it is a commitment to love…for better or worse…from this day forward. Verbalizing and agreeing to that on the front end, and continuing to remind yourself of that through the difficult days, will help the marriage last. Couples who should ask for help soon, not letting problems in the marriage linger too long without asking for help. Remove the fear of asking for professional counseling if necessary. It would be better to get help early than to see the marriage disintegrate beyond repair. (I preached a message on the commitment of marriage HERE.)

Model after the right couples – I encourage couples to find a couple whose marriage they admire and follow them closely. Most likely they have some stories to share. Things may not have been as wonderful throughout their marriage as they are today. No doubt they have learned some practices to having a strong marriage. I challenge couples to learn all they can from the couple they want to be like. (I did a post about this issue HERE.)

Evaluate often – Couples should ask  themselves often, are we growing together as a couple or further apart? Is the marriage growing stronger or are there holes that need addressing? Don’t assume your spouse feels as you do. (I’ve learned this is especially true for men who often don’t know there is a problem until it’s a big problem.) Establish the understanding early in the relationship that you have the right to periodically check on the state of your marriage. (Read a post about questions to assess the health of a marriage HERE.)

Put Christ first – This is the one most couples expect the pastor to say, but it’s not just the preacher answer, it’s the best secret to a lasting marriage. “A chord of three strands is not easily broken.” A couple’s individual and collective relationship with Christ will ensure they can endure the hardest days of a marriage. When the relationship with Christ suffers, the marriage will often suffer. Satan looks for any excuse to destroy the marriage. Pour your heart and life into Christ and let Him strengthen and sustain your marriage. (I preached on Christ’s standard for marriage HERE.)

That’s my list. I’m not sure they apply simply to premarital couples. These are good principles for couples regardless of how long they have been married.

Just so you know, I have, at times, simply shared with them this list. Sometimes I weave them into the discussion. Regardless of how you choose to do it, make sure you are strategic in helping couples begin their married life together.

Pastors, how do you do premarital counseling? What would you add to my list?