Posts tagged Priorities

Back in the Saddle

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Back in the saddleHi. Remember me? I use to write thoughts here, frequently. As a matter of fact, I use to be religious about publishing three posts a week, right here on this humble blog. Just like the struggling Unites States Postal Service, rain, sleet, snow, or hail, three posts flew up a week. For a couple of years, I was adamant. Then, the last few months of 2013, I went dark. I fell of the grid. The corner of the Internet (thanks Al Gore) where I hung my hat became devoid of my presence.

Whether you missed my tri-weekly rantings or not is irrelevant. I missed writing them, because writing for me is actually a part of my identity. Writing is threaded within the tapestry of my life dreams and goals. It also forces me to think. It causes me to ask questions more deeply. It urges me to think of creative ways to present information, and hopefully, at times, it causes others to think differently. I love to write.

So, the question is, why did something I love get benched on the sideline for a few months? Mostly, because I needed to be consistent with what I wrote. I found myself juggling too many chainsaws (like those fancy clowns do in TV) and I knew eventually one of my hands was going to get sawed off. In other words, I had to reassess some priorities. I couldn’t do well, all of the things I was doing. I couldn’t read enough, which is paramount to writing things that are informed.

There were other areas in life as well that needed my attention and writing was competing with those, the most specific being my family and kids. When my three year old asks me to watch the Lorax, and I can do that or write, what will matter to me more fifteen years down the road is that I didn’t pass up those moments with my family. Sometimes life is difficult to balance, and we have to ask ourselves what hangs in the balance. I have much of my life to write, I only have a limited time to snuggle on the couch with my three year old. I think we need to continually assess our lives and make sure we are keeping the most important things the most important. For two solid years I was able to write, and much of this about marriage and family, without any expense to my family. When my writing started to infringe on my family time, I felt to continue to do so would be the pinnacle of hypocrisy. So I gently bowed out.

Another reason that my writing output curtailed was due to fear and insecurity. I read a lot of blogs by some amazing writers. I began to compare my creativity, ability, presentation, and knowledge to that of others and I found myself discouraged. I have learned though, that we should never fall into the comparison trap, whether it is writing or any other arena of life. When we compare our talents and gifts to those of others we find ourselves in a lose-lose situation; either we feel superior and thus prideful, or inferior and discouraged. The value in what we do is not wrapped up in how we perform alongside others. The question we need to ask ourselves is are we doing what God would have us do, to the best of our ability, with the right motives, and in a balance manner?

There are some amazing authors, bloggers, and speakers out there, especially in the fields I love (counseling, theology, apologetics, family life, etc.), but God does not need me to be other people. God needs me to be me. God needs me to follow my calling. God needs me to be a “one dollar” apologist instead of comparing myself to “million dollar apologists”.

Let me say, fear stifles creativity. When we fear how we will be perceived we lock up. We should want to do things well, but when it becomes exaggerated we stop doing altogether. In other words, everything that we do/produce doesn’t have to be perfect. As a matter of fact, it is okay if things flop at times. Should we strive for perfection? Absolutely! Yet, if we never take risks, we stay stagnant. Again, balance.

All this to say, it is good to be back. I feel like I am at a place where I can focus on doing something I enjoy again. I hope you can come hang out with me sometime. I am excited about 2014. I have some new ideas. I have some new things I want to try out in my corner of the Internet.

I hope you remember to keep the things that are most important in your life the most important as we continue in this new year. I also hope you remember the unique place God has you and to do that well. Be the you God has in mind, and be you with gusto.

Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
Josh

Marriage Monday: People Are Like Grits

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HappinessMajority of the time, when a person is unhappy, it is often traceable to a difficulty within a relationship. Whether it is a marital conflict, trouble with the kids, or a rift in a friendship, our happiest and saddest moments in life revolve around our relationships.

I am reminded of a story that John Ortberg tells about having breakfast with a friend. His friend was from Michigan and not well acquainted with southern quinine. So as they sit together, his comrade notices grits on the menu. He then inquires of the waitress, “Ma’am, what’s a grit?” And the waitress replied, “Honey, they don’t come by themselves.”  It is the same with us. “We don’t come by ourselves.” We are people in the midst of community. But, at times, we forget how chiefly important the relational aspect of our lives is.

We will never be happier than our relationships. Life offers many other pleasures, but if our relationships are in a bad place, our lives are in a bad place. We may attain a wealth of material possessions or achieve our highest aspirations, but all that life offers ultimately rings hollow if done so in isolation.

All of this is intuitive. We know how important our relationships are, but so often our lives become disconnected from what our minds and hearts know to be true. We affirm the idea that our families and friends are the upmost priority, but we easily allow our relationships to become out of sort. We become good at serving our spouse, kids, family, and friends our sloppy leftovers of time.

Life is busy. Schedules get overbooked. There are millions of things that vie for our time and attention. I am increasingly learning, however, that life will supply me with plenty of things to fill any amount of empty time I have. So often, we assume that time we have with those we love most is expendable. We overbook and overfill our lives at the expense of the people we love most, and as a result our relationships start to slip.

No one ever gets engaged and then decides, “Well, let’s get married and then spend less and less time together.” “Let’s each pick up different hobbies, activities, and responsibilities, and just drift apart over the next twenty years.” No one signs themselves up for a decrease in marital intimacy and satisfaction. Yet, if we aren’t careful to guard our time and maintain our priorities, life will edge its way into our marriages and erode the intimacy and friendship that is there.

No one plans to have kids with the goal of being absent from their childhood, but there are plenty of things to distract us from spending time with our kids. No one begins friendships with the sole purpose of watching them fizzle out.  It is incredibly easy for so many things to get in the way.

Relationships are an investment of our time. Our time is limited. We cannot cram an extra minute to any of our days. If we don’t give enough of our time to invest in what we say is our priority, we can expect for there to be mounting damage done to our relationships. If we don’t allow ourselves the rest to invest emotionally in our relationships, we can expect distance in those relationships. If we allow other things, even good things, to take priority over the people we love, then there will ultimately be a high price to pay.

We will never be happier than our relationships. The question is, how much of our time, attention, and energy are we putting into those relationships?

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. –Matthew 6:21

Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
Josh

Clocks Stop

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Clocks SopThis week I didn’t post a blog on Wednesday. I’ll be honest. I was somewhat bothered by the fact that I failed to post. I always enjoy preparing for the content that goes out on Wednesdays, yet this week, no post. You know how it is. When you fall short of your own expectations you get frustrated with yourself. I generally try and post three times a week. I try to be consistent with doing that. Not because I have some massive following or because I think a lot of people will be frustrated with me for failing to come up with content, articulate my thoughts, and share them with some shred of creativity. I try to post three times a week because that is the goal I set for myself. Because I have decided to be a writer, and writers write. I have learned that you have to write, even when you don’t feel like it, but perhaps I am getting ahead of myself.

The reason I didn’t publish anything on Wednesday of this week is because Tuesday night I had a choice. I could stay nestled on the couch with my son watching a movie that has become one of our favorites or I could say, “You keep watching. Daddy is going to do some writing.” I decided to stay firmly planted on the couch. Why? Because when I am staring at the tail lights as my son pulls out of the driveway headed to college, that one Wednesday 16 years in the past where I failed to publish a blog will hold little significance.

I have been learning a lot about time as of late. When I was younger, I murdered a lot of time. It wasn’t until later, as it is with most of us, that I came to understand that A.W. Tozer was correct when he said, “When you kill time, remember it has no resurrection.” We can’t reclaim lost time. There are no redo’s. Eggs can’t be unscrambled. We will run out of time long before we run out of money.

With that being said, maybe we should really pay attention to where our time goes. I do my best to make sure that I give priority to moments that can never be reclaimed over doing things that I love, and I do things that I love before I do things that I like. Special moments with my kids can’t be reclaimed. Once you miss it, it is gone. Sure there are other special moments, but I would prefer to miss as few of those as possible. These take precedence over doing things that I love, such as writing or reading. This week, choosing to spend time on the couch with my son was the better option than writing a blog.

Then there are things that I simply like doing. We all have those things that we like. Watching television, playing or stalking people on Facebook, listening to music, whatever it is that floats your boat. But, I find to better myself with the things I love it requires doing less of the things I like. If I want to be a better write or have a better grasp on ideas, I have to spend the lion’s share of my time doing things that I love (reading and writing) instead of doing what I like (watching movies or reading pointless posts on Facebook).

Now, don’t get me wrong. We all need time to do the things we like, but not at the expense of the things we love. And we all need to dedicate ourselves to what we love. Our passions need to be fueled and our talents utilized, but not at the expense of irretrievable moments.

We are a nation that has gotten lazy with our time.  Kurt Cobain lamented in the 90’s, “Here we are now, entertain us.” This captures the American Psyche. Entertainment is king, when really, much of the time our entertainment kills time that we could be spending on things that matter or things that we love.

So, I guess what I am trying to say is we really need to find balance when it comes to how we spend our time. We need to live with the end in mind. We need to live in such a way that at the end of our lives we can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that we invested our time wisely. Just like the clock on the wall, our lives will one day come to a stop.

Teach us to number our days. –Psalm 90:12

Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
Josh

Stuff and Stuffing

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No one enjoys laying their sins on the table for public inspection, but nevertheless, I will plainly confess one of mine. I like stuff. I like buying, owning, and accumulating things. I am a gadget guy, and there is currently a smorgasbord of electronic delicacies that have my tech loving palette salivating. I like nice things. I am a lover of leather bound books. If it is new and it sparkles, I want one. I am a product of my society.

Is there anything wrong with enjoying nice things? Nope. Is it wrong to want things? I don’t think so. Can it become a problem? Easily. We are two days away from the biggest shopping day of the year. Black Friday is encroaching fast with all of its Bubonic-like blackness. The waters have been chummed for weeks now as consumers map out their plan of attack during the feeding frenzy. Only this year, as you probably very well know, many consumer outlets will open their doors on the night of Thanksgiving.  The day set aside to reflect on our blessings has been invaded by our wanton desire for more.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Am I saying there is anything wrong with shopping and finding good deals for Christmas? Absolutely not, Dave Ramsey will no doubt smile on us for saving some money and paying cash for all of the gifts we buy. I am not condemning anyone for shopping on Black Friday or Thanksgiving Day for that matter. I am merely pointing out our society’s fixation, myself included, on buying and accumulating. If people beamed down from another planet, they would no doubt think that buying things must be a life sustaining act. Can man live without stuff?

So what is wrong with wanting stuff? When does it become a problem? When it distracts us from the present, when it disengages us from our priorities, when it breeds discontentment, when it robs us of our focus, and when things become more important than people or serving Christ.

Are there ever times where our stuff takes priority over people? Do we value things over relationships at times? Do the material things we enjoy keep us from focusing on the task that God has called us too? Are there things in our lives that get elevated above what should be most important to us? In the grand scheme of things, what will matter more at the end of our lives, the stuff we got to “play with” or who we loved and what we did for God? Does our thought life constantly focus on what we want or what we don’t have? This way of thinking is distracting.

My materialistic tendencies have been something that God has had to bridle in me over the years. I still struggle from time to time with wanting and being discontent. Yet, I have learned a great many things about the lust for stuff. First, I will say that the more you eat, the more you want. Just like all the food I will consume this week for Thanksgiving. When I overeat, I tend to want to continue to do so. It is the same with things. The more I feed my mind with an unhealthy desire for things, the more I want what I don’t have, and the more I become dissatisfied with what I do have. As C.S. Lewis so aptly put it, “Appetites grow through indulgence, not neglect.” The more we allow our minds to focus on things, the more we want things.

The truth is, we are so easily transfixed by the things of this world. Is it possible that if Satan can’t bring us down he will employ the use of distraction? He doesn’t want us to have a laser focus on serving God and others. He wants us to stay enamored with the temporal. Maybe it is time we wake up to his duplicitous schemes and reorient ourselves to the things that matter most.

“But here’s the thing: That house, the cars, the old furniture and interior decorating, even the landscaping – this physical world- is nothing but window dressing. Beneath all that lies another realm…The grandeur, the status, the sheer custom cost of it all. But I see nothing more than…fancy tissue paper: brightly colored but fragile, fading, and easily torn, not to endure very well even the short span of your lifetime.”[1]

All that glitters will eventually collapse in a broken heap. What if we placed the lion’s share of our energy into what is lasting? What if we invested in our families more? What if we loved people harder? What if we committed ourselves to the work of Christ? These are the things that will remain standing long after all of our toys have broken or become old hat.

As Christians, there is more to life than things. Our hope, excitement, and enjoyment are not relegated to what can be crafted with human hands. Our lives should look different. Others should be able to see the hope that is within us reflected by our lives, not merely the cheap thrills we experience in passing on this planet.

I still plan to buy the people I love Christmas gifts. I won’t lie; there are several things I hope I get this year. But the truth is, I want for nothing. I have life. I have a wonderful family, and people that love me. I have two beautiful children. I have an unbelievable group of believers in my life that encourage me. And most importantly, I have the love of the One who created it all and life through Him. Anything in excess of this is simply a little extra stuffing.

Let’s keep our priorities straight. Let’s live for what matters. Let’s make sure others see the hope we cling to. And let’s be thankful for what we have.

Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are the eyes of man. – Proverbs 27:20

Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
Josh

[1] Tosca Lee, from the book Demon

Quotable Quotes

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Marriage Monopoly

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When I was a kid, I loved to play Monopoly (okay, I still do). I was always up for a game, just to feel the crinkle of fresh Monopoly currency between my fingers. I loved to watch my cold, metal token (usually the car)make its way around the board as I held my breath in hopes of avoiding high value properties owned by other business moguls. Even though it wasn’t in the official rules, I always tried to get people to play where you put money in the middle that was awarded to the person who landed on free parking (did anyone else play that way?).

You might say I was somewhat of a Monopoly savant. Not to brag, but I went on a winning streak that spanned several years. I was unmerciful. If you don’t have the money to pay your bills, you better start selling something chump. I don’t care if your kids are starving. Either pay up or you’re out. Mercy is for the weak (didn’t Mr. Miyagi say that?), at least when it comes to Monopoly.

My secret to winning the game was to always buy Baltic and Mediterranean Avenue. It was a super cheap monopoly. You can put houses or hotels on these properties for a mere $50 a piece. While everyone else was “oohing and ahhing” over the ritzier properties like Boardwalk or Marvin Garderns to just leave them without buildings for several trips around the board, I was busy buying the cheap properties and throwing up hotels in just a few turns. Everyone lands on these little gold mines right as they pass go. I have bankrupt hundreds of people in my day with that simple strategy.

The only thing I hated about Monopoly was seeing the game end. I know that must sound baffling, because Monopoly is the longest game in the world, but when you are cleaning everyone else out, you like to relish in that for as long as possible. It was a taste of the good life for a few hours, but then the money went back in its tray, the houses went back in their bags, the board was folded up, and everything was put back in the box. My day in the sun ended just as quickly as it had started.

Just like the ancient Italian proverb says, “Pawn and king alike, they all go back in the bag.” All the pieces of any game go back in the box when the game is finished. The winner and loser are back on equal footing because the game is over.  The box is the great equalizer. Your King may have won the match, you might have all your opponents’ checkers, or you might have bought every piece of property on the Monopoly board, but eventually it all has to go back in the box and that is that.

So what does that have to do with marriage? Actually, quite a lot. When you are playing a game, you focus on the game. You don’t concern yourself with the fact that eventually the game will be over. You play in the moment. Isn’t that what we do with life as well? We are concerned with buying properties and hotels, but there are plenty of other things that distract us and vie for our time. There is money to be made, oil to be changed, yards to be mowed, diapers to be changed, dinner to be cooked, and on it goes. Life moves along at a break neck speed, but it won’t go on forever. Just like Monopoly, one day it will all be over. One day, you will either sit across from your spouse as they take their last breath, or they will watch you take yours. Then one of you will be put in a box, a nice box, fairly ornate and about 7 foot long. Hip, hip, hurray!

I know that sounds a bit “glass half empty”, but sometimes we need to remember that life doesn’t last forever. In fact, it goes by in a blink. We read in the book of James that life is simply a vapor. When we realize this, it is hard not to straighten out our priorities. What matters most? Who matters most?

So often, we see couples squandering what little time they have. It could be working so many hours that they barely get to see their family. It could be arguing over things that make no difference in the grand scheme of things. It might be living separate lives. Sometimes it is harboring bitterness and unforgiveness for things that happened long ago.  There are many ways to waste what little playing time is actually available.

Are we playing with the end in mind, or are we caught up in the moment focusing on things that don’t matter. Are we being present in our marriages, or are too focused on other less important areas of our lives? When everything goes back in the box what will matter? Is the argument so important that you have to win it? Is the money so valuable that you have to put it before your spouse? Is that bitterness worth holding on to? Are your hobbies more important than your family?

One day it will all be over. Let’s use our time wisely. Let’s finish the game with no regrets.

Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise— making the most of the time, because the days are evil. – Ephesians 5:15-16

Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
Josh

Things I Have Never Heard Anyone Say

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Recently, I was reflecting on life and its fragility. It is unnerving how quickly circumstances in one’s life can change. I see it all the time. One day things are going immeasurably well, and the next, a storm shipwrecks a life upon the rocks. I think it is extremely important that we examine our lives to refocus and find center periodically.

What will be important to us later in life? I think this is a good question to ask because it demands that we set priorities and hopefully live by them. I have heard many people wish they could correct course earlier in life. I have heard some spill out buckets of regrets they would love to have changed. Yet, there are some things I have never heard anyone say as they looked back across their life.

A list of things I have never heard anyone say:

  • I wish I wouldn’t have wasted so much time spending hours with friends.
  • So happy I consistently chose work over my kids.
  • Glad we waited until our problems were out of control before we got help with our marriage.
  • Why in the world did I spend every Sunday at church?
  • Glad I held onto that grudge and never forgave so and so.
  • Wish I would have spent more time watching television.
  • Happy that I spent more energy doing things I enjoy than spending it with people I love.
  • Sure do regret those Saturdays I stayed home with my family.
  • So thankful I paid more attention to the temporal than the eternal.
  • Glad I made a big deal out of the small stuff my kids did wrong.
  • It is a good thing I never got involved in my church.
  • So glad I kept people at an arm’s length.
  • I wish I had never taken my wife on our dream vacation.
  • So happy I lived my life for just me.

“What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”
-James 4:14

Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
Josh

What is something you have never heard someone say?

Finding God in the Hunger Games

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Last night, I finished reading The Hunger Games trilogy. I greatly enjoyed the books. They are highly entertaining stories that grip you from the beginning. As any good story does, they make you reflect about certain aspects of your own life. What I greatly enjoyed about the books is they directed my attention onto something we tend to avoiding thinking about: death.

Without revealing much about the stories, I will say they deeply explore death, grief, and its’ effects on individuals. We tend to avoid death much of the time. We skirt around the topic. We use flowery words to cover death’s harshness like “pass away”, “rest”, or “depart”. We deny it at times and live as though we might escape it, yet as scripture states “it is appointed unto men once to die.”

So, as I laid in bed last night closing the final page to the last book of the Hunger Games, I was forced to reckon with the fact that one day the final chapter of my own life will be closed. My story will be written in permanent ink and laid open for all to see. I was forced to think about who I am, who I love, and what I am doing for God.

Death is not a topic that I want to entertain on a daily basis, but it is something that we need to be cognizant of often. Why? Because, death keeps us focused on life. It centers us. It reminds us that we have a limited amount of time. It provides perspective on what is important. It demands that we not waste the amount of time we have been given, though some do.

The Bible reminds us in Pslam 90:12, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” In other words, remind us to live with the end in mind. Help us stay focused on the fact that today is a gift we should not squander. Prompt us to center our lives on what matters.

Let’s live with the end in mind. Let’s remember to tell those we hold dear that we love them daily. Let’s keep God in the center and serve with dizzying passion. Let’s give our families our precious time. Life goes by in a blink. Enjoy it. Value it. Live it full.

The good news is, for those of us in Christ, death is not the end.

“While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.”
-Leonardo Da Vinci

Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed
Josh

Have you read the Hunger Games? I would love to hear your thoughts about how the books affected you!

Becoming…

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Every day that marches forward, we are becoming something. What is it? What do you want to become? Who do you want to become? What do you want life to look like in the future? What would you like to accomplish? What do you need to change?

For some, it is an improved marriage, a better golf score, a closer relationship with Christ, a healthier lifestyle, or to handle finances better. For others it might be being a better parent, learning to play guitar, changing a bad habit, making more friends, or getting involved at church.

We are all becoming something. Every single day, we either get closer to who we want to be or further away. Time is a cruel mistress. It will chew up the “you” that you want to become and spit “you” out, before you ever actualize your dreams. Sometimes we think that we can remain stagnant, when in reality we are always heading in some direction. Our lives traipse onward, closer to realizing our dreams or saunter in the opposite direction.

There is often a vast disparity between what we tell ourselves we desire, and what we do to actually become what we want. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted writing to be an active part of my life. I hoped maybe one day to even publish something. I would tell myself, “one day, I am going to write.” It sounded great. Then last year it clicked. I want to write. I want to be better at writing. I want to share my thoughts with others. I want to share perspective. I would love to be published in some degree. What was I doing to move closer to this? Absolutely nothing, so I took a step. I started blogging. Then I took another step, I became consistent as to when I posted. I have plans to further this dream along in the future. Before, I was moving further away from my goal by allowing time to strip me of any meaningful progress, by allowing other good things to distract me, by not taking any steps to get closer to what I wanted.

It is really humorous, because we do this in so many different capacities. Permit me a few examples:
-I want to be closer to my spouse, so I will spend time with friends, on hobbies, and work.
-I want a closer relationship with Christ, so I will watch a movie instead of spending any   time in prayer or reading my Bible.
-I want to be healthier, so I will take a cheese Coney and chili cheese tots please. Can you make that a large?
-I want to handle my finances better, so yea just put that on my credit card.
-I want to make more friends, so I will just stay home this weekend. Thanks for inviting me.

I have noticed this gap so often in my life. So, why do we say one thing and do another? Sometimes, it is just pure procrastination, plain and simple. Other times, it’s a lack of insight. Often, it is us deceiving ourselves. We set goals for the future to relieve the anxiety of not putting any effort or energy into them. “I will start a diet Monday.” “First of the year I am going to start writing.” “I will spend time with the kids tomorrow.” These future oriented statements let us breathe easy in the moment and relieve the guilt or anxiety we feel for not making progress. So we go through life in a future oriented mindset and escape the daily negative impositions. The only problem is, eventually time runs out.

Who do you want to become? What do you want to be? What would you like your life to look like? You are either moving closer to what you desire or it is becoming smaller in the distance. Be honest with yourself. Start now. Be present. Enlist some discipline. Set goals. Break those goals into smaller goals. Don’t make your goals global. List specific goals that you can measure. Evaluate your progress often. Seek accountability.

We are all becoming something.

Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
Josh

Question: What or who do you want to become?

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