Friday, August 29, 2014

Small Business and Startups: 7 Habits of Me

This article is helpful article at crowdSPRING for anyone looking to be more effective.

Steven Covey started it all with his seminal book, “7 Habits of Effective People.” His work has spawned hundreds of blog posts – a quick search turns up the “21 Habits of Successful Entrepreneurs,” and the “7 Habits of Effective Managers,”  even the “10 Habits of Happy Mothers.”
All of this exploration of habits and success, habits and effectiveness, habits and happiness led me to ask myself: “Self, I ask, what are your habits? Are they effective? Do they lead to my own success and happiness?” “Hmmm,” I answer, “Not sure.” It did start me thinking about my own life and work habits – what do I do on a daily basis that could be categorized ad habit? Do these work for me? Are my own habits a help or a hindrance? A quick analysis of the things I do habitually could help me to understand which work for me and which I might want to train myself out of. So this morning I sat and made a list (habit #4, below!):
  • Wake up early and get to work. Although I often awake without it, my alarm goes off at 530am on weekdays and I am typically at the computer answering emails (and drinking coffee) between 545 and 6. It takes me anywhere from 5 to 40 minutes to answer the important ones, trash the spammy ones, and read/sort the others to deal with later in the day. I check in on overnight customer service tickets to see if there are any issues that need to be dealt with right away, and also check on any tests we might be running or surveys we might have sent out recently or things of that sort.
Is this an “effective” habit? YES. I know enough about myself to know that I am most efficient in the morning, but also know that my mind is not fully awake for an hour or two after I get up. If I take care of the simple tasks (like answering emails) and leave the more complex ones for later in the morning I am at my most effective.
  • Read newspapers and online sources. Once the emails have been answered, and I have reassured myself that the site didn’t crash overnight, I sit with my (second) cup of coffee and read the paper, as well as several online blogs and other news/information sources. I typically start at the front page and work my way through to business, technology, op-ed, and politics (sometimes sports, especially if the NBA is in season!)
Is this an “effective” habit? YES. Information is critical to me as a business owner/manager. From news sources I learn about events that may effect the markets, about businesses that interest me or may have some strategic importance to mine, and absorb ideas and trends that can inform decisions I make every day. Keeping a finger on the pulse of the world makes me a better manager.
  • Analyze yesterday’s business data. One of the first things I do when I get to the office is to take a deeper dive into the BI data that I receive overnight. I am looking closely at sales figures, traffic, site registrations, and user activity for the prior 24 hours. I typically spend 30-60 minutes with spreadsheets, taking time to compare the day with prior periods and determining any patterns or trends that may impact decision-making.
Is this an “effective” habit? UNCERTAIN. While it is important for managers to have an intimate relationship with daily business numbers and data, I could probably limit the time I spend on this every day and do it weekly without compromising strategy or decision making.
  • Make lists. Most days I open my moleskin and start my work by writing a list of the 6 or 7 things I hope to accomplish before bed that night. This can include people I need to call, websites I need to visit, notes to share with department managers or the bookkeeper, emails I need to write, etc. Not everything I need to do makes the daily list, and there are many days when I don’t get through the entire thing, but the list helps me in two important ways – first it is a constant reminder, in my face, of what I need to get done; second it serves as a daily journal, allowing me to look back to remind myself of the exact date I had a phone call with so-and-so, or requested such-and-such from one of my colleagues.
Is this an “effective” habit? YES. Listing provides me with structure and helps me to remember and keep track of important tasks and events. By creating short lists, I prompt myself to finish work on time and allows me to compartmentalize tasks so that one doesn’t intrude on the others.
  • Return emails promptly. In the course of a given day, I probably check my email 20-30 times. I tend to deal with them in real time and answer most of them promptly. Sometimes an email check-in will take 2-3 minutes, sometimes as much as 15 or 20.
Is this an “effective” habit? PROBABLY NO. But a hard habit to break, nonetheless. Everything I have read suggest that the best way to deal with emails (and the way to limit their obtrusiveness) is to check email several times a day, on a pre-determined  schedule. Managed in the way I typically handle it, email can be a distraction, and can limit productivity by breaking concentration, splitting focus, and forcing re-prioritization. Must. Stop. Checking. Email.
  • Take an afternoon coffee break. I know myself well enough to predict that between 230 and 3 I start to flag. By flag, I mean yawn. By yawn, I men nod out in front of my computer. I have not decided if this is simply because by 3 in the afternoon, I have already been at work for 9 hours or if this is due to my natural body rhythms, but the point of it is that I need a break. Sometimes I go for a short walk and other times I open the paper and read a bit or watch a video online. 15 minutes is what it usually takes before I can get back to matters at hand.
Is this an “effective” habit? YES. By mid-afternoon, my energy has been drained and coffee is what brings me back. Not just the caffeine, mind you. The break itself helps me to recharge batteries, refresh energy, and re-set my mind and body for the remainder of the day.
  • Go home for dinner. The work-life split/dilemma is something that business owners and managers struggle with every day. How to focus on the important things in life while effectively managing a business is a challenge for all of us. One of my answers to this is to structure my day in a way that allows me to spend time with the people I love most in the world, while keeping an eye on the store. In the old days a grocer may have lived upstairs from his store; my version of this is to live within short walking distance of my office and to head home in the late afternoon to finish my day working there. This allows me to sign off for a couple hours to help make dinner and to hang out with my wife at the end of the workday. Even though I normally check back in at work after dinner and finish up any tasks that need to get done, at least I am at home and paying attention to that part of my life.
Is this an “effective” habit? YES. This is something I enthusiastically recommend to all managers and entrepreneurs. Keeping life in balance requires a commitment to both work and home, and being home at the important moments of the day is a large part of that.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Who are You Imitating and Who Is Imitating You?

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. 1 Cor 11:1.
I love reading my bible!  I love hearing God speak to me in other ways but this is the primary and most certain way to receive a word from the Lord!  And I did not have to get far today as this verse was the first I read today.  Paul makes reference to imitating him six times in his writings.  God has ordained that an ordinary means of grace in our lives is by imitating others, as imperfect as they are, as they follow Christ.  
The mission of the church is to make disciples and that happens best in a relational context.  Jesus himself modeled this when he called his disciples to follow him meant being with him (Mark 3:14) and following him was the means of life transformation (Mat 4:19).  
So I asked myself as I was arrested by the very first verse I read this morning, "Am I leading a life worth following?"  Not in a manner in which am I meeting a certain standard, but rather, is my life reflecting a gospel centered and gospel saturated life?  Do I see my salvation as a self help program or do I continually turn to Christ to bring forth life and moral transformation in my life!  The Christian life starts and ends with grace, period.  As we are on this journey together, let us point each other to Christ and his great work on our behalf, not just for our salvation but also for our sanctification and perseverance!  Sounds like a short sermon series is bubbling up!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Preaching through Fatigue

A good article from Preaching Today . . .

This means that if pastoring involves, you know, pastoring, then it matters little how vociferously some may say "there are no guarantees in life." There is one on which nearly any pastor can count: spiritual fatigue will happen. There will be moments or perhaps months where Jesus seems conspicuously absent, and no amount of Footprints in the Sand reviewing will convince us otherwise. The scary part is that it may have nothing to do with the hurting people around us. The windiness of the Spirit is it's own unpredictability and we may find ourselves mid-ocean, tacking on course, sails up, and suddenly getting nowhere.
When Sunday rolls around again, and you're only ever at most 168 hours away from standing up the very next week, the task of preaching is unavoidable, and at times crushing.
Unfortunately even the strictest of pietistic training does little to prepare us for this. Whatever pastoral training we may have received, even the kind that seeks to ground us in an ordered, disciplined life with roots of prayer and study, and the fruit of gentleness and peace, for one reason or another we seem to ignore the phenomenon of fatigue until the symbols of epic collapse (adultery or embezzlement, for example) start to appear. Indeed, our reticence to acknowledge our own fatigue may explain our need to spray our people with cheery "we know God wins in the end so let's have a smile" sorts of sermons.
Call it burnout. Call it depression. Call it the doldrums. And by all means, do try to be specific, as each particular fatigue will have it's own set of remedies, it's own set of connective and causative tunnels serpentining through us that will require tracing and self-discovery. But regardless of causes or cures, the thing that can feel the most overwhelming, one might wager the thing that keeps us from addressing our own fatigue, is that awful, unrelenting realization: Sunday is coming.  
See the rest of the article here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


A thoughtful post by Justin Taylor on the time of the rapture.

With the new Left Behind movie trailer now online (starring Nicholas Cage), this might be a helpful time to explain why many of us do not believe the idea of Christians be “raptured” to heaven while others are “left behind” is a biblical teaching.

Here is a summary of the arguments from John Piper:

1. The word for “meeting” the Lord in the air in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 (apantesin) is used in two other places in the New Testament: Matthew 25:6 and Acts 28:15. In both places it refers to a meeting in which people go out to meet a dignitary and then accompany him in to the place from which they came out. One of these,Matthew 25:6, is even a parable of the second coming and so a strong argument that this is the sense of the meeting here in 1 Thess. 4:17—that we rise to meet the Lord in the air and then welcome him to earth as king.

2. The wording of 2 Thessalonians 1:5-7, when read carefully, shows that Paul expects to attain rest from suffering at the same time and in the same event that he expects the unbelievers to receive punishment, namely, at the revelation of Jesus with mighty angels in flaming fire. This revelation is not the pre-tribulational rapture but the glorious second coming. Which means that Paul did not expect an event at which he and the other believers would be given rest seven years before the glorious appearing of Christ in flaming fire. Vengeance on unbelievers and rest for the persecuted church come on the same day in the same event.

3. The wording of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 suggests that the “assembling to meet him” is the same as “the day of the Lord” about which they are confused. But the assembling is the “rapture” and “the day of the Lord” is the glorious second coming. They appear to be one event.

Supporting this is the reference to “gathering” the elect in Matthew 24:31. Here there is a gathering (same word) but it is clearly a post-tribulational context. So there is no need to see the gathering and the day of the Lord in 2 Thessalonians as separate events.

4. If Paul were a pre-tribulationist why did he not simply say in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 that the Christians don’t need to worry that the day of the Lord is here because all the Christians are still here? Instead he talks just the way you would expect a post-tribulational person to do. He tells them that they should not think that the day of the Lord is here because the apostasy and the man of lawlessness have not appeared. . . .

5. When you read Matthew 24 or Mark 13 or Luke 21, which are Jesus’ descriptions of the end times, there is no mention of a rapture removing believers from the events of the end. A normal reading gives no impression of a departure. On the contrary, he talks as if the believing listeners and then the readers would or could experience the things he mentions. See Mt. 24:4, 9, 15, 23, 25f, 33, etc.

6. Going through tribulation, even when it is appointed by God, is not contrary to Biblical teaching. See especially 1 Peter 4:17; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10; Hebrews 12:3-11. But even so, Revelation 9:4 suggests that the saints will be in some measure protected in the time of distress by the seal of God.

7. The commands to “watch” do not lose their meaning if the second coming is not an any-moment one. See Matt. 25:1-13 where all ten maidens are asleep when the Lord returns. Yet the lesson at the end of the parable is, “Watch!” The point is that watching is not gazing up for an any-moment-return of the Lord; it is the moral vigilance that keeps you ready at all times doing your duty—the wise maidens had full lanterns! They were watchful!

Nor does the teaching that the second coming will be unexpected lose its force if post-tribulationism is true. See Luke 12:46 where the point is that if a servant gets drunk thinking that his master is delayed and will not catch him-that very servant will be surprised and taken off guard. But as 1 Thess. 5:1-5 says, “You (believers) are not in darkness for that day to surprise you like a thief.” We still teach that great moral vigilance and watchfulness is necessary lest we be lulled asleep and fall prey to the deceits of the last days and be overtaken in the judgment.

8. The strongest pre-tribulational text, Rev. 3:10, is open to another interpretation without any twisting. It says, “Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial which is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell upon the earth.” But to “be kept for the hour of testing” is not necessarily to be taken out of the world during this hour, and thus spared suffering. Compare Gal. 1:4 and Jesus’ prayer for his disciples in John 17:15where to “keep from” does not mean physical removal. And notice the inevitability of martyrdom in Rev. 6:9-11. The promise is to be guarded from the hour in the sense of being guarded from the demoralizing forces of that hour.

9. The second coming does not lose its moral power in post-tribulationism. New Testament moral incentive is not that we should fear being caught doing evil, but that we should so love the appearing of the Lord that we want to be pure as the Lord is pure, for whom we hope, as 1 John 3:1-3 says.

With regard to the language of being “left behind,” see Benjamin L. Merkle’s article, “Who Will Be Left Behind? Rethinking the Meaning of Matthew 24:40-41 and Luke 17:34-35,” WTJ 72 (2010): 169-79. He argues, “Although many assume that those taken in Matt 24:40-41 and Luke 17:34-35 are taken to be with Jesus and those left behind are left for judgment, this interpretation should be rejected.”

His conclusion summarizes his arguments:

[1] Throughout the context of these passages Jesus uses judgment language reminiscent of the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and the subsequent exile of its inhabitants. Those who were taken away were the ones judged by God whereas those left behind were the remnant who received grace.

[2] Furthermore, the teaching of Jesus confirms this thesis. In the Parable of the Weeds the Son of Man sends his angels to gather out the children of the devil and throw them in the fiery furnace whereas the wheat is left behind (Matt 13:36-43).

[3] The context of Matt 24 and Luke 17 also suggests Jesus is intentionally using judgment and remnant language. Such language naturally brings up images of the former destruction of Jerusalem where the enemy came and “took away” (i.e., killed) those in the city.

[4] Finally, the parallel with Noah and the flood in the preceding verses strongly confirms our thesis. Just as in the days of Noah the people were taken away by the great flood, so those who are not prepared will be taken away when the Son of Man returns.

You can read his arguments in more detail here.

Monday, August 11, 2014


“We should never come to [differences] with true Christians without regret and without tears. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Believe me, evangelicals often have not shown it. We rush in, being very, very pleased, it would seem at times, to find other men’s mistakes. We build ourselves up by tearing other men down. This can never show a real oneness among Christians.

There is only one kind of man who can fight the Lord’s battles in anywhere near a proper way, and that is the man who by nature is unbelligerent. A belligerent man tends to do it because he is belligerent; at least it looks that way. The world must observe that, when we must differ with each other as true Christians, we do it not because we love the smell of blood, the smell of the arena, the smell of the bullfight, but because we must for God’s sake. If there are tears when we must speak, then something beautiful can be observed.”

Francis Schaeffer, The Mark of the Christian (Downers Grove, 1970), pages 26-27.

Good advice in light of the conflicts and controversies that have gone on within the evangelical camp in the last several years. Found the quote on Ray Ortlands blog.

Friday, August 8, 2014

What is the most common ministry priority that a pastor neglects?

A good post on prayer found over at Practical Shepherding . . . 
When I became a senior pastor, transitioning from an associate role at another church, my life and ministry suddenly became very busy—busier than they had ever been before. I knew, without a doubt, what I was called to do. I knew what I should be doing. Yet week after week, I saw the things I was supposed to be doing getting squeezed out of my schedule because there were urgent demands on my time. Above all else, the one task that seemed to get squeezed out most was prayer. And I don’t think I’m alone in this. More than any other aspect of a pastor’s calling, prayer is the most difficult to maintain. Prayer requires time. And prayer is usually most fruitful when done in a quiet place, without constant interruption or distraction. Unfortunately, prayer doesn’t demand your attention. In the midst of people wanting your time and urgent tasks to complete, spending time in prayer is easy to neglect.
A pastor knows that he will be preaching every six days, regardless of how busy he gets. The sermon must get done, and so time is set aside for that. And there are sick people in the hospital, and their suffering sits on your conscience so that even if you are busy you’ll eventually make the time to go. Funerals happen as well and a pastor is at the mercy of the plans of that family and funeral home. Pastors’ and deacons’ meetings get planned in advance, and these become default priorities in a pastor’s schedule. Besides, other people are depending upon him to be there and lead. But none of this is true with prayer. Prayer may sit on your conscience, but it isn’t complaining. It remains on the list of tasks for the day, but those who are not prayed for are unaware that they are forgotten. As other demands steal our attention, prayer gets pushed to the background. Many pastors, myself included, will go week after week until eventually that soft but necessary voice calling us to stop and pray just fades out. If enough time passes, the voice of conviction and desire will go away. When that happens, prayer gets squeezed out of our life. Ironically, a pastor can be so busy caring for his people that he never makes time to stop and pray for them.
Pastors, I know your schedule is busy.  I am aware of the great demands on your time that pull on your conscience.  But, don’t forget to pray for your people this week.  Pray with your people.  Set time aside in a quiet place and cry out to God for your people.  Make the other pastoral matters wait.  It is safe to say they are less important than prayer.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Justification by faith is an answer to the greatest personal question ever asked by a human soul: ‘How shall I be right with God?  How do I stand in God’s sight?  With what favor does he look upon me?’  There are those, I admit, who never raise that question.  There are those who are concerned with the question of their standing before men but never with the question of their standing before God.  There are those who are interested in what ‘people say’ but not in the question of what God says.  Such men, however, are not those who move the world.  They are apt to go with the current.  They are apt to do as others do.  They are not the heroes who change the destinies of the race.  The beginning of true nobility comes when a man ceases to be interested in the judgment of men and becomes interested in the judgment of God.”
J. Gresham Machen, in God Transcendent (Edinburgh, 1982), pages 89-90.