How to Make the Most of Your Morning

If you have kids (even if you don’t), the morning can be crazy. You stayed up too late watching that last episode on Netflix or the game, you hit the snooze button too much, and now you are racing out the door. Throwing lunches together, stuffing breakfast into your mouth.

There is a lot at stake in what we do with our mornings. In fact, the most productive people maximize their mornings.

Here’s the reality, though: If you don’t make the most of your morning, you will feel behind all day.

If your day is determined by your morning, how do you make the most of it?

Here are six ideas:

1. Get up before everyone. If you want to make the most of your morning, whether you are single, married or have kids, you have to get up before everyone else. You must be up before people start sending you texts and emails.

There is something that happens in the quietness of a morning, when it is still dark out.

I know, you are exhausted and not a morning person. I get it.

When we started our church I would work late into the night because I hated the mornings, but the reality is that most people do their best work and best thinking in the morning.

There is a definite difference to my day when I am up before everyone else and when I am not.

Parents know this truth because they feel behind if they wake up when their kids do.

2. Pick a spot. Place is important to many people, but particularly when it comes to focus for your heart. Choosing a spot that you return to each morning to recharge, focus and pray is incredibly important.

This might be a porch, a spot in your room or a favorite chair.

Wherever it is, don’t simply make this haphazard. Choose a spot that will help to quiet you and focus your heart.

The consistency of a spot and place will also start to create in your mind a signal that it is time to relax, think, and connect with Jesus. This becomes a very powerful part of maximizing your time.

3. Read/Journal. Focusing for your day will often come through feeding your soul first.

For me, it is spending time reading my Bible. Being able to have space to read, process, write down what God is doing in your heart and mind is incredibly important.

What things stand out to you while reading your Bible? Write them down.

Many people find a lot of relief from getting their thoughts and feelings out of their minds and onto paper. This is often a great stress reliever but also a place to leave something behind. You can also keep track of things you are praying for and when those prayers are answered.

4. Pray/Think. In the busyness of life, especially with kids, if you want to have time to pray and think in silence, you will have to carve it out. This is why you need to get up before everyone else. If you want quiet, you have to make it happen. Quiet does not magically find you.

If you are a leader, this is very important.

Part of your job as a leader is thinking and praying through what is next for your organization, your church and your family. As a parent, you must spend time thinking and praying about what is next for your marriage and your kids.

Recently, an older leader challenged me on this and said, “Josh, if you don’t spend time thinking and praying about what is next for your church, who do you think is?”

5. Tackle your hardest task first. If you’ve noticed, you haven’t done any work yet. For many people, you might be wondering when you start being productive.

But I would say that all of the above will bring greater levels of productivity and success.

As you think through your day, do what takes the most mental energy, the hardest task, the thing that will move the ball the furthest in your life and career, first.

For me and many pastors, this is sermon prep, not a meeting or a counseling session. Tackle the tasks that are not only hard but move the ball furthest in your life or work.

6. Turn on electronics. Notice, this is last and depending on how long everything else took you, it might be until lunch time before you check email, Facebook or Instagram. That isn’t a bad thing (unless your boss would be mad at you about checking your email that late, which is a different topic). Side note, if your boss doesn’t like that, have a conversation about how you can be more productive if you don’t check your email first thing in the morning.

Why does that help?

Email has a way of hijacking your day and brain. It sidetracks you. On sermon prep mornings, I don’t check my email until I am done. It keeps my head clear.

The reality is, no one else is responsible to make you successful, effective or productive. You are. If you aren’t, as much as we don’t want to admit it, that is often on us.

Take control of what you can control.

Feelings as an Invitation

Recently Katie and I were sitting in a conference with a group of pastors that was led by two counselors, and they were talking about the body and a theology of the body.

Fascinating.

During the time, though, they said something that I haven’t been able to get out of my head.

They said, “When you feel something, discomfort, anger, anxiety, worry, disgust, there is something going on, something you shouldn’t ignore. That something is an invitation from God for you to walk into.”

We all have those moments. Moments when we fly off the handle, sulk, pull away, lie awake in bed worrying about our marriage or finances.

What if those moments are invitations?

Most of the time, if you’re a follower of Jesus, you easily beat yourself up over those feelings. I shouldn’t feel that way. I shouldn’t think that. I shouldn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t.

Those feelings are revealing something.

Something is going on.

It might be revealing a dark heart, a sin you need to confess.

It might be revealing something from your past you are running from, pretending it didn’t happen.

Many times our feelings are reminders of things we’d like to forget.

Yet, those are also places God wants to enter and redeem. Those are places and stories that need redemption.

That’s the invitation.

Don’t run from it.

Links for Leaders 8/4/17

It’s the weekend. The perfect time to grab a cup of coffee and catch up on some reading. Here are 5 articles I came across this week that I found helpful as a leader and parent and hope you do as well.

Jon Acuff shares the simple mistake that most pastors make in their sermons. I’m certainly guilty of this, but it is a great reminder.

How do you evaluate your church? Based on who you are inviting. This is a great reminder for all pastors and Christians from Carey Nieuwhof.

I love to read and I’m assuming that if you follow this blog, you do as well. If you are a leader or want to be a leader, you need to be a reader. But how do you know which book to read next when there are countless possibilities? Dan Black shares 4 tips that are incredibly helpful.

Have you ever doubted something? Maybe you, like me, have struggled with doubts in life, in faith. What do you do? Many of us want to throw in the towel and give up. It seems easier. But what if that isn’t the best thing to do with doubt? Michael Kelley gives us a better answer for our doubts.

When should you bring your kids into a worship service? If you’re like me, you’ve struggled with this. As a church, as a pastor and a parent. Jen Wilkin has some great insights for this.

The Halfway Point of the Year & the Top 10 Posts of July

It’s the middle of summer.

In Tucson, where I live, the monsoon’s are in full swing and school is back in session.

The year is more than halfway over.

Hopefully you are closer to the goals you set at the start of the year.

If not, don’t fear.

The year isn’t over and it isn’t too late to hit restart and try again.

In case you missed them, here are the top 10 posts of the month of July. Hopefully, they are encouraging to you but also help you reach the goals you have as a leader and a person. Thanks for reading!

  1. 11 Ways to Know You’ve Settled for a Mediocre Marriage
  2. How to Share your Faith
  3. 7 Ideas to Help Your Kids Grow Spiritually
  4. 8 Questions to Ask Before You Preach a Sermon
  5. The One Thing Destroying Your Marriage That You Don’t Realize
  6. 18 Things Every Husband Should Know about His Wife
  7. How Many Times a Year Should a Pastor Preach
  8. 5 Books Every Pastor & Church Staff Should Read
  9. What Role a Pastor’s Wife Plays in the Church?
  10. When You Manipulate Your Husband, You Lose Him

Summer Vacation Here I Come!

Summer break

My elders have been kind enough to give me a longer summer preaching break than normal this year. Because of that I won’t be posting anything new on my blog until July 6th (at which time I’ll be back with some great new stuff for you), so that we can rest, recharge and enjoy some time as a family. I’ll also be posting less on social media, but I’ll be posting fun pictures of our adventures on Instagram.

In the meantime, here are some of the most recent top posts on my blog to keep you company until I get back:

Healthy Marriage

Healthy Church

Healthy Leadership

Healthy Faith

Healthy Preaching

If you’re curious about what I’m reading this summer, here you go (and yes, Katie and I take a suitcase of books on vacation):

Have a great summer!

How to Lose Weight as a Leader

Every month I hear from a reader of this blog, a fellow pastor or talk to someone who wants to lose weight. I get asked about my weight loss journey on a weekly basis. For most Americans and leaders, weight and health are a struggle. And it gets harder the older you get.

I get two common questions from people, especially leaders, about weight loss. One is from pastors themselves asking me about how I lost weight and how they can, too. The second is from their wives asking me how they can make their husbands lose weight.

The first question I can answer. The second one is ground I don’t walk onto.

For me, I got miserable enough to lose weight. I weighed 300 pounds when I got married, had a 42 inch waist and finally at the ripe old age of 29, got fed up with it.

If you are a leader, being healthy and losing weight becomes incredibly difficult. You have a lot of stress, a lot of things to do, a lot of meetings to sit in and a lot of meetings at restaurants. Throw in traveling to conferences and you are looking at a life filled with minimal activity and a lot of temptation when it comes to food.

The journey of losing weight and keeping the weight off is similar.

If you work for a living (or if you don’t), these are some ideas that will help you to lose weight and keep it off:

Know what you’ll eat wherever you go. One of the easiest ways to lose weight when eating out is to not get sucked into the menu. When you go somewhere, you should always know what you are going to eat. This will help to keep you from remorse about your food purchase.

Plan for exercise. Before you travel somewhere, know where you will exercise. I have chosen hotels on trips based off of the gyms they have. Find a gym you can walk to and get a guest pass. Once Katie and I were in LA for four days, and we got 3-day guest passes to a gym.

In your workday, know when you are going to exercise. If you don’t attach a minute to it, it won’t happen. Your day will get away from you, and you will find yourself not exercising.

Order first everywhere. At a meal out, always be the first to order. This is an idea from Tom Rath at Gallup that talks about how the first person to order sets the tone for the table. If the first person orders an appetizer, everyone looks at the appetizer and your meal just added at least 1,000 calories to it.

Drink lots of water. Everyone knows soda is bad for us, and yet we keep drinking it in ridiculous amounts. When you travel and when you sit in meetings, drink lots of water. Especially when you are flying somewhere, this will help you to avoid dehydration and help to keep you more alert.

Go to bed first. Sleep is the secret weapon for every leader. It is the secret weapon to every athlete, and yet we treat this poorly. I watch a lot of pastors when they travel somewhere stay up until 1am hanging out with friends and then running ragged because of it. Turn off Netflix and go to bed.

Stand and walk as much as possible. If a lunch meeting is less than a mile from your office or a meeting, try to walk. Just move. Get up out of your seat at least every hour and move around.

Don’t eat dessert. No one ever eats dessert and is glad they did. In fact, if you eat an entire dessert at a restaurant there’s a good chance you will hate yourself after the fact. Share one if you are going to get one, but I’d encourage you to fill up on some real food.

While this isn’t a complete list, these are just a few ideas that might help you get started on your weight loss journey or keep moving.

Love Is… (1 Corinthians 13)

I know that loving people is hard. It can be exhilarating and bring us so much joy, but it can also bring us heartache.

Last week Katie and I were with one of our mentors, and he said, “The people God has placed in our lives are there to activate what God wants to transform.” That is hard because everyone in my life isn’t always easy to live with. They can be messy, difficult, get in the way and get on my nerves. I can do the same to them as well. That is what relationships are like.

I want to encourage you to continue thinking through how you can bring love to your relationships, especially the most important and closest ones to you.

If you aren’t familiar with 1 Corinthians 13 on love (a very popular wedding passage), let’s remind ourselves:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

Love is patient. We are impatient people. We want food fast, internet fast and we get annoyed when Netflix buffers. We are also impatient relationally. This plays out by being demanding, bulldozing people and pushing too hard. It’s the worst with those closest to us, pushing them, expecting them to be what we want, to do what we want. Yet love says, “However long it takes for you to get your act together, I’ll be here.” Our culture says, “If they don’t change fast enough, if they hold you back, move on.”

Can you imagine Jesus saying, “You aren’t changing fast enough, so I’m done with you”, or, “You aren’t responding to me fast enough, so we’re done”? This is difficult, especially if you are a control freak in your life.

Love is kind. Kindness is actions, words, emotions and so much more.

In your relationships, do you use your presence and words to show kindness, or do you tear the other down? Kindness often is keeping your mouth shut when you’d love to open it. Not in a way to cover sin, but in a way to say, “That isn’t a big deal; I’ll let that go.”

Love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. Envy is a longing for something that isn’t currently ours. Boasting is puffing ourselves up, focusing on ourself and our needs over the needs of others. Arrogance is thinking we’re better than we are. Rude is controlling the agenda and everyone around us.

When we envy others, boast, are arrogant or rude, we push people away.

Often we do these things to be right, but also to protect ourselves from getting hurt. If I envy you, then I can blame you for my problems. If I boast, I can put you down to make me feel better. The same is true of being rude. If I’m arrogant, I protect myself from getting hurt. If I’m not proud, I’m willing to open up my heart to hurt, yes, but I also open up my heart to love.

All these emotions and actions do is isolate us. In this passage Paul is inviting us to let go of these desires.

Love does not insist on its own way. Many times love is self-seeking and about what we want.

Why do we insist on our way? For protection, fear, pride, anxiety, control, just to name a few. Love gives in relationships; it doesn’t take.

Love doesn’t insist on perfection. In our photoshopped, air brushed culture, we insist on perfection. We take and re-take selfies. We only post our highlights or our low lights in a way to get love. Think the next time you post something, are you posting it for affirmation? Most of us do.

But love says, “I’ll accept you. I’ll walk with you.” Love says, “I won’t have an independent spirit.” This doesn’t mean you are co-dependent, because that’s unhealthy, but do you bring an independent, “I’m going to do what I want when I want” spirit to your relationships?

At the end of the day, this is empathy and a willingness to see from the other person’s perspective in a relationship.

Love is not irritable or resentful. We all know people who are resentful and always irritated. They keep a list of wrongs in relationships, reminding people of past hurts. They also always expect the worst in relationships.

Do you know where this comes from? It comes from their family of origin, but often it comes from the picture they have of the relationship.

For me, I am often my biggest critic. Every situation I am in with anyone, I have a picture in my mind of what that interaction and time will be like. What this does is prevent me from enjoying the moment. I have to constantly battle this. Multiple times a day I have to remind myself, “This is good enough. The world won’t end.” When we let go and enjoy, we more easily let go of hurt, we more easily let go of things that didn’t go the way we wanted them to go.

Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. This goes with the last one.

Do you rejoice over the mistakes of those closest to you? Being able to say, “I told you it would go that way”, which puffs us up to show that we are right. We look at people who make mistakes in our lives and think, “How did you not know that would go that way?”

This also gets into the area of being historical in relationships. Do you find yourself saying, “Remember when…”, “You always…”, or “You never…”? Don’t miss this: No strong relationship is filled with the words always and never.

But what if the other person in my life is hard to love? What if my spouse is difficult? What if my child is hard to get along with? What if my parents or in-laws are always getting into our relationship?

Paul ends with what I think are the hardest parts of this passage, because they cost us the most.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things. This is the hardest part of love. This last verse shows us not only what God’s love towards us cost Him, but it shows us what love will cost us. It also shows us how strong love is.

Love can bear all things when we love the way God loves us. Love does not give up hope. Love is not naïve, but love is powerful. The love that Paul has been talking about in these verses is love that can bear all things, believe all things and hope all things.

But what if the other person doesn’t love like that?

Love endures all things. That’s why Paul ends with love endures all things.

You have the choice to endure all things, in love, even when things are the hardest and the darkest. Even when facing your hurt is painful, even when that person hurts you emotionally, you have the choice to love.

Will they return that love? Maybe not.

We love those around us the way we believe God loves us (1 John 4:19), whether we believe in God or not.

For example, if we believe God is indifferent towards us, this is how we approach most relationships. If we believe God is holding out on us, we will hold out on those closest to us in relationships. If we believe God has a short fuse, we will tend to have a short fuse. If we believe God doesn’t care what we do, this is how we will treat those closest to us.

How do I know this?

1 Corinthians 13 is a picture of God’s love toward us. All of these remind us of what God’s love is like.

God is not impatient or unkind with us. He is not pushy. God does not say to us, “Do you remember when you…”, or, “You always…” Instead, we are told that when we take the step of following Jesus and confessing our sins and need for Jesus, God remembers our sin no more. It is hard when we are hurt, carry around shame and regret and guilt from past relationships to see the truth. We are so used to seeing that relationship and all relationships through the lens of pain. Yet Jesus sets us free from our shame, regret and guilt. He is the power to overcome those experiences.

But why is love so hard?

Because, “The people God has placed in our lives are there to activate what God wants to transform.” So, as you read through the list in 1 Corinthians 13, you begin to see what God wants to transform in your life through what is difficult for you to live out.

Think of one thing, one relationship, and work on that. Change and growth take time, so don’t feel like you need to fix every relationship you have. That’s not possible. Give yourself permission to take your time. God isn’t in a rush.

Body Image, Weight Loss & the Nasty Mirror

I was sitting with Katie in a room with 50 other people. All of us were in ministry of some kind, and the speaker (who also is the counselor that Katie and I meet with) asked the question that stopped me in my tracks.

“How many of you are comfortable in your body?”

Now before I go on, there is something you need to know.

I’m 37 as I write this and I weigh 190 pounds. I do Crossfit four days a week, and I’ve never been in better shape or as strong as I am right now. That wasn’t always the case, though. In fact, when I was 28 I weighed 300 pounds, wore a 2 XL shirt and had a 42 inch waist.

As I sat there and thought about this question, the answer was, “No, I don’t feel comfortable in my body.”

Not a day goes by that I don’t look in the mirror and see a 300 pound 28 year old who hurts when he wakes up, sweats at the most inopportune moments and gets out of breath from walking up a flight of steps. I struggled to get on the floor to play with my kids.

And I still see that guy. I stare at myself in the mirror and think about it.

When I see body builders talk about having a cheat day, I cringe. Why? A cheat day is simply a step back to 300 pounds, is how my mind thinks. This often takes away the ability to enjoy food and simply relax. My wife is so kind, but I’m sure I drive her nuts when I miss a workout or feel off my game with food.

Is it possible to be comfortable in your body? Notice, the question is different than comfortable with your body.

I think it is.

Part of it has to do with accepting who you are, accepting the parts of your body that you would change (everyone has those). It also means celebrating the parts of your body that you do like. Yes, it also means enjoying food. Probably in moderation, though.

This past year, after eight years of counting calories (to teach myself how to eat), weighing myself almost daily, being insane about what I eat, I stopped. I still eat really healthy, but I’m working on stopping when I’m full. I’m enjoying life and what goes in my body. Yes, I punish myself at the gym, but that’s more out of a desire for strength and enjoyment of that punishment than trying to reach a certain body.

Am I comfortable in my body?

Not yet.

I’m closer than I was when I heard this question six months ago.

Your Growth Plan for the New Year

Statistically, most Americans will make resolutions and goals in January and not keep them.

They will range from quitting smoking, losing weight, getting out of debt, changing jobs, and the list goes on and on.

Some years it might be the same thing because you are not as far along as you want.

What if you don’t do this?

You’ll be like most other people. You’ll get to the end of next year and look back longingly at what could’ve been.

new year

Think for a minute. Let’s say your plan should be around getting healthy, getting out of debt or working on your marriage. What if you could move the needle just a little bit? What if next year, instead of $10,000 in debt it was $2,000 or none? What if your marriage took three baby steps in the next year? Wouldn’t thinking about this and being proactive be worth it?

If you’re still with me, here are some questions to help you think through a growth plan for the coming year:

  1. What do you want to change in your life?
  2. What things did you learn in the past year that you want to build on?
  3. What is one thing that, if you grew in it, would move you, your career, your relationships, further and faster?
  4. What book(s) of the Bible was convicting to you in the past year? What was most convicting and why?
  5. What area of your heart and past hurt have you put off dealing with?
  6. Who do you know that is further than you are in something that you can learn from?

Then ask those closest to you some of these questions. Yes, that is scary but so is living life and missing out because we didn’t grow and make changes.

The answers to these questions then help you to formulate a plan of what you will grow in for the coming year.

You can’t do it all.

When I lost 130 pounds in 18 months, that was my thing. I was solely focused on that and the heart issues surrounding that.

In other years, it has been preaching, prayer, adoption.

What I read, podcasts I listen to, blogs I follow, classes I take and people I talk to are around those ideas.

Make no mistake, the people who will get further in the coming year are the people who have decided what they will get further on. It will not just happen.

This is THE New Year

So it’s January.

This is the year.

This is the year you finally do what you have longed to do.

This is the year you take that step financially, spiritually, physically, relationally, emotionally.

This is THAT year.

I know. I know.

Statistically, this isn’t your year. It’s someone else’s year.

But, what if this was your year?

It has to be someone’s year, so why not yours?

Take a moment and thank God that you woke up this morning. That you are breathing. That you live somewhere with internet.

Thank God that it is a new year and what is past, while part of your story and who you are, is in the past.

It’s time to move forward.

Alright. Pep talk done.

Let’s get going!