Archive for April, 2010


Organizational Tips from Someone with ADD

April 19, 2010

When I tell people that I both have ADD and teach courses on how to get and stay organized, they look at me like I am in need of therapy. But think about it: Who has to worry about organization more than someone who can be distracted by the wind or humming? Here are some effective tricks to stay organized. As you would expect from someone with ADD, they are in no particular order.

1. Standardize your Morning: Because just about anything can get me headed on a tangent, my mornings are critical. If I get off on the wrong foot, I can never find the track again until it is too late. Here is what I do. I have exactly the same routine every morning. The same way to shower, shave, take my pills, do my exercises and write in my journal. There are no variations until all the essential stuff is done. And because I have done this so many times, I don’t have to think about what comes next.

2. Learn the TRAF method of dealing with clutter: My mother taught me this and she learned it from someone else all the way back to Jesus. I think. Regardless, this works wonders with things like mail, email, files, etc. TRAF stands for: Toss, Refer, Act or File. Let’s apply it to mail.  When you get your mail, do not put it on a desk. Deal with it right away. Toss everything and anything that you don’t absolutely need. That will be most of it. Then give mail to whomever it belongs. Don’t hold onto it yourself. Act on whatever needs your attention. If you don’t have time to act, have an “action” file that you look at three times a week. Whatever has to be saved for your records gets immediately filed. See, no clutter.

3. Whatever you leave for later will not get done until it has to. For instance, if you are tired and take your shoes off to relax, never assume you will put the shoes away later. Later almost never happens. Take ten seconds to do now what needs to be done and you will never have to do it at a less convenient time.

4. Assume every to-do list has too many items on it. We all place too much on a to-do list. I split my to-do list into morning, afternoon and evening. I only put a couple of things on for each time period. This way, I can better gauge how many things I can actually get done.

5. Realize that if you have been putting something off it is because you don’t want to do it. There are several options with this. Get an attitude change if you are putting off something that is absolutely your responsibility. Find someone better qualified. Find some way of not doing this onerous task. Find a different way of approaching it.

6. Break all huge tasks into many smaller ones. This is an old piece of advice, but it works. Most people with ADD cannot see big  pictures. With our son, we would only give him one thing to do at a time. Then when he was done that, we would give him the next thing. Instead of “clean your bedroom”, we would say “make your bed”. Instead of “do your homework”, we would say, “make an outline of five points for your history paper”.

7. When you take a break from a project, set a short time limit…use an alarm if possible. I can take a five minute break and stretch it into an hour if I’m not careful. Most people aren’t that extreme, but we do waste a lot of time. That said, don’t neglect taking breaks to let your mind rest when you’re working hard.

8. Do one thing you love and one thing you have been dreading every day. Get into the habit of both stretching yourself and rewarding yourself for a day well lived.

9. Respect people by being early. How many times have I had people say to me “why are you never late?” You would think that someone with ADD would be perpetually late. I learned years ago that being early for an appointment implies you count their time as valuable.  I arrive early by always assuming something will go wrong on my way there and giving myself extra time to get there.

10. Clean your work space every evening. Positive things are mentally  triggered when your work area is clean before ending the day.

11. Have a journal where you note the following at the end of every day: what you accomplished, what you want to change, what matters to you, what God has said to you that day.


House Bands and Smoke Machines

April 8, 2010

I was in a church recently and asked my wife why we couldn’t see the worship leader at the front. We both realized simultaneously that the “house band” was employing a smoke machine! I half expected David Lee Roth or Jon Bon Jovi to come flying out through the haze to the center spot. And yes, there were several spotlights.

A few weeks later, a friend of mine was showing me through their newly renovated “worship facility” and he humbly told me they just spent $50,000 on stage lighting for the band. I choked on my bile…I did. Then, I attended a local “worship” event two weeks ago where they had strobe lights, changing colors, sound effects and 12 speakers in the small church auditorium. The bass booster rivaled all the gang-banger cars in my neighborhood.

The final straw was an article in the local  newspaper quoting someone leaving an Easter Worship service at the local mega-church who said, “It was awesome. The band was really kickin”. I am trying to imagine God leaning back, listening to their songs and saying “Angel-dudes, come here…that band is really kickin'”

I am frustrated and feeling alone in this. My thoughts are all over the place these days with annoyance about church and music. I have wondered when the worship service got hijacked by CCM (Christian Contemporary Music). That was the actual thought that went through my mind. That is the same day I heard Michael Spencer (the Internet Monk) had passed away. In honor of this great writer and Christian, I went through some of his blog archives. I found this from 2002:

CCM is a commercial enterprise, owned largely by secular corporate interests, and certainly driven by the values of the entertainment industry more than those of the church. It is part of the entertainment culture, and only partially related to the culture of classic, orthodox Christian tradition. CCM has virtually no accountability to the larger Christian tradition, or even the Christian musical tradition. (A list of the “One Hundred Greatest Songs in Christian Music” shows no awareness of traditional gospel, country, Black gospel, Southern gospel or classical music. Odd, ignorant and sad.) As an industry, it has no accountability to the larger church and only rarely any accountability to the local church (with some refreshing exceptions.) It has no standards of doctrinal orthodox, and resists any notion that its lyrics may at times promote error and even heresy.

He is saying that what most churches call “worship” now is simply the decisive invasion of the Christian Music Industry into our church services. It is to the point now where so many new Christians have been taught this is the only way worship is done, to change it would cause a riot. When this is the only way “worship” is practiced in church, can you blame people for equating worship with CCM?

Worship is not about us. It is not about music.  It is not about feeling better when it’s over. It is telling God how much we think he is worth. (That’s what the word “worship” means….worth-ship) Now we don’t bother…instead, we tell the band how much they’re worth. Apparently, several hundred thousand dollars in equipment and technology. I often wonder who many people are clapping for at the end of “worship songs”.

This is what makes me mad. Worship is not a concert! Hear those words again: Worship is not a concert. It is not even music. You can use music. You can do it at a concert. But you can do it on an airplane, in a tunnel, when all your children and possessions have been taken from you (remember Job) and you don’t have to have ANY MUSIC AT ALL!

You are going to hate me for saying this, but many, many churches don’t have worship services, they have well-constructed, highly entertaining concerts. That’s why they’re spending $18,000 on a projection system, $12,000 on a drum enclosure, $80,000 for a floor that looks and sounds like Starbucks, and Mackie mixers that make P Diddy drool (or whatever his name currently is). The churches that can’t afford this, or who would rather have a children’s pastor, are left behind as the crowds go to hear the next great concert church  that appeared overnight in a School gymnatorium.

They don’t have worship leaders, they have cheerleaders who lead us to believe it is a sin not to clap, to have a bad day, to not know the words to the 200th new song we’ve learned this year and who can make the last syllable of every ballad contain 18 modulated  notes. I am one of those who test pastors for their theological knowledge and so many “worship pastors” haven’t much of a clue about theology.

It is time to eliminate the professional musicians and American Idol audition cast from the front of our churches and let a few people who have mad and deep love for God be up there. People who appreciate that silence is worship too. That bringing an offering or submitting attitudes of greed to our Father is worship. It is time for a few songs we sang 20 years ago to be sung again: Perhaps for two Sundays in a row. Perhaps have a time where people talk to God and listen for his voice…oh, it would have to be quiet enough for that.

I yearn for the day when no one says “that was an awesome time of worship” after the ringing in the ears stops – and people say nothing because they are speechless and repentant in the presence of a Holy God.

And those who do have a love for technology: Get over it. Technology is certainly a valid tool, but when it becomes an end in itself, it is a curse and a distraction. I have ADD…I can’t watch the screen where new lyrics are flashing and concentrate when the stage has already changed colors five times while I’m doing it. Just as preachers and teachers need to learn not to use PowerPoint/EasyWorship so strangely (really? Do we need a Dancing Jesus in the corner of the screen?), so we need to say “less is more” when technology meets worship.

I think it is time to return to the simplicity of the Psalms, where there were both songs of praise and songs of lament. There are songs of triumph and songs of repentance. There are songs of adoration and songs where we deal with the reality of enemies.

And please, please, please, can we not sing a song 11 times through. In fact, can we stop singing occasionally and just be in awe in his presence.

I wrote all of the above and here is my pedigree: I love rock music. I listen to CCM. I go to concerts. I was one of the first pastors anywhere to bring drums into church. But leave the concert in the concert hall. And you can have all your new songs. Give me Jesus…and one or two new songs. And silence.

And anyone who says this is a discussion about hymns vs. choruses is going to be shut in the drum enclosure down the street.


Relevant is the Easy Part

April 7, 2010

Lately, all I can muster inside is a good rant.

Before writing this, I spent several days cleansing my heart from anger, resentment and any notions of wanting to hurt someone. It was a good exercise and I feel much cleaner. But elements of two separate rants are still buzzing in the brainbox and I have to get them out.This entry is the first one.

I am really angry with church teachers who are striving to be “relevant” when they preach or teach. It’s not exactly that I’m against being relevant – I’ve used that tool for years. But my primary criticism of so many preachers is that being relevant has become the goal instead of a tool.

Every city now has dozens of churches who make some version of the claim, “we are a church for those who don’t like churches“. Fairly soon, churches for people who don’t like churches will be in the majority. What many of these churches mean is that they feel church is out of touch with modern culture and therefore can’t reach that culture unless they preach relevantly. What they fail to realize is how easy that is: Only a moron can fail to be relevant if they want to. Show a movie clip, quote Men’s Health or Spin, play a song from the charts or drop an American Idol reference and you are instantly relevant. If you go the next step and talk about you and the “boys” watching UFC, mention how you and Bono are on the “same page”, or can show a Youtube video very few have seen, you go to the top of the relevant heap.

I am not thinking of any preacher in particular. I really don’t need to. Almost everyone outside of rural North Dakota is trying to be relevant. Last weekend, the Easter services were full of U2, Black-eyed Peas, Biggest Loser, Final Four and ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ references. Each church had their “house bands” playing CCM with alacrity and only one out of eight preachers wore a tie. Anyone off the street could come in and instantly feel like they were on a set of TMZ or The View.

None of that is my rant. I used a Zombie movie reference last Sunday and it fit. Here is the bone stuck in my throat: THAT IS NOT THE ONLY TOOL IN YOUR TOOLBOX. In some ways, it is like a drug that once you start using  can suck you in and ironically make you irrelevant from God’s point of view.

Sure, Jesus used contemporary stories (we call them parables), but he actually did that to weed out the true seekers from the wannabes. He also told people to eat  his flesh and drink his blood. He also chased people away. He also prophesied to the crowds and made them very angry. His own family tried to lock him away one time and he had to rebuke his closest followers on numerous occasions.

Try using some of the other rhetorical preaching tools once in awhile and see if 10,000 people still flock to every Easter Service. Here are a few you might want to try sometime.

1. Prophetic: Jesus knew what was in the heart of the Pharisees and called them “blind guides” and “vipers”. When was the last time you used a viper reference? Being prophetic means to speak as if you are speaking the very words of God (1 Peter 4:11). I have listened lately for a preacher to speak to my heart with conviction and God-content. I can count a hundred Youtube videos for every prophetic message.

2. Counter-cultural: The only reason Jesus was so against the religious leaders of the day was that they were setting the cultural tone. He was counter-cultural and spoke against the authors of modern culture. Today, he would have a lot to say about Tiger Woods, three-car garages, whining about the economy (when we still make 2000 times as much money as most of the rest of the world), and secular companies controlling Christian Music. He would have blasted Avatar for its godless plot instead of applauding its amazing CG. He probably would have offered his books for free to all who wanted them…and none of the commitments he called for would have lasted for just 40 days.

3. Biblically-centered, not culturally centered: I don’t mean a person should preach a commentary verse by verse. That is the job of each believer to study the Bible inductively. But the overarching themes of the Bible should be the themes of preaching. For instance,  there is little said about marriage in the Bible overall, but a lot said concerning caring for the poor. Total the current load of marriage seminars on Sunday mornings and compare that to the amount of preaching on living selflessly.

4. Exhortations: When you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, Hollywood is the place to go. If you want to challenge them to live dangerously, live on the edge, live spirit-focused, Hollywood won’t help. Hollywood is too busy ridiculing 40 year-olds who haven’t lost their virginity and lionizing 12-year olds who are following in Suburban Mom’s footsteps and selling dope to their friends. Jesus challenged people to stop crapping all over a woman caught in adultery, and then turned around and preached a short sermon to her: “Go and sin no more”.

5. Evangelism: Stop  “pre-evangelizing” everyone with the hope that somehow the incarnational message will seep in like a topical anaesthetic. “How will they hear unless someone preaches” is from the Bible. Along with being missional, incarnational, relevant and post-modernly accepting, actually tell them what it will be like if they are shut out of God’s Presence forever.

6. Raise the Standard: We often think that people will find God more acceptable if we bring the bar lower for them. Let’s not talk about sin or judgment or consequences, let’s talk about the benefits. Yet Jesus told us that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees we will never see the Kingdom of Heaven. I know he meant we were to receive His righteousness, but that comes through surrender. According to Romans 12:1, the spiritual service of worship is not singing the same song 11 times, but presenting our bodies as living sacrifices. Only when we know a “poverty of spirit” will we really begin to see God.

Rant #1…complete. For now.


A Sad Day for Us…Happy for the Internet Monk

April 6, 2010

It is with a sense of great sorrow, I pass on to you the news that Michael Spencer (aka, the Internet Monk or iMonk) has passed away after his battle with cancer. Michael was one of my inspirations for writing and blogging in particular. There are few people I can say I agree with more than half the time; but Michael came closest.

From his wife, a month ago, these words:

The combination of the cancer and the chemotherapy is keeping Michael in a very weakened state. He is in bed all day, getting up once or twice only to eat a “meal.” His meals consist mostly of Ensure, with occasional mugs of soup, dishes of ice cream and milkshakes. He’s still taking fluids well, currently preferring Sprite and ginger ale. His tastes do change slightly from time to time, and I try to be ready to jump in whatever direction they seem to be moving. He is in no pain at all, for which I am unspeakably grateful.

Michael went through a period of depression, as I’m sure you would expect. He seems to have come through that now, for the most part. He knows he is dying, and he says he is at peace. Though he will still say with unashamed honesty, “I don’t want it to all be over at age 53!” he has the confidence of knowing that he has run the race God set out for him. He believes he has done the work our Lord intended for him to do, and if the last task God has for him in this life is dying, then he will do that to the best of his ability.

Through all of this, in every phase of illness, diagnosis and treatment, Michael’s faith has not wavered. I know most readers love Michael for, among other things, the transparency of his writings. If I may be allowed such honesty for just a moment, I will confess that I have been amazed at how strong Michael has been spiritually and emotionally from the very beginning of this ghastly journey. Day by day I continue to see the Holy Spirit at work in him, molding him, softening him, giving him a more childlike faith than I believe he has ever known. When the moment comes, I am assured Michael will be ready. I am the one who doesn’t want to let go.

We pray today for his wife Denise and their children. He was 53…the same age I will be this year.

That makes me do even more soul-searching than I have been already doing.


7 Movies I Have Learned From

April 4, 2010

Movies aren’t all a waste of time – unless they’re movies with Seth Rogen. With a possible combination of well-edited visual presentation, scripted storyline and perfected acting method, a movie-maker can direct our minds to powerful conclusions. A movie has an advantage over a book by being able to present its story with pictures (the mind more readily accepts propositions when they are visually attached to the concept).

A great movie must do more than entertain…it should also teach or inspire. Here are seven movies that have provided lessons to improve my life. I’m sure you can add others which have instructed you.

1. “The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio” (2005): Based on a true story, the movie focuses on a woman whose husband has a terrible alcohol addiction, leading him to drink away most of his meager paycheck. The mother feeds and clothes her family (ten children) by making extra money and prizes entering writing and advertising contests, which were popular in the 1950s. The life lesson I learned: No matter how poorly you are treated, you can find some way, with God’s help, to overcome and triumph. There are options besides being a victim to circumstances.

2. “The Kid” (2000): Bruce Willis is a grown man who brings a young kid into his house. The two of them realize that the kid is actually Bruce Willis at a younger age and some sort of time warp has brought them together. The kid is disgusted at how poorly his adult life has turned out. The life lesson I learned: What I am doing today will effect the rest of my life. I owe my “future self” the best boost up possible by acting wisely today.

3. “The Pianist” (2002): In World War 2, the Nazis walled off a part of Warsaw, Poland and created a ghetto in which they placed all the Polish Jews. One of those Jews was the country’s premier concert pianist. The movie follows his survival when most of his friends and family are put to death. In the end, he survives and lives to inspire his countrymen with his incredible skills. Life Lesson learned: There are times when it is an accomplishment just to survive in order to find your best day some time down the line.

4. “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946): George Bailey is the founder and proprietor of Bailey Savings and Loan, a benevolent lending institution in fictional Bedford Falls. When George’s uncle misplaces money the same day the bank examiner visits, George despairs of his life and its seeming failures. He tries to commit suicide, but an angel saves his life. When George comments that everyone around him would have been better off if he had never been born, the angel shows him EXACTLY what life would have been like for the inhabitants of Bedford Falls if he had not been born. George witnesses a world turned upside down and decidedly more evil because he was not in it. Life Lesson Learned: On those horrible days when it seems like I have made no difference whatsoever, I can be encouraged that every good decision I make will have many repercussions in the lives of others.

5. “Iron Will” (1994): When Will Stoneman’s father passes away, the family is forced to surrender their property to the bank. Instead, young Will enters an International Dogsled race from Winnipeg to Minneapolis, hoping the prize money will save his family. His courage and fortitude outstrip all of his adult competitors and he wins the prize and saves his family. The payoff in all of this is that Will grows up in the process. Life Lesson Learned: It is the difficulties we face in life that shape us so much more effectively than the good times. We should embrace the hard and milk it for all it’s worth.

6. “Door to Door” (2002): Bill Porter (played by William H. Macy) has cerebral palsy, but desperately wants to be a door to door salesman. His mother, who had always helped him to see this dream realized, dies of Alzheimer’s and Bill is left to fend for himself. He ends up being one of Watkins greatest salesmen. He accomplishes this by genuinely caring for all the people on his walking route. Life Lesson Learned: The value we place on people will always color how we do our work in serving them.

7. “The Princess Bride” (1987): If I have to tell you the plot,  you have been living in a cave for the past 30 years. This is repeatedly voted the Greatest Movie of all time: Especially in the Phillips Household. The story is about how Westley, a young farmboy, falls in love with Buttercup, the owner of the farm. He goes off to seek his fortune and is presumed killed. Buttercup agrees to marry the prince. The rest you will have to watch for yourself. Life Lesson Learned: Even when you think someone is dead, listen to Miracle Max…they may only be Mostly Dead. No, that’s not the lesson. The lesson is that when you love, even when it seems you have lost everything, you have really lost nothing.

What movies have you learned life lessons from?


Alternative to Retirement

April 2, 2010

When my grandparents moved into another “fixer-upper” house at age 70, we all knew the routine. For the first year, grandpa would wax eloquent on all the changes he wanted to make and then the second year he would make them. And his efforts always paid off – at the end they would have a beautiful, ultimately livable space that had once been a run-down shack. I remember being over there one time when he was gutting some electrical circuits out of a wall. “Time to rewire the old man” said the old man.

That is the perfect picture for an alternative to retirement. The fourth supposition about traditional american retirement is this: The money we spend in our retirement is ours to do with as we please. It is the classic sense of entitlement. I am entitled to my savings, my pension, my Social Security, my golf, my retirement community, my peace and quiet. It’s mine. I am spending my kids’ inheritance. But as with any sense of entitlement, it is a selfish focus and ultimately leads to an unsatisfying, unhealthy lifestyle. It also offends God.

Yes, it offends God. Ultimately, He owns everything. He gives us what we have so we can work in partnership with Him throughout our lives. When we squander our talents, energy, money, friendships, jobs on ourselves and a headlong pursuit of entitlement, it will never end well. But that is the nature of our country, a society hell-bent on retiring. Read the rest of this entry ?

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