I’m Good At Wrecking Shoes

I came close to wrecking an expensive pair of shoes the other day.

I normally keep my shoes in good shape for a few years, but this pair I almost lost within six months of buying them.

When I was in my teens I remember my mom complaining that I wrecked running shoes (sneakers) in no time. But that was when I was young and foolish.

This week I got a call that there was a flood at our church. And when I was putting on my shoes to leave, I remember Lily saying to me, “You shouldn’t wear those; wear something old.”

But I thought that the call about the flood was an exaggeration so I said, “Don’t worry about it; they’ll be okay.”

Since then Lily has reiterated several times that she told me not to wear those shoes.

Okay, so she was right.

When I got to the church the flood was definitely a flood. In places the water was pooling on top of the carpet, and there was a little lake that spanned a hallway into two other classrooms.

The job was way too much for the one shop vac that we have, so I immediately called our carpet guy to get him on the job – fast.

The thing about flooding is you’re not usually the only one who’s flooded and so we had to wait a few hours for the carpet guy to actually arrive.

I figured I would do some prep for the professionals.

I had a helper who was madly using the shop vac in one hallway. But in the rooms we had all kinds of furniture that needed to get to dryer ground and out of the way for the carpet cleaner.

I decided to be the mover while we waited for water suction reinforcements.

The problem with that was it meant I had to walk through the pools of water in the various rooms to get the furniture out.

By the time I was done, so were my shoes. They were soaked through but looked okay.

When I got home, I told Lil that my shoes were really wet. And that was the first time she said, “I told you not to wear those shoes.”

Well, after letting them dry for two days, I still needed to blow some some warm through them.

When they were finally dry, they also looked ruined. The leather uppers had lost some of their shape, and there were white marks all over them.

That was the second time Lily said, “I told you not to wear them.”

But graciously she also said she would try to do something with them.

That evening she brought me my shoes and said, “Look at how well they turned out.”

I was amazed! They looked basically as good as they did before the dunking. I thanked her for all she did, and she reminded me one more time that I shouldn’t have worn them.

… But I’ll probably end up wearing them for something else I shouldn’t – that’s why, way back in the day, my mom was right when she said I was good at wrecking shoes.

Here’s the thing: It’s great to get another chance, but God has given us more than a second chance. He is so patient that we get multitudinous chances to trust our life to Him. And then He continues to forgive us of our wrongs. Now that’s a second chance!

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: What do you need a second chance with? Leave your comments below.

I’m Surprised Every Time I Remember It

If you’ve ever wished you could remember a person’s name or the list of things your spouse asked you to pick up, I’ve found a way to make that happen!

In my last

post (you can read it here), I discussed what I learned about memory from a book I read.

It involves using your long-term memory and your short-term memory to produce a mid-term memory you can use for something specific.

I have been using this method to remember my sermons over the past few months, and no longer feel as tied to my notes when I preach.

It’s like the difference between walking a dog with a fixed leash and walking a dog with an expandable leash.

With the fixed leash, the dog gets pulled back hard when he reaches the end. But on the other leash he can keep going a little farther away and the tug back isn’t as harsh.

Here’s how it all works:

You start with your long-term memory of something familiar. For example, I will use my knowledge of the rooms in my house. I know where all the pieces of furniture are; I don’t have to think about them. I can picture the rooms and know what’s in them.

Then I associate the parts of my sermon with the various pieces of furniture in a room. I use multiple rooms for the different points in my message.

For instance, a verse I want to use will be associated with perhaps a chair in my living room. If I’m telling an illustration or story next, I associate it with the next piece of furniture in that room.

I walk my way around the room in my mind, stopping at each piece of furniture for the next bit of my sermon.

The downside is that it takes a while to assign the different parts of my message to the furniture.

I do that by drawing a square on a piece of paper and then boxes for the various pieces of furniture. I then jot a few things down beside each little box and I review that sheet a few times.

The result for me is I am able to walk away from my notes for large portions of time. I know what’s coming next because I have this hook from my long-term memory.

It’s really worked for me. I’m amazed every week that by doing this, I can remember so much of my sermon.

I can’t explain how it works, it just does.

If you have a grocery list and use this method, you could leave the house without the list and remember what you needed to pick up.

In the book, they suggest you make some crazy, outlandish association with the list items and the object you are connecting it to.

But I have found that, for my purposes, it’s not necessary.

Now I just wish I could remember if I wrote about this memory method before.

Here’s the thing: Sometimes when we have sinned, we question whether God will forgive us. Remember that God’s love for you is locked into His long-term memory; you don’t have to think about that or even question it. He also promised that if we confess our sin, He will forgive us. Apply His long-term memory of love of you, with your short-term confession of sin, and it will produce confidence in your forgiveness.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: How would an improved memory help you? Leave your comments below.

When A Project Takes A Long Time To Develop

Sometimes you wait a long time for something to develop, then in a flash it’s done and it’s completion takes you by surprise.

It happened to me this morning. For what seemed like several weeks, the leaves on our maple tree were budding.

But we’ve had some pretty cool and rainy weather for the last while and it seemed that the leaves’ progress from bud to full grown was stunted.

I’d look out our living room window and see the little leaves still shrivelled up, not wanting to open. With every day of rain and coolness, it was like they just wanted to stay curled up to keep warm.

After a time I wondered if they would open up at all this year. Maybe they would stay in this dormant state all summer.

But this morning after an early hockey game, as I drove into my driveway, the sun was shining, creating highlights and shadows on and around our tree.

The leaves had opened up; they were big and full and dense.

Up until this morning, though all the leaves were on the tree, you could still see through it … not this morning.

The leaves have now created a beautiful rustling wall to the other side of the street.

It took so long for the leaves to get to this point, but when it happened, it took me by surprise.

You kind of forget about the incremental progress that was being made, now that the tree is in its full glory.

… I’ve been working on a project at work that is developing much like how our tree came alive this spring.

There have been many steps to the project, and many different people involved. It seemed that each step, however, was dependent on someone else do some little thing so that we could progress to the next step.

There also seemed to be one person who was in the middle of the progress or the hold up – just like the weather was the hold up for my tree.

We would get one thing done and then we would sit, not really knowing what to do next but having to follow up and nudge this person to move the project along.

After numerous phone calls over three days, I finally reached him in person. I explained our progress and asked him for his input. All he could say to me was, “I’m just the middle man.”

There were three parties that were involved in bring this project to completion. He worked for none of them. He was just the middle man.

We all needed him but the speed of the project was dictated by the speed of his response to each completed step.

I think this project right now is at the stage where the leaves are almost ready to unfold.

All I can hope is that by early next week this project will be fully complete and I can forget about the incremental progress that we’ve made along the way.

Here’s the thing: God’s plan for us, at times, may seem to be developing slower than we would like. That can be frustrating. We might want to try to get in there and hurry it along on our own. But there are many parties involved in a plan, and there may be a middle man who is slowing things down. Just be sure that you are not that middle man.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: What project is God working on in you that you would like to speed up? Leave your comments below.

Is Taking A Vacation Worth It?

My life is so overextended right now that I have to work extra hard just to get myself ready for vacation.

Working-on-Vaca

Back when I was a child, and even a teen, when vacation time came around I could literally drop what I was doing and go.

Of course, in those days I had servants (also called parents) that did all the prep work for vacation. I was just along for the ride.

Family vacation was a bonus for me then anyway; I was already on vacation.

But now it’s a different story. In order to leave on vacation, I have to cover my bases, make sure people are in place, and that responsibilities are assigned.

Then there’s the issue of unfinished work.

The experts say that if you really want a rest, if you want to relax, you need to clear up the things you’ve been putting off. In other words, you need to catch up on your work so you can take a break.

The problem is we’re often behind on our work because we’re too tired and need a break.

It seems like a lose-lose situation. I need a break from work, but in order to do that I have to burn myself out before I go so that I have nothing left when I actually take my vacation.

My vacation then becomes a rest AND recuperation.

I have lots of projects that I should tackle before vacation and but there are particularly two things that will stare me in the face all throughout vacation if I don’t do them before I go.

One of those projects involves the desktop on my computer. It is strewn with files and folders, representing work that I need to file or finish.

The filing is not that difficult to accomplish; the time it will take is minimal. It’s the work I need to finish that has me reeling.

The work staring at me from my computer screen has two stages to it. It’s work I need to post to a website.

The first stage is the preparation. I need to get the work in a format that is ready to be posted … I’ve already been working on that.

The second stage involves posting it to the website. This part will take a long time. It’s a tedious, multi-step process for each file.

I remember one year going on vacation, and within an hour of leaving the house, I started feeling sick.

By the time we got to where we were staying the first night, I was sicker than I’d ever been in my life.

I think I had worked so hard getting myself ready for vacation that my body said, “That’s enough!” and it kind of shut down on me.

I was a couple of days into vacation before my body started to come around and I began feeling like myself again.

That seems counteractive to the whole idea of vacation.

Oh, for the days when I had servants to do all the work for me!

Here’s the thing: We tend to overextend ourselves, pushing hard for things, even when we don’t have the power to make them happen. We strive in our own power, and become exhausted, only in the end turning to God for the help He can provide. Why not go to Him first, and seek His wisdom, power and support? Don’t burn out in your own power.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: What work or issue could you take to God, instead of wearing out in your own strength? Leave your comments below.

It’s Time To Look Back And Reminisce

Have you ever done something for a long time and then looked back and reminisced about it?

20th-anniversary

Well, I did that this week. On April 1st I celebrated 20 years as the pastor of my church. It sure seems like a milestone to me … and that’s no April Fool’s joke!

Nineteen years didn’t seem to be that big a deal, but twenty does. There is only one place in which I have lived longer, and that’s Toronto.

At 25 I left Toronto for school in Regina to be a youth pastor … with many questions and fears, but no other desire than to work my whole career with junior and senior high students.

Being five to seven years older than most of my freshmen class, however, I wasn’t so sure becoming a youth pastor at 29 would be something anyone else would think was a good idea.

All along the way though, my call continually reminded me that this was not something I had dreamed up for myself; it was God’s idea. Whenever I got to wondering about my future, there was always some confirmation that kept me going.

After getting to my first church, I didn’t think I was going to last there very long … the first two years were pretty tumultuous. Again God worked and I ended up being one of my senior pastor’s longest serving assistant pastors, and the longest lasting youth pastor he’d ever hired.

During my time there, I worked with over 25 pastoral staff, and over 30 office and secretarial staff. It wasn’t an easy decision to leave there after eleven years.

God once again was so clear in His direction, however, that I had to pursue a role as a senior pastor.

I remember being interviewed for the position at my present church, and at one point I was given an opportunity to ask some of the congregation how they saw the church in five years.

I will never forget the first answer someone gave. It was simply, “looking for another pastor”. I quickly responded to her by saying, “I hope not”.

Well, that was a long time ago, and I’m still here. I’m not sure, though, where the person is who made that comment.

I remember as a youth pastor when I was given opportunities to preach, I was always up really late the night before trying to finish my sermon. In those days I still had my full time work to do and had to squeeze sermon prep into an already busy schedule.

Still, coming to Kingston, I was concerned that I would be burning the midnight oil on Saturday nights, cramming hard to get that last illustration into my message. I was concerned enough to tell God I wouldn’t be able to do the job if that’s what would happen.

Now as I look back, there may have been a few times – but less than 5 in 20 years – that that happened, and all because of extenuating circumstances.

The last 20 years haven’t all been easy, but I’ve clearly seen God’s hand on my life and ministry over that time. Thanks, Lord.

Here’s the thing: The most important thing I did 20 years ago was obey God’s voice and the direction He gave me. If you will hear God speak, and obey what He tells you, I’m confident that God’s hand will be on your life and ministry too, whether that is in the market place or as a full time vocation.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: How have you known when God was telling you to do something? Leave your comment below.

Help For When You Are Unsettled

I noticed something today that I didn’t really like about myself. I found that I was a little out of sorts over a bunch of small details I needed to work on.

Unsettled

I felt unsettled, and that was not a great feeling as I was heading into a meeting where I couldn’t do anything about those details.

Dealing with several tasks in the course of a short period of time was not the real issue for me. The real issue was that I had a meeting to focus on so those small details had to take a back seat, and remain unfinished until my meeting was over.

I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t like things hanging over my head. I’ll either handle matters right away or block them from my mind so I don’t have to think about them.

I’m really good at blocking things out. The problem with that is I can forget about things and then procrastinate until it’s tough to get those details back into the active part of my mind so I will work on them.

The details that I was concerned about today could not fall victim to procrastination. They needed to be completed before the day was out.

Somehow I needed to put them on a back burner while I was at my meeting, and then move them to the forefront of my mind when my meeting concluded.

The meeting happened to be our church service, and I realized how I was feeling just minutes before the service started.

I had come to the front of the sanctuary to pray with those who were involved in making the next hour or so a significant time for the congregation.

Just before we went to pray I realized how unsettled I felt. I needed to put all my focus and concentration on the service and, in particular, my message.

All those minor details needed to be moved into a small, cramped place in the back of my mind where I didn’t have to think about them.

The worship team took to the platform, the tech guys headed to the back and I settled into my seat at the front of the sanctuary.

I didn’t really feel calm or focused, so I just bowed my head and started to pray.

The band started playing and music filled the sanctuary. The singers started to sing; the congregation stood, but I just stayed seated with my head down.

After a few moments I raised my head, stood up and looked at the screen.

The first words I saw were, “He will uphold me all of my days”.

I had just finished praying that God would help me to not worry about the things I couldn’t get to right then and help me to be single-minded on my sermon.

Then I saw those words on the screen. I settled right down. I thanked the Lord and started to worship with the rest of the congregation.

I was able to give my complete attention to my sermon, and not be concerned with those small details.

Here’s the thing: Often we struggle through times when we feel undecided or unsettled like I just did. God longs to help us in those times if we will just give the things that are distracting us to Him.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: How has God settled you down when you have been unfocused? Leave your comment below.

My Free Time Got Fried!

Why is it that when time is freed up from one thing, it is so easily filled by something else?

Cool-Polar-Bear-Photos-Im-not-lazy.-Im-just-highly-motivated-to-do-nothing.

When you get a break from a regular task or project that gives you all kinds of freedom to work on something else. But what invariably happens is other things and people come along, take bits of that freed up time and leave you with nothing.

I’m not sure anyone else experiences this phenomenon but it happens to me every time I get a break from preaching.

The last two weeks I haven’t had to speak on Sunday which freed up a large amount of time I would spend studying and writing sermons.

That freedom was welcomed because I have some extra events around Christmas, some planning for early in the new year and a sermon to have ready a couple of days after Christmas.

So, though I did not have to preach, I had lots I needed to work on – the freed up time was something I needed.

However, now that I’m at the end of those two weeks, I didn’t get done nearly what I needed to and the hopes of having an easy, no pressure, leisurely Christmas is kind of out the window right now.

There are a few reasons why this happens to me, and I can pretty much predict it to happen every time I get a break from sermon prep.

First, I feel a little freer than normal. Without that thought in the back of my mind of needing to have a message ready for next Sunday, I kind of let my guard down.

I don’t protect my time as much as I do when I have to write a sermon. I will chat with people longer, and be open to making appointments at times I never would if I was working on a message for Sunday.

Secondly, I find that I am less focussed. I might be working on something but then become aware of something else that needs my attention. I will drop what I was working on and start plugging away on this new interest.

I’ll know that I shouldn’t be spending the time on this new project, but my lack of focus keeps me drifting from one thing that catches my fancy to something else.

Thirdly, I find I’m just not as motivated as when I have a sermon to produce. There is something about having the pressure of a deadline that keeps you moving in that direction. But when the pressure is gone, sometimes the motivation is missing too.

What it all comes down to is discipline. When I let my guard down, or am less focussed, or not very motivated, what it really means is I have not disciplined myself to use my time in the best possible way.

Man, next week is going to be busy!

Here’s the thing: When you get out of routine with God, whether that is attending church, spending time with Him alone, serving Him in some capacity, or learning more about Him by yourself or with others, what you find is that time gets used up by other things. If you don’t discipline yourself with God, you will find that you let your guard down to other things, you are less focussed on Him and you lack motivation for God. Stay disciplined.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: What gets in the way of your routine with God? Leave your comment below.

You Need Purpose On Your Day Off

Have you ever worked hard for a week or more, and been in desperate need of a day off?

day_off_640_01

When you finally get that well-deserved day off, there is a tendency to want to do nothing, to not plan, not initiate, not schedule.

And that’s probably the worst thing you can do.

We all need rest from our work. We need time to recharge our batteries, to get ourselves ready to face work again. But so many times we approach a day off with the wrong kind of thinking.

We want to distance ourselves from anything that reminds us of work, like making a to-do list, or completing a to-do list, or even putting things down on a schedule for the day.

We want to sleep in, have a leisurely breakfast, and just float through the day being pushed by the wind.

… It sounds nice in theory, but it’s the worst thing you could do on your day off – your precious day off.

You see, if you do that, by the end of the day you’ll feel frustrated that you wasted your day.

The next morning you’ll be wishing you had another day off because you won’t be ready to go back to work. You’ll feel like you didn’t accomplish anything on your day off …  which is precisely what you set out to do!

The problem is that we are not mindless and ambition-less. We were made to do things, and built to have purpose – even if it is purpose for a day off.

God has created us with a purpose. Purpose is in our DNA.

We can fight having a purpose – and many people do on their day off – but you’ll have a subconscious frustration that forms a pattern you can’t seem to break out of. It becomes habit-forming.

I remember when I was in high school I would sleep in on Saturdays. I thought I liked sleeping in like that. But at one point I realized that I would wake up a little frustrated, slightly cranky, when I would get up at around 12:30 or 1 pm.

It dawned on me that deep down I felt like I was wasting a good portion of the day.

That’s when I made a big change. … But getting up early was not the only thing I needed.

I also needed a plan of what to do, or else I would still diddle my day away.

When I’ve planned my day off and executed it, I feel better, and the next day I’m rejuvenated. All I need is a little purpose in my day off.

That means coming up with a plan, a schedule and action. The difference between that and work is that you do what you are interested in, what will bring some joy, fulfillment, and a sense of accomplishment.

That’s why this morning, on my day off, I’m making a plan of how my day will be filled with purpose.

Here’s the thing: If you are going to keep growing in your relationship with God, then you are going to have to be purposeful in that as well. Take some time to plan and schedule when you will meet with Him. Don’t let days, weeks or months go by in subconscious frustration knowing you should meet with God. Make a plan, put it in your schedule and implement it.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: What makes planning on your day off difficult for you? Leave your comment below.

The Challenge Of Deadlines

Every one has deadlines that they have to meet. No matter if it’s highly pressurized, like getting a school paper in on time, or just renewing your driver’s license by your birthdate, we all have deadlines to meet.

deadline

Some people are able to go a long time before they have to meet a deadline; others have deadlines to meet on an ongoing basis.

When I was in school, I thought I had a lot of deadlines. Each class had plenty, so it seemed I had to meet a new deadline every couple of weeks.

When I was done, I had hoped to be free from the pressure of regular deadlines. But I chose the wrong profession because, as a pastor, I have deadlines every week.

There is not a week that goes by that I don’t feel the pressure of having a sermon done by Sunday.  And though someone once said to me, “I thought you just got up there and talked”, it actually takes me all week to be ready to speak.

And there are other deadlines to meet, that I need to schedule for.

But the most pressurized deadlines are those you haven’t planned for, that you can’t plan for. They just appear out of nowhere.

It’s like the tree in my front yard. I saw the leaves turning colour and was really enjoying them. But then one day, out of the blue, those beautiful, coloured leaves started falling off the tree in rapid succession – no warning, just a pile of leaves that needed to be picked up.

When I get those random, unexpected deadlines, the pressure is turned up and some things that don’t have a time limit get put to the side to make room for those new deadlines.

That was the scenario that occurred in my life this past week. (The fact that you’re reading this tells you I survived, but I have to say that I’m hoping for a pretty quiet, restful day today!)

In the course of the week, there were many things that just got turfed to the sidelines. Some of those things included work that didn’t get done, personal time that didn’t materialize, even exercise that had to be put on hold. I had some early mornings and some late nights.

You just hunker down for what has to get done and you let everything else go.

But the most amazing thing about it is that now that it’s over, it doesn’t seem like it was that bad. You kind of forget what it was like … maybe so that you can cope with having to do it again some time.

It must be something like a woman giving birth. With all the pain they go through, you would wonder why a mother would agree to have a second child! But I guess when it’s all done, they just remember the good things – that precious little life that they see before them.

Well, I guess in some strange way, I am satisfied with how my week ended up, and I think more about that than I do all the pressure and work it took to bring it about.

Here’s the thing: We also face things in our lives that will apply pressure to our faith. Some of those things will come out of nowhere. You may find it extremely difficult to deal with, but tackle it with all your focus, because when you’ve come through, you will be able to handle another challenge to your faith when it comes.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: How do you handle unexpected deadlines that come your way? Leave your comment below.

Turn Your Toil Into Joy 

 

This is a re-post of a blog I published on October 13, 2012. This week I found myself in a very similar situation and this blog spoke to me all over again. Enjoy.

Yesterday I had to work late on my sermon.  It was Friday; I like to be done my sermon by 5 pm but it was obvious that was not going to happen.

working lateEvery week that Sunday deadline stares me in the face; it’s always on my mind.  Some weeks things go well.  I do a little work on my message each day so that the task is broken down.  Monday mornings I make notes on the passage and from commentaries.  Tuesdays, I read supportive material and start to formulate the main idea of the passage.  Wednesdays, I try to create the outline with supportive scripture.  Thursdays, I write a draft of the message.

These days I’ve been dictating that draft. Its an amazing thing, I speak and my computer types the words.  My wife Lily always laughs when I dictate because the program gets some words wrong … like the other day, when I said, “Because the word…” and the program typed “Because Al Gore.”

I’m not sure what Al Gore had to do with my message – it had nothing to do with saving the planet’s environment!  On the other hand, my sermon did have to do with saving people ON the planet.

Fridays, I edit my message, prepare the media presentation and internet support.  This Friday by 4 pm, I had not even started to write the sermon.  It had been a very difficult week, with many interruptions and meetings.

At 4 pm I was tired, and frustrated because focus had been an issue all week for me.  I was not looking forward to spending all evening writing a sermon.  But as I was checking a reference for something, I ran into a quote that struck me.

The quote was from Samuel Chadwick a Methodist preacher. “The one concern of the devil is to keep Christians from praying.  He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, and prayerless religion.  He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray.”

I had just finished praying when I read that, asking God to help me get my sermon done quickly.  But something struck me in that quote; it was the part about Satan laughing at our toil.  My sermon writing felt like toil to me right then.  I was not excited about writing it; I just wanted to be done.

After pondering the quote for a moment, I began to pray again.  This time I asked God to give me a passion for my writing.  I asked Him to fill me with excitement and enthusiasm for what I would put down.  I asked Him to give me joy in writing my message, no matter how long it took.  I asked Him to fill me up with the message He wanted me to bring to my congregation.  I prayed, “Lord, don’t let Satan laugh at the work I am doing.”

The Lord answered my prayer, keeping me focussed and moving ahead as I dictated. He filled my mind with thoughts and words and illustrations.  It was a pleasure to write that message, and I finished before 8 pm.

Here’s the thing:  When we are struggling with something, no matter what it is, it’s always a good thing to pray.  Keep in mind that Satan would love to keep you toiling and prayerless.  Do the opposite.  Pray and watch God make your work a joy.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: What do you do when you find your task is more toil than joy?  Leave your comments below.