Book Notes | Living into Focus: Choosing What Matters in an Age of Distractions

bookI read Living into Focus: Choosing What Matters in an Age of Distractions by Arthur Boers as I prepped my sermon on balancing life, work, school and family.

To say I was challenged by this book would be an understatement. While I found some of his suggestions for decompressing and living (birding and gardening) not realistic for me, I loved his writing style. He did have other ideas of connecting in life, which I found helpful.

What I appreciated most about this book was the hard look he took at what electronics do to our brains and relationships. Many act as if electronics either do nothing to us or are neutral, but as Boers points out, nothing is neutral. Everything does something, positive or negative.

Here are a few things that stood out to me:

  • We live in a society that has achieved a standard of living that surpasses the wildest dreams of most of the people in the history of the world; the most conspicuous result is that far too many of us live poor, thin, trivializing lives.
  • Our culture has a prevailing sense of being too busy, having too much to do, without enough time for things that matter and priorities that really count.
  • Study after study shows that numerous daily realities contribute to declining happiness and growing depression: commuting watching television spending time online being cut off from nature not having enough friendships living out of sync with natural and biological rhythms insufficient sleep feeling distracted.
  • When we allow devices and machines to reside at the center of our lives, we displace values and practices that once enriched the quality of how we live. We end up serving our gadgets instead of using them as tools to support our priorities. Technology itself becomes the center and purpose of how we live.
  • Too often our interactions with technology follow a predictable trajectory: because it is available we use it, then we think it is normal, and finally we expect or even demand that others employ it as well.
  • Many of us overlook that simple day-to-day choices—about cars, microwaves, cell phones, email, internet, television, dishwashers, communication options—have great and detrimental impact on our quality of life. If we do not pay attention to these effects, then chances are that devices will shape us in ways that we would not consciously choose.
  • One of the most significant challenges of contemporary technology is how it shapes our awareness, where it attracts our attention, and the ways that it sometimes—perhaps even often—draws us away from the things we value most.
  • Our lives are shaped by our focus. The direction of our attention not only shows values, but it also forms character.
  • We now live in “a never-ending cocktail party where you’re always looking over your virtual shoulder for a better conversation partner.”
  • The more distracted we become, the less able we are to experience the subtlest, most distinctively human forms of empathy, compassion, and other emotions.
  • Technology often defines choices, sets priorities, and determines values.
  • Connectivity becomes a craving; when we receive a text or an e-mail, our nervous system responds by giving us a shot of dopamine. We are stimulated by the connectivity itself. We learn to require it, even as it depletes us.
  • We once thought that email meant easier communication and a lightened workload. Instead it increases expectations.
  • Busy lives, long work hours, and the desire to accomplish so much leave little time for deepening relationships or meeting new people. No wonder many are interested in online romance and “speed dating.” In touch with growing numbers, our contacts grow shallower even as they multiply. Time gets divided into smaller and smaller increments as we share it with more and more people.
  • Evidence shows that we are growing more isolated. Yes, there are certainly ways that people connect via technologies, but such connections tend to be tenuous, issue- or hobby-specific, and limited. Less and less are our relationships complex, ongoing, face-to-face, year-after-year.
  • The connection between consumerism and busyness is not accidental or coincidental.

If you find yourself struggling to have focus, limit electronics or connect with others relationally, this is a great book to read.

To see other book notes, click here.

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Why Pastor’s Should Take a Summer Preaching Break

book

I am coming off of my summer preaching break at Revolution. When we started the church 5 years ago, I preached almost 100 times in the first 2 years. While it seemed necessary at the time, it was not unwise and certainly not sustainable.

It is always interesting to me when pastors hear about the break I take each summer. They often tell me how they could never do that or what they would do if they did that. I’ve talked to church members who don’t know what to do with a pastor taking a break. I get quizzical looks and then they say, “It would be nice for me to take 4 weeks off.” Which totally misses the point, but it would be nice to take 4 weeks off.

Here’s what I do on my break & why you as a pastor should take one:

  1. Rest. During my break I go on vacation, spend longer time with Katie and the kids than I normally do. I take more retreat days to be alone with Jesus and work on my heart. In the flow of a ministry year, it is easy to get busy and drown out the voice of the Holy Spirit. While I take my day off each week and try to take a retreat day each month, it is easy to skip these. A break gives me no excuse. During a break, I’m able to read my bible longer and journal more, pray more and work on me as a man, a father, a husband and a pastor. If this were the only thing a pastor gained from his break, his church would be better off, but there’s more.
  2. Let the church hear from other communicators. I would love to think I’m the greatest communicator my church has ever heard, but that isn’t true. In fact, they get tired of me, how I say things and what I say. I start to run out of interesting things to say, my stories get dry and don’t connect and I get tired of the series we are in. This happens every series we do, 10 weeks into it I’m ready for the next one. A break lets other people preach, which develops other communicators who God is calling into ministry or preaching. It allows my church to hear a different way of preaching, a different lens of reading the Bible and new insights and stories. Depending on how well they do, it might also give your church a greater appreciation for you. Some notes on guest speakers: they must line up with you theologically, don’t preach heresy on your week off. They must be good. I knew one pastor who booked speakers who weren’t as good as he was so when he came back people were excited he was back. I want Revolution to be great 52 weeks a year, regardless of who is preaching.
  3. Get your love and passion for preaching back. Preaching is hard work. It is tiring and draining. I love to preach and prep a sermon. It is one of the favorite parts of my job, but it is physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally tiring. Pulling back for a few weeks is incredibly important. Two weeks into your break, you will want to preach again and have the itch. This is good, then enjoy the last 2 weeks. For me, I’ve learned that I need to take a week off from preaching every 10 weeks. Every pastor is different, but that seems to be my limit.
  4. Evaluate the church. Andy Stanley calls this “working on the church, not in the church.” When I’m not working on a sermon, it gives me a chance to pull back and look at everything. This summer we and my leaders spent a great deal of time evaluating Missional Communities, talking about our first Revolution Church plant and what that will look like, and how we will get from 250 to 500 in attendance and what needs to change for that to happen and what will change because of that. In the normal flow of a ministry year, it is hard to have these meetings because they take time, but the summer is the perfect time to pull back and evaluate.
  5. Look ahead. Right along with evaluating your church, you can look ahead. You can read for upcoming sermons and series. You can work ahead on things. This summer, I started to work on the series we will begin in January. This is a huge help to our church because it allows us to have resources, daily bible study questions, mc guides, and study guides to educate our people in Scripture. None of these things happen at the last minute.
  6. Grow your leadership through books and conversations. Taking a break gives you extra time to read outside of sermon prep. I love to read and it seems I am always reading 5 books, but a summer break helps me read more and from a wider variety of books and topics. It also helps me have time to talk to other leaders, ask them questions, learn from them to benefit our church. This summer, I’ve spent time talking to pastors of church that are in that 350-500 range to see what is next. I’ve talked with pastors who have planted a church and what they learned in the process.
  7. Gives you energy for the fall. In most churches, the fall is the second biggest growth time of the year. The spring is the biggest for Revolution. Taking a break in the summer, pulling back gives you the energy for the season that is coming. If you go into the ministry season at 85%, you will burnout and not make it. If you go in at 100% you will push through and be of greater use to your church and Jesus.

If you are an elder or a church member who has the power to encourage your pastor to do this, do it. The benefit to your pastor, his family and your church is enormous. If you are a pastor, stop making excuses about this. Educate your elders, vision cast and lead up. I had to at the beginning as my elders didn’t understand why I’d do this. To them it felt like I was taking a month off. That’s okay, but don’t let that stop you.

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Take Time to be Holy

Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord;
Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word.
Make friends of God’s children; help those who are weak,
Forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek.

Take time to be holy, the world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret with Jesus alone.
By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be;
Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.

Take time to be holy, let Him be thy guide;
And run not before Him whatever betide.
In joy or in sorrow still follow thy Lord,
And, looking to Jesus, still trust in His Word.

Take time to be holy, be calm in thy soul;
Each thought and each motive beneath His control.
Thus led by His Spirit to fountains of love,
Thou soon shalt be fitted for service above.

-William D. Longstaff

Good Friday at Revolution Church

Good Friday is a day of remembrance when, as Christians, we solemnly reflect on the death of our Savior Jesus on a Roman cross to pay the penalty for our sin. It is a sober reminder of what we did to God before our joyous celebration of what God did for us—resurrect from death and conquer Satan, sin, and death—on Easter Sunday.

“No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

– Jesus Christ (John 10:18) 

This year at Revolution we will be walking through the stations of the cross.  This journey takes us through the last hours of Jesus life and reminds us of His incredible sacrifice.

You might be a new follower of Jesus, or have just started attending Revolution and might wonder what is the big deal about Good Friday. Why we celebrate it. Recently, on the Mars Hill blog, they answered this question:

For Christians, Good Friday is a crucial day of the year because it celebrates what we believe to be the most momentous weekend in the history of the world. Ever since Jesus died and was raised, Christians have proclaimed the cross and resurrection of Jesus to be the decisive turning point for all creation. Paul considered it to be “of first importance” that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and was raised to life on the third day, all in accordance with what God had promised all along in the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3-4).

On Good Friday we remember the day Jesus willingly suffered and died by crucifixion as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. It is followed by Easter, the glorious celebration of the day Jesus was raised from the dead, heralding his victory over sin and death and pointing ahead to a future resurrection for all who are united to him by faith (Rom. 6:5).

Still, why call the day of Jesus’ death “Good Friday” instead of “Bad Friday” or something similar? Some Christian traditions do take this approach: in German, for example, the day is called Karfreitag, or “Sorrowful Friday.” In English, in fact, the origin of the term “Good” is debated: some believe it developed from an older name, “God’s Friday.” Regardless of the origin, the name Good Friday is entirely appropriate because the suffering and death of Jesus, as terrible as it was, marked the dramatic culmination of God’s plan to save his people from their sins.

As Doug Wilson recently wrote on the Resurgence, in order for the good news of the gospel to have meaning for us, we first have to understand the bad news of our condition as sinful people under condemnation. The good news of deliverance only makes sense once we see how we are enslaved. This is simply another way of saying that it is important to understand and distinguish the Law and the Gospel as the “two words” of scripture. We need the law first to show us how hopeless our condition is; then the gospel of Jesus’ grace comes and brings us relief and salvation.

In the same way, Good Friday is “good” because as terrible as that day was, it had to happen for us to receive the joy of Easter. The wrath of God against sin had to be poured out on Jesus, the perfect sacrificial substitute, in order for forgiveness and salvation to be poured out on the nations. Without that awful day of suffering, sorrow, and shed blood at the cross, God could not be both “just and the justifier” of those who trust in Jesus (Rom. 3:26). Paradoxically, the day that seemed to be the greatest triumph of evil was actually the deathblow in God’s gloriously good plan to redeem the world from bondage.

The cross is where we see the convergence of great suffering and God’s forgiveness. Psalm 85:10 sings of a day when “righteousness and peace” will “kiss each other.” The cross of Jesus is where that occurred, where God’s demands, his righteousness, coincided with his mercy. We receive divine forgiveness, mercy, and peace because Jesus willingly took our divine punishment, the result of God’s righteousness against sin. “For the joy set before him” (Heb. 12:2) Jesus endured the cross on Good Friday, knowing it led to his resurrection, our salvation, and the beginning of God’s reign of righteousness and peace.

Good Friday marks the day when wrath and mercy met at the cross. That’s why Good Friday is so dark and so Good.

Join us anytime between 6:00 and 7:30 to walk through the stations.

*Due to the intense and serious nature of this activity, there will be a separate activity for children 10 and under for parents to take advantage of if they wish.

Good Friday at Revolution Church

Good Friday is a day of remembrance when, as Christians, we solemnly reflect on the death of our Savior Jesus on a Roman cross to pay the penalty for our sin. It is a sober reminder of what we did to God before our joyous celebration of what God did for us—resurrect from death and conquer Satan, sin, and death—on Easter Sunday.

“No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” – Jesus Christ (John 10:18) 

This year at Revolution we will be walking through the stations of the cross.  This journey takes us through the last hours of Jesus life and reminds us of His incredible sacrifice.

Join us anytime between 6:00 and 7:30 to walk through the stations.

*Due to the intense and serious nature of this activity, there will be a separate activity for children 10 and under for parents to take advantage of if they wish.

God is the Important Thing

Have you ever been loved well by someone? So well that you feel confident that person will receive you and will forgive your worse crime? That’s the kind of security the soul receives from God. When the soul lives in that kind of security, it is no longer occupied with technique. We can go back and do the rituals, the spiritual disciplines, but we no longer follow them idolatrously. We don’t condemn people who don’t do it our way. All techniques, rituals and spiritual disciplines are just fingers pointing to God. God is the important thing, not the pointing fingers. -Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs

The Rest of God

Rest is not something I always do well. I try. Some seasons are more balanced than others. I want to rest well. Sleep well. Eat well. I want to hear God, but sometimes I get so busy that I drown out his voice.

On my shelf, I had Mark Buchanan’s book The Rest of God for several years. I started it probably 4 times but never finished it. Last week, I picked it up determined to finish it.

I have just come through a busy season. We had another church merge with us, which meant my responsibilities expanded and involved me taking my family day (most weeks) and being at the other church to build relationships and preach. We had an elder resign, which took a toll on me emotionally and mentally. I have also been making 2-3 tripes to Phoenix each month building relationships with Acts 29 pastors and learning how to better train leaders at Revolution through the Surge Network (more on this later). To add to that, since January, we’ve almost doubled as a church and we added another worship gathering which over time takes a toll physically from having to preach twice.

This past month I realized I was just wiped. So, I grabbed Buchanan’s book off the shelf.

What I most appreciated about this book was how he described Sabbath. Sabbath is not just a day, it is a state of your heart, it is the pace you live. He says, “Sabbath is both a day and an attitude to nurture such stillness. It is both time on a calendar and a disposition of the heart. It is a day we enter, but just as much a way we see. Sabbath imparts the rest of God – actual physical, mental, spiritual rest, but also the rest of God – the things of God’s nature and presence we miss in our busyness.”

The reality though is that busyness robs of us things. It robs our health, relationships, relationship with God, etc. We convince ourselves that the busier we are, the more we will accomplish, but have you ever noticed the ones who accomplish the most over the long haul tend to be the most balanced. They are healthy, sleep well, eat well and have community around them.

By breaking sabbath, we actually lessen the greatness of play, vacation, eating, etc. What I never realized until reading this book was the scope of the heart of sabbath.

Sabbath in Scripture begins at night, with sleep. Which is an appropriate picture of the heart of Sabbath. Sleep is “a necessity. It is a relinquishment. It is self-abandonment: of control, of power, of consciousness, of identity. We direct nothing in our sleep. We master nothing. In sleep, we become infants again: utterly vulnerable, completely defenseless, totally dependent. Out of control.” If you read that definition again, you will see why most of us break sabbath. We like power, control. We don’t like to be vulnerable or dependent on anyone, let alone God.

Sabbath shows us our helplessness. It reminds us of our humanness.

One thing I took away was learning to live in the present, especially with my kids. It is easy to convince yourself that your kids can wait or to be with them while thinking of something else. This past week, Katie was at day camp with the other kids and Gavin stayed home sick. Everyone left and I turned on Toy Story 3 for Gavin and was going to go get ready for the day. He asked me to watch the movie with him. I decided to lay on the couch, watch the movie and get ready later. My sermon and work still got done this week.

Buchanan sums out how we should think on Sabbath and live it out:  Cease from what is necessary. Embrace what gives life. 

Once a week. In your heart, everyday.

If you are fast moving, control freak. Don’t rest well. Like me. This is a book you should definitely grab.

Stop Complaining

Last week I talked about the process of how we become more like Jesus (sanctification). Paul clearly lays out how this process works in Philippians 2:12 – 13. If you missed it, you can listen to it here. On the heels of this in verse 14 he says, “Do all things without grumbling or questioning (complaining).” I had always been told that this means we shouldn’t complain, “God doesn’t like whiners” I was told.

One of the points I made in my sermon was when God is making us into more like Jesus, he will help us along the way. Maybe we need to grow in patience, he will send someone into our lives who will make us impatient. If we need to trust Him more, maybe He will allow things to happen in our lives so that we have to choose between worry and faith. You get the picture.

This morning, Katie and I were talking more about it because we had small group last night and she said, “What if that verse is also talking about all the things God has already told us to do and made clear in Scripture.” Things like giving, being in community, sharing our faith, being on mission, worshiping, being a part of a church, using our spiritual gifts. What if, when we don’t do those things, we are complaining or questioning God’s ways because we aren’t doing them. Someone at our small group last night said, “I started giving back to God when I realized I was commanded by God to do it, that it wasn’t an option. That changed everything.” What if, by not doing something God has already called us to, we are questioning him and by doing that, we are stopping the process of sanctification. Paul makes very clear in verses 12 – 13 that we and God partner in the process.

What if, by not doing what God has called us, we are making sure we don’t experience all that God has in mind for us? For example, if we don’t give, we are ensuring that our faith won’t grow, that we won’t trust God and that we won’t see God move in big ways. Every time you meet someone who prays big prayers, has enormous faith, does not worry, you are talking to someone who is generous and trusts God with their finances.

So, what are you doing that might be keeping the process of sanctification from happening? What things has God already made clear in scripture, things like being in community, praying, reading Scripture, giving back to God, sharing your faith, inviting people to church, etc. that you aren’t doing. What if, you started doing those things, what would happen? Would God move in your life in bigger ways if you stopped questioning Him in that way?