Use Your Time Well in the New Year

“Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives,” are words spoken at the start of the soap opera Days of our Lives since its beginning on November 8, 1965. The words are spoken as we watch sand moving from the top of the hourglass to the bottom.

So far it hasn’t run out. Days of Our Lives has been renewed through September of 2016. Will it end then? Only time will tell.

But the opening is telling. Our days are numbered. I remember as a kid being fascinated with an hourglass. Watching the sand filtering through was mesmerizing. An hourglass is useful if it is helping you watch your time. They were used on ships where the measurement of equal hours was necessary for calculating the distance traveled. Sand-filled hourglasses could be suspended and mostly unaffected by the motion of the ocean.

But hourglasses are not very useful if all you are doing is watching the sand. By the time the sand runs out you realize all you’ve done with that time is watched time disappear. And you can’t get it back. All those moments are gone. And then there are other moments you might have caught had you not been wasting your time watching sand.

Time is a valuable commodity. The Greeks understood that truth. So they had two words for “time.” One was kronos. It’s the word for sequential time or chronological time. It is time in minutes and seconds. The second word for “time” is kairos. It’s a word used for a window of time, an opportune time, or the right time. It has to do with a period of time that opens itself up and one needs to make the most of it when it does.

The problem is we don’t always operate on kairos time. We fill our calendars with one task or meeting or event after the next until it is full. And because we do, we often miss kairos moments. We only have so much kronos time. We have even fewer kairos moments.

That’s why Paul tells us to wake up and pay attention to how we are living our life. “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16).

So what can we do to make the best use of our time?

First, make a record of where your time is going. One practice that will help you is to keep a record of where your time is going. Just as it is nearly impossible to manage your money well if you don’t keep track of how much you have and how much you spend and where you spend it, the same is true of your time.

Get a day-planner or use your calendar on your computer or mobile device and keep track of what you are doing every day for at least one week, preferably two. Be specific. If you work on a project for two hours, write that in. If you get sidetracked and read e-mails for 15 minutes, write that in. Be honest. If you’re not the exercise won’t do you any good.

Then, prayerfully analyze what adjustments need to be made. These questions might help:

  • How would Jesus have used this time if he were in my shoes?
  • Would he have gone where I went? Would he have read what I read? Would he have watched what I watched? Would he have worked like I worked?
  • Is there something God is calling me to do that I need to add to my schedule? A visit to someone? Some Sabbath rest? A ministry activity?

Once you know where your time is going and have analyzed the adjustments you need to make, then make the adjustments. Be proactive and train yourself to do the important things first. If you do, you’ll have time to get to the other activities on your list.

Our kronos moments are disappearing with each second. Our kairos moments are too.

Let’s make the best use of them.

Question: What adjustments to your time useage do you want to make in 2015?

When Darkness Falls on Christmas Night

The house is dark now. Presents have been given. Some received with an excited “you shouldn’t have!” Others opened with a quizzical “you shouldn’t have?” Wrapping paper collected and discarded in a lawn and leaf bag. The tree that once looked as if it were sitting in a sea of gifts now stands alone in the corner, lights dimly casting a glow into the stillness of the room.

The fun and laughter of the day has been replaced with sleepy eyes and “good nights.” I don’t like for this day to end. I want to hold onto Christmas as long as I can so I often stay up late into the darkness.

The late night reminds me that it was dark when Jesus entered our world too.

His people were governed by a foreign ruler. Many longed for someone to come and right their wrongs. They lived in dark times.

The nearby shepherds were watching their flock by night. Outsiders to the rest of the world. Their spirits felt the heaviness of the dark.

His own parents were young and in love. They were also poor. Their life would not be easy. They would live in the shadows of whispers and the darkness of rumors.

A king full of hatred would have innocent infants killed so that he could retain his throne. He would unleash a rampage of darkness.

Yes, it was dark when Jesus entered our world. Maybe that’s why John tells a different story about his birth. No manger scenes, no shepherds, no angelic visits or visions. He simply says “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” That’s it. In an instant he “became flesh.” And it happened at night.

John wants us to know that this one who became flesh “was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” At night, after Christmas day is fading and another is coming, we can see his light if we pause long enough to look for it.

  • We see it in the campaign to give a boatload of money to a deserving mother who works a drive-through, spreading cheer to those she serves.
  • We see it in the glistening eyes of the parents who have their children home again and gathered around the table.
  • We see it in shoppers who stopped to hear the High School choir sing “O Holy Night.”
  • We see it in ourselves as we took our eyes off us and put them on others. Even if only for a short time.

It was dark when Jesus came and it is dark now. We’ll hear of more shootings of innocent victims. There will be more economic woes and broken government promises. The holidays will end and work will again pile up. Grace will be exchanged for greed.

But we have seen it. We have seen his light shining in our own darkness. 

Maybe I just need to remember one more time that the darkness—no matter how dark it may appear—has not overcome his light.

Maybe I just need to pray that the light we have seen this Christmas season will shine into the New Year.

Christmas for Those Who Feel Left Out

We love stories around Christmas time, don’t we? And so did Bob. He was thirty-five years old and working for Montgomery Ward in 1939 as an ad writer, a far cry from his dream of writing a great American novel. Instead, he was in debt and had a wife who was suffering from a long illness.

When he arrived at his workplace in Chicago that cold January day he viewed himself as an outcast that didn’t quite fit in. He made his way to his office only to be told the boss wanted to see him. What he wanted would change his life.

For years the store had been giving away coloring books at Christmas and his boss decided they could save money if they just produced their own. And so he asked Bob to write a booklet they could use. The only stipulation was that it needed to be about an animal.

Bob knew which animals his four-year-old daughter loved at the zoo and took that as his cue. He decided to make the main character an underdog, a misfit that came out on top in the end. He drew upon his own childhood when he was small and sickly and picked on by other kids. As he looked out the window and saw the fog from Lake Michigan dimming the street lights he had his idea.

Bob started writing so they could have the booklet ready by the next Christmas. But in July his wife died. His boss offered to get someone else to finish the story but Bob insisted on finishing and by late August it was complete. Things went well for the story as Montgomery Ward distributed 2 million copies that first Christmas.

But things weren’t going well for Bob. He was living on a copywriter’s salary and facing huge debts due to his wife’s medical bills. That all changed when, after WWII ended, the CEO of Montgomery Ward decided to give Bob the rights to his story. Bob May’s tale about a reindeer with a red nose was turned into the second best-selling Christmas song of all time by Gene Autry and led to the TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

In that special Rudolph was a misfit and found others that didn’t quite fit in living on the Island of Misfit Toys. They all eventually found a home with Santa.

None of us would want to admit it, but could some of the allure of this quaint story be that we sense we are misfits too? In school your grades didn’t cut it. In work you can’t seem to get a break. In life you never get the invitation.

Or maybe your bills—like Bob’s—are piling up. A crisis has hit your family and you’re sure no one would want to party with you.  You’ve lost someone you loved or you’re single and alone. You just don’t seem to fit.

You may need to hear another familiar Christmas story again. The first one. God came near to us as a baby. An outcast. There was no room for him in the inn. But he came nonetheless.

  • He came to Mary and Joseph. A couple so poor they could only give the offering of the poor when they presented their child at the Temple.
  • He came to a manger. A feeding place for the animals.
  • He came to the shepherds. The ones so low on the social ladder they could not be called upon to witness in court.
  • He came to his disciples. Men who did not make the cut in the rabbinical crowd and were told to go learn a trade and hope their sons would become rabbis.
  • He came to Bethlehem. The city of David. David, the youngest and overlooked son of Jesse.

And when he came that first Christmas he came to you and he came to me. He came to all who feel out of place in the world to give them a place in his world.

This Christmas season you may be home, surrounded by people you love, yet feel a peculiar “out of placeness” and not know why. When you do, follow the one born in Bethlehem. He’ll light the way through any dark and foggy night of the soul and lead you home.

How to Have a Merry Christmas Week

I hate to break it to you but you are within a week of Christmas. And if you are like many folks today you:

  • Still have shopping to do which means fighting traffic and long lines (unless you order through Amazon and have them deal with getting the presents to the people on your list).
  • You may have deadlines to meet before you can break for the Christmas parties…
  • …and then if you eat too much you’ll have your waistline to watch.
  • There may be a long drive to the grandparents ahead which means kids who can’t control their excitement will be fussing and feuding on the way.

There’s hustle and bustle and then someone says “Merry Christmas” and you’re not quite sure how you will find any merriment in the midst of the menagerie of activities.

But you can. You just need to have the right list to check twice. Did you know that you don’t have to let your external circumstances determine your happiness? That’s right. Instead, you can follow a few simple exercises and find yourself being more “positive in the present.”

That’s what Shawn Anchor suggests through his research. You can hear more by listening to his TED Talk “The happy secret to better work” here. In it Shawn talks about how only 10% of your long term happiness can be predicted by your external circumstances. 90% of your long term happiness is predicted by the way your brain processes your external world.

What that means is no matter what is happening around you what is most important is what is happening inside you.

If you want to be happier you can do some things to rewire how you process the circumstances of your external world.  All you need to do is commit to doing five things 2 minutes a day for 21 days in a row. Here they are:

  1. Write down 3 gratitudes every day.  Make them different each day.
  2. Journal one positive from the past 24 hours.
  3. Exercise…which teaches your brain that your behavior matters.
  4. Meditate or focus on the task at hand.
  5. Perform a random act of kindness. It can be as simple as writing one positive e-mail to someone in your network, team, or company.

That’s it. Start today. By Christmas you will have a few days under your belt. And you may already have a smile forming on your face.

 

See the Face of God in Bethlehem

From the moment a parent is told the test is positive they begin to wonder. “What will this baby look like?” When we first found out Kristofer, our firstborn, was on the way we looked at our own baby pictures and wondered if he would favor the Brown side or the Campbell side or be a hybrid of both.

Then one day our doctor called us in for an ultrasound. Right there we got our first look at what Kristofer looked like. I decided he mostly took after the Campbell side of the family.

But we really wouldn’t know until the day he left the womb and entered the world. His delivery was not very easy. For over twenty hours I had to hold Karen’s hand, give her ice chips, keep people out of the room, and help her with her breathing. It was a lot of work for one guy.

The doctor eventually felt empathy for me and gave her an epidural. Finally I was able to sit down and watch the news and some sports.

And then it was time. After nine months of a tired body, extra weight, aching back, strange cravings, and hours of labor, this baby entered our world. After all that waiting and expecting, you know what the first thing we wanted to do was? We wanted to see his face. Look into his eyes. Touch his nose. Trace his ears with our fingers. Until we saw his face we hadn’t really seen him.

The Israelites had waited more than nine months. Since the promise to Abraham and the prophecies of Isaiah, they knew he was coming. “‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).”

Mary and Joseph must have wondered if somehow all of this had been a dream. But the first cry from the child broke their thoughts. You have to know that the first thing Mary did was pull the baby close and look into his face.

How incredible that must have been! To look into this baby’s face and see the face of God. That’s the claim of Scripture: that when we see the face Jesus, we see the face of God. 

“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature . . .” “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” Jesus said it himself. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

When you see Jesus’ face, you see God. You see a God who is like us: “he made himself nothing . . . being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7).

You see a God who is with us. “Immanuel . . . God with us.” But more than a name, he lived it. John writes that Jesus became flesh and “made his dwelling among us.” He lived among us to such an extent that one writer claimed: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15)

In Jesus you see a God who is with us. With us in our good days. With us in our hard days. With us in our Fridays and with us on our Mondays. He’s not off on some mountaintop in Tibet but he has pitched his tent right in the middle of our messy lives . . . with us.

You see a God who is for us. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Jesus is the face of God for us. He was for the sinner. He was for the tax collectors. He was for the prostitutes. He was for the poor and the poor in spirit. He was for the mourners and the meek and the persecuted. And he is for you.

That’s the invitation of the Christmas season. You too can see the face of God. Look long into the face of this baby born in Bethlehem. When you do, you’ll see love.

Question: What inspiration do you find during the holiday season?

When You Can’t Do Everything Do Something

Thirty years ago World hunger became headline news in the ’80’s with “Do They Know Its Christmas Time” and “We Are the World.” I remember hearing people say things like, “Well, if those people would just work . . . ” And it’s true, some people in America and in Third World countries are lazy and need to get off their backsides and do something.

But then I took a trip to Haiti. And I learned that some people only had water to drink that was unclean and full of parasites. And parasites would weaken their bodies to where they had no energy or strength. Or even if they did work they still had little food-maybe one meal a day-and the lack of protein in their diets meant a lack of strength in their muscles.

One day I was walking with our Haitian translator through Cap Haitien. At a small shack there was a scrawny cat tied by a thin rope to a post. I asked him why the cat would be tied like that and he said, “That’s their supper and they do not want it to run away.”

A lot of what we think about the poor is wrong.

In many Third World countries the average income equals what you or I spend on one iPhone. Why is that? In the introduction to Jeffrey Sachs’ The End of Poverty U2’s frontman Bono said, “We can be the generation that no longer accepts that an accident of latitude determines whether a child lives or dies-but will we be that generation?”

“An accident of latitude.” Oftentimes the only difference between you and me and the poor is where we were born or to what family we were born into. And God wants us to help. His heart for the poor is heard clearly in Jesus’ sermon in his hometown synagogue:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

Jesus’ heart beats for the marginalized in our world. And he would have us take steps to help. It’s a big challenge. But as Mother Theresa said, “We can do no great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

Find something small to do this Christmas. Do it with love. And see if you can’t change a small corner of our world.

Question: How can you help the marginalized of the world this Christmas?

Un-Cocoon & Make a Difference

I have to admit I bought one. I needed a visual for a message I was giving about getting out of our comfort zone. So I wanted something that would visually depict being comfortable. So I got one. I got a new Snuggie©. Why do you laugh? Blankets are O.K. but they can slip and slide. And when you “reach for the phone your arms can now stay covered.”

I have to admit I . . . I like my Snuggie©. Once inside I feel as if I am hiding from the harsh world outside. Inside my Snuggie© there is no poverty. There are no orphans. I don’t have to think about homeless people. I can just go home and cocoon.

What would we do without our cocoons? You have one too. It may not be a Snuggie©. It may be your man-cave or your shopping sprees or your vacations. We feel a need to get away from the world and so we cocoon.

Instead of cocooning Jesus issued this challenge to regular people just before he ascended into heaven: “. . . you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Before this challenge they were loading trucks, coaching soccer, stocking shelves at the HEB. They were raising their families and making an honest day’s work and there is no evidence that Jesus selected them because they were nicer or smarter than the guy next door.

His challenge seemed big to those 120 disciples huddled in that Upper Room (Acts 1). But by chapter 17 of Acts it is being said of them that “they have turned the world upside down.”

How did it happen? It happened because they said “yes” to the challenge Jesus issued. They said “yes” when others simply moved on.

Wouldn’t it be great if Jesus’ disciples said “yes” today? You see, Jesus loves people who love their neighbors (their Jerusalem). Jesus loves people who love their cities (their Judea and Samaria). And he loves those who have a vision for the “ends of the earth.” He loves people who pray for places they may never go, who help those they may never meet.

Honestly, most days I’d rather curl up in my Snuggie© and cocoon. But following Jesus makes me think it would be better to give my Snuggie© to someone who is cold and needs some warmth. That’s what Jesus would do.

(Besides, I figured out I can just wear my robe backwards and get the same effect.)

Question: Where do you need to “un-cocoon” and make an impact in your world?