The #1 Threat to Contentment

Imagine that your boss calls you into his office and says, “You’ve done great work and in return we’d like to offer you a 25% pay increase beginning immediately.”

How would that make you feel? Excited? Happy?

Now imagine that you leave his office and you’re walking down the hall back to your office only to overhear a coworker talking on the phone: “yeah, they said I’m doing a great job and they are giving me a 35% raise beginning immediately.”

How would that make you feel? Upset? Angry? Insecure?

Isn’t it amazing how quickly our emotions can swing from one extreme to the other? The only variable in the scenario above was the information received about your coworker. But that didn’t really effect you, except that you let it effect you.

It has been said that

“the number #1 enemy to contentment is comparison.”

Think about that. How much more content would you be if you didn’t compare your life with someone else’s?

Your house is nice, except it’s smaller than the neighbors.

Your car runs great, except it’s older than your sisters.

Your kid’s public school is fine, except your best friends’ kids go to private school.

Your company is growing, except it’s not growing as fast as the company downstairs.

Your church is healthy, but you aren’t seeing the numbers the Pastor on Twitter is seeing.

Whenever I’ve allowed comparison to steal my contentment here’s what I do:

  1. Intentionally and consistently find ways to thank God (and others) for what you have. You might have to “fake it ’til you make it”. Give thanks before you feel thanks. Don’t stop. It’s amazing how my whole perspective changes when I’m focused on what God has blessed me with.
  2. Pray that God will bless others more. I can’t resent what God’s doing in someone else’s life when I’m asking Him to do it for them. Kill your pride by praying for others to be blessed.
  3. Repeat!

Find contentment in the things you have and quit worrying about what others have.

Be content. Stop comparing.

Life Lessons – Part 2

I started writing last week about 35 observations I have made since turning 35 last month. They are in no particular order and you can read the first half of the list HERE. After reading both lists I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

19.  I should have learned more about money-management as early as possible. I was smart so I understood some things intuitively, but I didn’t spend enough time around lots of people and resources that would help me manage money better until I got a little older.

20. Things are just things. My friend Matt taught me this phrase recently. Before that I would have called this “Possessions only really matter in the moment.” What I mean is most of the things I “have” to have in the moment are just things in my house after a few days, weeks, months or years. There are things in storage boxes right now that I have not used or touched in months or even years that at one time or another was a “have to buy”.

21. I make better decisions when I’m not in a hurry. This could be applied to every area of my life, but when I slow down, weigh things out, remove as much emotion as possible…I just make better decisions.

22. Sleep is important. My mom used to tell me that our bodies heal at night while we sleep, so if we don’t sleep we don’t heal. I’m not sure if that was even scientifically correct, but it’s practically correct. I feel worse the less I sleep and it has a cumulative effect. I’m better in every area of my life when I’m sleeping well for long enough periods of time.

23. Kids grow up too fast. I don’t mean this in the condescending way it sounds to those younger than me. I mean it more as a dad. My four kids are getting older, faster. I swear. It seems like it was just yesterday that they were learning how to crawl, and now we are navigating devices, proper relationships, language, habits, and sexuality. I wish they would slow down.

24. Fear is real, but it’s fake. I know some people who have a very real struggle with fear and anxiety. It’s a real thing, and in no way am I belittling that. However, I also believe that fear is fake. Beyond a very small percentage of the things we actually fear, most of the things we are afraid of haven’t and even won’t happen. They are fake fears. They are the monsters under our bed, and yet they grip us and keep us from living fully free.

25. News agencies cater to our fears. I don’t watch the news on television anymore. I scan the headlines on my computer or phone, but not near as much as I used to. The reason: these companies make money the more they sensationalize the events happening around us. Many times they have become part of the story rather than just reporting on it.

26. God knew what He was doing when He created the idea of Sabbath. I talked about sleeping earlier, this is not that. This is the idea that I have intentional time in my schedule and calendar that validates this reality:

I am not what I can produce.

When I work non-stop it is actually rooted in an unhealthy place that doesn’t honor God. I’m better 6 days a week than I am 7 days a week because that’s the way God made me.

27. Everyone needs a mentor/coach. It’s no secret that I believe in coaching and mentoring. I have been a recipient and I’m now actively coaching pastors and leaders. You can read more of my philosophy HERE. But my life, leadership and ministry is better because of those a few steps ahead of me helping me navigate my own life. I have mentors as a husband, father, pastor, leader, writer, speaker, and more. I think everyone needs people like this.

28. “You can’t go cheap on toilet paper, peanut butter or underwear.” This was a phrase my mom said over and over when I was growing up. She would buy off brand all the time, but not in the 3 categories above. She believed the higher price here was well worth it.

29. My wardrobe got better when I just gave up control. For the first few years of our marriage I wore what I’d always worn. It wasn’t great, but it was comfortable and I could usually get Buy One Get One ____. At some point Corrie started slipping clothes into my closet and drawers and I didn’t realize it until I was getting complimented for clothes I didn’t remember buying. Eventually I just gave up control and I’m thankful for it.

30. With a good tool, and a Youtube tutorial video I can fix almost anything. Technology has made me an actual, honest to goodness handyman. In a stage of life where money wasn’t readily available I learned how to fix my hot water heater, leaking toilet, change my oil, change my brakes and rotors, and lay flooring in my house…while watching someone else do it on Youtube.

31. There is a difference between a cup of coffee and a “good” cup of coffee. I didn’t start drinking coffee until I was pursuing my Master’s degree while married, pastoring, and had young kids at home. My friend Jonny was staying with us recently and he made some coffee but it involved a process to make it and time to let it sit. That was a new experience for a guy who just hits the start button on the auto coffee pot. But it’s a shame both of these things are called coffee, because what he served me was something else entirely.

32. You are what you read. (aka “Leaders are Readers”). I’ve always loved to read. My brother always hated to read…until recently. Now he reads circles around me. But I believe that reading has set me up to be a better leader, writer and speaker, among so many other things. By continually exposing myself to outside voices, even those I disagree with, across a variety of genres, I’m better.

33. Hair travels. I noticed it in older men long before I started getting older, but there’s less and less hair on my head and more and more hair…

34. I failed to realize how much a compliment was worth. I have always been surrounded by very affirming people. My mom often led the way in this area for me. While I would say that “words of affirmation” is not my love language, I never really wanted for affirmation. After her death there was a void left that I didn’t realize until it was too late. My dad, brother and friends are still very affirming, but I’ve realized that I’m not as good at giving affirmation as I probably should be because I took for granted how much I needed it myself.

35. My brother is an idiot. I use the term idiot as a term of endearment, and I’m not even kidding. If I call you an idiot it means I really love you. My brother Jason is a huge idiot. Nobody makes me more angry, but nobody makes me laugh harder. Corrie knows when I’m talking to him on the phone because I’m either ticked off or laughing so hard I’m crying. I’m thankful for our daily phone calls.

 

Honorable Mention:

Once I started making this list I came up with more than I needed. So here are a few more that almost, but didn’t quite, make the list.

36. Early bird gets the worm. I’m an early riser, for the most part. But I have definitely learned that I am more productive the earlier in the day I get started.

37. Dry cleaned shirts just fit better. There’s a place by my house that dry cleans shirts for dirt cheap. Once I found this out I started taking a few shirts at a time to get dry cleaned and my clothes miraculously started fitting better.

38. A full tank of gas is overrated. I hate stopping for gas. It’s a pain to stop whatever forward progress I’m making to stand still and wait…So I run ridiculously low most of the time. There have been times (the exact number is not important) when I have run out of gas. Thanks to my friends who have helped me in these moments. You know who you are.

39. The quality of a good pillow. I knew I was getting older the first time I took “my” pillow on an overnight trip away from home. You just never know what kind of pillow you’re going to find in the hotel or friends’ guest room. There doesn’t seem to be much in between. It’s either soft as a cloud and my sinuses get stopped up or hard as a rock and my neck hurts the next day. So I travel with mine.

40. I swear stuff hides from me. I can be looking for something very intently only to discover that it’s not where I thought it was or told it was. Corrie walks into the same room and the thing magically appears. I’ve looked into the refrigerator for something and didn’t see it. I close the door. She opens it and wouldn’t you know it, the thing is sitting right on the shelf where I looked. It’s some kind of voodoo wife magic or something. I still don’t understand it.

 

Alright, now it’s your turn. What are some things you’ve learned in your years on earth? Which ones of mine have you observed as well?

 

 

 

Life Lessons – Part 1

Last month I turned 35. I realize this doesn’t make me old, unless you’re reading this and I am your dad. I also realize this doesn’t make me young, unless you’re reading this and I’m your grandson.

I’m old enough to know that I don’t know everything, but I’m young enough to believe that I have some things I can contribute.

I don’t live with regrets. I really don’t. I believe that I can learn from even the mistakes I have made. I also refuse to spend a lot of emotional and mental time on things that I can’t change.

But, for better or worse, in no particular order here are 35 observations from 35 years on the earth.

  1. I wish I would have tried harder in school. While I’ve still never used Geometry as an adult, there were things I could have learned with a little more effort that would be beneficial now.
  2. I shouldn’t have tried to grow up so fast. I am an oldest child in my family, and with that came a certain push/pull toward acting older. So I always wanted to sit at the grown-up table. I missed out on some great experiences because I didn’t fully enjoy being a kid for as long as I could.
  3. I should have focused more on my friends, and less on girlfriends. This is not to speak negatively of anyone I ever dated. But I spent a lot of time and emotion on relationships that ultimately didn’t materialize into marriage. This time was then forfeited from friendships that have continued to this day, but missed out on experiences and time because I was elsewhere.
  4. A healthy marriage doesn’t just happen. I am so thankful for the marriage that Corrie and I have. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty darn close. We work at it though. We find ways to spoil one another. We buy each other gifts, even when they are inexpensive. We talk AND LISTEN to one another. We prioritize time together. We want to be faithfully married to one another for at least 75 years. While physical health will play a role in that, we are committed to the health and vitality of our marriage.
  5. I’m thankful for a Godly heritage. I don’t say this bragging, because I realize not everyone has this, but I’m thankful that both sides of my family tree are filled with God-fearing men and women who committed their lives to serving God and the local church.
  6. My parents did an amazing job raising me and my brother. As a parent myself, I realize they weren’t perfect, but looking back it’s hard for me to remember things they got wrong in the process. That might be the highest compliment I can pay them.
  7. Cancer sucks! My mom passed away in 2011 after a 2 year battle with Colon Cancer. She was 48 (she was young I know. Married at 16, had me at 19, had Jason at 21). I literally miss her every day. I still pick up the phone (both literally and figuratively) to call and tell her something before remembering. Cancer just sucks!
  8. Everyone needs a few reeeeaaalllly good friends. I’m an extrovert so I can talk to a brick wall for 10 minutes or so until someone else shows up. But I’m convinced even introverts benefit from enriching relationships. I’m not just talking about someone to do something with. I’m talking about the kind of people who love you deeply and are loved deeply by you.
  9. Authenticity is rare and priceless. When you find someone who is comfortable in their own skin, flaws and all, it is like breathing fresh air for the first time in a long time. I strive for this.
  10. Stretching is important. When I was a kid I would just start running, or throwing, or whatever. The older I get I need to wake the muscles up before I use them. They’ve told me they appreciate that.
  11. I value emotional stability. In the last 12 months I have come to realize that the number one personality trait I admire most is emotional stability. It’s hard to truly trust someone who shows signs of extreme emotional instability.
  12. Talent is Overrated. I’m a big sports fan, and there are definitely once in a generation types of players. But for the most part, teams can replace virtually anyone with someone younger or cheaper or… You get the point. Don’t focus on your talent more than you focus on these next two.
  13. Character takes a long time to develop. I believe you will spend a lifetime developing your character. The fruit will show itself all along the way, but you never arrive. You have to constantly evaluate your heart and allow the Lord to keep purging the things out of you that don’t reflect Him.
  14. Leadership is about influence. You can read all the leadership books and blogs you want to, but if you aren’t influencing other people you are not leading.
  15. I lose and gain weight like Oprah Winfrey. I have great intentions and every few months I eat better or exercise more. However, to this point, I have never had a sustainable diet and exercise lifestyle.
  16. Consistent Bible reading and prayer pays dividends. I used to be so legalistic with this. I felt guilty if I missed a day of my reading plan or didn’t spend the set amount of time in prayer every day. Now I have a much more grace-filled approach because I’ve finally seen the benefits. Don’t get my wrong, I try to spend time every day in God’s Word and in prayer. But if I miss a day or get interrupted that’s okay. It’s about the immediate fruit in my life and the cumulative results in my heart and character.
  17. It’s often easier to forgive others than it is to forgive ourselves. I tend to let others off the hook for the things they have done. Me? Not so much. I’m pretty hard on myself for past mistakes. That’s unfortunate because nobody else in my life judges me as harshly as I judge myself.
  18. Flexibility is underrated. I realized recently that I value flexibility in people as much as almost anything. We are going to plan. We are going to be prepared. But our ability to adapt on the fly is one of the greatest identifiers of strong leaders.

That’s a little over half, so I’ll stop there for now. I’ll share the rest of the list in another post.

What would you add?

UPDATE: You can read the 2nd half of my list by clicking HERE.

Quit Lying About Your Past

I know a guy, who will remain nameless for the purposes of this post, that always has a story about when he was in high school or college. I’m not talking about one of those funny stories that stirs up a sense of nostalgia. I’m talking about a very specific story about some athletic or academic achievement that he was recognized or remembered for. To hear him reminisce he was the perfect blend of a Rhodes Scholar and 1st Round Draft Pick. It doesn’t matter what we’re talking about he can pivot the story with a line like, “that reminds me of that time in high school when I…”

It’s super annoying!

I’m not sure the level of truth in his stories. I only know that he didn’t play sports professionally, and I’m pretty sure I could beat him at a game of Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit.

I don’t have a lot of friends like him, but I know a lot of people who do the same kind of thing. Truth be told, I do it too sometimes.

We look back in our past and the size of our accomplishments grow.

It’s like that little phrase on the mirrors in our cars: “Objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear.”

Well I’m afraid that sometimes we live by the adage: “Accomplishments in our past must be exaggerated by at least 20%.”

 

I realize it may not seem like a big deal, but exaggeration is a character flaw. It’s birthed out of some place of insecurity in your life.

It may seem like stretching the truth about your GPA back in high school isn’t a big deal, except when it masks your insecurities about not getting into the college that you wanted to.

It may seem like exaggerating your role on the state championship team isn’t a big deal, except when it is actually used to make you feel equal to the accomplishments of your co-worker who actually makes you feel inadequate.

It may not seem like a big deal to put on your resume that your last church or youth group ran 75 when you actually averaged 37, but you had 75 at that one event when you gave away free money…except when you realize that you are actually LYING to potential future employers.

Don’t fix the exaggeration without dealing with the heart issue. Why do you do that? Answer that question and deal with that first. The rest will start to take care of itself.

I’m not perfect and I used to struggle with this issue a lot, because of some of my performance-based acceptance issues and personal insecurities. But I’m telling you, it’s not worth it.

Tell the truth. About everything. It really is worth it!

 

You May Be Out of Touch in Leadership

When I was in college I was exposed to a church that ran 4-5,000 people. I heard some of their senior staff say that everything they did was planned with 10,000 people in mind.

In some of the ministry coaching I’ve received in recent years I have been posed this question, “Are your systems ready if your church doubled next Sunday?”

I think there is wisdom in conversations like this, HOWEVER….

If you are anything like me you have seen this idea backfire or be misused to the detriment of the current realities (and people currently involved). My mom used to tell me when I was a teenager that I was “acting too big for my britches.” If you aren’t familiar with this vernacular it is acting bigger/older/smarter/etc that who you really are.

So in leadership and pastoring we must find the healthy balance between dreaming about, planning for and creating systems around our desired future of more people without our current systems and processes being out of touch with the present realities.

It’s like saying, while I believe my 7 year old son will one day wear a men’s size 10 shoe, if I bought them for him now he wouldn’t be able to walk. So how do I manage that tension in leadership:

  1. Make sure your systems work today.

If you have 50 people make sure your systems effectively serve 50 people well. Regardless of your desire for 250 or 500 to attend your church, you will lose those 50 people if your systems don’t serve them well.

2. Paint the picture of tomorrow, today.

Look for creative, consistent ways to communicate, in public, about what could be. I would encourage you not to make this about numbers all the time (or ever). The problem with numbers is anyone that can count can easily tell if you’ve missed the mark, and they rarely give you the benefit of time. You don’t have to talk about having 1000 people next Easter unless you’ve really heard from God and/or you believe that is the best way to expand what’s possible for your people. You can talk more passionately about creating space for people far from God. Tell stories, where possible, of the kinds of recent successes you hope to duplicate more regularly in the future.

3. Be realistic with your expectations.

I talked about my 7 year old son earlier. He weighs about 40 pounds and the doctors want him to gain a little weight to catch up to the “normal” curve for kids his age. He’s healthy, just doesn’t weigh a whole lot. It wouldn’t be realistic for me to think that he could weigh 100 pounds by next week. And yet, that’s what we do in ministry so often. We average 20 students per week in our youth ministry, but we order enough food for 150 for our lock-in because we hope that’s how many will show up. That’s not a realistic expectation unless we have done some major push to get more people there.

Create systems and buy supplies that are connected in some way to your present reality. That’s not a lack of faith, that’s good stewardship.

4. Spend “more time” leading now, and “some time” planning for what’s next.

I try to set aside at least 1 day every other month for what I call “Dream Day”. This day isn’t worried about logistics, details, why things can’t be done, or the budget. I just dream about what could be.

I prayerfully search my future for what God might intend to bless for my family, staff, church and more.

The other 59 days I live in the present, which may actually involve putting details to some dreams. Both are important. If I’m not thinking about the next growth season, when I get there we will be unprepared. If I’m thinking about it too much I become out of touch with my present reality. In some seasons I need more dreaming. In other seasons I need more present leading. Ask the Lord (and your spouse, your coach, or your team if you aren’t sure) for the discernment to know which one needs your attention now.

5. Dream Big!

Don’t limit God. Dream new dreams! Believe for growth! Plan for more people than you have now! Expose yourself to voices that stretch your thinking.

No matter how long you are in leadership this will be a tension to be managed. Lead today, and lean into tomorrow.

I’m pulling for you!

 

Oh the Places You’ll Stay

Today is a big day in our house. Today is the first day of school. It’s also a milestone first day of school in our house because our oldest starts middle school and our youngest starts kindergarten (the middle 2 aren’t being overlooked, they start 2nd and 4th grade).

One of the really cool things about our daughter going to Kindergarten is that she has the same teacher that each of her 3 older brothers had.

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While I think this would be a cool thing for any family, it’s especially cool for me because my family moved around a good bit when I was growing up. My mom and dad were in ministry, but their administrative position with the church had a 4 year term limit. So we knew when we moved to a state that 4 years later we would be moving to a new state. It didn’t really make it easier, but at least that part was consistent. There were so many positives in my childhood, and I wouldn’t change it at all, but for the sake of this post, the moving was a negative in this one area.

While I know that military families, some ministry families, and other vocations require people to move more often than we did, I attended a different school for Kindergarten, 1st-4th grades, 5th-7th grades, 8th-11th grades, and 12th grade.

Again, our family moved because of term limitations on their job and not just randomly switching jobs, but switching jobs is pretty prevalent in our culture.

The average person born in the latter years of the baby boom (1957-1964) held 11.7 jobs from age 18 to age 48, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As you might imagine in the current generation where loyalty is even further down the list of priorities the numbers are even crazier.

Ninety-one percent of Millennials (born between 1977-1997) expect to stay in a job for less than three years, according to the Future Workplace Multiple Generations @ Work” survey of 1,189 employees and 150 managers. That means they would have 15 – 20 jobs over the course of their working lives!

The average worker today stays at each of his or her jobs for 4.4 years, according to the most recent available data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but the expected tenure of the workforce’s youngest employees is about half that.

I get that many of these situations have legitimate reasons. Boredom in the present job. Conditions changed, so a new job was necessary. New skills or education compels us to find a place to use our new skills…

But sometimes…it just “looks greener on the other side”. Sometimes, if we’re honest, we just move to move.

Pastors aren’t exempt from this reality. While statistics are hard to find on pastoral tenure, most studies show that pastors stay 3-4 years at a church before moving on to another assignment.

I don’t think it’s coincidence that the average megachurch pastor has been at their church 13 years+. Every successful, long-term pastor I know has made some statement similar to this:

“I wanted to leave in year __ , but I stuck it out. I’m so thankful I did, because the next few years after were some of (greatest/most fruitful/most fulfilling/etc) years thus far.”

 

 

It has been said that “we tend to overestimate what we can accomplish in the short-term, and underestimate what we can accomplish in the long-term.”

I’m trying to take the long-view. I’m blessed to be in a city I love, at a church I love, working with people I love and I’m looking to be here for a long time.

My grandparents on my dad’s side of the family pastored the same church for 31 years. I’m hoping to break his family record.

When times are good I file it away for later. When times are tough I remember when it was good and remind myself that there would be problems “there” too.

Obviously there are benefits to staying somewhere longterm beyond family. However, today my daughter is reaping the benefit of 10 years at the same church, living in the same town. I’m thankful for that. I pray that 12 years from now she has the same homeroom teacher her Senior year of high school that my oldest son has 6 years from now.

Pastor, be encouraged today to stick it out. Don’t look with longing to greener pastures. Keep watering the grass on your side of the fence and trust God to bless you where you’re at.