Monthly Archives: October 2019

Productivity Tools

From 2006-2008, I worked at a job that I absolutely loathed.  I served with a mission board doing fund raising and recruiting.  This was also my first experience with working remotely.  I never quite got used to the nature of the work, the unstructured schedule, and the constant travel.

But this was perhaps my most educational work experience.  I had to learn how to become productive with no set schedule, no supervisor.  I had to learn to structure my time for maximal effectiveness.

This is when I became a disciple of David Allen and his book, Getting Things Done.  It’s as though I learned how to work for the first time!  Outside of the Bible, this is the most life-changing book I’ve ever read.  I’ve kept up some version of his system since then.

I started out with a loose-leaf paper planner.  With the emergence of online tools and smart phones, over time, I went to using apps instead of the paper planner.  While this removed the necessity of carrying the paper planner everywhere, it also meant that I was either on the computer or on the phone all the time.

Earlier this year, I said, “this won’t work.”  So, I searched for a tool that would combine the best of both features.  I discovered Ryder Carroll’s The Bullet Journal Method.  There are many sites where you can find the particulars of using this tool.  Here is the official one.

The greatest benefit is that it is portable, flexible, and I don’t have to always be on my phone or my computer.  However, there is kind of a “cult of the bullet journal.”  I had to free myself from the pressure of making my bullet journal look like this.bujo_ar_TESSA_KOGA_AGGIE

Or like this:


So, mine is absolutely minimalistic.  It’s illegible to anyone except me.  But it’s done the trick and has gotten me back on track producing, and off the smartphone.


I started the habit of journaling as a first year pastor, and have kept it up for 27 years.  I’ve kept all of my journals, but I’ve rarely reviewed them.

Since my knee injury a month ago, I’ve made some changes in the way that I write in my journal.

My habit has been to write first thing in the morning, before I do anything else.  Then I spend time in prayer. Thinking back over what I’ve written in the past, I’ve realized that most of my writing has been grumbling and complaining, and has set the tone for this to be my general attitude.

However, at least in the short term, my recent accident has caused me to change that habit.  I sustained a catastrophic injury, but I’m profoundly grateful that it wasn’t worse.  It’s as if God has given me a second chance.  Right now, I’m walking through life with a limp like Jacob.  As Jacob was changed by the presence of God in his wrestling with God, I hope to be changed.

This new habit of gratitude has changed how I journal.  Most of my thinking is processed by writing.  So, I will write in my journal about negative events and emotions.  But I’ve resolved to only do it once per incident, and not revisit it to obsess over it.  I’ve determined that I want to make positive contributions to share with others.

What I’ve begun to do instead is to generate ideas for blog posts, for lessons, for sermons, for projects, and for anything that will help me grow. To restart the blog, I determined that I needed to generate ten ideas for articles ahead of time, and to stay at least ten ideas ahead.   I’ve used the Muji A5 72 sheet notebook for years now.  Instead of writing each idea out in longhand, I’ve begun to do outlines, or even bullet points.  The result is illegible to anyone but me.  I’m finding that this is a much healthier habit, and one that reinforces my resolution to do all the good that I can right now.

This new habit has, for the most part, changed my frame of mind.  I still get stuck in old habits sometimes, but I’m much more aware of my own grumbling and complaining.  I’m beginning to see it for the sin that it is, rather than a personal disposition that I can excuse.

Job and the Prosperity Gospel (2)

I have previously introduced Kate Bowler’s book:  Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel.  I’ve done so because in Texas, this is the soil in which much of our ministry is tilled.  What is outside of the scope of Bowler’s book is the damage that this errant teaching does to countless numbers of people.

I have no beef with the rank-and-file Christians who are a part of this faith tradition.  Many, if not most, are sincere believers who love God with all their heart and who trust in Jesus Christ alone for their redemption.  Unfortunately, these people are being fleeced by unscrupulous shepherds, who seek their own gain.

The paradigm for the life of the Christian is the life of Christ.  As those who are “in Christ,” our lives follow in his steps.  As he first suffered and entered into glory, so must we.

By bringing the blessings of the new heavens and the new earth down to this world, this paradigm is eradicated.  The expectation of healing from all diseases and injuries is one that people are especially vulnerable to.

My daughter, who is now in graduate school, contracted a chronic pain condition in her teens.  Well-meaning people told her that she could “pray it away,” and that if she had enough faith, she would be healed.  This was an especially dark time in her life.  It was a time when she almost lost her faith, because of these messages that she was getting.  Thankfully, the Lord preserved her.  But even receiving this teaching indirectly did much damage.  She is now able to manage her condition well, but it appears that this is a condition that she will always struggle with.  God’s calling appears to be for her to walk with him, and draw near to him in pain and suffering.

Also, I has a co-worker who was part of this tradition.  Her husband was injured on the job and permanently disabled.  She prayed, she fasted, she went to the “healers,” and he never got well.  Her story is darker than my daughter’s.    Instead of living on a good income, she was substitute teaching, cleaning houses, and doing whatever she could to bring in enough money to cover some of the bills.  She lost hope.  Being damaged by this teaching, she set aside her faith and divorced her husband because he was “holding her back.”

This is not to say that Christians should not pray for healing.  However, perfect healing only happens in the life to come.  In this world, we shall have tribulation.  But our Lord tells us, “be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.”

On Books and Reading

     If I am at all successful in keeping up the writing habit, you will see that I make many references to the books that I am reading.  I recognize that I am a prodigious reader.  I’m not sure if I count this as a virtue or not.  Most of my friends do not have the kind of reading habits that I do.  They add much-needed balance to my life.  But I really do enjoy opportunities to talk about the books that have made an impact in my life.
     So, why do I keep this habit ?
     As a “knowledge worker” (I hate that phrase!), I need to be constantly learning and growing.  The 2008 recession precipitated a change in the labor market.  The trend since then is for employers to hire “younger and cheaper.”  In order to continue to be relevant, I need to continually push myself that “my progress may be evident to all.”  Resting on one’s past achievements is not an option in today’s market.
     Books are tools, rather than collectibles.  As much as I love books, I’ve never gotten into the hobby of book collecting.  I don’t need first editions.  I would even say that “paperback is better.”  It takes up less space.  In some ways, it’s easier to write in.  Yes, I write in my books rather copiously.  If somehow, my former students happened to acquire one of my books, they said that it was “more valuable” that way.
     When we lived in Cincinnati, I had a friend who was an auto mechanic.  He and his family lived frugally.  Yet, he had a “tool payment.”  He needed the right tools to be able to do his job.  For students and teachers, books are your tools.  Don’t skimp on them.  For most students, learning and studying is hard enough as it is with the tools that they need.  Don’t handicap them.
     The book habit is cheaper than going back to school.  Also, no tests, no essays, no term papers, no restrictions.  I’m reminded of Ray Bradbury, one of my favorite writers.  He couldn’t afford to go to college, so he got his education at the library.  It served him quite well.
     As tools, I’ve learned to hold books lightly.  My desire is to have “an open heart and an open hand.”  I used to be quite possessive about my books.  Then, I had to give many of the away when we went through a period of life when we had limited storage space.  This was good for my soul.  Most books, even out of print ones, can be replaced.  Hopefully, people who borrow my books and don’t return them are more blessed by them than I am.
     I recently went through my library looking for a couple of books that I had purchased some time ago that I really wanted to read.  Then I remembered that I had lent them out.  At first, I was a little peevish.  But then, I realized, “what an opportunity to pray for that person.”  Not imprecatory prayers, or prayers that this person would “repent and acknowledge the depth of their sin,” but that that person really would be blessed, and that I may be able to be a blessing to them, and that the Lord would make his face shine upon them, lift up his countenance upon them, and give them peace.
     That prompting and opportunity for prayer was far more precious than those books.  That sign that God is working in my life, turning the vice of covetousness and acquisitiveness into a desire to pray and a genuine prayer for another’s well being, giving me a generous spirit when I’ve previously  had a tight-fisted spirit, was a priceless gift to me.  I pray that would be able to continue to recognize that I possess nothing that has not been given to me, that I brought nothing into this world, and that I will take nothing out of it.  Blessed be the name of the Lord our God.

What I’m Reading Now

     There are many things that I cannot do while I am recovering from surgery. But I am resolved to do all the good that I can while I am laid up.  I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to engage in some concentrated study;  Here are some of the books I’ve been reading.
     Blessed: A History of the Prosperity Gospel, by Kate Bowler, is an academic history of the Word of Faith movement.  Dr. Bowler is a professor of church history at Duke Divinity School.  This is an important book that I’ll write a separate post on.  I say that it’s important, because Texas and Oklahoma are the centers of the prosperity gospel.  What this means for us is that many of our neighbors have been taken in by this aberrant teaching.  As I will point out in the future, this should not make those of us who are Evangelical and Reformed feel superior.  On the contrary, we need to be patient and compassionate with those who have experienced t his faith tradition, and who have felt betrayed by its false promises.
     The Man of God: His Calling and Godly Life,  by Albert N. Martin.  As a pastor, it’s always good to reexamine your call and your fitness for it in terms of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  Having pastored a single congregation for forty-six years, Pastor Martin is a master of pastoral theology.  Any minister or interested church member would profit by reading this book.  This is the first of four projected volumes of pastoral theology.  It’s wonderful to be able to “listen in” on the wisdom of such a godly servant of the Lord.
     Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon, by Tom Nettles.  This is perhaps the definitive biography on Spurgeon.  It’s refreshing to read a biography of a man whose holiness matched his immense gifting and effectiveness in ministry.
     Job.  I’m continuing to work ahead on sermons from the Book of Job.  I had anticipated being able to preach through the book in about ten or so sermons.  In doing so, I had forgotten the counsel of Dr. Hughes Oliphant Old, who was the pre-eminent scholar of the Reformed faith in the twentieth century.  He said, “every time you preach through a book of the Bible, it will take you longer because you find more depth.”  However, I do not plan to preach 157  sermons on Job, as Calvin did, or 576, as Joseph Caryl did.  I’m working through Matthew Henry’s commentary and Derek Thomas’ doctoral dissertation:  Calvin’s Teaching On Job:  Proclaiming the Incomprehensible God.   I feel like I’m trying to bail out the Atlantic Ocean with a coffee cup.  But it’s good to read over your head, and some of it will stick.  
     Some Pastors and Teachers: Reflecting a Biblical Vision of What Every Minister is Called to Be, by Sinclair Ferguson.  Dr. Ferguson has spent a lifetime in the pastorate.  In this book, he writes on lessons learned from John Calvin, John Owen, and John Murray.  
Latin. Having taught Latin for ten years, I may be functional but have a long way to go.  I’m pushing myself to stay sharp and improve.

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