8“A Bible that is falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t,”stated an anonymous someone. I love that quote. And it ties nicely into this post.

In a previous post (go HERE), my hope was that you would commit to a daily morning ritual of making your heart happy in God. But what does it look like in your morning ritual to meet with God and make your heart happy in Him? Here are six musts:

* Commit the time. Let’s don’t be legalistic about this thing. Your devotional time can vary according to your commute and work hours, if you have young children, and the like. I argued for the morning in the previous post. But if you’re an evening person, it can apply the same. The important thing is you choose, plan, and commit to the time–whether 5:00am, noon, or 9:00pm. View it as a non-negotiable date, meeting, conversation with the Lord. You wouldn’t stand up your best friend, your spouse, or your dad, would you?

* Declare the place. Visualize right now where you will meet with the Lord. What room? What chair? In other words, declare a place as the place where you will daily meet with God in prayer and His Word. Jesus often chose a mountain side, a garden, and so forth. So there’s something to spending time with the Lord in nature. Ultimately, the point isn’t where you meet or when you meet, but that you meet with the Lord personally and alone in an isolated place (Mark 1:35). That place needs to be comfortable and serene readying you to meet with your God. When you read Scripture, you never read alone. God, the Holy Spirit, meets with you to converse, unveil, awaken, enlighten, convict, and encourage your soul.

* Choose your food. Have you ever felt starved and gone to the fridge or cabinets to scan the jars, boxes, and cans trying to figure out what to eat? It’s frustrating. So don’t approach Scripture like that. Don’t wait until your devotional time to scan the pages and decide what Scriptures you will feast on. Be prepared the day or night before. Even better, have a plan already in place. Right now, I am reading through the gospel of Matthew, one chapter a day. If I have time, I will also read a Psalm and Proverb that correlates with the day of the month (i.e., October 29 means I am reading Psalm 29 and/or Proverbs 29 that morning). Upon finishing the gospel of Matthew, I’ll switch to an Old Testament book.

* Ready your tools. Get the coffee cup out the night before and set it by the Keurig. Have the water vat filled to the rim and your k-cup ready to go. Have your journal, pen, and Bible ready and waiting for you in your chosen place of solitude. In the winter, if you’re big on making a fire as I am, have the newspaper, kenneling, and wood placed in the fireplace and ready to go with the strike of a match. In other words, remove every obstacle and time-stealer you can between you and the precious time of meeting with the Lord Jesus. And surely it goes without saying, but here’s a friendly reminder to turn your phone and laptop off.

* Savor don’t Surf.The most dangerous thing you can do leaving your solitude with the Lord is mark “Bible-reading and prayer” off your check-list with no sense of eternal perspective, no deeper wonder in God, and especially no take-away to apply to your life. You will get none of the above if you are simply trying to get your chapter read and prayer prayed so you can get to your email. Don’t surf Scripture. Savor it. As Tim Keller says, sometimes you’ll need to savor Scripture like hard candy. It’s weighty, so you can’t chew and swallow it too quickly. Other times the Scripture can be like a good chocolate. It’s soothing to the soul. So don’t gulp it down, enjoy it. Practially speaking, if you are on verse four in your planned reading of a chapter, and the verse grabs you, by all means STOP! God is speaking! Turn the verse and its truth over and again, like spiritual hard candy or sweet chocolate, to get all that you can from it. If that takes all your devotional time, so be it.

* Share your fruit. Share what you’ve learned with your spouse, kids, parent(s), best friend, small group, or believing co-workers. God is passionate about community. In community you should share what God is teaching you and revealing to you. With all the social media at your finger tips (that should not replace community, by the way), post a tweet or Facebook post, or send to an email group, what God is showing you and teaching you. This sears the truth into your heart, mind, and life.

What I didn’t cover in the above is prayer. That’s a given. But let’s take it a step further—praying Scripture. How do you do that, exactly? That’s the next post! Stay tuned.

Do you practice a daily ritual of meeting with God–morning or evening? Do share! And share how you approach your “devotional time” with God–where, when, how, and the like! I would love to learn more, as I’m sure the readers would. Share in my site’s comments section on this post. Thanks!

TombI just finished listening to the audiobook, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride, by Cary Elwes (Say it with me, “Wub. Truuuue Wub.”) In the book, Elwes mentions that William Goldman, author of The Princess Bride novel, once said: “The thing they’ll end up writing on my tombstone is ‘Nobody knows anything.'”

The quick thought I had today was this: What would God declare written on my tombstone? What about yours? For mine, I hope it wouldn’t be “pastor,” or “preacher,” or “loving family man,” and especially not “R.I.P.”, but “Faithful.

Faithful, because Jesus has my heart. Faithful, because when I blow it, by God’s grace, I am repentant. In the song, “Back to the Beginning Again”, Jon Foreman of Switchfoot, wails, “And my heart is yours; And what a broken place it’s in; But You’re what I’m running for; And I want to feel the wind at back again; Back to the beginning again…”

Truth be told, I’m not okay, but I refuse to stay there. So in the big and trivial of life, I want to be faithful. And where I’m not, I hope to repent. Repentance is proof of being faithful. Repentance takes you and me back to the beginning again and to where the wind is at our backs again. Goldman says “Nobody knows anything.” But God knows everything. So upon looking at your heart and life, what might God declare written on your tombstone right now?

Here’s the thing. You can already know what God would say. Contrary to Goldman, somebody knows something. So what word(s) would your spouse, your kids, your parents, your boss, your colleagues, your friends, and even your enemies, use to sum up your life? If you so dare, ask them. And you’ll find evidence of what God would say.

If you cringe or get nauseous at thoughts of what people in your life know and what they’d say about you, know this: No matter how old you are, no matter how far gone you feel, and no matter what you are doing or have done, let me point you back to the word in which I believe Jesus spoke with arms open and smiling ear to ear: “Repent.” Repentance will take you back to the beginning again.

Can you say that no matter what broken place your heart is in, that Jesus has your heart? Is He the One you’re running for? Let us be faithful to gift Jesus our broken hearts and pursue Him with repentant lives.

image1I still can’t wait to get my pants on in the morning, says three-time Pulitzer Prize winning American Journalist, Thomas Friedman. Does this describe you? Or are you the person that wishes morning happened at noon? Been there!

Perhaps you are more like American writer, Nicholas Baker, who stated in an interview with Mason Currey, author of Daily Rituals: How Artists Work: “The mind is newly cleansed but it’s also befuddled and you’re still just plain sleepy.” But Baker didn’t let the sleepiness stop him. He continued, “I found that I wrote differently then.” Currey continues to describe Baker liking “sleepy writing” so much that Baker developed a strategy to squeeze two mornings out of one day: “He will get up around 4 or 4:30 a.m. and write for an hour and a half—but then he goes back to sleep until 8:30 and gets up again, this time turning his attention to ‘daylight kind of work,’ like transcribing an interview or editing what he wrote during the first morning session.” That’s one way to become a morning person!

I am not on a mission to make (or guilt) people into becoming morning people. But I do hope to inspire you not to just become a morning person, but a person with a morning ritual. A morning ritual prepares you emotionally and mentally for whatever comes that day. Since my twenties I have been a morning person (although admittedly, many days not by choice). I grew to love morning. In the pre-dawn hours, before the pressures and episodes of the day take their toll, there’s the steam of my coffee, the feel of my Bible, the smell of ink and notebook paper, the sound of a big wall-clock ticking away (that at times makes me ultra-drowsy), and most of all peace and quiet within and without. Magical.

Not only does an early morning ritual prepare you for the day, but provides space and calm for your soul to meet with God. That’s my motive here. I hope you don’t have just any morning ritual, but a morning “ritual” to meet with God.

God promises His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-24).** That means we don’t have to live on yesterday’s mercies, or strength, or resources. Don’t you want to taste those mercies and truths not as leftovers at the end of the day, but when God provides them fresh for the tasting and strengthening—in the morning? As an aside, do you know that throughout Scripture key encounters with God and direction from God seem to always happen in the “early morning”? (Genesis 20:8; Genesis 22:3; Exodus 9:13; Joshua 6:12; 1 Samuel 17:20; Mark 1:35; Psalm 5:3). That’s something to think about.

How can you become more of a morning person? Change your dread of it. See it as a time to steal away with God to taste His new mercies and have your cup filled with cosmic joy. “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love that we may sing for joy to the end of our lives” (Psalm 94:6 NLT).

Lay your mornings before the Lord as a sacrifice of praise and worship dedicated to Him. Then whether sleepy or restless, meet with Him. Try 30 days straight. Commit 10 minutes the first week; then 15 minutes the second week, 20 minutes the third week; then 25 minutes the fourth week. Make this a priority (like eating). For 30 days give up the late night sitcom(s), surfing the Internet, or whatever it is keeping you up so late. Get to bed early enough that you can get between 7 – 8 hours of sleep. Set your alarm, disalarm your snooze, and get those pants on!

What might the early morning ritual for you to meet with God look like? Stay tuned. In the meantime, take heart that God is after your joy. He wants to satisfy you with His steadfast love so that no matter what the day brings you’ll sing for joy. Consider that the best time to put yourself under His fountain of love, joy, and new mercies is first thing in the morning.

* Go HERE for “Six Musts for a Daily Devotional Time”

**Download and listen to Nichole Nordeman‘s amazing song, “Mercies New,” from Itunes.

psalms_2Thin lips, thick lips, painted-on lips, even a fat lip…lips are powerful. Lips can speak without speaking. They can be poked out, pursed, puckered up, curled under, curled downward, and curled up on one side or the other. Likewise, lips can form speech to discourage, devastate, and destroy. Or lips can shape words to encourage, empower, and give life. Randomly speaking, even intimacy can be displayed with lips of husband and wife touching softly, or wildly (you’re welcome).

God invented lips. Lips are powerful to God. The book of Psalms is music and poetry inspired by God to stir emotion and affection in us…and in God. Music and poetry are powerful especially when expressed through our lips, not just our thoughts.  That’s why the Psalms were never meant to be read in silence but out loud.

King David says, “Your love Oh Lord is better than life, therefore my lips will praise you. … My mouth offers praise with joyful lips” (Psalm 63:3,5). Why the emphasis on lips? Your lips can stir the heart of God.  Your lips can stir your heart for God.

God loves your lips. So use’em (especially with your spouse :-)).

5th-candleSeptember 27, 2014 marked my fifth year anniversary as the lead pastor of Grace Community Church! I was reflecting on lessons I have learned over the last five years; I came up with around 27! But in the spirit of the fifth year anniversary, I narrowed them down to five. These are in no special order.

Team is everything.
The staff and volunteer teams of Grace carry us from victory to victory. I am deeply humbled and grateful that they trust and honor me as their leader. It’s a sacred trust, and so very fragile. I constantly pray that I never break it. In addition, my inner-circle (or “inner-teams”) has been vital to my leadership and Grace’s health. As another leader put it, it’s not the leader’s right hand man that brings success; it’s the leader’s right hand team. I have seen this play out powerfully over the last five years. I’d like to think I carry a healthy suspicion of myself—my motives, my ideas, my leadership, so I lean into my teams deeply. The elder team of Grace consists of wise, experienced, brilliant, and godly men. I lean on them heavily, even personally. In addition, the teams I work closest with consist of some of the most brilliant, creative, passionate, enjoyable people, ever. We laugh… A LOT! Likewise, people on these teams have at times believed in me more than I believed in myself, inspiring me to take Spirit-led risks. Team is everything.

You can’t please everybody.
This is one of the toughest for me. I WANT to please everyone. But I would destroy myself, and Grace, trying to do so. So I accepted long ago that I must learn to live with low-grade stress, and even low-grade guilt, that I can’t do every wedding, funeral, hospital visit, phone call, and counseling session requested. In addition, I (and Grace) cannot accept and champion every ministry need and opportunity from within or from without. I take great comfort in the story of Jesus healing the man by the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-9). In a nutshell, there was a “multitude” of sick, handicapped, and disabled people laying by this pool. Yet Jesus only healed one. That means that He literally had to step over other sick, handicapped, disabled, people, to get to that man; then turn around and step over those same people to leave. WHAT? Even the Messiah didn’t try to be the Messiah to everyone. And I learned that Grace, nor I, shouldn’t try to be either. So, I adopted Andy Stanley’s mantra: “Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.” You can’t please everybody.

Holistic health is essential.
If my marriage to Christie is “sick,” I’m dead in the water. If my family is neglected, I have failed. So I fight for a healthy marriage and family. Likewise, my soul must be filled so that I have something to give. I treasure my solitude in meditating on God’s Word, praying, repenting, and making my heart happy in God so that I can be spiritually healthy. I read biographies, spend time with closest friends, have a date night with Christie, and family night with kids, and read inspirational/leadership books for emotional health. I eat protein and veggies and drink a gallon of water a day. I avoid sugar and processed foods like the plague (except for my cheat meals). I train daily with weights and other equipment; and I get my 10,000 steps in a day. I’ve gotten an adjustable desk base so I can stand at my desk (because “sitting is the new smoking”). Every hour, I stretch, and then move with moderate intensity for three minutes. Physical health is a must. Holistic health is essential. I want to function in 2054 like I’m functioning now.

God tests me about what I preach.
It’s a given. Whatever series or sermon I am preaching, God will put me through the fire. Perhaps that’s why I yell a lot. :-) If I am preaching on marriage, Christie and I will go through a tough time. If I am preaching on money, we will start hemorrhaging financially. If I am preaching on identity in Christ, God will bring a success or a failure to test me. To some degree, every preacher is a hypocrite. No preacher can fully live up to what he preaches. If he can, in the words of John Piper, he’s not preaching high enough. But God often knocks the hypocrisy out of me so that when I preach I truly BELIEVE and LIVE what I preach.

The success of others thrills me.
Not sure that’s a lesson, but for what it’s worth…. I don’t know if I could have written that five years ago. I have my moments of envy and jealousy like everyone else. However, and all glory to God, God has done a miraculous work in my heart. How miraculous? I get more joy to see my teammates, fellow pastors, and staff succeed and get attention for what they accomplish, than I do for myself. Intensely more joy! To witness our pastors preach and lead with power, and the feedback from folks who applaud them and want to hear more from them, and want to be closer to them and their leadership, excites me to no end. In fact, for some folks that I have had the pleasure of personally investing in, seeing the incredible success and achievements they carry out, overwhelms me with gratitude. Lately, this has grown to wanting to invest in other churches and their leaders in Orange County, NY and the Northeast. More than preaching to thousands, the success of others thrills me.

There you have it: Five lessons for five years. Any one of these speak to you on some level? Do share in the comments section! Thanks for reading.