put some margin into your life

Job said in Job 3:26 “I have no peace.  I have no quiet.  I have no rest and trouble keeps coming.”  Anybody identify with that verse?

Here’s some of the common areas where we experience overload in life.  We’re going to be looking at these in this series.  We have too much activity in our lives, too much change, too many choices, too much work, too much debt, too much media exposure.  We’re stressed by information overload.  We’ve stressed by accessibility overload.  We’re connected all the time.  We’re stressed by the pace of life, which we talked about last week. 

What is the solution?  The solution is to put some margin into your life.  Margin is breathing room.  Margin is a little reserve that you’re not using up.  Margin is the space between my load and my limit.  Hopefully your load is not heavier than your limits.  But the truth is that most of us are far more overloaded than we should be and there is no margin, no margin for error in our lives. 

Dr. Richard Swenson, a MD says this, “The conditions of modern day living devour margin.  If you’re homeless we direct you to a shelter.  If you’re penniless we offer you food stamps.  If you’re breathless we connect you to oxygen.  But if you’re marginless we give you one more thing to do.  Marginless is being thirty minutes late to the doctor’s office because you were twenty minutes late getting out of the hairdresser because you were ten minutes late dropping the children off at school because the car ran out of gas two blocks from a gas station and you forgot your purse.  That’s marginless.  Margin, on the other hand, is having breath at the top of the staircase, money at the end of the month and sanity left over at the end of adolescence.  Marginless is the baby crying and the phone ringing at the same time.  Margin is grandma taking the baby for the afternoon.  Marginless is being asked to carry a load five pounds heavier than you can lift.  Margin is having a friend carry half the burden.  Marginless is not having time to finish the book you’re reading on stress.  Margin is having the time to read it twice.  Marginless is fatigue.  Margin is energy.  Marginless is red ink.  Margin is black ink.  Marginless is hurry.  Margin is calm.  Marginless is our culture.  Margin is counter-culture, having some space in your life and schedule.  Marginless is reality.  Margin is remedy.  Marginless is the disease of our decade and margin is the cure.

There are dozens of benefits that we can talk about that come into our life as we build some space between my load and my limits.  Let’s take a quick look at at least four of them that immediately begin to happen in our lives.  What happens when I build in a little margin?

1. I’ve got more peace of mind in my life.  I’m not hurrying and worrying all the time.  I have time to stop, to think, to relax, to enjoy, to smell the roses.

2.  Better health.  We all know that unrelenting stress harms our bodies.  We all know that, yet we let it continue, day after day after day.  Many times the only time we get margin in our lives is when the heart attack almost happens or does happen or the blood pressure skyrockets.  Why do we wait until our health plummets until we make this decision? Margin builds in the time for better health. 

3.  Stronger relationships.  There’s a lot of reasons for the collapse of the family in America today, but I say that one reason is we don’t have any margin in our lives.  Amidst all the other things, even if you value family, we don’t have time to make it work.  And because we don’t have time for one another we can’t build the relationship we’d like to have.  The truth is relationships take time and margin provides the time to sit and talk.  It provides the time to listen. The time to comfort someone who needs to be comforted, just to enjoy people, to play with your kids.

4.  It makes you available for God to use.  Available to God to use to make a difference in this world.  When you’re overloaded, when you’ve got too much to do, you can only think of yourself.  When you get overloaded you go into survival mode –  “Maybe I can make it through but I’m not sure.”  And if God does come and tap you on the shoulder and say, “I’d like you to do this.  I can make a difference in your life through this,” your first response isn’t joy. Your first response is, “Oh, no!  Another thing to do!  God, I’d like to do that but I’m sorry!  I’m just too busy.”  So we end up resenting that great opportunity God brings into our lives.  But when you have margin, you’re available for God to use. 

So for these reasons and so many others let’s put, and I say put because it won’t just happen, some margin in our lives. We have to make it happen. Let’s put some margin in our lives.

If you would like a little assistance on how to do that let me know.  I have some ideas.

 

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What is our hurried lifestyle doing to our kids?

It’s obvious that the pace of life is getting faster and faster.  All you have to do is get on the highway to figure out that a lot of people are willing to risk life and limb just to save a few precious seconds.

Everybody’s in a hurry, and everybody is multi-tasking today. Again, look at the highway. How many different things do we attempt to do while driving just to save time or multiuse time? Besides listening to the radio and carrying on conversations, we talk on the phone, send text messages, check our email, read and post to facebook. And I’m just talking about me. (I have made serious improvements in this area.) I even use driving to study my teaching notes. Steering wheel in one hand, notes in the other. We are so much in a hurry and always multitasking.

A USA Today article said, “Today people are souped-up, stressed-out, and overscheduled.  In this brave new world boundaries between work and family are disappearing.  Everyone is mobile and every moment of the day is scheduled with daycare, school, after school activities and ten to twelve hour work days.  This pressure cooker lifestyle is so real that anthropologists are now studying it to see how it will affect us.”

Let me tell you one huge and tragic effect of our hurried lifestyles that we live today–it is damaging our children in ways we don’t even imagine.  In Fast Company magazine there was an article about the spillover effect.  When parents feel stressed out at work it hurts their children.  Their parenting suffers and their children suffer.  Nowhere is this connection between parents and children more achingly graphic than in one simple question that was posed to kids.  The magazine asked kids, “If you were granted your one wish to change one thing about your mom or your dad and their work what would that wish be?”  Parents were then asked to predict how their children would respond to that question.  Most of the parents got it wrong.  In fact 98% of the parents got it wrong.  Nearly 56% percent of parents assumed that their child’s top choice would be to spend more time together.  But in fact only 10% of the kids surveyed said they’d like more time with their mothers and only 15½ % said the same thing about their fathers. 

By contrast 34% of kids said what they wanted most for their parents is to be less stressed and less tired because of their work.  “I wish Mom wasn’t so tired all the time…  I wish Dad wasn’t so tired all the time…” Astonishingly just 2% of parents guessed that this would be their children’s highest priority.  I say astonishing because stress and fatigue are familiar experiences to every working parent.  What parents seem to be unaware of (or in denial about) is the effect that their pressured lives are having on their children.

If we don’t slow down our lifestyle and make some changes by choice, circumstances will force us to eventually.  Count on it.  Circumstances will eventually force us to slow down our life because of health, family crisis or some other situation. It is much wiser and easier to deal with when we choose to make changes rather than be forced to.

What are you waiting for?

Staying fresh for the long haul

Whether it is marriage, career, parenting, ministry or just life, the huge challenge we all face is that of staying fresh. How do we keep our minds, bodies, souls and relationships healthy and growing? Life throws at us some of the most outrageous challenges. Sometime we are quite aware of their inevitable arrival. Other times it is totally unexpected. How do we keep going with passion, energy and faithfulness in spite of anything life dishes out?

Granted, it is not possible to stay on top all the time. Those who seem to are fooling themselves and those around them. It is inevitable that the seasons and circumstances of life will take their toll on our attitudes and actions. We will have our ups and downs. There will be valleys and peaks. But how do we level it all out? How do we lesson the lows of the valleys and enjoy more of the elevation of the peaks. In other words, how do we keep going with a freshness to life that sustains us to the very end?

I will be the first to acknowledge that there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to what is needed to stay fresh but I do believe there are some practices that cross over into every human situation. The degree to which these are practiced will be highly reflective of the degree of one’s freshness to life and the responsibilities it brings.

1. REST

A routine that includes the normal number of hours that is needed to stay fresh is not negotiable. That number varies from person to person. Get to know yourself and what you need to function in a fresh and healthy way and work your daily routine to include those hours. Granted, there are seasons when the rule is broken, like with the presence of newborn or infant children. Throw the rest schedule out the window for at least a few months per child. But there must be a discipline of coming back to a sufficient rest cycle that enables you to stay fresh.

I have been ridiculed and scoffed at on many occasions for going to be at 10 pm each night when there is so much more that can be done at that hour of the night. But I need to go to bed then if I am going to get up early enough to get my day started on time and with the energy I need. If by chance I don’t get the hours I need then I try to sneak a fifteen minute power nap at some point in the afternoon.

2. EXERCISE

Exercise is not a four letter word but to many it might as well be. Whether you have a love/hate relationship with it or you really get into it, neglect it and you pay the price. Our bodies are made to need exercise. Everyone needs it in addition to any amount of exertion your work already provides.

Early in my adult life I developed the habit of speed walking. I kept to a pretty consistent routine of walking 2-4 times a week. As I have increased in age and available time I have sped up to jogging. I have even entered a few races. The ability to step it up with age would never have happened if I had not developed the exercise habit early in life. I can see the retirement age in the not too distant future, whenever I chose to exercise the option. And at this age, I have never felt better physically. The moderate exercise routine throughout life has made it possible.

3. DAILY SPIRITUAL RENEWAL

Nothing is more important to staying fresh for the long haul than keeping a fresh and growing relationship with God. Since God is the creator and sustainer of everything the best thing I can do is keep in close contact with the one who holds it all together. Try what you may to make it happen but it always comes back to two basic disciplines, Bible reading and prayer. Daily spiritual renewal is found first and foremost in spending time reading and journaling in Scripture and talking with and listening to the Father in prayer.

The first thing I do each morning is make a fresh pot of coffee, pour a cup and sit down in my recliner with my Bible and my journal. There I meet with the Lord. We grow together in our relationship with each other as I stick to my appointment with Him each day. Nothing will do more to refresh the soul and spirit.

4. HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS

We are not islands. We were not made to do life alone. We are meant to live in community with others. That having been said, we live in a culture that is becoming more and more isolated. “Cocooning” is a way of life for many. Drive into your garage with the use of a garage door opener, put the “lid” down, as my mother in law called it, get out or your car and go into your closed up house and not have to connect with anyone. Email and text messaging has made the trend even more fashionable.

If it isn’t part of your “normal” routine there needs to be an intentional plan to connect with others that you have things in common with. For us, one of the practices that has been huge in developing relationships has been involvement in a small group at church. In that setting we get to be with people each week that we do life together with. We laugh together, do lots of eating, celebrate victories and encourage and support each other in the down times. “Two are better than one…

5. PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

In order to stay fresh there must be a constant desire to learn and grow. What is fresh today will be stale tomorrow and if we don’t make it a part of our life plan to keep growing we will get left behind. Ineffectiveness and frustration will set in. we will find ourselves less and less able to compete with the real world in which we live and work. We must be willing to have ourselves stretched outside our comfort zone for the sake of growth and development.

That doesn’t mean we have to buy all the latest technology so that we can feel like we have an edge on everyone. I know people with the latest of everything who don’t have a clue about life. It means that you are always looking for ways to better yourself and your effectiveness in your line of work.

I was never an avid reader. For the first years of my career I detested reading. I only did it when I had to and nothing more. I then began to slowly realize that the ones who stayed fresh in mine and any line of work were those who read. So I developed a plan for reading and as I worked the plan reading moved from dread to necessity to desire. Reading a book now is second nature to me.

6. GENEROSITY

Carl Menninger, one of the top psychologists in the United States once said, “Giving is a criterion of mental health. Generously people are rarely mentally ill.” There is just something about generosity that brings a fresh outlook to life. Generous people want to face another day to see how they might be a blessing to someone else instead of waiting for someone to bless them. Generosity brings a positive approach to even the dreaded and dreadful aspects of life. Enjoyable longevity in life comes from seeing yourself as a giver instead of a getter.

Giving to God, at least a tenth of our income, has been a major part of our marriage commitment from day one. There were times when we had more month left over than we had money and we did not know how we were going to make ends meet but we always did and God has blessed us beyond our wildest dreams, in ways that money cannot buy. As a result of consistent generosity toward God, we also developed a generous approach to others. Our attitude has been, “Everything we have is the Lords. How can I use it to bless someone else?” What a refreshing way to live

God loves a cheerful giver!”  II Corinthians 9:7

7. FINANCIAL RESPONSIBILITY

While we are on generosity let’s move to another practice that is closely related, financial responsibility. We live in a culture where most people make more money than they have ever made in their life yet experience more financial tension than ever. Money is the number one cause of marital conflict and divorce. Though we have more of it than ever it is more of a source of discord and anxiety than ever. The problem is not in the amount of money one possesses but in the use of what one has. Money problems come as a direct result of failure to use what we have responsibly.

Here are the basic parts of a responsible financial plan.

  1. Keep good records. It’s called the principle of accounting. You have to be fully aware of where your money is coming from and where it is going.
  2. Plan your spending. That’s the principle of budgeting. A budget is planned spending. It is telling your money where to go rather than wondering where it went. Without planned spending you will never know financial freedom.
  3. Save/invest for the future. A mark of wisdom is saving for the future. Proverbs 21:20 says, “The wise man saves for the future.” Envy keeps us from saving and investing. Stop comparing and competing with the Jones and decide, “I don’t care what other people have or do. I’m going to do what is right and best and that is to prepare for my future.’
  4. Give ten percent back to God. That’s called the principle of tithing. We touched on this in point six. “A tenth of all you produce is the Lord’s and it is holy.” Leviticus 27:30.
  5. Enjoy what you have. This is the principle of contentment. Contentment is enjoying what you have no matter how much you have. Sometimes what we don’t have keeps us from enjoying what we do have. We are so busy getting more and more that we don’t take the time to enjoy what we already have.

8.  FUN

My dad used to say, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”  There’s a time to work and a time to play. It is easy to live out of balance in both areas. For some there is way too much work and no where enough play. For others there is lots of play and not much productive work. And still others play at their work and some work at their play. But long haul living needs to find a healthy balance of both. Granted there are season in life where there is far more work and very little play, like the early and middle years of parenting. Play gets relegated to a distant back shelf. That’s okay as long as it doesn’t stay there.

This area has always been my biggest challenge. I have been too serious about my work and not as engaged in play like I should have been. If I could live my parenting years over again I would have played more with my sons. I will just have to make it up by playing with my grandkids more. But I am doing better. I just bought a five game package of tickets to see my favorite college basketball team play. I have even found my way to the golf course now and then.  And my “dream” is to buy a motorcycle and hit the open road some. We’ll see how far that one gets.

9. ENCOURAGEMENT

Life and work have a way of beating up on us. Plans do not always turn out as planned. Sometimes they are total disasters. Kids do not always turn out as planned. Sometimes they are disasters as well, at least for a time before they come to their senses. Jobs come and go, sometimes by our own choosing, sometimes as a total surprise. Few things devastate as much as an unexpected layoff or firing. People can be so cruel and insensitive, even the ones we would least expect it from. We live in a world that often leaves us beaten, battered and bruised. We wish we could pull ourselves up by our boot straps and keep going in for another round, and for awhile we can. But there comes a time in life when we just need the encouragement of others. The sooner we realize this the longer we will last in the race of life with a new and fresh spirit.

This is so difficult for our generation. We like to think we can do it all and we can do it well and we can be successful and we really don’t need others to help us along the way. Pride and arrogance are hidden demons that occupy the inner person. Disaster lurks around the corner.

We cannot do life on our own, regardless of the gifts, education and skills we might be equipped with. We all need regular doses of encouragement. We need someone who is cheering us on. We need someone in our corner. We need those who pray for us and lift us up. We need people we can turn to when we just don’t know how we can keep going. And there are times when we just need someone to carry us for awhile.  It is the challenge of each of us to connect with those who can be this kind of a person to us and to whom we can be the same. It is a two way street. The Bible says, “So encourage each other and build each other up.”  1 Thess 5:11

And the sensitive one for last.

10. GUILT FREE SEX

Let’s be honest. We live in a sex driven world. Virtually everything is promoted, encouraged and sold by sex appeal. All of this has led to the most sexually active society our country has ever known. For example, more couples now live together before marriage then don’t. You can use all the rational you want for why this is such a great idea but the overwhelming reason comes down to one thing, sex. Sure you can test drive the model before the buy and find out whether or not you can make it together. But here is one sure way to find our whether or not there is real love there, cut off the sex.  To put it bluntly, we have a sexually screwed up society. We haven’t even begun to see the devastation and fall out that is ahead as a result of our freewheeling lifestyle.

This is a tough one to share but I need to. It is going to hurt but here it is. It comes from the Bible. “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” Heb 13:4 To make it easy to understand that means, in God’s plan, and he is the creator of sex, and he said that it is good, sex is intended for the marriage relationship and anything outside of that brings the verdict of “guilty.”

If you want to live a long, healthy, fresh and productive life, you need to embrace and commit to God’s design for sex. Not only does stepping outside His design bring guilt, it brings a whole boxcar of other issues and problems too numerous for us to discuss at this point.

So, the average life expectancy for a baby born in 2011 is 77.9 years in the United States. Since I was born many, many years ago, my life expectancy is somewhat shorter. The oldest living person in the world whose age can be documented is 115-year-old Besse Cooper, of the United States, born 26 August 1896. Medical research is at work every day looking for ways to extend life. It is anyone’s guess as to how long each of us will live.

However, the most important issue in life is not how long you live but how you live. It is not the duration of your life but the donation of your life. It is not the forecast of expected years but the fullness and freshness with which you live those years, however many they might be.

My final word of encouragement is to take some time to get away from all the demands and distractions of life and devote some time to the development of a life plan that intentionally brings into your life style the practices that assure a fresh approach to life that last for the long haul. It might include the ones mentioned here or it might include others you believe to be essential. The important thing is to be intentional and proactive since you still have a lot of life before you to live.

 

world’s greatest comeback story

EVERYBODY LOVES A COMEBACK STORY. The best sports on TV, the most dramatic movies, the most inspiring news features are about people who’ve been beaten down, overwhelmed, pummeled into the mud- and then somehow they come surging back to win.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN losing half a dozen elections over the years and then becoming President just as his country desperately needed a wise leader for the Civil War.

The 1980 U.S. OLYMPIC HOCKEY TEAM rising to finally beat the Soviets 4-3 at Lake Placid and going on to win the gold medal.

Apple, coming from the verge of bankruptcy just thirteen years ago, to arguably the greatest corporate comeback story of all times with a net worth of over $500 billion today.

WHY DO WE LOVE THESE REAL-LIFE DRAMAS?

Because they give us hope. They light a match inside our self-doubt. They tell us that maybe, just possibly, our present failure and defeat might not be the end of the story.

Most of us can think of plenty of mistakes we’ve made. We know  we’re not quite the world’s best and brightest, the champion of the league or the most-likely-to-succeed.

But still . . . wouldn’t it be great to surprise everybody and make a comeback?

Wouldn’t it mean a lot if, just once, we could rise above the obstacles?

What happened on Easter was the greatest comeback of all times. And this Easter we are going to celebrate that comeback in all its magnificence.