For 2018: To Start Well, Make a Stop Doing List

If Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, the week before the new year is the most dishonest. It’s when resolutions are made, most with the conviction of a wet noodle in a windstorm. Gym memberships go up, gyms fill up (at least through the first two weeks of January), and all sorts of plans are made up.

Instead of making a bunch of resolutions you find either too ambitious to achieve or that you don’t really plan to keep, here’s an idea that might help.

Don’t make a list of resolutions. But do make a “stop doing” list.

What are some daily habits or regular practices you need to quit in 2018? Sometimes it’s easier to stop something than to start. For instance, I’m a notorious key-loser. I’m clinically diagnosed with ADD, after all! But last summer I stopped randomly putting my keys different places with one little thought: “When I walk in the door, I will hang my keys on the key hook by the door.” I have literally not lost my keys one single time since. I stopped choosing random and followed a plan. That likely saved me about 8-10 hours of stress looking for my keys.

What might you stop doing as a pattern in 2018? Here are some ideas:

  1. Social media and the Internet: These are great tools for life, but they can add stress as we compare ourselves to others online or develop the immature habit of knee jerk reacting to things that bug us. Some ideas: (1) Stop looking at your phone first thing in the morning. Spend time in the Word, pray, workout, do something else. (2) Stop push notifications; instead, limit how many checks a day for twitter, facebook, instagram, etc. You can be actively engaged in social media without living on your phone. (NOTE: Read 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You by Reinke if this is a problem). (3) Stop immediately responding online. Before you post any kind of reaction to anything you see online, wait 10 minutes. This is the social media equivalent to waiting 24 hours before a major purchase. (4) If necessary, take one day a week and stop social media totally.
  2. Spiritual Growth: Stop randomizing your walk with God. Get a plan. Stop flying by the seat of your pants spiritually and develop good spiritual habits, like a devotional plan. Think about where you might be spiritually if you stop “just having a quiet time” and instead study the Gospels to learn how Jesus related to people (for instance) so you can know him better and relate to others like he did. Is there something specific in the mornings that keeps you from a consistent time with the Lord? Stop it, whatever it is.
  3. Health and Fitness: Instead of trying to become the poster child at (I don’t think that’s a real site), what is ONE thing you can stop doing that trainwrecks your health? Perhaps stop buying that one snack you eat too much (you are an adult, right?). You don’t have to join a gym, lift a small house, or eat kale sandwiches. Just stop one bad eating habit and stop one thing that keeps you from exercising, like waiting to the end of the day to do so. Studies show you are far more likely to work out consistently if you do so in the morning. Can’t join a gym? Go to and try some of their free, body weight only exercises. If you simply do enough to work up a decent sweat five days a week you are on your way.
  4. Your Personal Witness: Think about this–what is the primary reason that keeps you from sharing Jesus consistently? Take the rest of this year (you have 3 days, right?) to ponder this. And then, stop that one thing. If it’s fear of knowing what to say to people, stop doing nothing about it and get some help (I know this guy who wrote a book called Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out that might help). If it’s the fact that you just don’t have many opportunities, think of one activity a week you can stop, and replace that with time to talk to people. I had to do that a few years ago. I had to stop meeting with students as much (although I love my students!) so I could have time to develop friendships with people who don’t know Christ. Perhaps you are so busy doing church stuff in the church building (I’m looking at you, pastor) you don’t have time to do some outreach. Stop one thing. The church will not cease to exist.
  5. Priorities: All this leads me to the last one. Covey was right–you don’t prioritize your schedule, you schedule your priorities. Stop, please stop, just facing life without a plan. A few years ago I stopped living this way and developed the habit of regularly (though not always) taking a little time on Sunday evenings or Monday mornings to assess the upcoming week, and to make sure the calendar I actually lived was consistent with the priorities I have. I’ve certainly not been perfect, but I’ve learned doing this cuts out a ton of wasted time, decreases stress, and helps me reflect better. I’m actually making some changes in 2018 based on a far-too-hectic-late 2017, so I’m still learning and growing here myself.

What do you need to stop? I could have also listed some darker things, like a besetting sin, unhealthy relationship, or foolish habit. But you get the idea. Stop some things to see what you can do for the glory of God.

Fitness Friday: Embrace Your Limitations

“No matter your reason, if you sacrifice your health, you’re making the wrong choice.” Toni Sorenson

Last week I went in for my semi-annual dental appointment for a routine cleaning. My hygienist immediately remarked on how different I seemed. You see, the last time I was there (back in April) I walked in gingerly, sat down carefully, and had to have a pillow under my knees to help me get comfortable with a very bad back. I told her how much better I felt lately, and she remarked that I literally looked ten years younger than I did the last time she saw me.

images-2“What happened?” She asked. In summary, I told her after three back doctors were essentially useless (at least in my case), I found a physical therapist who gave me hope. After learning some things about my back (books, medical reports, etc), working really hard, and following his suggestion to go to have sports massage treatments several times, I went from speaking from a stool always and being in regular discomfort to feeling alive again. In addition, after a season of taking multiple medications, now I only take a low level anti-inflammatory pill daily prescribed by my primary care physician(and lots of O3 and vitamins).

I am no expert in kinesiology, but I have studied and learned a ton. Here are some things I’ve learned.

I’ve learned that I have some really sorry things wrong with my back and am stuck with an artificial hip the rest of my life. Boo.

imagesBecause of this I had developed the mindset (with the help of not so helpful doctors, but I am ultimately responsible) that I would always be in pain, always have to be cautious, and so on. What I have learned instead is to focus on what I can do. I learned to face the issue, learn about it, and attack it.

But I learned one more thing that I hope may help you as well.

I learned not merely to tolerate my limitations caused by a bad back, but to embrace them. I chose to see my bad back as an opportunity for motivation. I now work out more consistently than ever in my entire life. You see, if I work out the wrong way I can really mess my back up again. But with the help of my PT and the sports masseuse, I am confident about both what I must be doing and what I must be avoiding.

I learned if I go 3-4 days without working out, I will have back pain. I approach my back issues like a heart patient who has to walk every day the rest of his life. I must do something every day, if only 10 minutes of core. Movement is life.

My physical limitations relate directly to my artificial hip and lumbar spine issues. What limits you from moving forward? What can you do not only in spite of limitations, but because of them?

For me it looks like this:

images-1–As noted, I have to exercise very consistently, keeping my core especially activated, which takes immense pressure off my screwed up lumbar spine.

–I can never do heavy weights. That’s not only because I have back issues but because I am 56 for crying out loud! I do less weights, more reps.

–I will never do exercises that unnecessarily strain my lumber spine. No deadlifts–instead I do the Roman chair. No squats with heavy weights–instead I do squats carefully with fairly light dumbbells. No jump training or plyometrics, etc. Instead, I do wall squats and bicycling, lots of bicycling.

–I work all the major muscles of my body every week, but I modify the exercises to protect my spine. I’ve learned how remarkably interconnected my body is. It helps my back a lot to have strong shoulders, for instance. But I do some exercises differently. All shoulder and arm exercises–military presses, curls, etc–I do seated on a bench with the back rest up, so my spine is firmly placed against it. This actually makes the exercise more focused on the shoulder or arm muscles anyway, but it helps my back a lot not to do those standing up.

–I work my back muscles twice as much as my muscles in front. That’s a direct order from my PT.

–I work my core like a fool. Every day. In my case this includes a lot of focus on my hip flexors and my transverse abdominis muscles. It’s crazy how little core we did when I played football. My core today is much stronger than in my teens. I could bench press 300 pounds back then (can’t do that now!), but I can plank better today. For me, the workouts five days a week go something like this: 20 minutes on the bike (HIIT style–30 seconds easy, 30 seconds sprinting), 20-25 minutes lifting weights (I push hard, focus on good technique, and take no more than 30 second rests between sets), and 10-15 minutes working my core. I am usually a big hot mess when finished. I’m also anti-social when I work out. I put in my ear buds and get after it.

I’m no workout guru or prime physical specimen. I’m a middle aged professor and minister trying to be in a position mentally and physically to serve Jesus well into my 80s. I’ll be honest, a year ago that seemed like an impossible goal. But life has changed, not only because I tolerate my limitations, but I embrace them. I work out harder and eat better because I have back issues. So, I thank God for a bad back!

searchWhat limitations in your life could move you from an excuse to a motivator? Embrace your limitations, and get moving.

(Almost) Everything I Learned About Ministry I Learned Playing Football

I love this time of year. In some ways there no better time exists: the cool air this morning beckoning fall to arrive, the excitement of a new school year, and the many new faces at our Young Pros ministry at Richland Creek Community Church, to name only a few. But something else happens to me (and to many more) this time of year. The marching bands, the pom poms, and the endless discussions have arrived concerning the great American sport: football. No sport turns my crank more than football. Around here we hope the Carolina Panthers will continue to improve. I would be okay with the Crimson Tide winning another national title, and would like the Tar Heels to win a bowl game. But football in particular takes me back to my own youth and the days of playing football.

Football has had an enduring affect on my life. Maybe it stems from the matching scars I have on both knees from surgical repairs brought about from my gridiron days. No doubt it comes in no small way from my having grown up in Alabama in the heyday of Bear Bryant-led Alabama football. He is still the greatest Bama coach, by the way. My brief stint coaching Josh in football back in his freshman year in high school brought a lot of joy, although I think I will stick to teaching. One thing is certain: every fall I experience a strange phenomenon. About the time school begins, if I hear a marching band practice or see football players sweating in their two-a-days, I begin to twitch, and I feel an adrenaline rush. I find myself looking for someone to tackle, or at least find the urge to watch Remember the Titans one more time! Something about football has never left me.

I have fought the urge to tackle a colleague or try to convince the secretaries in my office to lead a pep rally. But I have discovered that nothing in my adult experience causes me to reflect on my teenage years more than my annual habit of football nostalgia.

Football stands as the ultimate team sport. It is, as one former NFL coach put it, one of the last places in America where men can be men and be praised for it. Few realms offer the opportunity to risk, sacrifice, sweat, hurt, push, think, and react. If you play the game as intended, it pushes your mind, your emotions, your body, all of you to excellence. No, playing football does not make you a man, but it provides a wonderful venue for the God-given attributes of a man to be developed.

Football gave me a lot. I was far from the all-star player on my team. Like most guys, in my mind the older I get, the better player I was! But I have observed that being on a football team over four years taught me practical lessons about life that have helped me ever since. And, many of these same lessons have been especially helpful to me in ministry. Ministry is to team sports (like football) as painted lines are to a highway — not the same, but a pretty good parallel. Just look at the times Paul used athletics in the New Testament to teach spiritual truth (I Cor. 9:24-27, Phil. 3:14, I Tim, etc).

I look back all the time on the lessons I learned from football. Here are a few:

1. The TEAM comes First. The more you focus on helping others the better it becomes for you. If you are a pastor or staff member, helping the whole staff honor God should supersede any personal goals. When the team wins, everyone gets the credit, but when the team loses, individual achievements really don’t matter. I learned this from watching Bear Bryant: a great leader takes more blame than he deserves and gives more credit to others than they deserve.

2. Value SACRIFICE. If all being on a football team involved was showing up and playing a game every week, half the guys in school would want to play. No, to play the game, you have to pay the price. Hours of sweating during two-a-days in the August sun, off-season conditioning, grueling drills, wind sprints, on and on the sacrifice goes. Afternoons in the fall are surrendered to practice. Ministry is not about finding your niche so much as it is pursuing godliness. This involves great sacrifice over time.

3. STAY FOCUSED on the Goal. Our team’s goal, make no mistake, was to WIN. Our coach never began a season saying, “Our goal this year is to be 0 and 10.” We never started a week of practice with the goal of losing. Excuses were never allowed. In ministry we have to be careful about how we define “winning” by overly focusing on some things to the neglect of others. But let’s be clear — the goal of a team is never mediocrity, and neither should being average satisfy a minister. Winning people to Christ and building disciples should remain our priority.

4. EVALUATION Helps. Every Monday we watched film as a team. Our coach loved to say, “the big eye won’t lie.” If an assignment was blown, all could see. If a great play was made, all observed. Effective ministry requires ongoing evaluation. But the evaluation should always be focused on making people better rather than tearing them down. We need people in our lives to coach us, to evaluate us, to push us daily.

5. Be a GOOD SPORT (i.e. have character). Learn what is important and what isn’t. Don’t confuse personal preference with things that really matter. In football things like hustle, preparation, and teamwork rule – personal feelings do not. I honestly learned some virtues in a locker room (okay, there were plenty of vices there too!) I did not learn at church, such as treating each other with respect regardless of the color of their skin. The coach has the right to ride a player’s back if he loafs. In ministry, we tend to take ourselves too seriously, but fail to take the gospel seriously enough. We need to reverse those two and lighten up! We should rejoice in the success of others and be grateful for any measure of grace God gives us.

6. Leave NOTHING on the Field. A good football player never quits. Great teams play until the final whistle. Too many ministers spend more time preparing for retirement than reaching the lost, too much time magnifying themselves than the Jesus they should be preaching. Ministry properly done is exhausting work, and we should give it our best effort, particularly when we teach the Word. I still apply this mentally when I preach or teach. When I am finished, I am exhausted, but it is a good feeling to know I have given my best to communicate the Word of God.

7. A GOOD COACH Helps. Great football programs on any level are marked by great coaches. The “coach” of a local church is the pastor. Everything rises or falls on leadership.

8. RISK and Be Rewarded. The players that make the greatest impact are typically those who risk the most. Football games are often won or lost by playmakers–those who at a critical moment step up and deliver. As a minister of the gospel, your willingness to trust God and take risks of faith will mark much of your life’s trajectory. You can’t get injured watching a game from the couch. You can definitely get hurt playing the game, but the thrill is worth the risk.

9. Keep a LONG TERM Look. Losing one game does not have to destroy a season. Falling behind in one quarter does not mean you will lose the game. A setback in ministry does not mean the whole future is bleak. Keeping a long term perspective helps to deal with short term setbacks. Let’s face it, drama queens (those who constantly go from “today is the best day of my life!” to “today is the most awful day ever”) never seem to do well at football. Or ministry.

10. Be AGILE, MOBILE, and HOSTILE. OK, I am getting carried away a bit, but that’s how my coach described a linebacker. At my age I am fragile, docile and senile! In ministry we should never be hostile, but we must be agile and mobile, or flexible. We should be aware of our times and our people and be able to apply a timeless gospel in a timely manner. And we should be hostile toward the devil.

Football and ministry obviously are not exactly the same. Ministry matters a lot more. Ministry is not a game: it’s life and death. But, just as Paul used a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer to describe a minister, football can teach us a lot.

Now, go out there and give it all for the — no, not the Gipper — for the Savior!

NOTE: this is a repost (with additions) from an earlier article I periodically post this time of year.

* With apologies to Robert Fulghum, author of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things.

Friday Is for Fitness: Smoothie Love

The righteous has enough to satisfy his appetite,
but the belly of the wicked suffers want.  Proverbs 13:25

The past few weeks I have received some not so good news about my lower spine. It seems I have a combination of congenital and degenerative issues: I was born with an unusually narrow spine, which is now catching up with me, and I have a propensity toward degenerative arthritis in my bones, particularly in my lower lumbar region. The good news is I can continue to exercise and in fact need to do so, particularly in my core area. Exercise is like therapy for me, so I thank God for this.

I also had my annual physical (you should do that annually if you are not already). In summary, I was told that I have the body of a 40 year old but the lower spine of a 90 year old.

So, although I’ve lost about 40 pounds from a few years ago I decided (and my doctors suggested) that losing another 15 or so pounds would only help my ailing spine. But that last ten or fifteen is the hardest, so what to do?

I have found and fallen in love with smoothies. No, not the ones you get at a fast food place. Homemade, delicious, healthy, and filling smoothies. I’m no pro at them so I welcome suggestions, but I have found a pretty good system so far.

If you want to lose weight by exercising alone, good luck. You can lose a whole pound of fat if you do 7000 crunches, so have at it. Or, you can exercise and eat differently. I’ve lost eight pounds the past 3-4 weeks by switching to a smoothie for at least one, and sometimes two meals a day, plus eating sensibly the rest of the time.

A confession: I tried one of those veggie smoothies with Kale and similar ingredients. Not this guy. If I don’t like it I’m not going to eat it, nor will you.

Here is a typical smoothie, the one I made yesterday:

One medium banana

Five big strawberries (I always have berries as they have nutrients other fruits do not)

A quarter avocado (a very good food for you that I hate, so I blend it in)

A scoop of high quality protein powder (not the cheap WalMart version)

A cup of almond milk

A cup of spinach (you can’t taste this “super food,” but it does make the thing green)

Finally, my secret ingredient: a half cup of oatmeal. This addition makes me full until the next meal, plus oats are good for you.

I fill up the blender with water and let her rip. This makes two whole meals.

Two more things: first, I am not an expert, but an eager student at diet and fitness. Second, my motivation is spiritual as much as physical, as I want to take the best care of myself possible to serve The Lord for the longest time possible. I will not let health issues get me down, but I will discipline myself for the purpose of godliness.

Let me know  your smoothie recipes. And if you also want to bring together your spiritual and physical life, check out my little book Physical Fitness and Its Spiritual Impact. You can get it for only 2.99 here on Kindle, or as a print book for a little more here.

I have to go, it’s time for a smoothie!


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