It's good to take a deep breath every once in a while

If you ask me where the greatest place on earth is, I won't hesitate to tell you that it's found on the beach with the surf dancing around my chair as my kids play in the water and sand nearby. Nothing calms my soul or brings clarity out of confusion for me like a day at the beach.

Many people have told me how lucky I am for living on the coast, and I don't disagree. But when they say things like, "You get to go to the beach whenever you want!" I have to chime in with a little perspective. True, if I was a character in a Nicholas Sparks book then the beach would be my backyard and work would be optional. Yet life isn't like that for me or many people that I know.

If you were to tell me that you are immune to stress, that the craziness of life never really gets to you, then the first thing I would do is check your pulse! Regardless of whether you are a student, parent, professional, or seasoned citizen, life is often crazy and unpredictable.

Recently, my wife and I have started watching old episodes of The Waltons on TV and have found ourselves daydreaming about living in simpler times. Now I know that the show is fictional, filmed in California and not a rural Virginia setting, and I'm sure that farm life in the 1930's was no walk in the park. But shows like this express what so many of us long for: peace, relief from daily stress, and the satisfaction of relationships. This "safe zone" that we seek - that we all need - is called margin.

Margin occurs when we recognize that we can't do it all and thus we don't even pretend that we can. It involves controlling your schedule before it controls you. Family dinners, intentional play time with the kids, quiet solitude on the porch watching the sun rise or set, or even a mid-afternoon workout are all ways to get away and regain a foothold in the busy schedule of life.

Jesus understood margin and sought it out in His own life. Mark 1:35, "Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, He got up, went out, and made His way to a deserted place. And He was praying there." Imagine having a schedule like Jesus - sermons to preach, people to heal, a kingdom to build. And you think your life is hectic! Yet in spite of all that was on His plate, Jesus took time to retreat from the chaos to be alone and to enjoy the fellowship if good friends.

Somewhere in the pages of the book of our lives entitled Insanity, we must learn where to insert the margins before the words run off the page and effectively run us dry. Don't apologize for pulling back and making time for family, friends, and yourself. Learn to say "No!" and be okay with it. Remember, if you don't learn how to manage your schedule, your schedule will be more than happy to manage you.

Lead in spite of, because God's got your back

As a leader, don't you wish that people liked you and respected your every move? I mean, how easy would it be for you if every decision that you made was greeted with applause and compliance? That would be awesome and spare you a few gray hairs and stomach ulcers! But if that were the case - if everyone that you led was okay with where you were leading them - then you would be called a tour guide or entertainment specialist, not leader.

The very definition of being a leader implies that you have to navigate people over difficult terrain because, if left up to their own, those under your direction would wander aimlessly. And these people that you lead will sometimes push back against your vision and decisions, which makes it all the more challenging to lead them.

Let's face it, being a leader is hard. You are never going to be the most popular person in the room and your every move will be second guessed by a number of people. As a result, it is up to you how you choose to deal with opposition. You can initially choose to react in a manner that matches how you feel inside. Usually, this will be akin to molten lava spewing down a mountain toward an unsuspecting village. While this may feel the best at the time, we all know that this is pretty much always counterproductive an disastrous. Those that bear your wrath will never truly follow you.

A second and more God-honoring and wise - yet incredibly difficult - response is to lead in spite of. This means that in sticking with your vision and your strategy you continue to lead with grace in spite of naysayers. If you want a practical application of what this looks like, then read up on the lives of Moses, King David, Daniel, Paul, oh and Jesus, too. These men faced much opposition in their life and ministry, yet they led in spite of it. And they did so because God had entrusted them with leadership and their vision and dreams were not simply their own. 

King David actually put his thoughts and hurts into words when it came to leading in the midst of those who wished him nothing but disaster:
"You Yourself have recorded my wanderings. Put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not on Your records? Then my enemies will retreat on the day when I call. This I know: God is for me."  (Psalm 56:8-9)
That last phrase should bring great comfort to all of us: God is for us. He knows all the junk that we go through, He is intimately aware of every struggle that we encounter, and He's tuned in to all the mind-numbing opposition that we face. He has "recorded my wanderings" and "put my tears in (His) bottle", which means that there is nothing that we endure alone. He is with us. He is for us.

So when you struggle and strive and to lead in spite of, and it seems like no one else in the room is on the same page, rest in the fact that God is for you. Mom and dad, God is for you when you have to make difficult decisions regarding your children. Business man and woman, God has your back when your co-workers are taking short-cuts while claiming the glory. Student, God has not forgotten you when other kids at school mock you for your faith and for taking your studies seriously.

And if God is for us, who can be against us?

You can't judge me! Unless, of course, you can...

"Do not judge!" This is without a doubt one of the most commonly quoted - I mean misquoted - verses of Scripture in all of the Bible. Believers and unbelievers alike enjoy pulling this one of our their arsenal to throw at anyone who espouses a belief or an opinion contrary to their own. But what does this verse in Matthew 7 really mean? In order to find out, we have to zoom out and take not just this verse but the entire passage in Matthew 7:1-6 in context.

"Do not judge, so that you won't be judged." That seems simple enough. If you don't judge others then they won't judge you. If we stop right there then there really is no need to go further with the discussion. Yet this verse is only the beginning of the passage.

"For with the judgment you use, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." Did you see that? This verse doesn't condemn judging but instead gives a warning: When - not if - you judge, be prepared to be judged in return. But wait, I thought the verse before said don't judge. I'm getting confused! Read on.

"Why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye but don't notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck our of your eye,' and look, there's a log in your eye?" People like to use these verses out of context too to fuel their argument, but they are inseparable from the other verses. Here's the point: The kind of judging that Jesus denounces - and the kind that should bother us too - is the hypocritical kind.

The whole plank in the eye refers to the perception of the one doing the judging. Have you ever had something stuck in your eye? If so, then you know that it messes with your vision pretty badly. Even the tiniest speck of dirt or insect can feel like, well, like a plank in your eye because it is so painful and consuming. That's the point. Judging isn't forbidden. In fact, we must learn to pass judgment on each other for the purpose of accountability and purity. But when you have failed to diligently judge yourself and your own misguided and sinful motives and actions, then you are unfit to judge others' sins and hold them accountable.

"Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." Ouch! Nobody wants to be called a hypocrite but that is what we are if we judge others while ignoring our own junk. So what is the solution? Take the log out of your own eye - i.e., clean your own house - before you seek to correct others.

Here is the main point in all of this: None of us are perfect enough to pass perfect judgment. Only Jesus is, which is why He has the final authority on judgment (Matthew 25:31-46 & John 5:20-30). Yet we can and must judge others, but only when we are diligently pursuing God's holiness and purity in our own lives. This isn't always easy and comfortable to do, but it is essential that we hold our brothers and sisters accountable.

Let me finish by asking you one final question: If you were to see me pursuing a relationship outside of my marriage or abusing substances that could ruin my life, would you tell me? If the answer is yes, then you aren't judging me. You are loving me.

If you want to lead people then learn to manage your time (and theirs)

You know this person I am about to write about. In fact, you may actually be this person and are unaware that you are. Who am I talking about? The person who sucks the life right out of you, the one who demands more time than you can give and lets you know if you have not catered to his or her needs enough, that’s who.

Now before you dismiss this as crass and insensitive, reserve your judgment for a few moments. I don’t believe that there is a church (or civic organization or school PTA or recreation sports league or community group for that matter) that has been spared from at least one individual who demanded that she get most of the attention. She dominates the conversations. He insists that you listen to his views before anyone else. She dismisses what you have to say as trivial and out of touch. He does not think you are paying enough attention to his child as a leader/mentor/coach/teacher. She always has an opinion and is not afraid to share it. Even if you wanted to ignore what he is saying, his voice is so loud you can’t tune him out.

Now do you know who I’m talking about? I call this person the time hoarder.

For time hoarders enough is never enough, and if you are in a position of leadership then you understand how difficult it is to balance the already limited amount of time that you have. It’s a struggle to manage your own schedule, so how do you respond to that man or woman who insists that you cater to their needs before those of any other?
You learn to manage their time for them. 

What does that mean? Am I saying that you grab their daily planner and chart the course for each day for them? No, but it would be awesome if you could because then you could make sure that you are not on their schedule! Managing a time hoarder means that you help them to honor your schedule when they are seeking out your time.

Here’s how this might look. Mary is an anxious mother who finds all sorts of things to worry about with her middle school son Sean. If she sees a suspicious looking doodle on his notebook or the name of a friend and phone number on a slip of paper of a friend she does not know, she automatically shifts into overbearing mode and wants to know every detail of, well, everything. Mary comes to you because, as Sean’s youth minister, you are supposed to figure this out. What it is that you are supposed to do isn’t quite clear yet, but Mary wants to make sure that you are up to date with all of the information that you need so that you can properly lead her son.

There have been numerous Wednesday evenings when you were the last one out of the church building again because Mary needed to unload a new list of information on you. Do you remember that day trip to the mountains that you planned last fall? The one where you sent home enough information about to run a small factory? Mary called you at least three times asking the same questions about the same details that you had already given to her. If there is a bad question to ask or an inopportune time to ask it, Mary surely isn’t aware of it.

So it’s Saturday night at your home and since there are no football or basketball games being played, Saturday night in your home is family night. That means homemade pizza, popcorn, and a movie. There is no other night of the week quite like Saturday because it’s the one time during the week that you and your spouse and your kids can all be together without any other obligations pulling at you. Just as you are serving slices of pizza dripping with cheese, your cell phone rings. Because you are a leader in your church, you always check to see who is calling you just in case another church leader needs to get important information to you. When you look at the caller ID you draw back in horror. It’s Mary! What do you do?

Quickly your mind races through every scenario. Perhaps it really is an emergency and she needs you to come to the hospital because Sean has been in a horrible accident. Or maybe she found out that her sister has cancer and she needs someone from the church to come over and pray with the family for a miracle. But more than likely, Mary is calling you because she wants to know who is going to chaperone the next youth event even though you have already given her a full list of names. Do you chance it and answer the phone?

Please understand that I believe with all of my heart that ministry is about people. First and foremost, it’s about the person of Jesus who always seemed to have time for everybody. And if Jesus could stare down exhaustion and heal one more person and deliver one more sermon, then we can certainly go the extra mile to be there when people are in the deepest of crises. But let’s be honest with each other – there are those time hoarders whose only crisis is their next individual need. You need a strategy do manage their time with you so that they don’t manage your time for you, so let’s put a strategy in place.

First, identity the time hoarders in your life. This should not be too hard. After all, it has probably only taken you a matter of weeks to figure out who it is that demands most of your time and attention. When you identify the time hoarders around you then you will know how to handle the situations that they bring your way.

Second, seek discernment from the Lord. Jesus seemingly had time for everyone, but you aren’t Jesus. You need all the help you can get from the Lord when it comes to leading people. Ask God to give you wisdom and discernment for those specific people that have the propensity to chew up your schedule and drain the life out of you. Also, preach the gospel to yourself. Jesus extends grace to us, so we must extend grace to others even when we know that we must be firm with them. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for us reminds us of how we are to lay down our own lives and interests for those of others. Seeking discernment from the Lord will let you know when you need to give that extra time even to a time hoarder.

Third, establish boundaries that you do not allow them to cross. When that person who hoards your time starts in on you again, set a mental timer in your head and know when the alarm needs to sound. In other words, set a time limit with a time hoarder and stick to it. You don’t have to be rude to them in doing this, just up front and firm. Let them know that you value their time and that you most certainly want to help them in their situation but that you have other obligations that are pressing on you as well. Make sure that you do get back to them but do so in a manner that does not rope you in to a more lengthy time-consuming conversation (i.e., send them an email or call them on the phone). Just because someone else does not respect your time does not mean that you have to let them dictate your time for you.

Fourth, be okay with not being accessible 24/7. Yes, I know that you need to be available for any situation that arises within your ministry, but you don’t necessarily have to accessible. When Mary calls you during family night supper, let her leave you a message. If it’s truly an emergency then you will do what needs to be done, but more likely than not she is asking a question that can be answered the next day when you see her at church. Should you choose to pick up the phone and allow her to drain you of your valuable family time, then you will most certainly put a damper on much needed time with your family.

Who's got your back?

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