Taking Care of Business

Thomas Carlyle said, “Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.”

Vision is essential to leadership, as is seeing the big picture—no doubt about it. But great leaders also have the ability to see and do what is necessary today.

It’s the principle of first things first. Solomon said it as simply as it can be said: Develop your business first before building your house. (Proverbs 24:27)

This is what great leaders do. Where many flounder week to week, effective leaders make sure that, before anything else, top business gets done each day.

And they do this every day.

What’s your business? I mean your real business? What matters most to you? Is there anything on your agenda today that reflects this priority?

Long term vision is great, but we also need to make a habit of taking care of today’s business today.

How would you complete these two sentences?

1. My real business is __________.

2. I will develop it today by doing this: _______________.

If your real business is following Jesus, then do something today that makes you more like him. Give. Love. Serve. Forgive. Show mercy.

Develop your business (your real business) first, before doing anything else.

This memo is taken from Steve’s book, It’s All in the Dailies.

Martin Luther King

Life’s Most Persistent Question

Of the many Martin Luther King quotes that bear repeating, one of my favorites is:

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?”

Service is built-in to our job description, not only as pastors and missionaries and ministry leaders, but also as believers. One’s ministry — and ultimately, one’s life — will be measured by how this question is answered.

“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40)

As America pauses today to remember an influential leader, let’s consider this persistent and urgent question: What will I do today to serve others in the name of Jesus Christ?

This memo is taken from Steve’s book, It’s All in the Dailies.

Two can stand back to back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple braided cord is not easily broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

It Takes Two

John Maxwell tells a story about a young boy selling pencils door-to-door in his neighborhood for a nickel apiece.

A prospective buyer asks what he plans to do with the money.

He says, “I’m planning to raise a million dollars to help build a new hospital.”

“That’s a big job for just one boy, isn’t it?” the buyer asks.

“It’s not so hard,” the boy says. “I’ve got a friend helping me.”

It’s amazing how much smaller even the biggest tasks become with someone beside you.

Too many times we try to tackle each task alone and try to solve every problem on our own, which ultimately makes us vulnerable to discouragement and defeat.

When you accepted the call to ministry, or even the call to discipleship, you took on an enormous job. You can’t do it alone. It takes two, at least, and often more. You need others to help you get the job done.

I challenge you this week to consider a few ideas.

• Take some time to identify your teammates. In each project, think about their role and your role, how you complement one another, and how you can build on one another’s strengths.

Focus on what’s right about the partnership, rather than what’s wrong.

• Take some time to identify your problem-solvers. In the areas where you struggle — personal, spiritual, career, ministry — ask yourself, “Who can I bring in to help make this better?” Whatever you’re trying to accomplish, working with someone will get you there faster.

• At the same time, look for a chance to lend a hand. Is there someone you know in the midst of a massive pencil selling campaign? Maybe you can pitch in long enough to help them bring their project to the finish line.

Solomon makes reference to this in Ecclesiastes. He talks about how futile it is to work alone. And then he says…

Two people can accomplish more than twice as much as one; they get a better return for their labor. (Ecclesiastes 4:9)

More importantly, Solomon reminds us that working with a team helps one bounce back more quickly from defeat.

If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But people who are alone when they fall are in real trouble. (Ecclesiastes 4:10)

Solomon finishes the thought by saying…

Two can stand back to back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple braided cord is not easily broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

Do you want to get better, faster? Bring on a partner. Or two or three. See how much more quickly you move down the road of progress.

Too Soon to Quit

Too Soon To Quit

B.C. Forbes said, “History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed. They won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats.”

Or, as Norman Vincent Peale used to say, “It’s always too soon to quit.”

This is why Paul encouraged us…

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)

The “proper time” sometimes takes a little longer to arrive than we like … until it feels like it will never arrive. This is when it’s time to engage your faith. It’s time to decide to dig in and stick around a little longer.

It’s never a good time to give up.

The Christian life — and more specifically, the ministry — consists of overcoming one setback after another. That’s because we’re in a spiritual battle and everyday we confront the enemy.

We may lose a little ground from time to time, but we will not lose the war. We have been promised victory:  a harvest of righteousness, if we’ll only keep pressing on.

It’s always too soon to quit.

A Rut or a Routine

On a rugged wilderness highway, there’s a warning sign that says…

“Choose your rut carefully. You’ll be in it for the next 50 miles.”

Though I’m not fond of the word rut, this is actually good advice for life, but it would be better to say: “Choose your routine carefully. You’ll be tied to it a while. It determines your future, so make sure you’re ready for it.”

People often refer to the daily routine as a negative thing, as if it’s something you need to break in order to fully live.

But what if your daily routine was designed to make your life everything you’ve dreamed it could be? Wouldn’t this be a routine worth living for?

King David said, “Teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12 ESV)

Another way to say it: “Help us understand that life is short. What we do every day really matters.”

Our challenge is to organize our days in such a way, to create a routine that includes time for everything important.

Stephen Covey said it this way: “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”

Take a look at today’s to-do list. It will lead you either somewhere good, or nowhere good. It depends on whether you’ve chosen a rut or a routine.

Giving Your All Two Bits at a Time

Today’s post is an adapted, paraphrased version of an illustration Fred Craddock often used to explain what it means to give your life fully to Christ.

We think giving our all to God is like dropping a one thousand-dollar bill in the offering plate, as if to say: “Here’s my life, Lord. I’m giving it all.”

The reality is more like the Lord sending us to the bank and having us exchange the $1000 bill for 4000 quarters.

And then we go through life giving away 25 cents here and 50 cents there, in his service.

Like when we help a neighbor in need. Or minister to someone who is lonely. Or offer a word of encouragement. Or prepare a meal for a friend. Or serve on a committee at church.

Giving your all to God isn’t as flashy as one might think. It’s done in all these little acts of love, 25 cents at at time.

It would be comparatively easy to go out in a flash of glory. Much more difficult is to live the Christian life little-by-little over the long haul, two-bits at a time.

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

The One Digging the Well

An ancient Eastern proverb says, “Those who drink the water must remember who dug the well.”

In every area, our lives are made lighter through the efforts of others.

Take a look around. Everything you see is a call for gratitude: The house you live in, the clothes you wear, your table, your chair, your bed. Someone dug the well, so to speak, to make these available.

There were also those who taught you in school, and Sunday School. Who told you about Jesus, who volunteered for VBS and, later, youth camps and retreats. Who prayed for you, who encouraged you along the way … they were digging the well, and they deserve your gratitude.

Our job, then, is to remember to remember those who put the well in its place, to say thank you in person when we can, and to say thank you to God for bringing this person our way.

And our job goes just a little bit further.

We need to be digging wells of our own, in service to others. It’s a simple step to ask ourselves throughout the day: Who, besides me, will benefit from what I am doing right now?

During his second and third missionary journeys, the apostle Paul “dug a well” in Ephesus: planting a church, leading people to Christ, training leaders.

And yet, it is he who expressed gratitude to them…

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers… (Ephesians 1:16)

Our work involves digging wells that will last for eternity. Let’s tend to the task in a spirit of gratitude — thankful for those we serve, and thankful for those who have played a role in guiding us along the way.

A Shortage of Trees / A Lack of Vision

This may sound like a Christmas illustration, but it’s not. It’s a vision illustration.

There has been a Christmas tree shortage off and on for the last few years. And it could last a couple years more.

Why the shortage? Drout? Fire? Pandemic?

There are several suspects in the case, but the primary reason can be traced back to the recession of 2008, when fewer people bought trees — a trend which continued for a couple of years.

Since fewer were buying, tree harvesters planted fewer trees, thinking the need was dwindling.

As the economy began making gains, business picked up again … but short-sighted harvesters weren’t prepared. They had forgotten that there is a difference between a temporary lull and a long-term shift in consumer behavior.

Something similar can be said for ministry.

This is a temporary situation that we face today. But the lull won’t last. It requires our attention, to be sure. It requires that we be flexible in our plans and procedures.

But, as we deal with the ‘now’ all around us, let’s not be lulled. Let’s not lose sight of our vision. We must continue to look ahead, and plan forward, just as God has called us to do.

This moment in time is temporary. Our mission is long-term. Let’s make sure we’re ready when new opportunities for ministry come our way.

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. (1 Corinthians 16:13)

Beginning Now

Some of our best ideas are still waiting for the right moment.

We call it preparation. It’s really procrastination. Eventually the due-diligence phase yields to the do-it-later phase. And another good idea gets covered in cobwebs.

Let’s remember what William Feather said:

“Conditions are never just right. People who delay action until all factors are favorable do nothing.”

There’s something to be said for beginning now and filling in the details as you go. It’s not that details aren’t important or that preparation isn’t necessary, but at some point you have to quit compiling data and start pursuing results.

Do you know what the problem is? There’s no failure to face in the preparation stage. There’s no disappointment to deal with in the dream-casting phase.

It’s only after the plan has been put into practice that you confront results that maybe don’t meet expectations. It’s easy to get nervous. It’s easier to plan just a little longer.

When Abraham was well past the age where most people consider slowing down, God told him, “Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)

Abraham went, not having a plan in place, not knowing exactly what lay ahead, only that he was following the voice of God.

If there is something you know that you should do, maybe it’s time to do just what Abraham did: take the first few steps, even if all the questions haven’t been answered and all the problems aren’t solved in advance.

The results might not be immediate, and they might not be all that you hoped for. It might force you to make you make some difficult adjustments along the way. But it beats living your life forever in someday.

There’s something to be said for beginning now.

The Desert of Loneliness

I came across a quote a while back from William Carey, recorded in April 1794, during his first year of ministry in India.

This day was tumultuous in its beginning, but was afterwards more calm. Yet a burden of guilt is not easily removed : nothing short of infinite power, and infinite goodness, can remove such a load as mine.

O that I had but a smiling God, or an earthly friend to whom I could unbosom my soul! But my friend is at a great distance, and God frowns upon my soul. O may his countenance be lifted upon me again.

Carey was expressing his feelings here, not writing good theology. His words reflect a servant’s struggle with sin and loneliness.

Everyone in ministry deals with both.

And you don’t have to travel around the world to meet these enemies face-to-face. They’ll come to where you are.

So what do you do when you’re losing the battle?

You turn to the God whose mercy never ends. Even if you’ve tried a thousand times before, you can still find grace in your time of your need.

And then you turn to one of the good people God has put in your life, and you “unbosom your soul.”

Most importantly, when you’re losing the battle against sin and loneliness, you stay in the fight until victory finds you.

Carey worked for three years before baptizing his first convert. And yet he stayed. By the end of his race he had translated the New Testament into several languages, planted churches and missionary training centers, and became known as the Father of Modern Missions. Today at least seven institutions of higher learning bear his name.

Losing a battle doesn’t mean you’ve lost the war. But quitting does. Stay in the fight until victory finds you.

You’re Half Way There

Today’s memo goes back a few years. I look at it each year around the end of June, and I’ve even used it as a Monday Memo a time or two.

It’s a good reminder for this year, as well.

We’ve just about reached the mid-way point in 2020. Wednesday marks a new beginning, with a half year behind us, and a half year to go.

Have you thought about what the remaining months can be?

Earl Nightingale noted that if you will spend one hour a day on the same subject for five years, you can become expert on that subject.

True, no doubt. But for now, forget about five years and an hour a day.

Think instead about the next six months, thirty minutes a day.

Think about the potential that exists. What kind of headway could you make in one area of your life? Maybe attaining expert status is not realistic, but serious progress is.

• You could become conversationally proficient in a second language.

• You could learn to play the guitar; in six months you can reach the level of “decent.”

• You could walk 300+ miles.

• You could get in great physical shape.

• You could do a masters-level study of your favorite subject, such as church history.

• You could dig in-depth into one of the gospels or one of Paul’s letters, until you own it.

As one called to preach the good news, can you imagine how 30 minutes a day of focused effort could make a difference in your ability to communicate? What if, every day for the next 180 days, you devoted a half-hour to working on your craft? Can you imagine how the difference would be played out in the results you see?

The next 180 days will come and go, along with this 90 hour block of time. How will you invest it?

Some will watch 90 more hours staring at their phone. Some will catch an additional 90 hours of zzzzs. Some will do whatever they feel like doing at the moment.

And you? If you’re willing to take the road less traveled, you can use these moments each day to move forward in the calling God has placed on your life. 

“The hands of the diligent will rule.” (Proverbs 12:24)

Many Mentors. One Father.

Many Mentors. One Father.

Jack Elway, former football coach of Stanford University and father of Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway, was once asked how he dealt with being an expert in the same field his son had chosen as a profession.

Jack’s response was: “In your son’s life he’ll have many mentors, many coaches, many men to teach and motivate and correct him. He’ll have only one father. All you have to do is love him.”

Reading this quote (in Randall Wallace’s book, Living the Braveheart Life) reminded me of something I had heard John Elway say years earlier.

After his second Super Bowl loss — if you’re a Bronco fan, you’ll remember those first two Super Bowls qualified as embarrassing — the younger Elway was, of course, devastated. It wasn’t merely a team loss; John himself hadn’t played up to par.

That evening his father visited him. He didn’t break down his son’s performance or offer any advice. He just sat with him.

It was one of those moments in which Jack knew that his son didn’t need a coach. He needed a dad.

Fathers, there are many roles you will play in the lives of your sons and daughters. Keep in mind that your greatest role is to let them know that they are loved, always, as we are loved by our Heavenly Father.

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. (Psalm 103:13)