Winter Pleasures

Winter pleasures have made blogging sparse here at the void. Last weekend I was in -25 temperature with Dave Cleland in White Lake, WI for his annual Snow Fever high school retreat. It was very much a pleasure to hang with Dave (as it always is), including our dinner at Lambeau Field two nights before the NFC Championship.

Last Thursday Andy Bowers, Jonathan Sarr, Curtis Wentling and I celebrated five years of weekly, early morning meetings. Those guys, along with previous summer interns Chris Martin and Micah Lugg, as well as recent addition Jesse Martin are some of my favorite people on the planet.

Of the original guys, two have gotten married since we started meeting, three of us have had kids, and the other has his first on the way. Along the way we’ve talked theology, planned ministry, and seen iron sparks fly. As a group we’ve read (at least that I can remember): Hard to Believe, When I Don’t Desire God, The Forgotten Spurgeon, The Book on Leadership, The End for Which God Created the World, and are a third of the way through a two year tackling of The Institutes. We’ve met mostly in my office, but also frequented Denny’s, Buzz Inn, Cedarcrest Restaurant, and at least three different Starbucks. In my office alone we estimate–conservatively–at least 225 gallons of coffee consumed. I really do give thanks daily for these minister partners and personal friends.

And then today (road conditions depending) we leave for the Double-K Ranch for our annual Snow Retreat and we’re pleased to have Phil and Darlene Johnson with us for a second year. We’re back on Friday, so continuing winter blogging will have to wait until then.

UPDATE [10:40PM February 2]: We did leave on Monday. We barely returned on Friday. It’s good to be home.

My (Solomonic) 2008 Resolutions

*I’ve had more than ten days to think about resolutions for 2008 and if I put it off any longer the year will no longer be new. I’m only making two, but both are aimed at long-term life approach rather than short-term accomplishments.

Build more structure into my supplication struggle.

In assessing 2007 I mentioned my lackluster labor in scheduled, systematic prayer. To vitalize that discipline I have begun my first ever prayer journal (better at 33 than never). Though I won’t itemize my entire plan here, I have created specific daily lists in order to bathe more individuals and responsibilities in supplication. I’m already surprised (though I know I shouldn’t be) at how much longer I can sustain focus by following even a sketchy list. This is a habit I intend to keep building long after 2008 is over.

Cultivate three life adjectives: flexible, fun, and fanatical.

Some might consider this resolution too vague or unquantifiable to be of realistic profit. But it’s my aim at a Solomonic resolution and I surmise this three pronged mental paradigm will help increase my joy by minutes and hours.

In my experience these three adjectives typically like to punch each other in the throat; I’d like them to live in harmony. It is natural for me to seek out opportunities and work hard and play to win. Yet that leaves me less flexible when interrupted and less fun when involved in something I don’t see as immediately advantageous. So by striving to consciously submit to God moment by moment I hope my attitude will bend, not break. And by thinking about joy in the process I want to muster more spiritual merrymaking.

In light of the previous paragraph it may not seem like I need to whip up any additional fanaticism, but I know I’ll be more flexible and fun when redeeming every other private moment to work (reading, writing, praying, running, etc.). One modest effort to save sapped seconds will be abstaining from Google Reader until after dinner. Breaking this time frittering routine and turning attention back to toil is certain to be profitable.

How to Make Solomonic Resolutions

Though apparently not everyone agrees, I think the new year provides a perfect opportunity to examine if there are lifestyle changes or attitude adjustments necessary to better enjoy the process (and make progress in Christlikeness). Especially in light of Ecclesiastes 9:7-10, if we’re eating our bread with dissatisfaction and dressing down and wasting life with our wife and loafing around, we may need to reshape our whole modus operandi (or at least tweak it).

Yet in light of Ecclesiastes 9:11-12 and the reality that under the sun the race doesn’t always go to the swift, maybe we wonder why try to get faster? If bread doesn’t always go to the wise, why stay up late to study? And if we might die in 15 minutes anyway, is all the wearisome effort really worth it?

The answer is Yes! It is worth it if we do it for the right reasons and pursue it in the right way. It is proper to work hard at whatever our hand finds to do. We should look for, and take advantage of every opportunity we can. So let’s resolve to do something new or something better. God ordained food for joy, so let’s resolve to get our feast on. We are obligated under God to have fun with our wife. So get one, or if you have one, resolve to stop being a sourpuss.

But–but–we must resolve to improve our joyfulness in the process not just at the end of the process. We might not succeed, but at least we can die happy trying. Fact is, if you don’t enjoy running, you won’t last longer than a few weeks on the treadmill no matter how much weight you want to lose. Achieving the goal is good, but what about the thrill of the chase? It’s easy to miss the joys along the journey because we only think about the destination. The problem is, we might never actually arrive.

So how can we make resolutions keeping in mind both Ecclesiastes 9:7-10 and 9:11-12? Here are three approaches I think Solomon would approve.

1. Seek out opportunities but submit to God.

Ecclesiastes 9:10 is a divine command to do so. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might. Redeem the time because the days are evil. Whatever you do, work heartily as for the Lord. Commit your work to the Lord. But, don’t forget that no matter how detailed your plans are the Lord directs your steps. If you get upset about that, you’ve crossed the line from serving God to directing God. But start the semi truck moving and trust that He’ll steer you in the right direction.

2. Work as hard and as smart as you can, but rely on God.

It is a sin to be slothful. Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys. Don’t run aimlessly or half-heartedly. The plans of the diligent typically lead to abundance. So work harder than anyone else. Likewise, wisdom does have (relative) value over folly, so get counsel and get wisdom and work intelligently. But, don’t forget that if you work harder than anyone else, it wasn’t you, it was the grace of God in you. Use all the (righteous) means available, but depend on God.

3. Play to win every time but enjoy the process.

Solomon is not anti-competition. He certainly isn’t telling the mighty warriors just to lay down their swords. Winning the race is still the goal, triumphing in battle really is better, obtaining food is important, making a profit can be good, and earning influence has great benefit. He isn’t saying those things are bad, he’s saying don’t depend on those things as your ultimate joy. Pick up the pace to obtain the prize. But remember the breeze on your face as you scamper around the track is intended for your gladness as much, if not more so, than finishing first.

In light of the fact that we don’t have the power to control the present or the wisdom to predict the future, we should fear God, work hard, and ETP. If we do that, we’ll not only have joy on the earthly road but eternal joy will be our destination. Fearing God is the only sure way to have our best life now and forever.

How a Sidebar Stopped My Breath

A few weeks ago I noticed incoming traffic from a notable blog. I held my breath as I clicked the address and scrolled down the sidebar. Low and behold, there it was in all its emboldened glory: my very own link on PyroManiacs. Now that my self-referential hyperventilating is aside I’m ready for another year of posting without form and void.