• Devotional Life
  • Behind the Scenes Look into My Time with God (2016 Version)

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    I’m a fan of systems and habits.  Small actions that you can set in place that over a long time will create a massive impact.  The most important habit I’ve developed in my life is spending time with God.  This is something that Christians talk a lot about but sometimes can seem mysterious.  Especially if you are new to Christianity, “time with God” can be a daunting idea.  I mean, how are you supposed to spend “time” with God who lives outside of time?  How do you talk with someone who is invisible and speaks to your heart? What if He doesn’t say anything?

    I thought it would be helpful to lay out the practicals of what I do to connect with God in the mornings.  Now, it’s important to emphasize that everyone’s time with God is different.  Because you are an individual and God deals with you individually, your time should look like you…not like me.  But whether you are just getting started or have been developing a relationship with God for years, reading what someone else does can be interesting, inspiring and could even help you try something new.

    My time with God has changed a lot of the years as I’ve changed and figured out what works best.  This is how it should be! My relationship with my wife Jamie is different now than when we first got married.  And although God is unchanging…I’m always changing and so our relationship is ever evolving.

    So here’s the practicals of I’m doing as of now (May 2016)

    • I get up early.  Currently, it’s between 4:30 and 5:00am.  This has been a 2016 shift from my previous wake up time of 6:00am.  I have found that if I wake up earlier and exercise before I approach my time with God, that my brain has time to get fully awake.  I have shifted from giving him the “first time” to giving him my “best time” which for me starts about 90-120 minutes after I wake up.
    • If I stayed up later the night before, I’ll make some tea with caffeine in it to drink.  If I’m feeling well rested, I’ll go without it.  I’m not a coffee guy.
    • Using a basic set of Bluetooth speakers, I turn on a Spotify playlist I created called Instrumental Prayer.  It’s a mix of worshipful music that doesn’t include words because I get distracted easily when I listen to music I’m familiar with.  Feel free to follow this list and let me know if you have other recommendations for it.
    • I spend time with God in a room in our house we call the Reading Room.  It’s a secondary living room with a couch, a comfortable chair, and tall glass table.  I work hard to keep everything out of this space that wouldn’t inspire me to spend time with God.  No kids toys, no clutter, no TVs, etc.  It’s got some inspirational decor, books and a piano (which makes me think of worship).
    • I start my time with a mental sweep through the previous 24 hours in search of 3 things to offer thanks for.  I capture these 3 thoughts in my journal.  I’m working on training my brain to see the good things in my life.  I was really influenced by a couple books this year that led to this practice – Good Things by Pastor Kevin Gerald and The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor.  If I start out my time with God by cultivating a thankful heart, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 let’s me know that I’m in the will of God.  That’s always a good way to kick things off.  Plus, Psalm 100:4 teaches that it’s how we should begin our approach to God.
    • Next, I journal out any thoughts that are swirling around in my brain.  By this time because my brain is fully awake and it’s often filled with thoughts from the podcasts I listen to, the book I was reading while working out, or things that I’m looking forward to in my day.  I want to clear out all these thoughts and because they are important to me, I capture them in my journal so I can get at them later. But I want to approach my time reading the Bible with a mind that is clean and clear.
    • Next up is Bible reading.  I read the Bible on my iPad using Olive Tree Bible Software.  I used YouVersion for a long time but my friend Kyle (who works for Olive Tree) talked me into giving them a shot.  The big reason I switched was because I love how their reading plans function.  If I miss a day of Bible reading (yes, pastors miss days just like you!) it just directs me to pick up where I left off.  So I don’t feel like I’m going to miss those passages until next year.  The layout seems to focus on the progress I’ve made instead of reminding me where I’ve missed.  And I like feeling like I’m winning in the Bible…instead of feeling guilty for missing.
    • I’m currently using the M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan which happens to be the first Bible reading plan I discovered while in High School.  I love it because it takes me through 4 different sections of scripture each day.  That’s nice because when you are plowing through genealogies or the judgment foretold in Ezekiel, you also get to read from the Psalms and the New Testament.  Using this plan, I read through the Old Testament once a year and the New Testament and Psalms twice a year (assuming I read every day which again, I don’t bat 1.000% on).  I switch Bible reading plans just about every year to keep things fresh.  There are a ton to choose from both in YouVersion and Olive Tree.
    • While reading the passages, I highlight verses that seem to stand out to me.  They can either be favorites, ones I have questions about or verses that I sense God might be emphasizing to me.
    • Then after I finish reading the passages and highlighting, I read back through the verses I’ve highlighted and quickly pray through each of them.  I’m thinking about the themes, how they connect to each other and other scriptures.  I’m looking for ways God might be speaking to me.  I’m asking God to cause 1 verse or shorter passage to really stand out as a theme for my day.
    • Once I’ve narrowed the highlighted verses down to 1 main verse or passage, I journal on what I feel God showing me through it.  I rewrite the verse in my journal along with the reference, write about what the verse is teaching in context and then focus on its application for my life.  This only takes a few minutes but it really helps God’s word come alive in my life.
    • After bible reading, I’ll move to prayer and use my “verse of the day” as a launch pad for my prayer time.  I’ll pray through the big ideas of that verse and ask God to shape and mold me into what I’m learning from that verse.  After this, I’ll flow into my habit of praying through the Lord’s prayer.  I taught on this prayer model and you can listen to the message here if you’d like.
    • After spending time in prayer, I take time to jot down my top 3 priorities for the day.  I started doing this because I want to make sure I’m connecting my time with God with what I do with my time for the rest of the day.  I’ve now focused on getting on the same page with Him and I want that to translate into how I spend my time once I get to the office.  Plus the clarity helps me really hit the ground running once I arrive.

    That’s it!  At least for now.  Like I said, this is something that changes and morphs over time as my relationship with God changes.  I’ve gone through seasons where I would sing and play piano, go for long prayer walks, where I read other devotional books, or used paper bibles with complicated multi-color highlighting systems.  I might go back or try something new.  The core ingredients are always bible reading and prayer.

    I’d love to hear about what you do to connect with God.  Leave a comment and let others be inspired by your life!

  • Church
  • 5 Ways that Churches Can Support Local Schools

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    One of the things that I love about Sun City Church is our commitment to invest in local schools.  We’re living in a day where so many of the things churches value are fought over.  Our society is more polarized than ever.  But one thing we can all continue to rally around is our schools.  It’s easy to understand that the future of our country walks through the doors of local schools every day.  And as a pastor, this makes schools one of the obvious places to focus our time and energy.

    Christian leaders often times have a desire to serve schools and make a difference in the lives of young people.  And what we’ve found is that the schools need a lot of help.  They are commonly underfunded and understaffed.  What is a challenge for them creates a big opportunity for churches.  We get to step in and show the love that we are called to display in our cities.  Yes, there are going to be people that get uncomfortable and squawk a bit about the separation of church and state.  But at the end of the day, if churches are adding value in the lives of teachers and students without trying to push “religion” on anyone, schools are open to connection.

    The elementary school we’ve focused our attention on is McDonald Elementary.  I want to share with you some of the things we’ve done so far in supporting this school in hopes that ideas like this would spread to other churches and schools.

    1. A Prayer Team

    I think this group is our most important so I’m listing it first.  One of the women in our church that has kids at McDonald leads a small group that prays for the school, students, staff and events going on there every week.  They also take action and respond to needs that arise during the week – putting feet to their prayers.  They make a habit of writing little notes to teachers letting them know what they’ve prayed specifically for them and that they’re not alone in this.  This has really created a fertile ground in people’s hearts.

    2. Mentorship & Tutoring

    This is a huge need for schools.  They need adults to show up and spend time with students who aren’t getting appropriate attention or positive role models at home.  I think we underestimate the effect that a positive attitude and faith perspective can have in a relatively short amount of time.  Whether it’s reading, going over times tables, or just having lunch with a student, positive interactions communicate that we love and care for the people within the school, not just the idea of a partnership.

    3. Supply Drives

    Because schools are often so poorly funded, they don’t have extra supplies to give to children in need.  In the fall, we do a backpack drive for our school and fill the backpacks with school supplies so that the counselor can give them to students whose families can’t afford them.  This is a relief to the school counselor and a great gift to these children.  And it’s a tangible way we can show that we love them.

    4. Event Support

    Almost every church has some people in it who are good at putting on events.  Youth pastors normally have an ability to come up with and host great games that kids love.  Others can administrate and keep things organized.  We’ve found that showing up with great games, costumes and energy can transform a normal event for the school into a huge success.  Everyone likes the feeling of a success.  Sometimes we bring our sound system to events like the end of the year “field day” and take the atmosphere to another level.  The kids and teachers love it.

    5. Meeting Urgent Needs

    We know that our world is broken and painful.  The kids at schools experience that alongside the rest of us.  This year our school has had 3 different students diagnosed with cancer.  It’s been a really hard road for them, their families and the school as a whole.  Again, this is a sad challenge to have to face for the families and the school, but it’s an opportunity for the church to show Christ’s love in the midst of suffering.  We’ve held prayer events, given gifts, reached out to families and tried to do everything we can to show we care.  We regularly connect with the principal and the school counselor in order to stay in the loop with the big things that are happening in the lives of the students and staff.  Often times, there are meaningful ways we can jump in and support them.

    I had the privilege of sitting down with a senior pastor who’s new to our area this week.  I was thrilled when he said, “your reputation in our community is that you care deeply about our schools and really get out of your four walls”.  I’m so glad to be known for something like this.  I’m praying this encourages you to do something similar in your city.  Your schools need you and even little things can make a huge impact.