5 Steps To Become A More Effective Writer

If you have read this blog you know one of my goals for 2012 is to write more. I love to write and hope to post 3-4 times each week on this blog and write a book this year. Even though we are only a few days into the New Year, I have written more than I ever expected. Here are 5 action steps that have helped me and hopefully they will be helpful to you if you want write more effectively in 2012.

1. Make writing a priority in your schedule. If you want to write more you must make the time to do it. If you never schedule blocks of time to write you will likely never write more than you do right now. Get up early and devote 20-30 minutes to writing. Stay up after everyone else hits the sack and spend time writing. We are always able to find time to do the things that are important to us so give writing a prominent place in your schedule.

2. Keep a pen and paper with you at all times. You never know when an idea will pop into your mind and if you are not ready to capture it, you might lose it forever. I am writing this as I sit in the Emergency Room waiting for my daughter’s test results (she is fine by the way). Every day events cause you to think and putting those thoughts on paper is helpful both short-term and long-term. Be resourceful if you find yourself wanting to write but don’t have a pen and paper. When I rushed out of the house this morning with my 15 month old, I did not think about grabbing a pen and paper. So what did I do? I pulled out my Blackberry and began typing this in an email. Most phones have memo pads on them and some even have voice recorders. Use whatever means possible to capture your thoughts and ideas.

3. Write to write and not to be read. I struggle with this more than anything else. After 7 years of post college education, I have had to train myself to write without worrying about the editing process. I do edit my writing before publishing it but only after I have allowed myself to write without thinking about the editing process. My initial writing may appear choppy and disconnected but I am able to capture my thoughts thoroughly. The result is writing that is clear, passionate, and from the heart. Let the sentences flow and edit later.

4. Write about things you are interested in. One of the most difficult things to do is write about something you care nothing about. I love my family so I write about them. I love being a pastor so I write about ministry. I love reading so I write book reviews. Whatever you do, do not let writing become a chore. Write because it is fun and you enjoy doing it. Think about the things you care the most about and fill pages and pages writing about those things.

5. Write even if you don’t publish. I have spent a good amount of time writing blog posts and working on my book recently but I have also continued to write in my journal almost daily. I have been writing in my journal for several years and have no plans to publish what I write. My journal contains my most personal thoughts and it is the place where I record, with pen and paper, what God is teaching me. The process of thinking and writing makes me a better writer and it will make you a better writer as well. Write because you love to write. Then it will not matter if it is published because you will be doing what you love.

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Parenting 101 – Celebrate When Others Win

My parents love to tell the story about the time I demolished our Connect Four game. Evidently, we were enjoying family game night up to the point that my dad cut me off…right when I was about to win. As a kid, I never wanted to lose. So I slammed my next token into the slot with enough force to break the game.

Ironically, this past Christmas my parents gave Anna (my 3 year old) the game Hi Ho Cherry-O! I came home from work last night and Anna wanted to play her new game. If you know anything about Hi Ho Cherry-O you know that the object is to get rid of all the fruit on your tree. Each person takes a turn spinning the wheel and then follows whatever the wheel tells them to do. There is very little strategy in this game but it is great for teaching a 3 year old how to count.

We played several games last night and all of us (my wife, Anna, and I) won at least once. I’m not sure if it was a flashback to my earlier “destroy Connect Four” days or not but I saw the value of teaching my daughter, along with the amazing help of my wife, how to lose well and celebrate when others win. Anna won first and we went crazy clapping, jumping up and down, and telling her how awesome it was that she won. My wife won next and I bet you can guess Anna’s reaction. She had a frown on her face and with a wimper-like voice said, “I want to win!” Like daddy, like daughter. She was disappointed and upset that she didn’t win. It was a great teaching opportunity. I starting doing the exact same thing to celebrate Janie’s win as we had done earlier when Anna won. Anna first looked at me puzzled but then joined in the celebration. We continued our crazy celebration every time someone won, regardless of who it was.

We can all be sore losers. Think about how you felt when someone got a promotion over you at work or the time you should have been recognized for a job well done but the credit went to someone else. How do you respond when your neighbor gets a new car or when your best friend finds the person they will marry before you find the “one?” Life is full of disappointments. Life is full of times when those around you “win” and you don’t.

Our sinful nature tells us that we should celebrate when we win and pitch a fit when someone else wins. If you don’t believe me take a visit to any nursery or preschool in the country. Paul offered this challenge, in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” We do a pretty good job weeping with others as they weep but rejoicing when others rejoice can be difficult. Concerning this passage, Adam Clarke wrote, “Take a lively interest in the prosperity of others. Let it be a matter of rejoicing to you when you hear of the health, prosperity, or happiness of any brother.”

That’s a little bit of what we were trying to teach Anna last night. It was a good reminder for me, too!

Book Review – Through My Eyes

If you love football and Jesus then head out and pick up this book. Tim Tebow is a household name. Bill Maher hates him, Denver loves him, and just about everyone wants to be like him. In this book, he offers a memoir of his life from birth through his first season with the Broncos. Even though the writing felt choppy at times, I thoroughly enjoyed the “behind the scenes” look at Tebow’s life.

If I had to describe this book in one phrase it would be “gospel-saturated.” Tebow’s relationship with Jesus Christ is on display throughout the book, which was refreshing in my mind. I have read a number of books by Christian athletes and coaches that were weak on the gospel but that was not the case with Through My Eyes.

I want to offer some principles that I gathered from this book that I hope will be helpful to consider.

1. Parents have a huge impact in their kid’s lives. It was neat to read about the relationship Tebow had and continues to have with his parents. They focused their parenting efforts on developing his character and sharing the truth of the gospel with him at every turn. His parents were involved in every aspect of his life and made certain that there was always an open line of communication. Tim Tebow is who he is today because of the impact his parents had on his life. I was challenged by their example and it created a desire within me to be a better parent to my girls. I want them to know their daddy loves them, prays for them, and wants nothing more than to see them place their faith and trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. We, as parents, have an awesome responsibility and our influence, whether good or bad, will make an impact in our kid’s lives.

2. Let others praise you. This is something most of us find difficult to do. We often “toot” our own horns more than we should. Tebow’s parents set a rule that the kids could not talk about their accomplishments (academic, sports, etc.) until someone else brought them up. It was interesting to see how this developed a sense of humility in Tebow as a little kid, which has continued to be evident today. We struggle with this issue (praising ourselves) because of pride. We want to matter. We want people to think we are a big deal. We want our accomplishments shouted from the rooftops and our failures swept under the rug. We must never forget that humility is a more desirable trait than arrogance. Let others praise you!

3. There is no substitute for hard work. Tebow’s work ethic blew me away. He discussed his devotion to working out and that he began doing 400 sit-ups and pushups early on in his athletic career. While at Florida he went in for extra workouts on a frequent basis with the strength and conditioning coach even though it was not required. He was never satisfied with the status quo and constantly kept this phrase on the forefront of his mind: “Somewhere out there he is training and I am not. When we meet he will win.” I am not playing competitive sports right now but I was challenged to work hard at what God has called me to do. This includes studying the Word, memorizing Scripture, working out, being a good husband and father, etc. I know I need to leave the results up to God but I never want to be accused of not being a hard worker.

4. Use the platform God has given you and be a bold witness for Him. God has given each of us different platforms in life where we have the ability to influence people for His kingdom.  In this book, Tebow discussed the various platforms he has been given over the course of his life and how he sought to be a faithful witness with each one. It is still amazing that several million people googled “John 3:16” after he wrote it on his eye black for the 2009 BCS championship game. The truth is some people can influence millions while others can only influence a few. The numbers don’t matter much. Faithfulness matters. Take some time to consider this question, “Have I been faithful to use the platform God has given me, whether large or small, to make an impact for his kingdom?”

5. Believers should expect persecution. Tim Tebow has a target on his back because he is a Christian. He has taken some cheap shots for what he believes but continues to take a stand for Jesus Christ. This should not be alarming. After all, Jesus warned his followers, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Mark 13:13). Paul encouraged Timothy with these words, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). If you are a Christian and you are living a godly life, expect persecution to come. Tebow’s example here is encouraging and we continue to see him stand firm in the face of persecution.

*I was encouraged and challenged while reading this book. Pick up a copy for yourself and let Tebow’s story of faith and perseverance encourage and challenge you.

Favorite Quotes

“People often seem to think that when you’re following the Lord and trying to do His will, your path will always be clear, the decisions smooth and easy, and life will be lived happily ever after and all that. Sometimes that may be true, but I’ve found that more often, it’s not. The muddled decisions still seem muddled, bad things still happen to believers, and great things can happen to nonbelievers. When it comes to making our decisions, the key that God is concerned with is that we are trusting and seeking Him. God’s desire is for us to align our lives with His Word and His will.”

“Somewhere out there he is training and I am not. When we meet he will win.”

Healthy Living – Let’s Do This!

Starting Weight: 225lbs

Goal Weight: 195lbs

If you have read my previous post (7 Goals for 2012) you know that I want to lose 30lbs by my 29th birthday (March 31, 2012). Over the next 12-13 weeks I will update my blog with a weekly weigh-in and some tips that have been helpful to me as I walk through this journey. Hopefully, these tips will be helpful as you seek to live a healthy lifestyle, regardless of whether you need to lose weight or not.

Starting Tips:

1. Learn from failure. You will fail at some point during this journey. You will overeat, miss a workout, and fail to hit a goal that you set for yourself. The question is not whether or not you will fail but how you respond to that failure. In the past, I have allowed one failure to stack on another and before long I had completely lost the motivation to persevere. I must respond to failure differently. I must learn from it and not let failures stack on each other. If I miss a workout, I must hit the next one. If I blow past my daily caloric intake, I must hit it the next day and workout harder. Failure does not have to be final; learn from it and keep moving forward.

2. Start slow. If you have ever been to a gym right after the New Year begins you will know exactly what I am talking about. People migrate to gyms in massive numbers and attempt a workout regimen that would cause Olympic athletes to blush. I must admit that I struggle with this tip more than any other. Naturally, I am wired to start strong and really go after whatever it is I want to accomplish. If you do this when you first begin a work out regimen you will become discouraged and, worse yet, hurt yourself in the process. Start slow, build some momentum, and then go full speed.

3. Plan Ahead. The old adage holds true, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Planning ahead is one of the most important things you can do when starting an exercise regimen and trying to eat healthy. If you want to work out early in the morning, you need to plan ahead and go to bed early. If you are going out to eat, you need to plan ahead and identify some healthy options on the menu. Many failures can be avoided if we plan ahead and this is something I must be certain to do throughout this journey.

4. Set mini goals. One thing that can be extremely helpful when seeking to accomplish a goal is to set several mini goals that will carry you to your overall goal. Every time you accomplish a mini goal you begin to build momentum that pushes you to accomplish your overall goal. Figure out how you are going to reward yourself when you accomplish a mini goal (unhealthy food and days off from exercising are not good rewards). For example, I love reading and I will likely reward myself with a new book. Make sure your mini goals are in proportion with your overall goal. I want to lose 30lbs and will reward myself for every 10lbs that I lose. It would not make much sense to reward myself for every pound lost nor would it make sense to do nothing until I had lost all 30lbs. Everyone’s mini goals will be different but make sure you set them and reward yourself when you accomplish them.

5. Find Proper Motivation. There are a number of good reasons to want to be healthy but there are also a lot of bad reasons. We all need motivation to help us stay on track through the journey but don’t buy into the lie that you need to look good so that people will pay attention to you (or be jealous of you). Let things that truly matter motivate you – being around for a long life of fruitful kingdom-focused ministry, seeing your grandkids get married one day, being able to run in the yard with your kids, etc. Let’s be honest, I don’t think you will care when you are 80 that you had a six-pack when you were 30. You will care, though, that you are still around and in good health.

* If you want to join me on this journey leave a comment with (1) your starting weight and (2) your goal weight. Check back in each week (Monday), update your progress, and share any tips that were helpful over the past week – Let’s do this!

Book Review – Speaking to Teenagers

If you have ever attempted to speak to a group of teenagers you know it is hard work! Add on top of that trying to speak about an issue as important as the gospel and it can get down right overwhelming. Youth pastors and workers are indebted to Doug Field and Duffy Robbins for what they have provided in this book. It goes beyond a “how to” manual and challenged me to think about the way I connect to and relate with my students as I speak to them.

The book is divided into three sections: (1) How to Think about Effective Messages, (2) How to Create Messages That S.T.I.C.K., and (3) How to Deliver Effective Messages.

Section 1: How to Think about Effective Messages

In this section, Fields and Robbins explored the role of the speaker, the role of the audience, and what is needed to put together an effective message. This was the most intense part of the book for me because they spent a great deal of time discussing the theoretical aspects of communication. I was introduced to a great deal of this material (ethos, pathos, logos, and reading audience cues, etc.) while in seminary but it was still a great refresher course. If you have never had any training with communication theory, I would encourage you to read this section with care. It is very easy to move past this section quickly and get to the more “practical” parts but you will be miss a great opportunity to grow in your understanding of how communication works.

Section 2: How to Create Messages That S.T.I.C.K.

This section was the most practical section for me and challenged me the most. Fields and Robbins introduced the S.T.I.C.K. method for creating messages: Study, Think, Illustrate, Construct, and Keep Focused. I do a pretty good job thinking, constructing, and staying focused on the message but need a great deal of improvement in studying and illustrating. I enjoy spending time studying but need to make it more of a priority in my weekly schedule. The chapter on illustrating the message was by far the most challenging and informative chapter in the book. The S.T.I.C.K. method is a good step-by-step approach to adopt if you have not yet settled in on a particular method to craft messages.

Section 3: How to Deliver Effective Messages

In this section, Fields and Robbins examined how room set-up, gestures, and vocal inflection impact delivery effectiveness. This discussion was practical and helpful even though a good deal of the information was obvious. Speakers need to do everything possible to set the room up in a way that allows for the most interaction with the audience. They also need to be certain that gestures and vocal inflection enhance the message rather than detract from the message. This section was a good reminder for me and it caused me to consider specific ways to enhance my delivery.

Books like this can be helpful but they can also cause people to feel that they will never measure up. I recognized that I have a ton of work to do to become a better speaker overall and to teenagers specifically. Fields and Robbins end the book with this encouragement: “God doesn’t need flawless communicators…just faithful ones.” I know I will never be flawless but my prayer is that I will always be faithful. One part of remaining faithful is continuing to grow and learn how to communicate more effectively. Every youth pastor and youth worker needs to read this book!

Favorite Quotes

“There are hurting kids everywhere dying to know the good news of God’s love. That’s why there’s no question that those of us who teach the Word of God are involved in a serious enterprise. ‘The stakes have never been higher,’ and ‘the silence is deafening.’”

“Giving a talk is one thing; being given a listen is something else altogether.”

“Who you are is more important than what you say.”

“It’s not about what we say; it’s about what teenagers hear. It’s not about what comes out of our mouths; it’s about what goes into their brains.”

“Speaking is a spiritual encounter between God’s Spirit, God’s Word, the audience whom God loves so much, and…you, the speaker.”

7 Goals for 2012

The New Year is fast approaching. For many, 2012 is a godsend. This will be THE year; the year they finally lose weight, the year they out of debt, the year they do ____________ that they have been meaning to do but never accomplished. Change is not necessarily a bad thing. Certainly, there can be bad motives associated with making changes but, overall, I think change is good.

There are some changes that I need to make in 2012 and, as a result, I have identified seven goals that I want to accomplish over the next year. Goals are little more than dreams without actions steps, so I have also included the particular actions steps that I plan to take. The main reason for publishing these goals on the web is accountability. So be sure to send me an email occasionally asking how I am doing. Here are my 2012 goals:

1. Read through the Bible.

2011 was the first year that I read through the Bible during the course of a single year and it was nothing short of amazing. Scripture fits together in a remarkable way and seeing it come alive day after day is a great experience. I am planning to work back through the Bible this year using the Read The Bible For Life plan developed by George Guthrie. I have no doubt that this will be another great year in the Word. It only takes about 20 minutes each day to do the reading, which is accessible to everyone – we can all carve out 20 minutes in our day to spend in the Word. The benefits, though, will last a lifetime and have an impact on your life today.

Action Steps:

–       Print out the Read The Bible For Life booklet.

–       Make reading a priority each day.

–       Pick out one verse to meditate on every day.

 2. Memorize the book of Ephesians.

I have attempted to memorize the book of Ephesians several times over the past few years but to no avail. My failure has been nothing less than a lack of discipline in making Scripture memory an important aspect of my life. Andy Davis’ booklet has been a huge help in this area and I plan to use his approach to memorizing Ephesians.

Action Steps:

–       Work back through Andy Davis’ booklet.

–       Set a schedule for when I want to have the book finished.

3. Lose 30lbs.

I have a picture in my office of my wife and I on our honeymoon and sometimes I wonder who that good-looking guy is standing next to my wife! Exercise and healthy eating was an important part of my life all through college since I played baseball. Even though I am still very active and exercise, I need to lose about 30lbs. I would like to accomplish this by my 29th birthday at the end of March but I want to do it in the right way. If it takes longer that 3 months then that is fine – I just want exercise and healthy eating to become a habit.

Action Steps:

–       Count my calorie intake each day (1800 max).

–       Set up an exercise schedule (6 days/week).

–       Find an accountability partner for support.

–       Set several small goals and rewards to go with each one.

4. Run a half-marathon.

I enjoy running but have only ran in a few 5Ks throughout my entire life. I would like to build up to running a half-marathon over the course of this next year with the eventual goal of running a marathon at some point in the future.

Action Steps:

–       Lose 30lbs first.

–       Find a half-marathon training plan.

–       Find a half-marathon race and pay the entry fee (that’s motivation!).

5. Read 1 book every week.

I love to read so this goal is pretty self-explanatory. If I hit 52 books by the end of the year, I have no doubt it will have a huge impact on my walk with Christ and my ministry. My plan is to read in 4 categories – (1) Biblical Studies, (2) Theology, (3) Pastoral Ministry, and (4) Personal Development. Non-fiction books usually range from 250-300 pages, which means I will need to read 40-45 pages each day – completely doable but it will take discipline.

Action Steps:

–       Follow Stott’s 1hr per day/3hr per week/8hr per month reading plan.

–       Gather books ahead of time that fit in each category.

–       Read old books.

–       Write book reviews of each book.

6. Re-learn Greek and Hebrew.

There are always things in life you wish you would have paid attention to more and made a priority. After all, hindsight is 20/20. I enjoyed learning Greek and Hebrew in seminary but it didn’t stick. That was my fault. I crammed vocab in my head and regurgitated it for tests but I did not learn either language. Now, after 4 years out of seminary, I see how valuable the languages are for study and preparation. John Piper’s article entitled “Brothers, Bitzer Was A Banker!” (also a chapter in his book Brothers, We Are Not Professionals) has haunted me for several years and challenged me to do the hard work of re-learning the biblical languages.

Action Steps:

–       Carve out time in my schedule to work through the chapters and exercises in each text book.

–       Keep vocab notecards with me so I can study “on the fly.”

–       Focus the 1st half of the year on Greek and the 2nd half on Hebrew.

7. Write.

I know this one breaks all the “rules” for a goal. Goals should be specific and easily measured to determine success or failure. The problem is I’m not sure I know how specific to be or what success would even look like at this point. The truth is I love to write and I do not write enough. It seems that there are always several book ideas floating around in my head at any given point in time. One thing I know I want to do is write a book this year (Parent-Driven Discipleship) based off of a great deal of the research I did for my D.Min. project. I also want to blog consistently over the next year (3-4 posts each week). Beyond those two desires, I just want to make sure that writing is a part of my daily life and ministry.

Action Steps:

–       Carve out time in my schedule devoted specifically to writing.

–       Research publishers for my book (too much work to just sit in a file).

–       Write posts before they will be published and stay ahead.

*I would love to hear your goals or resolutions for 2012 and, yes, please email me over the next year to check in and see how I am doing with mine.