Relax! You’ll be more productive

Tony Schwartz took a year of 10-hour days to write each one of his first three books, but only six months of 4-hour days  to write his fourth and fifth. His secret? He took more time off!

In this New York Times piece, Schwartz collates the scientific evidence to confirm a pattern I’ve been increasingly recognizing in my own life.

Strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.

But try persuading your boss or even yourself of this. It’s so counter-intuitive and, as Schwarz points out, at odds with the work ethic in most work places:

  • More than one-third of employees eat lunch at their desks on a regular basis.
  • More than 50 percent work during their vacations.
  • Long hours are usually the key to raises and promotions, even though hours worked are no indicator of productivity
  • Excess working hours result in sleep deprivation that is costing American companies $63.2 billion a year in lost productivity.
  • Americans left an average of 9.2 vacation days unused in 2012 — up from 6.2 days in 2011.

But the scientific evidence in favor of rest and renewal is mounting:

  • When male basketball players slept 10 hours a night, free-throw and three-point shooting each increased by an average of 9 percent.
  • When night shift air traffic controllers were given 40 minutes to nap, they performed much better on tests that measured vigilance and reaction time.
  • A 60- to 90-minute nap improved memory test results as fully as did eight hours of sleep.
  • For each additional 10 hours of vacation employees took, their year-end performance ratings improved by 8 percent.
  • Frequent vacationers were also significantly less likely to leave the firm.

Schwartz argues that if we follow our natural daily body cycle, we will end up with a daily routine of three 90-minute cycles of intense and uninterrupted work in the morning, each followed by a break to renew and refresh. The rest of the day can then be spent on less demanding tasks.

Read the rest of the article to find out how Schwartz’s own company puts renewal breaks at the centre of their daily work. He concludes:

Our basic idea is that the energy employees bring to their jobs is far more important in terms of the value of their work than is the number of hours they work. By managing energy more skillfully, it’s possible to get more done, in less time, more sustainably. In a decade, no one has ever chosen to leave the company. Our secret is simple — and generally applicable. When we’re renewing, we’re truly renewing, so when we’re working, we can really work.

You can read the whole article here, as long as you haven’t used up all your 20 NYT paywall credits this month!

Meeting Jesus at the Feast [Book Review]

Book review of Meeting Jesus at the Feast: Israel’s Festivals and the Gospel by John Sittema

Old Testament typology has many pitfalls awaiting the intrepid student:

  • Assuming that coincidental analogy = divinely ordained typology.
  • Assuming that every detail of a type is typological.
  • Assuming that the Old Testament believer had the benefit of New Testament light.
  • Assuming that the Old Testament believer had no Gospel light.
  • Assuming that only explicitly identified types are types.
  • Assuming that everything is a type.
  • Assuming that the Old Testament believer was saved by the types apart from what they pointed to.

What a minefield! No wonder so few venture in there. And no wonder so few come back out in one piece.

The good news is that in Meeting Jesus at the Feast we have a new and reliable guidebook to the typology of the Old Testament festivals (although the principles and practices of interpretation you will discover in it can be applied to many more Old Testament types).

John Sittema, the Senior Pastor of Christ Church (PCA) in Jacksonville, Florida, covers nine Old Testament feasts in nine chapters of about 15 readable pages each. A sampling of the titles should give you a flavor of what he is serving up:

  • Rehearsing the Rest: The Sabbaths
  • Behold the Lamb: The Passover
  • Cleaning House: The Feast of Unleavened Bread
  • Awake the Dawn: The Feast of Firstfruits
  • On Earth, as it is in Heaven: The Year of Jubilee

John skilfully mines the Old Testament text and brings these festivals alive on the page – you can see them, smell them, and even taste them – giving wonderful insight into what the original festival-goers understood about what they were doing. He then quickly traces how they developed through the Old Testament and inter-testamental period before introducing us to how the feasts were observed at the time of Christ. You’ll be amazed at how a background knowledge of these feasts opens up new vistas on the life of Christ and the New Testament text. It’s stunning how all the major events in Christ’s ministry revolved around these feasts. As John writes: “You cannot really comprehend what it means that Jesus is the Messiah without knowing something about the feasts.”

But John doesn’t leave us back in 1st century Judaism. He weaves a number of moving stories from his own life into the text, demonstrating how these ancient feasts can still feed the hungry 21st century soul. Lots of edible theology and plenty appetizing application.

The material in this book would form the basis for a fascinating sermon series, or a group Bible study (questions are provided at the end of each chapter). But for myself the book was simply a nourishing and refreshing experience for my own soul. It brought Jesus to me and me to Jesus. As a bonus, I learned a bit more about typology, enough to steer me safely round a few more of the mineholes that put off so many from discovering the beautiful Gospel treasure God has hidden in His older testament.

Meeting Jesus at the Feast by John Sittema. You can read John’s introduction to the book here. You can buy at at Amazon or at RHB.

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A Trip to Murrayfield and the Shiny Bubbles of Fame
Andy Murray takes his boys to their first game of international rugby, and then bumps into one of the Scotland players at church the next day.

Pastor, know thyself
John Piper describes how he attacks his besetting sins with an “anthem.”

Winston Churchill and his “Black Dog” that helped win World War II
“Only a man who knew what it was to discern a gleam of hope in a hopeless situation . . . could have given emotional reality to the words of defiance which rallied and sustained us in the menacing summer of 1940″

15 Rules for Expectant Parents
Didn’t think I’d be needing these again, but thanks to Brian Najapfour for reminding me of them. Some are a bit quaint, but there’s much wisdom too.

Eating Disorders: A Scientific and Spiritual Disorder
Great to see qualified Christians taking on the difficult task of distinguishing physical from spiritual issues in extremely complex problems.

What God’s Teaching me through Epilepsy
So thankful for honest Christians who are willing to write about how their faith helps them through great struggles.

10 Foolish Obstacles to the Foolishness of Preaching

God chose the foolishness of Gospel preaching to save them that believe (1 Cor. 1:21). The Gospel message is foolishness to the world. But so is the Gospel medium – preaching. Who in their right mind would choose a regular 30-45 minute monologue from one sinful man to many sinful hearers to communicate the most important message in the world?

God would and did.

And he did it knowing that this method of communication would upset many people and cause them to find many foolish reasons for not listening. Some of the foolish obstacles I’ve come across (in myself and others) are:

1. Patchy grammar: Thankfully most people’s English education was as bad as mine and don’t notice too many of my grammatical faux pas, but there are always a few Grammar Girls (and boys) in every congregation. One misplaced preposition and down come the shutters.

2. Boring voice: Drone, groan, mumble, stumble, yawn. Is he trying to send us to sleep? Yet even the most attractive and varied voices eventually sound “meh” to regular hearers. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have a different voice every week?

3. Pastoral mistakes: Sometimes we can make a blunder in a personal relationship, an email communication, or at a social occasion which prejudices a hearer’s mind against us for a long time or even forever. We could be preaching the best truth in the best way but we’re still the worst preacher they’ve ever heard because we stood on their toes somewhere along the line.

4. Text choices: Why does the preacher never pick my favorite texts? Why does he never preach from my favorite book? Why does he always preach from such simple texts? Why does he always preach from such difficult texts? I’m not going to listen until he preaches on…

5. Preaching style: There are probably hundreds of preaching styles: fast, slow, loud, quiet, teachy, preachy, passionate, reasonable, sad, happy, smooth, jerky, etc. We all have our peculiar preferences and rarely do we find such a peculiar preacher.

6. Pulpit mannerisms: Why does he keep fiddling with his glasses? Does he think spinning his wedding ring will help spin this terrible sermon? Why doesn’t he look at us? Why does he keep staring at us? Has he only got one arm? Hands in his pockets again! Why does he grip the pulpit – is he about to faint or something? I wish he’d quit sniffing/coughing/frowning/grinning…

7. Verbal ticks: How many times did he say “in other words” today? Or “as I was saying” or “literally” or  ”finally.”

8. Christian Cliches: Can he not find another way of saying that? Does he have to use the same phraseology as every other time he preached on this? He says that in every sermon. Where’s his imagination?

9. Too young/old: Yes, before the preacher even opens his mouth, the old people might close him down because he’s so young, or the young people might tune him out because he’s too old.

10. Personality clash: I just don’t like him. He rubs me up the wrong way. He’s too cocky. He’s too defensive. He’s too apologetic. He’s too aggressive, etc.

It’s amazing what obstacles preachers have to overcome.  One slip-up in any of these areas and some people won’t give a minute of attention to the sermon that took you 10-15 hours to prepare. Although we pray every time we preach, that God would prevent anything we say or do getting in the way of the message, yet it will inevitably happen. It’s amazing anyone at all gets saved.

Why did God choose this method? Why not send a perfect angel with a perfect message delivered in a perfect manner? Wouldn’t that have been wiser? More effective?

God chose this method to demonstrate that the Gospel, not the preacher or his preaching, is the power of God unto salvation. He chose one of the most foolish methods and some of the most foolish creatures to reach multitudes of foolish sinners with a “foolish” message. And he did it this way in order to magnify His wisdom and power (1 Cor. 1:22-31).

We get grace. He gets glory.

Pastoring the Pastor [Book Review]

Pastoring the Pastor: Emails of a Journey through Ministry by Tim Cooper and Kelvin Gardiner

This is a pastoral theology with a difference. Instead of the usual systematic and logical dissection and examination of the pastor’s office, call, duties, relationships, etc., we have an email dialogue between rookie Pastor Dan and his Uncle Eldon, a mature Christian elder in another congregation. There are a few other email exchanges thrown in, revealing a bit more of the story from different angles, but the vast majority is the varied correspondence that passed between Pastor Dan and Uncle Eldon when Dan went to his first congregation…and started sinking.

Although the email correspondence is novel and entertaining, initially I didn’t think I was learning much from it all, and almost gave up. But as the book progressed, I realized more and more that some fairly fundamental lessons were subtly yet powerfully seeping into my life via the narrative. I like system, logic, bullet points, and summaries as much as the next person, and yet I found this “story” approach surprisingly effective in communicating important and memorable lessons for ministry.

Admittedly, some of the correspondence stretched belief and some of it is simply silly (e.g. the congregational barn dance), but some of the most ridiculous parts of the story are, I’m afraid, all too real, as many pastors will testify.

Uncle Eldon is a wise mentor to his novice nephew and dispenses a wide range of priceless encouragement, rebuke, and direction that will be applicable to most pastors, and especially to those just starting out. It’s like an inside look into ministry, a sort of “ministry reality show,” that should help prepare seminary students for the transition from classroom ideals to the treacherous bogs of pastoral ministry. Read it with a notebook on hand and you’ll be surprised at how frequently you’ll jot down valuable counsel.

But it’s not just for pastors, it would also be a helpful read for every Christian, giving you insight to what ministry is like behind-the-scenes and how your actions and words can impact pastors and their families for good and evil.

Above all it’s an encouraging story of transforming grace as we watch a proud and self-sufficient young guy be shaped and and transformed in the ministry for ministry, and in the process watch his congregation be similarly and beautifully metamorphosed by God’s almighty grace.

Pastoring the Pastor by Tim Cooper and Kelvin Gardiner (Published by Christian Focus). Tim Cooper teaches Church History at the University of Otago, New Zealand, and is a member of the leadership team at Dunedin City Baptist Church. Kelvin Gardiner has pastored churches in New Zealand, the Philippines, and the US.

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Your pastor isn’t a pundit
“Often we put the pastor in a position demanding that he speak as a professional expert into an issue about which the wisest thing he could probably say is, “I don’t know.” One of the wisest things a pastor can do is to admit a lack of knowledge and refer people to someone better suited to help. If only we would let them do so.”

Depression Seminar
I’ll be leading a Depression Seminar this coming Friday and Saturday in Hudsonville. You can get more details here, but if you come along you’ll get advance viewing of three episodes from HeadHeartHand Media’s forthcoming documentary/curriculum on how the church can better serve the depressed and those who care for them.

A New Image for Black Men
I wish there was more Gospel in this, but it’s still a phenomenally brave challenge both to white and black men.

Endtimes Infographic
This is very well done. Click on the graphic to enlarge.

I will not let you go
Last week Greg Lucas ended up in a violent and vicious fight with … (you’ll have to read to find out)

The Rich Tapestry of God’s Providence
This fantastic story tells two sides of how Tim Challies mother was converted. And here’s Tim’s mother’s take on it.