Finishing (Your Sermon) Well

Unfortunately, it’s not just athletes and sports teams who take their foot off the gas before they finish well.

Often preachers do the same with the sermon.

In what ways do preachers pull up short or mail it in at the last minute?

So much time during the week is spent in prayer, preparation and parsing Greek (not to mention brain power it takes to alliterate all three points!), and yet we sometimes miss the ultimate payoff.

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Make EVERY day Effective and Efficient

Successful Leaders Don’t Marginalize Margin!

The one thing every human being has in common is 24 hours in a day. Not a minute more, and not a minute less. So why is it that some people seem to live so healthy and balanced with those hours, and some look dazed and confused like they’ve just been through a spin cycle?


That’s right, those who tend to thrive in life have learned the art and discipline of making margin (free space) for creativity of thought and flexibility of schedule.

No Excuses

You may protest “But I have an important job” or “I am a business owner” or “I have young kids.” All of these factors ramp up the energy you need to perform at high capacity. And you can only perform at high capacity if you have margin. Bill Gates is an avid reader, Warren Buffett plays the ukelele, and Sheryl Sandberg leaves the office by 5:30 each day. These three are very successful leaders in great demand.

Making Margin

In an effort to make better use of my time and to be more productive, here are some things that I do to make margin in my day.

  • Go To Sleep

One of my professors said that often the most spiritual thing we can do is sleep. When I am not well rested I am unproductive. It takes me longer to do even the most mundane tasks, my mind wanders and my creativity is non-existent. The simple fix? Go to bed earlier. If you can’t sleep, read. Just stay away from screens (tv, phone or iPad). They have been proven to inhibit sleep.

  • Rise Earlier

You may have convinced yourself that you are not an early riser. It’s simply not true. You have trained yourself to stay up late and to sleep in. Any habit can be changed. Set your alarm and wake up before anyone else. It’s amazing what you will accomplish when things are quiet. And you will have time to think, meditate, pray, read or simply enjoy a cup of coffee. By 9 am you will have accomplished more than many people do by noon. And that feels good and brings energy to your day!

  • Monitor Your Media

If you don’t have time to make it to your daughter’s dance recital or to meet with a close friend, you likely don’t have time to binge watch Stranger Things on Netflix or be on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/Pinterest etc. for hours on end. I dare you to write down the amount of time you spend on media in a week. It may floor you. Binge media leads to late nights, later mornings and unproductive days. Then you will have no margin in your life. Creativity drops. Relationships falter. Your mood tanks. So you need to spend more time on Netflix to make yourself feel better in the evening. The cycle continues. Get the picture?

These three tips to make more margin in life are not rocket science, but they work. Every time.

Maxed Out?

You may protest that there is no possible way for you to give more or trim the fat out of your schedule. You are maxed out. Commander Rorke Denver perfectly illustrated the fact that we all have more to give when he had the audience of Leadercast 2015 stand to their feet and reach as high as they could. Then he said, “Reach a little bit higher.” Ironically everyone was able to reach another inch or so. His point? We always leave a little in the tank. We always have a more to give.

I don’t want to be maxed out in my life. I want to have margin for creativity, relationships and true rejuvenation. In order to do this, I need to realize that not only do I have more to give, I have more I can give up.

You have 24 hours today. That’s more than enough time for greatness.

No More Preaching on a Sick Stomach!

I used to get pretty sick before I preached. It didn’t matter if I was speaking before a group of youth on a Friday night, a Young Adult retreat or a Sunday morning worship gathering. The feeling never changed. My nerves set in late the night before, and by the day of the event, I had a terrible stomachache and a bad case of the sweats. I was a train wreck (at least on the inside!).

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Cut the Clutter and Make Margin in Your Mind Today!

Lately, a lot of my conversations with friends and peers seems to revolve around the topic of margin.

The margin is the blank space on a paper that borders the written text. It is the area that can be marked up with personal notes, questions and ideas. It is free space for creativity. And many of us feel we have run out of margin in our lives. We have crammed our days so full of activity that there is no more free space to roam. A cluttered mind stifles creativity and gives way to claustrophobia.

A Cluttered Mind

Have you ever felt that there is not enough time in a day to finish your checklist? Have you ever found yourself cramming so many things into your day that you had little time for people? Do you ever have time for reflection where your thoughts can wander uninhibited?

I confess that I have put off playing with my kids or being present in conversations at home or with friends because I was thinking ahead to what I had to do next on my list. I have missed out on enjoyment, laughter and genuine relationships because I was more concerned with checking a box on a to-do list than checking in with those I love the most.

It’s really crazy and unhealthy.

And I somehow believed that my flurry of activity and multi-tasking was effective.

It wasn’t.

I tried to balance multiple activities/meetings/tasks in a short time frame instead of focusing on and finishing one thing at a time. I felt busier than a one-armed juggler! It’s exhausting, and eventually, things drop.

A Margined Mind

I may be a slow learner, but I am a learner.

I’ve made these margin-making changes. I don’t try to squeeze every ounce out of my day. I give myself room (margin) between meetings and appointments. Now I take time to reflect during my day and turn off the noise and alarms of my phone, computer, and even car stereo periodically. These small margin moments have sparked creativity and given me breaks that rejuvenate my mind, body, and soul.

We weren’t meant to write on every square inch of the paper. Nor were we meant to pound productivity out of every minute of the day (even though it is tempting to try).

To live this principle out, even though there is so much more I want to say about margin, I will stop now. You get the picture. Leave some room in your day for the unexpected. It might be a conversation, a coffee, or a life lesson in a blog post.

See you next week.


The Difference Between Clear and Nuclear Thinking

My Tribute to the Man Who Saved the World

Stanislav Petrov. Odds are you have never heard of him, but the world owes a huge debt of thanks to him.


On September 26, 1983, Stanislav’s computer screen flashed red with the word “LAUNCH.” This was the early warning detection that five nuclear missiles had been launched by the United States en route to Moscow. The data showed that there were only 20 minutes to launch a counter-attack. Petrov felt as if he were burning up in his chair.

Clear Thinking

But rather than reacting immediately and recommending a counter-attack to his superiors (something he should have done), he took a moment to think through the situation. He was a trained soldier, but he had a civilian degree that taught him to look carefully at the data in front of him. He reasoned, Why would the US only launch 5 missiles? That would certainly cripple the USSR, but not hinder a counter-attack. Plus the early detection system was new and was likely sending a false alarm…


Thankfully, his calm reasoning won the day, and World War III was averted. It turns out what seemed to be missiles were just a rare alignment of sunlight on high-altitude clouds about South Dakota. What did he receive for his cool-headed leadership on that day? A reprimand for not filing the paperwork correctly, a demotion, and no rewards. Had he been praised, many scientists who built the early-detection system would have had to be reprimanded. So the whole ordeal was covered up. It wasn’t until the early 1990’s that the truth came to the surface and he was given recognition for his heroism before he slipped away from the spotlight again. And with little fanfare, Stanislav Petrov died on May 19, 2017, in a little run-down Soviet-era apartment on the outskirts of Moscow.

Petrov never saw himself as a hero, he was simply doing his job. And I thank him for going above and beyond the call of duty to do his job with detailed attention and care.

My Takeaways:

*Good leaders do their job. Everyday. Even when it’s monotonous. Because when a crisis hits you will need to draw on the experience you have. Show up or you may miss your moment to make a world of difference.

*Good leaders do not make knee-jerk decisions. Nuclear disaster or a team blow up, can be avoided by a few seconds of reflection and thought.

*Good leaders are not always treated as heroes. Some are forgotten, and some are even punished for their actions. But doing the right thing is never a bad idea.

Thank you, Mr. Petrov, for doing your job well under pressure. The world thanks you and has much to learn from your calm, rational thinking in heated situations.

Doing What you Said You’d Do

What a Table Can Teach You

Two weeks ago I wrote a blog about unlocking creativity by doing something different, out of our normal comfort zones. In it, I described how I planned on building coffee and end tables. Well, I want to give an update…

I finished my first end table! I had a spot in my freshly painted office that was just begging for a table. So I came, I saw, and I conquered!

Building the table top resulted in some new skills formed and at times I had to make things up as I went (because I had terrible boards and no planer or table saw to make things perfect). Note: In life, leadership things are rarely [perfect and improvisation is necessary. It took a few hours and I’m very happy with the end result! I am already considering what kind of table top I want to build for the coffee table that will find a home in our living room.

So I put myself out there, wrote a blog about what I planned on doing, and then I did it.

Too many of us talk, talk, talk about what we’d like to do, but we never actually do it.

What “table” do you need to finish today? Just do it. You may be happily surprised at the result.



Try Something New to Unlock Your Creativity!

When is the last time you learned a skill, read a book in a genre you haven’t before, or played a game or sport you have always wanted to but were afraid to take the plunge into (like scuba diving!). I have found that when I try new activities it unlocks the creativity in my writing, speaking and pastoral ministry. It gives me fresh insight and often ideas locked deep in my subconscious come to the surface when my brain and body are thoroughly engaged in something outside of my comfort zone.

When was the last time you did something outside of your comfort zone?

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been watching YouTube videos about building furniture. I’ve always been a sucker for design, especially the modernist stuff with clean lines. Finally, I decided to take action and moved from watching others create to creating with my hands. I have started to set up my own workshop in the garage and got some wood and supplies. No matter how ugly it turns out, I am going to build a coffee table and end tables in the next few weeks. Stay tuned for updates (if it’s really bad I may not show pictures!).

Generally, I spend my time off to read and write. I love doing both, but I have found that these activities are similar to what I do for work as a pastor. Because of this, I don’t have new stories and experiences to draw from, nor do I give my mind a break from the ins and outs of researching, reading and thinking about pastoral issues. It’s time to break out of the rut and blaze a new trail (if only for a few hours in the evening or on Saturday mornings!).

So…what will YOU do to unlock your creativity?

Not sure?

Here are three questions to ponder:

*What have you always wanted to try, but come up with excuses why it can’t happen (money, time, talent)?

*What are the ruts in your free time (Netflix, X-Box, web surfing) that keep pulling you away from something more life-giving?

*Who will help you (lend you a tool, a piece of sports equipment or teach you a skill)?

My coffee table may not turn out as expected, like some of the Pinterest cake fails out there. But at least I tried something new and problem solved using parts of my brain that are usually dormant. That’s a win. Creativity unlocked.

Let me know what you plan to tackle in the next few weeks. Let this be a summer of creativity!