inbox zero 8 tips

A while back my buddy Richard shared with me an email strategy called “inbox zero.” I tried it spam-964521_960_720for a minute then went back to my old ways of letting thousands of emails pile up. I have recently taken back the banner of inbox zero and I am sticking with it.   Those who post about hundreds upon hundreds of emails piling up, I feel your pain. I know what it’s like to come home from vacation and have to filter through all the junk mail to find the things that truly need your attention.

Inbox zero is a new philosophy for email management. Instead of your email being a catchall for everything the Internet wants to throw at you, Inbox zero says to look at your email like a task list. Only keep things visible that need action. Inbox zero is the minimalist way to manage email and it will keep you on task.  At the end of the day, you should have zero emails in your inbox. Yup, ZERO.

Here are a few tips for getting there:

  1. Change the way you think about email: My main task every day is not to manage email. Email is important to my work but it really isn’t everything. I do need to stay up on it or it will consume me. However, I was not hired to manage email an inordinate amount every week. My main tasks are teaching, leading and helping others grow. When email overwhelms me, I am off task!
  2. Delete Freely: I delete any message four years old and message that is clearly spam. Why? When I search for old emails, spam can find its way into the search results and that is frustrating. (If your are in a profession that requires you to keep records for seven years then don’t do this)
  3. Archive Freely: There is this old management motto that went something like this, “a peace of paper should never touch your hands twice.” In other words, when you see it, deal with it! Archiving email is just hiding it. Once you’ve dealt with the email, archive immediately. In most email apps you can simply search for that email or search archive and pull up what you need. Archive does not mean delete!
  4. Unsubscribe to everything non-essential: I wish I could do this with the advertising mailers that come to my house. They are literally mailing me trash! As a person that sends a weekly email, I feel the pain on this, it hurts to lose subscribers, but on the other hand it will hurt you worse in the long run to bother them!
  5. Turn off email notifications on your phone: I cannot begin to tell you how awesome it is to not see the emails as they come in. Unless your business absolutely demands that you reply on someone else’s schedule, it is not necessary to have this notification come up!
  6. Close that email window: I get it, some work demands being on email all day. If your task isn’t primarily email, then close that email window. It is throwing you off what you were hired to do!
  7. Set a time to open your emails: For the most part I have transitioned to only dealing with emails on my computer. I try and only open my emails three times a day. I work on email at the beginning, middle and end of my day. In the process I have been less stressed and more responsive to email.
  8. If you get to many emails per day to handle then you are at the point of hiring an assistant: A really good assistant can think for you, and can deal with the bulk of your email. They can free you up to do what is really important.

It is my hope that as you follow these steps that you will begin to manage your email and not allow it to manage you. Once you are in charge of your email rather than your email running your life you will begin to brag about how few emails you get!


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redeeming the woman at the well

Every sermon I have heard about “the woman at the well” (John 4) has made her out to be some kind of notorious sinner. Now that I am studying and preaching through the book of John I have finally come to this text.   I try to look at the scriptures in a fresh way each time I study, but most times you cannot help but bring your pre-conceived notions into your study time.

While dissecting the text and reading commentaries I expected to find that this woman was steeped in sin, and Jesus came to the rescue and saved her from that sin. What I found was quite different. After studying this passage, I found myself wanting to apologize to this 2000-year-old woman for judging her and speaking ill of her nearly every time that I had previously preached this text.Image processed by CodeCarvings Piczard ### FREE Community Edition ### on 2015-06-02 15:51:36Z | |

Most preachers have cited that because this woman was there at noon, she was trying to avoid the other ladies of the town. She was ostensibly trying to hide her loose sexual morals. Further into the story we find out that this woman has had five husbands and the man she is currently living with was not her husband. To 21st century Christians this is damning evidence of a loose sexual ethic. She must be a notorious sinner.

However what every preacher I have ever heard has failed to mention is that this account of Jesus with the woman at the well was meant to be contrasted with the previous one, Nicodemus and Jesus talking about being born again. Many preachers do not take into account that John is one of the cleverest writers in the Bible. The account of Jesus meeting with Nicodemus happened at nighttime, which is a Jewish symbol of unbelief. The account of the woman at the well happened at daytime, specifically at the sixth hour, when the sun shined the brightest, this is a Jewish symbol for belief. John is trying to contrast this ultra religious teacher of Israel who didn’t believe with a woman who did believe but would have had a repugnant status among Israelites.

The fact that Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well happened at the 6th hour has a much deeper significance than most preachers have ever gone deeply into. We know that in John’s gospel that John is concerned Jesus’ “hour” of his most important work on the cross. (John 2:4, 7:30, 8:20, 12:23, 13:1, 17:1)

In John 3 Jesus tells Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”  In John 4 John alludes to when that will happen, John 4:6 shows this conversation happened at the 6th hour, the same time that Jesus was crucified (John 19:14). Could it be possible that this conversation is so much deeper and greater than whatever this woman may have done to offend God? I think this story points to something far deeper and greater, this woman is the living embodiment of what would be possible after the death and resurrection of Jesus.   After all John 4:4 tells us that Jesus had to go through Samaria. Wait a second…no he didn’t. At the time there were plenty of other routs around Samaria. So why did Jesus have to travel to this despised place? I think he had to find her. He had just spoken to Nicodemus about being born again and he wasn’t necessary ready to accept what Jesus was teaching. I think Jesus wanted to show us what it looked like to be born again. This woman is what it looks like for God to “so love the world.” This woman’s five husbands didn’t mean she was sinful; there were many ways to lose a husband in the first century: war, disease, accidental death, or divorce and in this culture, divorce would not have been her call. Many scholars say that if divorce was the reason for the many husbands than this woman was more than likely barren.

Having a child was everything in this culture.

In her encounter with Jesus at that well, she was born again. In her spiritual rebirth she couldn’t help herself. She had to go to her town and tell everyone who she had just met, a man who told the truth about her life because he is the truth. In the process this woman who was probably barren, birthed many spiritual children. She deserves a redeemed place in church history and in our consciousness, her sin whatever it was, is not relevant to the story. She did something that the teacher of Israel wouldn’t do. She put her confidence and trusts in Jesus and became the first missionary to her town.

When you hear the story of this nameless woman. I want to challenge you to see her the way that Jesus saw her. A lone woman who felt she was valueless, who probably was depressed because of her sad existence. A woman who was so marginalized in society that she essentially didn’t matter to the world. She became a woman of high value. She was the first new birth of the new creation. The first who was truly on mission with Jesus.


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unchecked appetite

When I tell people I went to Cuba they assume that I went to a resort town on the coast, rather than an impoverished cattle town that is hours away from the nearest thing resembling a resort. I just spent seven days in Camajuani, Cuba. I can’t get the food out of my head. While we were there we had plenty to eat. Our Missionary to Cuba constantly reminded us, “remember, when you’re not here, they don’t eat like this.”

We heard a story of a Cuban Pastor who visited the US to speak at a church that was supporting him. The Cuban pastor went to a restaurant and a Wal-Mart and then spent two Woman Cubadays locked in his room. The family who was hosting him asked why he didn’t want to come out of his room. The answer was really simple. He was grief stricken. How could he go out and enjoy food when he wasn’t sure if his family had eaten that day? He spent two days fasting and praying for his family because he was so overwhelmed by our availability of food and goods. For anyone who lives in an economy of scarcity, coming to a place of plenty can be shocking.

On the flight home, I had the option to watch free TV. I found myself watching the Food Network for the first time. It was the week before Thanksgiving so I watched a food competition where the contestants prepared fancy renditions of the classic Thanksgiving meal.   It is so strange to come back home where food isn’t just fuel, it’s also entertainment. As each contestant revealed their final product for the judges, they lifted their lids; the judges either lit up or squirmed in disgust. I kept wondering how a Cuban who had never seen this kind of food entertainment would respond. How offensive it might be to their consciousness that we play with food on TV for the entertainment of the country while they starve. While watching this, I couldn’t help but think of the way that C.S Lewis used food to shine a light on society’s warped sense of sexual appetite. He said:

“Now suppose you come to a country where you could fill a theater by simply bringing a covered plate onto the stage and slowly lifting the cover so as to let everyone see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country, something had gone wrong with their appetite for food?”

My trip to Cuba made me view our society a bit differently. Our addition to everything and our lust for plenty has had a tainting effect on our sense of appetite. Its no secret that our culture loves sex and has pushing the envelope sexually for years, and now most new TV shows on Netflix have some sort of nudity or graphic sex. I was watching a historical documentary and for seemingly no purpose there was a nude scene; this is simply the new normal. We have so sexualized our entertainment that it seems like any normal show cannot make it without a nude scene. It seems that our communal sexual appetite has grown to ravenous proportions.

Our appetites grow vastly with the availability of cheap goods. I admit that I am an avid Amazon Prime user. I love a good deal and free two day shipping is just amazing. But have we stopped to ask the question of how does this ability to get anything we want whenever we want shape us? Have we become a people who are dependent on instant gratification? Do our appetites grow to proportions that are impossible to feed? Are we a people who are slaves to this newfound hunger for cheap goods?

Being in Cuba revealed that our American culture has a ravenous appetite for anything and everything. Its not just food and cheap goods, but it is every little thing that we do. Its not enough to take a picture, we have to Instagram it and receive the heart shaped affirmation of people we may not even really know. Kids are being shaped and molded by their hunger for virtual affirmation. Vaping has revealed that the air we breathe is no longer good enough it must be flavored. TMZ is so successful because they understand that our cultural appetite for making fun of people can be packaged and sold to us in a way of which we feel like our hands are clean in the process.

All of these examples and many more make me wonder what is the cost of an unchecked appetite to a free society? First, when our appetites grow in all areas, we have to feed them; they will become monsters that demand to be fed. We run the risk of surrendering our free will so that we can fulfill whatever desire is most pressing. We run the risk of our desires dictating our budget and our time, rather that what is good or useful. Some desires are natural and healthy, but I have a sneaking suspicion that my need for a 3pm caffeine boost is neither natural nor healthy. (Cuba ruined me on coffee…but that’s another story)

When our appetites become unchecked, we become adverse to anything that requires a commitment. Commitment requires the endurance of suffering. This is why in one of the most fundamental of commitments we vow to stick with each other in rich and poor, sickness and health, the good times and the bad. I think our regular commitments like church attendance form us in powerful ways, but sometimes you will wake up and not want to attend, the question is are you a slave to your desires and appetites or will you do something even if it is hard?   There is a glaring conclusion to a world where we either wittingly or unwittingly allow our appetites to go unchecked. That is, we will stop doing anything that costs us anything. Our propensity to keep a commitment will dwindle; we will keep the commitment so long as it is beneficial to us. It costs something to love your neighbor; there is an inherent sacrifice in it. Yet in our desire to fulfill all of our appetites for goods and technology, I wonder if we have engineered our way out of need for genuine and authentic community. Lastly, when we are so concerned with fulfilling our own appetites, then the side effect of self-centeredness is hard to ignore.

It seems like in our push away from modernity and into post-modernity we have communicated that our feelings and our desires are the truth. I am a novice in philosophy, but this seems to be the point of many post-modern authors. If this were the case, then I would reject that thought entirely. I would argue, the Apostle Paul’s point, many feelings, desires, and appetites are natural but they are not always beneficial, and they are certainty not the truth. For example, people have natural sexual appetites that are good for a marriage and for procreation in general, but I have seen the unchecked sexual appetite of a person ruin a marriage. I have seen where pornography has absolutely wrecked relationships. I would argue that the viewing of pornography falls into a sexual appetite that has gone amiss. I would suggest a search for truth. Where can it be found? What is it? Are my wants and desires good, are they true?

Just as a fish may not notice the water it’s in, you may have never seen our nation through the lens of crazed appetites. I want to invite you to examine your own appetites. Has your lust for food changed the way you live? Has your hunger for electronics made you a slave to credit card payments? Have your sexual cravings benefited you? Maybe you have seen yourself in the midst of reading this. Maybe its time for an appetite re-set. It isn’t hard. I suggest just eating what you need, nothing fancy, just good healthy food. Maybe you don’t buy anything that you don’t absolutely need? Perhaps you’d willingly sacrificed yourself for the sake of others. Maybe there is an elderly neighbor in need of your during the holidays. Perhaps you think of how you can serve your spouse. Get imaginative with your kids to get them off the electronics and out of the real world.

There is much that could be done about our unchecked appetites. But the biggest thing that you can do is to realize that your appetites are shaping you more than you are shaping them.


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make these words something: waking up in babylon

Cities in the book of Revelation are pictured as contrasting women. First there is the Whore of Babylon and then there is the Bride of Christ, which is the New Jerusalem.

All through the book there is this silent question of what city will you identify with?

When John spoke of Babylon he was using an Old Testament reference to describe the Roman world in which they lived. In the book of Revelation, Babylon becomes a kind of shorthand for the way that human power and authority. We find out in Revelation that Babylon is built on a foundation of lies and that are beautiful and alluring.

The Whore of Babylon is a word picture of the goddess Roma, and she offers her alluring romawine for all to drink. Babylon is this symbol of what it looks like to put money before people. Babylon is what we get when our value is determined by what we have rather than whom we belong to. Babylon is what we wake up to every day. It’s not a nation state, but it is the culture that drives nearly all of them.

In Babylon things like accruing power become very important. What you wear reveals your status. Money is the main driver of life. In Babylon you are constantly sold this lie. One day I was headed home from Palm Springs when I saw a billboard on the freeway that said, “What does your driveway say about you?” Really? My driveway reveals things that are core to my identity?

Every day we wake up in Babylon. It is so easy to be shaped by the life that Babylon provides. As I write this, Apple is releasing the new iPhone 7 and there is something in me that wants to lust after that object. There is something in me that makes me think, “if I just had the iPhone 7 everything would be different. Life would certainly be better!” 

But I know that is a lie.

The lie that Babylon feeds to us is that if we find our identity in wealth, relationships, stuff and status that we will be made whole. What we don’t see is that a commitment to a life in Babylon is a commitment to the oppression of the poor of the world. In Revelation 18 after we hear about the fall of Babylon, her merchants weep and mourn. They just lost their way to make money, which we think is sad until we realize that the reason why Rome was so wealthy is because they exploited the citrus wood trade in North Africa. They oppressed people who worked in the gold mines of Spain. Among the cargo list found in chapter 18 are, “human beings sold as slaves.”

There is a hidden cost to run Babylon. A cost which if we saw it fully would make us sick. It is a cost to miners in Africa who mine precious metals for our iPhones. It is a cost to children who make t-shirts in free-trade zones in the global south. They are out of sight from our eyes, but rest assured, they work more in 5 years than most people will in 50. Creation bears the brunt of our addiction to stuff, the great Pacific Trash Island can attest to this. Just floating below the surface there is a garbage patch the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean.  Babylon breeds its own industry of the death of unwanted babies.

Babylon has an allure. It is glamorous and a wonder to gaze upon. But, that is only because we don’t see the hidden costs of Babylon. We don’t see all of those who are hurt by her way of life.

So I want to ask you. Please. Will you make my words worth something? Will you make the 9 commentaries and the endless hours spent in this book apply to your life?

I want to invite you into a very different life, the life of the lamb:

The lamb that loves and gives dignity to all humanity.

The lamb who values the poor.

The lamb that gives dignity to those who are oppressed by Babylon.

The lamb that executes perfect justice.

The lamb who is marked by truth.

The lamb who wants to wash you with his own blood.

Babylon will always be left wanting. A life based on a Babylonian value system will always be incomplete.

Make these words worth something…

Revelation 18:4-8

Then I heard another voice from heaven say:

“‘Come out of her, my people,’
    so that you will not share in her sins,
    so that you will not receive any of her plagues;
for her sins are piled up to heaven,
    and God has remembered her crimes.
Give back to her as she has given;
    pay her back double for what she has done.
    Pour her a double portion from her own cup.
Give her as much torment and grief
    as the glory and luxury she gave herself.
In her heart she boasts,
    ‘I sit enthroned as queen.
I am not a widow;

    I will never mourn.’
Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her:
    death, mourning and famine.
She will be consumed by fire,
    for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.


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make these words mean something: the lion is the lamb

For 27 weeks in 2016 I taught through the book of Revelation: The next few post are the main points of the book…So make all my work…make all of these words…make all of the hours I put into it worth something…enjoy. 

When John, the author of Revelation, had a vision of heaven he saw God almighty on the throne, holding a scroll, sealed up with seven seals. For the original reader they might have thought of the powerful Emperor of Rome, Domitian sitting on his throne giving out edicts.

An Emperor or a king with a scroll that is sealed up signifies the king’s wishes and only one who had the authority of the king could open that scroll. This is the image that John is setting up for his reader. So the question became, “who is worthy to preside over the opening of these scrolls?”

The scrolls symbolized all of human history; it symbolized the new heaven and new earth that was found in Revelation 21. The question of, “who is worthy” means, who has the authority of the king to open the scroll? Who is able to watch over all of human life? Who is able to preside over the new heaven and the new earth? John wept because no one was found worthy.

But all of the sudden we see these verses:

Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders…” 1024px-Josefa_de_Ayala_-_The_Sacrificial_Lamb_-_Walters_371193

There is one worthy! He is announced as a lion, but when John turns he sees a lamb, “looking as if it had been slain.” The author of Revelation is always pulling this little trick on us. We hear one thing and see another.

The Lion is the Lamb!

What the author John is trying to remind us of is that the only thing that truly wins in the end is the sacrificial love of the lamb. Only the one who displays true sacrificial love is able to preside over all of human history.

This is in stark contrast to our world, which has a lust for power and authority. Just this year a practical joker got Donald Trump to re-tweet this quote from The fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

“It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.”

This isn’t just Trump, In the political world, you would never survive on sacrificial self-giving love.   Lambs just survive in a Machiavellian political world.

It is no secret that people envision themselves as the lion in all situations.

Want to tell off your boss? Be a lion!

Want to rise through the political ranks? Be a lion!

Want your employees to fear you? Be a lion!

Want to be the hero? Be a lion!

We love movies that are exactly the opposite of this verse. We love movies that the lamb becomes the lion. We want to see the ordinary guy become a super hero. We want to see Rocky bulk up and beat people down. Our world celebrates lambs that become lions.

However, the church is called to the very opposite. We are called to lay down our lion like tendencies and to be formed by the self-giving love of the lamb.  We are called to be self-sacrificial in our love for others.  We are called to be formed by the lamb.

The lamb wins in the end.

In fact in Matthew 27, Pilate asks the crowd to choose between saving two people.  “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?”

Jesus Barabbas was a rebel, fighting the Romans, taking their blood.  By all accounts he lead a bloody revolution.

Jesus the Messiah, lead a gentle revolution, teaching people to be kind to their enemies and forgive them.

Jesus Barabbas lived as a lion.

Jesus the Messiah lived as the Lamb of God.

Pilate asks then which is the question for the whole world today.  What Jesus do you want?  The lion or the lamb?


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