3 Holiday Stress Busters

Don’t allow the season to steal your soul…

I have a love-hate relationship with the holidays. This can cause some tension due to the fact that my job finds it epicenter in spiritual holidays. As a pastor for over 32 years, my holidays have been designing, creating and leading experiences that reveal and usher in a sense of divine “otherness.” This is no small enterprise in the midst of a culture that has the ability to wrap the holy with glittering consumerism that appears noble but is a whitewashed disguise.

My main motivation for creating spaces of the sacred is because I know that people are longing for it, need it desperately, yet get caught up in the busyness of life. They are doing the best they can and need all the help they can get.

Advertisers are convincing our kids that they NEED the latest, greatest and flashiest tech toys. They believe the lie that they are nothing, and no one will like them if that newest thing isn’t theirs. We are promised a better life, better sex, better relationships, and better health if we would just buy their product. Then, oh yes then you will become one of the beautiful people using their products.

So….we spend money we don’t have going into debt for things that cannot deliver their promise in order to impress people we don’t even like. Before you know it, the holiday is over and you are simply left with the credit card debt, right?

Stress comes at you like a scud missile from multiple angles.

  • family stress…
  • work stress…
  • financial stress…
  • health stress…
  • time stress…
  • kid stress…
  • work stress…
  • school stress…
  • political stress…
  • legal stress…

The American Institute of Stress (yes it’s a real thing!) recently published and article detailing 42 key workplace stressors. You can read the article here. In the article, author Milja Milenkovic stated a number of eye opening stats. For example:

* 83% of US workers suffer from work-related stress.
* US businesses lose up to $300 billion yearly as a result of workplace stress.
* Depression leads to $51 billion in costs due to absenteeism and $26 billion in treatment costs.
* Work-related stress causes 120,000 deaths and results in $190 billion in healthcare costs yearly.

Gallup also note that “Americans are among the most stressed out populations in the world. Drawing from Gallup’s 2019 data on emotional states, over half of the American population experience stress during the day. This is 20% higher than the world average of 35%. According to these stress stats, the US is getting closer and closer to Greece, whose population has been the most stressed out in the world since 2012, with 59% of Greeks experiencing stress daily.”

No wonder we don’t see, feel or enter into the spaces of the sacred during the holidays.

We are too stuck in the muck of this kingdom instead of God’s kingdom.

That is why I love creating spaces and experiences that take you out of the kingdom of commodity, productivity, and empire and portal you to the kingdom you were created to live in, but the stresses of the world keep you from finding the doorway.

While stress is inevitable, it doesn’t have to win the battle for your soul.
While stress in inevitable, it doesn’t have to choke out the holy.
While stress is inevitable, it doesn’t have to be your way of life.

Instead…

Here are three practices I use to stay centered in the midst of cultural chaos in order to stay connected to Trinity.

Meditation.
In the story about Jesus that was written by Luke, we learn that meditation was a regular practice in Jesus’ life. It was a discipline that kept him centered and able to hear the voice of the Father.
“News about Jesus spread even more.  Crowds came to hear him and to be healed . . . but Jesus often slipped away to be alone so he could pray.”  Luke 5:15‑16 (NCV)

Prayer and meditation are great stress relievers. Prayer is talking to God with your mind, and meditation is talking to God with your heart. I see prayer and meditation like pressure relief valves or decompression chambers. When your brain runs out of words as you release the burden, meditation picks up the conversation with groans that are too deep for words.

I think it was Pascal, the famous philosopher who once said, “Most of man’s problems come from his inability to sit still.”  The Bible says, “Be still and know that I am God.” 

The busier you are, the more you need to practice the stillness of meditation. If you are thinking right now, “Hey Monty, I am way too busy to slow down and meditate, that would be nice, but I just don’t have the time!” I get it, I really do, but you are choosing the kingdom of chaos and stress when you could be finding the peace of God amid all your craziness.

The busier I get, the more I meditate. When I stop, pause, and meditate, the stillness and silence allow my body to catch up with my brain. It is here that the assailing thoughts that jump around in my mind like rabid monkeys on vacation slow down enough to pray and listen to God. I have found that this alone is the most significant stress reducer in my life. Prayer and Meditation remind me that I am not God, I am not in control of the world, and God is far more capable than I am of running things…what a relief.

As a person with busy-brain-syndrome, I have found that the best way to move into a time of stillness is through reading. I will start with a compelling devotional book. The words help me focus and eliminate brain chatter. Books become a powerful tool to slow my thoughts, heart-rate, and breathing, so my prayer time is thick with God’s presence. His presence slowly reduces the stress I carry as I trust Him with all my stuff & things.

Concentration is the second principle that helps reduce stress. Concentration is the choice to focus on what is essential. A-billion-and-one options encamp us every minute of the day. If you are not purposeful in your choices, someone else will be choosing for you.

What are your priorities this season?
What are you trying to accomplish during the holidays?
What good thing do you need to say no to?

The holiday season comes with options, events, opportunities, etc. The buffet of choices are all pretty much good, but serve as distractions from what is best!

Jesus models a life of meditation and concentration. He slowed down to tend his soul, but he was also focused on his ultimate goal. Luke reveals this character trait: “As the time drew near for his return to heaven, he moved steadily onward toward Jerusalem with an iron will.” (9:51)

If you don’t determine what your priorities are, the overwhelming nature of the season will determine and control you. Other people’s wants and needs and plans for your life will overtake what your soul desires. You know it’s true that when we allow everyone else to determine what we do, resentment pitches a tent, moves in, and has a heyday!

Determine to choose what you will focus on and then create a plan to navigate the season according to those priorities. Some people may get their knickers in a twist when they realize they can’t control you, but you will sleep with a smile.

The third practice is to Delegate. This one might be the hardest for many of us. We have believed the lie that “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself!” I think that mantra is the enemy’s greatest lie and instigator of unnecessary stress.

When we believe that we have to do it all ourselves, stress smiles and is poised to pounce. We think, “I am Atlas, I hold up the world!” or we take the martyrs route and sigh, “I’m the only one who does what needs to get done.”

We are in for a rude awakening when we realize that the world goes on its merry way with or without us. We lose a job, and no one calls. We say “no” to leading a project, and they fill the role quickly without blinking an eye. Honestly, we think we are indispensable but, truth-be-told, we are not.

Sometimes this is precisely why we fill our schedule with so many events that are robbing us of what we honestly want. The fear of not been needed, seen, or relevant is the real reason we stack our days with tasks that we end up resenting. The sad truth is that we create our reality.

So instead of being Wonder Woman or Superman this season, choose to ask for help and delegate some things to your friends and family. When you entrust other people with things that need to be accomplished, you are empowering them with one of the most powerful, healing, and life-giving gifts of all, to be needed.

This is your year to beat Holiday stress, so make the decision today to meditate, concentrate and delegate.

May this Christmas season respark joy as you find the space to breathe in her beauty.

Did God Break His Own Rules About Women In The Tanakh? (Old Testament)

“When a woman was the right person for the job, whether it was leading in worship, prophesying, exhorting, saving a nation from genocide, or leading soldiers into battle, God didn’t hesitate to use her. And the results were impressive.” ~Ruth Haley Barton

If God is against women in leadership (as some people think) then He has some “splainin'” to do! In this podcast episode, we discuss some of the women that God raised up to lead as read in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible aka the Old Testament). Miriam, Deborah, Jael, a mystery woman, Esther and the prophet Huldah.

Even though the Bible is written within a patriarchal worldview, God was able to work within our less than perfect ideals and plant an idea for something better, and He is still doing that today!

God raised up and installed some amazing women to lead His people, both men, and women, which leaves us with a decision to make, Either He is breaking His own rules about women in leadership, or those are the rules of a patriarchal system and He is trying to lead us out of that to something better!

While there are many books and vast amounts of scholarship on this topic, one very readable and approachable book you might want to pick up is called “How I Changed My Mind About Women In Leadership” (Alan Johnson General Editor)

This is a compelling collection of stories from some prominent Evangelical leaders.

Also here is a link to an article written by @rachelheldevans (Rachel Held Evans) that is a good overview as well:

https://rachelheldevans.com/blog/mutuality-women-leaders

I hope you enjoy the journey, and remember to empower the women in your life!

A Runners’ Prayer

“I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast!
And when I run I feel his pleasure.” ~Eric Liddell

Christians have been slow to the game. For a group of folks who talk a lot about prayer, the statistics show they rarely practice it. When they do, it is primarily a “Hail Mary” kind of moment hoping the divine will get them out of their current jam or to meet a specific need that that lives in the land of illusivity.

Most other world religions connect prayer to some physical act be it breathing, yogic positions, stretching, or as the Hopi Indians do, running.

When you link some type of activity to prayer, you begin to focus better, notice your humanity more, and connect to God’s voice and inspiration in a fresh way. 

If you know the story of Eric Liddell, he was the main character in the classic movie “Chariots of Fire” which centered around his gold medal Olympic race that almost wasn’t.

Liddell was known for and was to compete in the 200-meter race. However, that particular race was scheduled on a Sunday. Liddell experienced a crisis of faith when he found out. His strong conviction told him that he should go to church and worship God on that day. So, he declined to run the race he had prepared for.

Can you imagine that?

Training for an Olympic event and then declining to run because it interfered with his personal priority of going to church. In a time when people decline going to church because it is raining too hard, or it’s too hot or or or….I think you get my point. Liddell decided he would run the next race which was the 400-meter.

This wasn’t his normal race, nor what he trained for, but he decided to run it, and the rest is history as they say. He won the Gold Medal. After the race he said,

“The secret of my success over the 400-m is that I run the first 200-m as fast as I can. Then, for the second 200-m, with God’s help, I run faster.”

If you haven’t seen the movie put it on your list. The story is much bigger and beautiful than I can describe, but I have always been inspired Liddells’ famous quote in the movie: 

“I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast!And when I run I feel his pleasure.” 

I believe Liddell best connected with God while running. This discipline became a deeper prayer connecting his body, soul, and spirit to God.

I have many friends who are about to undertake a beautiful goal of running a full or half marathon to raise money for World Vision to bring clean water to areas where there is none.

A physical practice to achieve spiritual and physical goals. I believe God will meet them in a special way as they train. As they run they will notice how their focus sharpens. They will begin to hone in on the immediate moment whether it is because of fatigue, burn, or hard-breath. Their inner world will calm as they better unite with their outer reality. They will also have many “God I need you now” moments too!

With the right intention, their running will become for them a deeper spiritual experience, connecting them to God in a different way while making an impact for those who have no clean water. To me that is so good.

So for my marathon friends, here is a prayer I came across written by Lewis B. Smith Jr. he called his running prayer.

This is my running prayer Lord.
I run in praise of you.
I praise you with my motion.
You sustain my breath
That I may sustain your praise.
All creation joining in
Nothing in creation is still.
My world revolves as I run across it.
The heavens move as I run below them.
Everything moves in praise.
I move as I run.
I run a trail of blessings,
Giving and receiving both.
As I run I am blessed,

With moisture in the air
To cool my straining body,
Plants and trees nourish my breath,
That I may run further.
With birdsong to cheer me on.
Joining in unending praise
With the supportive murmur,
Of the flowing creek.
With passion in my arms and legs,
With burning in my chest,
That I may know that I am alive,
To have more to praise you for.

I leave blessings in my turn.
Water for plants,
Breath for trees.
This run may end.
The prayer will not.
I may slow.
I shall praise you still.
Your praise carries me.
To the limits of my body and beyond.
Hands outstretched in praise,
I run and collect bounteous blessings,

The rhythm of the pavement sings
A percussive song of power.
Not of my might.
Not of my strength.
But of the persistence of your spirit.
A regular rhythm of irregular melody
Breath in windy counterpoint
Still I run.
Still I praise
Ever the prayer runs on.

God gave us our bodies not only to live our mission through, but to experience His presence, purpose and power through.

When we integrate all of who we are we experience God in a whole new way. Let your body, created by God, help your spiritual journey and experience the kingdom of heaven that is within you and all around you.

21 Great Books To Read In 2018

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More books and less binge-watching will transform your life!

The following books are in no particular order and speak to various areas of thought. From fiction to faith, I would encourage you to read widely and discerningly. Most people today read within a small circle of authors that they like and agree with. If you are only reading authors who think like you, there is limited growth happening in your soul. Read authors who come at things differently, think differently and even believe differently. Release your fear, you are stronger and more discerning than you think, and who knows, you just might gain some new insights or see things from a different perspective.

  1. The Go-Giver
  2. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
  3. Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible
  4. Sabbath As Resistance
  5. Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked
  6. The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness: A True Story
  7. Why You Think The Way You Do: The Story of Western Worldviews From Rome to Home
  8. Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin’s Path to God
  9. Man’s Search For Meaning
  10. 1984
  11. Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
  12. A Prayer For Owen Meany: A Novel
  13. The Sparrow
  14. How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels
  15. As A Man Thinketh
  16. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
  17. Pilgrims Progress
  18. Eager To Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi
  19. Disunity In Christ
  20. The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Volumes 1 & 2
  21. Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver

I’d love to hear what books have and are impacting you!

Please leave your recommendations in the comments.