My Word for 2014

My church urged its members to consider a word that will mark their year. A word that they choose under careful consideration and prayer that will shape how they use their time, energy, and resources. Its kind of like the lens that their year will be viewed through.
As I was listening to the Pastor share the vision, I started writing some words down.

All of these words were good so I decided to evaluate them from there. I spent the next few days running them through my head, reviewing their definitions and context in Scripture. You know, doing all of the human things that I could to evaluate these words.

Sacrifice had been on my mind because I had been thinking a lot about the life I want to lead, a life of sacrifice. It was particularly fresh on my mind due to a part of a speech by President Reagan where he discusses the life of a soldier named Martin Treptow.

My Pledge
“America must win this war. Therefore, I will work, I will save, I will sacrifice, I will endure, I will fight cheerfully and do my utmost, as if the issue of the whole struggle depended on me alone.”
These words spoke directly to my heart, but I wanted to be sure. Absolutely sure.
I set the following Friday (Jan 3rd) as decision day. My mind had settled on sacrifice but I knew in my heart that the issue was not fully settled. Mid week was New Years and I talked to a friend of mine who really challenged me on my word. We discussed the concept of sacrifice as something that is not always positive in nature. Sort of like you adopt a martyr mentality. But I knew that this was not what sacrifice looked like in my mind. I knew that God had a different view, but I was conflicted. I left that night asking for clarity on what exactlysacrifice would look like for me.
So then something happened.
I stumbled on Romans 12, and it became abundantly clear that the word my mind had settled on was in fact the word God had for me.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
Romans 12:1
This was it. This was perfect. Viewing sacrifice as an act of worship was exactly the vision that I needed for clarity. But there is more, the rest of Romans 12 goes on to discuss humble service, sincere love, devotion to others, and giving honor to all people.  This was blowing my mind due to the consistency with my stated goals for this year, namely finding a ministry to serve in, improving relationships with my family, and consciously investing in the people God places in my life.
So what does this look like day to day?
“offer your bodies as a living sacrifice
 I am thankful for this clarity and confident that 2014 will be a tremendous year.
God Bless
– B

The Best of You

The Foo Fighters, a quality Alt Rock band from the 90s and 2000s had a song titled “Best of You”. In the song the artist asks “Is someone getting the best of you?”
Now, the context and content of the song is much different than what I will write about here, but I think this is a great question to ask. Is someone getting the best of you?
Better yet, is anyonegetting the best of you?
I don’t strictly mean this in the romantic relationship sense (although, as you will see, it applies there as well). I mean in the broader sense. In your everyday interactions, relationships big and small, are you giving your best to those around you?
Certainly we should strive for that, should we not?
The random people we see each day, they deserve our best. They deserve to be treated with respect, dignity, and engagement.
The people we work with, they deserve our best. They are relying on us for leadership, mentorship, or contributions to the team goal.
Our boss or bosses/ the organization we work for, they deserve our best. They pay us to do a job, and to do it well. They deserve commitment and our whole attention while we are on their payroll.
Our friends and loved ones, they deserve our best. They sacrifice for us, extend their hearts on our behalf and invest in our development.
The face you see in the mirror each day, He or She deserves your best. You owe it to yourself to apply your full effort each day in your relationships and your life in general.
And most importantly, Our Great God, He deserves our best. He created us and redeemed us to a whole new life. He expects our best and we will be held accountable one day in this matter.
Why do we accept mediocrity so often? Why do we give less than our best?
Consider the following excuses that I have used to justify my mediocrity:
·         I am too tired
·         I am distracted
·         I don’t really like that person
·         I’ll handle it tomorrow
·         I am having a bad day
·         This is not my responsibility
I am sure I could come up with more excuses that I have used or have heard from someone else. I am sure you could put together quite a list as well. However, I am a solutions oriented person, which leads me to  the following question-
How do we fix this?
How do we create an environment where we can devote our best each day, in life and relationships?
Big question indeed but here are some simple tips I have found useful in my own pursuit. 
1)     Stop Multitasking 
Listen, I know you think that you are a multitasking machine. The reality is, you are not. Multitasking is a myth and is increasingly rejected by the scientific and business communities. Don’t believe me? Search for yourself. Studies have shown that multitasking decreases focus, concentration, and creativity. What does this mean for us and our ability to give our best? Well, if you are distracted or trying to juggle several things then you can rarely devote your full self to any one objective. 
As for relationships, I will ask this question- Have you ever tried to have a serious conversation with someone addicted to their phone? 
Yeah, aint happenin. 
Now I love my phone as much as the next person, but I strongly urge you to be present as much as possible. I understand you have to communicate with people but consider this practice- Once you take your eyes away from the phone and that particular relationship, take a moment to refocus on the people you are with. Presence and engagement are critical. 
2)     Prepare
“By failing to prepare,  you are preparing to fail.”
–  Benjamin Franklin
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
– Abraham Lincoln
Do we ever give much thought to our day? We may have a plan, but do we prepare? You see, there is a difference. Allow me to give a simple illustration from my own life.
Each morning I know what I need to do- Wake up, eat breakfast, pack lunch, read, shower, get clothes on, go to work. See, this is a plan. 
A plan tells me what needs to be done.
Preparation would be if I did the following: Set a bowl and cereal box out for breakfast, left my reading book on the coffee table, picked my clothes for the next day, and set out some of the items I need for lunch. Preparation is about readiness, it is part of the execution.
So often we are limited by our lack of preparation. Rarely do we prepare to do our best. What would that even look like anyway? Well, we have to consider preparation as an idea much broader than the physical things. Consider mental, emotional, and spiritual preparation as well
3)      Today
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Matthew 6:33
“Make each day your masterpiece”
– John Wooden
“There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called yesterday, and the other is called tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe, do and mostly live.”
– Dalai Lama
This is a daily decision. Today is the only day you can influence directly. We waste our time worrying about the future and feeling guilty about the past. If you have a rough day, shake it off and don’t let it ruin the next day. 
4)      Shift Focus Upward and Outward 
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we have to shift our focus. We must shift our focus off of ourselves, upward to Christ, and then outward to others.
Notice how all of my excuses started with I. It was all about me. Giving your best requires sacrifice.  You cannot give your best if you are selfish, its just not possible. Heck, you rarely give anything if you are selfish. 
This kind of commitment is exhausting, which is a good thing. If you are constantly pouring yourself out into meaningful endeavors (service, people, occupation, etc), then of course you are going to be exhausted!
In closing, I encourage you to evaluate your life, how you spend your time and energy. 
Be honest with yourself and ask the question: 
Have I given my best today?