Monday, January 23, 2017

How to Live Quietly in a Noisy World

How to Live Quietly in a Noisy World  John Miller

How to Live Quietly in a Noisy World by John Miller 

How do you live quietly in a world full of noise?

The people I respect the most use social media the least.  Unless it’s a part of their job, my friends who making the largest impacts on the world around them, rarely tweet, insta, or update their status.  I, #tbh, can find myself clinging to social media like it’s my only time with other people.  Confession: At times my Chrome browser has seven tabs open and four of them are Facebook.  I get lost in the noise!  

That’s what social media is, you know.  It’s noise.  It’s a lot of people you know saying a lot of things loudly.  Whatever we think, we can post.  That doesn’t mean we should post our thought trains, but we do.  And we soak up the thoughts of others.  And I think it's killing us.  

Sit down with anyone who has push notification sent to their phones you'll never see their undivided attention.  Coffee shop conversations include breaks for texts and checking new likes.  Some relationships I've abandoned because I know that I'll never get eye-contact, unless I posted an eye-selfie on Instagram.   

Noise, noise, noise.  

There is an addicting whirlwind of activity online and we’re trading our real life, flesh and blood experiences for it.  We’re selling our deep relationships for likes, favorites, and retweets.  It’s not a good bargain, but nobody can stop us from doing it—except ourselves.  

Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, in a world without the internet, and said, “…make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12

It’s time for us to “live quietly.”  We may not all work with our hands, but we can all be present with the things physically around us.  We can stop getting our self-worth from reactions to our online posts.  I have a friend who deletes any of her Instagram posts if it doesn’t get 100 likes, ensuring only her best photos are on display long term.  She’s worth so much more than that!

Let's reclaim ourselves.  I recommend dampening the noise of social media, and here are a few ideas on how to do it: 

Take a Social Media Fast

If you’re like me you’ve got apps for Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  I have apps that tell me when someone follows or unfollows me.  Do you know how thought-consuming it is to be notified whenever someone unfollows you?  Especially when it’s someone you know.  It gets under my skin, like “Why don't they like me anymore?  Don’t they think my babies are cute? Are they just jealous of me and can’t stand to see my life being so awesome?”  Keeping up with the posts of others is no longer a hobby, it has become a way of life.  Not being on social media feels like not breathing at times.  It’s painful because I want to be where everyone is hanging out, and all my friends are together online without me. 
In our ambition to live quietly, try a social media fast.  Delete your apps for an extended period of time, like a week or a month, and don’t let yourself check them any other way.  Many of my friends have taken twenty-one days away from Facebook and been freed from the addiction! The time away has helped them slow down their pace, be present where they are, and learn that the world doesn’t stop spinning without reading your friends favorite buzzfeed articles.  You don’t need to read “21 totally hilarious fails with cats.” You’ll be fine.  
Get some people around you and take a social media fast together.  It’ll help your “Fear of Missing Out” if you know that other people will be hanging out in the real world with you and skipping the media party. I’ve rarely seen people stick to big commitments alone.  Tell your spouse, significant other, best friends to support you in this.  Better idea, ask them to join you in the purge. 

Set up a Social Media Sabbath

When you’re not fasting (either you just finished or you knew it’d be too hard and you wouldn’t stick to it) set up a regular day when you don’t check social media.  For instance, if your day off is on Saturdays, why not consider muting all media notifications and spending more time being quiet and present with those around you.  Escape the noise of Facebook and read.  Try writing. Watch a movie and actually understand what’s happening the whole time.  Open yourself up regularly for deeper thinking and interactions.  
Even if you can’t do a full day, or as a way of supplementing your full day off, try setting yourself hours when you are not going to check social media.  Maybe your mornings stress you out because you log onto your phone and the world has been running full speed without you and you feel like you need to catch up.  Make those mornings a sacred, quiet time and don’t open your apps until lunch.  Or if you get home from work at 5:30 and your kids go to bed at 8:30, take a 3 hour mini-sabbath so you can focus on what’s most important right in front of you.  Investing in those around you reaps more benefits than investing in your online profile.  You don’t need to Instagram in real time.  Post the picture of your dog cuddling your toddler when they go to sleep.  We’ll all still be here.  
Gut Check: I don’t want to teach my kids they only get to play with dad when he’s not looking at his phone.  My kids should know they beat Facebook every time. They are more important than any tweet.  They won’t learn that if I’m not intentional to leave my phone down and give them my attention.  If you use social media for work, consider a service like HooteSuite or Crowdfire to schedule out your posts for that day so you can be more quiet.

If I'm going to learn how to live more simply this year, I need to learn to live quietly, too. The people who accomplish the most are often on social media the least.  Our social media isn’t bad, as long as it isn’t our life.  We cannot live in the noise all day long.  If we want to win the respect of others, we have to be present with our work, invest in those around us, and spend more time in the quietness of now.

This is part 4 of a series on 1 Thessalonians.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Idols of my Ego: Our fatal flaw is seeking status How to live like Jesus

Idols of my Ego: Our fatal flaw is seeking status by John Miller

A college professor of mine once tweeted that the problem with university faculty was often professors thought so highly of themselves—their students should simply bask in their intelligence. Soak up their genius.  And pray they might grasp a morsel of their teacher’s knowledge. 

These men and women make “A”s near impossible marks in their course and may even take pride in their class difficulty or fail rate.  

When teachers do this, they miss the point of teaching.  Instead professors should be encouraged by and rewarded when students earn top marks in their course. Giving out good grades means they have effectively taught their protégés sufficient knowledge about a subject.  They’ve successfully completed their task as an educator.  

Students have been effective receivers of information.  
Teachers have been effective transmitters of knowledge.  

While I’m not a college professor, I’ve often fallen into the same trap: I have puffed up my own self in hopes that others bask in my presence.  

My smile is sparkling.  
My eyes are sincere.  
My quips are hilarious which is why the whole room is laughing.  
I’m the total package.  (Even my style is getting better thanks to my GQ subscription.)  

Because of my impressiveness, public opinion should read, “John is great, buy him a trophy or two.”  I want to be a successful leader, pastor, speaker, writer, father, husband, and a spiritual giant who is responsible for generations of men and women to pass into heaven because I’ve introduced them to Jesus.  

Those lofty goals all are symbols of status.  Idols of our ego.  And no matter how I spin it, I can’t live up to my dream-me.  

The important thing to remember is this: Who I am doesn’t fall on my achievements.  I find my identity in the promises of a book written thousands of years ago by dozens of authors but inspired by one God.  

I am a child of God.  
I am a citizen of heaven.  
I am an ambassador for God’s kingdom.  I live under the king Jesus in a world that he rules, both absent bodily but fully present.  I’m supposed to not make my name great, but make the name of Jesus magnified.  Make it known to the world.  

The truth us, no one will get to heaven because of me.  I can only point people toward Jesus.  He’s got a 100% conversion rate.  Every single person who gets past the pearlies goes through Jesus.  It doesn’t matter how many trophies people buy me.  In fact, it’s one of the least important things.  In even more fact, it might be better if I were seen as “least,” not meaning bad, immoral, unfollowable, but a servant:  One who lets people walk on him occasionally but never lost the faith.  Someone who never earned a billion dollars but who followed God for all it was worth.  

My name isn’t worth much.  I don’t need people to bask in my presence.  

Instead, I need to show people the best way to bask in the real presence of Jesus.  

Saturday, January 14, 2017

How I'm Reading the Bible this Year

Bible Reading Plan 2017 John Miller

How do we grow spiritually?  

Ask any pastor and they’ll give you a shortlist that always includes:
- Praying, and 
- Bible reading. 

If the formula is so simple, why don’t we actually do it?  

Here’s my Plan
I heard a bible professor once say that every year he reads through the Bible from January to June.  Then, from July to December, he focuses on one specific book of the Bible, going deep in his study.  I’ve always wanted to try it, talked at length about doing it, but I never made it happen.  

Often the things we talk about the most never get done, huh? 

So this year, I’m actually doing it.  Instead of using an online “Bible in 180 days” schedule (which are good), I’m taking the “One Year Bible” plan that includes daily readings for both the Old and New Testaments (Psalms and Proverbs, too) and simply checking off two days worth of reading each day.  

This will last from January 1st to July 3rd. After that, I’ll focus my study on one book or genre.  Think about it: Six months studying the Pentateuch(Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) would be fascinating!  

Setting Bible reading goals for the new year is a great way to be intentional about living like Jesus.  

After choosing what you’re going to read, choose WHO you’ll read with!  Get a partner to inspire and motivate you.  Several in my church family are reading through the Bible in the year, I'm just doing it a bit faster.  Just like exercising is easier with a lifting or running buddy, spiritual disciplines are more frequently practiced in community.  

So, do you actually want to grow in your relationship with God this year? For real?

Answer these
So, what are you going to read this year? 

and who will be your reading buddy? 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

I've only read 33% of my books and I don't feel guilty

Every Christmas my family gets me Barnes and Noble or Half Price Books gift cards.  I find lists of book recommendations and “Best of” rankings and search them out.  I scour university websites for their course catalogs.  Oftentimes I can find the texts that students will be required to read for interesting courses and I'll buy those books.

I've amassed quite a collection of literature, fiction and non.  
But upon recent count, I found out something strange:

 I’ve only read 1/3 of the books I own.

I used to feel a little bit guilty about it.  My wife and I have moved twice since we’ve been married and I’ve been embarrassed by the number (and weight) of my book boxes.

I remember an interview in which a mentor of mine showcased his book collection in his Los Angeles apartment.  They were everywhere.  Nooks were seemingly carved into the framework for them.  The home was held together by words.  He even pulled out a drawer underneath his sofa which was full of books.

I gulped, “Wow, I wish I had read all of those,” and felt more distraught about my 33% reading rate.  

Then I read “Steal like an Artist” by Austin Kleon and copied this gem, 

“Collect books, even if you don’t plan on reading them right away.  Nothing is more important than an unread library.”  

Guilt, bye bye.  

The point isn’t to hoard books.  It’s to collect things that inspire you, that transport you, that thrust you forward and tug your heart with gusto.  You get to choose what influences you.  You’re the curator of the museum of your psyche.  

You choose what goes in.  You choose what stays out.  What we read, or watch, or listen to makes a difference in what we believe, say and how we relate to the world.  

My personal taste is to curate my mind with regular time in the Bible so I can live more like Jesus, books on making myself a better leader, inspiring the artist in me, and showing me the lives of giants before me.

My unread library pulls me forward.  I’m hoping to read all of these books one day. 
But I won’t let guilt bother me in the meantime.  

“Always be reading. Go to the library. There’s magic in being surrounded by books. Get lost in the stacks. Read bibliographies. It’s not the book you start with, it’s the book that book leads you to.” - Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

50 Bag Challenge: Living Simply in 2017

John Miller Live Simply 2017 50 Bag Challenge

50 Bag Challenge: Living Simply in 2017 by John Miller

Our things can become our kings.  They command our attention. 

My garage is full of weights, appliances, decorations, and knicks and knacks I forgot I purchased from years of garage sale-ing.  I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on items that have barely made it out of the box.  All they do now is take up space in my life and keep me from being able to park my car inside.  You may understand this frustration, too.

This clutter which lies waiting for me is an added stressor in my life.  

The things I thought would bring enjoyment to my life are now barriers to my happiness.   Why did I buy these things in the first place?  I’m sure I had a “good” reason at the time, but now I see the insignificance of these purchases.  Greg McKeown writes, “You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.”  That’s true for most of the things I own. 

The 50 Bag Challenge:
This year, I am seeking to live with more simplicity.   As a practice, each week my wife and I are going to fill one bag full of items from our home to get rid of.  Most of it we’ll donate or give away, some we’ll just throw out.  Our goal will be to have 50 bags leave our home by December.  

Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  He wanted his followers to not dwell so much on amassing earthly goodies.  This is easy to translate currently into our culture, as we often have expendable income which we use to buy all sorts of unnecessary luxury items.  I’m not saying that having an extra car is a bad thing, nor are home decorations or entertainment systems.  They just shouldn’t be considered our “treasures.”  I don’t want to become attached to my things to the neglect of my God-given purpose of loving God and loving people.  

I think Jesus also could have said, “where your treasure is, there your mind is also” because our minds regularly dwell on our belongings.  Some people love their car, that’s where there mind is.  Some people love video games, some love their homes, some love clothes.  And some of us have amassed so much over time that it takes mental energy to keep up with all that we have.  Richard Foster urges us to “De-Accumulate” saying , “Masses of things that are not needed complicate life.  They must be sorted and stored and dusted and re-sorted and restored ad nauseam.  Most of us could get rid of half of our possessions without any serious sacrifice.” 

I don’t want to be ruled by the boxes in my garage.  Life’s full of things more important than wasting time managing the things I own. I’m not looking to become a minimalist, or live with less than 200 personal items, but I am seeking to detach myself from a love of things.  50 bags will be leaving my house this year, so will my burden of possession.  

Foster also writes that simplicity is freedom. Simplicity brings joy and balance.

So I’ll end this year with less possessions, but more freedom.  My home will be a bit more empty, but with a lot more potential.  My mind will be clear of clutter stress.  In return, I’ll get peace of mind and freedom from attachment to kingly things.  

Peace and freedom.  Those are two things I look forwarding to bring into my home. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Happy Birthday, Alaina! Reflections on 2 years of Fatherhood

Today marks my two year anniversary of being a Dad.  
A photo posted by johnthemiller (@johnthemiller) on

When Heather was pregnant with Allie, my head knew we were going to have a baby.  But like many monumental events, that fact didn’t compute.  Even as we drove to the hospital at 40 weeks and 3 days, “me = dad” still hadn’t landed. 

It first began to settle once we put baby Allie in her carseat and started driving home. 

We came to the hospital and there were two of us. 

Now we’re leaving and there are three of us.  There’s someone in the backseat.  

What are these people doing?  These nurses just gave us this baby, this tiny human life form, that cries and poops and gets sick and they’re expecting ME to take care of it?  I can’t even keep plants alive.  I once killed a cactus because I didn’t water it enough. 

And now I have a human. 

What are these nurses thinking sending me home with a human?  

But watching Allie grow has been one of the greatest joys of my life.  Her first big laugh happened when I was holding her on Heather and my bed.  I took a blanket and wiped away drool from her chin, saying, “Gimme those bubbles!”   She burst into gut-bending laughter and so did Heather and I.  
A video posted by Heather Miller (@heather.christine.miller) on

She took her first steps when she was 10 months old because she was trying to dance.  She has always loved music, just like her mom, and would bop up and down to anything with a good beat.  A song by Major Lazer was featured on a Neflix commercial that frequented our shows and every time Allie heard it she began to wiggle.  So we found the song online and played it for her while she was standing.  She started bouncing and then stumbled, but stuck her foot out and caught herself.  Whoa!  Baby girl realized that she was mobile and immediately took a few more steps.  She fell.  She got back up and walked across our room!  

During her first two years, Allie has grown taller, smarter, and more and more independent.  Her hair goes halfway down her back when her curls get wet.  She sings “fa la la” along with Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse Christmas cartoons. 

She has my dorky sense of humor. 

She has her mother’s sense of adventure.

Whenever we cry, she gives us the biggest hugs and says, “It’s okay, Mama.  It’s okay, Dada.”  

Hearing my daughter call me “Dada” has got to be one of the greatest sounds in all the world. 

I grew pretty annoyed when adults would tell teenage me, “When you have kids of your own you’ll be able to understand God’s love for you, so much more.”  I was indignant because I viewed myself as having a very strong, deep relationship with God and figured that I accurately grasped the extent of God’s love for me.  

I was silly and naive.  

Having Allie changed everything.  I loved this little one day old ball of squish even though she had done absolutely nothing to deserve it.  She pooped on me, spit up on me, and had me waking up all through the night bouncing, rocking, and singing her back to sleep.  At one point, the only thing that calmed her down was when I held her across my chest and did squats.  My legs were so sore because of this kid.  She didn’t do anything for me.  But I loved her.  I loved her so much my heart felt like it was going to spring a leak. 

I was proud of her for sleeping well.  
I was proud of her for having big poops. 
I was proud of her for all sorts of unimpressive achievements. 

That’s a kind of love that makes you want to be a different person.  That’s a kind of love that makes me feel like, I’d do anything for this kid.  I’d give my life in a second.  I’d give up everything for her.  

And to think that God has loved me like that, takes my breath away.  

Today I celebrate my daughter turning two years old.  I celebrate two years of being “dad.”  And this marks two years of realizing, just a bit more, how vast my heavenly Father’s love is for me.   

Saturday, December 17, 2016

How to Be Blameless before God: 1 Thessalonians Bible Study (Chapter 3)

1 Thessalonians Bible Study Chapter 3

How to be Blameless before God: 1 Thessalonians Bible Study (Chapter 3) by John Miller

1 Thessalonians 3:12-13  (ESV)
“(12) …[M]ay the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, (13) so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

One thing my high school friends hated about me my test-taking skills.  
I wasn’t smarter than my classmates, but I had a knack for exams.  I figured out what the test writer was looking for by their word choice and could estimate approximate answers that were usually correct. 

I specifically remember a high school chemistry exam where my class was allowed to create a two-sided notecard with any information we deemed helpful, a legal “cheat sheet” of sorts.   Some of my more studious friends printed off 3” by 5” papers using 5 point font to type up a summary of everything they could possibly think of.  On my card, I wrote down a few formulas I had trouble remembering verbatim on side one.  

On side two of the card, I drew a picture of a soup can.  

There was no significance behind it, simply an Andy Warhol moment.  I thought I was prepared enough, and felt comfortable enough with the test process, that I took a minute to doodle instead of cram. 

A week later we received our results.  The desks next to me boasted B+’s, a few A’s, and a heavy helping of C’s and lower.  I turned over my exam paper to a big “A” and a “well done” note from my teacher.  The friend to my right was indignant.  She was a better student than I was, had studied longer and harder than I had, but managed a B-.   

Our Chemistry cheat sheets weren’t perfect in that they didn’t inform us as to what was on the quiz.  They allowed us to bring as much extra knowledge along with us in hopes that it would prove useful. 

Luckily for followers of Jesus, the Bible informs us what will be on our "final exam."  

The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 3 that Jesus is set to return “with all his saints” to judge the hearts of all men.  In other words, the Thessalonian church was going to be examined.  Paul longed for his friends to pass this test, so he gave them a cheat sheet.  It wasn’t a glop of information, like my chemistry classmates used.  Paul knew what was going to be on the test!  

Question: What makes our hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father?  

Answer:  Love for one another and for all

Of course it is Jesus who firstly intercedes on our behalf, making it even possible for sinful humanity to be made right before God. Beyond that, the human responsibility side, is to respond to that grace with grace of our own.  We are to treat our neighbors, friends, family, and even enemies with love. 

This rings true of Jesus’ teaching, where the top two commandments were
1. Love God
2. Love Others

Paul knew what was going to be on the test, so he informed the Thessalonians. Thank God we get to read Paul’s words, too, so we can know enough to get a passing grade on our final exam.   

Comment Question: What does it look like to live a life of "love for one another and for all?" 

This is part 3 of a series on 1 Thessalonians.