Why Do You Study?

October 16, 2017

Someone once observed about those engaged in advanced study in a graduate school that “they know more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing.”

Do you know anyone like that?

They like to impress you with knowledge, but in reality they really don’t know anything—especially about life.

Jesus said, “Don’t be like the scribes…”

Scribes were the Ph.D.s of his era. They knew a lot. They were meticulous when it came to knowing and quoting scripture.

They thought that that knowledge should bestow upon them honor and prestige. They dressed to impress. They demanded the best seats at a banquet or in church. They expected people to bow before them.

Jesus pointed to a group of them one time and said, probably to the delight of the audience, “Don’t be like them…”

Scholarship is good. I devoured the 1,700 pages or so of N.T. Wright’s study of Paul. Great stuff.

But in the end, why do we study. Why is it listed among the spiritual disciplines?

Isn’t it because study is one piece of the spiritual formation foundation?

Study, alongside prayer, meditation, worship, service, and the rest, exists to help us grow spiritually. Not to make us special in the eyes of people.

Never Stop Learning, Never Stop Growing

October 13, 2017

Schools love to slot people. Give a test, divide students into groups. Slot them into tracks.

They are often wrong when it comes to predicting success.

Even worse is the message they send. “You are this good and no more. You’ll always be…”

And they are wrong.

I’ve developed a passion for reading research into brain physiology and how the brain works. One good book from many years ago now was “Descartes’ Error.” The French philosopher famously said, “Cogito, ergo sum.” If you’ve forgotten your Latin (which I did beginning when I was forced to take it in high school), “I think, therefore I am.”

He was wrong. In reality, it is “I am, therefore I think.”

And what we now know is that the brain can continue to grow and develop throughout your life. You are not slotted to be something (barring abnormal injury or “birth defect”) for the rest of your life.

I’ve recently seen a couple of articles reporting research on the brain that describes how reading “rewires” your brain and keeps it healthy and growing. Especially reading fiction is good for you.

Activities such as crossword puzzles and other brain puzzles, learning a new language, and reading can reduce the occurrence of dementia by 40% or more.

The same works for spiritual formation.

Paul talks to his new converts who surely are adult that they are like infants. They still need milk. But assuredly they will grow and someday will eat adult food. He is speaking metaphorically about spiritual growth there. 

We can continue to develop and grow spiritually until the end of our lives! Never stop learning; never stop growing.

The Gap Between Knowing and Doing

October 12, 2017

The president of a GE business unit told me about how his manufacturing plant won an award GE calls “Brilliant Factory” by implementing the principles called Lean Manufacturing or sometimes popularized as the Toyota Production System.

The goal of Lean is to eliminate waste. [aside—this is probably something we all need to do in our daily lives and our spiritual formation lives, wasted time, wasted money, wasted energy, wasted food…]

The foundation principle of Lean is respect for people. [aside—also something we need to do in our daily lives…]

I asked the president how his plant did it.

First, the plant manager took extensive training and a team was also sent for training.

Second, they had to change the culture in the plant.

I asked, how did they do that.

Well, the first time they took a Gemba walk—take a team through a part of the manufacturing process—the worker on the line led the walk. When the worker pointed out a problem area, the team immediately took corrective actions.

And then repeat.

In my now 20 years of researching, interviewing, and writing about things like this, I’ve run across many who know a lot about Lean. Doing is tough. What did the members of this team do? Built trust. They actually did what their training told them to do.

Is this something new to modern people?

Let’s look at a short letter written by James, the brother of Jesus. He pointed out 2,000 years ago (probably calling forth his memory of the Proverbs) that if all you are is what you know, then you have fallen short. Be doers of the Word, not hearers only.

Are you like me? You know too many people, and maybe me in an early stage of my life, who know way too much and do way too little?

Chair time with the Word is a great 15 minutes every day. But what about those other 900 minutes? What are we doing?

When The Heart Rules The Mind

October 11, 2017

Driving home from the airport about midnight last night, an 80s pop song came on. I don’t know the group or the song, but the title struck me.

“When the Heart Rules the Mind”

We’ve probably all been there.

When we’re adolescent and the hormones are coursing through our systems.

When we’re middle aged and thinking we’ve missed out on life.

When we let politics and news capture our hearts (emotions).

We get caught in a spiral. It starts innocently. Then goes deeper. 

We lose those fruit of the spirit—love, joy, peace. We’re never contented. We are a pain to live with.

That is why so much was written by early Christ followers about the psychology of the spirit. How to overcome the chain of emotions and move ourselves into a spiritual life with God.

Life is so much better there.

Unbounded Joy Of Playing the Game

October 10, 2017

Didn’t get to my hotel room until 1 am last night. My meetings begin at 8. But yes, I still enjoy what I do. I’m going to meet some really smart people today, ask some questions, make sense of what I hear, and write about it.

The past weekend, I refereed three soccer games among 9 and 10 year old players.

They played with such unbounded joy. Chasing the ball, kicking it to teammates or into the goal. But I noticed the joy of the play.

For some reason I thought of the churches described in Acts 2.

When is the last time you worshipped and gathered in such joy about Jesus?

Worried Pharisees As Leaders

October 9, 2017

It’s in the Gospel of John. Jesus had brought Lazarus back to life after he had been dead for four days. No chance it had been of of those fluke “not dead, but appeared dead” phenomena.

This act had caught the attention of “the people.”

It also caught the attention of the leaders of the Jewish religion. The priests and the Pharisees.

John must have been tapped in with that group. Maybe relatives? He quotes them often. In this case, he gets the scoop on another of their committee meetings.

“What are we going to do with this guy?” they ask among themselves. “The people are starting to turn toward him. He could become their leader.”

The spoken fear—that Jesus will start an armed insurrection and draw the anger of the Romans. These trained, professional, and vicious fighters would march in, destroy the Temple, kill them all, and disperse the nation.

The unspoken fear—that Jesus will replace them as leaders and then how would they live with no power, no income, no prestige.

Wait a minute? The Pharisees as leaders????

I have always imagined them as a group of sour-faced, unpleasant, party killers. The roam the land in packs looking for people having fun and telling them how bad they are. “If only you were like us,” they would say, “then everything would be right in the world.”

But I thought some more. They probably were leaders. 

And we have them still today!

How many of our churches are overrun with Pharisees? They make up rules. Often, but not always, with some sort of Biblical base. These are rules they can follow (mostly). Then they can compare others to themselves and declare themselves righteous. And they attract followers in their own mold. 

And the rules go marching on.

And Jesus—after they figured out the only solution was to kill him, he went and surprised them by returning to life and leading the insurrection anyways. And the Romans came in, not because of Jesus, and leveled the Temple and destroyed the Jewish Temple cult scattering the people. 

“It is better that one man should die rather than the whole people,” said the high priest. Irony. And more ironies.

Have you found that freedom from the Pharisees with Jesus? It’s there for the taking.

Time To Celebrate Our Changing Jobs

October 6, 2017

Today is National Manufacturing Day. It is a day set aside to recognize and celebrate those who make “things” for us.

Jobs in manufacturing have change dramatically over the past 20 years. They are no longer dirty, smelly, dangerous, physically debilitating torture chambers. Environments for the most part are clean and safe. People must be willing to be trained for technical aspects of the job or in Lean principles.

In like manner, jobs in churches (primarily in America and Europe and maybe Latin America) have changed dramatically over the past 20 years. Only we recognize it in manufacturing. I’m not so sure that church leaders recognize that.

When everyone in your town or city neighborhood went to (the same) church, the role of the priest/pastor was shepherding the flock. Pastors. They organized services, officiated at weddings and funerals, visited the ill.

Today our small towns and city neighborhoods are most likely not so homogeneous. Pastors must become leaders. Motivators. Organizers. They need to set people (metaphorically) on fire to work according to their spiritual gifts. They must teach a new generation of seekers. Maybe more like those Wesleyan evangelists who went out to the people who were in need.

What about us? The “members” or “attenders”? 

We need to be more than people who just show up. Just like they described the early church in Acts 2, we need to so live our lives filled with the Spirit and developing our spiritual gifts that other people say, “Wow, I want some of that.”

It’s amazing. Sometimes we change by returning to the source and modeling those who came before us.

Challenge Your Assumptions—It’s A Growth Thing

October 5, 2017

That’s in the Laws of the Game???”

I’ve taught the FIFA Laws of the Game (football or soccer) for probably 25 years. Inevitably there is a dad in the class. He’s spent a few years in a chair along the touchline (side line to you aficionados of the foot ball that is not played with the foot) shouting at the referee. “I can do better than that,” he thinks.

First off, what he thought were the rules—aren’t. Second, he is taught the spirit of the game and how the game is actually played.

Everything he believed about the game is turned upside down.

Many Americans—especially from the Midwest and South—grew up in homogeneous towns. Everyone was a Christian (or at least pretended to be one). Everyone is the same ethnic group. Maybe in some larger communities there were two ethnic groups that lived together separately.

You assume everyone is the same.

But we’re not.

A recent survey uncovered a fact that should be disconcerting to evangelicals—those who say they go out and try to “win the lost for Jesus.” Well, they haven’t been very successful. The number of Christians defined by those who attend a service at least twice per month is a minority in America.

It’s best not to assume that everyone you meet is Christian. Even if they look like you.

Just like this—how many times have you picked up the Bible, opened it, read a passage, and declared, “I had no idea that this was in there.”

Maybe we should challenge our assumptions about what the Bible says by actually, gasp!, reading it. Reading it with an open heart to see what God is really telling you.

Maybe we should challenge our assumptions about people. Maybe treat every person we meet as a child of God whom he loves and desires a close relationship. That would be every person we meet.

If we all re-wired out assumptions, how would that impact the world?

Answers To Questions You’ve Never Asked

October 4, 2017

“We’ll give you answers to questions you’ve never asked.”

Do you know how many sensors are in your smart phone? They can track where you are; whether you’re sitting, walking, or running; what you ask for. Much of that data goes into a depository of information linked to you by various applications (think about how much Google and Facebook know about you—supposedly with only the intent to show you advertising that you’d likely be interested in.

I’m at a technology conference this week in Minneapolis. By the way, this is a nice city to take a vacation to for a few days. Not that I’m even close to vacationing.

The Chief Technology Officer of the company whose user conference I’m attending commented about other companies who tell potential customers that they can suck in all the data from the sensors (thousands) in an industrial plant and “give you answers to questions you’ve never asked”.

He had the same take on the question that I have. 

Who cares about answers to questions that I haven’t asked?

As a spiritual seeker, how many times have preachers, teachers, acquaintances, others given you answers that are pretty much irrelevant to your life?

I’d guess way too many.

I knew a really good technology sales person who would have a meeting with a new prospect and begin the meeting by asking a series of questions in a completely friendly and non-threatening way. The first thing that was amazing about this is that he was an engineer. Engineers are taught to have answers. But he wanted to know that he was going to provide the right answer for the questions that the prospect had.

When is the last time a well-meaning but persistent Christian asked you questions before responding with a spiritual discipline or practice or answer that would help you?

Maybe our spiritual practice to develop is getting to know something about the hopes and dreams and difficulties of another person before telling them the answer. Just knowing that “Jesus is the answer” (as the bumper sticker says) isn’t helpful. How Jesus is the answer to a person’s particular question is helpful. And knowing that answer can lead to a spiritually healthier life where we ask more questions and discover more ways “Jesus is the answer”.

Go forth and discover other people’s questions.

Turn To The Source of Refuge and Strength

October 3, 2017

1God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 3though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. —Psalm 46

We get news from everywhere on the globe thanks to our modern technologies.

Sometimes that is very good; sometimes it can be overwhelming.

Sometimes it is good to return to ancient teaching.

We remember our instructions about helping others.

Sometimes we can reach out and help—we can send aid to areas stricken by hurricane, for example.

Sometimes we can only feel helpless. Physical items cannot help in some tragedies.

Before we lose our own mooring in the midst of all this information about tragedies, we return to the source of our being.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.