Archive for the ‘advent’ Category

A Vision of Human Spiritual Development

December 24, 2020

“…be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” —Philippians 2

The Apostle Paul writes to a small group of Jesus-followers in Philippi. We know from Acts 2 that the movement grew exponentially because of the way the early followers lived. Here is a brief glimpse of that life.

He did not instruct them into something new. He reminded them of their coming into fellowship together and with Jesus. His hope is they never forget it…and never stop living it.

Our challenge as we sit here socially distant from others and most likely not in church on Christmas Eve maybe for the first time in our lives, reminds us in these ways of becoming a Jesus-follower even in these circumstances.

The times require even more than ever humility, forsaking selfish ambitions, infusing our selves with humility.

Thus we truly prepare ourselves to celebrate Christmas no matter what our unusual circumstances this year.

Trust

December 22, 2020

I trust people–until (or if) they prove me wrong.

I made a list in my notebook of those who broke promises, owed me 5-figure payments, looked me in the eye while shaking hands and then acting as if no deal was ever agreed to. I looked at the list. All except one were white, Evangelical males. Interesting, if not meaningful.

At this time of year, Advent, we hear the “Christmas story” told many times.

There they were, ordinary people, trying to live a life. Mary, Joseph, Zechariah, Elizabeth, and several others. They were visited by messengers of God. They trusted. We remember them 2,023 years later. They changed the world.

Jesus trusted his Father. He invited people to follow him. Twelve guys accepted. Eleven trusted him. We remember them all.

A guy came along a bit later killing Jesus’s followers. He met Jesus. He trusted. He changed the world.

I’m sure we all have had trusts betrayed. But whom do we trust? Who doesn’t let us down.

I hope that we all are also trustworthy toward those we meet. Trust is a most important quality of character.

Happy Winter Solstice

December 21, 2020

Of course, happy summer to my friends in Australia, Brazil, South Africa and other locations south of the equator.

One of my Persian friends posted a picture on Facebook about their traditional observance of the longest night of the year. Candles, special foods, reading traditional poetry. Cool. That surely beats grumbling about the dark and cold.

We moved 150 miles (241 km) north last spring. That means the nights are even longer than back home.

But we don’t really know. With the pandemic settled in for the season, we hardly go outside anyway.

Some people don’t like the dark. I wonder at times if we convince ourselves that we must be depressed with the dark because everyone says we should be. Enough people are depressed that psychologists have come up with a name, that means a diagnosis, that means treatment (and a fee).

But we know from recent history that the days will start lengthening. Ancient peoples could tell for sure that they had turned the corner four days later. Therefore the celebrations four days later, the day we call December 25. The celebrations that the Christians co-opted and turned into a feast day, a celebration of a new birth.

Use the darkness to settle in, slow down, read, play games, contemplate the fire in your fake fireplace. Use these few weeks to recharge in order to greet the end of the pandemic with renewed energy. Change your attitude from discouragement to celebration, like my friend, the Persians.

Jesus, So What?

December 17, 2020

I devoted some hours yesterday to thinking about market disruption in the industrial automation and control market. Is there a new technology that will upend the incumbent market leaders much like digital photography (incidentally, invented by Kodak) rendered Kodak almost instantly obsolete?

And I thought, it was really all about what serves the customer and solves its problems.

I intended to write something from the Desert Fathers this morning when my mediation took this idea of serving the customer into the realm of churches, and eventually Jesus himself.

Christians are in the season of Advent, the time of preparing to celebrate Jesus’s birth as a human being. Some people focus on the celebration. In parallel, there is a secular side of Christmas–family dinners (not this year), getting (and maybe giving) presents, wishing people peace and joy, and wishing for snow (depending upon where you live).

I’ve observed churches for almost my entire life. Most of them say they want to attract new people “to Jesus”. And I’ve sat back and watched and asked, “So what?” Why? What happens afterward?

Andy Stanley, founding pastor of Northpoint Ministries in the Atlanta area, invites people to “make better decisions and live a better life”. I like that mission. It sounds much like Jesus who also invited people to make better decisions and live a better life. That is the “so what” that people ask when they commit to joining an organization (or buying automation and control equipment).

I’ve seen too many people say that they’ve “accepted Jesus into my heart” and then noticed that nothing changes about their lives.

If we have not made the changes that comes from really living in the kingdom of God, then we have missed the message. It is not so much what we say about Jesus; it is very much about how we live our new life. That is the “so what” that is too often missed. Maybe our reading for this celebration of Jesus’s coming, we shouldn’t just read the “Christmas story”, but maybe we should go to Matthew 5-7 and read Jesus’s words to us.

Make better decisions; live a better life. Beginning now.

Between Prejudice and Passion

December 16, 2020

Why lies He in such mean estate,

Where ox and ass are feeding?

Good Christians, fear, for sinners here

The silent Word is pleading.

What Child is This

When we read things, our mind conjures images. Christians have settled upon a long tradition of the humble manger (“mean estate”) scene. When you visit Israel as a Christian tourist, guides will dutifully show you examples of first-century mangers (feeding troughs).

I imagine that we all ascribe personal meanings when we view the scene in our mind’s eye. Evelyn Underhill saw this:

Human nature is like a stable inhabited by the ox of passion and the ass of prejudice; animals which take up a lot of room and which I suppose most of us are feeding on the quiet. And it is there between them, pushing them out, that Christ must be born and in their very manger he must be laid – and they will be the first to fall on their knees before him. Sometimes Christians seem far nearer to those animals than to Christ in his simple poverty, self-abandoned to God.

Evelyn Underhill

This image both appeals to me and repulses me. We are, each one of us, inhabited by the ox of passion and the ass of prejudice. They do take up a lot of room in our consciousness and our unconsciousness. Unrecognized, they turn us into rigid, nasty, temperamental people.

But Jesus said that we don’t have to be that way. If we have the discipline to truly follow him, we can harness passion to the benefit of humanity like an ox harnessed to a plow helps provide food for many. We can likewise train the ass–recognizing our prejudices and dealing with them–such that we begin to see others as God sees them, as his children.

Underhill correctly observes that sometimes Christians seem to be more like those animals than like the person they are supposed to be following. But we have a choice. We can choose to truly follow Jesus living in God’s kingdom by harnessing the ox of passion and training the ass to recognize and overcome our prejudices.

Somedays I think this is a never-ending journey. This trip requires discipline.

Good News of God’s Story

December 15, 2020

Gospel.

From the Anglo-Saxon meaning “God’s Story.” A translation before that from the Greek meaning “Good News.”

The first generation of Jesus-followers, eventually called Christian by others, spread the Good News

  • By the way they lived–individually and in community
  • Through their teaching, usually after attracting people
  • Through showing love to others–even those who were not part of their community

The stories handed down were about people who exhibited deep peace, joy, and love despite at times being treated harshly by the governments and others.

A question I hear often in various guises is, “If Christians have a message of Good News, why do they not show it?”

Even one Christian community to another Christian community. Especially to those whose beliefs differ, even if only a slight amount.

Except during December leading up to Christmas celebrations. There may be talk of peace, joy, good news, love.

But…psychologists who study things such as this talk about the stresses and family squabbles and depressions (sometimes even clinical).

It’s tough this year for everyone in the world. I hear stories daily of people I know struggling with Covid on the one hand and acting as if it doesn’t exist on the other (until they, too, get it).

We need a personal visit from the angels who told the shepherds as reported by Luke, “We bring you good news of great joy.” May we be listening when the message comes. And then maybe show it.

Practice Curiosity

December 4, 2020
  1. Practice being curious
  2. Forgive themselves
  3. Hold their emotions lightly
  4. Practice compassion
  5. Make peace with imperfection
  6. Embrace vulnerability
  7. Understand all things come and go

In my day as a child, a popular phrase murmured from mother to child was, “Curiosity killed the cat.”

For every child who enters the industrialized education system as a curious being, most exit as someone who has learned to memorize what the teacher expects and return it in the form of answers to The Test. Those of us who just wanted to learn because we were curious were either forced into the system or lived at the periphery.

I’m not criticizing teachers, many of whom say they want to encourage creativity. It is the system designed to prepare young people for a career as a cog in another system–first as industrial workers, then as “knowledge” workers.

Curiosity and imagination drive creative advances in science, technology, the arts. Those who buck the system and don’t mind how many of the cat’s nine lives they use up.

Mindful people practice being curious. We wonder all the time. I was curious about science things as a child. Then the curiosity settled in physics-types of things. Cars, especially engines. And electronics. Then guitars. Eventually curiosity about people leading to the study of psychology and then brain science. None of this had any relationship to school.

I got curious about spiritual writing and the people who experienced and wrote about it. And the Bible. And the historical times when the Bible was written.

To be honest, many of my brain cycles this week are devoted to curiosity about the impact of the large tech firms such as Microsoft, Amazon Web Services, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Dell Technologies, and Hitachi Vantara on the incumbent manufacturers in the industrial control and automation world. I absorb information, then search the Web for articles and people who can answer questions. And I think about it.

Practicing curiosity is a lifestyle. More than a habit, it is a way of living developed over time. It is intentional.

Do you wonder about God? Writers in the Bible and other places use words describing brilliant white light when referring to God. What does that mean? How am I to interpret that? Can I also experience that?

Can we use quantum physics to approximate an image of God? I’ve tried. I’m curious. I wonder.

Christians are in the Advent season. What does it mean to me, to the world, to culture, that Jesus came? That would be something to be curious about for the rest of the month.

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but curiosity brings me to life.

A Mindful Advent

December 3, 2020

Advent, for Christians, is a season on the church calendar filled with traditions meant to prepare our hearts for the celebration of the coming of Jesus.

Advent, for many of the world’s cultures, is a season of bright decorations, selling and buying of gifts, and perhaps family gatherings–or the stresses of family gatherings as the case may be.

Most of this is done year after year. With busy-ness. With stress. With tradition without a thought about the meaning and development of those traditions.

I thought I’d spend a few sessions contemplating bringing mindfulness to the season.

Perhaps one at a time, we’ll explore the seven things mindful people do:

  1. Practice being curious
  2. Forgive themselves
  3. Hold their emotions lightly
  4. Practice compassion
  5. Make peace with imperfection
  6. Embrace vulnerability
  7. Understand all things come and go

Mindfulness requires a pause. We must pause what we are busy with, with our busy hands, our busy minds. Taking slow, easy breaths. We can lay, sit, stand, even walk mindfully. We gently bring our wandering minds back when we notice we’ve gone off. That’s OK. It’s the bringing back to awareness that is mindful.

Dwelling on Advent and Christmas in a pandemic with its loss of close family connections can add to stress. It is best to focus on the present moment and what we can do today with intention.

Known By Our Actions

December 2, 2020

When a referee is watching a challenge for the ball in soccer (football), she is not reading the mind of the players to judge intent. She watches actions. She can see where the players look and what they do. If a player glances back to see where the opponent’s head is and then jumps bringing back an elbow that “just happens to” hit the other player in the eye, we all know what that action was. A deliberate striking action. Not an accidental act.

We are in the Advent season. We may not be going to stores quite so often as usual, but we still hear messages and songs of peace and joy. We may receive greeting cards proclaiming peace and joy. We may see people on the streets and in the stores who may greet people with peace and joy greetings.

However, people not in your club, the Christian church club of choice, are not really listening to you. They are watching you like a hawk eyeing a field mouse. Intently. Do your actions belie your words?

Or perhaps some words slip out that betray inner conflicts. Perhaps words of condemnation, derision, racism, sexism, even hatred slip from between your lips undermining that earlier proclamation of peace and joy. Perhaps you pushed someone aside in the rush to grab that toy in the store. Perhaps you sounded your horn aggressively at someone in the parking lot while trying to butt in to a better parking place or to exit faster.

People watch. People know. They know you not by saying you’re a Christian, but by whether you act like one.

On the other hand, we do know that you can change your manner of thinking by how you act. You have choices. You can choose how to act.

In the words of that old Christian folk song, “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love; they will know we are Christians by our love.”

We have the entire Advent season to change how we act so that our actions may be congruent with our words.

What Do We Love?

November 30, 2020

“Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so thatd we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”

1 Timothy 6

Yesterday for Americans, we left the season of gratitude. We entered Advent, the looking forward to Christmas—for many the season of “I want…”

I sympathize with businesses. I’ve spent a fair share of my business life trying to figure out how to increase sales and profits. But the way 140 years of experience have taught them the tools of manipulation of emotion blurs the lines of ethics.

And the target is not just kids. We target kids to bring them into the desire emotion with toy cars and their parents with a big luxury car with a bow in the driveway.

Look at Paul’s key words above—desires, love (of the wrong things), plunged (into ruin), wandered (from faith), pierced (with pains).

It’s about the heart. Is our heart set on the things of God? Is our heart set on objects of desire?

As we enter the Advent journey, let us maintain focus on what matters.