Archive for the ‘Attention’ Category

What Or Who Is Your Savior

July 6, 2017

You know the song about the guy standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizonza, right? I stood on that corner once. No girl in a flatbed Ford, though.

C’mon baby, don’t say maybe, I gotta know if your sweet love is gonna save me.  — The Eagles

Rolla May, psychologist and author of a number of books including Love and Will and Power and Innocence, wrote that throughout history men have harbored the idea that a beautiful woman will be their salvation. 

They all didn’t understand the thought of that social philosopher from the early 60s, Jimmy Soul, who sang, “Never make a pretty woman your wife…she does things that causes his downfall.”

Think of the things you think will save you.

Everything will be alright if I can just get seven figures in my bank account, or if I just had that house in that neighborhood, or if I just had that car, or if I could have had that guy (or girl).

This isn’t new thinking.

More than 4,000 years ago a guy named Abraham had conversations with God. It wasn’t belief–he continued doing things that revealed a lack of complete trust in God. But he had those conversations where God spoke and he spoke back. It didn’t seem to surprise him that this special god spoke with him. 

But he’d slip into these moments when he thought his own ingenuity would save him rather than dependence upon God.

Think of all the other heroes in the Bible–Adam, Samson, David, Solomon, King Saul–who failed at crucial times.

Is it time for a gut check? What thing or person have you been focusing on for salvation? Time for a change in focus?

How To Develop Who You Are

May 4, 2017

Paul wrote at least twice in Romans thoughts that today could be translated “You become what you think about.”

Where you choose to place your attention determines what sort of person you become.

This is part of the law of sowing and reaping.

Marketing master Seth Godin puts it this way:

We get what we invest in. The time we spend comes back, with interest.

If you practice five minutes of new, difficult banjo music every day, you’ll become a better banjo player. If you spend a little bit more time each day whining or feeling ashamed, that behavior will become part of you. The words you type, the people you hang with, the media you consume…

The difference between who you are now and who you were five years ago is largely due to how you’ve spent your time along the way.

This is why I recommend every year that, instead of goals or resolutions for the new year, we imagine what sort of person we’d like to be. Then we cultivate habits to become that sort of person.

Godin says that those habits determine us. We practice a musical instrument, or a foreign language, or praising people, or choosing positive thoughts.

Where are you, and where do you wish to be?

The Words of My Mouth And The Meditations of My Heart

February 28, 2017

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. –Psalm 19

Saw in a cartoon strip. Two 50-something men sitting in a bar. Old friends. One is a priest. Woman walks up who is an old friend not seen for many years. “Gosh, Nicole, you look, er, wonderful.”

The man turns to his friend, the priest, “Forgive me Father, for I am about to sin.”

“I don’t do funerals,” replied the priest.

My wife is in a small group studying the Sermon on the Mount. They hit the divorce teaching of Jesus. We talk about it. Not to get one, of course, but to consider the current cultural environment.

For example, the Religious Right chose an issue it thought would get the most emotional allegiance from politically conservative Christians. It did not choose divorce. In fact, it doesn’t even have a divorce teaching. One of the founders was quite frank about it–too many people are divorced and accept it as just a part of living. No big deal.

And the legal reason back in Jesus’ day for divorce was–adultery.

Jesus, when asked one of those trick questions, said that Moses put in a law about divorce because humans are sinful. But God didn’t create us to have disposable spouses. Then Jesus talked about the meditations of our heart.

In fact, Jesus said, just to contemplate how “wonderful” another person is in a sexual attitude is the same thing as adultery.

Words can be cruel things that cannot be recalled. The meditations of our heart, though, corrupt our very soul. That’s like yesterday’s teaching. Where we set our mind is the direction we’ll go. We become what we think about. Don’t let your imagination get carried away.

I’m Doing A Great Work

July 21, 2016

I’m doing a great work, and I cannot come down. — Nehemiah

Still focusing on focus. This morning I was thinking about various people in the Bible and came across Nehemiah.

He was an important official in the Persian Empire toward the end of the “Babylonian Captivity” period of Jewish history. His brother returned from a trip to Jerusalem with a description about how the once great city was now a laughing stock. It seems the walls had never been rebuild since the Babylonians had conquered the city some 70 years or more before.

A city without walls? Impossible!

This touched Nehemiah’s heart and he determined that his life’s work was now to rebuild those walls. You can read the entire story in the book that bears his name. It’s short, but powerful. A great lesson in leadership. And in focus.

From that day forward, Nehemiah focused on that mission and what he could do to accomplish it.

Skipping toward the end, he went to Jerusalem with the king’s blessing and set about rebuilding the walls. When the nation’s local enemies determined that he was serious and about to accomplish the project, they sent for him to come down from the mountain for a meeting. Most likely they were going to kill him. But Nehemiah sent a reply, “I am doing a great work, and I cannot come down.”

His focus was incredible.

He accomplished his mission.

So, we may not have a mission that great. But reading the practical advice that Paul gives the Colossians helps us bring it home.

“Set your mind on things that are above.”

Set your mind on things that are above.

We choose that which we focus on. Either we choose mindfully. Or, we choose lazily, just drifting to what feels good or influenced by peers or advertising to just follow shallow desires.

What do we choose to focus upon today?

Persevere In Practice

July 20, 2016

“I know how to hit” exclaimed the kid to his baseball coach.

“Yes, but that just makes you a coach. Hitting makes you a player,” replied the coach.

Yesterday’s topic was focus. I thought I’d, well, focus on focus for a few days.

So, I did a search for the word “focus” in my translations of the Bible on my iPad. Digital books have much to commend themselves.

Focus does not appear in the Bible–at least my English translation. I figured Paul’s writings would be full of the word. But, alas, no.

He does tell us to persevere, though. And there is a similarity. In Romans, he advises, “Persevere in prayer.”

I take this to mean–do it; concentrate while doing it; make it a practice.

I thought of a little kid learning to hit a baseball. “I know how to hit,” he says. But knowledge only gets him so far.

Actually hitting a baseball gets him on the team. To hit a baseball requires focused attention, consistent practice, and perseverance over a period of time.

Many people know the Bible. Many people know about prayer. But what do they practice? Do they practice studying the Bible with the focus on improving their lives? Do they consistently focus on prayer to bring the Spirit into their lives (and into others’ lives)?

It’s like the person who knows CPR but can’t do it when someone needs help. (I worry about that. I take a refresher course every two years. Will I remember and keep my head if I’m in a situation?)

We’re in a game. Life. Are we just going to sit on the bench and watch others play while we do nothing? Or are we going to apply that knowledge to actually going up to bat?

“Batter up!”

Distraction, Er, What Was I Just Doing?

July 19, 2016

Martha, Martha, You are distracted by many things.–Jesus

I help out with marketing for a “coffee cafe” that I’ve invested in. High Grounds Cafe is a “business as a mission” cafe featuring Direct Trade coffee. Our roaster buys directly from the farmer. This means the farmer earns an income sufficient for feeding his family, paying his workers fairly, and even, in some cases, funding church startups in his country.

Every morning I post to Facebook. Right now, that is one of the best ways to reach people with information about your local business.

Pam texts me about 6 am with a list of the brewed coffees of the day and any other specials for the day.

I open Facebook in my browser. Then I see my notifications. So, I have to click on the red button and go through them. Then I go to my home page. See a photo. Check it out. Scroll down a little. 15 minutest later, I click on the High Grounds administrator page. Compose my message, load a photo, and publish.

A 10-minute task consumes almost a half-hour of my morning.

Thank you distraction.

We have banned email from our internal communications. — Michael Sliwinsky, founder/CEO of Nozbe

I use a task manager (to-do list on steroids) called Nozbe. The CEO writes often about productivity. He noticed years ago that email is a distraction. He banned email as an internal communication application. People only use it to communicate with the outside world.

More and more companies are banning email. If you work in an organization, have you ever been caught in a group email “chain” where everyone is “replying all” to the message and you wind up mired in mindless (lack of) communication?

Distraction.

Writing this post, I was distracted by Facebook. Email. My soccer referee assigning application. Messages. Newspaper. That is all before 6:30 am. And I try to focus.

Is this a modern thing caused by so many devices?

Apparently not. Jesus addressed Martha who was getting frustrated. He calmed her. Told her to focus. To focus on what’s important first. Then focus on the next.

Focus negates distraction. Eliminate distraction. Close all apps except what you’re working on. Concentrate on that one thing–the one thing that is important in the moment.

Can We Work Hard Enough To Earn Salvation?

February 23, 2016

I have a friend who is greatly concerned with faith versus works.

Jesus constantly picked on those Pharisees who placed priority on following the letter of the law. It’s really a matter of attitude. The Law essentially takes the place of God. In their view, they could only approach God by perfectly following the Law.

And they tried. They tried hard. It was a stress. It was also a source of pride. When it’s all about you and what you do, then you can point fingers and compare. You can say, “I’m better than you.”

That doesn’t sound very spiritual, does it?

Jesus picked on those people.

Paul addresses this in his letter to the Romans. He takes a long way to the argument that there is no way we can possibly follow the laws so perfectly that we can be made right with God.

It is only through grace freely given by God alone that we can be made right with him.

So, there are the Spiritual Disciplines or Spiritual Practices.

My friend worries at times that I am falling into the works side of grace / works. Certainly one could look at the Disciplines as works. If I pray every day, worship at every opportunity, serve when I can, study daily, and so on, then I am right with God.

Wrong.

A study of 17,000 Christians who had drifted away from church and faith and then returned was quite revealing. Overwhelmingly they said that what brought them back were spiritual practices–mostly reading the Bible daily.

Dallas Willard says, “The disciplines are activities of mind and body purposefully undertaken to bring our personality and total being into effective cooperation with the divine order.”

A key word–purposefully. Another word is intentional. We are intentional that we’ll practice certain spiritual disciplines in order that we will be brought closer to God. The goal is not the practices. They merely are used intentionally to draw us close to God.

Intention and attitude determine if we are mired in works or actively participating in grace.

Do You Know What Pulls Your Trigger?

February 15, 2016

Jesus was annoyed by a fig tree that had no fruit. He cursed it. It died.

Jesus was angered by how the Temple had been converted from a holy place of worship into a commercial marketplace where apparently people gouged gullible pilgrims with high prices. He overturned tables scattering money and “souvenirs”.

In a way, I don’t feel so bad about the times I’ve lost it–except I wasn’t nearly so righteous.

Do you know what pulls your trigger?

I haven’t had a bad one for years. The incident is embedded in memory. It recurs in a flash. It’s a blend of insecurity and attitude. I hold great dislike for arrogant and condescending attitudes. Especially from someone less experienced or knowledgeable who tries to teach.

There are warning signs I need to remain aware of. Sometimes I see it coming. Sometimes they sneak up on me and catch me asleep, so to speak.

  • When I’m tired.
  • When I’m overworked and frazzled.
  • When I’m stressed.

There were a couple of seasons of life over the past 10 years or so when stress buried itself deep within me. Meditation and Yoga–no help. Awareness and mindfulness–no help. I know all this stuff, yet, a mild but persistent living with stress took a toll on my health and response to others at times.

Recognition is a great first step. Probably talking with others would help–if they the helpful sort, not the enabling sort.

A recent talk from a person with a similar experience was enlightening. He tried mindfulness. Meditation–trying to be still and focus on breath was more stressful than his original stress.

He discovered curiosity. He rather toyed with the thoughts. Was curious about them. Asked questions of them. Explored what their hold was. By treating the stressful thoughts as an object of curiosity, he was able to move them from the dominant place of consciousness that gripped him.

He was right. When you finally realize the stressful thought and stop to analyze it, just the stopping helps. Then the curiosity and the calmer exploring of the situation brings peace–or at least a plan of action.

What do you find that works?

Quitting My Facebook Addiction

February 12, 2016

I am not one given to hate. I don’t hate specific ethnic, racial, or gender groups. There are individual people I don’t particularly like. But hate…that’s way too strong.

What I do hate is distraction–mine–when I allow myself to get distracted from what’s important. I hate unfounded, uneducated, prejudiced opinions. Not the person, most of whom I don’t know. (I guess it’s easier to hate people you don’t know, though.)

So, why do I get sucked into reading Facebook posts? And the comments? Many of those hateful or ignorant (meaning uneducated and not thought out) opinions are from people who also describe themselves as Christian. I have to imagine when they meet God and explain themselves, He’ll pull out all these posts and say, “What were you thinking????”

So, I read them–sometimes. Then my nice, usually calm, outlook gets agitated like when you stick your hand in an aquarium.

It’s worse when I actually make a comment. I know that there is no such thing as a true conversation on Facebook. It’s more like ping pong. Batting opinions back and forth to no useful purpose.

I was on AOL back in the early 90s. It was supposed to be about conversations. I never saw one. It was much like today’s Facebook–except that the opinions have become more strident and violent.

It’s nice to stay in touch with friends and family, but golly the whole conversation has degenerated. And I’ve even muted dozens of people.

Anyone want to have an honest conversation even if you disagree. It is said that Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neil were the best of friends even though they disagreed on many policies. Try that today in our political discourse. Please.

As for me, if I miss your post on Facebook, sorry. I have to narrow my reading. We have to choose what we fill our minds with–that determines our character.

Be Real In Faith, In Life

January 28, 2016

“I always look for the mask people are wearing,” said a friend once.

I suppose that comment is cynical, since he assumes everyone has ulterior motives or is hiding something.

But many of us are hiding something. Pain, uncertainty, feelings of being inferior, feelings of inadequacy. Or, we are acting a role. We want to convince people we’re smarter, better, more spiritual than others.

You can devote your life to spiritual practices. But, in the practices themselves, where is your heart?

Do you study not only to learn but also to impress others? Do you worship because your heart is joyful or out of duty? Do you fix a smile on your face and raise your hand in celebration, but you “really want to get away?”

More important is the question, is what I am doing helping someone else along their journey to God?

Maybe I have adopted the language, dress, and attitude of another group. I talk at them, not with them. How is that working for you? Or your worship music changes every year while seeking to appeal to a specific group.

But what do people, especially seeking people or young people, really  want to see? They want to see you being real.

When you talk about study, you can teach yet acknowledge that you still haven’t figured it all out, yet. When you discuss the with-God life, you confess that it is not an easy path and that there are times you get off the path.

Has the spiritual life helped you? And you can answer honestly where it has and where you still need to grow.

We probably all wear masks at times. But if we are trying to help someone else, we’ve got to drop the pretense. We are what we are. Struggling seekers longing for a better relationship with God.