Archive for the ‘Disciplines’ Category

Workflow, Practices, Habits, Becoming

April 9, 2021

I got up this morning and started my Friday morning routine–different because I take the trash bins out to the street for pickup.

I remembered my old Friday routine here of writing about leadership every week.

None of my reading sources contain “how to be a leader” writing any longer. Has everyone become a good leader? I think not. Maybe there’s not much more to say?

But leadership is a practice and a skill that must be exercised and honed.

Then I remembered the personal productivity fad where everyone (me included) wrote about Getting Things Done. It’s a practice and workflow and habit of writing down everything on your mind, sorting the things out, and eventually filtering into a list of “next actions” so that you know what to do and don’t waste time worrying about forgetting something.

This is great for projects. Even personal. Don’t simply write on a to-do pad “spouse’s birthday.” Think what are my next actions? Under the project “Spouse’s Birthday” write stop at bakery to order cake, call son A, call daughter B, call spouse’s sister, research for latest hint for a present online… Then, if you’re out, swing by the bakery. If you wind up with a little spare free time, pick up the phone and make the calls, and so forth.

I have a few things I do daily. After I mix up my vitamins and make coffee, I grab my latest book and the laptop and proceed to write this. For my technology blog, I copy interesting information I find or that comes to me into a Microsoft Word document and save to Dropbox the file name beginning with a keyword so that everything sorts out automatically. When it’s time to write that blog, I pick a topic, write it in Word, copy to WordPress, perform a few administrative chores, and publish. It’s all a workflow and regular practice that becomes a habit. Habits, of course, define the person.

Therefore, take care with your spiritual practices. Part of getting up (after the coffee) is grab the latest reading material, the cup of coffee (or tea), sit in your regular chair, and you are ready for some study, prayer, meditation. That little habit, which can be as short as 15 minutes or an hour or more, will set the pattern for the day. You’ll become a different person over time.

And The Point of the Sermon Is

April 8, 2021

A good keynote speech or sermon or presentation concludes with a point. Maybe an action item. Maybe a challenge.

Jesus had healed a bunch of people and talked with them. He then led them to a hillside by the Sea of Galilee and talked to them. The talk was about the kingdom of heaven and life there. That life was attainable starting right there.

He built through the talk that we call the Sermon on the Mount (found in Matthew chapters 5 through 7) and came to a conclusion. A summary point. A call to action.

There are two types of people–those who hear his words and act on them and those who don’t.

He illustrates.

The first type are like the man who builds his house on rock, on a solid foundation, a house that will withstand storms.

The second type are like a man who builds his house on sand, a weak and shifting foundation, a house that will be washed away.

That leaves every generation with the same decision. Will we be a disciple with a firm foundation? Or, will we drift like the shifting sands?

I Am The Kind of Person Who

April 7, 2021

Some people would take that sentence and say I am a person who does the right things, follow the rules, watch others to make sure they follow the rules (or else condemn them in my conversations). In the first century, they were called “scribes and Pharisees.” Today, they are still Pharisees. We just don’t call them that.

Some people don’t care and disregard all the rules. These things are for dull people. They don’t apply to me. Or, I just don’t care.

Some people are the kind of people who get a good night’s sleep, get up and spend time in prayer and meditation, study from helpful texts, look for opportunities to serve, do their work with joy.

Jesus spoke harshly to those whose outlook was following rules, making sure everyone knew they followed rules, and harbored contempt for those who didn’t.

Jesus talked about the kind of people who would live in the kingdom of heaven. The kind of people whose hearts were attuned to God. Who thought of others first. Who served when the opportunity presented itself. Who lifted the spirits of others. Who spent time alone and in groups aligning their hearts to God.

These people didn’t need the rules. They just lived them.

I’m reflecting again (and not often enough) on what we call The Sermon on the Mount found in the gospel of Matthew chapters 5-7. This needs to be read as a single passage, a single teaching. And it needs to be read often.

Youth and Maturity

April 6, 2021

We watched the first part of the Ken Burns documentary on Hemingway. Burns and his team tell a powerful story. I don’t think they were being Freudian telling of his youth. But it is interesting. His mother treated him and his older sister as twins. Sometimes she dressed them as girls. Sometimes as boys. When he wrote, he was able to capture both the boy side of boys and the girl side of girls.

I saw a guy watching an action movie on his iPad once when I was traveling. The cars were speeding, jumping over barriers, crashing. Here is a guy vicariously reliving being four years old playing with cars. Sometimes we try to slip back into the joy of being young.

Pre-teen boys like to play pretending to be soldiers. Sometimes these older boys in their 20s or 30s even still like to dress up in camouflage clothing and pretend to be soldiers. Sometimes this is benign. Sometimes they become injurious to people and property. Maybe they missed the joy part.

Jesus once said that we must become like children to understand living in the kingdom of heaven. I’m not sure what he meant. But perhaps it was that unabashed joy of the child that we sometimes try to recapture as an adult.

Jesus also told us that only one commandment mattered–love. Loving God and our neighbor. This requires maturity beyond dressing up and pretending. Jesus condemned those who dressed up and pretended to be pious. He praised those who simply lived the life.

There’s the discipline of just quietly living the life of the spirit.

Decline In Number of Americans Belonging To a Religious Congregation

April 5, 2021

The Gallop organization has conducted a survey of Americans for more than 60 years on the topic of belonging to a religious congregation. For most of the 60 years not surprising to most of the world’s observers, the percentage hovered around 70%.

This year, 47% of Americans say they belong to a church, synagogue, or mosque.

Having been in church leadership at times, I’ve heard many excuses. And many plans for church growth. There exist doctorate degrees with an emphasis in church growth. I know of one such graduate who grew a congregation from 650 to 250. MBAs and economists talk of negative growth rather than decline. I guess that sounds better.

Most blame cultural influences.

I’d suggest that church leaders seriously ask and answer the question, “What have we done to turn people off?”

One of the accepted spiritual disciplines is meeting with others.

But most of us just want to associate with welcoming people. Not divisive ones. Where meeting is more than attending a “rock concert and a TED talk”. Where, perhaps, we can have a cup of coffee or tea with others and share what living in the kingdom of heaven has meant this past week.

Two metrics seem to matter. And as we say in manufacturing, what gets measured gets managed. The metrics are attendance and money.

There is no metric for the status of people’s hearts. And that is what matters to Jesus.

In the pandemic, most of us are not meeting with many people. As we begin to ease out of the isolation, perhaps we look for small gatherings of seekers and learners and worry less about rock music, smoke machines, flashing lights, and a rocking sermon.

Backed Up and Out of Balance

March 30, 2021

The huge cargo ship that was stuck in the Suez Canal has been freed.

One blockage threw the entire shipping system from Asia to Europe out of balance. Backed up. Threatening economic health.

Sometimes our bodies get similarly blocked and out of balance. We lose energy and optimism Threatening our physical and emotional health. And when it’s free, what a great feeling.

Sometimes our intellectual life gets blocked and out of balance. We become fixated on an idea where we are right and everybody else is wrong. We cannot learn anything new. We are argumentative and surly and not pleasant to be around.

Sometimes our spiritual life gets blocked and out of balance. We are stuck. We’ve become “them versus us” religious. We think “certain kinds of people” cannot be as religious or accepted by God like us. We become unpleasant people behind our plastered on stage smiles.

Sometimes we’re like the cargo ship in the Suez–it takes a mighty and coordinated effort to clear us of the blockage and get our system back into balance.

Sometimes what we need for body, mind, and soul is simply to get out. Outside. Take a long, slow walk in nature. Hear the birds. See the otters, muskrats, rabbits, foxes or whatever is around. Walking is great for digestion. Outdoors is great for mind and soul blocks.

Try it with the attitude of gaining new perspective.

The Discipline of Looking Beyond First Impressions

March 26, 2021

Yesterday, I moderated a webinar discussion about automation of an assembly line. We were all guys and all European-looking guys except for one who was most likely Asian. Typical group of presenters in my field.

Later I tuned into another “virtual conference” where the moderator was a 30-ish woman wearing bold colors and outlandish glasses. One of the presenters had her boldly colored hair close cropped on the sides and longish and styled on the top (the modern style, I guess). The other presenters were a mix of females and males.

The contrast could not have been sharper. Same industry. Still discussing engineering and automation. I confess, I had to blink twice before settling into the flow of their conversation.

We can go back in time to the late 1600s in North America. William Penn was awarded a tract of land by the King of England upon which to build a colony (hopefully loyal to the Crown, but 100 years later…). He called the colony after himself–Penn’s Woods or more poetically Pennsylvania.

He studied the local tribe of indigenous people in what is now New Jersey. He found, to his surprise, “I find them of a deep natural sagacity. The low disposition of the poor Indian out shines the lives of those Christians, that pretend an higher.”

We too easily pass a quick judgement upon people we see or hear about. We may find that there is much to learn from and to love about each if we were to only open our hearts.

In these days of pandemic, we may not be seeing a great diversity of people. As we start to venture forth again, perhaps we can forge a discipline of second impressions–delaying the first impression for a bit until we really see the person.


March 24, 2021

Jim was my boss for perhaps almost two years. He was the engineer’s engineer. Pleasant, but dull; methodical; never rushed, but accomplished more than any two people I’ve known; could think more about work that other people should be doing than anyone I’ve met.

Made me think about this thought from Dallas Willard, who once said one of the defining characteristics of Jesus’ life was that he was unhurried.

Similarly, John Wesley said, “Though I am always in haste, I am never in a hurry; because I never undertake any more work than I can go through with perfect calmness of spirit.”

I have tried to inculcate that lack of hurry into my life. When much younger even as a child, I rushed through everything. Things would not get done to completion. Accidents would happen. I’d wind up spending more time because I’d skipped a crucial step and had to go back.

These days, it’s more like “don’t rush me, I’ll get to it when I get to it, but I will have thought it through before I start and (often) do it correctly.”

You can’t rush wisdom. You have to live through experiences and then learn to slow down in order to accomplish more.

Apostle Paul’s Shema

March 23, 2021

One God, the Father, from whom all things, and we [belong/live toward] him.

And one Lord, Jesus Messiah, through whom all things, and we [live/have been saved] through him.

1 Corinthians 8:6 translated by NT Wright

Jews pray every morning and and the Shema—a reminder of the basics of faith. Part of it is famous to Christians (quoted by Jesus as the greatest commandment), Hear O Israel, the Lord is one, you shall love the Lord Your God with all your hearts and all your soul and all your strength.

Jesus added a second when asked for the greatest commandment also quoting Torah, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The famous first century rabbi Hillel, whom Jesus often quotes, says that this summarizes the Torah, all the rest is commentary.

New Testament scholar NT Wright in his huge study of Paul—Paul and the Faithfulness of God—sees the thought quoted above as Paul’s Shema for Christians. Perhaps Paul would also cite Hillel as all the rest is just commentary. Note: the verbs do not appear in the Greek text. Wright suggests the two from the context.

My heart is saddened whenever I see Christians search through the writings and twist interpretations and pull things out of context and build cases against other Christians—or even against all people.

I all could be so simple. Hard to do. But simple. At the end of his physical life on earth, Jesus summarized the two commandments and left us one major one—Love one another as I have loved you.

We belong to God, living through Jesus, loving one another. What gives us the power to begin to qualify who is included in one another?

Here’s a discipline that is hard to bring into our life—when we go out today and see a human person who is made in the image of God (that is, everyone), treat them with respect. When we start to repost someone’s cute, but cutting, “picture” on Facebook, think, are we reflecting this command of loving one another. When we talk to someone about someone else, are we talking in love or (pick one: hate, anger, envy, lust…)?

What Christians Believe

March 22, 2021

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.  Through him all things were made.  For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.  For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.  On the third day, he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.  He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father.  With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.  We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.  We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.  We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.  Amen.

Nicene Creed from 381AD

If you read me consecutively, you know I’ve been going through a study of the Church Fathers. You might ask, how did they come to be known as the Church Fathers? Good question. The one defining thread is that they defended the Nicene Creed against all the battling ideas circulating at the time.

And most of the controversies revolved around understanding just who this Jesus guy was.

The first Nicene Creed of 325 amended a little by a meeting in Constantinople in 381 was developed for two reasons. First, the Emperor, converted by his mother to Christianity, proclaimed the religion an official religion of the Empire. So, people needed to know what that religion was. Secondly, there was a philosophical movement afoot to convince people that Jesus was never a real human. The church needed a statement that affirmed both the divinity and humanity of Jesus.

Christians have always been an argumentative lot. Already by 55, the Apostle Paul was combatting “heretical” ideas. And the Creed of 381 didn’t resolve things.

We must have a thousand Christian denominations today. A couple of dozen (at least) traditions. Social issues that give us something to argue about. Sometimes minute theological issues to give us something to argue about.

However, all believe that Creed (except for a very few outliers).

What if we decided to follow a discipline of going back to the basics. Finding that we agree. Maybe some of us like the “rock concert followed by TED Talk” style of worship. Maybe some of us like the mystery and majesty of a formal liturgy. I know of some (many?) who like a little of both–charismatic Catholics do exist. Maybe some are comfortable within certain traditions. Those should not have divided us to the point of war.

A great spiritual discipline is to return to the roots periodically and ground ourselves in order to make our priorities right.