Archive for the ‘Service’ Category

Spiritual Practice of Giving

February 11, 2019

Why do we practice acts of charity? Giving money to people or organizations?

This is definitely a spiritual practice.

Jesus told the rich young man who followed all the commandments (one wonders if he was as perfect as he let on) and who still felt far from perfect, “Go, sell all your possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow me.”

The young man didn’t want to be that perfect!

I discovered the Jesuit priest and therapist Anthony de Mello more than 30 years ago. Recently one of his books was recommended to me, so I am reading Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality again.

De Mello can be brutal. He says to face it. We give out of two motivations. One is selfishness of feeling good about ourselves as helping people less fortunate. Or, we help others by giving to charity, but then we feel good about ourselves doing good.

Awareness of our motivations can help us to notice this trait. Then we can give with the intention of following Jesus. I say that awareness brings us to realization that we are far from perfect but that we are practicing the right things.

When Jesus later explained his story, he pointed out that only God brings the grace that leads to perfection.

What Are You Doing With Your Life

December 3, 2018

A young man lives his teenage fantasy for ten years. Sex, drugs, rock’n’roll. Beautiful models in his bedroom. A contact list of thousands of the “beautiful people.” New York City night club life. Six-figure income.

Then one day (actually a period of time) he changes. Following a couple of years of searching, he finds focus.

Next ten years? He brought clean water to tens of millions of people who had none before. The biggest cause of hospitalization in many parts of the world? Water-borne disease. These people saved from terrible illness.

The next book you should read. And the next charity you should support–charity: water.

Serve Someone

August 20, 2018

Sound business advice: Serve others.

Sound personal advice: Serve others.

Sound spiritual advice: Serve others.

The last one came directly from The Teacher (as many called him) who washed his disciples’ feet before dinner as a courtesy. He told (not suggested) us to do likewise.

We don’t wash feet in our culture. We can listen. We can buy someone a cup of coffee with a smile–thanks for the idea Jon Swanson. We can help lift a burden. We can do a random act of kindness.

Yes, serving is a spiritual act. Just like praying, or meditation, or worship, or belief.

Your Beliefs Don‘t Make You A Better Person

July 11, 2018

…Your behavior does.

You can tell me what you believe. But I’m watching how you behave.

You can tell me you are a Christian; but if your actions are not those of a disciple of Jesus, I will think you are not a Christian.

On the other hand, you may wake up in the morning not feeling very Christ-like. But you help someone with a bag at the store, or open a door, or let someone pass in front of you on the road to work, or some other small blessing to someone else.

You can “fake it ’till you make it” or better you can intentionally choose your behavior and discover a Jesus-like attitude toward life.

Jesus said to follow him and love…God and our neighbor. Love is an action verb, not a noun describing an emotion.

You go out and do love by how you treat other people. In so doing, you are following Jesus. After all, he often said to go and do.

Beliefs don’t make you a better person, your behavior does.

Talking Is Not Doing

June 27, 2018

The Washington Post recently ran an article profile on gossip writer Elaine Lui. In it, she is quoted–“Talking is action. Conversation is action,” Lui says. “The result of a conversation is that you’ve conversed; you’ve heard each other. That’s an action.” I picked this up from an email on the Daily Stoic.

Ryan Holiday, who writes the Daily Stoic, was aghast. Talking is not doing. He quotes Marcus Aurelius, a leading Stoic philosopher and Roman Emperor–Marcus Aurelius struggled with this even two thousand years ago, and reminded himself that it was meaningless to have philosophical debates about being a good person—all that mattered was what you did. “No more talking about what a good man is like,” he said, “Be one.

I am reminded that Jesus left us with action verbs in his commands–Go into the world, Make disciples, Love God, Love your neighbor.

One of the largest bursts of growth of Christianity occurred in Rome early in the Christian era. There was a plague that ravaged Rome. All the men fled to the hills. They left women, children, elderly, servants behind to fend for themselves and probably die.

Christians came up out of hiding and nursed the sick and dying at great risk to themselves. People were so impressed by the way that Christ-followers lived that they also wanted that life. The church grew out of an active response to calamity.

One of today’s greatest cultural problems is that way too many people spend their time debating–or spouting off–ideas and opinions. We are doing way too little doing.

To paraphrase Marcus Aurelius, “No more talking about what a Jesus-follower should believe. Be one.


May 28, 2018

It’s a national holiday here in America. A bit of a complicated one.

My great-grandmother always called it Decoration Day–a day to remember family members who had passed away. You went to the cemetery and “decorated” the grave with flowers. That part is still here.

Then the government made it “Memorial” Day–a day to remember those who served in the military and especially those who died in combat.

The church (or some churches) piggy-back on those to add a religious observation.

Actually, I think for most people it is the official beginning of “summer”–a weekend off to relax, grill meat on the barbecue, get the old boat out.

Jesus said he came not to be served but to serve others and give his life for many. There is theology buried there, but also a lifestyle.

If we are disciples, we also are to serve others and give our lives for many.

A day to pause and reflect on our service–and how we might be of more service to others.

When Your Eyes Open

May 3, 2018

Being observant may not always be a good thing. Especially when you are in Las Vegas.

I’m here for a tech conference. Pure geek, I’m not a gambler and the machines and tables have no appeal to me. I’m also probably not headed out to one of the many shows featuring naked women. Purely boring, I go to the conference sessions, write, eat, and sleep.


It has been now 40 years since my first conference experience in Las Vegas. The morning of the second day as I was chatting with the corporate HR director, he said, “Wow, did you see all the prostitutes out last night?” I thought, “What prostitutes?” Oh, so naive was this country boy.

Yesterday, I’m heading down to the convention center. Elevator door opens. There is an older, scruffy looking guy with a cowboy hat. There are also two Asian women with him. I quickly surmised that they were not old friends…shall we say.

We stop at another floor and a woman enters. She glances around and smiles at me. Knowingly.

I’m hoping that she isn’t thinking that I’m part of that group.

I observe things and try to draw out some sort of discipline. But sometimes it’s just human nature I observe. And I have a flash of understanding of rural Midwesterners like me who don’t live with such a diverse population of people.

It’s fascinating. But again, there are so many people who are lost and trying to find a way in life. And so few people to love and help them.

That is the refreshing thing about the company whose conference I’m attending–Dell Technologies. When the chairman/CEO whose name is in the company name devotes time during his keynote to turn the spotlight on the company’s devotion to diversity, and to the many human needs solved by people using Dell technology, you can find reason for optimism.

What Breaks Your Heart

January 9, 2018

“What? You mean we’re only a week into the New Year and already you’ve broken your New Year’s Resolutions?” Mayhem, character in the insurance advertisement.

All of us, when we think about Resolutions or even some of my suggestions are all about us.

Last weekend, Andy Stanley challenged us with a different way of thinking.

In place of an “all about me” approach, he challenged us with a different question.

What breaks your heart?

He reached back into what must be his favorite book–Nehemiah.

Nehemiah was a guy. Not just any guy. He was a high official in the court of the King of the Persians. Oh, he was also a Jew.

He received a report from his brother about the state of things among the Jews returning to Judah and about the city of Jerusalem. The news was not good.

“When I heard these words, I sat down and wept.”

He did more than cry. He developed a plan. He would take the initiative to do something about it. Read the book. It’s short. You can also read Jon Swanson’s conversations with Nehemiah. This is a lesson in leadership you will not soon forget.

I was at a soccer referee clinic Saturday. When the speaker (retired FIFA referee from Northern Ireland) paused and asked for questions, a guy behind me loudly complained about the presentations he was given to teach from. About how they put people to sleep or the kids in the back are on their smartphones. At the break I turned around and as gently as I know how suggested that he was fully empowered to take that lesson, be creative, make it his own, involve the kids in the back. He started ripping on me. <sigh>

The point is that we are empowered to do something.

What one thing breaks your heart? What one thing can you do starting right now to do something about it?

Thinking of Christmas as a Time For Service

December 21, 2017

There are many who are enkindled with dreamy devotion, and when they hear of the poverty of Christ, they are almost angry with the citizens of Bethlehem. They denounce their blindness and ingratitude, and think, if they had been there, they would have shown the Lord and his mother a more kindly service and would not have permitted them to be treated so miserably. But they do not look by their side to see how many of their fellow humans need their help, and which they ignore in their misery. Who is there upon earth that has no poor, miserable, sick, erring ones around him? Why does he not exercise his love to those? Why does he not do to them as Christ has done to him? – Martin Luther

Until I had read this thought from Martin Luther, I’m not so sure I’ve ever thought of Christmas as a time of service. Traditionally it is a time for family.

Increasingly it is a time for non-profit organization fund raising. Our phone seemed to ring constantly all afternoon yesterday (while I was interviewing a senior Vice President of a software company on my business phone). The last call came at 9:21 pm.

There are ways to support others. We support an orphanage and women’s shelter in Tijuana. I’m on the board and we support a local service – Alpha Community Center.

But Luther wasn’t talking about that. He is echoing the words of Jesus who gave us the example of the Good Samaritan.

Should we be thinking bad thoughts about the people who forced Mary to sleep in the “barn” and have her baby alone amongst the animals?

Or, should we be looking in the mirror and saying, “When have I passed by a person, a fellow human being, and done nothing to help her?”

So That You May Lead Lives

September 13, 2017

“For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power,”
Paul writes these thoughts to the Colossians. 

In our rush to parse through the Bible in a rush to pull out rules that make us different (better) than others or in a rush to apply to politics, we miss the “so that.”

Why do we study, pray, meditate, grow in knowledge, spiritual wisdom and understanding?

So that, we may lead lives worthy of the Lord. What kind of life? Pleasing to God, bearing fruit in every good work, strong in character able to withstand those who are against us.

Thinking of descriptions such as compassion, joy, kindness, humility, patience.

What we know is only a foundation or a guide to living a better life. Paul, Jesus, James, Peter, the whole lot of them stretching back to Moses and all the prophets explain what that better way of living is. 

Yet, so many Christians miss that point. It is so sad. They miss the joy in the midst of their anger or pride.

For years I have made it my prayer that from the time I get up in the morning or when I leave the room after a study group that God will guide me to living a life pleasing in his sight.