Posts Tagged ‘lifestyle’

Gratitude is Attitude

November 23, 2016

Tomorrow is a US national holiday–Thanksgiving. It is national “go home to be with family” day. Or in my case, go to the Chicago ‘burbs to be with family.

We have a somewhat romanticized recollection of the first English settlers in Massachusetts who came over here totally unprepared. They were helped by the natives who already lived here (and whom they would subsequently kill off) to survive that first winter. They had a banquet in gratitude for the help.

So, I’ve been turning to a collection of gratitude quotes to end my Yoga class.

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” William Arthur Ward

I was quite a shy kid and often was afraid to speak up. Yes, that was a long time ago. I’ve made up for it. But I think back on those times when someone did something for me and I didn’t speak up to thank them. So now, I try to thank everyone for everything.

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” G. K. Chesterton

That is a lot to say from one of the leading thinkers of his time–or any time. Many people are lost in search for happiness. That is the wrong way around. Happiness finds us when we are most focused on gratitude for what others have done.

“‘Enough’ is a feast.” Buddhist proverb

We traditionally have a Thanksgiving meal that is way too much to eat. We feel so miserable that we sleep through the football game. We call it a feast. I had a bad experience with poultry early in life, so I don’t stuff myself with turkey and stuffing. Even so, the temptation to over indulge is great. This saying implies much more than just Thanksgiving dinner. Are we on a quest for ‘more’, or are we content with ‘enough’?

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.” John F. Kennedy

And President Kennedy dove right to the core. Gratitude is not a one time expression of “thank you.” Rather, gratitude is the attitude with which we orient our daily lives.

Diamonds on the Inside

September 9, 2016

“She’s got diamonds on the inside.”

I have no idea what the song was about, but I love that picture. I’m thinking of the beauty that shines through. Not wearing it on the outside for flash and attention. But coming from within.

The past few days I’ve read about “for profit” colleges shutting down suddenly. Why does pursuit of profit have to corrupt some people? It made me think of the three or four guys I’ve worked with over the years who wore their Christianity outside. Sort of a veneer. When we parted ways, they all owed me money. And other people.

On the other hand, I’ve known many leaders whose robust spiritual life shined through from the inside. They lived their beliefs. It was part of them. They had no urge to show it off or force a particular branch of religion. They were great to work for and with. And usually good at business or leadership, too.

I’ve joked in the past that when I meet an overtly Christian businessman I reach for my pocket for assurance that my wallet is still there.

But that is a bit cynical. True in some cases, unfortunately.

Still–where are my diamonds? Encrusted on the outside as a glittering veneer, or embedded inside showing through as a part of natural beauty?

Think of the people we know that are like that. I bet if we but stop and reflect we can think of many. Maybe when we’re contemplating upon that person we’d like to be we can focus on those and try to be like them.

So What’s Next?

August 4, 2016

So, Paul, you’ve told me about spiritual formation beginning with the death and resurrection of Jesus. Now what?

Spiritual formation only begins with belief in the resurrection. Jesus said that we would know his followers by their fruits. When the rich young man approached Jesus and asked how he could inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus sensed that he only followed the rules because of duty or maybe because of trying to prove he was better than others.

Jesus said, “Sell all you have and give to the poor.” The man went away sad. Now we know his heart.

Paul follows exactly in that tradition.

After his introduction in the letter to the Ephesians, he proceeds to talk about what’s next.

He tells us to live in love. To put behind us the lusts of our past lives. Thieves, he said, should stop stealing. He gives us lists of examples

The scary thing is that there exist people (actually in all cultures) who would like to take those lists, capture the government, have the government pass all these things and more as laws, then use the police and courts to force people to “behave like Christians (or Muslims, or Hindus, or whatever your culture is)”.

That worked so well for the Pharisees in the first Century, right?

Paul always placed this in the context of spiritual formation. Laws cannot force us into spiritual formation. They can attempt to force behaviour. But that does not work all that well.

So first we decide to walk with God with Jesus as our guide.

Then because our heart is right with God, then we start to re-orient how we live. Jesus and Paul seldom talk about life after death or after the arrival of the New Earth. But they talk extensively about how we live this life on this Earth with these people around us.

Back to Ephesians. Paul said that Jesus gave us gifts. Gifts of talents–maybe being apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers. Why? To equip and build up people.  We are to speak the truth in love. Be angry but do not sin. Give up stealing. Do not speak evil, but grace. Be kind to one another, forgiving one another. Be imitators of God.

To See Ourselves

July 27, 2016

I interviewed a man recently for a project I’m working on recently. He said, “You are always smiling and upbeat. I can’t even imagine you angry.”

It’s one of those moments when we get jarred out of our self-absorption and think about how others watch us, evaluate us, consider us.

What sort of image do you wish to project? Angry white man? Anxious mother? Bitter, negative?

Many times when I stop and consider how I looked to others in the past, I’m embarrassed. And, I have much to be embarrassed about.

I think about poor Peter, the apostle. He had one of those experiences where you are consciously outside your body looking at yourself. It was in the courtyard during Jesus’ trials. The third time he denied Jesus the cock crowed and he saw himself and was ashamed.

Seeing ourselves in the situation can get us out of situations.

Say we are standing in a queue. Maybe it’s for customer service. I see it often in airports. Could be somewhere else–the coffee shop, the grocery. Some obnoxious person is arguing with the employee. Getting nowhere, of course. We see ourselves in that situation and think, we don’t want to look like that. We put on a smile and treat the person kindly. Thank you Jesus for letting us get a glimpse of how we could look and changing before we have something else to be embarrassed about.

It’s not that I don’t have my moments. Last night at a busy intersection–lots of pedestrians–I was waiting for the crosswalk to clear before making a right turn (British readers must picture this in reverse, of course). Woman in a large SUV must have been in quite a hurry. She turned left in front of me with the crosswalk still full of people. Maybe I hit my horn button to alert her 😉 . I can get annoyed.

Anyway, after talking about Mr. Negative yesterday, I’m relieved to know that somehow my life has been molded so that I’m not that way.

And it’s not too late for you no matter what your age. God gave you consciousness and the power to choose. Peter reshaped his life and became a courageous and respected leader. You can become a better you.


Living Faithfully Amidst Secular Neighbors

June 28, 2016

I’m writing this on a plane heading toward “sin city”. A technical conference awaits me. Not the slots, the shows, the girls. I was pretty much a boring geek in high school, and I remain so.

On the other hand, Paul wrote letters to early Jesus-followers who lived in cities just like that (without the lights).

You see, those early Christians knew very well that they were living amidst a secular society. Paul urged them to live so differently that people would be attracted to their way of life. And in so doing, they could attract more disciples of Jesus. Just what we are supposed to be doing.

I have recently become a fan of John Fischer and his daily email The Catch. Yesterday he wrote:

In an article this weekend in The New York Times called “The Bad Faith of the White Working Class,” author J.D. Vance pointed out that the politi cization of the church has led to widespread thinking that the main enemies of our faith are external. The bad guys are all out there – the secularists, the “evil elites,” the Muslims, etc. And while preachers preach against all the evil out there, Christians on the inside are pulling further and further away from the world and more into isolationism and finger-pointing. This isolation and fear of encroachment from the outside and tendency to project complex problems onto simple villains is fueling both the current political campaigns here in America and the decision in Britain to leave the European Union. It is a widespread fear that has gripped the white working class in the Western World that the world as we know it is changing.

This  is true, but pulling in and building walls is not going to stop it. Actually, nothing is going to stop it, and as believers, we need to be better equipped to handle these cultural changes with grace and love. That’s why, here at the Catch, we emphasize the Gospel of Welcome and grace turned outward. God’s arms are open to everyone without discrimination, and the grace we have received, we are eager to extend out toward everyone, everywhere.

So many rural people that I know and associate with think that cities are (or should be) just like the little towns they grew up in. Everyone went to the same church. Maybe one or two families didn’t go to any church and were watched carefully.

But we Jesus-followers have always and throughout history lived in a secular society. People may have nominally belonged to a church because that’s where the social center was (plus you didn’t want to be ostracized in a village of fewer than 1,000 people).

The question we really need to ask is, “Are we living the kind of life that attracts people to Jesus, or are we living the kind of life that repels people?”

That is a crucial question. None of us are perfect. But are we living as forgiven? Or as Pharisees who followed rules and pointed fingers at whoever fails to follow the rules? Let’s see, which ones did Jesus prefer? It’s not a trick question.

Marketplace Ministry

June 13, 2016

The church exists to equip Jesus-followers for ministry; it does not exist primarily to do ministry.

My friend Chuck called the other day from a conference where he heard a speaker discuss this idea. The speaker is now successful in the marketplace. He formerly worked on the staff of a megachurch.

Chuck said, “I was thinking of you and your status right now.”

A couple of years ago I felt I was open for a new ministry. A door opened and I took a position with my church. If you’ve read this blog for long you know that I am an analyst by nature (TP in Myers-Briggs speak) and also a management coach. I could dive into a deep analysis, but I’ll spare you…and me. It just didn’t work out.

He was telling me that I should use my teaching and writing skills out here in the real world. Not to worry about inside the four walls of an organization.

I’ve recently been turned on to John Fischer’s The Catch (fisher, catch, get it??). The link goes to the blog page Definitions of a Marketplace Christian.

John is a worship leader/song writer. Part of the “original” Jesus movement of the late 60s/early 70s. He talks of “grace turned outward” and “marketplace Christian”two phrases that resonate.

Churches as organizations can be frustrating. There’s local politics, denominational politics (and remember, my masters work was in political science and philosophy), and I like neither. As Dallas Willard has said, churches are the one place where hurting people should be able to come and find healing, yet they usually find judgement and ostracism.

Yet, I kept trying. I’ve been Baptist Chair of the Board of Deacons, chair of Trustees, leadership committee, missions head, probably other stuff. I’m neither bragging nor asking for solace.

Chuck says, just keep writing. Maybe someday I’ll get good at it.

But I don’t write this for my therapy. What is it that you can do outside the church to bring Jesus’ message and love to hurting people? That’s all he asked us to do, right?

Take Care of Yourself

June 3, 2016

“I translate theology into English.”

Somewhere in a conversation, that thought occurred to me. I do that with technology, too.

Sometimes, though, we need to go beyond theology. We read about the great thinkers of the faith. Or the great leaders. We sometimes stop with what they wrote, or with saints, with the weird things they did.

I get annoyed. We don’t teach leaders how to take care of themselves. We don’t teach Jesus followers how to take care of themselves, either. Many of the leaders left traces of their lifestyles that would teach as much as their words.

Caregivers know, or soon learn, that they must take care of themselves and keep themselves healthy and balanced if they are going to be able to help others. “Put your oxygen mask on first before helping others,” the flight attendant intones at the beginning of every flight.

Part of the message of Keven L. Meyer’s book, The Simple Leader, advises us to use the principles of Lean and Zen to take care of ourselves, too.

  • Simplify our environment–get rid of clutter around us and organize what’s left
  • Simplify our minds–get rid of the clutter there, too; learn to be aware of the present–where we are, people and things around us, sights/sounds, conversations, focus on what you’re doing
  • Simplify our nutrition–use Lean principles of reducing waste by eating healthy foods, not preparing or trying to eat too much–that is waste and we remove waste
  • Focus–on where you are right this moment
  • Focus–on one task at a time
  • Focus–on the other person in a conversation
  • Awareness–of what we eat, eating slowly with awareness of flavor and texture, eating foods that are good to our bodies and minds
  • Awareness–of the other person, what are they thinking and feeling (not my response)
  • Awareness–of our purpose and the type of person we want to be, and where we are right now relative to those

All of these impact the type of leader we will be–and the type of person we’ll become. Go and take care of yourself, too.

Everything In Its Place

June 2, 2016

You just had an important thought. Go to the desk for a pen and paper. Can’t find either.

You’re gathering ingredients for a recipe as dinner time approaches. Can’t find a spice you’re sure you had. And where’s that favorite knife?

Getting ready to study. The desk is cluttered. Can’t find the Bible. Favorite pen is not in its place. Oh, where’s my journal?


I talked yesterday about my vacation reading–The Simple Leader: Personal and Professional Leadership at the Nexus of Lean and Zen.

Let’s look at a Lean concept called 5S. It stands for five English words roughly translated from the Japanese: Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize, Sustain.

Meyer defines each one:

  • Sort: Review each item, ensure it has a purpose, remove what isn’t needed.
  • Straighten: Find a defined location for what remains, preferably as close to where it will be needed as possible.
  • Shine: Clean and polish the newly uncluttered area.
  • Standardize: Create a checklist or other method to ensure the area doesn’t revert back to how it was.
  • Sustain: Create a habit, routine, or daily activity to keep the area clean and neat, and to audit that it has stayed that way.

You’ll notice that this is also a method of simplifying your life. Get rid of stuff cluttering your living and working space. Organize. Your mind will thank you. It can settle in on a task with few if any distractions.

As you sit to study, pray, meditate, or even converse, you remain calm and focused reflecting the environment you’ve created.

Spiritual formation requires intention. Organizing workspaces and our lives intentionally is a step on the path.

On Becoming A Whole Person

May 9, 2016

Isn’t it a joy when you hear about someone or maybe have heard them speak and then you meet them and they are just like they seem?

And maybe you develop a relationship where you see them somewhat frequently in a variety of social settings, and then they still are that same person?

I was thinking about so many people I know whose words are so far different from their actual lives.

Their political philosophy says one thing (“I hate taxes” for example”) yet they have had jobs working for the state (paid by tax revenue) and retire with a pension (which many people don’t get and by the way also paid by taxes). I’ve seen people vote anti-union yet are union members and then complain about losing income and benefits.

But that’s trivial.

How about someone who speaks often of Jesus’ love, yet seems to love only self? How about someone always preaching “family values” or “Christian morals” and whose life is a shambles of moral decay?

Why do we run into so many people who are so clueless about themselves?

They can read the words of Jesus and other teachers on the subject, yet they do not see the irony that their lives do not come close to reflecting those values.

Jesus actually saw those people. And then he set the bar even higher for them. He saw people try to define morals such that they could achieve them yet still be able to point to others their shortcomings.

Matthew has a long passage of reporting Jesus’ teachings. (Chapters 5-7) It’s good–not for reading which is challenging but as a mirror.

Jesus said, for example, that it’s easy to talk about loving. Especially those who are like you. But, he said, the real test of love it to love and pray for those who are opposed to you. He raised the bar too high to be attainable. Especially when he said to be perfect just as your father in heaven is perfect.

But when the way we live reflects those values we preach, people see. And they will respect us.

A Teaching Moment or a Being There Moment

April 18, 2016

I am running a little late this morning getting this written. Recovering from a busy weekend.

Spent most of the weekend at a youth soccer tournament in Cincinnati. I was there to work with a group of young men (there was a woman in the group, but she was injured and left before I got there) improve as soccer referees and progress to higher levels of grade and games.

Isn’t it amazing how learning moments and growth moments occur sideways to a main topic?

We were talking techniques and observation skills to help them referee better.

There was one young man who was fit and enthusiastic. He showed all the potential toward becoming one of the elite referees in the state.

Oops, then he cramped. It was the first hot weekend of the year with temperatures into the 80s. Hydration was important. I even got mildly dehydrated and I wasn’t running. Just never realized I wasn’t drinking enough water even though I was standing and walking.

Well, this young man told me (after returning from the medical tent with a bottle of water and a bottle of sports drink with orders to drink them both, soon), “Well, I only had two beers last night.” Any water with the beer? “No, and I didn’t eat breakfast this morning.”

So we talk nutrition and taking care of our bodies.

I started thinking about being open to all manner of conversation when the moment appears. There are a few friends who believe every occasion should be filled with preaching at.

Sometimes listening and responding to the need is what is really crucial. I could have taught a class on nutrition before. Who’d have cared? But, when the need arises, then we have a teaching moment.

Same with all manner of spiritual and emotional teaching.

And, sometimes, it’s not the words, but just being there. In my weekend example, the group of referees were just happy that someone cared enough to come out and be there. How many times have you been with someone in trying times and being there is all that’s needed.