Posts Tagged ‘simplicity’

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.

Why Practice Spiritual Disciplines of Abstinence

March 17, 2016

Remember the old Southwest Airlines commercial “Wanna get away”? For my international readers–Someone would be pictured in a position, for example, a football referee before a big match for the coin toss and he forgot to bring a coin, who wanted to get away. It resonated no doubt because we all want to escape at times.

The Desert Fathers were men who sought deep spiritual experiences and encounters with God. They thought that by going off alone into the deserts of Egypt, Sinai, Syria, they could get away from society and focus with every second of their being on God.

The movement began in the mid-200s and lasted into the 400s–but in some sense still exists in the monastic traditions.

They practiced the spiritual disciplines of abstinence–solitude, silence, simplicity, sacrifice, fasting–almost too well. The monastic movement struggled for centuries against excesses of this practice.

The disciplines of abstinence are meant to prepare us to encounter and engage with God. Jesus, for example, went into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days following his baptism. Then he encountered temptation. It wasn’t because he was weak from lack of food that he had the experiences. It was actually because he was now at his strongest so that he could deal with The Tempter.

Spiritual literature loves the metaphor of the jar.

You have something you need to store. You search for an empty container. There are many containers in your cupboard filled with now-useless stuff. But you have no container for your precious stuff. You empty a jar of its useless contents, and now it is ready to accept the new.

Just so is your mind and soul. When it is full of thoughts, worries, plans, and more, it has no room for God.

Now we intentionally pursue disciplines of abstinence to pour out the extraneous stuff of our lives. Only then is there room in our soul for God.

Dallas Willard puts it this way, “Abstinence then makes way for engagement. A proper abstinence actually breaks the hold of improper engagements  so that the soul can be properly engaged by God.”

That’s why following silence with study is so powerful.

Bringing Down The Walls That Separate

November 23, 2015

Business writers (like me) often write about new technologies that promise to “break down the silos” of the various departments within an organization–for example, manufacturing, finance, engineering, maintenance.

The same can be true in other organizations. A church may have organizations (committees) around finance, buildings, worship, children ministry, youth ministry, missions. A church without a strong leadership team will discover that each of these have become a silo working independently often at cross purposes wasting resources.

Herod’s Temple in Jesus’ time had a wall beyond which non-Jewish people could not traverse. They were not allowed into the holiest of the areas. Paul the apostle had a problem when he was accused of bringing a “Greek” into the “Jewish” area.

Today we are still busy building walls. I read something about a bunch of governors wishing to erect a wall to keep refugees from the war in Syria out. Others desire a physical wall to keep Mexican people out.

We have church walls–even among varying persuasions of Christians. I remember playing guitar for a Mass in 1970. Father Ottenweller looked at me and said, “Someday, you will be able to take communion with us.” Well, 45 years later, still not true.

Several of my sources suddenly are all teaching on Ephesians. There is a chain of scholarly thought that this letter was not written by Paul. I guess these are the anti-Catholics (against priesthood that can be found implied in the letter). I’m not a scholar. This pretty much looks like a letter of Paul. And the second chapter has some interesting imagery. It talks of tearing down the walls that separate us. As Paul said elsewhere, “There is neither Jew nor Greek; male nor female; slave nor free; for we are all one in Jesus.”

Somewhere along the line, we as a people keep forgetting the simple facts of Christian life. We are meant to be wall removers, not wall erectors. Go find a wall to knock down today. And tomorrow.

Six Things Productive People Do Every Day

July 14, 2015

This is a riff off a Silicon Valley investor (I follow many high technology bloggers and Websites) James Altucher. I think about personal disciplines a lot. I think about how developing a set of disciplines–or practices–can improve the way we live our lives. And enhance our spiritual journey.

Altucher was not thinking specifically about spiritual development. Many of his (more than) six things are (or can be) spiritual disciplines.

He says, “About six years ago I would say I was 100 percent unproductive. Everything I did would cost me in either well-being or money. By “well-being” I mean, competence, good relationships, and freedom. So when I say “cost me well-being” I would do things to specifically hurt the above three.”

Here are some good thoughts–especially when you see some of the stuff that gets passed around on Facebook. “Using that filter you can easily decide what is productive and what is not. For instance, do you respond to that negative comment on the Internet? No. Never. That person is dealing with his issues. Maybe he or she needs help from people who love him. But you don’t have to give that help. That would be unproductive.”

“A day is productive if I grow in competence. If I grow in my relationships. If I grow in my feeling of “choosing myself” – my freedom to make my own decisions in life instead of catering to the decisions and tastes of others.”

Here is his list. I love them. I may think of a couple more. What do you think? What would you add?


Reading is maybe the most productive thing you can ever do. Here’s what happens: when you die at the age of 100, you’ve just lived one 100-year life.

But when I read a book in a few days time, I just absorbed an entire life, curated, of someone I admire or respect. It’s like every book I read is a mentor. How many mentors do I have? 1000s.


I used to admire people who say, “I only need three hours of sleep a day.”

Only later do I find out that most of these people are borderline mentally ill. Think about the people in your life who say they only need three hours of sleep. Be honest. Maybe they are a little… (fill in the blank).

Why is sleeping productive? There’s brain science about rejuvenating neurons, etc. I read that somewhere. There are all sorts of studies that people who sleep more get sick less, have more willpower, are less at risk for cancer, etc.

But there’s something else. Dan Ariely, a guest on my podcast, says that the brain’s peak performance happens 2-4 hours after you wake up. So here’s what I do. I wake up at 5. I’ll read (or take a walk), until 7 a.m., and then I’ll start writing. Writing is the activity I love most. I’m a little kid again when I write. So I want my brain to be at it’s peak. So I’ll write from 7 – 9 a.m.

Then, I do a trick. Many days (when I can) I’ll take a 1-2 hour nap around 1 or 2 in the afternoon. Then I know that two hours later my brain again will be peaking. Maybe not as much as before. But enough. So I’ll write again. This is why I do my Twitter Q&As at 3:30 every Thursday because I know my brain is supercharged then.

I know that if I do the activity I love most when my brain and body have the most energy then that will create the most value, create the most opportunities for me, improve my competence and improve my freedom (because of the opportunities generated).

Eat at Home

I don’t like to eat out. It takes so long. And then you have to wait for the bill. And I always feel bloated and I hate salads in restaurants.

So we make simple meals and we are done in about 10 minutes, two meals a day. I probably save an hour or two by not eating out or not eating junk that will bloat me and make me less productive.

Throw Stuff Out

A few months ago, my wife and I threw out almost everything we owned. What do we really need? I like reading on the Kindle. How many sheets do we need? We never have guests. How many clothes do I need? I was storing clothes I hadn’t worn in forever. Our house was totally empty. It was really nice. I felt like a breath of fresh air was going through my head.

It makes room for new things, new connections between my memories, new things for me to enjoy. Fewer things to obsess over. Cleaning the outside and cleaning the inside reduce stress. Every day I try to throw things out. It makes me feel good.

It also makes me feel like I need less. Throwing things out tells my brain, “you don’t need this anymore,” so my brain stops wanting things.

No News

Someone asked me a few weeks ago to comment on “the situation in Greece.” I guess they are going to default on their debt. So what? This gives TV people something to argue about. I’m happy for them.

People are wired to notice lions much faster than they notice apple trees. That’s why we are alive.

Since there’s no more lions chasing us down Main Street, the news tries to find other ways to trigger that fight or flight reflex.

No Meetings

I never went to a meeting where someone gave me a check at the end. I’ve never traveled to a meeting where it resulted in me making money or being happier. Most meetings can be summarized in a two-line email.

I’ll go to a meeting if it’s with my friends. That’s fun and improves my relationships. But I never go to any other meetings.

No Phone

I talk on the phone maybe once every other day. Again, the two-line email thing works in most cases.


I like Neil Strauss’s approach. He has one hour a day scheduled for emails. His wife has his password so he can’t even log on to email before that hour.

Again, if you’re an employee somewhere you might be in the habit of responding quickly to email from, say, a boss. But try to cut it down to end-of-day when your brain is moving a bit slower and you don’t need it as much. Only do the thing you love most during your peak productive hours.


We’re the sum of our experiences and not our material things. Experiences stay with us forever and build us into who we become. They add to our well-being. Material things get lost or thrown out or lose their usefulness.

A good experience for me is: where I meet friends, where I learn something new, where I learn something new that can increase my freedom.

Spring Cleaning for the Soul

April 1, 2015

It’s spring cleaning time. The traditional time to air out a house long closed while winter brought bitter cold and snow. Things that are closed up for long become stuffy and even unhealthy.

Including lives. Including churches.

It’s time for a renewal. Maybe even coinciding with Easter–the celebration of the ultimate renewal, the resurrection of Jesus.

Maybe this is a good time to take a look at yourself. What clutter has accumulated around us and in us. Maybe it is some accumulated “stuff” that just occupies space. Adding nothing. It felt good when we bought it. But…time to give it away or send to the trach.

Maybe the accumulated stuff lies in hates/aches,  cares/tears. Or maybe unhealthy relationships whose toxicity is slowly killing our energy, desire, focus. 

The power we have to improve our lives starts with eliminating, as opposed to accumulating. 

Clear out our personal physical space

  • Toss stuff
  • Clear clutter
  • Clean everything

Clean out the body

  • Weed out distressing habits
  • Weed out distressing individuals
  • Find friends who are energetic, positive
  • Drink more water
  • Eat healthy foods in moderate quantities

Calm the soul

  • Quiet the mind through prayer and meditation
  • Put worries and negative thinking behind
  • Focus on service to others, less focus on self

It all starts with a quiet mind, which lets us begin to achieve focus. Then we can find the important things in life.

“Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened, but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm,” said Robert Louis Stevenson

New Year Practice To Simplify

January 16, 2015

Daniel, the one who has a book in the Bible named for his story, found himself as a young man in the palace of the most powerful king of the time. He was surrounded by luxury, wealth, rich food.

He and his friends asked to be spared from the rich food and be allowed to eat simple, yet nutritious meals of fruits and vegetables. Their health proved their wisdom.

Later (Chapter 5), he is offered wealth and position for interpreting some mysterious writing on a wall. He told them to keep the rewards, but he would interpret the writing.

I do not advocate New Year’s Resolutions or goals. For several years, I’d write out a list of goals every year–I’d weigh x amount, I’d write a book (or something), etc. It never really worked.

What worked was seeing myself in the future–how I looked, what I had accomplished, what my ministry would be, and so on. Then, I planned my days to build habits to work toward those visions.

One habit is to look around your life and your surroundings at least once per year and see what you’ve accumulated that you don’t need. If, unlike Daniel’s example, we didn’t turn down things before we got them, then it is timely to get rid of things in order to simplify our life.

I’ve done this for years. Get rid of “stuff” laying around that has no use. Get rid of toxic relationships. Get rid of things that grab my time so that I can focus on doing the things I want.

Too much “stuff” is a burden; it is an obstacle to living a life focused on God.

Blessings For The New Year

January 1, 2015




Pause today to reflect on the past and future before we jump into living in the moment during the year.

What Great Work will define us this year?

I have chosen mine. I will ask each day, “Does this activity relate to my Great Work?”

Simplify and prune the unnecessary activities.

May your 2015 be Blessed.

Measure Your Priorities in Life

December 22, 2014

Jesus told us to watch what we do with our money, wealth and possessions. Their use is an indicator of the status of our heart.

This is probably a good time of the year to pause our hectic holiday activities and search out what our priorities are.

Where are your priorities? How can we know? This time of year, commercialization grabs center stage. Yet, also, there are opportunities to donate to any of seemingly a million causes. Do you pick some causes important to you or your understanding of mission? Do you donate? Or is your spending ruled by yourself?

Christmas is a boom time for luxury car sales. Those must be presents for oneself.

You can apply this to other areas of life. Take a look at a church budget and divide into two buckets. Take a look at your personal overall budget and put into two buckets. Check out your Christmas budget. Yep. Divide into two buckets. One bucket is for your personal (or the church’s internal) use. The other is for outreach/mission/evangelism/other-focused. What is the proportion of one bucket to the other? If it is greater than 50/50 weighted toward inward/personal, what does that say about you?

Pause, reflect, take appropriate action. Don’t be a Grinch. Help others have a happy Christmas time.

Taking Care Over Our Priorities

November 18, 2014

I’m usually writing this about 6:30 am Eastern time, but I’m in the Los Angeles area today. 5:30 am, I’ve been up for an hour. It’ll be a long day.

Yesterday, I wrote about marketing. And whether (or how much) marketers try to influence our perceived needs–especially by ever-increasing devious means. There is advertising disguised as editorial. Product placements in media or entertainment. And on and on.

Just yesterday, Wal-Mart sent me five emails promoting Black Friday sales. FIVE. (I’m on their list because I occasionally have actual prints made of my digital photos.)

While thinking about this a few minutes ago, Gary Haugen of the International Justice Mission was speaking about Christian responses to some of the most horrible things that humans are doing to other humans.

I just had to pray. Am I doing enough? Am I influencing enough to counter the now-global onslaught of advertising promoting not only consumption, but our misplaced priorities hidden behind the consumption.

There are good products. Products that enhance our lives and provide for enjoyment. But why do we buy them? Is it momentary impulse resulting in another piece of unused labor and material sitting on a shelf in the closet?

Let’s take care of our priorities first, then proceed into the market.

Ethics and Marketing–An Oxymoron

November 17, 2014

Christmas. Ah, that time of joyful giving. Celebrating the birth of Jesus. Christmas Carols. Hot chocolate with whipped cream.

Oops, it wasn’t even Halloween yet, let alone Thanksgiving. The stores were full of Christmas stuff. It is still two weeks before “Black Friday” (the day that retail stores go from red to black, or loss to profit for the year) and my email box has Wal-Mart ads for the day.

Everyone knows that retail stores depend upon Christmas sales for the year’s profits. This has been known for 100 years.

This is obviously bad management. But, we get what we deserve, I guess.

Business managers turned to a new thing called “marketing” a long time ago. The job of marketing people was to entice people into the stores.

Then we got TV. And TV needed advertising for revenues. Marketers needed advertising to get their message to the people. Before TV, there were newspapers and magazines. Note: I’ve made a good living from the magazine business, and even today I’d like some advertising on my other Website to help pay the bills.

But marketers weren’t as successful as they would have liked. It wasn’t enough to just use superlatives to promote their stores and products (have you ever seen ads from the 1920s?). They turned to the findings of that new academic discipline called psychology to figure out how people work.

So now, we have turned to manipulation. Create a need where none existed before and then offer to fill it. Muscles not big enough? Breasts not big enough? Kids may not make it into Harvard? We’ve got a solution.

The current trend in magazine advertising is to write advertising that looks just like the editorial content of the magazine. The idea is to trick the reader into reading the ad. They may even think that the claims made in the ad are from the supposedly unbiased editors of the magazine. The more respected the editorial, the better the success with this form of advertising.

By the way, I hope you know that for many years, advertisers in women’s magazines have had a clause in their contracts that the magazine may not run an article that is in any way critical of makeup or other products including the way they test makeup. All articles in women’s magazines must be promotional of the types of products that will be advertised.

But even in business-to-business which is my market, marketers and publishers want things to be just as great and happy as possible. I have a friend who just left his magazine job and is trying to sell a subscription-based newsletter. “I don’t take advertising, so I can be honest,” he says.

Well, I hope I’m honest too. 😉

What’s the reason for this season (actually following Thanksgiving, which is also a good thing to celebrate)? Let’s keep this in mind. Don’t let marketers convince you that you need things you don’t. Keep your head. Buy presents, sure, but buy with intention not under the influence of artificially inflamed emotions.