Posts Tagged ‘Study’

The Joy of Learning

September 28, 2016

I hated school. Well, I was bored for much of it. Then I went through a period of not working hard enough. Then I learned the “game” of school and got good grades…and got out.

There was the time in graduate school when I looked at the professors and thought, “I don’t want to be them. I don’t want campus politics. I don’t like the picky hierarchy.” So, I got a job.

When you’re no longer doing something just for the grade, it’s liberating. Not that I didn’t learn a lot at university. I did. It’s just learning wasn’t fun.

Paradoxically, I’ve had on my mind for months the idea of the joy of learning. A couple of years ago, I went through about 1,800 pages of scholarly work on Paul the Apostle. Had it been a grad school assignment…well, who knows. But such a deep dive over an extended period of time brings an understanding of the person that can only be explained as a great joy in learning–and in understanding.

I missed a couple of posts last week and I’m a little late this morning because I’m on the West Coast. Well, today I’m in Phoenix, not the coast for sure, but the same time zone. What am I doing? Learning. My job for the past 20 something or even 30 years has been to learn about a technology, digest what it means, and then explain and interpret it for others. There is joy in that exercise. The end result is to help others build machines and processes to improve manufacturing and production.

The same holds true for Bible study–or also studying great interpreters. It is the pure joy of learning what the Scriptures really say and then bringing it into a life that builds deeper understanding and a deeper response to life.

The challenge in this sort of study is to understand the gap between knowing and doing. Or as some writers have taught–the distance from the brain to the heart. There is joy in learning, but the goal is to change the way you live. That comes when the knowledge becomes embedded in your entire being. You change the way you live.

Painting a Picture of a Functional Family

August 25, 2016

How do you read (study?) the Bible? Or other more challenging books?

Some seem to read through looking for a verse they agree with. Or perhaps a controversial one where they can speculate all day about what-ifs and could-bes.

I know a guy who was leading a discussion in Ephesians. Remember how at the end of Chapter 3, Paul prays for his listeners (readers) by asking three times that they be filled with God?

He proceeds then to talk about how to live this new life filled with God–or as it is called the “With-God” life.

Rather than talk about this new with-God life, he picked up on the verse which is a parenthetical statement about if Jesus ascended to heaven where all things would be under his feet then he must have descended to earth. Well, there is a theology about Jesus actually descending into Hell. They speculated on that for a while and considered the study of Ephesians done.

That’s a shame. What if we read chapters 4-6 not as a list of instructions (let’s just pull out the “wives submit to your husbands” to stand alone and build a philosophy?) but as Paul painting a picture of a spirit-filled person, a spirit-filled family, and a spirit-filled organization?

Read this section as a description of how I would be as a person Paul describes. How I would live. How I would live in community.

Imagine a family where everyone is looking out for the other person. There is no putting myself ahead of the others. No trying to be the “boss”. Yes, there is leadership, but not tyranny. Wow, what a great family.

Let’s take it another step–because Paul does.

What if we were in an organization where people developed their gifts with the encouragement of everyone else in the organization. And people, instead of competing against their fellow workers, worked to build up other people. Equipping them for ministry, as Paul said.

If it is a business, equipping them for developing products and services that serve the customer. If a church, preparing people to go out and serve and witness. If a non-profit, equipped to serve fulfilling the mission of the organization.

How much time, emotional energy, grief would we avoid if when we lived together in family, church, and business we approached it as spirit-filled people?

You can pull out all your little philosophies you want by parsing Paul’s words to suit your purposes. But go back and read this as a picture–a vision of how to live.

Stop My Mind From Wandering

June 7, 2016

I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in
And stops my mind from wandering. Where it will go.– The Beatles

Listening to The Beatles for a while on the drive back from vacation Sunday. I’m not sure what they meant (John and Paul may not have known either). The words seemed to fit my vacation reading that focused on, well, focus.

Sometimes we have a hole in our consciousness that lets our mind wander where it will go.

Ever sit down to read the Bible or a study book on a Biblical theme, or again sit down to pray or contemplate on the words? And your mind wanders to things you need to do, conversations left undone, worries about what might happen tomorrow?

Or, worse, your smart phone attracts your eye. “I’ll just check Facebook or Instagram quickly and see if I’m missing any important news from my ‘friends’,” you think. Oops, there went a good 20 minutes and it’s time to go somewhere and opportunity to think missed.

I’m helping with the marketing for small coffee shop with a mission. You can “like” High Grounds Cafe on Facebook. I post messages regularly on the Facebook page (it is a great marketing media for local business). But…I’ll go to Facebook to post a message and my news feed pops up. Side note: they call it news, but there is no news–some updates on what people are doing and a stream of thoughtless political shots at someone. Anyway, a photo catches my eye. 15 minutes gone, poof, wasted.

Deep thinking and concentration are skills that must be developed and practiced.

Usually you need a ritual. For example, get up in the morning (early), fix a cup of coffee or tea, gather your reading material with a pen and paper, and sit in your favorite chair in a quiet location. Do it regularly.

Be aware of your mind. When it starts to wander, don’t panic. Just fix the hole gently and return to concentration. You will find that you can spend 15-30 minutes totally immersed in your reading and prayer.

If your job, like mine, requires thinking and writing, you can build up to 90 minute stretches of time, short break, and another 90 minutes of real work.

Fix that hole in the roof that allows your mind to wander. See how richer your life will be.


May 10, 2016

The wind blew across the soccer complex at a nearly constant 20 mph. Sun was shining.

Even just standing and walking, dehydration overtakes you before you realize it. When you begin feeling thirsty, it’s almost too late. Especially if you’re going to be running in a bit.

I suddenly realized that I had been so busy that I had not had anything to drink all morning. Put away 80 oz of water in the afternoon. Came back from the brink of dehydration.

Even if the dehydration is not severe during your normal days, you may notice a little less energy and enthusiasm. Maybe concentration isn’t quite there.

We become dehydrated spiritually, too.

One pressure follows another. Another decision needed. Another report to write. Another irate customer. Another employee situation to calm. Illness–your own or a loved one.

It’s hard to relax. Mentally step back and take a physical breath.

It’s spiritual dehydration.

I think of Jesus who met the woman at the well. Picture a hot, dusty day. Constant wind coming down from the mountains scraping across the plain. She needed water. He needed water. But she needed more.

Her life had gone into a spiral. One defeat after another. Trying to find salvation in a man, any man. It didn’t work. She was drying up spiritually. Outcast, tired, dispirited (in many ways).

Jesus asked for water. He was dry and  wanted to avoid physical dehydration. But then, maybe he just wanted to talk. So he asked for water.

Then he tells her that he can give her water that will always quench her thirst. She’ll never dehydrate wandering from affair to affair. Lost. Dry.

We, too, can know about a source to keep us from this dehydration of loss. It’s spiritual. We get in touch with it by reading and through right relationships. That’s our discipline. Quench our thirsts and live live fully, with energy, enthusiasm, purpose.

Achieve a Decent Existence

March 3, 2016

How do you become a great scorer in basketball?

You shoot a couple of hundred jump shots a day.

How do top golf professionals get there and stay there?

They hit a few hundred shots a day.

But it is not mindless repetition. It’s taking a shot. Thinking about it. Making slight adjustments. Practicing the same motion every time so that when they’re in the game it’s natural.

Same in our daily lives–both how we live and our spiritual life.

Why do you think Paul so often compares spiritual life to training in the gymnasium? Dallas Willard writes in The Spirit of the Disciplines:

But thoughtful and religiously devout people of the classical and Hellenistic world, from the Ganges to the Tiber, knew that the mind and body of the human being had to be rigorously disciplined to achieve a decent individual and social existence. This is not something St. Paul had to prove or even explicitly state to his readers.

We must discipline ourselves in the sense of developing those routines of daily life including prayer, study, gathering together with others such that they become natural. The difference is that we are not practicing for the game–we’re in the game and practicing at the same time.

I set up routines such that it is only natural that I do certain things–rise early, read, have my coffee, think, plan the day. I try to do these when I travel, too. I crave routine.

My “virtual friend” Jon Swanson wrote today about Solomon who built a great and magnificent house for God. But he forgot the daily life of walking with God. And, in the end, it all came apart for him and his heirs.

It’s not the temple we build, it’s the daily practices that eventually build the temple that matters–our lives in service with God toward other humans.

Are We Really What We Think We Are?

February 19, 2016

Sometimes in our head we say that we do certain things regularly. Then we wake up and see–No we aren’t.

I like to think that I have meditated regularly over the past 45 years or more. But…there are times where life gets hectic and I don’t take the 15 minutes to slow down. I study the Bible regularly…except when I’m traveling and things are hectic and I don’t find 15 minutes to sit and read.

How many things do we tell ourselves that we do or are, but in reality we’re nowhere close to that?

Are we just kidding ourselves? Or trying to deceive ourselves?

The rich young man came to Jesus and said, in so many words, “I’m perfect.” And Jesus seeing into the heart said, “Oh, no, you’re not. Here is somewhere you fall short.” And the man couldn’t do it.

Or take poor Peter. He told Jesus he’d follow him anywhere, any time. Jesus said oh, no, even just tonight you will deny you ever knew me.

Yet, Peter went on to be a great leader. The young man with no name went away sorrowfully.

Maybe it’s not so much that we deceive ourselves. It’s when we get a realization–maybe someone says something about us and we think “What????”–and it’s what we do with that realization.

We start to set aside 15 minutes a day. We help the next person we see who needs help. We bite our tongue and refuse to say that mean thought that popped into our brain.

It’s the same with us as leaders. We think we’re including everyone. We think we have a vision and direction. We think we give clear instructions.

Except when we don’t.

It is not what we have done but what we do when we come to awareness that counts.

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.

Preparation Forms The Spiritual Life

February 4, 2016

Teenagers watch their favorite athlete. They try to mimic his or her style. They fail miserably at becoming a top athlete.


They didn’t mimic what they didn’t see–the work ethic of the top athletes. They practice and work out and eat right as a way of life.

Unless…they are like “Johnny Football.” The curse from my dad was to make me a Cleveland Browns fan. Although I’ve become increasingly disenchanted with the NFL, the curse lingers. And the geniuses drafted a known problem child but thought about bringing excitement to the town.

This is a kid who had one good year in college. Came to the pros as a cocky kid imitating the swagger of some top pros. Except–he forgot about the work ethic. And there is a lot of work that goes into being a top pro player.

Dallas Willard used the first example in his book The Spirit of the Disciplines as a metaphor for the life with Jesus.

We ask “What Would Jesus Do?” thinking about acting like he acted in public.

Do you ever think about Jesus’ preparation. He knew the Scriptures thoroughly. We know from a snippet of a story from when he was 12 and was studying with the great teachers at the Temple.

He studied, memorized, thought about the Scriptures. He could quote and interpret flawlessly.

We know his practice was to go off alone and pray.

Jesus put in the hard work of living a life of preparation in order to “be a pro.”

If we want to be like him, it’s not just asking what he’d do in a situation. Or wearing sandals and growing a beard. Or acting like we know it all.

There is the hard work of constant study. Reading and thinking about the scriptures. Praying, meditating, contemplation as we grow into a deeper relationship with God and our knowledge and wisdom increase.

That work need not be joyless. But it needs to become a way of life. Then we are ready to act like Jesus because it is just a natural part of our lives.

It’s easy to coast. But the fruits that come from a spiritual life only come to those who are prepared.

Living In Service To Others For Jesus

January 27, 2016

Service is an important spiritual discipline. Jesus almost always had people respond after a healing. James told us that faith without works (service) is dead.

Wycliffe, the Bible translator group, had a celebration yesterday Jan. 26 as it released 16 new translations of the Bible for language groups in Asia, Latin America, and south Pacific Islands.

It is amazing how many languages there are. In the US, we have some people who think that everyone should only speak English here. Some of these people travel and think that everyone everywhere should be speaking English. It’s only natural, I guess, when you grow up in an area where that’s what everyone¬† speaks.

Hearing these stories of groups of people in Peru, southeast Asia, Papua New Guinea where there is a distinct language in almost every village, would blow their minds.

The Wycliffe presenters (I was at a Presbyterian church in The Villages, Florida for a service led by leaders of the nearby Wycliffe headquarters) shared stories of people of service who dedicated large chunks of their lives to learning about a people, their language, and their culture. They did this in service so that they could translate the Bible into their language so that they could better understand.

A woman in Cameroon who had only heard the Gospel message in French only came to understand the Easter story when she heard it in her native language. That is the power of the work of these people.

Another of the powerful spiritual disciplines is study. Picking up the Bible daily and actually reading it. Almost all of us read it in our native language without thought of the translation from the original Greek or Hebrew. We rely on the translators without thinking most of the time. But the power of the message for our faith and our lives comes out of study and meditation on the word.

This is marvelous service. Makes me wonder about my service. Am I using all of my talents? And you?

Teach Us To Pray

January 14, 2016

“Lord, teach us to pray.”

Writing about prayer yesterday dredged up some memories of teaching people to pray. Paul has much to say that is practical. Jesus’ disciples asked him point blank one day. He responded with the “model” prayer that we call the Lord’s Prayer.

Once in my idealism, I offered a class on how to pray to my church. There were a few takers. My idea was to, well, er, teach them how to pray. As in, let’s see an example of a type of prayer, then spend the rest of the class practicing that prayer. You know, contemplation, intercessory, supplication–the whole thing.

The trouble was–they didn’t want to practice. They wanted what we call “book knowledge.” But they were uncomfortable actually praying.

Did the same thing with a class on spiritual formation. We gathered a dozen people into our family room and I led them through Richard Foster and Dallas Willard. What I tried to do during those 10 weeks or so was to get them to start actually practicing some of the “Spiritual Disciplines.” Did we pray daily? Study daily? Fast regularly? Worship? Serve?

They just wanted to learn the words from the book. I don’t know if any actually changed their life practices by incorporating a daily habit of spiritual practice.

Funny thing is I read constantly. But when I find something worthwhile, I try to add it into my daily or weekly (depending) habits. I’m far from perfect, but it would take a book to discuss the growth in my life due to spiritual practices. More even-tempered. Discernment. Ability to recognize the needs of others.

I think when Jesus taught his disciples to pray that he expected them to actually pray. Pray to recognize God’s holiness. Pray for our daily sustenance. Pray for God’s kingdom. Pray for others. Even pray for ourselves.

So let’s lift up our hands and actually pray–and follow Paul’s advice to do it without arguing or anger. Prayer is so powerful; it will change your life.