Thursday, March 31, 2005

Internet Pornography and Church Kids

Yesterday at lunch, a youth worker reported that 58 out of 62 high school boys in a church youth group held their hands up during a retreat session that they regularly viewed internet pornography.

I'm aware that internet pornography is a huge business, which means that lots of people go there. I was stunned, however, to learn that it was so pervasive among this group of upper middle class church kids. It's easy to be out of touch with reality.

This youth worker then talked about something to help -- a program that tracks every web site visited on a computer and sends an email record to a parent, wife, or other person the individual chooses to be accountable to. He uses one himself, and recommended one to the leaders of the youth group's church. And in fact, the leaders are taking the initiative to buy and install the software for their members.

One site that will provide a program of this type for free is I am sure that there are other even more sophisticated programs available elsewhere.

I love the internet and the good things it offers -- but internet pornography is one where we need to take proactive measures, both for kids and adults.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

We Need Community to Be Successful in Life

I’m fascinated that God created us with different personality types.

As I read another book on understanding personality types yesterday, I was again impressed that each type has strengths and weaknesses, and that only in community are we complete. Only together do we have all the strengths necessary to do a job well, to care for one another, and to have a complete understanding of a situation. This is just further proof that God intended us to function in communities – families, tribes, and churches.

Our different personality types also lead to conflict. We see things differently. We process things differently. We have different approaches to problem solving. We even have different ways of dealing with conflict based on our personalities. That means that in communities we must expect conflict and learn together how to deal with it. The differences are healthy because they allow us together to be better than any of us alone. But at the same time, we each must respect what others bring to the community and recognize the need for compromise and collaboration.

God often calls us to work within the strengths of our personality. When our work matches our personality strengths, everything seems easy – we’re in the “flow.” When our work doesn’t match our personality strengths, we usually find the work difficult, often struggle, and productivity and performance may be low. Finding our calling – work that matches the way God made us – is a great blessing. Those of us who are coaches and career counselors frequently help clients better understand the impact of personality traits on career choices and job satisfaction.

Interestingly, God also often calls us to work in areas where our personality does not provide strength. It is during these times that His strength can be displayed. And it is during these times that we see the value of partnering with others that have personality traits and skills that complement ours. Moses is a good example. Moses’ personality and skills were not a good match for negotiating with Pharaoh or for organizing and leading a nation. Yet, because of the power of God, and through partnering with others that had the needed traits and skills, Moses was effective.

So, some questions for thought:

  1. How can I use the differences in personalities to improve the communities and organizations I am part of?
  2. What types of people do I need to partner with to complement my natural strengths?
  3. What types of work and ministry/volunteer efforts best match my personality traits?

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Atheist, Theist, or Christian?

Christianity Today has an interesting article in the April 2005 edition on Antony Flew. Flew, one of the world's leading philosophers, recently changed his mind about God, from being an Atheist to becoming a Jeffersonian Deist. He now believes in God as Creator, or Designer. He is careful to point out that he is not a Christian.

Here's what Flew says holds him back from Christianity:

1. He has an unshakable view against the supernatural. He believes that the laws of nature are so well established that he has no difficulty ignoring testimonies about miracles.

2. "He detests any notion that a loving God would send any of his creatures to eternal flames."

Another important distinction between Theism and Christianity is found in another Flew quote:
"Why should God be concerned about what his creatures think about him anymore than he should be directly concerned with their conduct?"

The question that occurred to me while reading this was, "How much has Theism influenced what some of us believe about God, and as a result affected our Christianity?"
  • Do we believe and trust that God intervenes in supernatural ways? Today?
  • Do we believe that God will punish as well as reward?
  • Do we believe that God wants our worship?
  • Do we believe that God is concerned about our conduct, about how we live our lives?
When we answer one or more of these questions in the negative, we move away from God as revealed in the Bible toward God defined by human logic. We move toward Theism and Atheism. We move away from hope.

Monday, March 28, 2005

What Should I Do Now That I'm a Christian?

...people would come to Frank Buckman and ask, 'What should I do now that I’m a Christian?'’ And he would ask them, 'What’s the most important question or issue that’s being faced in your country right now?'’ Then his answer would be, ‘"Why don’t you go work on that until God gives you something else to do.'’

(I lifted this quote from Bob Buford's new newsletter. Bob is the founder of HalfTime, and this is his latest effort.)

Buckman's response to this timeless question is worthy of consideration by all of us. Often what we have heard, or maybe given, as the answer to this question is, "Just get involved doing all the church things -- become an active member."

The "church" answer leads us to become inward focused -- more focused on serving the church. Buckman's answer leads us to become outward focused -- more focused on serving the world around us. In my life I've seen a lot more of us following the "church" answer. I'm now seeing increased movement by Christians toward Buckman's answer.

Which path has been your focus? Which path best fits your God-given abilities and passions? Which path do you see being your future focus? What about doing both?

Friday, March 25, 2005

Terri Schiavo

I don't know what to think about the Terri Schiavo situation. There is much information that pulls me both directions. Some of the information I process logically. Other information I process emotionally. I do recognize that there is much misinformation being put out, and at the same time I wonder if all the salient information needed to form an opinion is available. I just don't know.

But I do know it is a heart-tugging story that has captured our attention. It's the subject of conversation in almost any group. Good will come from all of us re-examining our thinking about the value of life as well as the value of being able to choose not to be kept alive artificially.

As I was scanning my favorite web news sites this morning, seeing among other things the headlines on Schiavo, I then went to read the blogs I normally scan as well. As I read Larry James' Urban Daily, I could not help but think about the fact that every day we pass by and ignore so many in need whose lives are just as valuable as Schiavo's. They too are hungry. They too need support for life to continue. But for some reason they are not in the headlines, the topic of conversation.

None of us has any power to do anything to change the Schiavo situation. But maybe we could redirect our aroused passion about the value of life to a situation where we could make a difference -- by helping provide food and shelter for the poor who live in our own neighborhoods.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Coming Brain Drain

Anne Fisher has a good article on "How to Battle the Brain Drain" in the current issue of Fortune.

"The Brain Drain" is a term used to describe the loss of experienced workers from Corporate America. Part of this is occurring naturally through normal retirement, but it has been accelerated in recent years through programs encouraging workers over 50 to leave through early retirement. In fact, the current first retirement age in the U.S. is now about 57 due to this phenomenon. It is further exacerbated by the unusually large size of this age group. American business is losing its knowledge and experience at alarming rates. Fisher's article does a good job of discussing the problem and talking about some solutions that are being brought forth.

I was part of a group that worked on this issue during the transition period after Chevron bought Texaco. It is a difficult problem.

One major difficulty in solving the problem are our laws concerning retirement plans. But fortunately, there are moves afoot to change the laws to allow companies to offer phased retirement or to keep older workers employed on a part time basis without jeopardizing their retirement benefits. This will be a win-win for everyone.

Here are a couple of things we should all be thinking about:

1. Company leaders should develop formal strategies to both minimize and pass on as much of the knowledge of their older experienced workers as possible. This should include mentoring programs and other measures discussed in Fisher's article.

2. Company leaders, aware that much experience and knowledge is becoming available through early retirement, should develop strategies to gain access through innovative hiring policies.

3. Individuals over 40 should begin developing personal strategies for how they will continue working and contributing if they are part of the brain drain. There are many good options, but nearly all require some level of preparation and action before they can be put in place.

If you'd like to have a conversation about this, either as an employer or as an individual, let me know.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Controlling Immortality

From the April 2005 issue of Fast Company:

Fast Company: Would you want to be immortal if the opportunity presented itself?

Ray Kurzweil
: I think the opportunity is presenting itself. Our mortality is something that should be in our hands. It's something I want in my hands. I believe we'll demonstrate a mouse that doesn't age within about a decade. And we'll translate that into human therapies.

Some Observations:

1. What Kurzweil and often maybe the rest of us often fail to see is that we already are immortal. When our focus is only on this physical life in this physical world, we don't recognize our immortality -- we see only aging leading to the ultimate expression of physical mortality, death.

2. The fact that we naturally desire immortality and that this physical world doesn't offer it should point us toward another world -- one that offers eternal life.

3. Isn't it interesting that our desire is to be in control of our own mortality -- through our own devices to create an end to aging and death due to aging? We want to become God.

4. Why is it that when we are already immortal and have a God who has provided that for us that we don't want to follow His way, but come up with our own solution?

5. The more successful we are in dealing with our physical world, the less attention we pay to God who created our physical world.

This reminds me of the people building the tower of Babel who thought that through their actions they could become equal to God.

What is it that you and I are focused on in this physical world that heads the same direction?

Tuesday, March 22, 2005


Here's a new word being used by Ken Dychtwald, President of Age Wave. Dychtwald researches, consults, writes, and speaks primarily about the Baby Boom generation and the effects of the aging of this larger than normal generation (about 28% of the U.S. population). Insurance companies and investment firms are his primary clients. You'll find a lot of very interesting information by just poking around his website.

He uses "middlescence" to describe a new period in life brought about by lengthened life span. He defines it as the years 50 - 70. The point is that because of increased life span, the adding of 30 years to the average American life over the last 100 years, we have this new period of life with new characteristics. People in middlescence are in most ways at their peak. They are healthy, often have many of the responsibilities of raising family behind them, and have the freedom to create a life more in alignment with deeply held values at the same time as they may have opportunities to exit from career.

About Boomers, he says, "They'll take a breath and then reinvent themselves, then strike a new balance between leisure and work, whether that is starting a new career or business, working part time, or as volunteers."

I'm meeting people every day who are doing just that. What's your plan?

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Prayer: The Petition of Our Hearts

The lesson I'm teaching today in Bible Class...

The Lamb then broke the seventh seal, and there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Next I saw seven trumpets being given to the seven angels who stand in the presence of God. Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. A large quantity of incense was given to him to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar that stood in front of the throne; and so from the angel’s hand the smoke of the incense went up in the presence of God and with it the prayers of the saints. Then the angel took the censer and filled it from the fire of the altar, which he then hurled down onto the earth; immediately there came peals of thunder and flashes of lightening, and the earth shook.
Revelation 8:1-5 (The New Jerusalem Bible)

Question Number 1: How important are your prayers?

Your prayers are so important that Heaven puts everything on hold so that they can be heard and acted upon. What an awe-inspiring picture of what happens when we pray!

Question Number 2: How big is your God?

“I strongly believe that the way we live is a consequence of the size of our God. The problem many of us have is that our God is too small. We are not convinced that we are absolutely safe in the hands of a fully competent, all-knowing, ever-present God.” John Ortberg, If You Want to Walk on Water, You Have to Get Out of the Boat. Ortberg then makes the following points.

If we live with a small God…

  • We live in fear and anxiety because everything depends on us.
  • Our mood will be governed by our circumstances.
  • We will live in a universe that leaves us deeply vulnerable.
  • We cannot be financially generous because our financial security depends on us.
  • And so much more…

When human beings shrink God, they…

  • Offer prayer without faith,
  • Work without passion,
  • Serve without joy,
  • Suffer without hope.

Question Number 3: Does prayer change things?

“The idea that everything would happen exactly as it does regardless of whether we pray or not is a specter that haunts the minds of many who sincerely profess belief in God. It makes prayer psychologically impossible, replacing it with dead ritual at best.” Dallas Willard, Divine Conspiracy

How often when someone is diagnosed with cancer do you go through the motions of praying, all the time feeling that the future is already set by the course of the disease?

How frequently, when you hear that a marriage is in trouble, do you pray for acceptance and comfort for the parties rather than pray for reconciliation, believing that things have gone too far for the future to be changed?

Accepting that everything will happen exactly as it does regardless of prayer kills faith, destroys hope.

If that’s where you find yourself even part of the time, Jesus Christ has brought you Good News. God the Father wants to grant the petitions of your heart! He wants to change the future! He wants to write history the way your heart desires!

Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. Everyone who asks receives; everyone who searches finds; everyone who knocks will have the door opened. Is there anyone among you who would hand his son a stone when he asked for bread? Or would hand him a snake when he asked for a fish? If you then, evil as you are, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him! Matthew 7:7-11 (New Jerusalem Bible)

Walter Wink, commenting on Revelation 8, writes, “History belongs to the intercessors – those who believe and pray the future into being.

History is in your hands – not because you’re powerful or wealthy or smart – but because you believe and pray, and because Jesus Christ himself intercedes for us.

If God is for us, who can be against us? Since he did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for the sake of all of us, then can we not expect that with him he will freely give us all his gifts? Are we not sure that it is Christ Jesus, who died – yes and more, who was raised from the dead and is at God’s right hand – and who is adding his plea for us? Romans 8:31, 34 (NJB)

The Petitions of Your Heart

May the LORD answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you. May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion. May he remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings. May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. We will shout for joy when you are victorious and will lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the LORD grant all your requests. Now I know that the LORD saves his anointed; he answers from his holy heaven with the saving power of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm. O LORD, save the king! Answer us when we call! Psalm 20 (NIV)

Question Number 4: What does your heart want?

What does your heart desire? What do you want to accomplish? What are your petitions, requests? These are important questions, because God wants to know! He wants you to trust in him and ask for them.

Prayer simply dies from efforts to pray about “good things” that honestly do not matter to us. The way to get to meaningful prayer for those good things is to start by praying for what we are truly interested in. The circles of our interests will inevitably grow in the largeness of God’s love…Many people have found prayer impossible because they thought they should only pray for wonderful but remote needs they actually had little or no interest in or even knowledge of.” Dallas Willard, Divine Conspiracy

Richard Foster, in Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, writes, “We bring ourselves before God just as we are, warts and all. Like children before a loving father, we open our hearts and make our requests. We do not try to sort out the good from the bad…We tell God, for example, how frustrated we are with the co-worker at the office or the neighbor down the street. We ask for food, favorable weather, and good health.”

That’s the “daily bread” of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6.

That’s the “praying for each other’s healing” of James 5.

That’s the “praying for those who mistreat you” of Luke 6.

That’s the praying for “peace” of Psalms 122.

That’s the prayer for “healing” of I Kings 13.

And it’s the prayer for “forgiveness of our debts” in Luke 11.

Prayer is simply “talking with God about what we are doing together.” Dallas Willard, Divine Conspiracy

Question Number 5: So what?

All of this is just good theology unless you do something with it. So what are you going to do? Here are some suggestions.

1. Spend some time writing down what really matters to you. What is it that your heart really wants to have happen? Who (including you) and what are really important to you? What do you want to happen in their future? How do you want their history to read? God made each of us with different interests, different passions, and different circles of acquaintances intentionally.

2. Pray regularly about those things with all the trust that God will hear and act that you can muster. Decide to be someone that truly shapes the future, someone that helps write history.

3. Record the results that you observe – what God has caused to happen or change as a result of your prayers.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Laughing at Ourselves

"We should be proud of who we are. Then we can laugh at ourselves. Being natural, being yourself, goes right to the heart of laughter." Willard Scott

Sometimes a TV weather man is right on -- I guess when you're not talking about the weather it's easier. But the ability to laugh at yourself does seem to be a good barometer of how comfortable you are in your own skin. If we're uptight and concerned about how others might view us, we find it difficult to laugh at ourselves -- because laughing at ourselves might expose something we don't want others to see.

John McBride says, "The ability to laugh at ourselves is the next greatest gift we have to love." Reader's Digest proclaims, "Laughter, the Best Medicine."

I need that gift, that medicine. I don't laugh at myself enough. I'm prone to take myself too seriously. Many times I just need to give it up and be more confortable with who I am and have a good laugh at myself. Won't you join me?

Thursday, March 17, 2005

The Influence of Saint Patrick

When you visit Ireland as Eloise and I did four years ago, you can't help but be impressed by the effect Christianity has had on Irish history. We walked among ancient ruins of Christian communities in many parts of the island. We visited museums that displayed artifacts and information about the role of Christianity. And we visited Saint Patrick's Cathedral for a worship service. Christianity, brought to Ireland by Patrick, has indeed had a tremendous influence on that nation.

What most of us may not realize is that our world would likely be much different if Patrick had not evangelized Ireland beginning in 433. Within about 40 years, he had evangelized the whole nation. And as a result, Ireland became the repository for not only Christianity, but also for education and learning when most of Europe was suffering through the middle and dark ages. It was then the Celts that re-evangelized Europe, and brought with them education and learning that had been stored for all those years.

We can all be grateful that God chose to allow the circumstance of a 16-year old named Patrick being kidnapped and sold into slavery in Ireland to prepare him to return to Ireland years later to teach about Christ, and centuries later, to have descendents of his converts re-introduce Christianity to the Western World.

What outcomes might God have in mind for what he is using you to do?

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Shaping the Future

Where's the point in life where you recognize that your smarts, your hard work, and your planning can't truly shape the future? Is it a single incident, or a collection of incidents where you recognize that you really have no control? When do we come to the realization that our only avenue to shape the future, to change the path of whatever is happening is prayer to a God that has the power and the knowledge and the love to change the course of history in the making?

For me it's a continual journey. There are things I "think" I have control of, where my own smarts or my own work can make things happen. When I fail, I think it's my fault. And it is, but not because I wasn't smart enough or didn't work hard enough -- but because I thought it was within my control to begin with. There are other things where I immediately understand that I have no ability or control, and find it easy to turn them over to God.

Maybe part of the purpose of life is to learn that in reality there is nothing we have control of -- and that everything is in God's venue.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Two Neighborhoods -- Both Need Hope

Yesterday I went over to Hope for Youth's facility to deliver some items Houston Baptist University donated for their program to encourage children they serve to attend college.

Hope for Youth works with about 125 at-risk youth each week through spiritual, educational and recreational programs. They are making a difference.

Although I've driven past the Sunnyside neighborhood where Hope for Youth is located hundreds of times, yesterday was the first time I've driven into the neighborhood. It's old, many of the houses and buildings are deteriorating, and when the neighborhood is on the news, it's not good. But one thing that I noticed on my short visit was that there are lots of churches. And that's where hope is for this neighborhood.

Today I attended a meeting in a different neighborhood -- one on Memorial Drive. The houses and building range from very nice to extravagant. The only thing needing repair is the Houston streets, but that's another subject. And I noticed that this neighborhood too is home to lots of churches. And that's where the hope is for this neighborhood also.

I'm thankful for the churches in both neighborhoods. Although the economic status of those living in the two neighborhoods is very different, their need for hope is exactly the same.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Stepping Back

Saturday evening we attended the 30th Anniversary celebration for Westbury Christian School. It was a step back into the past. Sara and John attended WCS all the way through high school graduation, and Mark attended through 10th grade. Eloise began working there in 1975 and spent 18 years of her career leading and teaching. For those years, we seemed to live at Westbury, between our involvement with the church and the school.

We saw so many people that had been large parts of our lives during that period, and had the wonderful opportunity to catch up with them and their lives. Students have grown up and many brought their own children. We were able to visit with friends who shared some very significant parts of our lives. It was a fun mixture of remembering and getting up to date with the present.

It was a great reminder of good times and good friends, but also that life moves on to new pursuits and new friends to travel life with. And it was a great reminder that what endures in life are relationships.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Out of Harm's Way?

We got email from John yesterday that he's leaving from Kuwait on April 6 to come home. That's great news!

It means he'll be "out of harm's way" -- the phrase we seem to use to indicate that someone is in a militarily active area where people shoot at you and set off bombs. No doubt the potential for being harmed is significant in that environment. They've been shot at frequently as they've moved about Iraq on their mission.

But as I think about being out of harm's way, I'm very aware that being home still has its risks for harm. Just yesterday a judge, a court reporter, and two deputies were killed or critically injured in Atlanta, and the Houston area had its share of people being harmed as well. So to some extent, we all live in harm's way because people always have the ability to harm other people.

As John resumes his "normal" life, he'll still be in harm's way just as we all are. We just won't be as aware of the potential dangers because he's home -- not in a war zone. We're glad he's coming home. But we'll still be praying regularly for his protection.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Finding Your Calling

Finding your calling is one of the most basic drives a person has. Why am I here? What should I be doing? What's the meaning of my life? The questions go on and on, and sometimes finding the answers aren't easy.

Sometimes the problem in finding the answers may lie in our self-centered approach to the search for meaning. If it's just about me, or even if it's mostly about me, I'm unlikely to find the answer, and for lots of reasons. The biggest reason is that life is not about me.

A Calling is when God entrusts you with something His heart yearns for.

Anita Carman who leads the organization Inspire Women, shared this definition while speaking at an event I attended yesterday. I think it has a lot to offer.
  • First, calling is about God and what He wants to occur.
  • That suggests that discerning my calling requires being aware of God and his purposes.
  • It also means that I must be open to stepping up when I sense that God is offering to entrust me with something He wants done.
Anita also suggested that as a result, we must learn to follow the person of Jesus, and not our five-year plan. If we're focused on Jesus, He will provide the opportunities and the insight to find our calling. If we're focused on the five-year plan, it's likely we won't see the opportunities and won't gain the insight.

What God entrusts to us will match our background, resources, and skills. That's why he made us the way He did, gave us the skills and resources that He has, and trained us with the life experiences He's afforded us. Being self-aware -- knowing how we're wired, what we're good at, what we're interested in and passionate about -- is a good thing because it provides a background to look for the intersection with what God calls us to do. But some of us may even use this to put God in a box. If we see a possible opportunity that might be a calling, we may dismiss it because it doesn't fit in the box that is us as we understand ourselves.

Which leads to a final point Anita made -- "Recognize that you've been reading from an incomplete script." Our self-awareness is ever growing, and more importantly, our awareness of God and what He is doing is always growing.

May God open our eyes to see Him and His calling for us more clearly!

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Freshness in Bible Reading

I picked up a copy of The New Jerusalem Bible yesterday at the book store. I was looking for something to bring some freshness to my Bible reading. Brennan Manning recommended it in one of his books because of the phraseology. It was originally done in French, and then in English, so some of the wording and phraseology is different than in American English translations.

It also contains the Apocrypha -- books primarily found in Catholic Bibles, but not generally accepted as part of the Protestant canon. Not having read them before, I started with the book of Tobit last night just to see what it was about, and found that I could not stop reading. It's set in the time of the exile.

As I was reading, the thought crossed my mind that this is what it must be like to read the Bible for the first time to someone who has never read it before. It was fresh, appealing, and absorbing. How often we who have had a Bible to read since we were young seem to lose the sense of wonder at its contents. Which, by the way, was part of the reason I picked up a new translation yesterday -- having things phrased a little differently helps me see it freshly.

While there's a measure of comfort in reading from the NIV which has become my standard, there's a renewed excitement that comes from reading the familiar said a little differently. So if you're in a rut, I encourage you to reach out.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Would God Use a Dog to Get My Attention?

Jenny Dog went for one of her thankfully infrequent tours of the neighborhood yesterday morning. One of her favorite parts of the day is when Eloise leaves for the university. Jenny is allowed to go out front on a leash to check out the front yard. Yesterday she managed to get out of her collar and check out the whole neighborhood -- with me following along as closely as I could to retrieve her. After about 10 minutes, Eloise pulled up in the car, and Jenny happily climbed into the back seat.

Most of the time I was chasing her and even after we had her back in the house, my thoughts were about how to prevent this in the future. Some were about how to discipline her. I had several ideas, and may yet implement one or more of them.

But then the idea that maybe God just used Jenny to force me to take a brisk walk occurred to me. You see, I'm not as faithful to my exercise as I need to be. What if God merely allowed Jenny to escape so that I would do what I needed to be doing? Is it possible that God would use a dog to intervene in a human life? Was God just trying to get my attention?

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Spiritual Training

I've read several books on "spiritual disciplines" over the years and found them helpful. I keep picking up new ones, though, hoping that the next one will help me take a giant step instead of the baby steps I seem to prefer.

John Ortberg's The Life You've Always Wanted is the latest, and in many ways the most helpful. Perhaps it's because Ortberg explains the purpose of spiritual disciplines in a way that finally got through to me.
  • Spiritual disciplines are a form of spiritual training, like training for anything else. They are not an end to themselves, something you do that in doing confer spirituality. They are exercises to strengthen your spirit in ways that need strengthening. He makes the point that resonates with me that as you look at your life and see areas where growth is needed, that you select disciplines that will provide the exercise needed to allow that growth.
  • He draws extensively from previous writers which helped draw together many of the ideas and suggestions I had read before.
So, now that I have some fresh perspective, I'll be modifying my spiritual exercise program in coming days to better meet my needs.

I recommend giving this book some study, even making it the first book you read on spiritual disciplines if you have not studied the subject before. I found it particularly helpful in providing perspective, if not always fully satisfying in its treatment of some specific aspects.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Fear Sells, I Buy

Media thrives on fear. It sells newspapers, magazines, TV programming.

If you don't believe it, just think about what makes you click a link on the CNN home page to learn more or what makes you pick up a magazine or stay tuned to the news instead of using the clicker to change channels. Popular topics this week include possible large gasoline price increases, drug side effects, storms, the economy and social security, and avoiding buying a car that will give you lots of problems. Plenty of fuel for worrying. Fear is about what could be, what could happen.

Even casual Bible students are aware that commands and teaching about not being fearful compose one of the most frequent topics in scripture. Not fearing and not worrying are one of the major themes of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Jesus points out that God takes exceptional care of the birds and the flowers, and that he will take even better care of us. And he points out that we have no control over our futures. His message is "Trust God."

Our problem is that we want to trust ourselves. That's my problem for sure. And media suggests that by giving me the right information -- and by me paying attention and reading or listening to their story -- that I can take care of my future.

Our rule for living seems to be, "If I have enough knowledge, I can make the right choices and do the right things so that bad things don't happen to me." And there's just enough truth in that to make it insidious.

The problem is that there is never enough information or knowledge to insure safety, or success, or avoidance of whatever it is that we think will be bad. So no matter how much we learn or how "good" our decisions and plans are, we still face the very real possibility that things will not turn out as we think. That drives us to keep trying to find more information, more knowledge. And that is why media is such a big business.

Bottom line, though, it's about control. Am I in control, or is God in control? Can I get enough knowledge so that I can take care of my future -- so that I can be my own God?

I know down deep that the answer is "No!" So why do I keep trying? Why would I want to be my own God? I know that by myself I'll mess it up. So why not just give it over to God, who already has all the knowledge -- and all the power? Is it because I like to be fearful, because I like to worry?

Friday, March 04, 2005

Gone Fishing

Today Eloise and I are going fishing. Mark is jealous because he lives in Midland and the closest fishing hole is several hours away. But he says "if you live by water, you should go fishing."

We'll pack a lunch, I'll throw in my fishing gear, and Eloise will take a good book. Fishing for Eloise is about time away to read a good book, and occasionally to say "Nice fish." Fishing for me is about time away and outside to toss plastic things or flies into "fishy looking water" to see if I can entice a fish to bite. If one decides to play, I bring it in, remove the hook, and send it back to play again. If it's a big one, we'll take a picture before releasing it.

There's something magical that happens to me when I open the gate at 7Lakes. My body seems to throw off stress that has built up.

Part of that is being outdoors, near water and birds and fish and sometimes other interesting creatures. Part of it is being so focused on fishing that other cares and thoughts are put aside.

And part of it is the challenge of "outsmarting" the fish -- using experience and skills that have been developed over time to achieve some measure of success in the day's venture. Perseverance and "hard work" seem to be part of what makes a fishing trip a success, maybe especially when the fish appear to have absolutely no interest in being caught.

Maybe it's mostly about this last part -- the use of experience, skills, and perseverance -- that make going fishing fulfilling. And that's not so different from what we do in other activities in life afterall -- if we are fortunate enough to be able to focus our vocational pursuits on areas where our unique experience and skills combined with perseverance are employed.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Bring Your Parents to Work Day

Yesterday Eloise and I went to visit Sara at work -- to get the tour and have lunch. Sort of the opposite of "bring your child to work" day.

Over time, you get used to the idea that your children have grown up and are doing well in their careers. But hearing about it and seeing it are two different things. Making our way through the maze that is M.D. Anderson, finding the Sarcoma Center, and being met by Sara wearing her white coat with all the initials following her name and with her stethoscope hanging from her neck somehow make it real. We met all of the people she works with that we've heard about, and we toured the clinic and the inpatient floor where she does her thing. We even got to buy her lunch at the Rotary House before going by and seeing her office in the Faculty Center. All in all, quite impressive. And it makes a parent proud.

Maybe we should lobby to make "Bring Your Parents to Work Day" something official!

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Getting Out of the Boat

I finished John Ortberg's If You Want to Walk on Water You Have to Get Out of the Boat last night. It's become one of my new favorite books. There are so many thoughts in the book that speak to me that now I have to go back through it specifically to capture some of them. For me, this is one of those books that just reading it isn't enough -- I need to go back through it and process it.

One of the areas that I found most helpful was about fear. What I learned will help me personally, but more, it will help me as I coach others. Weekly I find that fear, usually fear of failure and rejection, keeps people I'm trying to help from taking the steps that would help them find their next job, make a career change, or do something else that is important to them. Ortberg has several ideas I think will be helpful for them.

If you haven't discovered this book yet, I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Ronnie White = Preaching

We were in Midland over the weekend visiting Mark and Kathy. One of the side benefits of visiting them is getting to hear Ronnie White preach at Golf Course Road.

Ronnie and Marsha are friends from young adulthood. Along with lots of folks who are still dear friends, we were part of a small group at Westbury, and it was during that experience that the Whites decided to move to Oklahoma City to study for ministry and Ronnie began preaching. As Ronnie attended Oklahoma Christian, we all got to help provide some financial support. So for a lot of reasons, we feel some ownership in what they have been allowed to accomplish in their ministry.

Ronnie is a gifted preacher. He has an ability to connect with people and to communicate in a very personal way. Listening to him speak Sunday, I can't imagine him in any other vocation. It just seems so obvious that he is doing exactly what he was created to do. I'm thankful that his aspirations as golfer, marketing rep, and entrepreneur didn't work out so that he could find what he really was wired to do -- preach.