On Approaching the End of a Fast

3 June 2014

I know what Jesus says about talking with other people about fasting.

Matthew 6:16-18: “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

On the other hand, Scripture freely reports that Jesus fasted (Matt 4.2), Moses fasted (Exodus 34.28), Israel fasted (Judges 20.26), the early Christians fasted (Acts 13.2) and Paul fasted (2 Corinthians 11.27). (Plus many others). If the fact of it is reported so freely in scripture, then probably I am OK in reporting the fact of it and some of the reasons behind it.

And so, if in writing this I forfeit the benefits of fasting, I guess so be it. But I don’t think that is the case & I believe some observations are warranted and might be helpful to others.

For the past twenty seven days I have been on a coffee fast.  When I have fasted before it has been from all solid food and usually for a day or two.  In our American culture of entitlement, I actually l felt more noble than humble when I fasted from food (humility, not pride is supposed to be part of the purpose of a fast).

But on May 6, the idea came to fast from coffee for 30 days.  It was suggested by someone else in a very round about way:  “You can ask me to fast from anything but coffee!” But whose words struck my heart and I decided to fast from coffee for thirty days.  I don’t think I have fasted from one specific item for any length of time.  I have recommended it, but when I have fasted it has always been a total solid food fast. coffee-cup

The plan was this:  whenever I thought of coffee, I would stop and pray for two things: the first is the finances of a Christian ministry I am involved with and that they will have wisdom on how to use the finances at their disposal, and the second is a personal matter.   I knew I would certainly  think of coffee if I couldn’t have any!

That (according to my understanding) is the purpose of a fast:  It is not to earn brownie points with God for denying yourself.  It is to take that time that you might spend doing something (like eating) and instead use it for prayer and Bible reading.  It is NOT simply denying yourself something. When I have preached on fasting, numerous people have said,”Oh yeah…I fasted when I wanted to lose weight fast.  It was a great way to lose weight.”  (BTW: it is NOT “a great way to lose weight.”)  Fasting is replacing that thing (eating, coffee) with something that can better attune you to God’s heart and will.  It is not bending God to your will. It is bending yourself to God’s will, believing that he will act when our will is aligned with his.

I don’t have a lot of memories of my dad…he died when I was a kid, but one memory I have is of him fasting.  He was in the living room reading his Bible while the rest of the family ate in the dining room.  I thought it was kind of weird at the time (like most kids do), but it made an impression.

Those of you who know me well know that this coffee fast is kind of a big deal.  Coffee is an important part of my life. I really like coffee.  That is in part because I live in the Pacific Northwest and there is a huge coffee culture here. (It has something to do with staying warm in the rainy bone-penetrating damp-cold winters).  But l also like the taste. I like tasting the differences in coffees grown in different parts of the world, or in different climates or roasted and blended in different ways.    But I also realize that there is some either physical or psychological addiction to coffee within me.  I didn’t do it to be especially spiritual.  I did it because I knew I would miss coffee and so that would be a great prompt to pray.

Now let me make one thing clear…this was not a caffeine fast.  It was a coffee fast.  I still drank my fair share of caffeinated hot tea, cold Coke Zeros and chocolate!  I knew that if it was caffeine fast that this would be an entirely different matter, involving some physical withdrawal that I thought would distract me from my purpose.  That may have been rationalization, but so be it.   I wasn’t even sure I could do a thirty day coffee fast…going without coffee for thirty days seemed almost undoable.  But I really wanted something that would remind me to pray.

Several observations:

1. My plan worked…for the first couple of weeks.  The first couple of weeks I thought of coffee a lot…many times a day.  And I always (as far as I can remember) turned to prayer when I thought of coffee.  I don’t know if it jazzed the effectiveness of my prayers with the Lord, but it did serve the purpose of reminding me to pray more regularly.

It did NOT work so well, however in Weeks 3 & (so far) 4.  But the reason may not be what you think.  I just don’t think of coffee that much anymore.  It simply didn’t come up.  Oh when I would meet someone for a meeting at a coffee shop & smell the coffee it would bring back those longings, but generally (since I was getting my caffeine fix from other sources) I came to not miss it so much.

2. I actually felt estranged from many parts of my life.  As I have said, coffee culture is very big around here.  And to not be participating in that felt like I was isolating myself a bit. And that didn’t feel great.  I spend a lot of time working in coffee shops.  And I reduced that a lot this past month.  And I missed it.  I’m not sure where that sense of estrangement came, but that is an interesting observation about me.

3. It was surprising how many people automatically felt that the only reason to go off of coffee was for health reasons.  Whenever someone offered me coffee and I declined and said I was “laying off coffee for a while” everyone just assumed it was for health reasons.  “Oh I need to cut back on my coffee consumption as well.  It’s not good for you.”  “Yes coffee raises my blood pressure too. I really should cut back.”  Not one person asked “Why are you laying off coffee?”  They just presumed it was for physical health reasons.   Interesting that we don’t think there can be any other reason.

4.This whole thing that I began this article with—not telling anyone that you are fasting—has been a growth area for me as well.  I didn’t tell my wife.  I genuinely thought it was best not to even share that you are fasting.  But it came up in conversation with someone else and my wife was “concerned” that I had not shared this with her.  That scripture from Matthew does not say we can’t tell anyone we are fasting.  It says, don’t make a show of it and try to impress people with how “spiritual” you are.  Just do it and otherwise go on with life normally.  But (as I also have noted above) the scriptures are pretty open about Bible people fasting.  It isn’t some deep dark secret.

So…three days to go.  This has been a good experience. We’ll see what happens with the finances of the ministry I am involved in and in the issue in my (Loretta’s and my) personal life.  I will say, however, that I am really looking forward to having a cup of coffee on Saturday.  Please excuse me…I have a couple of things I need to go pray about….

Why a Senior Minister/Executive Director Should NOT Coach an Employee

17 April 2014

It happened again last week. A minister spoke bitterly about a former senior minister (the same situation could have described an executive director of a non-profit). The employee needed some coaching and his supervisor said, “I’ll just coach you!” The supervisor had served as a “coach” to some ministers in other churches, and so this seemed to be a natural fit.

It was a disaster.

The employee eventually left, a long-time friendship was shattered and the supervisor felt misunderstood and confused.

There were two problems

The first was “Hat Confusion”. We all wear different “hats” in our lives: boss, friend, husband, wife, coach, etc. And there are times when we are in a relationship with someone on several levels. What happens is that it is impossible (at best, extremely difficult) for both sides to understand what hat each is wearing at any specific time. Intent and perception can greatly differ.

In the case cited above, the senior minister was also friends with this church staff person. You had each wearing three hats. One wore friend, pastoral shepherd, and supervisor hats, the other wore friend and member of congregation and employee hats. The senior minister tried to add a fourth hat (coach) and put the coachee hat on his friend/employee.

It is too easy for the supervisor to slip from one hat to the other or for the employee to think that the supervisor is wearing one hat when he/she intended to be wearing another.

Second, this was added to the problem that this senior minister saw “coaching” as telling rather than asking (a common but dangerous misunderstanding) and a wall of resentment and anger was built.

In talking with the (former) employee lights went off in his head when I described how what his Supervisor had done was Consulting…not Coaching. We talked about the difference:

· Consulting is coming along side someone and telling them what they should do in a situation or how to solve a problem. The hope is that the employee will learn the task or the lesson and be able to perform it on his/her own in the future.

· Coaching is basically about asking questions—drawing the answers out of the coachee to help them solve the problem for themselves. (You are building people, not simply accomplishing a task).

Here are some reasons why a supervisor should NOT coach an employee:

· The employee will likely come up with only those ideas that he or she knows his supervisor will approve of. Creativity is stifled. Brainstorming depends on coming up with lots of ideas—good and bad–in order to come up with the best idea.

· The employee will be hampered in what he/she says because the supervisor (usually) holds the power to hire/fire and promote/demote. What is said by the employee will be calculated to make sure that nothing comes up that will jeopardize his/her position.

· If the supervisor is the problem, it is highly unlikely that the employee will bring up that fact…and the problem continues to go unaddressed.

· Coaching is much slower than directing/managing. Many supervisors get exasperated with the time it takes and just slip back into “tell mode”. Tony Stolzfus tells the story of leading a workshop where he demonstrated a coaching situation with a church employee. A few senior ministers walked out of the session. When he followed up with them later, they said, “I don’t have time for that. I know what they should do and so I would just tell them!” Coaching is much more time intensive and most senior ministers/execs of non-profits don’t have that kind of time and so they will “cut to the chase.”

What is the answer? To have an outside coach who works with the employees. Whoever pays for the coaching gets the right to set some of the desired results of coaching. Depending on the situation, the coach gives periodic reports to the group “sponsoring” (paying for) the coaching. Initial guidelines are established about what may and what may not be shared with the sponsor/employer. (It is very common for me to send reports bi-monthly or quarterly to a board or elders or a pastor relations board describing where we are in the process. This is, of course, balanced by my commitment to confidentiality for the client).

While not a minister or non-profit leader, John Russell, Managing Director of Harley-Davidson Europe Ltd. has said: “I never cease to be amazed at the power of the coaching process to draw out the skills or talent that was previously hidden within an individual, and which invariably finds a way to solve a problem previously thought unsolvable.”

Process Items-An Introduction

24 February 2014

Since 1981, Dr. Bobby Clinton, has directed the Leadership concentration in the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary and served as professor of leadership.  Before and since then, he has been a student of how leaders are formed and how their leadership skills develop.

In his years of study Clinton has identified what he calls “Process Items”.  Process Items are events, people, situations, or relationships that significantly contribute to the shaping of a specific leader.

In investigating and plotting the leadership growth of well over a thousand leaders, Clinton has been able to categorize these into 52 categories with “like properties and functions”[1]

The purpose of this is far from theoretical (although it also has a highly theoretical justification).  Knowing process items can be used retrospectively as well as diagnostically.  By that I mean that a man or woman can look at their life history and see the events, people, situations, or relationships that God has put into his or her life and see God’s hand in shaping them.  This should be of interest to Christians, both current leaders and potential leaders, because it is possible to see what God has being doing to shape one.

But just as important is the way that process theory can affect how we look at current events.  As we go through life, there can be a lot of confusion.  There can be difficult decisions.  It is easy to get distracted or discouraged by “what life throws” at you.  But knowing these process items can help us to see the sense in many of the senseless things that happen to us.  We can see how God is currently bringing events, people, situations, or relationships into our lives to fashion us into the leaders that He wants us to be.

My goal over the next several weeks (perhaps months) is to go through many of these “process items” and describe them both theoretically, but also practically…how have I or those around me seen these work out in our lives.

I could list them all out with a one sentence definition and be done with it. But I don’t think that is at all helpful.  It becomes one more piece of relatively useless information for us to stick away somewhere in either a physical or mental file and seldom (if ever) retrieve.

My hope is that by slowing us down, I can help you to begin to ask the questions like: how have I seen this lived out in my life?  Has this been my experience?  Is God doing this in my life right now?  How should I react to it?

Much more than intellectual theory, my purpose is to encourage you:

  • To encourage you to see God’s active involvement in your life both currently as well as in the past.
  • To encourage you to consider that perhaps God is calling you to be more of a leader than you have previously seen yourself.
  • To encourage you to look at the people around you with expectant eyes:  how can you help THEM to see God’s active work and development in their own lives?

Process items won’t be the only thing I write about (my ADD keeps me from staying on one specific track too long!).  But my main goal is to go through most of these process items, while at the same time interspersing them with other insights and challenges.

And so with that brief introduction, let’s begin…next time I will post the first of the Process Items in our look at Clintons 52 Process Items in the Life of the Christian Leader.


[1] All quotations come from Bobby Clinton, Leadership Emergence Theory: A Self-Study Manual.  Altadena, CA: Barnabas Publications, 1989.

To Office or Not to Office? (at a Coffeeshop)

14 February 2014

It happened again today.

I leave home (where my “office” is located) and head out to a public place to work.  Sometimes it is a library.  Sometimes it is a café or restaurant.  Most often it is a coffeeshop.

It would seem that someone sitting working on their iPad with earbuds in, with papers spread out in front of them would be working and not want to be disturbed.

Oh, disruptions happen, you have to expect that…there are loud conversations or people in the coffeeshop. People you know come over to greet you (that’s part of the reason you are there!).

But I mean intentional disruptions.  It has happened twice now the past two times I have gone to the closest Starbucks (SB) near my home.  It is a smaller SB than most, I recognize it.  And sometimes I squirrel myself away at the back bar.  (But back there you have the constant hustle of the barristas fixing drinks, getting pastries, conversing with customers loudly as they have moved away from the register to fill the customers order & doing cleaning—all right in your face.  That’s OK…it’s there job…it’s just not conducive to productive work.)

But the past two times, I have been sitting working and strangers have intentionally had mostly one-way monologues with me.

The last time was there, an elderly lady who kept leaning into my face to whisper clandestine things to me about the baristas, about Howard Schulz and about Starbucks stock.  I smiled politely, but the only final solution (well…except the one below) was to bag up my stuff and leave.

Then today (the next time I was at this specific SB to work), a guy sitting next to me decided he wanted to tell me all about his jewelry business, and the business climate in New England (where most of his jewelry goes) and the wonderful places he has lived.  I had my earbuds in and plugged into my iPad, and was working on a marketing project for my coaching business. I confess to occasionally smiling or nodding in agreement with what he was saying, but I intentionally did not engage him in conversation, all to no avail.

Now, I know what I SHOULD have done.  I should have said: ”I’m sorry and don’t mean to be rude, but I’m on the clock and working on a project and really need to concentrate.” (which is true…when you work for yourself you are always on the clock).    But that is very hard for a people-pleaser like me to do.

Again, I finally bagged up my stuff and headed out.

coffee shopCoffee shops can be great places as second or third offices, or they can be horrible places for productivity. Because I try to network with people to build my coaching practice, being in public like that CAN be of benefit.  Just being in a different location can spur the creativity.  Serendipitous meetings happen semi-regularly (God-ordained meetings, I call them).

It sounds counter-intuitive, but you can have less distractions in a public place like a coffee shop.  The familiarity of an office environment make it easy for people to just stick their heads in “for a minute.”  Phone calls, questions, trips to the water cooler or break room to refill your coffee, all that lead to multiple interruptions.   In a coffee shop, even the buzz of people talking makes for a good white noise background for me to work.  The coffee shop is even better than working alone at home many times because there are the distractions of home jobs to be done, personal phone calls, the refrigerator or pantry, plus other distractions.

And except for the most extreme introverts, there is the joy of the surprise meetings and conversations.

But it can also be a pain. Partly it depends on the flavor of the coffeeshop. The one I have been referring to is between two large retirement (55+ only) communities. And so the nature of this coffeeshop is that it gets lots of retired people (and lots of lonely people), both who seem to see the SB as a place to go and engage people in conversation.  I don’t mind a brief social conversation, but one that is one-sided and goes on and on, gets old!

A few suggestions for privacy I have found (or, am finding):

  1. Know the culture of the coffeeshop.  This one is a place, as I have said, that is frequented by lots of people LOOKING for conversation.   Others are filled with people on their laptops or iPads working or in meetings with other business people.  Another one I know if you go upstairs you can almost guarantee you will find young mothers meeting for coffee & letting their children run free, to scream and try to engage the other customers with questions.    All fine and good, but not a productive place.
  2. Shift around coffeeshops.  I have what I call my “circuit” that I make—coffee shops in Tigard (where I live), King City, Sherwood, Tualatin, Lake Oswego and Beaverton. The reason for that is so that you don’t become a fixture in one certain shop so people feel familiar enough just to interrupt you.   Also if you are hoping to prospect, you have a different clientele in each cafe.
  3. Don’t sit near the door or the cash register.  Not only can the temperature fluctuations be bothersome, but as people come in and out, or as they wait in line to pay they are more liable to stop and chat.
  4. Business/contact cards: One of the things that amazes me is people who don’t always carry a business card or two with them, especially when in public places. There’s a good chance you might meet somebody who you can work with, work for, or otherwise might want to contact later on.   It is also a great conversation delayer: “I’d love to visit more about this, but can’t quite now.  Here is my card.  Could you drop me an email and let’s try to set a mutually agreeable time to really spend the time we need on this matter.”
  5. Ear buds or headphones.  The sound deafening headphones are nice, but awkward looking and really communicate: STAY AWAY!  Earbuds can have the same effect (although not cutting out as much noise) and are much more comfortable.  I would say beware of sound deafening ear buds.  I have a pair (bought for me by my wife at very pretty price) and they don’t keep out any more noise than a regular set of earbuds.

A few more suggestions that are not privacy related.

  1. I shouldn’t need to say this, but I will.  BUY SOMETHING!  It is really tacky to use a stores space, chairs, tables, electricity, wifi, etc. and not buy anything.  The baristas can be your best friend, but they need to know that you are supporting them (and tipping).  They can help you with hidden outlets, making introductions to other customers, even giving you that extra refill.
  2. Security hardware.  I have a cable lock for my laptop.  I can lock it to the table or chair at which I am working if I need to go to the bathroom.  If you don’t, take your phone, purse or laptop with you to the toilet. Better look awkward than lose your equipment.  Starbucks in the NE US reports an increased rise of thefts of electronic equipment from their customers.
  3. Know the condition of your computer safety software.  It is not at all difficult for people to get your info as you work on public wifi.  A surprising number of shops have really low-grade Wi-Fi encryption and security.
  4. A spare battery.  (This one I still need to do).  You cannot guarantee that you will get a plug (and some people don’t like to take their plug in cord anyway).  But there’s nothing worse than being in the middle of a big project and have your battery warn you that it’s low and is about to close down your computer.
  5. Last I might suggest a packet of 2:3 prong converters and or surge protector and screen wipes.  It depends how much “stuff” you want to carry around.

Malcomb Gladwell is known and appreciated by many in the business world.  He is the author of several best selling business books such as Outliers, The Tipping Point, Blink, David & Goliath and others.  He loves to write in cafes and coffee shops.
(begin quote)

There’s one in the lower East Side.

“The waiters are all Australian and they play The Smiths all day long which I find so fabulous. I always go there on the weekends. Then there are restaurants in Little Italy that I go to. I often go to these places in the middle of the afternoon, when they’ll let me linger.”

In his acknowledgements in Blink, Malcolm thanks the staff of Savoy in SoHo. “I go there so often. I wrote a big chunk of my book there. They have these huge windows and they open them out so that people on the street are walking right by you. You feel the traffic; you feel in the middle of things and paradoxically I find it very calming.”

Malcolm started his working life as a newspaper writer. “I loved the newsroom. When I left it I wanted to recreate the newsroom and the closest thing to a newsroom is any kind of random active social space.”

A café where “different people are doing different things” is perfect.

But for all of its advantages, having a coffee shop as a second or third office takes discipline.  For ME, it means the discipline to look someone gently but firmly in the eyes and say, “I’m sorry and don’t mean to be rude, but I’m on the clock and working on a project and really need to concentrate.”

God’s Quiet, Drawing Love

12 February 2014

I have a coaching peer whom I have gotten to know over the past six months.  Actually, we met by phone 3-4 years ago after we both were in a telephone coaching group and discovered that we both were from Portland.  After the group ended, we tried to get together for coffee, but nothing ever came of it.  But we see each other semi-regularly now.  She is about 10 years older than I am; she is short, and loud and full of laughter.  I’ll call her Deborah, although that is not her name.

Deborah describes herself as an “agnostic Jew”.  She is a Jew in heritage only and if she has ever practiced her faith it has been many, many years.

Last night we were at an event and Deborah was discussing the top 5 important events in her life.  (it fit in context).  One of the five events was her “adoption” of a younger woman she calls her granddaughter. Deborah ‘s comment was ”She needed a grand-mother and I needed a grand-child.”   It wasn’t a legal adoption—the girl continued to live with her own biological parents.  But she is a part of Deborah’s life and Deborah is included in special days as a part of this family.

None of that is overly noteworthy.  As a lifelong single person it gave her joy to have a person to dote on, to share life with and to pour love into.

What struck me was the number of times she raised God in the accounting of this relationship.  She thanks God for the granddaughter; she is totally convinced that God brought this young girl into her life.  She said, God knew what each of us needed and answered the problem by giving us to each other.”

Deborah said that every night before she goes to bed, she thanks God for this girl (now young woman).

This agnostic Jew thanks God every night and prays for her wellbeing.

This woman who has never practiced a faith spoke of God working in her life.

There are two reactions one could have.  One is (probably) the old me and one is the newer me.  It would be very easy to rail against this woman.  Many people don’t “believe” in God because of a variety of reasons—life has dealt them a difficult hand, he hasn’t answered a fervent request like they wanted, he makes demands and expectations on their life.  (I’m not saying all people who profess agnosticism or atheism came to that conclusion because of those reasons, but certainly many have).

And it would be easy to look down and say what a hypocrite this woman is:  she doesn’t want to acknowledge God in any other part of her life, but when it comes to warm fuzzies, she talks like there is a God and he is active in her life.

There is a time when I would have condemned her as hypocritical and superficial.  I could have seen it as my role to point out to her the inconsistency of her view and, if I were quick on my feet, I might quote Job 2:10: “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”  The “evangelistic” part of me would have called her to repentance and to turn towards God.   As I was looking up something else on the web today, I came across the title of a webpage that (unfortunately) might have described the attitude I might have taken towards Deborah: “Atheists/Evolutionists: God Almighty put eternity into your hearts and you cannot get it out!”[i]

There is another way to look, however, and that is how I choose to look at Deborah: I see this young woman as God’s reminder to Deborah of His love for her.  He is still active in her life and is still, lovingly, calling her to a relationship with him.  The picture of how the Deborah and the granddaughter needed one another is a metaphor for how Deborah and God need one another.  My role is to rejoice with her that God is moving in this part of her life and to help her look for other areas in which God is active…and allow him to continue to draw her to himself.

It is not my job to “win her” to anything.  My role may be as a friend who can point her to the God who lives and loves and wants relationship with her.  But to push in too fast, too hard would almost certainly push her away.  I trust in God’s timing and in God’s process. I trust that He is “winning” her to himself with his love and not by my arguments.

Why, then, can’t I do that with myself?  I have my own “issues” with God.  I could call them questions, but they are more than questions…they are “issues”.

Part of me wants to push God away because of hurtful things that have happened, or things that haven’t gone my way.  And there is enough of the old judgmentalism within me to soundly criticize (even condemn) myself for that.

But I am slowly learning to hold that judgmentalism at arms length.  Instead I focus on the things with which God has blessed me and remind myself that they are signs both of his presence and his love.   Just as I am willing to be patient and wait on God’s timing for His work in Deborah’s life, so I am growing in my wiliness to be patient and wait on God’s timing for His work in my life.

What things has God put into your life as markers of his love and his desire to draw you closer to Himself?  Thoughts you have on this?



[i] Wendell Tenison . “Atheists/Evolutionists: God Almighty put eternity into your hearts and you cannot get it out!”[i]Retrieved from www.thewholetruthnow.com/atheist.htm

What Accomplishments Will You Celebrate As You End 2013?

15 December 2013

shutterstock_104621369.jpg.492x0_q85_crop-smart“People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation. To be entertained is a passive state – it is to receive pleasure afforded by an amusing act or a spectacle… Celebration is a confrontation, giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one’s actions.”

–Abraham Joshua Heschel

As we approach the end of 2013, I would encourage you to make a list of everything you’ve achieved this year using these 7 coaching questions to help you:

  • “What were your biggest achievements this year?”
  • “What are you most proud of?”
  • “What have you achieved that has surprised you?”
  • “What ‘smaller’, less obvious things are you proud of achieving this year?”
  • “What steps have you made towards larger goals, that you need to acknowledge yourself for?”
  • “What did you fail at or make a mistake on that needs recognizing? What did you learn and what are you proud of in how you handled it?”
  • Finally ask, “What will you do to celebrate, recognize and acknowledge your achievements?”  (Tip: Use the 4 Ws. What, When, Where and Who you would like to celebrate with?)

THEN…chose how you actually are going to celebrate your It could be a personal ritual, a dinner out with someone special, a hike up a mountain, buying yourself something special, a massage, a group event. If you need help brainstorming celebration ideas and rituals let’s talk!  Then commit to one. The more significance it has for you, the more uplifting and memorable it will be!

Wht Does God See in Western Kansas?

26 August 2013

I wrote this back in late April 1998. It was published in the Great Plains News of July 15, 1998.  I was reminded of it by a conversation with a friend while we were camping this past weekend, and then by a video today on Facebook. (http://vimeo.com/73014200). I share it here both so I can link to it, but also because wherever you live..I believe the same is true there as well….

What Does God See in Western Kansas?

A sage has said, “God must love the common man because he made so many of them.” God must love western Kansas. Because he made so much of it. As I drove home from Ashland to Garden City last night I could see why God loves western Kansas.

The sky stretches on for miles, you can see hundreds of miles of horizon, unbroken by mountains or ocean or even trees. You can see so much sky. Up close the hawks make lazy circles above the highway, a pheasant hen rises out of the grass along the road; in the distance dark clouds billow up against the blueness of the sky. As I drove the dark reds and golds and purples of sunset glowed through the clouds. But that’s not what God loves about western Kansas.

I drove along highways 160, 23 and 50 with the roll of hills and valleys, green pastures rolling up and down suddenly broken by a ravine of brick red rock. The blowing green carpets of wheat, the endless pastures with cattle and bison. Later will come the sunflowers borders along the highway, the combines traversing the fields. Dry ravines and the Arkansas River flowing freely again. Jackrabbits sitting along the road, a coyote darting across just at the farthest extreme of my headlights. The shape of a deer lumbering away from the highway. Other times, if you look closely across the pastures you may see a small herd of antelope. Mice, fox, all make their way in front of my car. But none of them will gather round the throne of God throughout all the ages –none of them is the reason God loves western Kansas.

I stop to gather some rocks for my wife’s landscaping. And I hear the grinding of a windmill and water pouring from the pump. Hour after hour the wind blows. Year after year the windmill turns and water is brought from somewhere down deep in the ground. I marvel at the thousands of cattle in the feedyards. There is always a haze over the feedyards, dust from the tramping of thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of cattle in the feedyards. A haze of dust and dung. A choking dust, an acrid smell that burns your nose. But those cattle will feed a nation. No, those cattle will feed the world. Those cattle will end up on New York street corners and in Japanese homes. They will be the Sunday pot roast in Ohio and in restaurants in Europe. But Jesus did not die for cattle. That is not why God loves western Kansas.

The lights over the feedyards are hazy and clouded by dust. But other lights shine brightly. As it darkens, farm yard lights begin to blink on. Some close together. Others, miles and miles apart. Grain elevators stand as markers every 10 miles or so, bathed in spotlights like monuments. And the lights continue into the sky. The clouds of sunset have darkened into storm clouds. Sheets of lightning pulse along the horizon first in one place and then in another. Because nothing stands in its way you can see every pulse. Then streaks of lightning, jagged and severe follow, reaching from the sky down to someplace below. Finally, coming over the ridge, with the valley that Garden City sits in before me, the lights of Garden City sparkle like a harbor town. The lights appear more like lights of the city reflecting off the water on a bay. The night is dark. Very dark. The lights show how dark the night really is by contrast. But the dark and the light are not the reason God loves western Kansas.

What does God love about western Kansas?

A wiry 90-year old man, one of five generations on this land, still out on the tractor, putting out the crop and wondering about death –what really happens after death?

A family who escaped from Vietnam, finally reunited in a strange and different place. At first all the adults work in the beef plants, but soon a shop is opened, skills learned in Asia find an application in this new place. The children attend school and become different from the children back in Vietnam. Now this is home. But there are worries about peace of mind, forgiveness, eternal life, that Buddha can not bring.

Where else in the world could you go to an American farm and find German-speaking Mexican Mennonites working as hired help?

A young father of five, still in his twenties, hoping to open his own tool and die company, working two jobs in order to build a future for himself and his family.

Lots of Germans settled in this area –not as many as around Hays, Ellis, Marienthal. But German families, many from Russia came to make a life. Everyone here has roots someplace else. No one, except the Indians can claim roots here longer than 125 years. And even the American Indians traveled through this place.

A teenage boy, a football player “built like a tractor, but runs like a deer”. He quietly asks: “Why does God say bedding my girlfriend is wrong?”

A single mother from El Salvador, with children by a husband long gone, cleans a building by night, works processing beef by day and tries to provide a home for her children. She wants them to know right from wrong. She wants them to know love. But is there someone who cares enough to show them?

Some passing through; some here for generations. Some here to find a break, seeing it as an opportunity; some see being here as a prison, longing only to see it in a rearview mirror.

A former nurse and farm wife is now cared for by others in the nursing home. Hands that cared for others, now gnarled slowly push her wheel chair. Pictures of the dustbowl days hang in her nursing home room. She survived then, but where is the hope in life now?

A mother with adult children, crippled by arthritis and with a body broken by years of abuse by drinking. But now she brings everyone she meets to the only man who could sober her up –a man on a cross.

What does God see in western Kansas? Oh, he sees the prairie and the pastures, the bison and the wheat. And I imagine he looks down and smiles at his creation. He sees the sunsets and the dry ravines. But that is not what he loves about western Kansas. Jesus did not die for cattle. God sees men and women. Men and women with hopes and dreams, fears and frailties. Children and youth who want to know what is real, what is permanent, in a society that is fast changing. God sees people who know too little about grace. Too little of acceptance by others. What does God see in an area where many only see emptiness and wind, cattle smell and little rain. God sees men and women, children and youth. What do I see? What do you see?

“But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”

(Jonah 4:11)

Cal Habig, April 25, 1998

Question for My Theologically Minded Friends

22 August 2013

Question: I am writing an article on God’s chastisement (as part of my upcoming book on teachableness).  In A.W. Pinks “Exposition of Hebrews” he speaks of an error which he says “has become quite common in certain quarters”: namely “that God views His people so completely in Christ that He sees no sin in them.”

The implication is that since God cannot see sin in us, it is not HE who chastises us. (contra Heb. 12:6)

He quotes Num. 23:21 (“He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath He seen perverseness in Israel” ) and Song of Solomon 4:7 (“Thou art all fair, My love; there is no spot in thee”).

He also jumps to the New Testament to add “The testimony of Scripture is most express that in regard to the justification or acceptance of the persons of the elect, they are “complete in Him”—Christ (Col. 2:10); “accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6)—washed in Christ’s blood, clothed with His righteousness.”

Now Pink is speaking AGAINST this position, but I am wondering: …are there people who seriously believe this today?  (That God CANNOT see sin in us because he sees us so completely in Christ).

Or was this just some aberrant theology that was only present in Pink’s day.  (b-1886 : d-1952)

Or I am just so naive and blind to not see that there are people who hold this position today?

I am considering discussing this in the article on chastisement, but it seems like such a non-issue today that it would be pointless to address it. 

Any help/thoughts on this?

How Many “Things Everyone Should Know How To Do” Do You Not Know?

6 August 2013

As I work on my upcoming book on being teachable, I came across the following list.  I doubt if it makes it into the book (which is too bad, really), but I thought it was too good not to share here.  There are a couple of things we might quibble about (“Hook up a home theater system”?  Really?  My wife says that manual transmissions are soon going to be extinct.  I recently had to be towed and the tow driver said he was only one of two of the nineteen tow truck drivers in their company who knew how to drive a manual transmission!)  But quibble or not, I think the list is a pretty good place to start.  Are there things you would add to the list?  (Besides I Timothy 2:3-4).  The original of this list (with links on how to learn to do each of these) is found here.

1. Build a Fire – Fire produces heat and light, two basic necessities for living.  At some point in your life this knowledge may be vital.

2. Operate a Computer – Fundamental computer knowledge is essential these days.  Please, help those in need.

3.  Use Google Effectively – Google knows everything.  If you’re having trouble finding something with Google, it’s you that needs help.

4.  Perform CPR and the Heimlich Maneuver – Someday it may be your wife, husband, son or daughter that needs help.

5.  Drive a Manual Transmission Vehicle – There will come a time when you’ll be stuck without this knowledge.

6.  Do Basic Cooking – If you can’t cook your own steak and eggs, you probably aren’t going to make it.

7.  Tell a Story that Captivates People’s Attention – If you can’t captivate their attention, you should probably just save your breath.

8.  Win or Avoid a Fistfight – Either way, you win.

9.  Deliver Bad News – Somebody has got to do it.  Unfortunately, someday that person will be you.

10.  Change a Tire – Because tires have air in them, and things with air in them eventually pop.

11.  Handle a Job Interview – I promise, sweating yourself into a nervous panic won’t land you the job.

12.  Manage Time – Not doing so is called wasting time, which is okay sometimes, but not all the time.

13.  Speed Read – Sometimes you just need the basic gist, and you needed it 5 minutes ago.

14.  Remember Names – Do you like when someone tries to get your attention by screaming “hey you”?

15.  Relocate Living Spaces – Relocating is always a little tougher than you originally imagined.

16.  Travel Light – Bring only the necessities.  It’s the cheaper, easier, smarter thing to do.

17.  Handle the Police – Because jail isn’t fun… and neither is Bubba.

18.  Give Driving Directions – Nobody likes driving around in circles.  Get this one right the first time.

19.  Perform Basic First Aid – You don’t have to be a doctor, or genius, to properly dress a wound.

20.  Swim – 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water.  Learning to swim might be a good idea.

21.  Parallel Park – Parallel parking is a requirement on most standard driver’s license driving tests, yet so many people have no clue how to do it.  How could this be?

22.  Recognize Personal Alcohol Limits

23.  Select Good Produce – Rotten fruits and vegetables can be an evil tease and an awful surprise.

24.  Handle a Hammer, Axe or Handsaw – Carpenters are not the only ones who need tools.  Everyone should have a basic understanding of basic hand tools.

25.  Make a Simple Budget – Being in debt is not fun.  A simple budget is the key.

26.  Speak at Least Two Common Languages – Only about 25% of the world’s population speaks English.  It would be nice if you could communicate with at least some of the remaining 75%.

27.  Do Push-Ups and Sit-Ups Properly – Improper push-ups and sit-ups do nothing but hurt your body and waste your time.

28.  Give a Compliment – It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give someone, and it’s free.

29.  Negotiate – The better deal is only a question or two away.

30.  Listen Carefully to Others – The more you listen and the less you talk, the more you will learn and the less you will miss.

31.  Recite Basic Geography – If you don’t know where anything is outside of your own little bubble, most people will assume (and they are probably correct) that you don’t know too much at all.

32.  Paint a Room – The true cost of painting is 90% labor.  For simple painting jobs it makes no sense to pay someone 9 times what it would cost you to do it yourself.

33.  Make a Short, Informative Public Speech – At the next company meeting if your boss asks you to explain what you’ve been working on over the last month, a short, clear, informative response is surely your best bet.  “Duhhh…” will not cut it.

34.  Smile for the Camera – People that absolutely refuse to smile for the camera suck!

35.  Flirt Without Looking Ridiculous – There is a fine line between successful flirting and utter disaster.  If you try too hard, you lose.  If you don’t try hard enough, you lose.

36. Take Useful Notes – Because useless notes are useless, and not taking notes is a recipe for failure.

37.  Be a Respectful House Guest – Otherwise you will be staying in a lot of hotels over the years.

38.  Make a Good First Impression – Aristotle once said, “well begun is half done.”

39.  Navigate with a Map and Compass – What happens when the GPS craps out and you’re in the middle of nowhere?

40.  Sew a Button onto Clothing – It sure is cheaper than buying a new shirt.

41.  Hook Up a Basic Home Theater System – This isn’t rocket science.  Paying someone to do this shows sheer laziness.

42.  Type – Learning to type could save you days worth of time over the course of your lifetime.

43.  Protect Personal Identity Information – Personal identity theft is not fun unless you are the thief.  Don’t be careless.

44.  Implement Basic Computer Security Best Practices – You don’t have to be a computer science major to understand the fundamentals of creating complex passwords and using firewalls.  Doing so will surely save you a lot of grief someday.

45.  Detect a Lie – People will lie to you.  It’s a sad fact of life.

46.  End a Date Politely Without Making Promises – There is no excuse for making promises you do not intend to keep.  There is also no reason why you should have to make a decision on the spot about someone you hardly know.

47.  Remove a Stain – Once again, it’s far cheaper than buying a new one.

48.  Keep a Clean House – A clean house is the foundation for a clean, organized lifestyle.

49.  Hold a Baby – Trust me, injuring a baby is not what you want to do.

50.  Jump Start a Car – It sure beats walking or paying for a tow truck.

Again, the original of this list (with links on how to learn to do each of these) is found here.

How many of these do you not know how to do?  Are there items that you would add to that list of things “Everyone’” must know how to do?

Six Types of Atheists?

18 July 2013

When I think of atheists, I think of …well…atheists!  People who believe that it is provable that God does not exist (in contrast to agnostics who say we cannot know whether or not God exists).  When I think of atheists I generally think of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris…those who work to become famous by promoting how strongly they can state their atheism.

But my wife pointed me today to an article on CNN noting (or at last advocating) that there are six types of atheists. 

I kind of knew instinctively that lumping all types of atheists into one category was not accurate or helpful, but had never thought it out quite like this.  I am not a fan of listing agnostics under the category of atheists.  They are definitionally different—one is a statement of empirical certainty and the other is a statement of empirical uncertainty.

Anyway, according to the CNN article they are:

  1. Intellectual atheist/agnostic
  2. Activist
  3. Seeker-agnostic
  4. Anti-theist
  5. Non-theist
  6. Ritual theist

The article arises from a study by Christopher F. Silver of the University of Tennessee as a part of his doctoral project.  He calls it a “first stab”, noting that eventually there may be 32 different types of atheists. 

An interesting read.

For the CNN article click here.

For a more in-depth look at the study itself, click here.

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