What Does a Mature Disciple of Jesus Look Like?

Photo by Mike DuBose UMNS

I am in a clergy study group. This month, a colleague was leading devotions and he asked, “What does a mature disciple of Jesus look like?”

This is a great question. If you are a leader in the church it is essential. If the church is about making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, then we need to know what that looks like. As Stephen Covey said, begin with the end in mind. Here is what I came up with.

A mature disciple loves God and neighbor.

That’s a broad statement, so let me unpack it. I’ve had the privilege of meeting people that Bill Easum calls Spiritual Redwoods. They are so spiritually mature that you know they have a deep relationship with God. Here are some of their characteristics.

They worship God, to worship God. Not to be “fed” spiritually or to be inspired, but to give their hearts to God. They may have a worship preference, but they don’t hold that out as the only way, because it’s ultimately not about style. It’s about giving themselves over to God.

They are non-judgmental. This is the loving neighbor part. Mature disciples know that they have been made whole by the grace of God. They know they don’t deserve it, but God’s unconditional love is just that, unconditional. They know they are not judged, so they don’t judge others.

They are constantly seeking God’s will. The lay leader in the last church I served was the late Bud McKee. I used to call Bud the Anti-BS. When people used to start to act up and get out of sorts, Bud used to say, “What do you think God would want us to do?” Bud was a spiritual redwood. When he would say this, people would settle down and focus on God.

It’s not about them. It’s about God and neighbor. This is something that is pretty easy to see in people. You can tell who is about themselves and who is about God and others. For the latter, mature disciples, this translates into a spiritual presence that is attractive and powerful.

They are intentional about connecting with the least among us. People are called to different ministries, but mature disciples are doing something that brings them face to face with Jesus in the least of these (MT 25:31-46). It might be the homeless, poor, sick, imprisoned, hurting or disenfranchised, but they get in the trenches in some way to connect with someone who is in great need.

They are generous with their time, talent and treasure. Mature disciples always seem to have time for others. They use what they do well for the sake of others. And they give of their resources to help others.

They push the church to be outward looking. In all of these characteristics, mature disciples remind the church that it is organized for the benefit of its non-members. They are concerned about the visitor and the newer attenders, wanting to ensure that they not only feel welcome, but that the programs of the church are meaningful and accessible. They favor making the building available for use by the community. They are willing to challenge church members who are only thinking of themselves or about what’s good for the congregation.

What would your church look like if it were full of people like this?

What am I missing?

The next post will answer my colleague’s follow-up question: “How do we nurture mature disciples?”

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Why The United Methodist Church Should NOT Split

Photo by Mike DuBose-United Methodist News Service

“43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,[a] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Matthew 5:43-48 (NRSV)

My friend in seminary, The Rev. John Plummer, used to call me a “fence sitter.” John was more conservative theologically and I was more liberal. But, I rarely expressed my views strongly. And often, I would try to find what I could live with in opposing views. John used to say to me, “Sometime, Shitama, you’re going to have to take a stand.”

I know The Rev. Plummer is correct.

But, I’ve also learned that there is something about being in the middle that is valuable.

Don’t get me wrong. I have VERY strong opinions. And they are seldom middle of the road. Ask my family or the people that work with me.

I have strong opinions on the big issues of the day, especially the ones that divide us. I don’t usually express myself on those. It’s partly to avoid conflict, but it’s mostly to try to find the spark.

What do I mean by that?

In Paul Scott Wilson’s book, Imagination of the Heart, he shows that the power of the sermon is in finding the spark between opposites. He likens it to electricity where you have two opposite poles, positive and negative. If you hold two oppositely charged wires close enough to each other, but not touching, there is a spark created in the gap. He says that’s the power in preaching.

Wilson says that there are two pairs of opposites that are the foundation of scripture: Law & Gospel and Judgment & Grace. Law and judgment are similar, as are gospel and grace.

If you have one side of the pair there is no spark.

If all you ever talk about is law and judgment, you are beating people over the head with the Bible and just making them feel bad.

If all you ever talk about is gospel and grace, you are making people feel good, but not calling them to accountability to any standard.

Wilson’s genius is in understanding that you need both poles to create the spark. It’s in the tension that energy is created.

For example, when the standard is to love your enemies (law), it feels nearly impossible to achieve. In fact, Matthew 5:48 tells us to be perfect as God is perfect. Who can do that? If that’s all there is, I feel like I’m just letting God down. But when I couple that with the grace of God, which can enable me to love my enemy, there is a spark of inspiration. When, by the grace of God, it actually happens in my life, the spark ignites a fire in my soul.

So, I’m going to jump down off the fence for a minute.

I believe my denomination, The United Methodist Church, should change its stance to allow the ordination of LGBTQ persons and to allow all marriages to be celebrated in our churches.

That being said, since I am ordained, I have covenanted to uphold current church law, which I will do. If I decide to disobey church law I will do so on principle and will be prepared to turn in my ordination orders, if required. I’m not saying this is what I will do. I’m just saying that from an integrity standpoint, I either agree to uphold the covenant of my ordination or I must be willing to give that ordination up.

Now, I’ll start climbing back up the fence.

I believe The United Methodist Church must find a way for us to live together, allowing each annual conference to determine how it will handle ordination and each church to determine how it will handle weddings.

This would make a lot of people unhappy. But I believe this issue is bigger than human sexuality, justice, holiness and our own denomination.

I believe it is an opportunity to make a statement about the power of God to unite us as Christians, despite our differences.

Some of my closest friends are at the opposite end of the political and theological spectrum than I am. I have many clergy colleagues who also fit this category. Yet, we show respect and yes, Christian love, for each other. We put our differences aside because our common bond as Jesus followers is stronger than any of our differences. That bond enables us to do ministry together. To reach out to the least, the last and the lost. We pray together and serve together.

The United Methodist Church does that right now.

The impact of ministries such as Volunteers in Mission, the United Methodist Committee on Relief and Imagine No Malaria are significant because we work together. What we call in UM speak, our connectional nature, enables us to do more together than we could apart.

These are just a few examples. Another is the ministry I serve. We have nearly 200 UM camps and retreats across the US because of our work together. Another example is Africa University. Founded by The UMC, it has produced over 4000 graduates who are addressing needs such as sustainable agriculture, disease prevention and ethical governance. The examples of our connectional work are too numerous to list all of them here. I think you get the point.

If The UMC splits, as many predict, our common work will suffer. Many would say that the two or more resulting denominations can still support these same ministries. But, do you believe they can do so as effectively when each has its own administrative structure? I don’t.

More importantly, if our denomination splits, it will be a spiritual failure.

We will have let our human condition get in the way of the power of God to unite. We will be just one more casualty in the culture wars and one more schism in the history of the church. And each side can stand tall, knowing that they stuck to their principles.

To me, this does not feel like God’s way.

You see, I believe that somewhere between the principled stands of each side is a place to live together that is grounded in the love and grace of Jesus.

It enables us to see that living and serving together, despite our differences, is the biggest witness to the power of God in this world. To me, that is the spark that can ignite the flame of God’s spirit in our lives and in our United Methodist Church. I am praying we can find a “way forward.”

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Why I Am Giving Up My Season Tickets to the Team I Love

Photo by flickr user dbking [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A letter to Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington NFL Franchise:

Dear Mr. Snyder,

The year I was born, my father paid two 16 year-olds to camp out overnight to buy two season tickets to the team you and I both love. Those tickets have been in my family ever since. I am writing to you now to let you know why I feel compelled to give them up. But first, some history.

My first game was a pre-season game against the Chicago Bears when I was five. I have loved the team ever since. I attended nearly every game in my early childhood because the ticket takers allowed me to duck under the turnstile and the ushers let me sit the small gap between my father’s two seats in Section 320 without having a ticket. I rooted for Sonny Jurgensen, Charlie Taylor, Bobby Mitchell, Jerry Smith and the like with everything I had, even though we lost more than we won.

I was hopeful when Vince Lombardi came to coach and was saddened when he died on the verge of what seemed like inevitable success. When George Allen came and revived the franchise, I was able to attend my first playoff game, a 16-3 victory over Green Bay in 1971. Even though we lost Super Bowl VII that season, I knew that this would be my team forever.

I am 7-0, all-time, attending home playoff games. I went to our playoff games in the 1971, 1981, 1987 and 1991 seasons. Three of my children were born in the latter three seasons, in which we won the Super Bowl. If I could have had more children, just to win more Super Bowls, I might have done so. My brother attended Super Bowl XVIII against the Raiders and my sister attended the 2013 playoff game against the Seahawks and we both know how they ended. So, you see, this franchise and I have history.

When I was young I told my parents that there were only two things I wanted when they died. One was the franchise season tickets and the other was a 1493 Samurai sword that my father was given as a U.S. GI of Japanese heritage while serving in Japan after World War II. Before my father died, our family agreed to transfer the season ticket rights to me.

But, I feel like this franchise has been dysfunctional since the day Jack Kent Cooke died and didn’t leave the team to his son. Looking back, that was the beginning of the end. You have the right to run this team as you see fit. It’s your team. But it’s been my team, too. And the only right I have is to vote with my wallet. That is what I’m doing now.

I hailed (yes that’s the term) the arrival of Bruce Allen in December 2009. He had football credentials and was the son of a franchise icon to boot. I even dismissed the criticisms that he was in charge of publicity events and uniforms. I was even happier when Scot McCloughan was hired because I knew that he knew how to build a winning franchise. I could only hope that you would let him do that. Now, Mr. McCloughan is gone and it’s pushed me over the edge.

You see, I’ve known since my time in seminary in the early 90’s that our team’s name needed to change. As the son of a man who was interned during WWII and who was called “Jap” for much of his life, the name didn’t feel right to me. Yet, life is filled with ambiguity and I let my love of the franchise and its winning tradition outweigh what I knew in my heart was the right thing to do. A friend from seminary used to call me a fence-sitter. He would say, “One day, Shitama, you’re going to have to take a stand.” In my own small way, that’s what I’m doing now. I publicly apologize to my Native American friends for not doing the right thing sooner. Maybe if you had changed the name, I wouldn’t be taking this action now.

My biggest regret is that I waited this long. I thought Norv Turner was on the right track and he was fired. Same for Marty Schottenheimer. I believed Joe Gibbs II would turn things around, but I realize now that he tired of fighting the dysfunction. I can’t even count the number of stars who came here and failed and the number of players that left and became stars. My hope was revived when the Shanahans came and when RGIII was drafted. The 2012 season made me a believer. But that vanished into thin air as we screwed it up in more ways than I can count.

The combination of Jay Gruden, Scot McCloughan and Kirk Cousins finally felt like the ticket. The real deal. Maybe the reports of Mr. McCloughan’s alcohol problems are true. If so, I could only hope that you would have found a different way to handle this. You hired him, knowing his background, yet didn’t give him the tools or the power to succeed, let alone the support that someone like him would need. I’m not excusing him, but the buck stops with you and the results speak for themselves. Let’s face it, since you took over, this franchise has ruined more careers than it has made. More than anything, this feels like a power struggle between Mr. Allen and Mr. McCloughan and now we know who won. I may be wrong, but my sense of foreboding is now so overwhelming that I am cancelling the season tickets that have been in my family since 1961.

The sword that I mentioned was given to my father when the order was given to destroy all weapons in post WWII Japan. The mayor of the town in which my dad was serving asked him to take it because it was too much of a treasure to be destroyed. Two decades ago, my father and mother travelled to Japan to return the sword to its original family. My dad knew he could never possess something that never really belonged to him. His action epitomized the word “Honor.”

You own this team, Mr. Snyder. You can refuse to change the name. You can choose Bruce Allen over Scot McCloughan, rather than finding a way to help a talented professional do his best work for you. You can, once again, turn your back on building a winning franchise. If you change the name AND build a winner in the way that the Patriots, Steeler and Packers have proven, then I will definitely be back. I might even come back if you did just the former. I am not holding my breath. You can run your team, our team, the way you want. My right is to refuse to support it financially in any way. So that is what I will do. The irony is that I will have neither the Samurai sword nor the season tickets. But I will have my honor. Better late than never.

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In Defense of Millennials (and Three Things I Learned Working with Them)

Two years ago, Millennials became the largest segment of America’s workforce. It will be that way for a long time. You’ve likely heard the complaints: Millennials are lazy, entitled, demanding, impatient and need to be coddled. I find the complaints annoying.

I attended a workshop about how to deal with different generations in the workforce. The presenter was really condescending toward Millennials. The crowd was eating it up. At least most of them. Not me. And not the Millennials. At one point the presenter said, “Millennials do not trust our institutions.” I thought to myself, “Who does?”

Then one of the Millennials in the audience said, “Yes! And we’re going to dismantle those institutions and rebuild them to be better than before.” I did a fist pump in my mind.

The Millennials are the next Great Generation.

According to the methodology developed by Neil Howe and William Strauss in their book, Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069, there are four generational types that cycle through history in order. Howe and Strauss are often given credit for coining the term Millennials to describe those born between 1982 and 2004. In their book, they identify Millennials as a “Civic Generation,” the same as the GI Generation that grew up in the depression, came of age in World War II and put a man on the moon.

I believe the Millennial generation will have a similar impact.

Simon Sinek’s interview on “Insight Today,” has gotten over six million views on various platforms. He details the forces that have shaped Millennials, including parenting, technology, social media and the fact that they came of age in the worst economy since the great depression.

Where I agree with him most is he says a lack of leadership is failing Millennials in the workforce. But he doesn’t share what to do about it. Here is what I’ve learned and why I think it’s great to work with Millennials.

Millennials need their work to have purpose.

It’s ironic that Simon Sinek wrote the book, Start with Why. He says people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. It’s the same in the workplace. When you are able to articulate vision, where you are headed and why you are doing it, Millennials respond with passion and commitment.

Actually, I’ve found this to be true for most people. It’s just many in previous generations would put their heads down and grind without complaining. That may be admirable, but as a leader that doesn’t get you off the hook. Just because somebody will work without purpose doesn’t mean you don’t need to articulate it. Regardless of the generational make up of your team, you will get better results if you can explain why you want them to do what you are asking.

Millennials need to make a difference.

Everybody wants to have an impact. This goes beyond explaining why you want them to do something. It also includes providing feedback to show the difference their work is making. Are people better off? Are you solving a problem, avoiding a disaster or perhaps just doing things a bit more efficiently? Whatever it is, say it. Connect the work to the difference it makes.

Again, I don’t think Millennials are any different than other generations in this respect. We all get more satisfaction out of our work when we are making a difference. Bu tor Millennials, it’s essential. They are less likely to respond if they don’t think it makes a difference. Regardless, you should be helping everyone you work with to see their impact. It’s good leadership.

Millennials need to see continual improvement.

The knock on Millennials is they are impatient. They want it now. Actually, we all want it now. If I can’t order something online and get it in two days, WITH free shipping, I don’t want it. We are an instant gratification society, so don’t put this on Millennials.

My experience is that Millennials don’t expect to be made CEO right away, as some suggest. They are willing to work and willing to wait. But they need to see continual improvement, especially with their own skill set.

Sinek maintains that we need to be teaching patience to Millennials. I would say we need to be teaching Millennials. If you invest your time to help someone else improve their abilities, no matter their age, they will be more engaged and more capable. It’s no different for Millennials.

They are doing it on their own anyway. They are constantly learning new things, trying to get better. This is the positive side of the internet, in general, and Google, in particular. Wouldn’t it be nice if they had a boss who helped them along the way?

So, if you’re a Boomer or an X’er, there’s no need to complain about Millennials. Just be a leader. Everybody you work with will appreciate it.

If you’re a Millennial, go change the world, with or without us.

Questions for Reflection:

How often do you articulate purpose to those you work with? How can you do it better?

How can you show your team the difference their work makes?

Are you investing in making someone else better? If not, how can you start?

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The Three Most Important Things in Life

I’m going to share what I have found to be the three most important things in life. It may be different for you, but this is my experience. What you won’t find on the list is work. Stephen Covey famously said that nobody, at the end of their life, wishes they spent more time at the office.

It’s not that work is unimportant. The ministry I serve is important to me. When I do focus on the most important things, it has a positive impact on my work.

The most important thing in my life is my relationships.

As a Jesus follower, that starts with God. The deeper my relationship with God the more I want to give myself to others to make their lives better. This includes family, friends, my church community, the people I work with and people in the community, including the least among us.

The more I seek to make the lives of others better, the more meaning and joy I have in my life. I think this is how we are created. And, as Jesus says in Matthew 25, when we do this for the least among us, we meet him face-to-face

Next, there is my health-spiritual, emotional, physical.

The first two are directly connected to my relationships. Making my relationships the top priority greatly improves my spiritual and emotional well-being.

My physical health is something I took for granted for most of my life. When I turned 37, my brother, who is 11 years older, said age 37 was his physical peak. After that, things didn’t heal as quickly and aches and pains started showing up without provocation. He was right.

There are many things we can do to keep healthy. Good nutrition, exercise and sufficient sleep are essential.  Even so, illness or injury can impact our lives. Regardless, the rest of life is much more difficult if you don’t have your health.

Finally, there is time.

Everybody gets the same amount of time each day. The use of time is integral to relationships and health. How we use it has the biggest impact on our quality of life.

In his book First Things First, Stephen Covey writes about the law of the farm. He uses the experience of a farmer as a metaphor for quality of life. The farmer tills, sows, waters and waits. There are factors beyond his control that will affect the quality of the harvest. But one thing is certain, if the farmer doesn’t invest his time, he won’t have a harvest. And the farmer can’t cram all of these activities into a single week, like a student studying for finals, and expect to have a harvest. He has to invest the time and do so over the course of time.

If you don’t invest time in your relationships on an ongoing basis, you won’t have any to speak of. Even worse, you’ll have a crisis or conflict that can drag you down.

If you don’t invest time in your health on an ongoing basis, your body will drag you down and you won’t be able to accomplish the things God has in store for you.

So what can you do to re-order your life to focus on deeper more meaningful relationships and better health?

How can you be more intentional about the use of your time so you can invest in these things?

And what can you do so that God can make you all that you were created to be?

Go with God. And be with God.

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Not Enough Time? Synergize

Here is the lightly edited video transcript:

Hi, I’m Jack Shitama. Do you feel pressed for time? Most people I know feel like they have too much to do and too little time to do it. One of the things that you can do to make your life more productive is to synergize.

Now I know that’s a buzz word, like “I don’t have enough bandwidth” or “I’m going to reach out” or “we need to drill down,” but the term synergy was actually coined as a productivity term by Stephen Covey several decades ago, in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

What Covey meant was “two heads are better than one.” He was talking about teamwork and the fact that when people work together they can achieve more than they could individually. But he also talked about synergy as combining important activities to get the most out of our time.

So, I mentioned in the previous post that I meditate while I run. Meditation helps me spiritually. Running helps me physically and emotionally. When I do those together I get more out of that same time block. I also pray when I’m in the hot tub. Well, most mornings. As long as it’s not raining or really windy, when I get up I’m feeling sore because I exercise a lot, my body is aging and so I get in the hot tub. It makes my body feel better and prayer gets me grounded spiritually.

Another thing I do is I listen to podcasts while I’m driving. I have a 45-minute commute to and from work. I used to listen to sports radio all the time. What I realized was that knowing who all the free agents that my team could sign or knowing the prospects for their top draft pick wasn’t really adding a lot of value to my life. So I started listening to audio books and podcast and they have helped me to grow in a variety of ways.

I heard about a man who walks his daughter to and from school each day. It’s a 15 minute walk. So think about this. He’s getting an hour of exercise, 30 minutes round trip in the morning and in the evening each. He’s spending 30 minutes of quality time with his daughter each day. He’s also spending 30 minutes of alone time when he’s walking either to school in the evening or from school in the morning.

So what do you do to synergize in your life? What can you do? If you’ll post what you do already in the comment section, I think that would help each of us to get better in making the most out of our lives. And if you have other ideas that you want to try and you want to share with others to give you more accountability, post that too.

When it comes down to it, being effective in life is not about been efficient, it’s about making the right choices. It’s about focusing on the right things. And synergy helps us to do that. Go with God and be with God.

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Three Ways to Meditate to Connect with God

I’ve included the following links to help you go deeper.

Here is a great explanation of Contemplation or Christian Meditation

This explains contemplating scripture in the Ignatian tradition.

Here is the transcript. Even though it is lightly edited, it will still read more like a discussion and less like formal writing.

I’m Jack Shitama. I’m going to share with you about meditation and how it can help us to connect with God. We know that even as little as 10 minutes a day of meditation can increase our ability to focus. It can reduce stress and anxiety. It can help us to better control our emotions and help us to think more creatively. In the Christian tradition, meditation, or what is often called contemplative prayer, is really a way that we deepen our connection to God.

Each of the three ways I’m going to share with you today has two common elements. One is deep breathing. Deep breathing is a practice that actually can be helpful throughout our daily lives. Any time that we might feel anxious or frustrated or angry, we can stop and breathe deeply for just a little while. It actually has a physical effect on us and helps us to release stress. So deep breathing is breathing deeply into the diaphragm, filling the belly and then exhaling fully. Meditation or contemplation includes deep breathing however you do it.

The other element is having an objective of reaching a deeper state of consciousness that goes outside of ourselves. It helps us, ultimately, to see things as they are, not through our own biases. It’s trying to see things as God sees them. It doesn’t necessarily happen in the meditation time. It may, but the more that we meditate in this way, the more that we are focused on God and able to see things outside our own biased viewpoint.

The first type of meditation is called centering prayer. It’s sometimes called breath prayer because as we’re breathing out we’re uttering a phrase. So you chose a short phrase that’s focused on God. It might be, “Lord, have mercy” or “Not my will, but yours.” As you’re breathing in, you’re breathing in God. As you’re exhaling out, you’re exhaling out yourself and you’re uttering the phrase. You do that over and over and again. You breathe in and then as you’re breathing out you utter your phrase. You can do that silently or you can do it audibly. Depending on where you are, you may feel comfortable with doing it audibly or you might just do it in your mind.

Either way, you are focused on God. And you’re saying that phrase in an intentional way that’s really connecting you more deeply to God. If your mind wanders it’s okay. That happens often in meditation. The idea is that when your mind wanders you bring it back to your phrase, to focusing on God. This is actually a form of meditation called mindfulness. It’s designed to help you focus more effectively.

The second form of contemplation or meditation is called contemplating scripture. When I did the last post about intercessory prayer and meditation, my wife said “What about scripture? Scripture is also a foundation of leadership.” This is where scripture is included in meditation.

One of the more well-known ways to do this is called Lectio Divina. It’s contemplating the word of God. The way you do it is to start by reading a passage of scripture. You sit silently breathing deeply and you contemplate that phrase, looking for a word or even a sentence that jumps out at you. You contemplate the passage and you’re looking for that word or phrase that jumps out at you. You don’t have to interpret it; it’s just what stands out.

After you do that, you read the passage again. This time as you’re listening to it you are asking, “What does this mean to me now? What am I hearing God say to me?” You can stop there or you can read it a third time and you can ask the question, “What will I do with this now? But in either case, however you do it, you’re focusing on the scripture and, as you’re breathing deeply, you’re asking God to enlighten you, to help interpret the scripture for you.

Another way of contemplating scripture is called Gospel contemplation. This is a little different in that you’re trying to really enter or engage the passage. I actually did this practice at a retreat that I was leading a few weeks ago. Another pastor led the exercise. We started with five minutes of silence, then we read the passage. We listened to the passage and then spent 20 minutes of silence entering into or engaging the passage. Depending on who you are, you may view the passage like a movie. We were doing a passage with Jesus and Peter in the boat with Peter’s fishing nets. I was picturing it like I was watching a movie. Or you might actually enter into the story and be in the boat with them. You might be in the passage with them. In either case, you’re engaging the scripture in a way that invites you to really experience it and then take away meaning from it.

Finally, the third form of meditation or contemplation is called practicing the presence of God. The idea is not to focus in on a particular thing but to really open up and just let the presence of God be with you. It’s really about surrender. It’s about surrendering yourself to God. Hopefully, you are creating a deeper awareness of the greatness of God and the presence of God in your life. Instead of avoiding thoughts, you’re allowing thoughts to come into your mind. When they do you offer them to God.

This is actually the form that I practice most often. When something comes into my mind that enlightens or illuminates me I say “Thank you, God.” When something comes into my mind and I realize maybe I messed up or something that I need to do but I’m not sure, I say “Help me, God.” And so in those ways, I’m offering those things back to God. It really helps me in discernment. It helps me to have my deepest and most creative thoughts in a way that helps me to attribute them to God and to help me follow God.

In all of these ways, even though people practice in a certain way, you need to find a way that will work for you best. I’ll confess to you that I actually do the third one, but I do it while I’m running. My eyes aren’t closed, but I’m breathing deeply. I am focused on my breath. It’s  the time that works best for me. We’re all busy. This happens to work best for me. My wife, Jodi, does it while she’s in her car. She has an hour commute each way to and from work. She doesn’t close her eyes but she does allow God to enter into her thoughts.

Whatever works for you is what’s going to make the difference. Because if it works for you, that means you’re going to be able to do it regularly. And when you do it regularly that’s when it’s going to be most effective.

This is a hint about the next post, which is going to be on synergy. Synergy is when you’re able to do two different things that have two different purposes and bring them together at the same time. For me, running has the purpose of helping me physically and emotionally. But, because I’m meditating it’s helping me spiritually, as well. Until next time, I hope you can take the time to meditate daily. I know you’ll find it makes a difference. Go with God and be with God.

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The Spiritual Foundation for Leadership

I mentioned a blog post in the video about developing habits. Here’s the link.

So I’m doing more video, but I realize that some of you may prefer to read the post. So here is the transcript. Please keep in mind that it is verbatim, so it won’t read like a term paper. Thanks!

Hey, it’s Jack Shitama. Today I want to talk to you about the spiritual foundation for leadership. I’m going to read to you from Luke, Chapter 5 verses 15-16.

“But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad. Many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases but he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.”

So here is Jesus, his ministry is expanding, people are flocking to him to hear him preach and to be healed. And what does he do? He takes off to pray. So if Jesus decides that he’s not going to try to do it all, what makes us think that we should? What makes us think that we can do it all? If we’re honest with ourselves we can’t. When you get up in the morning and your feet hit the floor are you go, go, go, go, go because there is so much to do and you’re trying to get it all done? Well that’s a natural feeling that we just have to move faster to accomplish everything.

Martin Luther, the reformer, famously said “I’m so busy that I’m going to have to pray for three hours to get it all accomplished.” See prayer is counter-intuitive. Stopping and connecting with God doesn’t make sense to us because we have so much to do. So when we get up in the morning we’re just drawn to get going, when really we should be stopping to connect with God.

I want to talk to you about two specific kinds of prayer today that I believe are the foundation for spiritual leadership. The first is intercessory prayer. Now most of us pray and when we pray we often are asking for things for ourselves. And that’s okay, but intercessory prayer is lifting others up, is asking on behalf of others, it’s interceding for others.

Picture Jesus when he’s gone off to pray. Do you think he’s saying, “Lord please take these people away from me, I just can’t handle it.” Or is he saying, “Lord, I feel for these people who are hurting and broken?” You see that’s what intercessory prayer does. When we lift others up, it gives us the heart of God. It takes us outside of ourselves and makes us less absorbed. It makes us more grateful for the people in our lives and puts our own situations in perspective. Intercessory prayer gives us the heart of God.

Another form of prayer that I think is practiced less by Christians is meditation. And if intercessory prayer gives us the heart of God, meditation gives us the mind of God. There are many different ways to do meditation but essentially meditation is about listening to God. It’s about opening ourselves up and allowing the Holy Spirit to overtake us, to work in us and to guide us. So that we know, we can discern what we should be doing, what God what’s us to do.

Podcaster Tim Ferriss’ most recent book is Tools of Titans and over the last couple years he’s interviewed over 200 top performers from all over the world. And what he says is that almost without exception each of these top performers meditates daily. The Harvard Business Review has an article that helps us to understand actually what goes on within us and how meditation can actually help us. This article tells us that meditation reduces anxiety and increases our ability to handle stressful situations. It increases our ability to control our own emotions, so that when something frustrates us or angers us we are better able to cope and instead of responding with our own anxiety and anger we can respond with grace and with love. Meditation actually encourage what’s called divergent thinking, where we are considering multiple opportunities, multiple possibilities and it opens up the possibility for the, “Aha!” moment. And meditation increase our ability to focus, so that during the rest of the day when we’re actually trying to accomplish task we’re actually more effective, we’re more focused. And most importantly when we meditate daily, because we’re more able to focus, we’re better able to be present in our relationships.

You see, I believe that God created us in this way. God created us so that when we stop and take time to connect with God we get the heart and the mind of God. And if these top performers, many who are not Christians, have figured out this spiritual practice shouldn’t we who are Christian leaders be doing the same?

So if you are interested in figuring out how to incorporate these practices into your daily routine you’ll find a link in this blog post, about a blog that I did, on developing habits and incorporating them so that you can be more consistent.

And if you want to know more about actually how to do it, how to pray or how to meditate leave me a comment in this post and I’ll do something in a later blog post.

Thanks a lot. And go with God. And be with God.

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Finding a Path without Anxiety or Blame

This is my take on where we are as country at the beginning of the Trump Administration.

Here is the video transcript. Please remember that it will read like a conversation, not a term paper (maybe that’s a good thing).

Hey there, Jack Shitama. Today is January 21st 2017, the day after inauguration day. That means the Obama administration is over. No cheering. And that means the Trump administration has begun. No booing. And for the most part we’ve had a peaceful transition of power, something that’s a hallmark with our country.

I want to share with you that I love Barack Obama. I loved what he did and stood for as a president. I love his family. I love how he carried himself in the office and so I’m sad to see him go. Before you start yelling at me I need to share with you that I do not make decisions about my values rationally. They come from a place in me that’s deep and not logical and I don’t really understand. I am biased. I make my decisions about my values and then I rationalize it.

Now here is something you need to understand. You’re not rational either. None of us makes rational decisions about deeply held things or even economic decisions. If you don’t believe me Google “behavioral economics.” There’s all kinds of research that shows how we don’t make decisions based on logic. We make them based on something else and then we rationalize them.

So here we are on January 21st, 2017 and we have people who are happy about the new Trump administration. We have people who are angry. We have people who are fearful. We have people who are troubled. All of these people disagree but that doesn’t necessarily make any of them bad people.

I think we have a problem in this country. Clearly, we’re divided but it’s not even the division of belief that’s the problem. It is that we demonize those with whom we disagree. We make them into the enemy and I believe that that comes from a deep rooted anxiety in our country. I don’t know if he originated this statement but, Seth Godin says that anxiety is experiencing failure in advance. And there is something about the way our country is right now that people are anxious about the future and they are experiencing the demise of our country even before it happens.

I read a book this fall by Edwin Friedman, who wrote Generation to Generation about family systems theory. The book is called A Failure of Nerve and in it he says that we live in a chronically anxious society. And this anxiety makes it hard for people to function. It makes it hard for leaders to innovate. It makes it hard for communities and for states and nations to see a path into the future, where they can feel hopeful.

One of the symptoms of this chronic anxiety is blame. Friedman calls it “blame displacement.” What happens in a chronically anxious family, in a chronically anxious system of any kind, a chronically anxious country, is people blame other people for their own problems.

Let me try to make everybody mad here. Just think about this. How many people are blaming blacks or whites, the rich or the poor, manufacturers or Mexicans, police or Planned Parenthood, corporations or congress. Well, everybody is blaming congress. Even that’s not fair because congress or legislators are our representatives. They are a reflection of who we are in our divided country. Our country is designed so that when things are divided in this way things don’t happen very quickly. So give your legislator a break, they are doing the best they can.

Getting back to this blame displacement, when we start to blame others for our own condition, what it means is we are not taking responsibility for our own feelings, for our own beliefs, for our own situation. When we don’t do that it is nearly impossible to find a path into the future. So what do we do about it?

Viktor Frankl was a survivor of one of the Nazi death camps in Auschwitz. After he survived, he wanted to see what it was that contributed to those who survived versus those who didn’t. One of the things he found, he shared in his book Man’s Search for Meaning.  According to Frankl, the most important factor in survival was the ability for someone to have a vision of the future that included hope. Even in the situation where one is in a concentration camp and likely to die, those who survived could envision getting out. They could envision a future where they were living a productive and decent life again. They could envision a future that didn’t include the death camp, a future that included hope.

Here is what Frankl says about our human condition. “Everything can be taken from a person but one thing, the last of the human freedoms. To choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances. To choose one’s own way. When we are no longer able to change the situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. Between stimulus and response there is a space, in that space is our power to choose our response, in our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

So whether you are hopeful or nor right now about the direction of our country, the question is, how are you going to respond to people who disagree with you? How are you going to respond to those who don’t believe what you believe? I think we can choose to show respect. I think we can choose to value another even if they disagree with us. I think it’s critically important if we’re going to make any kind of progress in our society.

Now that doesn’t mean that you don’t work for what you believe in. You can work to change laws, you can work to change policy, you can work to make a difference in the world but just because somebody disagrees with you doesn’t make them evil. They are another person and they are worthy of our respect.

In that space between when we’re stimulated by somebody that we don’t agree with, we can choose to respond with anger, with blame, or we can choose to respond with respect. More importantly I believe as a Christian we can choose to respond with love.

Less than a week ago we celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday. Dr. King was an ordained minister and his movement of non-violent change was based on his following of Jesus. Because Jesus was the one who showed us how to love others, even those who persecuted us, even those whom we think are evil, even those with whom we disagree.

Here is what Dr. King said “We must live together as brothers and sisters or perish together as fools. Hatred polarizes life, love releases it. Hatred confuses life, love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life, love illuminates it. Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend”.

Now there ARE evil people in this world. There are people who do things that are clearly evil. But Dr. King reminds us that even in that case, we are to hate the evil but love the person. And I want to suggest that most people aren’t evil they are just different. They are not any more rational than we are and they have beliefs that are deeply held.

I learned a few years ago that people don’t change their deeply held values. So rather than trying to convince them to change their minds, can we own our own feelings? Can we say this is what I believe, this is what I stand for but also love and respect the other? I think if we’re able to do that, we’re able to change the dynamic. We won’t get the other to agree with us but perhaps we can live with the other differently, with love and respect.

This is not easy, it means that we need to look inside of ourselves and ask ourselves the question, what is it in me that’s making me angry? What is it in me that makes me want to blame? And then ask God to fill us, to take that away from us and to fill us with love and with grace so that we can show care and respect even those with whom we disagree and those that seem hateful to us.

This is not easy. It’s hard work. Leadership is hard work. And if we are going to be leaders who help change the world, if we are going to be people that help show others that there is a way of hope, then I think that’s our responsibility.

That’s our challenge for today. To be the kind of leader that is able to show love and grace to everyone, especially to those that we want to despise. If we can do that we can change our culture. It’s not going to be easy.

Brene Brown has done a lot of work on vulnerability. I was listening to her on a podcast recently and she said, “One of the things I’ve learned is to choose courage over comfort.” To show love and respect and grace is not easy, it makes us vulnerable. But can we choose courage over comfort? I believe that if we can, we can change our world and we can find a way together, even with those with whom we disagree.

 

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The Key to Doing Your Best Creative Work: Sleep on It

Photo by Jeffrey Bettis Courtesy Stock Snap

I admit it. When I was preaching every week, I used to write my sermons on Sunday morning. I would get up very early, sit in the quiet and the words would flow. I did my best work this way. The few times that I tried to write a sermon on Friday or Saturday it just didn’t work as well.

If you are preparing a sermon every week, it can be a daunting task. Even if you are not preaching every week, when it’s time to prepare one, it can be daunting. Here’s some advice: don’t try to do it all in one sitting.

I neglected to mention that I WROTE my sermon on Sunday morning. HOWEVER, the preparation began long before. I would plan out my sermons three months at a time, selecting scripture, title, subject and theme for each Sunday. At the beginning of each week, I would dig into the scripture. Every day during the week, I would spend some time doing exegesis, making notes, collecting illustrations, etc. I typically had an outline by the time Sunday morning came around. Then I would write.

As it turns out, breaking up this type of work into smaller chunks enables your brain to do things that it can’t do all in one sitting. If you were to sit down and spend eight hours preparing and writing a sermon, it is not likely to be as good as if you broke the work into several sessions over a week’s time. This is true for any kind of creative or problem-solving work. Here’s why:

The brain does amazing things while we sleep.

While the rest of your body is resting, the brain is working. Your subconscious mind is doing work that you don’t even know is going on. You can read more about it in this Huffington Post article: 5 Amazing Things Your Brain Does While You Sleep.

Here are the three things that happen during sleep that help you to do your best work.

Your brain consolidates and organizes memories.

This is essential for learning. Whether you are studying scripture, researching a project or learning a new skill, sleep will help to solidify what you learn in your long-term memory. When you are preparing a sermon, this means that the work you do one day becomes the foundation for the work you do the next, the day after that and so on. The same would be true for any type of work that requires learning to truly be effective.

Your brain processes complex information to prepare for decision-making.

Once you have worked on something, the brain can take that information while you sleep and prepare to act on it. So, not only are you consolidating your learning, you are better prepared for what to do next.

Have you ever worked on something and gotten stuck? Writers call it writer’s block. A quick google search yielded similar experiences for mathematicians, programmers, entrepreneurs and innovators. If you are doing creative and/or problem-solving work, you are bound to come across times when you feel stuck. The standard advice is to take a break. Neuroscience research indicates that if you sleep on it, you not only have a better chance to get unstuck, you are likely to have an idea of your next step.

Your brain makes creative connections.

One of the hallmarks of creative people is the ability to make connections between seemingly unrelated concepts. As it turns out, the brain does this while you sleep. According to a 2007 University of California at Berkeley study, upon waking from sleep, people are 33% more likely to make connections between things that seem to be distantly related.

This is a great reason to have a time of prayer or meditation first thing in the morning. You are most likely to have an “Aha!” moment if you create space for it when you first wake. If you are listening for God to guide you, then what better way than to make use of the biological processes with which you are created.

So, whether it’s a sermon or any other important creative or problem-solving work, the best approach is to do some work, then sleep on it. Do some more work, then sleep on it. Your brain will make progress for you while you sleep. How great is that?!

Questions for Reflection:

What important work are you doing right now?

How can you organize your work to best take advantage of the work your brain does while sleeping?

How has your view of sleep changed after reading this blog?

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