Spiritual Lessons From My Fitbit

I received a Fitbit as a gift for Christmas. I knew a little about this data-collecting device you wear on your wrist—that it counts how many steps you take, tracks your heart rate, measures how many calories you expend, etc.—but I had no idea just how popular these “activity tracker” devices are.

In fact, the Fitbit and similar products (such as Jawbone UP and Nike Fuelband) are part of the “Quantified Self” movement, first proposed by Wired magazine editors in 2007 as “a collaboration of users and tool makers who share an interest in self-knowledge through self-tracking.”

Nothing new about that. Socrates famously said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Benjamin Franklin tracked 13 personal virtues, and Jonathan Edwards developed a list of 70 spiritually centered “resolutions,” which he vowed to read once a week.  I’m certain Socrates, Franklin, and Edwards would have worn a Fitbit had one been available to them.

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What Does God Look Like?

I’ve been thinking about God lately, but not like I usually do. Normally I think about who God is, what He does, what He has written, that kind of stuff. But lately I’ve been thinking about what God looks like. I know, you’re not supposed to do that.

Besides that commandment about not making an image of God in any form, the Bible tells us God is spirit, so there’s no physicality to Him. All of the talk in Scripture about God’s eyes, feet, hands, arms, etc. are anthropomorphisms. It’s the writers applying human traits to God so we better understand Him. But in no way is that to suggest that God has a physical body. Still, we humans can’t help but try to imagine what God looks like. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Artists have been portraying God for centuries, the most famous being Michelangelo’s gigantic creation painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, where God’s finger is touching Adam’s finger. God is old and white-haired and pretty buff.

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Made for Another World

Another mass shooting has occurred, unleashing unspeakable grief on the victims’ families, profound sadness for the rest of us, confusion and anger for our nation. Frustration, too. Why does this keep happening? There’s a quick answer, at least for Christians, though it’s not very emotionally satisfying: broken humanity, immersed in wickedness, does bad stuff. C.S. Lewis, in his classic book The Problem of Pain, makes this point when he writes,

When souls become wicked they will certainly use this possibility to hurt one another; and this, perhaps, accounts for four-fifths of the sufferings of men. It is men, not God, who have produced racks, whips, prisons, slavery, guns, bayonets, and bombs; it is by human avarice or human stupidity, not by the churlishness of nature, that we have poverty and overwork.
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The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard

I’ve always been a pen and paper kind of writer. I buy yellow pads by the box and black gel pens 24 at a time at Costco. Whether I’m working on a book or a blog, my ideas and first drafts go from pen to pad. I don’t use a keyboard until I’m on my way to a final draft.

I use to think I was an old-fashioned fuddy-duddy using old school tools, while cooler and hipper writers used keyboards and touch pads to create books and such from start to finish.  Then I ran across some research that suggests ideas flow better and your ability to retain content improves when you write the old fashioned way.

That’s not to say someone with terrible ideas can come up with great ones when they write with a pen and paper. But if you have great ideas to begin and want to express them in the best way possible, you’ll struggle more if you use a keyboard exclusively.

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Advice to Boomers: Think Like a Millennial

I had a conversation with my neighbor that got me thinking about the nature of work these days. My neighbor retired from his career as a radiology oncologist last year. He was just 62. As he has reminded me over the years, “I’m the doctor you don’t want to see.”

He certainly helped a lot of people extend their lives, but he also saw a lot of death. “All of those cases accumulate and finally they get to you,” he told me. Besides, he observed, if you do just one thing all your life, there finally comes a time when you say, “I don’t want to do that any more.” So he retired.

I suspect a lot of people in my Boomer generation are in this place right now. Those who can afford to retire have done so or are strongly thinking about it. Those who aren’t there financially wish they could be. I feel for those who are ready to retire but have no choice but to keep their nose to the grindstone. I have no words of wisdom for them.

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True Greatness

I have always been fascinating by big buildings, especially really tall ones. The Empire State Building is my all-time favorite, but I also admire the iconic Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco and Chicago’s Willis Tower (formerly the Sear Tower). My dream would be to someday visit the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, at 160 stories and 2,716.5 feet the world’s tallest skyscraper.

On our recent trip to Israel, I wasn’t expecting to see any tall buildings, or any really big buildings for that matter. The Dome of the Rock is impressive, mainly because of that golden dome that dominates the “skyline” of Jerusalem, but mostly you see very old buildings that are more important for their age and place in history than for their size.

Of course, that was before I learned about Herod the Great, known by that name, not for his reputation as a King, but for his overwrought ambition to conceive and develop some of the most impressive building projects of the ancient world, or any world for that matter. Put all of those tall buildings I mentioned into one portfolio, and they wouldn’t begin to match the construction genius of Herod the Great.

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In the Footsteps of Jesus

There are few places in the Holy Land where you can actually say, “I’m walking on the very stones where Jesus put his feet.” Most places the Bible talks about as familiar stomping grounds for Jesus—Bethlehem, Nazareth, the hillsides around the Sea of Galilee, the Garden of Gethsemane, Golgotha, the tomb—are marked in modern-day Israel, but they are approximations, not the actual locations.

There’s no way to know if Jesus was actually at these particular places as they exist today, not with 2,000 years of dust and debris covering them, not to mention the many churches, chapels, shrines and souvenir shops that dot the landscape.

However, there is at least one spot where it’s pretty safe to say, “I’m walking where Jesus walked,” and that’s the Via Dolorosa, or the “Way of Suffering,” which courses through the old city of Jerusalem. Our guide assured us that these stones deep beneath the current city streets are in fact the stones Jesus touched as he made his way to the cross.

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Why Israel?

I have often wondered why the world is so fixated on Israel. I get why most Christians like Israel. This is the Holy Land, the setting for the biblical narrative. This is the place where Jesus was born and lived and died and came back to life. Jesus ascended to heaven from Jerusalem, Israel’s 3,000-year-old capital. He will return to the same spot at some time in the future.

That’s the Christian story, which explains Christian interest. But what about the other five billion people on the planet? They don’t care about the biblical narrative and the life of Jesus. So what is it about this slender slice of land—you could fit seven Israels into my home state of California—that attracts such attention, such controversy, and such historical hatred?

Recently my wife and I traveled to Israel for the first time as part of an organized tour. We visited many important sites—Caesarea, the Sea of Galilee, Masada, and Jerusalem were highlights—and we heard dozens of lectures by local guides as well as our own tour experts.

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Talk Like TED or Move Like Martin?

I have been doing research on what makes a good speech, mainly because I have been asked to speak at a Biola University Chapel. I enjoy speaking, but usually I’m in front of a class or a Bible study or a group of little kids, where excessive hand motions and a few jokes sprinkled throughout are enough to hold interest.

Speaking in front of a group of several hundred college students, whose attention span is usually limited to 140 characters, will require more than those limited skills. I will need to develop a different strategy. So I’ve been studying how to give a talk like they do at those TED conferences.

If you don’t know TED, you should. TED is an organization that showcases experts in various fields (Technology, Entertainment, Design—TED) talking on fascinating topics successful people find interesting. TED hosts live conferences throughout the country, but most people access the talks for free through TED.com. More than a million people a day watch TED Talks online.

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How to Write a Christian Bestseller

Attention all writers and aspiring writers of Christian books. You now have a sure-fire template for crafting a bestseller. The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association just announced the top selling Christian books of 2014, so all you have to do is write a book that follows the success pattern of the 25 titles on this list.

First some general observations about the authors on the list;

  • 5 of the books are Jesus Calling. Actually, there’s only one original Jesus Calling by Sarah Young on the list (it happens to be number one), but there are four other books spun off from the original (publishers call these derivatives).
  • 5 of the books are about going to heaven and coming back, or about how soon the rest of us are going to heaven based on “prophetic” events.
  • 4 of the books are by those Duck Dynasty people (I guess you could call it a Duck Dynasty dynasty).
  • 9 of the books were written by authors who have already written bestsellers.
  • 1 of the books is by the president of the publishing arm of the world’s largest church denomination.
  • 1 of the books is by an author nobody heard of before he wrote this book.
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Stan's entire life has been wrapped in content: selling, writing and publishing books and resources that help ordinary people capture a glimpse of extraordinary things.