An Invitation to Hope

An old man named Zecharaiah is filled with the Holy Spirit. He prophesies about the miraculous births of two children: one his son, the other his Savior. And he blesses God. For hope is on the way.

But it it is not a new hope, it is the fully flowered hope of old…

“This flow’r, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air, dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere. True man, yet very God, from sin and death he saves us and lightens every load.” — Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming

These are among the many lovely and mysterious things we Christians will consider tomorrow when come together to worship God. If you don’t yet enjoy the hope of God in these things, consider joining us at Covenant, or anywhere that Christ is preached.

Better Leading, Better Meeting: What to Read

This is entry 2 of the blogchain Better Leading, Better Meeting.

At the most general level, any good book on leadership will give you insights that you can apply to meetings. At the most specific level, you’ll find resources that share advice for specific kinds of meetings such as family worship, coaching, or teaching. For organizational meetings, Lucid Meetings has created an insightful taxonomy of organizational meetings and offers advice on each kind.

In between these two levels of guides are books that focus on meetings but in a more general way. These books are where you ought to start. They provide advice for any gathering and a framework into which more specific advice can fit.

If you’re not in a hurry, start with The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Private Parker.1 It’s very good. If you have an important meeting tomorrow and need some advice and right now, skim Let’s Stop Meeting Like This: Tools to Save Time and Get More Done by Dick and Emily Axelrod,2 and then study it later as soon as you can. Finally, I recommend Five Gears: How to Be Present and Productive When There Is Never Enough Time by Jeremie Kubicek and Steve Cockram.3 It’s not directly about meetings, but it provides basic categories for thinking about the different ways we spend time with others.

Not all learning, however, comes from books. Nothing can replace serving with and under leaders who can show you the way you want to go and are the kind of person you want to be. Leaders like this have blessed me beyond what I can say.

  1. Find The Art of Gathering on Worldcat. [return]
  2. Find Let’s Stop Meeting Like This on Amazon. [return]
  3. Find Five Gears on Worldcat. [return]

Meeting are Gatherings

This is entry 1 of the blogchain Better Leading, Better Meeting.

You can lead better meetings and engage in them more fruitfully if you can learn to think of meetings more broadly. I find using the word gathering is helpful.

A gathering is any setting in which people connect with each other for a period of time. A gathering may happen accidently at a bus stop or purposely at a bridal shower. A gathering may happen once a year in person or every day on the phone. And in gatherings we do all kinds of things:

  • We decide.
  • We review.
  • We celebrate.
  • We worship.
  • We confront.
  • We explore.
  • We learn.
  • We experience.

Thinking broadly about meetings/gatherings allows you to discover patterns in human nature that exist across domains: not only in how people think, act, or feel, but in how they do these things together. This means a doctor can learn how to care for patients by watching a mechanic take care of a customer. A dinner party host can learn from a dance teacher.

Meetings are relational events. They are about people first and tasks second. We (1) meet (2). Learning this is an essential step to improving any kind of meeting, and it reveals new sources for wisdom.

👎 Social Network + Like Button - Moderation = Incentive to Game the System. @manton explains in Purchasing Fake Likes.

💌 How do you wait on God?

Among other helpful points, @mwerickson writes:

Unlike generalized “waiting for the world to turn” or “waiting for a miracle,” waiting on the Lord is based upon what we know of who God is – His character – and what God does – His activity.

What is Productivity?

Productivity is a measure of your output divided by your input.

Output is measured by the importance of the accomplishment to your goals. A person who outputs lots of unimportant stuff is still unproductive. Importance, not sheer volume, is how output ought to be measured.

Input is measured by the time, energy and attention you have available. Sometimes this translates to speed. Other times it translates to ease or sustainability. Big impact, given your limited capacity, is the goal of productivity.

From: What’s the Point of Productivity? - Scott H Young

🦃 My daughter loves to choreograph, my son has a lot of energy, and we’re all thankful for the turkey. Happy Thanksgiving!

Mercy and Empowerment

This is entry 2 of the blogchain TBRI.

When my wife comes home with groceries in the car, the kids and I will help her unload them and bring them into the house. Even the littlest ones participate.

And while I like to challenge them—”Do you want to try and carry that milk by yourself?“—I’m careful not to overburden them. I also empower them to fulfill their task. If it’s dark outside, I can turn on a light. If an item is fragile and unusual, I can show them how to hold it. If it’s a large bag of dog food, we can carry it together.

The Bible says that God has compassion on his children in a similar way.

“As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Yahweh shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13–14).

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

TBRI teaches that this principle of mercy + empowerment must undergird the things we ask of kids from hard places. As, I believe, it must undergird all our expectations of others, no matter the kind of relationship (cf. 1 Peter 3:7).

If you owned a trucking company, would you ask a driver to drive if he hadn’t slept for 24 hours? It wouldn’t matter whether the lack of sleep was the driver’s fault or not, you simply wouldn’t require someone to drive who didn’t have the necessary sleep.

Likewise, if a child’s brain is filled with stress hormones—whether you think it should be or not—it’s not right time to have a reasoned discussion about why one shouldn’t flip out over a broken crayon. The driver must sleep before he can drive; the child must calm down before he can reflect.

Getting kids from hard places to do the things they need to do can sometimes feel impossible, and sometimes it is impossible. That’s why getting really good at mercy and empowerment is essential for me.

It has to start with the right attitude. Remembering how merciful God is with me ought to help. And learning more about the effects of trauma is also key. Empowerment is about first knowing what’s going on in a person and then accommodating accordingly, especially according to grace.

How to Improve Your Thinking and Conversations

Learning how to think and have good conversations are two skills you can and should improve.

They’re also related because thinking is relational. Learn how to think and you’ll improve your conversations. Learn how to converse and you’ll improve you thinking. Do both and you’ll make the world a better place.

To get you started, @joshuapsteele has shared advice from two worthy guides.

  1. Advice from Alan Jacob’s book, How to Think
  2. Advice from Morton Adler’s book, How to Speak, How to Listen

Read through these summaries, then study the books. Just don’t try to learn everything at once. You’ll get overwhelmed and quit. Instead, just pick one thing and start putting it into practice. When you’re doing better, come back and try another.

How Much Does A Turkey Really Cost?

How much do you really pay for a turkey after you subtract the weight of the non-edibles like packaging, bones, and blood.

With Thanksgiving two days away, and the nearby Walmart selling whole turkeys for $0.68 per pound, I decided to find out.

So I bought a 16.07 lb. Jennie-O, removed the packaging, drained the blood, washed the skin,1 cooked the turkey, and then pulled the meat off while it was still hot out of the oven.

How much meat did I collect? I got 5.1 lbs, which means that instead if $0.68, I paid $2.14 per pound.

Of course, the broth, neck, giblets, and gravy packet (except the plastic bag) are all edible. But for my purposes today, I’m going to count these as bonuses.

📚 Looking forward to reading @manton’s forthcoming book, Indie Microblogging.

What is TBRI?

This is entry 1 of the blogchain TBRI.

TBRI stands for Trust-Based Relational Intervention. It’s a set of ideas and practices championed by Drs. Karyn Purvis and David Cross of the Texas Christian University Institute of Child Development. TBRI aims to help meet the needs of “children from hard places”; where other interventions are failing, TBRI helps kids with big challenges reach their potential.

As such, TBRI serves an important role in interrupting and in healing. It helps to interrupt the cycles of abuse and neglect that lead to broken families, expulsion from schools, unstable employment, prison time, and out-of-wedlock kids who will face similar challenges. It helps bring about important, life-improving behavioral changes. In the places where TRBI has been adopted, including large school districts, TBRI has made a big difference.

My wife and I learned about TRBI when we were looking for help in parenting a child we adopted. Our parenting strategies that had worked well for our other kids, have not worked well with this kiddo. So over the next few months, even as we explore other possibilities, we are trying to master the fundamentals of trauma-informed care through TBRI and give it a solid chance in our home.

To start learning the fundamentals, we downloaded and listened to most of the 2018 Empowered to Connect conference. This conference provided an overview and some encouragement, but we needed something a little more direct and systematic. So we are currently working our way through this excellent self-guided video course with some coaching support from Mario Sanchez, a licensed counselor and TBRI practicioner in Tucson.

As we learn, I’ll post occasional notes on our learning adventure here.

I’m not sure where this will lead or how much TBRI will help our family, but I do know that as we seek to learn what we can from the research into human development and the thoughtful moral applications of others, we can’t take our eyes off God. In everything we must depend on his grace alone, trusting in his wisdom and power, not ours. So this, from Psalm 74, is my prayer:

Have regard for the covenant, for the dark places of the land are full of the habitations of violence. Let not the downtrodden turn back in shame; let the poor and needy praise your name.

🎨 Nice! This easy to use tool can tell you if certain color combos meet web accessibility standards or not. And when they don’t, it suggests close alternates that can pass the test.

⚠️ Don’t leave your lightsaber on the floor. It’s dangerous!

How to Change the Order of Posts in a Category ( + Hugo)

Like most blog themes, my current theme uses reverse chronological order to display posts. Newest posts show first.

I like this, but I wanted the opposite to happen when the posts are displayed as part of a category. This would allow me to create blogchains (like these) where readers could read a series of posts in the order in which they were written.

Happily, blogs hosted on can customize their themes. Here’s I did that to display category posts with the oldest posts showing first.

  1. Find the custom templates custom theme.

  2. In the config.json file, between the first and last curly brackets in the file, add the following:

     "taxonomies": { 
        "category": "categories"
  3. Click “Create New Template”

  4. Add the following file name and code, then click “Update Template”:

a template Page at

I figured this out using the following Hugo help pages. They also explain how you can order your posts in other ways, such as alphabetically or by length.

American Cursive: 1

This is entry 1 of the blogchain American Cursive.

I’m on a learning adventure to master the fundamentals of cursive penmenship. It’s a relaxed adventure. More of a stroll, actually.

My kids are fellow travelers, some ahead and some behind me. They are learning a cursive script at school and leave artifacts of their learning around the house, which impress and encourage me. Yesterday, my son was having some Outside Time during which wrote his name on some concrete with a piece of found charcoal.

So, one or two evenings week, I’ll sit at the dining table with my wife. And while she works on her art, I’ll work through another lesson in The Art of Cursive Penmenship: 86 lessons by Master Penmen and composer of American Cursive, Michael R. Sull.

🗺 Explore the future of blogging and the Internet by adding to this group blogchain. Or, if you prefer, just read along.

🧺 Beautiful day for a picnic! We had a relaxing time and got to meet some more of our great neighbors.

Church picnic at Pinecrest Park

📚 Read: about Aquinas on emotions. Excellent…and fascinating.

⛪️ Great sermons yesterday at Covenant. Listen to Phil Kruis’s exhortation from 1 Timothy to godliness and contentment, and Paul Johnson contrast the kingdom of Christ with the kingdoms of this world from the book of Esther.

📚 Members of my church are sharing books with each another through Inventaire. The UI could use some attention, but overall it’s working well.

Improving Our Communication System at Covenant

Over the next few months at Covenant, we are working to improve and align the various ways we share information at church. This includes how we use church bulletins, announcements, and the website, and more.

Why it matters: Having a good communication system within a church is important. A good communication system helps get the right information to the right people at the right time. It helps new members better integrate into the body. It helps people trust the information they receive. It helps people know how the church is doing and helps enable them to contribute to it’s growth and maturity.

A little background: Our first, big growth-step in this area happened eleven months ago when we began offering everyone an easier way to communicate with the whole church. We used a bare-bones set up with Outlook to make this happen.

Since offering this, we’ve faced some challenges that have generated some great feedback. We’ve also seen and heard about the ways that increased sharing within the church has helped us grow as a church body. Prayer requests and event planning have been especially beneficial.

What’s new: So based on what we’ve learned so far, we are now taking the next step and have built two new tools to replace and improve on our current email system.

Covenant Chronicle: First, we are reviving our church newsletter. This will be a simpler version of what we’ve produced in the past and will be sent 2-4 times a year. This will be a public, big-picture update for the whole church, longtime friends, and anyone interested in hearing what we’re up to.

  • We hope this will keep our friends in the loop without sending an email deluge every time we decide to have have a meal together.

Covenant Connect: Second, we have created an online private forum called Covenant Connect. This will be for members and regular attenders of Covenant to stay connected with each other and all the activities of the church. Covenant Connect will provide:

  • ways for members to control the flow of information and make sure they get what they need
  • improved moderation (most posts generously approved within 24-hours)
  • a place for members to learn the ropes, called The Guide
  • the ability for teams to work together and preserve their work
  • polling, easy site-feedback, and many other features

The tech: For those who are interested, we are using Discourse to build the forum and Buttondown for the newsletter.

Prayer request: Please pray that we’ll find success using these tools; that God will improve our ability to connect with each other as we find and share information in ways that please Him.

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it gives grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).

Thanks for reading!

🌵 We saw a bunch of these little guys last Saturday at the Tucson Reptile and Amphibian Show. They don’t stay little!

👩‍💻👨‍💻 Let’s take some personal responsibility for our media landscape and diet. Jim VandeHei of Axios gets personal.