Tuesday, August 31, 2010

THE PATH AWAY FROM GOD

The tower of Babel is a story where we see God turning human arrogance and rebellion into further disconnect and confusion between people.  In humanity’s rhetoric about building community, blindness to the dark side of human nature inevitably leads to further disconnect.  Babel gives us much to think about in our self-understanding.


Genesis 11:
 1 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
 3 They said to each other, "Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly." They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth."


In later verses, the tower is named Babel, composed of two Hebrew words.  Bab means gate.  El means God.  The tower being built was named ‘The Gate of God’.

Babylonians built great towers called ziggurats, which were built in a circular fashion with an ascending staircase that terminates in a shrine at the top, around which are written the signs of the zodiac. Obviously, the tower was a religious building, intending to expose man to the mystery of the heavens and the greatness of God. That, perhaps, is what is meant here by the statement that they intended to build a tower with its top in the heavens. They were impressed by its greatness architecturally, that is, it was a colossal thing for the men of that day to build and they may have thus thought of it as reaching into heaven. But they also unquestionably were thinking of it as a means of communication with God, of maintaining contact with him. God is not to be left out, you see, in the city of man. He is there, represented by this tower.[i]

It’s intriguing to see their stated motives for building the tower.  “Let’s make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”  The people wanted to be known as a glorious people united into one community.  They spoke a reoccurring historic theme-- One nation under God that all others would look unto as brilliant leaders in the human race.

The disciples still ask Jesus, “When will you restore our nation and put down the Romans?  Who among us will sit at your left and right hand in the Kingdom?”  Everyone wants God to help them get power and fame over others.

Pastor Ray Stedman said:

The fact that this was a religious tower-- and yet built to make a name for man reveals the master motive behind religion. It is a means by which man attempts to share the glory of God. We must understand this, otherwise we will never understand the power of religion as it has pervaded the earth and permeated our culture ever since. It is a way by which man seeks to share what is rightfully God's alone. This tower was a grandiose structure, and undoubtedly it was intended to be a means by which man would glorify God. Unquestionably there was a plaque somewhere attached to it that carried the pious words, "Erected in the year ___, to the greater glory of God." But it was not really for the glory of God; it was a way of controlling God, a way of channeling God by using him for man's glory. That is what man's religion has always sought to do. It is a way of making God available to us.[ii]

Let’s make a name for ourselves…  A Christian understanding of the Devil is echoed in the attitude of the builders.  “I will be worshipped.  God is not the only one who is glorious!”  The angels who followed this line of thinking followed their leader away from the intimate presence of God.  The mighty angel was cast out and humbled.  The path away from God has not changed.

Genesis 11:
 5 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. 6 The LORD said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other."
 8 So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel —because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.


God was not afraid of the people.  He was not against their creativity or desire to live in community.  He was and always will be opposed to arrogant humans who want to be worshipped as if they were God. 

In their banding together to say “we are better than everyone else”, they found no satisfaction.  God caused them to differentiate among themselves in ways that destroyed their intention for community. 

Maybe you have felt that arrogance which sets you up as being better than other people.  It is a pride which leads to misunderstanding and broken community.  The common language you once shared has become a foreign tongue that differentiates you from the others.  You move further and further away looking for a place where real community on your terms can exist.



[i] The Beginnings, by Ray C. Stedman, Waco Books, 1978.
[ii] The Beginnings, by Ray C. Stedman, Waco Books, 1978. 

Sunday, August 29, 2010

WHY DO BAD GUYS ALWAYS HAVE AN ACCENT?

How often have you watched movies and American television and noticed Hollywood’s stereotypical portrayals of other cultures and language groups?  As part of the storyline tension, there will be a tribe or nationality in opposition to Americans.  The original Americans, or ‘Indians’ as they were mistakenly first called are at war with the cowboys.  The prevailing threat to Americanism is vilified in each generation —Nazi Germans, Gypsies, Mexicans, Russians, Arabs…  We love stories where the bad guys have an accent different from our own.  In the fear of difference, we find the roots of racial arrogance and bigotry.

Even within their own culture Americans create villains from street culture, southern states and the extremely rich and powerful.  A distinctive difference or accent is enough to create a mix of fear and dismissal. 

What about Canadians?  That’s easy!  We get to blame it all on the Americans because everyone knows how different they are from us.

Have you ever wondered why there are so many languages, countries, cultures and differences amongst the peoples of the world?  How is it that you can go places in your city and not understand a word that people are saying?  You can find people who look, smell and act different from you.  It is a strange experience to try and communicate with someone who doesn’t share your language.

To communicate clearly with another is based on using the right words, gestures and clearly hearing what the other is saying.  Often, communication breaks down.  We misinterpret the verbal instructions we’ve been given.  We misread the emails and forget the sermons.

We try to say something and find others having difficulty understanding our meaning.  What is at the heart of our failure to communicate?  I wonder what God thinks of our biases?  As the Creator of all nations and author of diversity, does he chuckle along with our dumb jokes or call us to a new understanding and relationship with the world? 

In the book of Genesis we read consequential stories about humanity’s defiance of God.  In the Garden of Eden, disobedience leads to broken fellowship with God and enmity between previously peace-loving human beings.

Then, the great flood came as a destructive act of God against self-seeking, God-defying humanity.  Noah and his family were spared and humanity had a fresh start through his descendants.  But eventually the darkness of sin spread into new ways of arrogantly challenging the Creator.  The sin virus does not appear to skip generations.

Friday, August 27, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: JESUS MANIFESTO


Len and Frank have done a great job of fulfilling their mandate in this writing.  The flyleaf description gives you the gist of what they want to say.

JESUS MANIFESTO presents a fresh unveiling of Jesus as not only Savior and Lord, but as so much more.  It is a prophetic call to restore the supremacy and sovereignty of Christ in a world-- and a church-- that has lost sight of Him.
Every revival and restoration in the church has been a rediscovery of some aspect of Christ in the process of answering the ultimate question that Jesus put to His disciples: "Who do you say that I am?"

I was immediately struck by the devotional high-tone in their writing.  Instead of the dull rumbling of correction, there is a brilliant voice calling us to Christ worship.  This may become a classic in devotional literature.

This is a book rich in vibrant quotes and solid Christology.  It presents the Jesus who is more important than our best laid plans and causes in His Name.

On a personal note, I've been preaching my way through the red letters in the Gospels.  As I've spent the last year in the spoken words of Jesus, I've found a refreshing alignment with the Person of Jesus.  From the platform of His words, I'm rediscovering that Jesus Christ clearly is the central theme of all Scripture.  This book was helpful in reminding me that everything in life and the universe comes back to Him.

I heartily endorse this book for its 'first love' focus.

____________________________________________

Book has been provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.  Available now at your favorite bookseller.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

ONE OR THE OTHER

Some of the most difficult decisions you will make in life will revolve around choosing to serve God rather than someone or something else.  Loving God affects your geography, your relationships, your time and your pursuits.  Love for God brings you into tension with almost everything that the world presents to you as opportunities. 

Love cannot really be love without bringing you to a sacrifice and a self-emptying.  It is in the giving of love that we find the life of God moving through us.  It is the divine give and take—the reciprocating nature of love’s emptying and filling.

Jesus spoke to the money hungry Pharisees with words that also stir a tension in us—a holy knot in the stomach.

Luke 16:
13 "No servant can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and Money."
 14 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus.  15 He said to them, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts.  What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight.

God or money—you can only serve one.  There is an inherent tension in this that moves you to love the one and evade the other.  Which way are you moving?

God invites us to love Him with abandon.  Jesus tells us that we will be reciprocated if we love with all our heart, mind and strength.  The Father knows what we need and loves to give freely to His children.  But if you love money, you will be quickly distracted to self-seeking and guarding your earthly treasures.  Eventually, you will lose patience with God and your love will drift away.  Like the Pharisees, your hardened heart will sneer at Jesus.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

CAN I TRUST YOU?

I’ve heard people say that you do not have any more wealth than God can trust you with.  I am not convinced that this is entirely true.  Some of the most honest people in the world have also been among the poorest.  Some of the most dishonest have accumulated great wealth. 

If we have a shortage of funds to fulfill our vision we need to focus on having integrity with our current resource.  That does not ensure that dollars will follow, but that we will grow in the way God intends.  Jesus said these words about trustworthiness.

Luke 16:
10 "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.  11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?  12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own?

The emphasis is on personal integrity and not on a values-based system to grow your wealth.  Whether you have very little or excessive resource, the heart is what matters.  We need to learn honesty when we have little.  Both God and the community are looking for people that are wise and honest in conducting business.  Sometimes, that integrity will cause people to entrust you with great resource.  But little or much, God is watching your heart and storing up eternal treasure according to your integrity.

Friday, August 20, 2010

INVESTING IN ETERNITY

In the gospel story of the shrewd manager, Jesus identified a man who transitioned from being an unsuitable employee to a wise and generous man.  Perhaps this is what Warren Buffett was thinking of when he talked about sinners having a future.  The bad manager developed an exit strategy from his position that benefited the customer, made his boss look good and opened doors of opportunity for him by being generous.  Remember the story?  He took the customers and gave a 50% reduction on one bill and 20% on another.  He found a way to make the accounts more equitable to all.

Following the story, Jesus taught the listening disciples and Pharisees some valuable life lessons.


Luke 16:
8 "The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.  For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.  9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

While the story is about the transition of the bad manager, we also learn something about the man’s boss.  His master called the shots and had the right to fire his employee for performance and integrity issues.  The boss also was making significant profits, otherwise the huge discounts on the wheat and oil bills would not have been tolerated.  He commended his employee for making a wise decision.

Jesus used this point to acknowledge the world is often smarter in their dealings than religious people are.  By deflating the ego of Pharisees present, he invites them to use their power and resources to make friends in the community.  Give fair and generous treatment so that when your day of influence and prominence is gone, you will have developed the right kind of heart to belong to the eternal realm.  The shrewd manager quickly learned the value of taking care of people so they will appreciate you and be moved to reciprocate.

This raises the question of doing something with strings attached.  While true generosity is not based on giving to get, it would be a denial to ignore the rule of reciprocity.  When you do something good, there is a returning goodness that will come in time.  If people do not reciprocate when you act kindly and generously, do not despair.  Your responsibility is to do good things.  It is not your concern whether people owe you.  That only serves to diminish the generous spirit.

When we exercise generosity and practice good business, we earn friends for ourselves.  There is no suggestion here of buying our way into Heaven, but a directive to use our earthly money to help others.  By giving others a break and not demanding the highest price, we demonstrate a characteristic of God’s eternal Kingdom.  Generosity and fair trade reflect God’s character.  How you spend your money and bill others is a transferable treasure into God’s Kingdom.  It is a Kingdom value that Jesus calls us to live by now.

Apparently there are no stingy or greedy people welcomed into eternal dwellings.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

THROUGH THE NEEDLE'S EYE

We are hypocrites when we judge how the rich live excessively and turn a blind eye to our own excess.  There is a tendency to look at the extremely wealthy and assume they are greedy and self-seeking.  In bold caricatures of powerful tycoons, we find a suitable enemy to despise—an enemy that we would possibly consider becoming if the funds fell into our laps.  This is the stuff of movies that stirs a common sentiment towards the very rich.

But what if Bill Gates and Warren Buffet sat down for lunch and decided to give their wealth away to improve the condition of the world’s poor?  Would we have to reclaim some of our commentary about the rich and famous?  In fact, that is exactly what Bill and Warren did last year.

In news reports this past week they announced their campaign to persuade America’s wealthiest citizens to donate their fortunes to charity.[i]  Their website www.givingpledge.org lists 40 billionaires and their commitment to give away most of their fortune to philanthropy and charitable organizations while they are still alive.

"We contacted between 70 and 80 people to get the 40. A few were unavailable. We don’t give up on them. Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future. We’ll keep on working," Buffett said.
The United States has roughly 400 billionaires — about 40 percent of the world's total — with a combined net worth of $1.2 trillion, according to Forbes. If they all took the pledge, that would amount to at least $600 billion for charity.
The 40 names that have pledged to date have a combined net worth surpassing $230 billion, according to Forbes. Several of them have said they plan to give away much more than 50 percent of their wealth. Buffett has promised to donate more than 99 percent of his wealth.
And of the billionaires contacted who didn't join the pledge?
"There were a few people who gave answers that indicated their various dissatisfaction with government," Buffett said. "A few had dynastic ideas about wealth … an intergenerational compact with family to keep that going. And there were others who said, 'I’ve got a plane to catch and I'll have to hang up.'"[ii]

I am struck by Warren Buffet’s words where he said, “Every saint has a past; every sinner has a future. We’ll keep on working.”

He is saying that anyone can become generous and make a difference that is measured spiritually.  Saints started somewhere.  Sinners can change and become saints.

Monday, August 16, 2010

$40 BILLION IS NOT MUCH



Besides the relief and development work already taking place in the world, how many additional dollars would it take to ensure that every person had their basic needs met?  According to Dave Blundell of ‘Hungry For Life’, UNICEF estimated that $40 billion USD would do it.  That figure was from the late nineties, so the amount may be different today.  But that is not much money in the big picture.  Consider the breakdown from Dave’s book:  [i]

-          Basic education for all $6 billion
-          Clean water and sanitation for all $9 billion
-          Reproductive health for all women $12 billion
-          Basic health and nutrition $13 billion

By contrast, here are a few annual calculations on the following goods and services:

-          U.S. military spending: $650 billion
-          Canadian military spending: $15 billion
-          Dieting programs in the U.S: $40 billion
-          World golf spending: $40 billion
-          Aesthetic cosmetic surgeries and procedures in the U.S: $11 billion
-          Online pornography revenue worldwide in 2006: $97 billion
-          Cosmetics in the U.S: $8 billion
-          Projected global spending on mobile phone games, music and video in 2010: $43 billion
-          Pet food in Europe and the U.S: $17 billion
-          Church income worldwide in 2007: $150 billion
-          Para-church and Christian institutional income worldwide in 2007: $240 billion
-          Additional church income if all U.S. church members tithed (10%) on reported income: $164 billion
-          Total being spent on development to developing countries in 2004: $78 billion

Dave Blundell points to excess in ways not limited to the rich and famous.  Many of the middle and even lower class have found ways to spend excessive amounts on pets, dieting, and cosmetic surgery and so on.  If we can spend excessively on such things, can we not also be part of alleviating world suffering with our incomes?

If all North American Christians tithed 10% we could have a testimony to the world by eliminating many of the needs of poverty in the world today.



[i] Dave Blundell, Hungry For Life  pp.26-28

Saturday, August 14, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: HUNGRY FOR LIFE

As I read Dave Blundell's book, I was drawn into the frustration and godly discontent with the state of the North American church towards the poorest populations of the world.  A problem with a hope for significant change.

He does an excellent job of presenting the biblical case and the statistical  realities of who we are.

Personally, I am not one who enjoys many books that have a case to present backed with lots of Scripture and stats, but this was one I knew I had to read.  It was an uncomfortable read in that it pointed out my sins and called for change. I pastor a church planted among the poor and this book reminded me of the scene in Schindler's List where the hero tearfully acknowledges that he could have done more to save the oppressed.

Not that this book is intended to bring a guilt trip...  it's written to bring us back to God's heart for the poor and oppressed.

Dave & Heidi Blundell run an organization called 'Hungry For Life' with a vision of connecting churches and individuals to problem solvers around the globe.

You can check out their website here:    http://www.hungryforlife.org/

You can order the book here:  http://www.westbowpress.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-000169617

Thursday, August 12, 2010

THE VIRTUE OF SHREWD

Luke 16:
 1 Jesus told his disciples: "There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.'
 3 "The manager said to himself, 'What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I'm not strong enough to dig, and I'm ashamed to beg— 4 I know what I'll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.'
 5 "So he called in each one of his master's debtors. He asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?'
 6" 'Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,' he replied.
      "The manager told him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.'
 7 "Then he asked the second, 'And how much do you owe?'
      " 'A thousand bushels of wheat,' he replied.
      "He told him, 'Take your bill and make it eight hundred.'
 8 "The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.  For, the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 


What did the boss mean when he commended the shrewdness of his employee?

Shrewd - Characterized by keen awareness, sharp intelligence, and often a sense of the practical.[i]

From the Greek word phronim├│s, shrewd means sensible.  The master in the story acknowledged that the disappointing employee had acted with sensibility.  Jesus then adds that worldly people are often more sensible in dealing with one another than religious people towards their own.

With a Pharisee audience, Jesus’ story has intended implications.  The religious leaders have not been responsible managers with their money and power.  God was not happy with their mismanagement.  Jesus would explain the lessons from the story in verses following.  Jesus was showing them how to turn their lives around and have a future.  It would require them to sacrifice their commission and find a place with their former customers.   

The lesson stands for us today.  When we consider the source of earthly goods coming from God, we are sometimes guilty of being poor managers.  We have not always acted with integrity and can be motivated by self-interest.

But, it’s not too late to change the future.  We can start by acknowledging our guilt and become generous, fair as managers of God’s resources.  The Kingdom needs managers who are interested in giving breaks to those who are indebted to God. 

In contrast to the masters of the world, God does not charge high interest and shrewdly take advantage of those He supplies to.  As God’s messengers and managers, we are to reflect His heart of mercy and provision to the world.

There is a great need for followers of Jesus who have the virtue of shrewdness-- sensible people who are characterized by keen awareness, sharp intelligence, and a sense of the practical.  How can we best deliver the Kingdom goods to a waiting world?  The Kingdom goods include feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, advocating for the voiceless, bringing freedom and love to the overlooked and underestimated.

We need to guard against thinking that we are above God’s judgment.  Many of Jesus’ teachings about money and resources speak to our need to be faithful managers.  With the same sense of responsibility to God as our boss, we need to have a shrewd sense of fairness and generosity towards the world.

The Pharisees could have changed their heart and become a humble presence in the Early Church.  The majority of them resisted Jesus and disappeared into ancient history.  Let’s not make their mistake by thinking that God’s voice would not challenge us to new understanding and radical change.


Discussion:

1.       The start of Jesus’ story deals with a person who was guilty of doing a poor job and was getting fired.  Is there a time when you were fired and what lessons did you learn about yourself?


2.       Not only jobs, but relationships and associations sometimes involve moving on.  What are some good and bad things you’ve learned about transitions when it comes to family, marriage, friendship and churches?  Is there a right and wrong way to move on when things are not working out?


3.       In the work of God’s Kingdom, are there some ways that Christians and churches have been unfair and greedy toward the world?  Are there ways that we need to be shrewd, intelligent and practical in our delivery systems?  


4.       The Pharisees were the religious leaders of their day.  What were some of the mistakes they made that Jesus spoke to?  How can we avoid similar failures?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

THE WISE EXIT OF A BAD MANAGER



Jesus told the story of a manager who goofed up his job.  Whether the man was crooked and skimming profits for himself or had poor job performance, we do not know.  What was clear was the boss being unhappy about this particular employee.  The manager was getting fired because the boss was unhappy.


Luke 16:
 1 Jesus told his disciples: "There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.'
 3 "The manager said to himself, 'What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I'm not strong enough to dig, and I'm ashamed to beg— 4 I know what I'll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.'
 5 "So he called in each one of his master's debtors. He asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?'
 6" 'Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,' he replied.
      "The manager told him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.'
 7 "Then he asked the second, 'And how much do you owe?'
      " 'A thousand bushels of wheat,' he replied.
      "He told him, 'Take your bill and make it eight hundred.'
 8 "The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.  For, the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 


Not strong enough to dig ditches and not wanting to end up as a beggar on the street… 

How many people feel that same way?  You may be in a job that is redundant and where you have outlived your usefulness.  What are you going to do?  Perhaps someone is gunning for your position and you are faced with an unplanned career change.  It would be easy to get stuck at blaming the economy, an unethical employer or believing that you can do no wrong.

While the manager had some problems that lead to his dismissal, his final days of work showed a praiseworthy strategy that caught Jesus’ attention.  Though assessed as a poor manager of the master’s business, he decided to leave on a high note.  He gave a 50% discount on the olive oil and 20% discount on the wheat bill.  He realized that his business contacts were potential employers that would appreciate his kindness.

Where did the discount come from?  Was the manager giving up his commission or was he intentionally cutting into the employer’s profit margin?  If he was giving up his commission, he used his last pay cheque to buy a positive influence on the customers.  Not only would they remember the good deal he gave, they would think it came from the employer.  This would benefit all parties involved.

If the manager was cutting into the employer’s profits, he was doing something bad to protect his own interests.  Would Jesus praise him for this? 

Blogger Anne Robertson suggests a way of looking at the ethics of this story.

Let's say that a man is convicted of murdering his wife and is sentenced to prison.  Further, let's say that on his way to begin serving his sentence he goes past a burning house with a child left inside.  Figuring that misery awaits him anyway and figuring that saving a baby can't hurt his reputation, he dashes into the building and saves the child.  A pastor is watching and goes home to write a sermon.  "Why is it," he says the next Sunday "that this murderer can figure out that saving a child is a good thing and the 16 churchgoers who were there watching the fire burn, did nothing?  This convict is smarter than all of them.  Use the opportunities life presents to you to enhance God's reputation.  The one who risks his own life to save another is living out the Gospel." [i]

If we look at the shrewd manager of Jesus’ story in this way, we see a man who was clearly guilty of wrongdoing, but was able to change his focus to help others in a meaningful way.  Jesus was not disregarding the wrongs, but recognizing the futuristic thinking of a man with nowhere else to turn.  Just because you have been very bad, you are not prohibited from doing something very good.


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Saturday, August 7, 2010

LEAVING WELL WHEN YOU GET FIRED

Most people have had at least one place of employment that turned into a dismal failure.  I had a couple jobs that did not work out.


When I was in grade eight, I worked one night as a pin boy at Tecumseh Lanes.  The old bowling alleys had boys working behind the wall to set the bowling pins back in place after the bowlers knocked them down.  We had to keep track of how many balls had been rolled on each turn and reset the ten pins once the turn was over.  There was a tray we manually loaded pins into and a track to send the ball back on.

It was well over one hundred degrees Fahrenheit behind the wall with young teen boys smoking, swearing and changing pins.  I ended up getting confused in the heat and the noise.  I reset the pins early a couple times which infuriated the customers.  I did not understand all the instructions I had been given in the first thirty seconds of work and the boys next to me were little help to my confused mind.  I think I came home with two dollars of earnings after a four hour shift.  I was disappointed, but glad to get out of there.  It was reminiscent of some of my grade school gym classes.

A second, undesirable job exit happened in one of the churches where I had been a youth pastor.  More than once, the senior pastor had called me to his office to tell me that I should think about some other vocation since I was clearly not cut out for pastoral ministry.  Some of the ways I had failed included:

·       -   having sleepy nods during service while sitting behind him on the platform
·         - borrowing the pastor’s station wagon for a youth outing and returning it a less desirable condition
·         - dressing unprofessionally for my role

I ended up leaving there before I got fired and disregarded his opinion about my suitability for ministry.  I hope he was wrong.  I would hate to discover now that I had wasted my life trying to fit into a role that I was not suited for.  Again, it was reminiscent of some of my grade school gym classes.

What places of employment ended poorly for you?  There are valuable lessons for us about finishing well, especially when your performance or integrity has been questioned.  People always remember first impressions and the way you exit.

William Shakespeare said, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts..."  [i]

If you have failed in a job, a responsibility or relationship you need to pay close attention to your exit strategy.  On one of my favourite Seinfeld episodes, George Costanza realizes that he has a pattern of making good impressions and doing well, but then things turn sour.  He decides that the best strategy in relationships, conversation and work is to leave on a high note.  I still chuckle remembering Jason Alexander’s character shouting cheerily, “I’m out of here!”

But what can you do when faced with situations in which you have clearly failed and need to move on?

Executive recruiter Bill Radin says this:

When faced with leaving a job, it’s best to exercise decorum, whether the move is voluntary or forced. To make the best of an awkward situation, here are some tips to remember:[ii]
1.       Keep your mouth shut. Leaving a job (like ending a personal relationship) is strictly a private matter; and waving your dirty laundry serves no purpose.
2.       Stay cool. Even in the context of a “confidential” exit interview, there’s nothing to gain from scorching the Earth.
3.       Keep your distance. Soliciting support (or fomenting dissent) from your co-workers might create the impression of a conspiracy or coup d’├ętat—and unwittingly implicate innocent people.
4.       Burn bridges at your own peril. The company you left yesterday may need your services tomorrow. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it.





[i] William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act 2 Scene 7
[ii] Bill Radin, How To Leave A Job Gracefully, http://www.radinassociates.com/resignation-graceful.htm

Sunday, August 1, 2010

THERE'S A POOR MAN IN THE GARDEN

In the Special Revelation of Scripture we learn that God entrusted humanity with the care of the earth.  We were intended to enjoy and attend to the natural world. 

This included naming the animals.  God designed us to study and identify the vast multitude of types and species.  God could have done the naming, but He wanted us to share in the pleasure and understanding that comes from intimate study of Creation.  In the recognition of each creature, we hear the whispered Name of the Creator.

The care of Creation includes gardening, herding and nurturing.  We have been created as responsible creatures capable of thinking and acting for the best good of Creation.  There has never been more of a time in history when we need to act responsibly toward the earth God has given us.

Jesus addressed the consuming anxieties of people in that day.  Where will I get the food, clothes and shelter I need to survive?  That same anxiety has driven greed for possessions and the accumulation of wealth.  The hopes of wealth drive our industries to the point of losing sight of our role as caretakers in God’s world.

The BP Oil Spill in the Gulf Of Mexico was avoidable.  The depletion of the ozone layer and the ravaging of the rain forests are avoidable.  The extinction of countless thousands of God-created species has been largely avoidable from a human perspective.  The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was avoidable.  Kuwait did not have to be turned into an environmental disaster.  Behind every war, there are great anxieties and greed lighting the fuse.  This exemplifies the great lengths we will go to reject the responsibility given to care for Creation.

Jesus reminds us that we are far more valuable to God than grasslands which wither and die.  God’s eye is on the sparrow and certainly much more upon humanity.  God has more than provided the sustenance and self-worth that we need as the high point of His Creation.

Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, because the Father has given the little ones His Kingdom.”  He encourages people to liquidate the earthly treasures in favor of caring for the poor.  This act stores up a treasure that will survive into the coming of God’s Kingdom.  That which we value here is the treasure that gets stored in our hearts. 

John Piper has some valuable insights into the idea that Christians are supposed to be wealthier because of their faith.

When Jesus said, “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy” (Luke 12:33), he seemed to imply not that the disciples were wealthy and could give from their overflow. It seems they had so few liquid assets that they had to sell something in order to have something to give.
Why would preachers want to encourage people to think that they should possess wealth in order to be a lavish giver? Why not encourage them to keep their lives more simple and be an even more lavish giver? Would that not add to their generosity a strong testimony that Christ, and not possessions, is their treasure?[i]

When your heart worries about the environment and the social ills of our day, consider the faithfulness of God and choose where to store your treasure.  This is the watershed question we all face.  Will we live in this world with our eyes on the coming Kingdom?  Will we live responsibly towards Creation and love the poor in Jesus’ name?

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