“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9 ESV).
The trouble in Baltimore has been difficult to watch, let alone comprehend from a distance. The tragic death of Freddie Gray, the rioting and continuing civil unrest has prompted many persons—family, friends, neighbors, bystanders, journalists, politicians, and public servants—to voice impassioned and heartfelt opinions about the disintegration of community we have witnessed. Passion is heard in voices, pain is seen in faces, but reconciliation and healing seems distant.
Is it reasonable to imagine problems like those in Baltimore can be solved by human reason or action? Against so much history, polarization, and entrenchment by all sides, can hope be found?
Do you remember the song “From a Distance,” recorded by Bette Midler and written by Julie Gold? In beautiful melody it reminds us that we are part of one world, one creation, and that “God is watching us from a distance.” And country music artist Ronnie Dunn recorded a similar song of hope and reconciliation entitled “Bleed Red” by Andrew M. Dorff. Songs and poetry display deep truths because they impact us in our quiet and personal space—a place of reflection and soul searching.
God does see all, and not just from a distance; He is close and personal to our lives. Jesus bled on a cross because of the “lost-ness” of the human race. And Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit to help us in our weakness as we strive to live lives that are righteous and holy as He is righteous and holy. Our part is to allow Him to shape us and mold us to become more like Him and less like who we are apart from Him.
The Bible has a lot to say about human interaction and transformation. Here are some passages for your consideration:
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8 ESV).
“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil” (Psalm 37:7-8 ESV).
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Romans 12:9-13 ESV).
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:14-18 ESV).
“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:25-27 ESV).
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31- 32 ESV).
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12 ESV).
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15-16 NIV).
Once, a “religious” man asked Jesus the requirement to inherit eternal life. Jesus did not respond but instead asked the man’s opinion, and the man said: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27 NIV). Jesus acknowledged the answer was good, but the man continued, asking “who” his neighbor was. In reply, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35) and upon hearing it the man concluded rightly that the “neighbor” in the parable was the man who showed mercy. Jesus told the man to go and do likewise.
The first Thursday of every May is designated our National Day of Prayer; this year it fell on May 7th. Such a proclamation is symbolic, but at its core is the understanding that we need God, that in every real and true sense, apart from God we can do nothing—either individually or collectively. Through prayer, Christians can “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:19 NIV).
Our world, viewed from a distance and hanging in the sky, is perfect. But the transformation we desire for our “up close” and “imperfect” world is personal, requiring our careful, specific, and heartfelt prayerful attention. Today and every day, pray for our country. Pray for peace and for peacemakers to step forward. Pray for our communities and leaders. Pray for those hurting and oppressed. Pray for our neighbors who are as broken and lost and helpless as we are, who want to do the right and good thing but cannot seem to do it. Above all, pray for wisdom; that out of diverse points of view Good Samaritans will emerge for injured Baltimore.
The truth is, apart from God we can do nothing; but mercy and grace in time of need is a promise worth pursuing.
Thank you, Jesus!
“And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” (Romans 10:15 ESV).
Have you ever wondered if what you do really matters in the big scheme of things? People want to know they have a purpose in life—they want to know that “who” they are and what they do matters somehow in the great scheme of things. If there is a universal question on the mind and in the heart of every human being it is this: “Who am I?” The question is an old one. It was on Eve’s mind in the Garden of Eden at the dawn of time when the serpent enticed her to consider that she could be someone else if she only ate from the tree. On a basic level, Eve was dissatisfied with “who” she thought she was; Eve wanted to be more. We continue to ask ourselves the same questions today: “Who am I and does my life matter?”
You might think that Christians would find a question about life’s meaning to be foolish, but surveys reveal that Christians often struggle with harmonizing their principles of faith with their everyday lives. George Barna, an author and researcher of Christian trends, noted in his Top Trends of 2011 survey that only one fifth of Christians say they live life in a way that makes them completely dependent on God. Barna also noted that 84% of 18-29 year olds admit they have no idea how the Bible applies to their field or professional interests.
The inner tension a Christian feels when their lives are out of sync with what God wants and desires for them is unlike any other feeling or conflict. It is persistent although it is gentle. God is relentless when it comes to shaping His people into the image of Christ. He will not ignore their work lives any more than He will ignore their personal life. Life is life to God. God desires to have a relationship with His people.
I felt this tension in my life even though by worldly standards my career and business life were all headed in the “right” direction. But try as I might, I could neither shake the feelings nor ignore them. Something was missing; something in my life was incomplete. Others would speak of having a relationship with God, but my experience was an “awareness” of God, not a deep and personal relationship with Him.
My response was to pursue Him, to catch hold of Him, to spend time and energy with Him through reading the Bible, going to church, seeking out other like-minded persons to share questions and gain knowledge, listening to pastors and teachers exhort and encourage, and prayerfully reflecting and meditating on the majesty and beauty of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. This journey is not over, but I can testify that my life has changed for the better.
A few years ago I felt an urge to write about my journey of discovery with God; about how He is not apart from our work and that a business leader cannot be the best that they can be apart from Him. This Blog and Website reflects some of my thoughts and observations, but today I am overjoyed to announce the publication of my book, What if Jesus Carried a Briefcase? Presently at the printer, paperback copies will be available the first week of June. But for electronic book readers, the book is now available on Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/What-Jesus-Carried-Briefcase-Devotional-ebook/dp/B00XD85MF4/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1431350628&sr=8-2&keywords=what+if+jesus+carried+a+briefcase.
If you have ever wondered if what you do really matters in the big scheme of things, or have questioned how to gain and apply godly wisdom in work situations, or have struggled to find peace amidst the tumult and uncertainty that all businesses operate within, it is my hope this book encourage you, uplifts you, and draws you nearer to God. I thank God for allowing me the opportunity to write this book. To Him be the glory and honor, now and forever.
“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (1 Timothy 4:1-2 NIV).
How do you feel right now? Are you in season, where things are going well and the horizon is bright and sunny? Or does it seem that you are out of season—that things could be better, life more robust, problems less challenging, and relationships more sturdy?
I once heard a speaker say that “facts are pesky things.” At the time he was disabusing the audience of “opinions” we held on effective marketing programs he believed were unsupported by the “facts.” If “facts” are pesky, feelings are more so—they can be downright overwhelming.
I come home from work and my wife asks, “How was your day?” I am always torn between answering how the day felt to me as opposed to how much was actually accomplished in it. She is the same way when I query back to her. In human interaction, feelings carry great weight. Facts are, after all, without emotion; hard and cold, facts are a binary switch that is either yes or no, on or off, right or wrong. People, not so much. If I answer my wife with a feeling about how the day went it is a fact that any response from her about the “facts” is not helpful. And if I, a lummox about most “feelings” anyway, feel worse or misunderstood when facts are presented to me rather than messages of hope, heaven help her when I recite fact after fact after fact about just how well her day went with our homeschooled children, the management of the household, and the achievement of goals and objectives desired and sought after by her.
Feelings are like a giant battery. If we feel good, we have boundless energy, confidence, and enthusiasm. If we feel down, energy dissipates, confidence wanes, and alternatives are viewed pessimistically. Such a fact about feelings is important to know and remember; feelings are the lenses through which we interpret facts.
But facts really are pesky things. And if we can return to them, feelings can be brought out into the open and given great attention in a fashion that brings both comfort and energy.
Paul, in writing to his protégé Timothy, admonished him to do his job “in season and out of season.” We also must do our jobs in season and out of season. The old Patsy Cline song to stop the world and let me get off is nonsense. And if you are a leader—in your business, in your family, in your church, in your community, in your life—you must lead in season and out of season.
So, how do you feel, right now? Could you use a little factual “pick-me-up?”
Many organizations require employees to wear particular uniforms while at work. Sometimes the uniforms are for the protection of the employee as much as for identification with the employer’s business. As Christians, and particularly as Christian leaders, we also have a uniform designed for our protection. If we wear it, we will remember facts that replace negative feelings with feelings of hope and encouragement, even in difficult circumstances.
The Apostle Paul described this Christian uniform in Ephesians 6:11-18 using as a metaphor a Roman soldier’s uniform—belt of truth, shoes fitted for peace, breastplate of righteousness, helmet of salvation, shield of faith, and sword of truth. Each article of the uniform is important, but chief among them is the belt of truth, for by remembering the truths of our faith and our God, we can rightly discern how to interpret our feelings; we can acknowledge our feelings but not submit to them.
What are some truths about our God that we should remember daily? He is omniscient, omnipresent, all-powerful, sovereign, creator, self-sustaining, life-giving, trustworthy, true, good, merciful, just, always working to bring about all that He desires, full of love and never far from His children. Of this we can be certain: God is not apart from us. Jesus said “I am the vine, you are the branches” (John 15:5). Christians are part of God’s family, but closer than family—we are part of the body of Christ.
Paul’s admonishment of Timothy to preach in season and out of season is remarkable since Timothy was a minister of Jesus, instructed by Paul, fully equipped to proclaim the message, an eye-witness to the remarkable work of Paul and the growth of Christianity in spite of all its enemies. Yet Paul knew that even Timothy would have bad days, where feelings as well as circumstances would not be in his favor. In those days, Timothy would have to call upon his memory of God’s awesome power and mercy, His loving-kindness and goodness, to restore his feelings of hope. We are no different.
“And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5 NIV).
If you are out of season, remember that God stands with you and for you. Be encouraged, full of hope, and lift up your countenance. Spring is just around the corner.
“There are three things that are never satisfied, four that never say, ‘Enough!’: the grave, the barren womb, land, which is never satisfied with water, and fire, which never says ‘Enough!’” (Proverbs 30:15b-16 ESV).
“The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water’” (John 4:15 ESV).
My son Jeremy, at the time about ten years old, looked a little green around the gills. He had come with me on a “mystery shopping” excursion to Jacksonville, Florida, and as we drove away from the drive-through window of the fourth of ten restaurants we were to visit that day, I noticed him staring dubiously at the full size combo meal and other items he had just ordered. It was about 11:30 a.m., and the prospect of eating six more meals had him flummoxed. I decided to share with him the concept of single bite tasting rather than entire sandwich consumption. We might not have discussed it then, but his full belly provided an object lesson in the law of diminishing returns—in this case cheeseburgers and fries had lost their appeal fairly quickly.
In economics, the law of diminishing returns posits that continually adding one factor of a productive process while holding all others constant will eventually lead to a reduced level of output, expressed either in absolute terms or in efficiency. For example, in my restaurants, adding additional employees to each shift will eventually result in employees bumping into one another, thereby becoming less efficient in preparing food and serving guests than doing the same work with fewer employees.
Empirically, the law of diminishing returns is proved correct; yet we personally are prone to disdain its wisdom whenever our desires overpower our wisdom. “Too much of a good thing” is how excess is often characterized but not condemned. Addictions and addictive behaviors ignore the law of diminishing returns, as do most sensual pleasures.
God created us to have longings and desires for many things (cf. Psalm 37:4), thus “desires” are not intrinsically bad. Desires are incredibly strong motivators of behavior, driving us to pursue the objects of our desire. Say you desire to play a musical instrument. To realize that desire, you must find an instrument, an instructor or texts, and practice. If you invest time in the effort, you will learn to play. The same process applies to, well, everything I can think of that springs into being from a “desire” (including desires that are unhealthy and ungodly—say pornography, for example or extra-marital affairs, or cheating at a game or business enterprise).
Yet, within the pursuit of our desires, we can experience times of diminishing returns. If you practice for hours and hours your concentration at some point will diminish, or your muscles will fatigue. At some point, you need to rest from your labors. This is common sense. But a true desire that is not merely an infatuation, will resume after a time of rest with the same rigor and enthusiasm it once had—the desire is not diminished.
The same can be said about desires that are attached to emotions. We love our spouses (we desire to be with them), but we also enjoy time alone. We love our children, but we also enjoy time away from them. We love our pets, but can’t “pet” them every hour of the day. We enjoy a sunset, or sunrise, or sitting by a mountain brook on a cool spring day, but we can’t and won’t enjoy sitting there forever. Yet, we do not have a one and done attitude about such things either; spouses, children, pets, and nature, all of these things become important and breath-taking to us over and over and over. Such life-time desires seldom experience any permanent period of diminishing returns.
At some point, if you are a Christian, you felt a strong desire to know God, to be embraced by His love and to know His salvation by claiming Jesus as your God and Savior. But let me ask you, where are you now in your desire to know more and more about God; to have Him become more and more a part of your life; and to increasingly work to please Him and conform to His will? Are you doing the work, or do you feel like your relationship with God is in a time of diminishing returns and you have backed off of reading the Bible, going to church, praying, and contemplating God’s plans for you?
If you have backed off some, perhaps even been a “backslider,” let me encourage you to renew your desire to know God. The book of Ephesians (1:3-19) enumerates the many blessings that have already been granted to Christians: blessed with every spiritual blessing (none are withheld); made holy; adopted as sons and daughters; redeemed and forgiven of sins; made aware of God’s purposes; received an inheritance; and given the Holy Spirit as a seal and promise of our future in eternity.
God is Sovereign. He knows your intimate desires. He knows your particular gifts because He gave them to you. He is working to fulfill your desires. The Psalmist says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4 NIV).
God’s power is without limits. The Apostle Paul summarized God’s overarching plan of good will when he said, “(God) is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20 NIV).
Immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. With God there is no diminishing return; rather, there is abundance.
“Only let us hold true to what we have attained” (Philippians 3:16 ESV).
Dr. Seuss gave us a lesson in the art of negotiation and an example of the benefits of perseverance when Green Eggs and Ham was published in 1960. The Cat in the Hat was sure he did not like green eggs and ham, and equally sure he disliked Sam. But then, exasperated and wet, he tried them just to placate and send away persistent Sam and found out that he did, he DID like green eggs and ham!
Are you a Cat in the Hat Christian, or a Sam?
Forty years ago I was sitting in the lobby of the College of Business and Economics at the University of Kentucky killing time until my next class when a student I did not know sat next to me and asked me if I had been saved. “Yes,” I replied, while my body language, facial expressions and visible discomfort spoke loudly “no” and “leave me the hell alone.” I don’t remember what else he said, he didn’t stay long, but I remember his question, my discomfort, and my answer.
Cat in the hat-esque, I was unwilling to engage with a stranger about my beliefs in God, unwilling to engage with myself the depth of my own convictions, and unwilling to even engage in common Christian courtesy with another believer who felt a call to discuss Jesus with strangers. Parsimonious is a good word for who I was back then.
But I might be all Sam now. You see, our personal comprehension of what it means to be a Christian changes over time. The Apostles Paul and Peter speak of spiritual infants (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:1 and 1 Peter 2:2) who must grow up and develop into a mature understanding of God’s call on their lives. Peter describes spiritual maturity as passing through a series of phases that supplement and build a Christian life ready and useful for God’s service: “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love” (2 Peter 1:5b-7 ESV).
Spiritual maturity is not linear. Rather, we grow, fall back, back-track, back-slide, and grow again. Living in the world we can be confused about values (virtues) and true knowledge (what is right and wrong and why), and the temptations of the pleasures of this world can rob us of self-control. Vanity, pride, sloth, and envy will erode steadfastness of character. But perseverance and the uplifting, encouraging, and disciplining actions of the Spirit urge us to pursue godliness, and from Christ-likeness we can approach others in brotherly affection and love.
Still, brotherly affection and love does not happen quickly. Christians disagree about things—does that surprise you? Some of those things we disagree about are human things, and they are troublesome enough; but some things are about theology, and we can become confused and angry with one another over doctrine. (“Thing One” and “Thing Two”, just to keep the Dr. Seuss theme going.) Because spiritual maturity is not linear, Paul admonished the Philippians to hold fast to what they had already attained.
While preachers and teachers influence and educate us, it is the job of the Holy Spirit to lead us into wisdom and understanding of the things of Christ. We are to test the things we hear (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 and 1 John 4:1-8). As we grow in our spiritual maturity we will be stretched to consider new insights, new tolerances and intolerances, new compassions for ourselves and others, and we will experience new sadness over this broken world. Such emotions represent growing pains as the Holy Spirit leads us. But remembering the truths we have already attained will comfort us through our times of testing, stretching, renewal, and growth.
Thankfully, our Lord will not leave us alone once we have invited Him into our lives. He sees to it that we keep moving, keep growing.
The end of the year is fast approaching. Resolutions are just around the corner. Here at the start of November let me urge you to pause and reflect on your spiritual maturity. Are you growing or back-sliding? Are there obstacles standing in your way to becoming a mature Christian, equipped for service and prepared for the vicissitudes of life? What truths are you holding fast as you stretch into the future?
I have always liked Dr. Seuss stories. Here is a poor homage to him, but may it put a smile on your face.
Ponder, ponder, where you stand. Are you safe in God’s strong hand?
Or do you worry about what lies ahead, late at night while on your bed?
Awake! Awake! Put sloth away. Dawn is breaking, a brand new day!
Parsimoniousity? It shall not be the end of thee!
With the Holy Spirit shout, and let the Christian in you out!
“Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart. They do nothing wrong; they walk in his ways” (Psalm 119:1b-2 NIV).
Autumn is here, and with the change in season has come football—something I really enjoy. But one cannot watch football without also being exposed to television commercials, and more frequently now than I ever remember, commercials embarrass me.
Last Sunday, watching a Saints game at home with my four young daughters, Levi’s intruded into my family with a commercial touting one important feature of their product is “they unbutton,” and the commercial had a young man and woman demonstrating how and why that might be important. It isn’t only Levi’s of course; much of what is on television or at the movie theater is about sex and lawlessness.
I attended a luncheon today with about twenty men from my church and our pastor observed that church attendance has all but disappeared in Europe. America is moving in the same direction. The obvious question is why?
Lack of relevance is one response, but I beg to differ. Our culture is no more decadent than the culture in which Christianity first began and flourished. Helping someone find purpose in life is always relevant; being refreshed in a dry and weary land is an act of love.
America’s movement towards alienation, self-interest, and decadence did not happen overnight, but it seems to be accelerating.
I didn’t like the movie Five Easy Pieces when I first saw it in the late 1970’s; it wasn’t a film audiences were supposed to “like.” No, the characters portrayed in the film, their life experiences, their prejudices, their inability to cope with responsibility and life choices, their alienation from society and themselves, made it pretty hard to like them. But it made them memorable to an impressionable young man like me who didn’t know how or where or even if he was going to fit in.
The lead character played by Jack Nicholson was smart, funny, and willing to take enormous risks (or maybe just willing to be nonchalant about consequences), but he wasn’t happy—not by a long shot. Neither was he useful to himself or anyone else.
There was nothing easy in Five Easy Pieces; rather, the film was uneasy from start to finish, even the more “normal” characters in the film were uneasy misfits. Why wouldn’t they be—they had no solid foundation upon which to build their lives—no alternative beliefs or causes worth submitting to or aligning with were presented in the film. The audience saw a montage of life from several vantage points that all bleakly pointed out the same truth: life is hard and meaningless. Everyone struggles; we age and get sick, we disappoint and are disappointed, and all the while we work at jobs that are not fulfilling— whether in oil fields or music halls.
That society applauded the film only puzzled me, but I have not forgotten the movie or the disquiet it made me feel. And I see it sometimes as the point of departure for our culture that has continued now for over forty years.
As lunch ended, a friend remarked that God may have taken His hands off of America for a time—but whether for judgment or a call to return to Him is unclear. The Old Testament speaks of God withdrawing His protection from the Hebrews. There was a time when God left me to my own devices; going my own way was what it took for me to know the depth of sorrow that accompanies living apart from God.
But God delivered me from my self. And that process of repentance and restoration and renewal is remarkable.
So even if Hollywood, ad firms, national television networks, and manufacturers of jeans remain out of touch with me, I know there is a sure foundation upon which to build a meaningful life. That foundation can be expressed in five easy pieces.
1. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1 ESV). My good friend Roger Hall has compiled a list of eight questions whose answers suggest how humans view and understand life and life purpose. The first question each person should ask and answer is “what do I say about God?” The Bible says we are relevant because we have a Creator; we are not a happenstance occurrence of nature. Aimlessness is despair, but purpose energizes the soul.
2. “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding” (Proverbs 4:7 NIV). Roger’s second question is “what do I say about truth?” In my view, godly wisdom isn’t much discussed these days. We have abdicated education to the government. We have eschewed virtue as being hateful, discernment as divisive and bigoted, and truth as being whatever each believes it to be. Our disregard for wisdom is costing us all we have.
3. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12ESV). Here is a history lesson for you: no ancient civilization is still around. From the time we began to keep score, civilizations have arisen that have conquered the world. They have made many discoveries of science and mathematics; they have helped shape our philosophies, our art, and our humanity. None are still here.
4. “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 NIV). God has not been silent; He has expressed His commandments clearly. We want justice when wronged. We want mercy when we have wronged another. We are prideful. The Scripture commands we do all three, yet apart from God, doing one of them consistently is impossible.
5. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NIV). God loves us. He has never stopped seeking after us. In antiquity, He revealed Himself in power and restraint. With Christ, He revealed Himself in love and mercy. God’s gift, given without merit, to a lost and perishing world was Jesus Christ, our sure and certain foundation; an ever present help in times of trouble.
God gives you purpose and relevance. God will save your life. Five easy pieces to practice, master, and set you free.