Thursday, June 28, 2012

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

Grass is supposed to be green, not brown, right?

Weeks ago I mentioned we had our front yard reseeded, spending money to grow grass. It worked. Areas where there’d only been dirt – turning into mud during heavy rains – sprouted thin blades of grass and the yard slowly turned from brown to green. We had a “lawn” again.

Last week we went out of town. In our absence scorching heat and insufficient water conspired to stifle the new growth, reverting some of the newly green covering back to brown.

Since our return – no rain in sight and more hot weather predicted – I’ve watered the “grass,” trying to grow greenery so I can mow when (and if) it grows long enough. Somehow that picture seems askew.

But this grassy reality mirrors everyday life. We spend much time and energy in pursuits that seem attractive at the time, only to fade eventually. They fall short of expectations; we lose interest in them, or find something “better.” All that effort, with nothing to show for it.

The Bible employs this “here today, gone tomorrow” grass analogy several times. For instance, Isaiah 40:6-8 declares, “All men are like grass, and their glory is like the flowers of the field…. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.”

Years ago a wise friend said, “Only two things in this life will last – God’s Word and people.” Personal and professional goals come and go; styles and traditions change; people become celebrities one day and nobodies the next. The bright, shiny stuff we eagerly acquire breaks, becomes tarnished, or gets old. Like grass, they fade away.

But the Word of God has endured for more than 2,000 years and shows no sign of losing its impact, to the chagrin of nonbelievers. Its “eternal verities,” as theologians would say, remain as true and relevant today as ever. The author of the Word is unchanging as well: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

And people are God’s primary interest on earth. Storms, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods and fires destroy splendid structures and breath-taking scenery. However, men, women and children – the Lord’s consummate creation – remain His focus. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believe in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

So we might be wise from time to time to assess our lives, goals and priorities. Are we devoting ourselves to “growing grass,” or using our time and talents for things that will last?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Wanted: An After-Vacation Vacation

Now I understand why many people in Europe annually take weeks – sometimes a full month – of vacation or “holiday” at a time, often putting workplace demands and challenges in limbo.

Last week my family and I spent a week in Panama City Beach, Fla. (before tropical storm Debby approached, thankfully). I think it was Wednesday, maybe even Thursday, before I began unwinding from the stress of projects, deadlines, email, schedules and appointments. Then, just as I was finally starting to “chill,” it was time to drive home. I need a vacation after my vacation!

Do you find yourself "living to work"
or "working to live"?
It’s said people in some parts of the world “live to work,” while folks in other parts of the world – including those in Europe who might be on holiday right now – “work to live.” While Americans seem enamored with the bottom line, checking items off to-do lists, and earning feelings of accomplishment, maybe our fascination with work causes us to miss out on a bit of life. Many of us don’t really know how to relax.

Perhaps that’s one reason the Bible places a premium on rest. The 4th commandments is, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8). This command isn’t intended to be restrictive or to limit productivity, as Jesus explained in Mark 2:27 – ”The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” He was saying we require rest; when you burn the candle at both ends, you run out of candle.

One of my favorite characters in the Old Testament is Elijah, who in 1 Kings 18 successfully overcomes the challenge of 450 pagan priests, takes part in several stunning displays of divine power, and correctly predicts the moment a 3½-year drought will end. When told queen Jezebel wants to kill him, he flees. “What a lack of faith!” I’ve heard some preachers say. I don’t think it was a matter of faith; he was simply worn out.

In 1 Kings 19, rather than chastising Elijah, God sends an angel with food, and lets him sleep before issuing his next set of orders. Nowhere does the Lord scold Elijah, “What’s the matter? Didn’t you think I could handle Jezebel?” After Elijah’s participation in miraculous, mind-blowing events, God knew his servant needed a “chill pill.”

Jesus also impressed on His followers the importance of rest. In Mark 6:31 He urged them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Another version of the Bible translates it, “…come apart by yourselves….” Or as I’ve heard it stated, “Come apart before you fall apart.”

There’s nothing wrong with working hard – and when necessary, working long. And we might not be able to take vacations weeks or a month at a time, especially with our “get it done – and get it done now” societal mindset. But we do need rest, and should seek that as diligently as we pursue our daily work.

Monday, June 18, 2012

See You Next Week!

Everybody needs a break once in a while, so I'm giving my blog a week off. Just spending the week hangin' out with the family. If you stopped by the blog to see what's on my mind this week, thanks for visiting! See you next Monday.

Friday, June 15, 2012

“I’m ‘Just a Layman’ . . .”

Yesterday I joined a Facebook dialogue that began with a statement, “84% of Christian 18- to 29-year-olds admit that they have no idea how the Bible applies to their field or professional interests.” That statistic didn’t surprise me – I would have thought the percentage might be higher.

Since 1999, I’ve written and edited a weekly e-mail workplace meditation called “Monday Manna” for CBMC International, a ministry to business and professional people. This one-page commentary on everyday workplace issues, with accompanying discussion questions, has grown incredibly, now translated into more than 20 languages and going to an estimated two million recipients around the world. I take no credit for its growth, but think it shows the desire people have for learning how the Scriptures apply to the world of work.

It’s sad the great majority of young believers can’t connect biblical teachings to their work, but I think there are four primary reasons for this:

They don’t learn it in many churches. Many pastors do a wonderful job of dissecting the Scriptures, teaching context, meaning, and even application to personal life. But many of them, having gone from college to seminary to pulpit, don’t know much about the real world of work. Anything they might impart, therefore, would only be theory. There’s a saying, “You can’t teach above where you’re living.” Just as I couldn’t teach someone to do brain surgery, most clergy have little familiarity with the challenges of meeting sales quotas, juggling deadlines, handling inventory, or making payroll. 

The false two-tiered view of people. Early on, the institutional church adopted the view there were two classes of Christians (or followers of Jesus). There were the paid professionals – that is, priests, ministers and missionaries; and then there were the “laymen.” Someone has described the former as “paid to be good,” the latter as “good for nothing.” Unfortunately, that view has persisted into the 21st century. We often hear of individuals committing their lives to preach, or to go on the mission field. But when was the last time you heard – and celebrated – someone that declared, “I’m committing my life to serving Christ in business”? Too often I hear people say, sheepishly, “Oh, I’m just a layman.”

Not recognizing the sacredness of work. When we hear of corporate scandals – Enron, banks, investment firms – it’s easy to dismiss the business world as “secular,” or even worse, as evil. But Jesus recruited His followers from the work world – fishermen, tax collectors, etc. A physician authored the gospel of Luke. The Bible teaches no distinction; in God’s view, everything is considered sacred. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men…. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24).

Failure to glorify God in the workplace. Too often observers see no meaningful difference between how professing followers of Jesus and nonbelievers conduct business. By pursuing our job responsibilities with excellence, integrity, quality, compassion, and the highest ethical standards, we can demonstrate God’s Word can and does work in the workplace. As Jesus said, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

In case you’re interested, you can check out “Monday Manna” at and scroll to the link on the left.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Galaxies, Mayans . . . and the Future

Last week I read NASA scientists have predicted our Milky Way galaxy will collide with the “neighboring” Andromeda galaxy in four billion years. Since a collision of galaxies isn’t something that happens every day, I immediately checked my calendar. “Good,” I thought, “I don’t have anything scheduled that day!”

Then I remembered some “experts” have declared the Mayan calendar predicts cataclysmic or transformative events will occur this year on Dec. 21. In which case, at least from our perspective, the projected meeting of the galaxies would be a moot point.

Actually, I wasn’t planning on holding my breath until the galaxies merged anyway. First of all, that’s a really long time to hold your breath. And second, I suspect I’ll be busy doing something else by that time. It would be fun, though, to hear the news commentaries. “And now, for an on-the-scene report from Astra Nebula, standing atop the asteroid Whizboom….”

The Mayan prediction seems more compelling. If it’s accurate, there’s no need to start thinking now about Christmas presents. We’d be able to cross that off our to-do list. But for church music directors, they’d probably still want to go ahead with plans for Christmas cantatas and choir extravaganzas. They’re usually held a week or two ahead of Christmas, anyway. Nothing like a cantata going out with a bang, I always say.

Then I came to my senses, at least a little bit. I remembered what Jesus said about end-of-days prognostications: "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36). If even Jesus couldn’t tell His followers when, who are we to speculate?

He also warned about dwelling too much on the future. “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). There’s nothing wrong with planning, but there’s something wrong with becoming so preoccupied with the future that we fail to pay sufficient attention to the present.

So while you’re wondering if you should make plans for Dec. 22 – or four billion years from now – don’t forget the important things you should get done today!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Impact of a Timely ‘Attaboy’

Through the years I have been fortunate to have a number of excellent bosses who made very positive contributions to my career. One of them was gifted in a number of ways, but had one shortcoming: He found it difficult to catch someone doing something right.

By that I mean when staff members made errors or failed to carry out his instructions, this boss would be quick to take note – and let them know about it. When they performed well, however, nothing was ever said. No “Thank you,” or “Nice job,” or “Well done.”

Have you caught someone
doing something right lately?
On the Birkman Method motivational assessment tool we use in Leaders Legacy, the non-profit for which I work, it shows I have a fairly high need in the area of Esteem. That is, a need to feel affirmed or valued by people important to me, including those to whom I report. So when I repeatedly got “caught” when I did something unacceptable, but never when I did exactly as requested – or better, it bothered me.

Twice, after my boss’s tendency had persisted for quite a while, I told him – as tactfully as possible – that once in awhile I would appreciate an “attaboy,” kind of a verbal pat on the back. I would appreciate knowing that he had noticed something I had done well.

He paused briefly then replied, “Bob, I’ve never been that kind of person. If you don’t hear anything, assume everything’s OK.”

Maybe it wasn’t intended, but his response struck me with the force of an emotional dagger. What that comment said to me was, “I really don’t care about you – or what you need.”

In management, it’s easy to catch people doing something wrong. We all make mistakes. But it takes diligence, attentiveness – and just plain being interested in other people – to “catch them doing something right” and then to let them know it.

That does not mean you need to lavish praise on people all the time, but it’s amazing the impact a well-timed “attaboy” (or “attagirl”) can have.

The Old Testament book of Proverbs, perhaps the greatest collection of wisdom ever compiled, makes many observations about the power of speech. Here are two examples of when it’s used well: “A man find joy in giving an apt reply – and how good is a timely word! (Proverbs 15:23), and “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24).

So when you happen to catch someone doing something right, maybe in a store, where you work, and especially in your home, let them know they’ve been “caught.”

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Considering Brand ‘Ex’

Yesterday I read an article about a woman who claimed to be an “ex-Christian.” To me that sounded like someone deciding to become an “ex-human being” or a longtime pet becoming an “ex-dog.”

The woman, now an avowed atheist, said she had turned from beliefs and practices she had followed as a child and young person raised in a so-called “Christian home.” She no longer believed what she had been taught to believe. I get that.

But in reality, being a “Christian” isn’t about what you do, or even what you might think at a particular time. At its core, it’s about who you are.

Without question, foundational truths, beliefs and principles are central to being what I prefer to call a follower of Jesus. But what we think about such things can be influenced by feelings, moods, and doubts. Just as I might, in a crazy moment, question the constancy of gravity – that won’t stop me from falling if I decide to jump from a cliff.

Jesus Christ told inquisitive Nicodemus, “no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3). Jesus wasn’t talking about changed philosophy, attitudes, or values, even those may be byproducts. He was talking about spiritual rebirth, new life through faith in Him.

In Galatians 2:20, the apostle Paul referred to this, stating, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”

The thought behind being “born again,” a term misused and abused ever since President Jimmy Carter brought it into public discourse back in the ‘70s, does not pertain to ideology. It involves a real, literal spiritual birth that dramatically – and permanently – affects anyone genuinely trusting in Jesus.

Therefore, being an “ex-Christian” would require becoming “un-born again,” and the Bible says this isn’t a matter of choice. Jesus declared, “You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleased. You hear its sounds but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:7-8).

If the woman interviewed is an “ex-Christian,” the Scriptures say she never was one.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Pros and Cons of Diversity

These days we hear much conversation about “diversity.” Without question, diversity is an important, valuable part of life. Take, for example, the incredible variety of talents, gifts and skills people possess.

I’m a great admirer of persons that use their abilities to the fullest. Being mechanically challenged myself, I’m amazed by people that build cabinets, install electrical fixtures, make complex plumbing repairs and display other feats of manual dexterity. Similarly, I have great appreciation for those with technological expertise, knowing how to heal an ailing computer, decipher complex software or design eye-catching websites. My family has benefited from medical care in many ways, so I have great respect for physicians, nurses and other practitioners.

Having spent a career as a writer, editor and photographer, I believe I have some expertise in those areas. But I’m thankful for people unlike me, that have cultivated and honed other very useful abilities that have become their callings.

The Bible applauds such diversity, using the human body as an example: “Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body…. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘ I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less memorable we treat with special honor…” (1 Corinthians 12:12-26).

However, diversity is not always desirable. Again the human body provides good examples. Infection occurs when harmful bacteria invade the body, disrupting the harmonious interaction of other cells. Cancer causes illness, even death, when malignant cells combat healthy cells. And heart disease comes about when fat cells called LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and triglycerides amass in arteries, impeding the flow of blood to and from the organ. In each instance, cell “diversity” puts the individual at serious risk.

The Bible also addresses this. The early Church, like the Church of the 21st century, suffered from divisions and conflict – disease afflicting the spiritual body. In his letters the apostle Paul often wrote concerning this. In one place he admonished, “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (Titus 3: 9-11).

So diversity is good when differences complement, working for the common good. But diversity focused on its own aims and agenda, according to the Bible, can be cancerous.