Monday, November 30, 2015

Is There Value in the Bible?

Tony Evans tells the story of a young man who ran afoul of the law and was sentenced to a couple of years in prison. Despite his wrongdoing, his mother continued to love him and pray for him. One day while talking to his mother, the man asked her to send him something that would be useful during his days of incarceration.

Within about a week he received a package from his mother, and inside was a new Bible. He looked at it, shrugged, and thought, “What good is this? I need something practical.” A few days later the inmate had an opportunity to call his mother again. She asked if he had received the Bible. “Yes, I got it, Mama, but I need something practical.” “Read your Bible,” his mother replied.

As time passed the man would receive letters from her, and she continued to urge him to read the Bible. During one of her visits he said, “I know we used to go to church together and all that. I get it and yeah, I’m reading the Bible, but Mama, I need something practical.”

About a year later the young man finished his sentence and was released from prison. After returning home, he hugged his mother and then said, “Mama, I asked you to send me something practical. But all I ever got from you was that Bible.”

Looking her son straight in the eyes, she replied, “Son, at the front of each of the 66 chapters of that Bible, I placed a $100 bill. But you never saw that – because you never read your Bible.”

There’s a powerful moral to that story, even if you’ve never found a Bible containing even a single $100 bill – or any currency, for that matter. Every year the Bible, in all its various sizes and shapes and versions and translations, is proclaimed the best-selling book in America. But each year, sadly, it also ranks as perhaps the least-read bestseller.

In our home we have well over a dozen Bibles, some that I’ve bought and others that I received over the years from publishers while I was the editor of a Christian magazine. One thing I’ve learned about each one of them – they don’t read themselves. We have to physically retrieve one, hold it, open it, and then proceed to do the hard part: Read it.

Thanks to technology, it’s even simpler. We have the Bible available online. It can be downloaded to our tablets and smartphones. We can even get audio versions of the Bible – again, in the translation or paraphrase of our choice. And yet, biblical illiteracy remains alarmingly high.

Maybe if Bibles came with cash embedded people would be more inclined to read them, but it’s unlikely, as Pastor Evans’ story points out. And yet there’s no escaping the priceless treasure we can find if we commit to spending time consistently – even daily – in the Word of God. 

What value does it offer? The list could go on indefinitely, but here are just a few examples of its worth for everyone who professes to know and follow Jesus Christ:

1)     It can keep us out of trouble. As King David wrote, asking and then answering his own question, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I will seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:9-11).
2)     It teaches us right from wrong, shows us the way to live properly, and prepares us for all God wants us to do: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
3)     It enables us to know and understand God and His ways: “My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding…. Then you will understand what is right and just and fair – every good path” (Proverbs 2:6-9).

That barely scratches the surface, but if we really want to make a difference in the world around us, if we’re concerned about the course society is taking and the values being espoused, perhaps what’s needed is less complaining and hand-wringing and more Bible reading, studying, meditating, memorizing and applying.

Maybe we need to return to being “people of the Book,” as the ancient Hebrews once determined to be, as well as millions of believers through the centuries. Instead of simply giving lip service to “the good book,” we could dig into it and try to find out what treasures we can uncover. Even with the new year still weeks away, it’s not too early to make that our resolution – or even a goal.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

What Are You Thankful For?

This year Thursday, Nov. 26 is designated for our annual celebration of Thanksgiving Day, a festive time for gathering with family and friends, consuming huge amounts of food, perhaps watching a parade or two, as well as a couple of football games, and oh yeah, by the way, giving thanks to God for our blessings.

It’s a great tradition – that is, unless you’re a turkey, in which case you’ve become an endangered species for a season. But pausing to reflect and express thankfulness for our blessings as a people, even at a time of great global and national turmoil, is commendable. The question is: Does it take a special holiday to remind us of our need to give thanks?

Thankfulness should be a perpetual state of mind, every day, from the moment we get out of bed to the moment we tumble back into it. Welsh-born minister and author Matthew Henry, who lived in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, understood this.

Recounting a time when he was robbed, Henry identified four specific reasons for thankfulness despite the frightening and costly experience. He said he was thankful because that was the first time he had ever been robbed. The church leader said he was thankful because even though the robber had taken all that he had, it wasn’t very much. He said he was thankful because the robber took his possessions but did not take his life. And finally, Henry declared thankfulness because even though he was robbed, he was not the one who committed the robbery – his circumstances had never tempted him to steal or rob from anyone.

We could easily credit this perspective to having a “glass half-full” attitude, but the Scriptures say this is how each of us as followers of Christ should view everything we encounter over the course of daily living, both good and bad. One of the first verses I ever learned, 1 Thessalonians 5:18, instructs us to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

The apostle Paul gave a similar admonition in another of his biblical letters, exhorting believers in Ephesus to be “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20).

When the Bible speaks of “all circumstances” or “everything,” what it really means is…all circumstances and everything. No exceptions. This isn’t to say it’s easy. Nor should it be. When battling illness, especially one that’s long-term and seems to defy medical solutions, it’s hard to be thankful for such an ordeal, whether we’re the one suffering or it’s someone we love. Feeling thankful at the death of someone we care for deeply may seem impossible. And when we struggling with financial problems, difficulties at work, or family strife, thankfulness isn’t the first emotion that comes to mind.

God understands this, far more than our limited human minds can comprehend. Because being thankful for undesirable circumstances, whether annoying or devastating, doesn’t mean having to feel happy about them. On the cross, Jesus could be thankful for the sacrifice He was performing for all who would one day receive Him as Savior and Lord, despite the agony He had to endure.

We can be thankful because of the promise we have in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” The Lord can use even the worst circumstances for His – and our – ultimate good.

So on this Thanksgiving Day, hopefully we all have many good blessings for which to give thanks. But even in the midst of adversity, we can be thankful, clinging to the assurance that, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

And let’s not stop being thankful when the day is done. “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Hebrews 13:15).

Monday, November 23, 2015

Caffeine, Coffee Cups and Christmas

So, here we are on the cusp of the Christmas season, and Starbucks is providing coffee cups in traditional red and green, but with nary a snowflake, reindeer, snowman, Santa Claus or Christmas tree. A stark red cup featuring nothing but the famous Starbucks logo in green.

Perhaps the message on the sleeve around
someone's coffee cup has it right.
We all knew that in these days of “happy holidays,” this famous purveyor of all things espresso and latte and frappuccino wasn’t going to display Nativity scenes on its cups, or proclaim “Jesus is the Reason for the Season,” but no winter symbols even? What do they have against Christmas, right?

Well, I for one have felt not a single twinge in my offending bone since hearing the news. After all, they got the colors right. It’s not like they’re going with lavender and orange. Maybe the snowflakes and snowmen aren’t there due to global warming. Maybe they didn’t want to offend customers in Hawaii who never see real snow. Maybe Santa’s lawyer filed suit prohibiting the coffee shops from using images of himself or his soaring steeds. Maybe the Starbucks folks feared getting pine needles in the peppermint mochas.

Or maybe “Red Solo cup, I drink you up, let’s have a party” is going to be their new theme song.

Yes, there seems a concerted effort in some quarters to de-emphasize Christmas in the name of “tolerance.” I get that not everyone feels all warm and fuzzy at the sight of Mary, Joseph, the Christ Child and His visitors. But perhaps our offense at how retail outlets choose to observe the Christmas/holiday season is defeating our purpose in seeking to advance the cause of Christ.

What really do snowflakes and Santa have to do with the true meaning of Christmas anyway? How do they aid in celebrating God’s arrival on earth in human form to teach, serve as our example, sacrifice His own life for our sins, and offer us life eternal through His resurrection? When Jesus gave His final words, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19), He was speaking to each of us, not to Starbucks or Target, or even Chick-fil-A or Hobby Lobby.

We can choose which stores to patronize and which to avoid, but to expect any retailer or corporation to promote or endorse our understanding of Christmas isn’t realistic. It’s doubtful Jesus cares at all what kind of cups any coffee shop uses to serve its caffeine products. I’m sure He’s not concerned about the exact date when stores elect to again display their holiday finery.

He does care, however, about how each of us regards Him and this special time of year. The Scriptures direct us, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord” (1 Peter 3:15-16). The passage goes on to say we should “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

When we openly take offense over the graphics on beverage cups an establishment uses, or whether they say “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” are we giving people reason, as the verses suggest, to ask about the hope that we have? Is complaining about leaving wintry symbols off coffee cups showing gentleness and respect, and giving others no basis for criticizing our behavior as followers of Jesus?

Another passage I’ve often referred to, Colossians 4:5-6, gives parameters for our attitudes and demeanor during this and every season of the year: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you will know how to answer everyone.” There it is again – the idea of speaking and interacting with people in such a way that they become curious enough to ask about what we believe and why.

Those of us who have committed our lives to Jesus Christ know He indeed is “the reason for the season,” as Christmas cards and social media posts annually remind us. But if we insist on wrangling over coffee cup designs, pink Christmas trees, or the choices of music being played on the store’s sound system, we’ll succeed only in lowering ourselves rather than lifting up Christ.

As Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday officially usher in the Christmas season, in all its greedy, commercialized glory, let’s not forget it’s really about Jesus, not snowflakes, Santa and his elves, or even flying cherubs. It’s about good news – the Good News. And as someone far wiser that me has said, “We have to be good news before we can share Good News.”

Thursday, November 19, 2015

It’s All About Appearances

How do you look to other people? Do you even care? Most of us do care, unless we count ourselves among the infinitesimal number of folks who are so self-possessed that they care not one whit what others think of them. Chances are, you’re not one of those.

Want proof? For starters, how often do you look in a mirror over the course of a typical day? How much time do you spend wondering what to wear, whether it’s for a trip to the mall, going to work, preparing for an evening out, attending church, or even working out at the gym?

How we look on the inside
matters medically, and
spiritually as well.
Speaking of church, have you ever had a “spirited” disagreement with your spouse in the car on the way to worship, but upon arriving in the parking lot and exiting the car, you became all grins as friends and fellow worshipers greeted you? Instantly we plaster what a friend calls our “Sunday smiles” on our faces. Have to make sure we and the kids look like the got-it-all-together family!

This time of year, clothing stores display rack after rack of dresses and sweaters, blouses, ties and shoes for holiday parties, confident their customers need to look just right. Shops like Victoria’s Secret, which has perfected the art of making mountains out of molehills, certainly grasp the importance of appearances. Women’s makeup is a multi-billion dollar industry, and while most men eschew makeup, we still have many grooming options.

Slogans like “clothes make the man” and “dress for success” underscore the conviction that how we appear on the outside affects our pursuit of happiness. Before televised awards shows, discussion usually focuses on what some celebrity is wearing and how she (most of the time) or he looks.

But it’s not just about clothes, makeup and hairdos. A reality of political debates is we not only want to know what the candidates have to say, but also how they present themselves in public. During the opening 2012 Presidential debate, Barack Obama looked lethargic and disengaged compared to opponent Mitt Romney. In the next debate, however, Obama came out hyper-engaged and energetic. (There’s no report on whether this was due to a pep talk, or how many Red Bulls or 5-Hour Energy drinks he downed before that second outing.)

The news media piously proclaim it doesn’t matter what size or shape someone is, even shining the spotlight on plus-size models and actresses. But when do you remember seeing an obese news anchor or morning talk show host? Rarely, because…it’s all about appearances.

We have become fixated on how we look to others. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, maybe it shouldn’t be that way. It’s certainly not that way with God.

A classic example is when God sent the prophet Samuel to find a successor to King Saul, who himself once passed the “look test” but proved hopelessly inept for leading the nation of Israel. Samuel carefully examined each of Jesse’s sons and thought, “Surely this is the one…or that one.” But the Lord kept saying, “Nope, not that one. Him neither.”

In desperation the prophet turned to Jesse and asked, “Well, Pops, is this all of your sons?” To which Jesse replied, “Well, there is one more – the youngest one, David. But he spends his time with the sheep and, frankly, he’s kinda dirty and stinks. I doubt he’s the one you’re looking for.”

Samuel insisted, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives” (1 Samuel 16:11). Immediately upon David’s arrival, God told the prophet, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.” Not that David was hard on the eyes – verse 12 says, “He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features.” But apparently to the human eye he lacked the “kingly” look.

The key passage states, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). So it’s not the outward appearance, but rather what’s going on inside that matters from His perspective.

We can make ourselves look great externally, but the important question for God surrounds what’s going on within our hearts, our motives. As Proverbs 21:2 declares, “All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart.”

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t be concerned at all with how we appear externally. Hygiene is important. Makeup properly applied helps to accentuate a woman’s best features. For a job interview we want to dress properly to make a good impression on a prospective employer. But from God’s perspective, what we see isn’t necessarily what we get.

Jesus, never one to mince words, spoke this rebuke to religious leaders of His day: Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27-28).

So what’s our response? How do we go about making sure our inward appearance is as good – or better – than our outward appearance? King David, in repenting of his own heinous sins, offered a prayer we might well consider ourselves: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).

That might be the way to ensure we look good both inside and out.

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Compelling Case for Quiet Wisdom

I can’t get over the preponderance of noise being produced by our society. I’m not referring to sirens of emergency vehicles racing down the road, jets flying overhead, or even the roar of stock cars thundering around the track at a NASCAR race. It’s the clamor of myriad voices all seemingly shouting, “Look at me! Listen to me! Hey, over here – I’m over here!”

As I noted in a previous post, we’re observing this in increasing decibels as the Presidential primaries and party conventions draw nearer. Listen to any radio talk show, or most TV news networks, and the noise is enough to make anyone want to run out and buy a set of earplugs.

It’s called “cacophony,” which is defined as “dissonance; a hard discordance of sound.” I’d call it an incessant, irritating barrage of sound that’s become so pervasive we ignore it or are barely aware of it anymore. But rather than resulting in a reduced level of noise, it seems many – too many – have concluded they’ve just need to get even louder.

Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th U.S.
President, could engage in fiery
rhetoric, but endorsed "speaking
softly...and carrying a big stick."
But it’s not just the noise. Because too often the din serves as a strategy for disguising a lack of substance in whatever people claim to be communicating. Kind of like the old-time preacher who counseled a young protégé, “If a point in your sermon is weak, just yell louder.” We’re seeing and hearing a lot of that these days, and not just from pulpits on Sundays.

This is one reason the following verse from the Bible’s Old Testament seemed to jump out when I read it. It speaks not only to how we deliver our words and messages, but also contrasts solid, sincere content with the mindless babbling that assaults our eardrums these days:
“The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good” (Ecclesiastes 9:17).

This, more than sheer volume, seems the real issue here. Because anyone with healthy lungs and vocal chords can be loud and bombastic and opinionated. But the way wisdom “shouts” is with depth and substance and meaning, not bluster. Once again, it’s the old “when E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen” scenario.

Even when Mother Teresa was drawing so much media attention, I don’t recall her posturing from a soapbox. Helen Keller, deaf, blind and mute, was understandably limited as a communicator, and yet she left a treasure chest of wisdom. U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt described his approach to foreign policy as, “speak softly and carry a big stick.” By this he meant, “the exercise of intelligent forethought and of decisive action sufficiently far in advance of any likely crisis." Sounds kind of like what the Bible calls “the quiet words of the wise.”

The Bible also tells us some of God’s greatest messages were delivered in quiet, inconspicuous ways. Not always in the thunder-and-lightning manner frequently portrayed in films and cartoons.

For instance, speaking to the prophet Elijah, God said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by. Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks…but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:11-12).

So whether it’s a coach or athlete in a post-game press conference, a celebrity promoting a favorite cause, a CEO announcing a new product or corporate strategy, a political hopeful stating his or her case in a debate, or a pastor expounding during a worship service, I think we have a compelling reason to listen for quiet wisdom. As Proverbs 16:21 states, “The wise in heart are called discerning, and pleasant words promote instruction.” By comparison, the Bible declares, “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions” (Proverbs 18:2). I’ll take the former over the latter any day.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Eyes, It Seems, Definitely Have It

This is the time of year – for a couple of weeks, or maybe just a few days – when many of us can feast on a wonderful variety of golds, oranges and reds as leaves of the trees turn colors before finally turning loose. On a recent trip to Columbus, Ohio the autumn hues were at their peak, and driving back home through the hills of Kentucky I felt tempted many times to stop the car so I could capture the seasonal array with my camera.

It’s hard to rank our five senses in order of importance or preference, but eyesight has to be at or near the top, especially at times like this when Mother Nature (I prefer to give credit to God) creates such a wondrous panorama. I was reminded of this recently while talking with a friend about eye problems he’s dealing with that likely will require specialized medical treatment. The thought of losing one’s sight, or having it markedly diminished, is not a pleasant prospect.

Few sights are more spectacular or delightful
than the splendid colors of fall.
With Thanksgiving and Christmas drawing near, the sights of the season will only intensify in splendor. Creativity, both natural and manmade, will again be taking center stage.

There are those, of course, who would contend such majestic vistas are merely the culmination of countless eons of time, chance and chaos. Frankly, I don’t have enough faith to believe such foolishness. I’m convinced the wondrous sights we feast on daily are integral to God’s divine plan, and have been from the beginning.

In Genesis 2:9 it says, “And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eyes and good for food.” And why were they made “pleasing to the eyes”? So we would find them attractive and be drawn to them. They were part of His way of providing food, and as the first man and woman approached the eye-pleasing vegetation, they discovered equally appealing fruit and, holy moley!, found that it tasted good as well.

However, at the same time God was telling us that just because something catches the eye, that doesn’t mean we have the right to lay claim to it. This was the case with “the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” He told Adam and Eve, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:16-17). They probably initially answered, “Yes, Lord,” but before long began wondering what was so special about that particular tree that God didn’t want them to touch it. It might even have been the most splendid-looking tree of all in the garden.

Like little children today that are instructed not to touch something, the first Mr. and Mrs. defied their instructions and sampled the forbidden fruit anyway. And the rest, as they say, is history. To this day we find ourselves being tripped up by the attractiveness of things we see that we know we’re not supposed to have. One of the 10 commandments even states, “You shall not covet…anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17), because God knows if we see something that appeals to us – whether it’s someone’s car, house, golf clubs, or even their spouse – we’re inclined to declare, “I want that!”

Job in the Bible is remembered for enduring great losses and suffering with “patience,” but in defending his actions to his friends, he acknowledged the perils of responding to what he saw without restraint. He declared, “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman” (Job 31:1).

Both men and women are influenced by all senses, but studies have shown that men are especially affected by sight. This is one reason 1 John 2:16 warns against “the lust of the eyes…(which) comes not from the Father but from the world.” The Bible tells us it’s acceptable to appreciate beauty in all its forms, but we’re to “keep our eyes to ourselves” and limit looks of desire to our spouses only.

Of course, concerning what we see around us, the Scriptures also assure us that “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” We’re told, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). To me that’s like the Lord saying, “Go ahead, enjoy the fall colors. Delight in the festive sights of Thanksgiving and Christmas. But trust me, you can’t begin to imagine what I’ve got in store for you.” I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see!

Monday, November 9, 2015

‘Christian’ and Businessman: An Oxymoron?

Seems hard to believe, but more than 34 years ago I moved to Chattanooga to join the staff of an organization then known as Christian Business Men’s Committee (CBMC). I’d been in the newspaper business as an editor and publisher for about 10 years, but the next decades taught me more about the business and professional world than if I’d earned three MBAs.

An expanded edition of Business
At Its Best
 has been released.
The curious thing was that for many people, faith and work seemed diametrically opposed – oxymorons, like “jumbo shrimp,” “seriously funny” or “hurry slowly.” I even heard someone say, “Christian businessman? Make up your mind – which one? You can’t be both.” And yet, my encounters with thousands of people having strong faith who also were very successful in the marketplace proved to me that matters of faith could – and should – intersect with everyday workplace issues and practices.

Through the years I realized some basic truths. Such as, from God’s perspective, there’s no distinction between “sacred” and “secular.” Everything matters to Him. And there aren’t multiple tiers, first and second classes of people when it comes to following Jesus Christ. In fact, Colossians 3:23-24 tells us, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive the reward of the inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

One day I was having lunch with a financial planner, a friend from church, and he blurted out, “I’d give anything to work full-time for God.” Without hesitating, I replied, “What makes you think you haven’t already done that?” He’d been seduced by the clergy/missionary vs. “layman” misconception, that to be in “Christian service” for God you must have some kind of formal religious affiliation. Again, the Bible doesn’t make such a distinction. If we’re followers of Christ, we’re all called to serve Him and others in His name, and true faith isn’t a part-time pursuit.

When the apostle Paul wrote, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ…. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord…” (Ephesians 6:5-8), he could just as easily have been addressing employees or workers. And in the next verses Paul challenges “masters” to treat those under them with equal respect and understanding. He could have been writing these words to bosses or CEOs.

This isn’t a message, however, we often hear from the sanctuary. Because many pastors have proceeded directly from college to seminary to the sanctuary, having never experienced the rigors of the contemporary workplace with its stresses, challenges and temptations. You can’t teach above where you’re living.

Thankfully, since the 1980s there’s been a virtual explosion of books on how the spiritual and the pragmatic can effectively merge. I’ve been involved in writing more than a dozen of them myself. And respected periodicals like the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, MIT Sloan Management Report and Business Week from time to time acknowledge there’s a place for spirituality in the 21st century workplace.

For this reason, I’ve just re-published a book I wrote about 10 years ago, Business At Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace. It’s my contention that the wisdom from the Bible, not only Proverbs but also many other passages in the Scriptures, applies directly to the ever-changing, high-pressure, hyper-competitive marketplace of the 21st century.

At the urging of a good friend, I revised the original text and added 13 new chapters, expanding it to a total of 53 quick reading chapters on topics such as integrity, competition, finances, anger, guidance, communications, leadership, patience, persistence, humility, generosity and teamwork. Even gossip. At the end of each chapter I’ve included several open-ended questions called “Putting It Into Practice,” designed for both introspection and small-group discussions.

I recall one CEO stating that for years he had immersed himself in how-to books and motivational messages, seeking to learn how to become more successful. Then he encountered the Bible and before long realized more wisdom could be gleaned from its pages than all of the other books and tapes he’d spent countless hours listening to and reading. And I wholeheartedly agree.

So, at the risk of seeming a shameless self-promoter, I’d like you to check out Business At Its Best on and hopefully, purchase a copy. As a wise author advised me years ago, “If you’re not willing to promote your own book, then why did you write it?” If you like it, recommend it to family and friends. You might even want to give it to someone as a gift with Christmas approaching.

My favorite verse from Proverbs – my “life verse” – says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). That assurance has certainly proved true in my work and career, as well as in our family. The reason is simple: Eternal truth has no expiration date.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Working Diligently – for a Pile of Ashes?

This is the time of year when some of us resume huddling around the fireplace, relishing its fiery warmth and the crackling of wood as the flames consume it. As the fire roars, we’re comforted by the heat and light of combustion. Of course, once the fire has died and heat has subsided, all that remains is a pile of ashes.

Sometimes our lives can seem that way. We pursue tasks with zest, dedicating much time and effort in getting them done. We plan, prepare, perform, and eventually finish the task. But then we realize our zealous commitment has resulted in little of lasting value. Maybe that’s what legendary songstress Peggy Lee had in mind when she sang, “It That All There Is?”

It’s not that the things we’re doing are necessarily bad. Careers can occupy endless hours, both in tackling immediate responsibilities and striving for better, more rewarding opportunities. Or we might be renovating our homes – in with the new and out with the old. Hobbies, whether they involve a favorite sport like golf, developing a talent or skill, or even doing research for “fantasy football,” can provide many pleasurable hours.

Then there are the enticing things our material world offers – houses, cars, clothing, electronic gadgets of all sizes and purposes. Eventually, however, stuff gets old, broken, or obsolete, and we find ourselves acquiring replacements. These things make us happy – for a while.

The problem is, in chasing after the good, are we failing to achieve the very best?

The Bible speaks about this, warning against devoting a lifetime to what one day will amount to little more than a pile of ashes: “wood, hay and stubble.”

“If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

Imagine coming to the end of your life, examining the end product and discovering an ash pile?

This is why Jesus offered stern words of caution to the throng of thousands during his so-called “Sermon on the Mount”: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

If He had spoken these words today, Jesus might have used a contemporary analogy, noting we never see a hearse pulling a trailer packed with stuff. In speaking of true, eternal treasure, the Lord was admonishing us that we can’t take it with us – but we can send it ahead.

What kind of “treasures” might these be? The list of possibilities is virtually endless, but it seems each would involve acts like mercy, compassion, kindness, generosity and love. With a focus on others rather than self.

Even though Jesus spent his three-year earthly ministry teaching and serving as an example of how to live and interact with others, He always kept His eye on the ultimate destination, a stark cross atop a despised hill. From the time of His birth, Jesus was here for others. And in one way or another, so should we.

But how we do this is a question only we can answer for ourselves. What am I doing that, when tested by the fire, will reveal quality work that will endure for eternity? Am I doing anything that will endure? How would you answer those questions?

Monday, November 2, 2015

Waging War With Wrong Weapons?

Even Indiana Jones knew better than
to bring a knife to a gunfight.

Do you remember the classic scene out of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” when Indiana Jones is confronted by an Arab swordsman in a crowded street market? The fellow menacingly twirls his huge curved sword for a few moments until Indiana Jones impatiently pulls out his pistol and shoots him, ending the threat. The moral of the story: Never bring a knife to a gunfight.

Lately I’ve been wondering if a lot of us are guilty of doing something similar to the swordsman, seeking to wage war with our perceived adversaries with the wrong weaponry. Social media are riddled with caustic comments exchanged by liberals and conservatives, ardent believers and atheists, pro-life and pro-choice advocates, and so on. We write strident letters to the editor, protest and picket, engage in bitter verbal exchanges in public settings.

We imagine we can pummel our enemies, Islamic terrorists, into submission by firepower and forceful rhetoric. We’re convinced if we elect the right politicians and overcome partisanship, pass all the right laws, and convince people to modify their attitudes and perspectives, utopian living can move within our grasp.

But are any of us gaining ground through our antagonism toward those who oppose and disagree with us? As someone observed, “One convinced against his will, remains of the same opinion still.” It seems all we’re accomplishing is raising our collective blood pressure and turning potential friends into foes. It’s the sad story of the immovable object vs. the irresistible force.

Maybe we should revisit the old question, “What would Jesus do?”

An online post I saw recently suggested an answer that runs counter to prevailing thinking: “When Jesus was here among us, there was nothing of violence in Him…. When the rabble turned against Him and would resort to violence, He disappeared from their midst. When His disciple used a sword, He restored an ear. When men slaughtered Him without mercy, He blessed them. His first followers went into the Rome-ish world unarmed, harmless, and without violence set about to turn the then world upside down. Somehow Christianity has morphed into possession of a hostile armed camp mentality, which is better left to the Caesars of our day…. Whatever we, the Church, can accomplish through force or the show of it will have nothing of Christ in it; we are to carry the Kingdom message, that of love and peace, into the kingdoms of the world. We are not called to force our point of view on any other, even if it costs us as dearly as it cost Christ.”

I’m no advocate of pacifism or “can’t we all just get along” idealism. But it seems the war in which we’re engaged ultimately is one of a spiritual nature. As the Bible states, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm” (Ephesians 6:12).

So what does the Bible advocate for engaging in this spiritual battle? The following verses tell us:
“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints" (Ephesians 6:13-18).

There we have it, the weapons – standard issue – God tells us to wield as we enlist as participants in this vast global, spiritual war: Truth. Righteousness/ Peace. Faith. Salvation. The word of God. Prayer.

I can imagine some reading this are thinking, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” Certainly this sounds counter-cultural, counter-intuitive and, dare I say it, un-American. We’ve been taught we need to fight fire with fire, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, punish those that do wrong. Bullets and bombs if necessary, along with flexing political muscle.

But then Jesus spent His time on earth being counter-cultural, counter-intuitive, and generally un- whatever the establishment sought to keep entrenched.

The bottom-line issue we’re dealing with isn’t a lack of laws. It’s not a need for better institutions created by flawed, broken humans, or social uprisings so powers-that-be finally get the message. No, the issue is sin. Arrogant rebellion against God. No laws and no institutions, regardless how well-intended, are going to overcome the old-as-history, pervasive power of sin.

So rather than muttering, wringing hands, gnashing teeth and slinging words, maybe the need is for what the Bible calls “truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), willingness to be “instruments of righteousness” (Romans 6:13), manifestation of the “peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7), unwavering “faith, the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1), the gift of salvation available only through Jesus Christ (Luke 2:30-32), the living and active word of God (Hebrews 4:12), and unceasing prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Some might argue, “You’re crazy. That would never work!” Well, how do we know? I’m not certain we’ve ever really tried to do it God’s way. Maybe it’s time we ceased relying on fleshly knives in a spiritual gunfight.