Monthly Archives: April 2013

God at Work: A Better Bottom Line

“The priesthood of all believers did not make everyone into church workers; rather it turned every kind of work into a sacred calling.” -Gene Veith

“The first duty of a human being is to assume the right functional relationship to society-more briefly, to find your real job, and do it.” -Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Jesus at the office

I remember looking at retirement portfolio in 2008. I don’t get numbers, and I wouldn’t have even had a retirement plan if my more Excel fluent brother wouldn’t have forced me to. But I understood that there was a huge difference between the number of our current account balance and the balance that was there last month.

The market had crashed, like markets do, but what made this one seem so different is the widespread recognition that this crash was not just because of unforeseen market conditions, but unknown and widespread corruption.

The market crashed because we were selfish.

It’s easy to hate on Bernie Madoff and all of the bank executives with Golden parachutes, but I’ve come to look at them the way I’ve learned to look at Adam and Eve. Yeah they messed up the world for everyone else, but I’m pretty sure if I was them I’d probably have done the same thing.

Because what we are seeing is a glimpse into the human condition. Something that the Bible calls sin. And you don’t need an MBA from Harvard to be capable of that.

In fact, no matter what you do chances are you are a part of the very system that these CEO’s and exectuives were working in.

The Virtue of Vocation

Recently, David Brooks wrote an article about spending time with some Stanford students. He came away noticing that they had a pretty binary view of the world. Either you were going to make money or you were going to serve the world through some kind of non-profit or Peace Corps.

Both of these students were trying to pursue status in some form, they were even wanting to make their mark in the universe, but their imagination was too limited.

Here’s what Brooks said in his article:

“Many of these students seem to have a blinkered view of their options. There’s crass but affluent investment banking. There’s the poor but noble nonprofit world. And then there is the world of high-tech start-ups, which magically provides money and coolness simultaneously. But there was little interest in or awareness of the ministry, the military, the academy, government service or the zillion other sectors. Furthermore, few students showed any interest in working for a company that actually makes products…Community service has become a patch for morality. Many people today have not been given vocabularies to talk about what virtue is, what character consists of, and in which way excellence lies, so they just talk about community service….In whatever field you go into, you will face greed, frustration and failure. You may find your life challenged by depression, alcoholism, infidelity, your own stupidity and self-indulgence….Furthermore…around what ultimate purpose should your life revolve? Are you capable of heroic self-sacrifice or is life just a series of achievement hoops?…You can devote your life to community service and still be a total schmuck. You can spend your life on Wall Street and by a hero. Understanding heroism and schmuckdom requires fewer Excel spreadsheets, more Dostoyevsky and the Book of Job.”

Notice what Brooks is saying? Because this is at the heart of what it means to have a vocation or calling.

Remember a calling is only a calling if someone else calls you to do something and you do it for their sake and not for your own.

A calling is a calling if you are doing it as a service and not primarily from selfish motives.

This is the virtue of a vocation.

And intiutitvely we already knew this.

Working to Serve

5 year old Milo who was bullied at a Restaurant
5 year old Milo who was bullied at a Restaurant

Remember how you felt last month when you read the story about the waiter standing up against the bully of the down syndrome boy? Or what about the article about the flight attendants and pilots who held the plane for the man trying to get to his dying mother in time?

This is the virtue of a vocation. It is to see the work of your hands as a way to have more than just to earn status or money for retirement, but as a way of making the world a better place for the people around you.

Just ask Leonard Abess.

Leonard started and built a bank in Miami from the ground up. For decades, owning and operating a bank was how he served the citizens of Florida. He saw his company as a way of providing jobs for the community and a service for people. And after 30 years Abess sold his bank to a larger organization. But it’s what he did next that has everyone talking.

Because this guy, suddenly could be in the same zip code as Warren Buffett, but instead he starts hunting down all the employees who have ever worked for him, past and present, and Leonard Abess started giving them a slice of the buyout.

Some people were receiving checks for hundreds of thousands of dollars, some of them hadn’t worked at the bank in years, but they had helped to build the bank, and so now Abess was set on making sure they got to share the reward.

He didn’t do this for publicity, in fact when the employees got their checks he wasn’t even there, and didn’t want to do any interviews.

But for some reason Abess was the talk of the world for a few short days.

Because in the middle of a cutthroat environment, we finally had a financial story worth celebrating. And yeah, Abess walked away with substantially less than his counterparts at other banks.

But I wonder who is enjoying their retirement more?

That’s the difference between a job and a calling.

That’s a better bottom line.

God at Work: Common Grace

Jesus at the office

In 2001, Perry Falwell (not to be confused with Jerry) flew into the Sudan with members of the Christian Solidarity International to negotiate the release of over 2000 Sudanese slaves. In order to fund their redemption Perry paid for it, through his work. He was the lead singer of Jane’s Addiction, and his band donated the proceeds from one full concert to save the lives of these people.

Meanwhile, my parents did not allow me to listen to their music….and I was in college.

A Thin View of Sin

Now I don’t want to get into what kind of music we should listen to. I say this because one of the chief problems I see facing churches as we move forward is our thin view of sin. This comes out in a thousand ways, but I hear about it most with the way we talk about work.

Ever since I’ve been in ministry, I’ve had people complain about how hard it is to be at work, at the water cooler and hear someone use a foul word, or to have a co-worker talk about something immoral. We say it a hundred different ways but what we are trying to say is, “It’s so hard to work around sinners.”

This comes primarily from a view of sin that has been the most popular for the past several decades. It’s sin as a list of things that you should avoid, and the best way to respond to this is by not being around sinners, or places where these sins happen.

I normally turn around and assure people, that as someone who has worked most of my life in church, it is just as hard.

Because sin is more deceitful that that. As soon as we think that we’ve got our sin problem licked, we discover (at least hopefully) that we have made pride our new sin. If we are honest we realize that our heart is an idol factory and that often we haven’t removed the sin, we’ve just replaced it with a more religious version of it.

This is why some of the worst people that you know are Christians, it doesn’t have to go with the territory, but it does sometimes. If you can get God to agree with your definition of sin, and then just stick within it, it’s very possible to never be confronted with your own selfishness.

If I’m the one that gets to define righteousness than I will certainly be righteous.

I may not be helping to free the slaves in Sudan but at least I don’t watch rated R movies.

The Tim Tebow Problem

One of the most surprising things about the Bible is the kinds of people God works through. If you are a church person you’ve probably heard a hundred sermons about Ruth or Rahab, but on a broader level God works in the Scriptures through pagan kings and armies and rulers and centuries as a way of blessing the world. And he does this often, without “saving” them and making them a part of his people.

I like Tim Tebow…really!  I think he’s a stellar guy a great athlete and a mediocre NFL quarterback. I’m glad that he’s a Jesus follower, and that he gives young men a role model to look up to. But Tebow has revealed a problem with Christianity.

What do you do when there are better quarterbacks out there who don’t believe in Jesus?

We love it in our Christian sub-culture, whenever a star or celebrity makes it to a public forum or becomes a star. But the flip side to this is that God is working through all kinds of people to make the world a better place.

Tim Keller pastors a church in Manhatten, and one of the things he repeatedly pushes his church to do is to partner with the other civic organizations and affirm them and their service in New York. So Keller, a conservative Presbyterian ministry, is constantly affirming the homosexual community for the way that they have renovated so many inner city neighborhoods and helped the crime rate, or his Jewish neighbors who have worked hard to create human flourishing in New York City. And here’s what Keller says that I think is so important:

In The Christian story the antagonist is not non-Christians but the reality of sin, which (as the gospel tells us) lies within us as well as within them. And so we are likely to be on firm footing if we make common ground with non-Christians to do work to serve the world. Christians’ work with others should be marked by both humble cooperation and respectful provocation.”

Did you catch that? The bad guy in the Christian story isn’t someone, it’s the broken reality that Jesus calls sin. And because of common grace we can see God working through people outside of our tribe, our immediate community, or our faith. We can see the image of God in everyone. Keller goes on…

This means, ironically that Christians who understand biblical doctrine ought to be the ones who appreciate the work of non-Christians the most. We know we are saved by grace alone, and therefore we are not better fathers or mothers, better artists and businesspeople, than those who do not believe as we do. Our gospel-trained eyes can see the world ablaze with the glory of God’s work through the people he has created and called.

Tim-Tebow-032112We don’t like working with people who don’t hold the same beliefs and values as we do, which ultimately makes our beliefs and values less influential in the rest of the world. And what’s worst we can’t see the glory of God in the work of the people all around us that he created.

And this matters so much because it comes out in a hundred different ways.

It’s how Donald Miller suggested yesterday that the Christian pro-life movement could do better.

I would rather have a good dentist than a bad Christian dentist. And that’s actually a Christian idea, not to mention a good way to avoid cavities.

It is to recognize that the whole world is filled with the grace of God.  That’s really our problem, not Tim Tebow.

The Chapel that Changed My Life

Chris Dell Harding University Chapel 3-3-2000

My first two semesters at Harding University I was undecided on what my major should be. I had thought about marketing for a while for several months, but had sensed a call to ministry years. But I remember the day that I made the final leap. It was the day this video was shot.

I’ve looked for years for this video, I didn’t know the speakers name, after all he just was “some guy.” But it was in this moment sitting in the Freshman balcony at Harding Chapel that I suddenly realized the power of preaching. I went the next week and declared as a Bible major. And I didn’t know until last week, that this woman was connected to Abilene and to a family that I know and love at Highland.

It’s strange the way the world works, I highly recommend watching this video, and if you are interested you can see the interview that Mike Cope had a couple of years earlier with Vicki Dell here. One of the most powerful lines in this entire interview is where she says, ” I am so grateful that God counted me worthy to suffer for Him.”

Who says that? What an incredible person, what an incredible faith! One that is still bearing fruit decades later. So thank you Vicki and Chris for sharing your faith.

Any other Harding peeps out there remember this chapel? Did it move you as much as it did me?

A Beautiful Limp

ragamuffin-gospelOver the past weekend one of my favorite authors and people in the world died. His name was Brennan Manning. He was a priest, he was an alcoholic, and he was close to the heart of God.

If you haven’t read Ragamuffin Gospel than stop what you are doing (unless it’s CPR) and get it today. It might help you become more human and more in love with God.

Wrestling with God

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story of a guy named Jacob. Now Jacob is a popular name today, but it actually is a Hebrew word for liar. When we meet Jacob, he’s doing a good job at living up to his name. His brother actually says after being betrayed by him, “is he not rightly named Jacob?” Jacob had stolen his brother blessing.

He had tried to be more than he was, and found out that just made him exactly more like himself.

In Genesis 32, Jacob is alone, and so the story tells us a man wrestled with him till daybreak. As if that was a perfectly ordinary thing that happens to people when they are left alone. But this is not your average wrestling match. Jacob finds out later that he is wrestling with God. He gets God in a headlock, like you do, and asks for a blessing.

But his wrestling partner doesn’t say what do you want? He asks “what is your name.” Jacob tells him, and then the man renames him. He calls him Israel…and on a side note, I think I would have asked for a better new name, something more normal sounding like Gary or Charles.

But Jacob wants to know who this guy is. Who are you to give me a new name?

But the guy doesn’t answer Jacob. Not yet.

It’s a few chapters later that Jacob finds out what was really going on. God comes to Jacob again and tells him that his name is now Israel. And the very next words are “I am God Almighty.”

Jacob gets his answer, and his new name.

And something else he gets that we ignore….a limp.

All is Gracebrennan

I love what Brennan Manning said in his last book. He was a man who struggled with alcohol his entire life and he did so publically because God had given him the grace to not have to hide his failures.

My life is a witness to vulgar grace — a grace that amazes as it offends. A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wage as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten till five. A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck toward the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party, no ifs, ands, or buts. A grace that raises bloodshot eyes to a dying thief’s request — “Please, remember me” — and assures him, “You bet!”…This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try and find something or someone that it cannot cover. Grace is enough…

Sin and forgiveness and falling and getting back up and losing the pearl of great price in the couch cushions but then finding it again, and again, and again? Those are the stumbling steps to becoming Real, the only script that’s really worth following in this world or the one that’s coming. Some may be offended by this ragamuffin memoir, a tale told by quite possibly the repeat of all repeat prodigals. Some might even go so far as to call it ugly. But you see that doesn’t matter, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly except to people who don’t understand…that yes, all is grace. It is enough. And it’s beautiful.

This is the grace of God. It is knowing God knows you intimately…all your flaws and problems, he sees your limp and loves you with a vulgar grace.

Jacob is no hero in the BIble, but he’s God’s person and billions of people have followed him. And the best of them, have learned that to do so means to wrestle with God. And that always involves a limp.

The implications of this story are both subtle and profound. We spend most of our lives trying to live up to who others say we are. If you know that others expect you to be somebody, chances are you will pursue that identity, if the people around you have written you off, chances are you will as well.

Maybe that’s why we religious people are so good at pretending, we don’t like people to know where we hurt, or what’s wrong with our lives, with our hearts. We don’t like people to see us limp.

But we might miss out on the vulgar grace of God.

The Book of Revelation has a ton of allusions to the book of Genesis, mainly because on many levels it’s a book about a fresh start, about a new Creation. And in the beginning of Revelation we’re told that in God’s reality, God’s plan is to give us each a white stone with a new name.

The end of the story of God is all of us finally know who we really are. The beloved of God, limp and all.

So rest well Brennan Manning. Thank you for sharing the Gospel with us. May you enjoy it now.

Everyday Idolatry: Security

“Jesus said ‘go into all the world and preach the Gospel,’ he didn’t say anything about coming back.” -my missionary friend before going to Sudan

Temple in Chennai, India

A few months ago I took Samuel (our 2 year old) on our first trip together, we called it a man-cation, and it was a blast, which isn’t to say that it was easy. I told Leslie, I will never again complain about you being late anywhere.

We had total strangers helping us get around in the airport, they took pity on us when they saw the whining and melt downs and temper tantrums (Samuel was doing okay though). And this was before the plane had left Abilene. We were delayed for like 4 hours, and at one point, Samuel heard Leslie coming back to give us some snacks, and he runs right past the security rope at the airport…and they don’t like that

So the TSA agent pins Samuel against the wall like he’s Bin Laden. And Samuel is trying to figure out what the heck is going on.

Now the TSA lady is just trying to do her job, but one of the things that happened later, was that I was trying to explain what happened to Samuel and Eden.

Because kids have that annoying habit of asking Why.

So Eden, who saw this, happen, and Samuel were wondering why he got form tackled. And have you ever tried explaining the TSA to a kid?

And I told them that the TSA people help to keep us safe.

And they said why? I said, because we want to be safe.

And they said why? I said, because security is a really big deal, and they said why?

And I said, I guess because we are really afraid.

And then I didn’t have any more questions, because fear, that’s something that we all get.Trade Center Ads

The Language of Fear

Last week I saw an article on NPR that talked about the way that our language has changed over the past several decades. It was a fascinating look at the way we’ve described our world. When the researches first started looking, they thought what they would find was that we would have constant emotions. But they found that each period had words that were much more emphasized. So in the 20’s we talked about joy and happiness. At the beginning of World War II, we were overwhelmed with language of sadness. And ever since the early 80’s we’ve been terrrified.

Think about the language we hear and use consistently. We are so very afraid about everything. Last month, the Teneesseean ran an article about how some Tennessee lawmakers had proposed a new bill because they had confused a mop-washing sink for a Muslim foot-washing sink.

Jonathan Edwards the famous preacher once preached on the book of Job. And he made the point that the story of Job is all of our story. Job lost everything in one day, his family, his wealth, his health, Most of us experience our losses more slowly, over the span of a lifetime, until we find ourselves on the door of death, leaving everything behind.

The question isn’t whether or not we will lose the things we love, but how we will do it.

The Idols We Riot For

In Acts 19, there is one of my favorite stories in the entire Bible. Paul has gone to Ephesus to tell people about Jesus, which seems innocent enough, but he actually winds up inciting a riot.

Actually the people who started a riot were the ones who had a vested interest in the dominant religion of the day. They were silversmiths and craftsmen who made shrines for Artemis. They worked for the system and the system worked for them. And they certainly didn’t need some punk Christian coming in and saying that those idols were just decorative, powerless trinkets.

So they gathered a group of people, got ‘em all riled up and for two hours these people shouted, “Great is Artemis, God of the Ephesians.”

Now before you write this story off as some weird, ancient religion you need to know something else.

The name for Artemis is based on the root Greek word for Safety or health.

Artemis sounds like some ancient religion, but the truth is she is worshipped by millions everyday.

And standing juxtaposed against this mob chanting for safety, but acting dangerously, is this guy named Paul, who wants to go into the assembly that has basically gathered just to kill him. Everyone else is out of their mind wanting security, but Paul is willing to risk everything.

Because Paul doesn’t worship Artemis.

What Wouldn't Jesus Do?A few years ago I had a college student sitting in my office with a problem. He had signed up on a mission trip to go to a country that was now experiencing some political unrest. What was once just a routine summer missions trip was now potentially dangerous.

And his parents were forbidding him to go.

But he’s reading his Bible, he’s drinking deeply from this Jesus story about men and women who are willing to risk their lives for the Gospel, and he’s reading all the stories about not letting fear have the last word. And he’s asking me what should he do?

What would you tell him?

What have you told him? Because this college student isn’t just sitting in my office. He’s in churches and living rooms all over the country, and he’s paying attention not just to the lip-service of what we say we believe, he’s paying attention to what we really worship.

Because the way of Jesus isn’t the way of Artemis.

Because the real risk of security is that you might be worshipping a god who is no god at all.

God at Work: The Land of Er

If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say: Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” -Martin Luther King Jr.

“Rank must be preserved.“- the Ancient Roman Philosopher Cicero

Jesus at the office

I was a college minister for a few years, in a city that was had several different Universities, and a couple of different community colleges. Whenever I met people would were coming to a college ministry event, I could tell within a second or two what school they were at, and how they felt about it. If they were going to a 4 year school, they’d immediately answer your question with a confident, “ACU” or “UTA” or some other acronym.

But if they were going to a community college they would almost always answer with something like, “Now see, what’s happening right now is that I’m waiting on some paperwork to come through, and I’m trying to just get my basics out of the way…but I’m going to get my degree at…” and then they would tell you where they were going to go, not where they currently were going.

I learned that there was a status that was associated with college, and that each student was keenly aware of their status.

I heard a preacher say one time, we live in the Land of Er. We constantly are comparing ourselves to other people, wanting to be smart-er, thin-er, fast-er, strong-er. We want to know how we are doing at life, so we look around to compare ourselves to other people.

But this leads to problems.

One Harvard Business School professor interviewed what he called 500 “high-need for achievement professionals.”These were people who were at the top of the world, but the overwhelming majority “questioned their own success and brought up the name of at least one other peer who they had felt had been more successful than they were..they’re making themselves miserable by constantly comparing themselves to others.”

I read the other day, that 9 out of 10 office workers suffer from “professional envy” of colleagues they thank have more glamorous, better-paying jobs. More than two-thirds of us feel professional jealousy toward friends, and almost a third of us envy a partner or spouse’s job.

The Prince of Mediocrity

The play Amadeus, makes this point better than any other story I know. The court musician Antonio Salieri, loves to make music, and was great at it, but great wasn’t good enough for him.

He wanted to play on the level of Mozart, and eventually he is destroyed by jealousy. He was tortured by the fact that someone was better than him. Salieri blamed God, praying about how God”owed” him and when he finally realized that he would never be able to play like Mozart, Salieri gave himself the title “the Prince of Mediocrity.”

What an interesting thing to say.  Salieri

My generation has talked more about changing the world than ever before. We basically coined the phrase, we talk about it all the time, but behind all this language is more than just changing the world, and making a dent in the universe. Much of the time, it’s because we are terrified by the potential of just being mediocre.

To be clear, this isn’t just selfishness or entitlement, these people aren’t lazy, they are talented and passionate and caring. But they are doing more than just a job, they are looking for redemption. They want their life to matter, but we also want to matter more, just a little bit, than the others. That’s the definition of not being mediocre.

We want to be bett-er.

I like the way C.S. Lewis talks about this:

“Now what I want you to get clear is that Pride is essentially competitive-is competitive by it’s very nature…Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better looking than others.” -C.S. Lewis

Children of Grace

Andy Couch was a College minister at Harvard for over a decade, and he noticed a few things that I thought were incredibly insightful for this. He noticed that there were 3 types of students that he met at Harvard. 1) the Achiever and 2) the Legacies were the most common ones. The Achiever’s were the ones who had worked their entire education just to get a chance to come to Harvard, they stayed late and got there early and they would work constantly to get ahead.

The Legacy kids were much more laid back. They were someone’s grandson and they always knew they were going to Harvard, they belonged there and they knew it.

But then there were another group of students, the rare kind, who hadn’t always planned on going to Harvard, they had never considered themselves good enough, but one day someone suggested that they try sending in an application and they had somehow one the lottery of getting in to Harvard.

These are the kids, that won the awards and got the best results in life. They were less anxious than the achievers and not as entitled as the legacy kids. And Andy Couch calls this third group, “Children of Grace” Because for these kids, each day at Harvard was a gift of joy. They were keenly aware of being given something.

Then he notices, how many lotteries every kid who went to Harvard really had to win. The overwhelming majority of students there were firstborn, many were the only child, they almost never came from a home where the family of origin wasn’t intact. And they were born to a family with means. Just to be able to apply to Harvard they had already won a thousand lotteries they didn’t even know they were in.

They were all children of grace…it’s just that most of them didn’t know it.

You know the thing about Salieri that’s bothered me for a while…he was good, really good at what he did. Sure he was no Mozart, but he was around Mozart, he could have heard the best musician the world had ever known. Maybe he could have partnered with and enjoyed the world’s finest music just as it was being born.

He wanted to be Prince of something, even mediocrity, because he just couldn’t live with being a child of grace.

Everyday Idolatry: More

“Some men worship rank, some worship heroes, some worship power, some worship God, and over these ideals they dispute and cannot unite-but they all worship money.”-Mark Twain

Temple in Chennai, India

In his book, Gods at WarKyle Idelman talks about how one of his friends was on the fast track in his career. It seemed like making money came easy to him, and he loved what he did. But he was constantly working for more. One day he was having lunch with a man who was quite a bit more successful then him and he asked him what he was working on.

The man told him that what he really wanted was the new Executive line Rolex watch. And the man asked him how much it would cost him. He said, “More time away from my wife and kids. Less weekends at home with them. Maybe skip a vacation, but you’ve got to make sacrifices to live the way you want to.

We make fun of the ancient world for sacrificing children, but we sacrifice them all the time for the insipid god of more.

And it’s not just the very wealthy people who struggle with this.

Retail Therapy

Have you ever found yourself feeling down, or having a bad day, and so you wound up going to the mall? They’ve actually started to refer to this as Retail therapy. We shop when we feel bad.

Neurologists have actually scanned the brains of religious people while they asked them to think of the times they’ve experienced God’s activity in their life. Then they showed them pictures like stained glass, incense, or pictures of the cross, and discovered that the one area of the brain (the Caudate Nucleus) responded when those people felt close to God.

Then the neurologists tested some different people. And this time they didn’t talk about religion, but showed these new people pictures of consumer goods that were connected to very popular brands.

And the same area of the brain lit up.

James Bryan Smith points out that that consumers who buy certain well-marketed items have something close to a religious experience.That’s why we buy and consume and always on the lookout for ways to get more.

Protestant Christians are notorious for talking about the abuses of the Catholic church…back during that short period of time when they literally tried to sell salvation. But if we are honest, the majority of us still participate in a system that is constantly trying to buy redemption. just not at church, at Target.

The Secret of Contentment

There’s a time when the Apostle Paul is writing a letter from prison. He’s writing to the church in Philippi that is in the middle of a church fight, and he writes some words that I’ve read a thousand times, but never like this.

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation,

Think about that. I know what it is to have plenty. What a gift that would be. Because if I’m honest I don’t know what it is to have plenty. I’ve travelled the world and seen people who have so much less, but I still am a sucker for the advertisements I see constantly.

The whole purpose of advertisement is to stir up dis-content, and they have been very effective. So we have more and more, but feel like we have less and less. Because we don’t know what it is to have plenty.

Greed is so hard to see in the mirror. In over a decade of ministry I’ve had people confess adultery, murder (seriously), I heard some people that I think have invented new ways to sin (at least it was original sin). But I’ve never once had someone say “I’m just really struggling with greed right now.”greedy De-motivator

Greedy people like us, we say things like “I’m a good shopper.” or “I’m good at saving” or  “I just like nice things”

And then we go to the store and the religious part of our brain lights up because we are worshipping in ways we don’t know.

Leo Tolstoy once wrote a story called, “How Much Land does a Man Need?: It was about this guy who land given to him by his father. But he’s not satisfied, so he saves and sacrifices until he can buy more. But it is not enough.

He finds a place where land is cheaper, so he sells everything and buys a larger farm in that new region. But he can never get enough.

Finally he heard about a man who, if you paid him all your money, he would sell you as much land that you could walk around in a single day. Apparently Tolstoy, was envisioning the future of Sam’s Club.

So the guy sells everything and pays the man for another chance for more.  They hammer a stake in the ground early that morning, and Mr. Greedy has to make itback to the stake before sunset. He runs all day, as hard as he can, pushing his body to the limit and finally, just when he gets within sight of his stake, he falls dead.

And Tolkien ends by saying:

“How much land does a man need? Six feet from head to heel”

We bleed for our gods.

Because we don’t know what it is to have plenty…we don’t even know that we don’t know that.

Every time I go to BestBuy, I think my TV at home gets smaller.

Every time I ride in someone’s nicer car, or see their nicer home, or see a Facebook picture posted about a fancy vacation, if I’m honest I feel more than jealousy. I feel Greed. I want more.

But if I just knew what plenty was, that would be enough.

God at Work: The Dirt We Kneel On

Go into all the world and preach the Gospel, If necessary, use words.” -St. Francis

Jesus at the office

One of the more interesting stories in the Old Testament is about a guy named Naaman. He’s the equivalent of a 5 star General for Syria. He’s a big deal who serves at the right hand of the King. He’s successful, feared and respected by many. And then Naaman gets leprosy.

It’s a death sentence, and no amount of power can protect him from it.

But he gets a tip from a servant girl, that he should go to Israel and talk to a Prophet of God. Normally there is no way that he would do something like this. But this is no longer normal life for Naaman. So that’s how he finds himself in Israel, a smaller, insignificant country, that’s how he find himself asking an old man for help from a God he doesn’t know.

And it works. God restores Naaman, he heals him and gives him his life back.

But what is really fascinating to me is what Naaman does when he goes home…

Grace Works

I have a friend who has a successful career in Hollywood. If I was to tell you his name you would probably recognize him. Several times a year he has a national audience. And my friend is a Christian.

One of the struggles my friend has is how to integrate his faith with his job. He doesn’t have the ability to talk about Jesus overtly because that’s not what they pay him for. But he tries to share his faith with his co-workers, he tries to work well and be honest.

But the time he had the most Christian influence he in his job, was when he was being forced out of it. He works in a cut throat environment, where some people will do just about anything to get ahead. And unfortunately for my friend, that includes stabbing people in the back. He was working at his job, doing quite well for himself, when one of his best friends in the company betrayed and slandered him so that he could take his job.

And that’s when my friend was fired.

And now everyone was watching, and everything hinged on how he re-acted. And, in what he said was the most Christlike, evangelistic thing he had did in his time there, my friend forgave them. Everyone was paying attention to how he responded, and he responded with grace. And everyone noticed. Here’s what my friend actually said:

I’d get fired every day if it meant having the chance to forgive.

Which is not something people normally say when they are fired.

Saved by Work(s)

You know, it’s easy to be hard on the ancient monks who thought they could be saved through religious works, but so many of us today are looking for a kind of salvation from our careers. We want to save our self-esteem and self-worth, we want to justify our existence, so we take the high-paying, high-status jobs, and find ourselves worshipping them.

But the gospel frees us from the relentless pressure of having to prove ourselves and secure our identity through work, because we are already proven and secure.

Instead, our work becomes the way in which we partner and serve the God who loves us unconditionally, and a way to love our neighbor.

Which brings me back to Naaman. After he is healed from leprosy, he knows the God of Israel is the true LORD of the earth. But he also knows he is going to have to go back to his old job working with the King. And Namaan knows that the King worships the gods of Syria. The king is old and feeble and so when he kneels down to these gods Naaman knells too, and the King leans on him.

But Namaan doesn’t worship those gods anymore. So here’s what Naaman asks for:

Please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord.

He went back to his old job, walking in and out of the old temples that used to mean something to him. But now it was different. So Naaman takes dirt from Israel with him, to kneel on when he goes to the Temple.

It’s his way of saying, my responsibilities may be the same, but my relationship to them is different. Naaman will serve his nation, but he will no longer worship it.

I’ve noticed, no matter what job we have, there are competing story lines. We have a lot of different people trying to tell us what it means to be successful and what it takes to get there. And if the financial situation from the past few years is any indication, we have a lot of people worshipping gods of greed and money. But there are plenty of idols that hide better than that.

In ministry, I’m constantly tempted to find my identity in what I do and how I’m doing at it. I’m consistently tempted to compare and compete, but the Gospel keeps forcing me to do Gospel work in Gospel ways. It gives me a new story to work with, and new story to work from.

My generation loves to quote St. Francis of Assisi’s famous line, “Preach the Gospel everywhere, if necessary use words.” But remember that this worked for Francis because he was constantly doing Gospel like things. And the only way this approach works for sharing your faith, is if you are living your faith. 

That’s why my friend was able to forgive. He wasn’t playing the same game that his friends were, because he wasn’t kneeling on the same dirt.

But this is where we can learn from Naaman, because the idols of his day are just as real and just as worshipped today. We are just as hungry to justify ourselves by how much we make, or how much status our job gives us, but the Gospel is trying to give us another story to work with.

So go to work.

And bring your own dirt.