Monday, April 22, 2013

Failure—A Good Word

           I want the word “failure” to be a good one in the Edge household. I want my kids to fail. I want them to fail because:
  • They cannot succeed without failure
  • They cannot aspire to higher things without failure
  • Without failure, they are playing life too safely

            Let me clarify. I don’t mean I want my kid to bring home a failing grade on his or her report card… unless… he or she has aspired to take a course so challenging, failure is a possibility. In that case—give it a shot!
            It took me a lot of years to learn this lesson. I think it truly hit home my junior year in high school. My dad had always told me when I was playing point guard in the seventh grade to fearlessly drive to the goal.
            I told him that I did not want to. I was afraid the opposition would steal the ball.
            “Let them steal it,” he said. “Make your mistakes now.”
            I would not listen. Too often, I was tentative. This anxiety came back to haunt my junior year in football. I was tentative during fall practice and our two preseason scrimmages. As a result, I was benched the first two games of the season.
            That benching changed my life.
            To a sixteen year old, the worse thing that can happen, the most embarrassing thing that can happen, is to be the starting quarterback of your hometown team and be benched.
            Somewhere during that two-week period I remembered feeling this sensation, “The worst has happened. It can only get better from here.”
            Strangely enough, it took failure to relax me. Our team lost those two games. The third game I was named the starting quarterback. I was never nervous again. Consequently, instead of playing tentatively, I played assertively and with confidence. I have always been grateful for that failure.
            The French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote, “Our duty as men is to proceed as if limits to our ability did not exist. We are collaborators in creation.” Reflecting on that statement, one writer noted that most people who have achieved greatness died falling short of their aspirations.
            I want my kids to set high goals. If they meet them, I want them to set even higher goals. If they fall short, I want them to be grateful for the chance and to recalibrate. But I always want them to aspire.
            If I want that for my kids, I want that for you too.
            In “Apollo 13”, Gene Krantz famously says, “Failure is not an option.” Okay, when you are returning astronauts from the moon, failure is not an option—I get it. However, in much of the rest of life, failure is an option.

Monday, April 8, 2013

What Churches have in Common with Downton Abbey

            Downton Abbey is a PBS TV program about an aristocratic British family and their servants, who live in a mansion in the lovely English countryside.
            In part of the plot, World War I begins and millions of British soldiers are wounded. A desperate need arises for hospitals and the family at Downton decides to open up their home to the injured. Great good is done through the Downton “hospital.” Many of the sick and hurting are cared for and rehabilitated.
            But the war ends.
            After the war, many soldiers continue to need care, and military doctors request that the owners of Downton carry on in receiving the wounded. Those of Downton consider the appeal but ultimately reject it.
            As pleased as they are to help during the conflict, Downton’s residents have grown tired. They’ve had to change some things at their building to accommodate the sick. It is inconvenient and uncomfortable; they are ready to return to a more stable and relaxed life.
            A lot of churches are like Downton Abbey. They may pass through a phase where they feel motivated to turn their buildings into something like hospitals. They may even effectively receive and serve those who are wounded. But in time, they grow tired. Accommodating the hurting becomes uncomfortable.
            The difference with Downton is this: church members do not openly communicate the fact that they are discontinuing treatment of the injured. Instead, members find more subtle ways to alert the wounded that they are no longer welcome.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Value of Strong Marriages

            I’m reading in a lot of places that same-sex marriage in the U. S. is not a matter of if, but when. Time will tell; in the meantime, I have found it interesting to observe how the same-sex marriage movement has been able to pull this off.
            Let me offer a reason that I have not seen discussed much: people in Western culture instinctively yearn to see marriage succeed. People intuitively understand that the preservation of marriage offers society stability and hope. Unfortunately, the unofficial consensus is heterosexual marriage has failed and will never succeed; therefore, gay marriage should be given its chance.
            I am not saying I agree with same-sex marriage. I do not. And, obviously, my assessment in this post is an opinion. Having said that, the best way to persuade our culture concerning the value of heterosexual marriage is to offer it many examples of strong heterosexual marriages.

Monday, March 18, 2013

It’s About Discipleship

            Yesterday, Henry Holub, one of our staff members preached a really good sermon on "new birth" from the story of Nicodemus. I appreciated the points he brought out, especially the one that reinforced what I've been trying to teach my kids. And that point is this: it's not about baptism – it's about discipleship.
            All three of my girls initially wanted to be baptized early – too early. My youngest daughter started wishing to be baptized at age six. She was not ready. She had no idea what baptism was about. She was too innocent to understand the need for the power of God over her sins and her sinfulness. Basically, she wanted to be baptized because she loved God, and she wanted to grow up.
            I had to reassure her, "God knows you love him. Being a Christian is not about baptism; it is about being a follower of Jesus. Baptism is important – it will be the most important decision you will ever make. But it is only one part of being a follower of Jesus. You will still be a follower of Jesus after you are baptized. God will make you a clean follower through baptism, and he will give you the power in baptism to live even more like Jesus. You will be able to follow him even more closely.
            “All of this is to come. As important as baptism is, the most important thing is to be a follower of Jesus, and you can start that right now."
            I still believe those words. You don't need to know everything about baptism, but you need to know something. You don't need to live like Jesus to be baptized, but you need to have the maturity and commitment to choose to live like him. I want everyone to be baptized, but more importantly, I want everyone to be a disciple – of Jesus.             
            I can’t put it any better than Jesus, “19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt. 28:19-20.) NIV

Monday, March 11, 2013

You Can Pay Him Now… or Pay Him Later

            “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.”
            That was the tag line for an old oil filter commercial from the 70s. The idea was that you needed to change your oil filter on a regular basis (with that particular brand, of course) and if you did not, you would face the consequences. It was implied was that your car would break down.
            I've been thinking about that lately because we have begun an overview of the book of Job in our small group. This is not an easy book to look at. The book raises hard questions, but they are good questions to raise when it comes to faith. If we don’t let Job raise the questions, then life will.
            The bottom line to Job is this – can you trust God? That's what Job struggled with, and that's what many of us struggle with as well.
            Real life experiences of sickness, suffering, pain, disease, and death weave themselves into the tapestry of this question. And they certainly played a vital role in the book of Job.
            Through the years I have seen church leaders and preachers try to steer people away from believing God's involved in this world. The views they advocate range anywhere from “God always leaves people on their own” to “anything that looks bad came from the devil or people—and God had nothing to do with it.”
            I have seen leaders seek to comfort folks in moments of pain by explaining that God saw the bad things happen, and he felt awful for the people involved. Unfortunately, they portrayed God as caring but helpless.
            Furthermore, the problem with those beliefs is this: through instinct, observation, or biblical knowledge, people recognize God’s power. God either involves himself directly in what happened in this world, or he voluntarily holds back his power to change an outcome —and, like it or not, that means God is unwilling to change an outcome we perceive as negative.
            I am not saying it is our job to figure out everything that happens in this world. Scripture typically assigns credit (or blame) to one of three factors:
  1. God’s activity
  2. The Devil’s activity
  3. The consequences of sin and a fallen world

            In the case of numbers 2) and 3), God withheld his fire and allowed the “negative” to occur.
            Job teaches that it is our job to have peace with whatever happens in this world, and to trust God with it. For those who refuse to do so, they win in the short term because God allows them, in their free will, to have it their way—they get to hold their own opinion.
            Here’s how that plays out:
  • It is the parent who chooses not to trust a God who allows his child to suffer or die.
  • It is the adult who chooses not to trust a God who allowed her to experience abuse as a child.
  • It is the spouse who chooses not to trust a God who allowed her to experience a bad marriage.
  • It is the worker who chooses not to trust a God who did not allow him to get the job he wanted.

            You can freely choose to not trust God. You can choose to do so in an active and angry way, or you can choose to do so in a passive and angry (and hidden!) way.              
           But guess what? It doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because you are engaging in a decision and a life that is based on a lie. Your decision is based on the idea that God is not worthy of your trust. The TRUTH is… God is worthy of your trust. That is the message of Job.
            Moreover, if you refuse today to recognize that God is worthy of your complete trust, you will recognize it someday. At the very least you will recognize it at the end of the world. This truth is behind Paul’s words in Philippians 2:
            Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
            To put it another way: you can pay God (homage) now, or you can pay God (homage) later.
            Some of you without realizing it will pay him homage out of your own flesh.
            That mysterious pain you are experiencing is not a self-contained, organic physical problem. Rather it’s root is spiritual and rooted in the consequences of your lack of trust in God.
            For some of you, that disease you are battling does not have anything to do with genes, or dank, or catching a germ or virus. Rather, it is rooted in your lack of trust in God and the avalanche of stress that created in your life.
            For some of you, that depression that you are battling is not the result of chemical imbalance passed along by genes; rather, it is rooted in your refusal to trust in God and the way he has chosen to participate in this world.  
            People often cannot function well when they do not trust in God. They bodies and minds cannot hold up under the weight of distrust.
            Believe it or not, I wrote the previous statements very carefully. Let me emphatically assert: what I said does not apply to all people and all pain. It refers to some people and some pain.
            If it helps any, I have been guilty of the same sin myself from time to time. As a matter of fact, I’m thinking of forming a new support group and calling it “Trusters’ Anonymous.” Care to join?

Monday, March 4, 2013

A Spiritual Audit of Corporate America

            “What are you doing these days?”
            That is a question I’ve been hearing a lot the past month. My reply usually goes like this, “I have formed a chaplaincy company offering spiritual care to employees in the workplace.”
            What follows typically is one of three responses:
  1. a blank stare
  2. a request to describe in detail what I do, or
  3. a question as to why spiritual care is needed in the workplace.

            When I first heard about chaplaincy in the workplace I experienced those same responses, well—maybe responses # 2 and # 3. I want to address question # 3--why spiritual care is needed in the workplace. Check that, I want to allow Ian Mitroff and Elizabeth A. Denton to answer it.
            A few years ago, Mitroff and Denton wrote a thought-provoking book called A Spiritual Audit of Corporate America. Mitroff held the Harold Quinton Distinguished Professorship of Business Policy at the Marshall School of Business at USC. As an organizational consultant, Denton was in high demand and employed by several Fortune 100 companies. Clearly, these were not preachers or pastors pushing a Christian agenda.
            One area of research that caught my attention was their interviews with employees working in U.S. corporations. The authors stated that two answers summarized well the sentiments of those surveyed:
  •             1) “Organizations feel free to beat up on us 40 to 60 hours a week. Then they put the burden entirely on us to repair ourselves on our own time so we can come back for more!”
  •             2) “Organizations are constantly wanting and demanding more and more of us all the time. But they can't have it both ways. They can't have more of us without getting and urging the whole person. Organizations must give back and contribute as much to the whole person as they want in return.”

            Employees in the corporate world do not hold those feelings alone. People holding jobs ranging from factory workers to teachers share them as well.
            Sadly, too often organizations and businesses do not seek to integrate the spiritual with the realities of the workplace. Many go in the other direction. Many seek to address the challenges of the workplace by walling off employees from their souls. Leadership too often demands that their employees compartmentalize their spirituality from the workplace.
            Ironically enough, according to Mitroff and Denton, many business leaders attempt to draw upon the spiritual without realizing it. They challenge their workers to show enthusiasm—failing to realize the word’s original meaning was “God within.” They pimp spirituality trying to energize their workers!
            Enthusiasm in its purest form is a spiritual concept. Employers must tread carefully. If they succeed in eliminating the spiritual from the workplace, they will ultimately kill the goose that laid the golden egg.
            I believe Mitroff and Denton are correct in their assessment, and that is one of the reasons I have chosen this course. I am convicted that employers must face up to the fact that people are spiritual beings and that they must address the spirituality of the employees. To do so offers the worker tools for finding deeper meaning in his or her work. Thus, the employer transitions from functioning as a competitor of God to a servant of God. Rather than creating fragmentation in the life of the employee, the employer offers integration—of mind, body, and spirit. This raises the enthusiasm, energy, and creative levels of the employee. To borrow an old slogan, the employer is symbolically saying to the worker, “Be all that you can be.”
            In that kind of workplace, everybody wins.

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Sacred Calling

“69% of the country believes that a bad day at the beach is better than a good day at work.”–Gallup poll

            I think this is sad. When an ancient Jew heard the word we translate “work” read from the Old Testament, the concept it brought to mind was not simply engaging in some type of compartmentalized labor. Rather he thought of work and worship. The notion was service (sacrifice) to God as offered through work. Six days a week in ancient Israel, the Israelites were to offer to God their work.
            The other side of the coin was the Sabbath. On the seventh day, the Jew was to rest. But rest here was not simply a cessation from labor. Rather, it was understood to be, again, a service to God. This rest was an offering to God—worship. The byproduct was re-newal and re-creation.
            The biblical understanding was never that a person would work until he or she reached the point of retirement, and then that person would be able to finally begin doing what he enjoyed. Instead, the biblical ideal was to work until death. The good life was to find work in something about which one was passionate. That person would work six days, and rest one. Both acts were offerings to God.
            And if a Jew was not passionate about her work? She could find consolation in the fact that she was offering a sacrifice to God through her work. Work was truly a sacred calling.