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.