Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Quote of the Week

"Sacrifice" is another word liable to misunderstanding. It is generally held to be noble and loving in proportion as its sacrificial nature... is consciously felt by the person who is sacrificing himself. The direct contrary is the truth. To feel sacrifice consciously as self-sacrifice argues a failure in love. When a job is undertaken from necessity, or from a grim sense of disagreeable duty, the worker is self-consciously aware of the toils and pains he undergoes, and will say: "I have made such and such sacrifices for this." But when the job is a labour of love, the sacrifices will present themselves to the worker-strange as it may seem-in the guise of enjoyment. Moralists, looking on at this, will always judge that the former kind of sacrifice is more admirable than the latter, because the moralist, whatever he may pretend, has far more respect for pride than for love.

Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, Chapter 9

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

For the first time since we've had kids, Kathy and I are not celebrating Christmas at home. Instead we're visiting my parents and brother. It's about as different a Christmas as we've experienced as a family since both my parents and my brother and his wife live in Malaysia.

For one thing, it's hot - 85 degree temperature with humidity is not we're used to for Christmas. It also feels different because of the absence of the family traditions we've enjoyed together. Also, Malaysia is a muslim country which means most of the population doesn't observe Christmas even though there is a sizeable Christian population in the cities - so most shopping malls and stores were open - business as usual.

Without the traditions, frosty weather and cultural reminders of Christmas, it's giving us an opportunity to observe afresh what Christmas is truly about - the birth of our Savior, the Son of God come in human flesh to dwell among us.

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."

John 1:14

Friday, December 19, 2008

Gospel Translations Update

A few of you have asked me to post about the progress of Gospel Translations since its public launch in September 2007 so here it is! Through the generosity and talents resident in Sovereign Grace Ministries, we were able to produce a video that explains the vision behind the Gospel Translations Project. We were also very glad to be picked up by a number of influential blogs like Girl Talk, Desiring God blog, Ligonier Ministries blog and Justin Taylor's blog. My blogging friend, Marcus Goodyear was kind enough to blog about us as well.

More importantly, fifteen months since its launch, we have over 750 translated resources online in 31 different languages -all for free. Some of these translations are in commonly spoken languages like Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese - others are lesser known like Telegu, Suomi and Igbo. We recently launched a Spanish language wiki site with over 350 Spanish resources from contemporary authors such as John Piper, DA Carson, CJ Mahaney and RC Sproul as well as a smattering of works from profoundly wise"dead guys" like Charles Spurgeon.

We now have a database of approximately 400 translators and many of them are actively at work making gospel centered materials available in their native language. We are deeply grateful and humbled by their faithful, passionate work for the sake of the gospel.

As we enter 2009, please pray for us as we continue to build this ministry -

- We are focused on building a readership base - please pray for the success of this objective
- We are also in great need of funding to continue beyond September 2009 - please pray that God will provide the needed financing.

We trust that God initiated this work and if so, He will supply all that is currently lacking in terms of resources and financing. If you feel led to volunteer or give toward this initiative, please visit our website for more information.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Quote of the Week

"In adoption, God takes us into His family and fellowship, and establishes us as His children and heirs.  Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship.  To be right with God the judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is a greater."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sounding Off

If you're a fan of the Washington Redskins, you might have been following this week's saga about running back, Clinton Portis. CP voiced his displeasure over getting benched in last week's loss to the Baltimore Ravens, making his complaint known very publicly in an interview with a local sports talk radio show. Naturally, coach Jim Zorn wasn't particularly happy about this - he would have preferred that Portis' issues would first be brought to him before being publicly expressed. Clinton's response - "he's just expressing his opinion"

Now, it's easy to dismiss this as another episode from a spoiled professional athlete. But, have you ever done something like that? Maybe you didn't express your frustration over talk radio but what about complaining over the water cooler with a few of your colleagues? Have you ever had a problem with your boss but instead of speaking directly with him, you chose to express your "opinion" with others? Here's another twist - do you find it easier to fire a terse email rather than to speaking directly with the person concerned?

If so, you're like many of us. It's so easy to see the foolishness in Clinton Portis' response, but not quite as easy to acknowledge similar sinful behavior in ourselves. Aren't you glad that God doesn't judge us in the same manner that we judge others? This isn't about condoning Portis' actions or response - it's about how we can use the his poor example as a window into our own sinful hearts... and through repentance and faith toward God, change the way we communicate at work.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Quote of the Week

"I thank Thee first because I was never robbed before;  second, because although they took my purse, they did not take my life;  third, although they took my all, it was not much;  and fourth, because it was I who was robbed and not I who robbed."

Matthew Henry, his prayer on the night he was robbed

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Is This Why They Call It Black Friday?

The day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, signals the start of Christmas shopping season and is the biggest shopping day of the year.  Some stores open as early as 4 am and hordes of people gather even earlier to get a great deal.   

This year, Black Friday turned fatal.   In Long Island, NY, Jdimytai Damour, a 34 year old Walmart worker was trampled to death by frenzied shoppers.    Unfortunately, this was followed by a tragic shooting at a Toys R Us in Palm Desert, California where two men were killed in a dispute.   Apparently, a heated argument escalated to the point where both men pulled firearms and started shooting.   

It's just sad.   Think about it - a person is trampled to death over the pursuit of a big discount... two men are killed over a shopping dispute.    

What does it say about us as a society?   Are these big chain retailers responsible in any way or are these just random tragic events?   What is wrong with this picture and what can be done about it?  

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Being Thankful for Your Job

Happy Thanksgiving! It's a time for thankful reflection for family, friends and good health. That's absolutely appropriate but many of us will overlook the blessing of our jobs, co-workers and simply the ability to work.

Earlier in my working life, I've been apt to take my job for granted. However, a number of years ago, following the dotcom bust, I was out of work for an extended period and in some ways, it was the best thing for me. I realized how much I took for granted. I had proudly assumed that I was always employable because that my skills were "in demand". Sure, I acknowledged that it was God who provided for our needs as a family but I didn't truly believe it.

Nine months of unemployment has a way of curing that attitude. I realized that God does provide for me even when I don't truly appreciate it. I realized that if God didn't give me the ability to work, equip me for work or provide the opportunity to work, I would really be destitute. It made me grateful that He does all these things for me.

As we head into economic uncertainty, here are a few things to be grateful for -

- The ability to work. To have the strength and skills to work is something to be truly be grateful for.

- The opportunity to work. If you've ever been unemployed for a lengthy period of time, you know what I'm talking about. When times are good, we assume opportunities will always abound but it's God's kindness that we have work.

- Our co-workers. We spend nearly a third of our week at work and many meaningful social interactions occur at work. Some of the best friendships are developed at work. OK - some of our co-workers aren't so easy to get along with. But even those challenges can be God appointed. They are meant to serve us by helping us grow in patience, kindness and our response may offer an opportunity for the gospel to be preached.

- Finally, we can be thankful that our work doesn't define us. We're made in the image of God - our work is not just provision for us, it's a means for worship. So our work isn't the ultimate, God is. It's a blessing to be able to work without work enslaving and defining our lives.

Do you have any other thoughts along these lines? What are you grateful for this Thanksgiving?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Quote of the Week

"No one was ever scolded out of their sins"

William Cowper (1731 -1800) ; In a Letter to John Newton.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

When We Fail

If you have any responsibilities at all, sooner or later, you'll fail. Sometimes, it might be sooner and more often than we'd like.

Sometimes, our failure is measured by an outcome - when we're unable to complete a project on time or when we're not fulfilling business objectives. At other times, failure might happen when we don't measure up to an ethical or behavioral standard. For instance, we might find ourselves becoming angry at a colleague during a meeting or perhaps we realized that we didn't give our best effort on a project.

My question is - what do you do when you fail...when you mess up...or even when you sin. My area of weakness? Impatience and anger... I can become impatient when others don't perform at the level I expect them to... and sometimes I get angry. A few weeks back, I found myself very impatient in relating to a colleague and actually getting angry because I judged him to be unresponsive to my requests. By God's grace, I was able to apologize and ask for his forgiveness. I was grateful for his willingness to forgive my impatience but I found myself discouraged and embarrassed that I had failed in this way. Sure, I know that failure is inevitable but somehow, knowing that doesn't make it much easier, does it?

More importantly, how should we respond to our failures?

I think it's helpful to bear in mind that we're not defined by our failures any more than by our successes. God is not impressed with our completed projects or business accomplishments. We cannot relate to him on any basis other than the work of Jesus Christ. We approach him as sinners, having received grace from Christ alone.

We can and should also humble ourselves when we sin. It may be hard to ask for forgiveness when we get angry but as sinners who have been forgiven much, it's the right thing to do. When we humble ourselves, the Bible assures us that God grants favor to us.

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble". (1 Peter 5:5)

When we humble ourselves, God will redeem even our greatest failures... somehow, we might end up showing those we work with, that we're no better than they are... we can approach them as fellow sinners, in need of grace.

Humility also helps us to examine ourselves - we can honestly evaluate our performance. Perhaps we failed to do our best because we were lazy or maybe our failure is just a reflection of our limited gifts and abilities. In either case, we can trust God to help us - to direct us to a better way.

What do you think of leaders when they fail? How do you cope with failure? How do you respond when you sin against those you work with?

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Quote of the Week

"...servant leadership is not an abstract ideal; it is completely practical and workable. Having a Christian worldview means being utterly convinced that biblical principles are not only true but also work better in the grit and grime of the real world."

Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth, p. 370

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Power of Words - A Story on James 3

This is a powerful video from Desiring God Ministries, highlighting the power of our words.

We can often take the words we speak so lightly, not being aware of how they affect others. James 3 speaks to this -

"For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water."

James 3:7-12

I found this video very helpful in making that point. Share your reaction with us.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Quote of the Week

"The longer I live, the larger allowances I make for human infirmities.  I exact more from myself, and less from others."

John Wesley

The Life and Times of the Reverend John Wesley, M.A, Founder of the Methodist, p. 451

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Lost Art (or Science) of Persuasion

Years ago, I read a fascinating article on the work of Dr. Robert Cialdini.  Dr. Cialdini has spent his life conducting extensive research and study on the science of persuasion.  Are there actually scientifically proven principles that optimize our ability to persuade another person?   Cialdini believes so and he has codified six basic principles of persuasion -

1. Reciprocity - If you do something for me, I'm more likely to do something for you.
2. Scarcity -   What's more appealing - a slice of apple pie or the last slice of apple pie?
3. Consistency - Make a public commitment and you'll be compelled to live up to it.
4. Authority - If Dr. Robert Cialdini says so, it's got to be true, right?
5. Consensus - we're like lemmings...or sheep...we like to follow the crowd.
6. Likeability - if you like someone, you inclined to want to agree with them. 

I've found it incredibly insightful and I've carried the article around for years.  
I wonder if there's a connection to our cultural engagement as Christians.  When it comes to engaging the culture,  we're not into reasoning and persuasion anymore - at least not in the public square.   It's far easier to polarize around moral issues and feel like we're "standing up for Christ".    Perhaps it's more satisfying to draw battle lines than to engage our neighbor thoughtfully about his eternal destiny.   

As I've been reading through Acts, it struck me that Paul engaged the culture in a different way altogether. In Acts 17, while in Athens, he "reasoned in the synagogue...as well as in the marketplace day by day..."  In Acts 18, arriving in Ephesus, he "went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews".   In Acts 19, returning back to Ephesus, he "entered the synagogue and spoke boldly with them for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God".

I'm absolutely not suggesting that incorporating these principles will lead to conversions (that's a work of God alone), nor am I saying that it will lead to broad Christian influence in our communities.   But perhaps, there is some wisdom in Cialdini's work that could apply to how we might engage our world more effectively.  

What do you think?

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Quote of the Week

"The best way of casting out an impure affection is to admit a pure one; and by the love of what is good, to expel the love of what is evil."

Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) ; The Expulsive Power of a New Affection (Discourse IX)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Does it Matter if the President is a Christian?

Here's why I ask - it's been rumored that Obama is a closet Muslim.   It's also been debunked but the false rumors persist.   As a result, there has been significant interest in his "spiritual journey".  

McCain, typically private about such matters, has referred to his Christian faith in speeches and on the campaign trail.   Sarah Palin has excited the conservative evangelical wing of the Republican party, in no small part because she unashamedly a professing Christian, upholding Christian values.

It seems to be a political tradition for Presidential candidates to tout their "street cred" as Christians.   I don't necessarily blame the candidates - they are playing the sandbox we've all created for them.   I have to admit, in some ways it makes me sad when the name of Christ is leveraged as a political tool rather than compelling worship. 

So it made me wonder - does it really matter if the next President is a professing Christian?  If so, why?  Does it matter if the next President ends up being Muslim or Mormon?   Also, if an authentic Christian faith becomes a litmus test, how can any of us be an adequate judge of such matters?   I have enough trouble discerning my own heart, how can I be equipped to test the heart of another?

I'm not saying that ethics and morality are unimportant.  On the contrary, I think they are highly important but looking for the Christian label before we vote doesn't seem to be wise or biblically sound.    Using our best judgment, we ought to vote the best person for the job, taking into account - qualification, experience, character and ethics.   And, we ought to pray for wisdom.

What do you think?  

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Quote of the Week

"How do we face troubles with peace, rest and equilibrium?  The ultimate way to handle the troubles of life is not just through prayers of petition, but through worship..."


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Speaking Good News in Financial Turmoil

This week was an especially tough one on Wall Street. The demise of Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and AIG headlined news for most of the week. Even if you don't make your living in the financial industry, you'll feel the effects of its turmoil. Your nest egg might look just a little smaller this week or perhaps your company might be cutting back spending. If you're looking for a new job, it might seem just a little harder going. Or maybe you're doing just fine but your neighbors aren't.

How do you deal with tough financial problems? What tempations do you experience in such times?

Anxiety, perhaps? It's not uncommon for some of us to be tempted in this area. In the midst of mounting bills without corresponding income, we can be tempted to anxiety. How we can sustain such financial drain, we wonder?

How about unbelief? I remember when I was out of work in 2001. It was the post dot-com bubble era - it seemed like companies were shutting down every week and employees were being laid off daily. After several months of not finding work, I began to wonder if I'd ever get another job again!

A couple of weeks ago, I heard a message on Sunday by CJ Mahaney about how many of our struggles stem from spending much of our time listening to ourselves, instead of speaking to ourselves. Sounds a little confusing, doesn't it? The point of the message is that we spend much of our time, listening to our own negative, sinful thoughts -anxiety, unbelief, anger, etc... instead of actively speaking God's truth and promises to our own souls.

Here's how it might be applied in times of personal financial turmoil - instead of passively listening to our own thoughts of anxiety ("we'll get crushed by this mounting bills") or unbelief ("I'll never find a job"), we can actively proclaim to our own souls, God's unfailing promise to provide what we need -

"Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." Matthew 6:31-32


"Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing." Psalm 34:8-10

Speaking good news - that's what we need in the midst of any turmoil.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Quote of the Week

"Biblical orthodoxy without compassion is surely the ugliest thing in the world"

Francis A. Schaeffer (1912-1984)

How Blogging Has Changed My Life

I wouldn't blame you if you didn't care.   But, I was tagged by Ted Gossard with this meme and it did originated from LL Barkat...so how could I not respond?  However, I've decided not to tag anyone else and hence I've broken one of the meme rules.  

I started blogging around the middle of 2006 so it's been a couple of years.  I have to admit there have been times I've thought of packing it up but just knowing that I'll disappoint the mass of readers out there (all three of you) has kept me going.

So here are the five ways blogging has changed my life

1. Through blogging, I've met some really great people, and their interaction with me has truly enriched my life and I'm grateful for it.   Wonderful folks like Marcus Goodyear, LL Barkat, Ted Gossard, Susan/Halfmom, Craver, and many more.

2.  I have less time because of blogging... although recently, I've simply blogged less frequently.  I started by blogging every other day, then three times a week and eventually twice a week.   Although I've been told it's really only 1.5 times/week since one of the posts is a "quote of the week" which is kind of cheating. I guess.

3.  Even though I've spent my entire professional career in high tech, blogging offered an entry point to learn about new web 2.0 technologies.   It's kept me on the cutting edge of what's going on in technology with wikis, facebook, twitter, etc...   Let me digress and tell you why it's so important for a high tech professional like me.   [Warning - boring high tech blurb coming]. 
The way technology is created and adopted has changed over the past 10 years.  It used to be that really complex technology was developed for big business and then it filters down to smaller businesses and eventually the consumer market - think email, accounting software, fax machines, laptops.    But that's not how it works now - the flow of technology innovation and adoption is actually in the opposite direction.   Technologies like IM, blogs, Skype were built for, and adopted by, consumers and then migrated to the corporate environment.  Fascinating, isn't it?  

4. I've learned to appreciate my church and family more.   When you traverse the "Christian" blogosphere, you realize something pretty quickly - there are a lot of unhappy people out there. They are unhappy with the church they attend, their pastors, friends, family and even God.   It's made me appreciate just how good I have it.  I love the Internet but for everything wonderful you can do through the Internet, there's a ton of stuff that you cannot do.   There are limits to technology and those serve to remind us that God builds His church through living, breathing, touching, hugging, non-virtual, communities.

5. Blogging has permitted me to scratch a writing itch.   Apart from the couple of technology books I've written in my past,  I'm really not a professional writer.   I just like writing... the way some people love to paint or sketch.  And if God's wired you that way, you feel compelled to write.  Writing on a consistent basis also serves to clarify and organize my thoughts on certain matters concerning the gospel and how it's applied in our lives.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Right Time to Quit Your Job

Recently a friend of mine called me up, seeking advice about a new job opportunity. He hadn't been looking for new work but opportunity came knocking. We talked about the substance of this new position - the pros and cons but then we touched upon this point - is this the right time for him to leave?

Is it disloyal for an employee to pursue a better opportunity? I don't think so. Is leaving your current job for a better one always the right thing to do? Well, I'm not sure about that either.

Some think that in a capitalistic society, an employee has no obligations to the employer other than to do specified work for specified pay.... until someone else offers a better deal. But is that really the right way to approach our jobs? Let's turn the tables - what if you hired an employee, paid a fair wage, invested months in training, only to have him quit for 5%-10% more in salary. Does that seem right to you?

Others hang on to the idea that loyalty to your company is core value to be upheld. Yet in an environment where most individuals have numerous jobs in a lifetime, the idea of loyalty to company doesn't seem to ring true. The Bureau of Labor Statistics report that baby boomers typically hold 10.5 jobs from the age of 18 - 40. Furthermore, corporations typically aren't making decisions about your future employment based on loyalty so I'm not sure about playing that loyalty card. It sounds good but is the idea of being loyal to an employer, biblically supported?

What's the right way to think about this? Let me offer a couple of thoughts here that may guide the decision making process.

1. Love for Neighbor - I think the issue isn't really about loyalty. I'm not sure there is any biblical mandate to extend loyalty to a corporate entity. But I do think there is an issue of love for those you work with, for your supervisor, your customers, or other stakeholders. There is such a thing as a "bad time to leave your job"... not because it's bad for you but because it's bad for everyone else. If you're in the middle of critical project where others count on you, that's a bad time to leave. It's not loving to leave people in a lurch. Or like the scenario we discussed earlier - where an employee leaves after being trained but before really contributing, simply because he's been offered a better paying opportunity.

2. Fulfilling to Our Explicit Commitments - no company should expect you to stay until you retire but if you've given your word that you'll stay for some duration, you ought to live up to your commitments.

3. Honoring the Reputation of Christ - the timing and manner by which we leave our current employment can either bring honor or disrepute to Christ. Why and how we leave a job often speaks to others about what we value. If you value financial gain above all else, then leaving your current job for a better paying one is always the right choice. If pursuing fulfilling work is the greatest value, then you may be worshiping before the god of self actualization. Valuing the reputation of Jesus Christ means that your motives and actions will befit one who considers fame or fortune lightly when compared to the opportunity of magnifying Christ as your treasure.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts on this.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Quote of the Week

"All of God's giants have been weak men,  who did great things for God because they reckoned on His being with them"

Hudson Taylor

Hudson Taylor's Choice Sayings: A Compilation from His Writings and Addresses.  London: China Inland Mission, n.d., 29

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

In Praise of Hard Work

I'm not sure how it happened but somehow the idea of working hard is not in vogue anymore, at least not in some Christian circles. Perhaps it's a response to the countless men who unwisely compromised their families to climb the corporate ladder. Or maybe it's just a trait of contemporary, suburban Christian life where keeping the 40 hour work week is a mark of spirituality.

For the modern Christian, commitment to hard work is somehow at odds with spiritual maturity. Yet, that view seems to be strangely out of step with the Puritan work ethic. It seems to me that a biblical worldview, the kind held by Christians from a different time, didn't shy away from hard work but rather embraced it. In fact, some of the most godly men in Christian history were marked by both spiritual depth and productive, hard working lives.

Here are a few examples -

Charles H. Spurgeon was remarkable in his work ethic and productivity. Besides his regular duties as pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, he found time (with the help of two secretaries) to answer over 500 letters week. He wrote numerous books including the Treasury of David, a seven volume commentary on the Psalms. He also published a monthly periodical called The Sword and the Trowel. In his relatively short lifetime, Spurgeon founded a Pastor's College (now called Spurgeon College) as well as the Stockwell Orphanage. His perspective regarding hard work was captured in this advice to young pastors -
"We are all too much occupied with taking care of ourselves ... We shun the difficulties of excessive labour.”

John Wesley, the Methodist founder was a prolific preacher. Traveling on horseback, he preached 2-3 times a day. He too, wrote several books and yet found time to found orphanages and charities. By the time of his death, he left over 135,000 "members" of his ministry with over 540 itinerant preachers, forming the basis of the "Methodist" movement.

George Muller, a contemporary of Spurgeon, spent much of his life devising "large and liberal things for the Lord's cause". As a pastor in Bristol, he preached three times/week. He also founded five orphanages, which cared for over 10,000 children in his lifetime. George Muller is rightly known for his faith toward God but he was also a remarkably hard worker.

There's no doubt that these are unusually gifted and godly men but they're also examples of hard work. Just a couple of things to remember when it comes to work -

1. Work shouldn't be defined as simply in the context of a career or paying job. What my wife does in taking care of our family, homeschooling our boys offers as much opportunity for her to engage in God glorifying work as my job offers me. When we mow the lawn, keep order in our lives, fix up the home, discipline our children - that's work too.

2. We may work and may live productive lives but that offers no basis of righteousness before God. It is truly all of grace. Whether we're working hard or not, our basis of approaching a holy God stems from Christ and His finished work on the cross.

How do you think about hard work? Do you embrace it or shun it? How do we think about hard work biblically?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Quote of the Week

"There is a common worldly kind of Christianity in this day, which many have and think they have enough - a cheap Christianity which offends nobody, and requires no sacrifice - which cost nothing, and is worth nothing."

J.C. Ryle, Holiness, p. 204

Monday, August 18, 2008

Why Don't We Share the Good News at Work?

I've been reading Mark Dever's book - The Gospel & Personal Evangelism, in part because it's an area of much needed growth in my life. I don't often share the gospel with others and in particular, I seldom do so at work. Yet, I'm convinced that a normal, thriving Christian life is marked by regular practice of personal evangelism.

Apparently, this isn't just my problem. In speaking with other Christians, I've discovered that many of us fail to regularly share the good news of Christ redemptive work. So why don't we evangelize more often? In his book, Dever offers a number of excuses/reasons for our failure but a couple caught my attention:

"Evangelism could cause problems at work" - Now, we certainly don't want to be irresponsible with the use of our time at work. If our practice of evangelism during work hours impedes our ability to work responsibly, it could bring disrepute to the very message we wish to share. However, for every person who might fall into that trap, I believe there are many more who neglect to share the gospel precisely because it could legitimately cause problems for us at work. Active evangelism could invite ridicule from our co-workers or possibly hinder our prospects for promotion. In other words, sharing the good news of our Savior could actually cost us something and we are ensnared by what the Bible calls "the fear of man".

"Other things seem more urgent" - This is simply the tyranny of the urgent. It's the weak excuse of a hurried life that has little time for what is truly important. To be honest, it's one of my greatest hurdles to regular evangelism. I get so caught up with the pace and responsibilities of work that I forget about those who are around me. I forget that many of them live without the joyful hope of an eternity with God, but rather face a real prospect of judgment. In view of eternity, what could be more important than sharing the good news of Christ and His work? Yet, I am often too hurry to even consider those around me.

After reading and pondering the early chapters of the book, I've had to face another reality of my lack of personal evangelism. It is simply that I do not love "my neighbor" as I ought. I like them well enough to have lunch with them, to discuss our families or share how I spent my weekend. But I'm not moved to actually share this eternal message with them, especially if I suspect that it's not going to be well received. It's embarrassingly true - I love tranquility more than sharing the gospel with my "neighbor" at work.

Is there hope for someone like me? I'd like to think so - starting first with repentance for my heart so lacking in love for my neighbor. In doing so, I need to affirm the good of the gospel for me personally, considering the favor that is shown to me in light of the cross. I also need to invest my confidence in God's transforming work through the gospel, not in my performance. It's not a question of whether I'm "doing evangelism right" but rather my faithful proclamation of the gospel. If the gospel is truly "the power of God for salvation" as Paul asserts in Romans 1:16, then I need to trust in its life giving power to those who are dead in sin.

Any other advice for someone like me? How about you? Are you sharing the gospel regularly with those whom God has placed around you at work? What hinders you?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Quote of the Week

"What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us."

A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, p.7

Sunday, August 03, 2008

New versus Old

A week ago, we discussed why bigger doesn't always mean better. I thought it might be interesting to explore another misconception noted in John Piper's address to INSIGHT graduates - that new is better than old.

If not excusable, it is at least understandable that we might trip over this. After all, as card carrying members of the digital age, haven't we been conditioned to equate "new" with "improved"? In this Web 2.0 world of blogs, social networks and iPhones, there's always a new version of something waiting to be unveiled. And, let's face it - we just like new and shiny...at least most of us do.

Yet, the idea that new is necessarily better is a notion we should actively resist. Sure, the latest iPhone is probably better and cheaper than the prior model but when it comes to the really important things, new isn't typically better. Things that really matter in life, things of eternal value, are by definition, timeless and old.

Have you fallen into the "new is better than old" trap? I wouldn't blame you at all but here are a few points to consider as you take inventory of your life -

What you read - Do you take the time plumb the wisdom of old classic books instead of the latest bestseller? C.S. Lewis had this to say about the benefits of reading old books:

"It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between...Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books."

Practical advice - When it comes to advice, is new, novel advice really better than old, trusted and proven? When you're making critical decisions on your job or your personal life, where do you go for trusted, pragmatic advice? What's the best source of wisdom when you need insight on how to run your business or how to raise a family? Unfortunately, many Christians wouldn't think to look to Scripture before they checked out the latest business blog or parenting seminar. While they might affirm the inerrancy of Scripture, at a functional level, they deny its sufficiency for practical living. We are so easily seduced by the latest insights by the congnoscenti of our day, aren't we? But how do those insights compare to God's revealed wisdom found in the Bible?

Proven paths - I'm all for innovation and creativity but I'm also in favor of not reinventing the wheel. This means honoring time tested institutions and practices. For instance, it's become popular to deconstruct the traditional institutions of marriage and church, noting their many, apparent failings. But these institutions aren't just cultural innovations, they were established and set apart by God and hence, holy. Dismantling or redefining these instutions isn't just fruitless, it's foolhardy.

In some other areas, these proven paths aren't quite as significant but the notion that we should pay attention to them is still applicable. At work, instead of perfecting the latest career enhancing techniques, perhaps we could focus on old fashioned values of hard work, integrity and accountability. These values may seem antiquated but they actually might work in your favor.

What do you think? Are you, like me, often captivated by the "new and shiny" instead of focusing on old, timeless truths?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Quote of the Week

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Bigger Isn't Always Better

Last week, our family listened a wonderful message by John Piper called "Four Mistakes I Hope You Don't Make". It was addressed to the graduating class of a program for college age students but I think the points he makes are applicable to all of us. The gist of his message revolved around four mistaken assumptions that Christians can make as we navigate our way through life.

The first mistake he highlights is the assumption that big is better than small. It struck me how easily we're preconditioned to this mistake since we live in an age of mass consumerism and discretionary wealth. Let's face it - we are attracted to large and flashy, not small and modest. According to the National Association of Homebuilders, the average size of a home has increased from 1400 square feet in 1970 to 2330 square feet in 2004. As consumers we're demanding bigger portions and the food industry is only too willing to comply - in 1998, the large soda at Burger King was 32 oz...by 2002, it was "supersized" to a 42 oz drink. Bigger portions must be better, right?

Yet this isn't just a modern (or post-modern) malady. It is actually the folly of our fallen condition to assume that "big" is necessarily better than "small". Jesus told a parable to illustrate the folly of covetousness and ever seeking "bigger barns":

And he told them a parable, saying, "The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?' And he said, 'I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God."
(Luke 12:18-21)

Not into building bigger barns? Don't be too sure that this doesn't apply to you.

This shows up in our lives in many different ways. Sometimes, we fail to recognize God's purposes in small beginnings and modest achievements. Perhaps we're in a perpetual search for a better, higher paying, more fulfilling job. Or maybe we're silently dissatisfied that our big dreams aren't being fulfilled. The truth is we're often easily discontented with what we have or where we are, presently.

But God has a different perspective, doesn't He? By His measure, bigger isn't always better. He chose David, a smallish, young shepherd boy in preference to his older, bigger brothers. He is the God of the mustard seed that grows to the largest of trees. God may start us in modest surroundings but He has glorious plans for His elect.

Do you naturally assume that big is necessarily better than small? How have you been tempted to make that mistaken assumption? What encouragement from scripture or elsewhere can help us regain a right focus?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Quote of the Week

"There is not one little blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make men rejoice"

Jean Chauvin (1509 - 1564)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Assuming Positive Intent

Earlier this year, Fortune magazine featured 25 leading public figures from all walks of life, sharing "The Best Advice I've Ever Got". Frankly, not all of the advice was particularly inspiring or even interesting, but one did catch my attention.

Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi Co., shared advice she received from her father - "assume positive intent" in your interaction with others, especially when they don't agree with you. Here's an excerpt -

My father was an absolutely wonderful human being. From him I learned to always assume positive intent. Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent. You will be amazed at how your whole approach to a person or problem becomes very different...In business, sometimes in the heat of the moment, people say things. You can either misconstrue what they're saying and assume they are trying to put you down, or you can say, "Wait a minute. Let me really get behind what they are saying to understand whether they're reacting because they're hurt, upset, confused, or they don't understand what it is I've asked them to do."

Seems like good advice, doesn't it?

I've also heard this principle phrased differently as the "assumption of goodwill". Regardless of what you choose to call it, I've found this to be a helpful practice in business/work interactions, especially in situations where there is great opportunity for misunderstanding. If I'm tempted to react negatively to something someone has said or done, it's often because I've judged their intentions to be negative, malicious or even hostile. When I make that leap, I've erred. Regardless of their true intentions, I've judged them and started down the slippery road that leads to conflict.

I have no reason to believe that Ms. Nooyi is a Christian but I was just wondering - is there any biblical basis for this "assumption of goodwill" principle or is this just another example of the "power of positive thinking" run amok?

Yet, of all people, shouldn't Christians extend the assumption of goodwill towards others in the workplace? If so, why? Please share your thoughts.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Quote of the Week

"Love of neighbor for the sake of loving God is a profound political philosophy that strikes a balance between the disobedience of political disengagement and the idolatry of politics as our main priority. As evangelical Christians we must engage in political action, not because we believe the conceit that politics is ultimate, but because we must obey our Redeemer when He commands us to love our neighbor"

R. Albert Mohler Jr. , Culture Shift, p. 4

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

What If You Don't Like Your Job?

I've enjoyed every job I've held but I know that isn't the case for everyone. Some find themselves working in jobs that are less than satisfying...some even hate their jobs. Many Christians regard job satisfaction as a God given right and find themselves questioning why God hasn't blessed them in this way. Sam Shin asks these thought provoking questions on his excellent Gospel Prism blog -

"Does God want us to love our jobs?"
"Does God ultimately care what kind of job we hold?"

He expands on the second question by pointing to Paul's example and words -

"While Paul ministered to churches, he made tents which must have been an arduous and tedious task. He could have grumbled and complained about his job. After all, he was Paul, the apostle and church-planter extraordinaire. And yet, he responded with such words:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)

The reality is, God never promises that we would have a job that we enjoy doing. Because God has given us His absolute best in His Son (Romans 8:32), and since that absolute best is actually the ultimate means by which we can have true and lasting joy, anything else is merely grace upon grace. If we don’t truly appreciate this wondrous truth, then we will always be searching for something that will never fully satisfy us."

The work/faith movement is often focused on drawing attention to biblical purpose in our daily work and most of this I applaud. Yet, as Sam correctly says - God doesn't promise us a satisfying or fulfilling job....just like He doesn't guarantee health, wealth or the American dream. In whatever circumstance we find ourselves, He insists that we find our satisfaction, delight and joy in Him, not simply His blessings.

So, how should a Christian think about a job he doesn't like? Here are a few thoughts -

1. Be grateful. Even in a job you don't like, there is much to be grateful for. He has given you work to do and that alone is a blessing (as anyone who has experienced prolonged unemployment will tell you). He has also blessed you with the physical and mental capacities to perform the work he's given you.

2. Trust God for a greater purpose. While doing his "job" as an apostle, Paul found himself in prison. Did he view this as an inconvenient detour from his mission? No, instead he viewed his imprisonment through the eyes of faith in a sovereign God. He believed his imprisonment served to advance the God's purpose.

"Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly."
(Phillipians 1:12-14)

What might God be doing in the midst of your unsatisfying work?

3. Experience God as good. Most of us are familiar with Psalm 34:8 that says "taste and see that the Lord is good". We often neglect to quote the second part of that verse that says "blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him". The psalmist intended to inform us that experiencing God doesn't occur in the ether of good feelings or in a vacuum devoid of trouble. Instead, we taste and see God as good when we take refuge in Him in the midst of difficult circumstances.

4. Prayerfully consider a different job. There's much more that could be said about how to seek a new job and we covered this in a prior blog post. But the point here is that it isn't wrong to seek to change a bad situation or pursue a more satisfying job. Just be careful not to invest your hopes and joys in a new job. As Sam tells us - ultimately, it won't satisfy.

Does God care about the kind of job we have?
Is it God's will for us to have satisfying work?
What do you think?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Quote of the Week

"We live in a crazy upside down world. People will move across the country for a job or for a school. But if you do that for a church, people will think you're insane. Or if you pass up an opportunity for advancement, explaining that you want to remain so that you can be a part of your church, people assume that you’re a part of a cult...Once there was someone who moved from heaven to earth because of the church. From heaven He came and sought her to be His holy Bride. When you are gripped and affected and stirred for the church, you are simply reflecting passion for His holy Bride. "

Mark Mullery, Senior Pastor, Sovereign Grace Church.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Are You Tired?

I'm on vacation this week but I've entered into it somewhat tired. Several weeks of regular business travel coupled with a hectic schedule has left me weary and this week at beach has come at the right time . I desperately need to be refreshed - physically, emotionally, spiritually. I'm not sure if this is your experience but my state of weariness is usually accompanied with a loss of perspective, a tiredness of the soul as well as physical strain.

Vacations are fine for sleeping in, enjoying family time and healthy recreation but it's only part of the solution. What I need is the kind of rest that restores both my body and my soul. I need to respond to my Savior's kind invitation to come to him.

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
(Matthew 11:28-30)

This particular invitation from Jesus is only for those who are weary - the strong, sufficient and carefree need not apply. It's a promise for those who are burdened - by the anxiety of unfinished to-do lists, the nagging guilt of unmet goals and responsibilities greater than they can bear. Please don't get me wrong, I love vacations. Times of recreation and opportunities for leisure are great. But the rest we need is found in a Person - Jesus Christ is the true Sabbath. That's what I'm meditating on, even as I enjoy the sand and surf this week.

What causes your weariness?
How do you get rest when you become tired?
How do the cares and burdens of this world affect you?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Gospel Translations Project

I haven't blogged for a while...things have been very busy. Let me get back into the swing of things by sharing a video on The Gospel Translations Project, an initiative that I've been involved in starting, over the past year. I know I've mentioned it in a couple of past blog posts but this video captures the heart of what Gospel Translations is all about.

If you're a translator, please consider joining our initiative. If you know others who may be interested in The Gospel Translations Project, please help spread the word by blogging or referring others to our initiative.

God has graciously allowed us to form great partnerships with Sovereign Grace Ministries (who produced this video), Desiring God, Ligonier Ministries, 9Marks, among others. We've also benefited from the encouragement of local churches. We trust this work will be a means to bless the nations with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Quote of the Week

"Your life will soon be intersected by God, whether by the Lord's return or your death. And how will that coming be for you? Will you find yourself prepared by the truth about the cross or will you find yourself caught out, unprepared, living...as if this passing world were going to last forever."

Mark Dever, Preaching the Cross, p.36

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Measure of Success - Fulfilling Our Purpose

A few weeks ago, when I asked how you might define success, there were a number of very thoughtful responses. Here's one from Andrew -

"Success connotes that a purpose exists, and is defined by whatever that purpose is...There is a purpose which we are made for, and then there are purposes which bear our own design. The latter are both subsequent and subordinate to the former, just as we creatures are subsequent and subordinate to the Creator."

What Andrew is saying here is actually quite profound. We often think of success in our own terms. Especially in this postmodern age, it's not unusual for many to view success as "whatever you make of it". Andrew's point is that true success is, in fact, defined by fulfilling the purpose for which we are created - namely, to glorify our Creator.

Isaiah 43:6-7 specifically informs us of this purpose.

I will say to the north, Give up,
and to the south, Do not withhold;
bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.

Andrew elaborates on his point that it is the Creator who determines the purpose for His creation -

"If I invent a new device, the glockenfurst, to tell time, it is only a good glockenfurst if it does in fact tell time. It doesn't matter if someone else thinks my glockenfurst is beautiful, tastes good, or holds down paper in a breezy room. Those are not its purpose. I say so because I created it. And so it is with people--we exist to glorify God and everything else is secondary."

Think about this - "we exist to glorify God and everything else is secondary".

- Are you managing a thriving business? If your life is not lived as a reflection of God's glory, it's secondary at best.
- Are you working to build a ministry to serve thousands? It doesn't really matter if you're not doing it for God's glory.
- Finishing projects on time and under budget? It only counts, if God is honored.

In this excerpt from his entire comment, Andrew explains why he holds this view -

"I cannot be a 'successful beekeeper' if I defame God with my speech. Here's why: I was born a person, made in God's image and bearing his chosen purpose, before anyone told me (or I realized for myself), "Hey, I would be good at beekeeping." I am a failure so long as any one of my many self-selected purposes are in conflict with my Creator's purpose for me."

The point is that the material result of our work isn't the only thing that matters. How and why we do our work actually matters far more. As created beings, we should labor for the honor of our Creator, doing so in a manner that reveals Him as glorious.

If being successful is about glorifying God, then we ought to give more thought to what it means to glorify God in our lives. After all, everything else is secondary.

Do you agree with Andrew?
What do you think it mean to glorify God?
How do you pursue the glory of God in your work?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Quote of the Week

What is the eternal life that Jesus gives? Knowledge of God. "This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent" (John 17:3)
What is the best thing in life, bringing more joy, delight and contentment than anything else? Knowledge of God

J.I. Packer
; Knowing God, p33

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Measure of Success - Loving Others

Most Christians understand that being successful cannot be simply measured in terms of successfully run projects or material gain. In fact, those parameters may be some of the most unreliable indicators of success. This is how Jesus puts it –

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

Instead, in Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus reminds us of what's really important.

And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."

We've discussed how a growing love for God is a key measure of success but what about love for others? If being successful at work is in part measured by our love for others, then we ought to consider its practical implications. Here are a few that come to mind –

1. We should seek the best interest of those who work with us, even as we do our best to serve the company or institution we work for. This means rejoicing with them when they succeed and comforting them when they fail.

2. When it becomes necessary to exercise discipline or correction, we should do so in kindness and with the best interest of the fellow employee at heart (see #1). For those in positions of authority, it is helpful to realize that care is sometimes conveyed by means of correction or discipline. Just ask any parent.

3. We love others when we see and relate to them as persons created in the image of God and not simply as resources to "get the job done" or projects completed.

4. We should communicate the good news of Jesus Christ in our words, deeds and motives. Loving others means sharing life giving truths with them - nothing more true or life giving than the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What other implications come to mind? Is love for others a true measure of success?
Please share your thoughts on this.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Quote of the Week

“The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time.... I do not think more of myself nor less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less.”

Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, p181

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Measure of Success - Loving God

Over a week ago, we explored the idea of success - how we define it in our lives. Thanks to all who took the time to comment on how you define success. It was both interesting and helpful to receive the various perspectives. I'd like to pick up on a few of the comments and expand the discussion over the next couple of weeks.

Let's start with how Ted Gossard describes success: "I think of success in terms of 'the Jesus creed', that is to love God with our entire being and doing, and to love our neighbor as ourselves." Ted was referring to this passage from Matthew 22:35-40.

And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."

If "all the Law and the Prophets" depend on these two commandments, then any definition of a successful life, must surely take these commandments into account. Starting with the first part of Jesus' reply, let's consider how the first commandment - loving God "with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" is part of a successful life.

It's not a stretch to say that most definitions of success would not include "loving God" as part of the description. It is simply not the way of the world we live in. Yet, for a Christian, is there a higher measure for success? Shouldn't the worth of all our endeavors be measured in terms of whether we are growing in our affection and knowledge of God?

I know that some of my greatest challenges at work have been opportunities to discover more about God, to learn to trust and treasure Him more. Most of those difficulties resolved into materially positive outcomes but not all of them ended up the way I might have desired. However, because God was at work in my life, all of those situations were helpful to my growth.

Certainly, there is a dimension of success that involves a material outcome like successful projects, wonderful friends, pay raises and awards. But, I think scripture teaches us that there is a greater dimension, hidden from view that is more significant. The joy obtained from a successful project or recognition, though real, is temporal and limited. Getting a glimpse of the God who created all things and yet is intimately invested in our lives, is priceless.

This the privilege of every follower of Jesus Christ - to live our lives in such a way to show that obtaining the love and knowledge of God is far superior than any material success we can receive.

Do you measure success in this way? Is this even the right way of thinking about success or is it just a cop-out for the Christian who can't cut it in "the real world"?

What does it mean to love God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind? How does it work in your life?

When you hit a tough patch at work or at home, do you even consider how the unpleasant circumstances might lead you to love God more?

Friday, May 02, 2008

Quote of the Week

Redeeming love and retributive justice joined hands, so to speak, at Calvary, for there God showed himself to be "just, and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus."

J.I. Packer; In My Place Condemned He Stood; p.41

Saturday, April 26, 2008

How Do You Define Success?

I'd like to start an ongoing conversation about the topic of success - how we define it, how we pursue it and what it means to our lives. It might be a series of occasional posts or just a couple. Truthfully, I don't know where this will go but I thought it might be interesting.

How do you measure success? I believe that your answer to this question determines the aim and trajectory of your life. Here's my thesis - we will pursue whatever we define or picture success to be.

If you believe that success is best measured by "financial independence", you will make it your aim to obtain greater material wealth. If being successful means having a happy family and lots of friends, then nuturing those relationships become your priority . If you think of success in terms of prestige, respect or even some small measure of fame, then gaining acceptance and recognition by others becomes your pursuit.

This means getting the right, functional, definition of success becomes vitally important. Define it incorrectly and you may end up setting your life on a wrong trajectory...pursuing all the wrong things, for the wrong reasons.

I have no great insight about this but in view of how important this is, I've been thinking about how the Bible might instruct us about how to rightly define success. Before elaborating my thoughts on this, I'd love to hear your perspective -

How do you really define success?
What does it mean to you to live a successful life? How does work, home, relationships and God fit into that definition? Or does it?
What do you think the Bible has to say about defining success for us?

Inquiring minds want to know....

Friday, April 18, 2008

Quote of the Week

The fact that the universe continues to function as it does, and that certain actions have certain consequences, needs to be seen in light of God's continued, intentional, active, sustaining involvement.

Steve Jeffrey, Michael Ovey, Andrew Sach; Pierced For Our Transgressions. p. 107

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Charitable Disagreements

Over a week ago, we discussed how effective leaders should encourage or at least make room for disagreement as part of the decision making process. But, what about being on the other end? If you should disagree with a decision or corporate direction, how should you register your disagreement? What, if any, are the rules of engagement?

Before jumping into how to disagree constructively, I'd like to say that it isn't necessarily virtuous or loving to simply "tow the line" when you're not in agreement. If someone is possibly making a grave mistake, choosing not to advise or warn them because we'd rather "keep the peace" is not loving. It could reveal what the Bible calls the "fear of man" which is a sinful response and a topic for another post altogether.

How do you agreeably disagree? Here are some of the things I try to keep in mind -

1. Disagree Charitably. Remember the adage pertaining to Christian disputes (attributed to Augustine) : "in essentials - unity; in non-essentials - liberty; in all things - charity". When we're in the midst of disagreement and eager to make our point, it's easy to forget to treat each other with love and kindness. I know that I can often become impatient or intolerant. I find reading 1 Corinthians 13 is a helpful antidote for my uncharitable disposition.

2. Disagree Humbly. As I've reminded my children (and myself) from time to time - we were wrong on the most important issue in human history. We were born into rebellion against God - we were on the wrong side. And on the wrong side we would have stayed except for the mercy of God. With that in view, perhaps we should enter into disputes at least aware of the possibility we might be wrong. It isn't sinful to be confident about your position. Just be aware that you're not always right and might not be right this time. Here's the good news - God gives grace to the humble.

3. Disagree on the Issue, Not with the Person. If you're disagreeing with a decision - keep the conversation on the issue. Resist the temptation to make it personal. Don't be drawn into making comments like "you're lowering the morale in the office" but rather "this decision is leading to lower morale".

4. Learn to Listen. When we're disagreeing, we're eager to make our point and we fail to listen to the other side. The Book of Proverbs is replete with passages on how the wise listen but fools don't.

"The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice." Proverbs 12:15

5. Disagree Directly. Simply say what you mean. Do it gently, kindly and certainly lovingly but be direct. Sometimes I see individuals using humor to hint at a problem or insinuating a problem but yet not speaking plainly. This practice lacks honesty, is disingenuous and can lead to more conflicts. Speak openly...just do it with love (#1) and humbly (#2).

6. Be Inclusive and Work on the Issue Together. It's natural to take opposing, adversarial positions. However, at times it's possible that you can come to the problem in a fresh way and work on it together. If it seems difficult to imagine how you could get to that point, I'd suggest starting by using inclusive language - using "we"/"our"/"us" instead of "I"/"you"/"my"/"your".

I'm sure that there's more to be said on this topic but this will do for now.

Do you have additional thoughts or advice on how to disagree constructively? Please share them with us.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Quote of the Week

"The gospel is so foolish (according to my natural wisdom), so scandalous (according to my conscience), so incredible (according to my timid heart), that it is a daily battle to believe the full scope of it as I should. There is simply no other way to compete with the forebodings of my conscience, the condemnings of my heart, and the lies of the world and the devil than to overwhelm such things with the daily rehearsings of the gospel."

Milton Vincent, A Gospel Primer p. 14

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Leading by Encouraging Disagreement?

If you're a leader in any capacity, you know how difficult it can be to get others to agree with your point of view. Much of our time is often spent figuring out how to influence and convince those we lead, especially when we're faced with crucial decisions. But, have you considered that you ought to spend more time encouraging disagreement or opposing viewpoints?

In this Harvard Business School article, Garry Emmons points out how important it is to facilitate dissenting viewpoints when engaging important decisions. He also notes how even experienced leaders often falter when they make no room for disagreement.

"Consider the costs to organizations, large and small, when dissent does not or cannot surface: Abjuring rigorous debate about its merits, a youthful president John F. Kennedy essentially rubber-stamped a 1961 plan to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, resulting in one of the biggest U.S. foreign policy fiascoes in decades. During a 1996 commercial expedition to the summit of Mt. Everest, several climbers, including two of the world's most experienced professionals, died in part because junior team members didn't speak up when their expert leaders ignored their own core operating principles surrounding safety."

The truth is that most of us do not want to "rock the boat". We prefer to "go with the flow" when a consensus opinion is established. I think it is part of our fallen nature to do so - we love the praise of men, preferring others to think well of us, rather than to express honest disagreement.

Yet, if you believe what Emmons is saying, it is the wise leader who makes room for constructive dissent and pursues alternative viewpoints. In some ways, it's unnatural to do so but it's essential to mature leadership and it's the gospel minded leader who is best able to cultivate this approach to decision making. Here are a couple of reasons why:

First, it takes true humility to pursue and make room for alternative opinions in your collaborative process. While it's true that decision making isn't best accomplished "by committee", a humble, gospel informed world-view helps us recognize our limitations. No matter how sure we may be, it is possible that we may be wrong and the Bible offers much encouragement to seek the advice of others... even when the advice does not line up with our own views.

Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. (Proverbs 11:14)

Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.
(Proverbs 15:22)

Second, it also takes real courage to honestly pursue other opinions. Encouraging "dissent in decision making" means potentially exposing your errors. It means having a disregard for our own reputation while we seek for the best possible solution. Frankly, most of us do not naturally possess the kind of courage needed to put our own reputations on the line. Perhaps we fear rejection... or we may fear the loss of respect... for some of us, we fear facing our limitations.

The gospel can help us here. Our fears are mitigated by the gospel reminders that we're lovingly accepted by God - He is on our side for our good, regardless of our performance.

We can be bold in seeking help from others, making room for opposing views, confident that God will work all things for our good, even disagreements.

How good are you at encouraging others to disagree and giving them freedom to do so?

For a future post, perhaps I'll discuss the following:

What does the Bible have to say about constructive disagreement? Can Christians honestly disagree and how should we engage this process?
What about the biblical reproof against dissension in the church? How does that play into what we're saying here?

Of course, I'll probably be wrong but I'll have friends who won't be afraid to tell me...if I'm willing to ask.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Quote of the Week

"I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?"

Jesus Christ (John 11:25-26)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Eliot Spitzer, Us and the Grace of God

I've held off blogging about Eliot Spitzer, in part because much of the initial reaction from the mass media was unprofitable and salacious. However, when a number of men gathered at my home for an accountability meeting last week, we took opportunity to briefly discuss it.

Unlike what was communicated on news channels all week long, at our meeting there was no gloating over a powerful, arrogant man who simply "got what he deserved". There was no self righteous musing over how someone so smart could "self destruct" so publicly. We didn't wonder how the former crusading governor known as "Mr Clean", could have lived a double life.

We didn't do that because we simply know better - we know ourselves and we know the nature of sin. We understand that we're more like Eliot Spitzer than we'd like to acknowledge. We're aware of the deceitfulness of sin and our propensity as fallen men to wander from the grace of God. We know that it's the grace of God that keeps us from self destructing. As one of the men in our group said - "That could be me, it could be any of us...it's God's mercy that He rescued us from the penalty and power of sin...it's God's grace that keeps us in Him and keeps us from falling..."

The meeting gave me much to think about. I'm grateful for men who speak words of gospel truth to me - reminding me of how the grace of Jesus Christ has shed light upon my darkened heart. It is also evidence of God's kindness to us as Christians. When God places us in the community of a church, He does so to protect us and care for us.

Don't you wonder how different it might have been for Eliot Spitzer if he had the benefit of such grace? Last week, amidst much of the news about Spitzer, this is what I read from Psalm 32:1

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

Eliot Spitzer had so much - power, career, fame, wealth. However, as far as we know, he didn't possess what was most important - he didn't have sins covered, a clean conscience and peace with God. Perhaps we should pray for him, that through this trial, he might be drawn to the One who offers these priceless mercies.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Quote of the Week

"The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of the triviality we drink in every night. For all the ill that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Luke 14:18-20).
The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable.

John Piper, Hunger for God, p.14

Thursday, February 28, 2008

How a Christian Finds a Job

A couple of weeks ago, we explored how a Christian deals with losing his job. But what if you're actually looking for work? Are there biblical guidelines for how a Christians should approach this pursuit?

For many Christians, exploring the possibility of a new job, often triggers questions about how to find "God's will". At times, discovering the will of God can appear to be a mysterious, mystical experience. Yet, is this the right approach to important life decisions? As I've considered new career opportunities that have come my way, I've found tremendous help from the book, Finding God's Will: A Pagan Notion? by Bruce Waltke.

In the book, Waltke questions the wisdom of "finding God's will". In fact, he asserts that many of our attempts to do so can be rooted in unbiblical practices. Instead of finding God's will, we should be actively pursuing God's help in making the critical life decisions.

Waltke also outlines a six step approach to gaining God's guidance. Although I generally look skeptically upon the simplistic, methodological approaches, I believe his proposed steps actually bring clarity to the potentially confusing decision making process. Here are the six steps, outlined in his book -

1. Read the Bible - God has actively revealed His will to us in the Bible . All that we need for life and godliness are available to us in scripture. "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

2. Develop a heart for God - "Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart." (Psalm 37:4). God often leads us by working through our desires but it starts by getting our hearts aligned with His.

3. Seek wise counsel - Getting help and advice from other godly men and women is part of God's plan for guidance.

4. Look for God's providence - God is at work in the circumstances of our lives, orchestrating events for our good and His glory.

5. Use good judgment - God isn't expecting us to mysteriously sense His will but rather, He expects us to use our minds and exercise good judgment. Does the opportunity or decision make sense to you?

6. Miraculous divine intervention - This is the last consideration and in Waltke's opinion, should be viewed as exceptionally unusual. In fact, he says that there is no New Testament evidence of God intervening miraculously as a response to seeking His will. However, I presume Waltke includes this as a possibility, since God may do as He wishes and has certainly intervened miraculously for other reasons.

One key point he makes is that these steps should be viewed sequentially in order of priority. In other words, you shouldn't seek counsel from others (step 3), if you haven't first spent time reading your Bible (step 1) and developing a heart for God (step 2).

What do you think of Waltke's approach? Also, Waltke's book doesn't speak directly to the challenges facing a job search but rather addresses the general issue of obtaining guidance in any decision making process. What would you add that might be helpful for a Christian to know when he/she is seeking a new job?