Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Silent Killer

I got to hear the end of a conversation today where the running joke was that ambition will kill you in the workplace. You'll end up doing more work and staying busier if you have it because you want to excel.

This ties in with something that I've been rolling around in my mind for a while here. One problem I have with some coworker interactions is that I forget that not everyone thinks like I do. In fact, most people don't think like I do. I think it's safe to say that our first instinct in any human interaction is to assume that the person with whom you speak comes from the same basic frame of mind. Of course, that often isn't true.

Specifically, I don't really get into playing the political game. I'm not one to jump when told that a Senior VP needs something right now just because it's a Senior VP asking for it. I try to take care of all of our "customers" the same. Suggesting that I should jump higher for a senior person is sort of insulting.

I got into trouble a while back because I was kind of confrontational in a meeting regarding something that I thought was silly. A teammate called me on it and I apologized because he was certainly right. But I also explained that I don't have an agenda and that I don't really have any large aspirations. I don't see how I would advance much here and, given the environment, I'm not sure that I'd want to. Therefore, I don't get into these games. I got a 2.2% raise last year. Will working really hard get me 4%? I think that's on the wrong side of the cost-benefits analysis.

I have enough trouble just doing my job well and with a good attitude to get into all the games people play in the corporate world. I have plenty of ambition in my life, but not for success in the corporate world. On the other hand, I do stay very motivated when it comes to the things that I consider very important such as my ministry and my family.

I guess this means that I walk a fine line. It's very easy to turn into a genuine slacker, which happens to me more often than it should. It's also very easy to get caught up in the game. My goal is to stay balanced on this knife's edge.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Focusing on the Main Things

I got this yesterday from my daily Insight for Leaders:

Pastoral Ministry: Some New Mystery Bagged

For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their
time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.
--Acts 17:21

The temptation to forget the few spiritual essentials and to go
wandering off after unimportant things is very strong, especially
to Christians of a certain curious type of mind. Such persons find
the great majors of the faith of our fathers altogether too tame
for them. Their souls loathe that light bread; their appetites
crave the gamy tang of fresh-killed meat. They take great pride in
their reputation as being mighty hunters before the Lord, and any
time we look out we may see them returning from the chase with some
new mystery hanging limply over their shoulder.

Usually the game they bring down is something on which there is a
biblical closed season. Some vague hint in the Scriptures, some
obscure verse about which the translators disagree, some marginal
note for which there is not much scholarly authority: these are
their favorite meat. They are especially skillful at propounding
notions which have never been a part of the Christian heritage of
truth. Their enthusiasm mounts with the uncertainty of their
position, and their dogmatism grows firmer in proportion to the
mystery which surrounds their subject. The Next Chapter After the
Last, 12-13.

I think of this fairly often as I lead our small group. It's so much easier to chase "deeper truth" than it is to deal with what we already know. Of course, I'm all for learning more about God's Word. It's the only firm foundation for life and the more I know of it the better off I'll be. However, I do believe that the main things are the plain things and the plain things are the main things. So while it can be fascinating to wonder about the seventy weeks in Daniel or the meanings of the wheels on the creatures in Ezekiel, this seems very plain to me:

Mat 22:33-40 ESV
(33) And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.
(34) But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.
(35) And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.
(36) "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?"
(37) 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.
(38) This is the great and first commandment.
(39) And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
(40) On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."

I still could use a lot of work on both of these.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Who is Wiser?

A couple of months ago we potty trained Lily. We've had our ups and downs, but it has gone pretty well. I think this is one of those many parenting experiences where it seems brutal at the time, but looking back you manage to forget just how grueling it was. She still has the occasional accident though.

We try to be understanding about all of this. But what we have a tough time with is when we know that she has to go, we offer to help her go, she refuses, and then has an accident later. Like most little kids, she will often push this until the last minute. Then it becomes a crisis with Amanda and I running around frantically trying to get her potty seat out of the bag or maybe me running her upstairs so she can use her "permanent" potty seat. I usually end up making some comment about how she can't wait until the last minute.

At work I tend to drink a lot of water. It gives me something to do and it keeps me awake. Plus on days when I exercise I really need to re-hydrate in the morning. Of course, this means many trips to the bathroom, which is also good for breaking up the day.

Twice now I've tried to use the closest bathroom only to discover it being closed for cleaning. I then had to walk down the hall to another one. It only takes maybe 60-90 seconds to make it to that bathroom, but both times I had to do this I realized that I waited too long. In other words, despite being 30 years older than her I'm not sure that I'm that much wiser. Kind of a sobering thought.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Feeling Locked In

I've written several articles about a sense of ennui I have in life. I sometimes get a sense that there is more that I could be or should be doing. Or maybe I should be doing something else. That feels particularly strong with work, but it applies to ministry as well. Our church is a big, vibrant place. There is a lot going on and sometimes I wonder if I should be more involved there.

Recently I got a note from the head of Setting Captives Free thanking me for the job I'm doing as the Executive Director of The Lord's Table. It's always nice to get a pat on the back and be told that you're doing a good job. But what it really reinforces is my firm belief that I'm in the right place and doing the right thing for me right now. I do want to hang onto it with a loose grip because I never know where God may lead me. But it does give me a nice reassuring feeling that I'm doing the right thing. You can't really put a price tag on that!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Where Were You?

I am thoroughly enjoying the Todd Agnew album Reflection of Something. One song is taken from the book of Job and it's called "Where Were You". Listening to this song has made me reflect on who I am compared to God. Basically, I'm pretty small. I think of the infinite perspective vortex in Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy where people couldn't handle being put in it because they saw how big they were next to the rest of the universe.

The song starts with what we consider to be fair questions. What about injustice? What about when evil people seem to prosper? Here I am doing my best. Why isn't life more fair?

The repeated chorus comes out of Job 38-41 where God asks Job some great questions. Here a couple of my favorites (from the Bible, not from the song):

Job 38:4-7
4"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
5Who determined its measurements--surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
6On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
7when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

Job 38:31-33
31"Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades
or loose the cords of Orion?
32Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth[b] in their season,
or can you guide the Bear with its children?
33Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?
Can you establish their rule on the earth?

And after God lays into him this is all Job can say:

Job 40:3-5
3Then Job answered the LORD and said:

4"Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
5I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
twice, but I will proceed no further."

In other words, Job realizes that he's way out of turn here. How else do you respond when God grabs whole constellations in His hand, shows the stars to you, and asks if you can do that?

The book of Job is easily misunderstood, I think. To someone who is not a believer it looks like nothing more than a bar bet between God and Satan. But I take it as an example of how to persevere in trials. I also see it as a tremendous reminder of how great God really is and how I'm tinier than an electron compared to His greatness. But what ties it altogether for me is that, despite my insignifcance and His grandeur, He loves me and calls me His son. I know I sure don't deserve that.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Pretty Shells

Last year, Amanda and I were fortunate enough to take a long overdue honeymoon. We made it to Italy, which was a dream vacation for Amanda. We had two nights in Rome, three in Florence, two in Venice, and one more in Rome before flying home. It was an incredible time for anyone who enjoys history, architecture, and fine food.

As you might imagine, there are plenty of churches in that country. The photo is of Santa Croce, which is in Florence. This is just one of the many beautiful churches we saw. After a while you get kind of overwhelmed by all the opulence and splendor of places like Santa Croce and the Duomo in Florence, Saint Peter's in Rome, and Saint Mark's in Venice.

This opulence hides the sad fact that Italy is dying spiritually. According to my missionary friend Mark, Italy is one of the more atheistic countries in Europe. And yet they have all these beautiful cathedrals. Where is the disconnect?

I'm afraid that this is where religion and spirituality begin to part company. I couldn't imagine calling the Duomo in Florence my home church. The closest thing I can relate to was riding over the Bay Bridge every morning for my daily commute into San Francisco and enjoying the view of San Francisco, Angel Island, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Marin Headlands, the bay, etc. There are so many absolutely beautiful churches there and so few people that really worship in them. Instead, they are shrines of the past when Rome was the seat of both political and religious power in the western world.

My fear is that I will someday be like one of these buildings. I never want to look good on the outside only to find that I'm empty on the inside. And I never want to look back on these days of sweet fellowship with Christ and think, "I remember when I was 32 and I was really close to the Lord. That was great..."

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Tasty Poison

Any regular reader of my musings will know that I don't wake up every morning and leap out of bed because I'm so excited to spend a day at work. However, there are a few good things about it. It is nice to get almost no-interest checking, as our CFO calls it. I'm sure I'll use that $0.25/month for something. It's nice that they match the first 3% of our contributions to our 401(K) and 50% of the next 3%. But what makes or breaks any job is the people.

I have been blessed to make what I would call some friends at the Bank. As with any office, there are some people with whom you click and some you don't. I'm glad that I know Cliff as I can almost always count on a good laugh when he regales me with stories of his father's upbringing in West Virgina or when we collectively observe the absurdity of some situation, work-related or not. And if it weren't for Cliff I'd never know about Horniblow's Tavern.

However, there is a real danger here too. Cliff and I tend to be fairly like-minded with some things that I consider to be critical to life. Specifically, neither one of us tends to be too materialistic. We both have a sense that there is something more or different that we should be doing with life and we don't seek our fulfillment through performance reviews at work. We share a love for good beer and good food. We have things in common which tend to be the basis for a friendship. So what's the problem?

The problem is that dealing with real stuff makes me keenly aware of just how unsatisfying my daily grind can be. My wife bemoans the fact that men tend to have conversations on very superficial topics like the weather or sports. Maybe we all want to avoid the reality of the situations we're in.

I certainly wouldn't want to avoid talking to Cliff. Those conversations help get me through each day and the tedium of listening to my coworkers treat server uptime like they are operating a heart-lung machine at WakeMed. But I just find that I leave thinking about where I am and where I should be. And what I realize as I write this is that this needs to drive me to my knees to ask God why I'm at the Bank, what He wants for me to do there, and how long He wants me to stay.

I'm slowly learning that if God doesn't open doors it's unwise to force them. I think I need to apply what Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians (emphasis added):

Phi 4:11-13 ESV
(11) Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.
(12) 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.
(13) I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Who Carries Your Bags?

I got this in my daily email from Insight for Leaders:

Pastoral Ministry: God is Not a Railway Porter

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, measured heaven
with a span and calculated the dust of the earth in a measure? Weighed
the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?
--Isaiah 40:12

We must be concerned with the person and character of God, not the
promises. Through promises we learn what God has willed to us, we
learn what we may claim as our heritage, we learn how we should pray.
But faith itself must rest on the character of God.

Is this difficult to see? Why are we not stressing this in our
evangelical circles? Why are we afraid to declare that people in our
churches must come to know God Himself? Why do we not tell them that
they must get beyond the point of making God a lifeboat for their
rescue or a ladder to get them out of a burning building? How can we
help our people get over the idea that God exists just to help run
their businesses or fly their airplanes?

God is not a railway porter who carries your suitcase and serves you.
God is God. He made heaven and earth. He holds the world in His hand.
He measures the dust of the earth in the balance. He spreads the sky
out like a mantle. He is the great God Almighty. He is not your
servant. He is your Father, and you are His child. He sits in heaven,
and you are on the earth. Faith Beyond Reason, 44.

"God, I fall on my face before You in worship this morning. Forgive
me for those times I have treated You as though You were my servant,
somehow expected to meet my demands. I am Your servant, Lord, and I
humbly bow before You today. Amen."

How often do we make God into some sort of cosmic Santa Claus? It's so easy to present the gospel so it's all about us. It's just natural to do things that way. But Christ came to do so much more than sell fire insurance. He came to glorify His Father in heaven. And that's why He sets us free. Yes, we can and should enjoy the abundance that comes from saving grace, but let's not fall in love with the gifts and lose sight of the giver.

I wonder how my wife would feel if I stopped loving her if she didn't get me exactly what I wanted for Christmas? Actually, I don't have to wonder too much about that one...

I hope everyone who reads this joins me in that prayer listed above. I didn't write it, but I sure do agree with it!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Keep Advancing

There is a common idea out there that those who once were bound by some enslaving activity must identify with it forever. Just about anyone who has ever watched an American sitcom has seen some parody of an AA meeting where someone says, "Hi. My name is Bob and I'm an alcoholic." and the group enthusiastically welcomes him with "HI BOB!". He then goes on to tell his story. This is supposed to have healing effects because it lets everyone know that they're not alone.

I am all for accountability. I couldn't imagine trying to live without the accountability I get from my wife, the men and women in my ministry, and the men in my small group. And now, as opposed to my attitude in the past, I care about how I come across to those around me as I realize that I am a witness to the power of Christ. If I'm not authentic, why should anyone believe the gospel? But why should I be mired in a group where I keep identifying with my past? If I'm a new creation in Christ, I don't have to say that I'm anything else.

That all being said, I love to paraphrase a part of the speech from the beginning of the movie Patton:

And there's another thing. I never want to get a message telling me that we're holding our position. We're not holding anything. Let the Hun do that. We are advancing constantly, and I'm not interested in holding onto anything except...THE ENEMY! We're gonna hold on to him by the nose, and we're gonna kick him in the ass! We're gonna kick the hell out of him all the time, and we're gonna go through him like crap through a goose!

That's how I look at life. I'm not a "recovering" anything. Let the world do that. We are advancing constantly...

I love the image of holding Satan by the nose and kicking him in the [butt].

John 8:36 - So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Thursday, March 09, 2006


My company installed some iron fences a few months back to increase security. We have a door that leads to a smoking patio and we had abused this for general entry and exit from the building. What's interesting is that there is a place where the fence meets the building and from inside the building you can't tell if the fence is intended to keep outsiders out or us in.

Since it is such a beautiful day and I had some extra time I decided to take a walk and try to digest some stuff that I've been learning from the SCF course I'm taking about the cross. Out of habit I went out the back door and was ready to hit the cheater button on the back gate only to discover that they locked the gate and removed the key that locks it. I hope we don't have a fire!

I considered walking around the other way and popping into the building to get around the fence. But just then a car started to leave. I ran to catch up to it and got out through the gates while the car left. I felt just like I had hid myself in a bag of mail.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Soup Strainers

I came across this passage today as I did my morning reading:

Matthew 23:24 - You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

The context of this is that Jesus was railing against the Pharisees, who were the religious elite of the day. According to my pastor, this type of imagery was representative of the humor of the day. The idea of swallowing a camel is of course absurd and Jesus used this as a joke. Chances are that the disciples were shocked at His strong language toward the Pharisees and also had to suppress some laughter when they heard this.

What's the big deal about a gnat? Swallowing one would make one unclean by the Mosaic Law. The Pharisees were extremely careful to keep that Law, but they were still "whitewashed tombs" as Christ called them. In other words, they looked clean on the outside, but were rotten on the inside.

How to respond to this? We in the church are great at straining out gnats. We put on our church faces and look the part. I went to church for years while harboring my secret sin and I know I'm not the only one. I was swallowing the camel while it looked like I was living a sanctified life. Obviously if we claim to follow Christ our lives should make us seem different than the world.

I also see some overreaction to this. It's possible to swing the other way and live in such a "free" way that the world would never know that we care about Jesus. I don't see how that helps either.

Somewhere there is a middle ground. Paul tells us that he was all things to all people. I know that a lot of people couldn't care less about what I have to say. But I also know that quite a few do. I pray that I would find that balance and not be seen as swallowing camels while I'm busy with the gnats.

Lap Dances for Jesus?

Through another blog I found out about this site where some former strippers have found Jesus and are doing what they can to witness to other women about Him. I poked around their site a little bit and think that their approach may be a bit soft for men to really find lasting freedom, but anything to increase awareness and to get these women to hear the gospel is a good thing.

To me, this is where real life change happens. It's not that hard to stand outside a strip club and picket. There was a site hosted by some people in Oregon who hung out near a strip club and posted photos of patrons and license plates. This of course was met with much derision by most patrons, but the point was that they were doing what they thought was best.

I don't think shame is the best way to lead people to Jesus. They know that they're doing something wrong. This is obvious based on their reactions to the photos. What people need to hear is that there is another way. They know that they only get filled for a minute, but end up empty. These girls are looking for something and haven't found it. The three women at that site have found the answer and I rejoice that they want to share the Good News with others. I'm particularly interested in this quote from an AP story about this:

But Veitch doesn't think the women should have to quit their jobs before entering a church.

"What we say to that is, 'Do we ask gluttons to stop eating too much before they come to church?' " Veitch said. "Sin is sin."

Amen, sister!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Where Do I Scan?

My company installed some new security doors going into and out of the cafeteria. This is a good thing because anyone could wander into the cafeteria from the reception area and then innocently "piggy-back" their way into the general building. They set up these doors that only let one person through at a time. If more than one person tries to go through they make an extremely unpleasant squeal and they slam shut.

Unfortunately, this photo shows the problem with leaving a small table too close to the badge reader.

I realize that I work with computers for a living. My litmus test for technology is typically the "mom" test. My mom is not particularly savvy with computers, but she usually can follow clear instructions as long as no steps get ommitted from those instructions. I don't think my mom would try to swipe her card over the table.

Compassion Jason...compassion...

Thursday, March 02, 2006

How Much Does It Matter?

I just read yet another great blog entry from the Internet Monk. I probably would call myself a "Young Earth" believer. However, I have a friend who sees the 7 days of Genesis as being like ages and would therefore jive with carbon dating, etc.

The point is, does it matter? Is my good friend any less a Christian? I don't think so. These things are interesting to discuss over some gourmet stimulant or deppressant, but I don't think they are essential truths.

Oh, how I long for a time when, as a church, we would all just want to see Christ glorified and not worry so much about whether or not we're right all the time! I spend far too much of my time worrying about being right, looking good, or just not looking stupid. Of course, I need to do what's right, but why fight battles over things that I know to be true? Why do I care if someone doesn't believe something that I know to be true? It doesn't make it any less true.

One of my pastors has a great way to put all this. Yes, we're found. But suppose we're driving around and get lost. We ask someone to show us how to get where we need to go and they graciously offer to drive to the place and let you follow. You're not any less lost, but you have someone to follow. I need to remember that's how I am in Christ.


I'm in Philadelphia this week participating in my company's disaster recovery exercise. It fascinates me to see the blend of the political and the practical in these. Some systems absolutely must come up and so we got ready for that ahead of time just to be sure.

I have somewhat enjoyed the time I got to spend with my coworkers. I don't think I would choose to spend much time with very many of them, but when compelled to spend time it hasn't been bad. We enjoyed a feast at Maggiano's on the night before the exercise started. Also, that day I walked all over Philly with someone else and we saw the Liberty Bell as well as Independence Hall. It was strange that you practically get strip-searched to see the Liberty Bell. But I digress...

Last night as we walked back to our hotel we passed some homeless people sleeping on the grates over the subway. On the same street we saw some people in a limo giggling about something. I wondered how you could get into a limo in front of homeless people sleeping on grates.

But then it struck me as I walked by in my warm jacket with my laptop bag slung over my shoulder that I have it awfully good too. And, frankly, how much do I do to fulfill the command of James 1:27? How many orphans and widows do I help in their distress? Probably not as many as I could.

What it all comes down to is that I should probably complain less about my job. I am glad for the warm place to sleep each night. God is very gracious to us. I'd better not waste that gift.