Are You Using Your Resources?

TeamThe modern workplace is a team environment. Team members might be global, but chances are wherever you are, whatever you do, there is a team structure.

No more private offices. Most workers are seated in cubicles or open work spaces organized by team. Why?

Many reasons; perhaps foremost is the synergism of teams. Everyone has weaknesses, shortcomings, things we simply don’t know, don’t know that we don’t know or things we are required to do that we are not very good at doing.

That’s where working in a cooperative team can be a blessing. At least in theory, the strengths of teammates can compensate for individual weaknesses. The team succeeds because individual members help one another.

Currently, I am watching the antithesis of this play out.

A team member is failing, not meeting metrics and not saying a word. Not knowing more than what I see, I would say this person is failing because they don’t understand the concept of team. Surrounded by people who could help, this person has forged a path alone. And they are getting lost in the weeds.

In a team, help is close at hand. Because the team succeeds or fails as a unit, it is in every member’s self-interest to be helpful. Going it alone in a team environment is a recipe for failure.

We are better together, to borrow a phrase.

Christians can learn from this office lesson. Often, we struggle wordlessly, on our own, with an issue, a sin, a problem, never once reaching out for help. That thing gradually overtakes us. And we end up in rehab, in bed, in jail, in a bar, in trouble.

That doesn’t have to happen. We have help!

  • God has given every believer His indwelling presence, the Holy Spirit, the “Comforter,” the Greek word is actually “parakletos” or paraclete, one who comes alongside to help, counsel (John 14:16)
  • God also has given us one another in “koinoinia.” That is, Christian community in fellowship with other believers, our teammates.

God never intended life to be lived solo. He declared it “not good” that man should be alone then created Eve for Adam. Jesus formed a team of 12 disciples. He sent disciples in pairs to minister in the cities ahead of Him.

Life, Christian life in particular, is meant to be lived out in community. Yes, as God’s children, we can go directly to God our Father for help. We Protestants declare the priesthood of the believer and Jesus Christ as the only mediator between God and man.

Even so, there are times when we need each other. The same Bible that teaches if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness also says: “Confess your sins to one another that you may be healed.”

If we persist in facing life’s struggles Lone Ranger-style, we set ourselves up for failure.

The first step in success is admitting when we need help then having the humility to ask for it. God has provided everything that we need pertaining to life and godliness.

Are we using the resources He’s made available?

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How grows your garden?

Begonia

This is a tale of one plant in two seasons.

The wax begonia pictured above is proof that we can’t always look at a thing and tell if it’s viable: whether it will live or die, grow or shrink, strengthen or weaken.  Some things require purposeful work and the patient passage of time before you know how it will turn out.

A year ago, my begonia was looking pretty much like you see it now. It thrived spring to fall, putting out some killer blooms. It was so lovely that I decided it should winter over in my South-facing family room. It did great for a while, purposefully placed on a stand before a wall of triple-hung, nearly floor-to-ceiling windows.

Ah, but what a difference a few weeks can make. Little by little, that plant began to whither despite the sunlight, the water and tender care. I cut back the dead blooms that were dropping all over the floor. I trimmed the dying stalks. It kept dying. I finally had enough. In a fit of frustration, I took that begonia out to the deck, determined to dump it over the side.

What had I been thinking? Better to stop wasting time with this miserable specimen. Time to let it go, buy another one come Spring. I was about the hurl it into oblivion when I hesitated. I had so loved the little plant when it was beautiful; and hadn’t my neighbor successfully kept her geraniums alive through a winter? Maybe I’d give the begonia another chance.

I proceeded to hack that plant back to a few simple stalks that looked like bent fingers, not a leaf remained and there were no blooms whatsoever. I removed the naked plant from its pot, gently, but firmly displacing most of the soil, which I discarded. I repotted in fresh, fertile soil. The plant looked pitiful, but I was hopeful. I watered it well, let it drain and placed it back in its old spot before the window.

In the weeks that followed the begonia grew a few scrawny sprigs, but nothing to brag about. Those slender stems grew fatter in time and stretched out. Leaves sprouted and fanned out. When spring temperatures finally arrived, I put the plant on the deck, where it promptly wilted and nearly died again. The intense direct sunlight was not what it needed.

I remembered that its original resting place had been the front stoop, covered and providing only partial sun. Day by day, that plant perked up. What you see before you is that same, formerly dead and dying potted plant that I nearly tossed with a cry of “good riddance.”

Our lives can be a lot like that begonia’s life cycle.

We start out in full bloom. In time, we can begin to deflower, drop leaves, dry up and become a thing worthy of the trash heap. And yet God, who Scripture compares to a gardener, keeps working with us, ever committed to cultivating our growth through all life’s seasons.

Like any good gardener, God works at bringing out the best in us. He expects results, but He isn’t in a hurry. He prunes back the life-sucking dead weight. He moves us from a spot that we may consider ideal – a job we love, a relationship we started — because He knows the light isn’t right in that place. He gives us a firm shake now and then, like the North wind blowing leaves off the oak trees in my backyard, forcing us to cast off the dirt we cling to and that clings to us.

All that God is really asking of us is that we do what my little begonia did: Submit to the work of His hands. Through the painful pruning, shaking and changing, to just abide and do what a healthy plant does naturally: bloom, bear fruit.

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:8)

 

The Great Car Debate

My teen-aged son is desperate to have his own car now that he’s a worker bee. Realistically, we parents expect him to put up his own money. He doesn’t see why we can’t “just buy” him a car.

It’s pretty simple to us. Nothing in life is free. Nobody “just bought” us cars. I got my first car courtesy of an enlisted brother-in-law whose friend was deploying to Germany and couldn’t take it with him. I got a big-engine, leather interior Cutlass Supreme with power everything for a couple hundred dollars. The rear windshield leaked. My husband got his first car, an oil-burning Vega, for a few hundred as well.

Being almost free meant, these cars weren’t expected to be in mint condition. We were happy just to be riding. Our son considers our first cars clunkers. His friends, after all, drive the coveted Mustang, BMW or Lexus or lowly but new Hondas. And so we’ve been inundated with an email stream of acceptable luxury models: Volvo 850s, SAABs, Acura. On the advice of our trusted mechanic we’ve steered clear of these high mileage potential nightmares.

Our latest suggestion – an affordable, American-made, one-owner only driven to church on Sundays by a little old lady (not exactly but close!) – has been rejected as not “stylish.”

The “Great Car Debate” continues, reminding me of something I heard a preacher say: “It is possible to be madly in love with someone you should never marry.”

Men fall in love with cars as well as women. And it’s a good thing to avoid “marrying” a lemon no matter how lovely. Automotive lemons can be detailed to look pristine even after floating through a New Orleans flood or surviving a frame-bending wreck. CarMax showrooms like to display these beautiful wrecks – the kind they pledge not to sell – and to reveal their cleverly disguised flaws.

While there are lemon laws for cars, when it comes to women, there is no legal protection for unwise choices. Whether it’s women or cars, we hope to teach our son that it’s wise to consider the end from the beginning. So what if he can swing a car payment or buy the car outright? What matters is whether he can maintain it over time: pay the insurance, make the repairs.

The Bible says, “Count the cost.” (Luke 14:28)

Just as a car’s value is under the hood, a person’s true value is revealed in character. Like a rust bucket polished into showroom brilliance, people show well when we want to make an impression. Time tells the real story. Keep a car through a few oil changes and its quirks begin to show: the leaks, the squeaks, the controls that are a little wacko. In time, people reveal their true colors, too.

The message to our son: Avoid “buyers’ remorse.” It’s what happens when we’re sold on the sparkle, the new smell and the performance. We drive home and the reality of 48, 60 or even 72 months of payments sets in. We can’t believe we bought it! Can we take it back?

This doesn’t just happen to young boys. I heard a middle-aged caller to a financial radio program confess to being mesmerized by a new car she purchased in a whirl of emotion. She later realized that she works two full weeks of every month to make the payment and barely is able to cover other bills. She was looking for a way out.

The way out, of course, is to do what she obligated herself to do: pay the price. Here’s hoping we can convince our son to first, count the cost.

Who are you gonna call?

Want to know how much you really rely on God? Here’s an easy way to find out: Where do you turn when something goes really wrong or when you’re facing something that you’d rather avoid?

Let’s say you’ve got a situation:

  1. A truly horrible boss who’s about to send you on a boondoggle to Canada for a meeting you could do virtually. Meanwhile, your real work is piling up on a project that already is overdue.
  2. An unemployed spouse who finally has a job offer… in another state. You’re more than grateful he has a real job prospect, but your support system – your lifeline – is where you currently live.
  3. Young adult children who are making unbelievably bad choices and simply are not open to advice, but they are happy to accept cash.

Could be your situation is much less dramatic:

Hey, it’s Sunday night and you are less than thrilled to be facing another Monday morning trek to a tiny cubicle where you work for a complete jerk.

Where do you go with all that angst?

  • Shopping?
  •  Phone a friend?
  •  Make an appointment with your therapist?
  •  Get a massage?
  •  Go out and get drunk?
  •  Get laid?
  •  Go into a shell and quit communicating with the people closest to you?
  •  Have just a little bit of some substance – legal or not – to get you over the hump?

Or do you get on your knees or take a long drive or take a walk in the woods — or however you choose to get alone with God – and pour out your heart to Him?

When we have burdens, troubles, things that turn our world inside out, Jesus says: “Come to me…”

Our tendency is to go everywhere else and — when all other roads become dead-ends, as they invariably do – we come to Him as a last resort.

God wants to be our initial point of contact, the very first place we bring our stuff and unload. He wants us to turn to Him and to tell Him what we are facing and to ask for some help, some guidance. No matter how terrible things may seem, God’s plan for us is that we never throw up our hands and give up. We are to keep the faith and entrust our cares to Him: “Man ought always pray and not to faint.”

Coming to Christ in prayer is our safety valve in a pressure-cooker world. It won’t make all our problems go away, but it will give us the peace and the grace to endure. And some things, beloved, just have to be endured.

“Indeed we count them blessed who endure.” James 5:11 (NKJV)

So next time you’ve got a situation, who are you gonna call? Where are you gonna go? The songwriter said, “Where Could I Go But To The Lord.”

 

Forever in Blue Jeans?

My house is filled with teenagers who ask a lot of questions. Consequently, there’s a lot of discussion around what I call “the culture wars,” modern-day controversies that clash with historic Christian teaching.

I recently edited an article for someone regarding a May 8 vote on NC Amendment 1, which would amend North Carolina’s state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. The subject came up at home. Finally able to vote in an election, one of my children stated their position. Then came the question: what do you think?

My husband and I are about to celebrate a silver wedding anniversary, telegraphing that I favor church-sanctioned marriage for a man and a woman. I view marriage as a picture of Christ and His Bride, the church. That said, I have no quarrel with civil union, which has nothing whatever to do with the church as far as I’m concerned. It merely provides legal standing regarding property rights, hospital visits as “family” and the like. I see no point in enshrining a same-sex marriage ban into the state constitution. Same sex marriage already is illegal in North Carolina.

A hail-storm of questions ensued: Is it “fair”? How can a loving God just reject people and consign them to hell because they “love” someone of the same sex?

We humans tend to accept some things as a natural part of life, of what is. We consider other things, spiritual things in particular, negotiable, open to question or outright challenge.

Quick example: My employer has a dress code. I can wear denim on Fridays only, but not all Fridays. On Fridays when special guests are on property, business attire is required. Sleeveless arms, Capri pants, sling back pumps, mules and exposed-toe shoes are taboo every day of the week.

As far as I know, no one ever has challenged the code. Acceptance of employment includes submission to the company’s dictates regarding what can and cannot be worn on site. Their property, their rules. No question.

In that way, the company gets more respect than God who provides the air we breathe. Something inside us insists on the right to challenge everything about Christianity that goes against the grain of personal preference or popular culture. I’m guilty. I have a sin nature just like everyone else on the planet. Compliance is not my first response.

On Facebook, the nation-sized online community that’s poised to go public, young and old freely post what they are thinking, reading, watching on YouTube or listening to on Ipods, Spotify, Pandora or Rhapsody. There I find a pervasive embrace of peace, love and inclusion that is devoid of biblical perspective. Historic Christianity is widely viewed, even by professing Christians, as narrow, dogmatic and intolerant of other faith systems that proclaim other ways to God, many paths to enlightenment.

Seems to me that most of us fail to grasp the real meaning of Christianity. It’s not a democratic system in which we vote on what we like, majority wins and rewrites everything to suit us. We are not running things. God is Sovereign. Christ is the Head of the Church, the body of Christ. As members of His body, we are blood-bought Company men and women, governed by our relationship with Him. He rules in love, but He does rule.

In its simplest terms, Christianity is a holy God’s offer of rescue to sinful mankind. It’s John 3:16.  He alone is God. We come to Him on His terms, His way. Dogmatic? Absolutely.  It is an offer. Like an offer of employment, we can accept or not. But once we accept, we wear His robes of righteousness. No wardrobe changes.

I encourage my children to question. My husband and I clearly do not have all the answers. The answers we do have from Scripture don’t always satisfy. Young people are much more attune to culture speak on issues of gay marriage, pluralism and so on than they are to historic church doctrine. Modern-day paganism seems so much hipper.

Still, I’m of the opinion that an unexamined faith is not much faith at all. Christianity can hold its own in the marketplace of ideas. God can handle questions. The real issue is our willingness to accept answers we don’t want to hear and then to do what we otherwise would not.

When it really matters, we can develop a willingness to conform. Today is Friday. I’ll be wearing jeans to the office. Big decision: Gap, Liz Claiborne, Calvin Klein or Levi’s?

The Fundamental Things Apply

Most of us know how to turn it on when the stakes are high and the bigwigs are watching. It may come as a shock, but Christians ought to be just as concerned about “routine faithfulness” in small tasks before an Audience of One, to borrow a phrase from today’s installment of the “Our Daily Bread” devotional guide.

Life’s routine matters, “the little foxes,” are usually what cause us to stumble. We all come off as spiritual at prayer and small group meetings. The trouble comes when we have to keep the laundry under control, the dishes washed and toilets scrubbed at home. If we hold it  together there, maybe we struggle with staying on task at work when the boss isn’t looking.

It’s understandable. Who hasn’t checked their email only to lose half an hour of prime work time?

If we aren’t intentional in this distractible culture, however, our Christian character can lose its luster under harsh scrutiny. Consider the cautionary tale of an employee whom I “met” after inheriting their company-issue computer. We never had a face-to-face encounter; it was more of a virtual introduction through the uncleared hard drive.

Through that computer, sometimes quite by accident, I learned more about the former employee than any stranger ought to know. Mostly, I learned that they spent much of their work day doing things completely unrelated to work while many detailed aspects of their paying job were neglected for years.

Musical downloads revealed their tastes in music. Their preferred Internet websites were logged in the bookmarks cache. Their spouse evidently was often job hunting judging from the number of completed employment applications left behind. (The Social Security numbers alone would have been a boon for an identity thief.)

This employee was big on “giving back” if the multiple emails and files of their charitable work can be trusted. They prized family, too, producing various party invitations in Microsoft Publisher and scanning family photos. Did I mention that this person had a reputation as a dedicated Christian who had done a “good job” in the visible aspects of the position?

I’m not sure God would agree.

Christians should be an employer’s most productive, trustworthy and dependable workers. As followers of Christ, we are called to work hard whether we are being supervised or not. We are to “work with enthusiasm, as though [we] were working for the Lord rather than for people.”(Ephesians 6) Sadly, I’ve actually heard people say that they hesitate to hire Christian people because they tend to be lazy on the job.

I’m fond of the North Carolina state motto, and I think it applies here. It’s the Latin phrase, Esse quam videri meaning “To be, rather than to seem.”

I’m committed to being a Christian rather than simply seeming to be one. If that’s your goal, and you are blessed to still be employed in this economy, don’t bother posting Scripture verses in your cubicle or inviting people to Bible study over lunch. Go to work on time. Do the very best job you can while you’re there; and be mindful to treat people well no matter how they may treat you.

That’s all the Christian witness you’ll ever need.

P.S. If you leave your job, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to clear your hard drive!

Labor Pains

It’s Labor Day in these United States. I plan to enjoy the collective day off to rest, relax, maybe barbecue or mow the grass. We laborers need a break, but I’m not sure what we have to celebrate.

Jobs are being eliminated, mine included. Some companies have cut pay or laid off workers and left the jobs vacant to save money. Workers who have found new employment don’t always have something to sing about.

A relative started a job riding the back of a sanitation truck in Russell County, Alabama. This guy has been out of work nearly two years, so he’s grateful for the work, but it sounds more like legal slavery to me.

His day starts at 6:30 a.m. on the back of a smelly, jerky garbage truck and ends whenever the route is finished. He gets no bathroom breaks, no lunch stops, no air-conditioned rides in the cab. The ice-water that’s supposed to keep the workers hydrated in the record Dixie heat, is lukewarm after only a few hours.

He’s hanging from the back of a truck 8 or more hours, lifting one rancid, maggot-infested garbage can after another. If the route’s not finished by 3:30 p.m., the crew is clocked out anyway. Some of them have been on the back of a garbage truck for 15 years… and still make the minimum wage – a whopping $7.25 an hour!

Small wonder workers staged a “sick out” this summer, complaining of faulty truck brakes, low wages and no AC in stroke-inducing temperatures. It’s also no surprise some lost their jobs for daring to speak up. It’s like Memphis 1968 all over again!

Martin Luther King Jr. went to Memphis to support black sanitation workers who were on strike for job safety, better wages and benefits, and union recognition. King was assassinated in that city while planning a march on their behalf.

Seems our respect for the American laborer is equally dead. The well-fed dump their garbage for the poor to carry away with little regard for their humanity. The office bureaucrat eliminates jobs with no concern for people’s futures or the sacrificial contributions they may have made to the company’s long-term success.

As the child of a union organizer, this maddens me. As a Christian, what troubles me most is our blatant disregard for biblical admonitions not to cheat or mistreat workers.

No matter what happens on Wall Street or how many jobs are created next quarter, the U.S. economy cannot truly prosper while we muzzle the ox that treads the corn and pervert the justice due to the working poor. Scripture is clear:  The laborer is worthy of his wages.