Category Archives: Business

Cattywampus

Psalm 32
For Sunday, March 5, 2017
First Sunday in Lent

Left untended our lives have a tendency to go cattywampus.  Psalm 32 is a Lenten invitation to get back into alignment.

dhbb202_stover9629-jpg-rend-hgtvcom-966-644

A cabin crying for restoration by the Barnwood Builders.  

One of my favorite TV shows is “Barnwood Builders”.  It’s about a group of West Virginians that restore or repurpose old log cabins like this one.  There is history, legacy, and beauty in every one of these logs, just as there is in every bone of our lives, no matter how dilapidated we may be at the present moment.

A fun part of the show is the banter that goes on among the crew .  One of the terms they’ll sometimes use, especially when trying to get log notches to align, is “cattywampus”, which means “not lined up correctly”.  They’ll say say in their wonderful West Virginian accent, “Now that beam is just all cattywampus”.  Then Sherman, the chainsaw expert of the crew, pulls out a chainsaw, shaves a piece off, and suddenly the log snaps into place the way it was intended.

Without the restoring presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives we quickly go cattywampus ourselves.  Hiding our sin only makes it worse.  “While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long” (v. 3).  Fortunately we don’t have to stay here.  “Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (v. 1).  What changed?  “I acknowledged my sin to you … ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the guilt of my sin” (v. 5).

God promises to put us back in alignment if we will only invite him into our cattywampus selves.  “I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you” (v. 8).  “Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord” (v. 10).

Once we invite him in to restore us everything changes.  “Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart” (v. 11).

‘Lent’, which we start this week, derives from the Old English word ‘len(c)ten’ which means “spring season” (1).  It’s the forty days leading up to Easter and the point is to get ourselves ready for the Resurrection of Christ.  Just as the days lengthen and the temperature warms, our souls can experience greater light and warmth by eliminating something that tends to entangle us.  I’ve decided this year to give up sweets.  This is a common one but a good one.  I need to lose weight, and too often I go to the snack cabinet when what I ought to be doing instead is going to the prayer closet.

Which verse of this Psalm most encourages you to let the Spirit re-align your cattywampus self?  What is God leading you to do to get yourself ready for the glorious joy of Easter?

(1) Wikipedia, “Lent”.

How bold should we be?

The Apostle Paul’s answer In 2 Cor. 3:7, ff. is very bold.  Paul notes that Moses’ face was radiant after meeting with God (Exodus 34).  Paul then asks, “If Moses face was radiant in carrying the message of condemnation, how much more radiant are our faces in carrying a message of freedom?”  So how bold should we be at work, at school and with friends?

Paul lays it out for us.  “Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness …  We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 3:12, 4:2).

But I’m afraid,” we say.  Wouldn’t it though be refreshing to go all in with the same love and passion for God that Paul had?  To put it bluntly, our fear is misplaced.  “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience” (2 Cor. 5:11).

All in is the very best place to be.  Paul knew it and we know it.  Let’s go.

Inheriting the good life

Sergey Brin, a rich young man who co-founded Google

Sergey Brin, a rich young man who co-founded Google

Mark 10:17-31
For Sunday, October 11, 2015
Year B, Proper 23

A  rich young man, who by virtue of being rich at a young age may well have been the 1st century equivalent of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, comes to Jesus and asks, “Good Mentor, what must I do to inherit the good life?”  The interaction which follows gives us three profound insights into the question of inheriting the good life.

Impossible to self-qualify …

The first insight into inheriting the good life is that it’s impossible to self-qualify.  Jesus’ initial response to the rich young man’s question is to respond with a question.  “Why do you call me good?  Only God is good.”  Sergey isn’t expecting this.  It unsettles him.  This is good because now his soul is open to real influence.  When we come prayerfully to the Scriptures, and put their authority over us versus under us, this is what happens.

Now that Jesus has the man’s full attention, he says, “Look, you know the answer to your own question.  You need to keep the commandments.”   The man responds, “Yes, of course, and I’ve kept all of them since my youth.”  And now comes a piercing blow: “You lack one thing.  Go, sell everything you have, and give your money to the poor.”  The man’s face falls, and he goes away crushed, for his wealth is the very foundation of his present identity.

Now, as for us, is the point that we too should sell everything we own?  No, not unless God directly asks us to.  The point is that it’s impossible to self-qualify for inheriting the good life.  None of us are so good at keeping the commandments that we’re up to God’s perfect standard of righteousness.  There will always be something each of us lacks.

… but qualification granted

The second insight into inheriting the good life is that while it’s impossible to self-qualify for it, it is possible to be granted qualification.  Jesus’ disciples were stunned and dismayed at the interaction they had just witnessed.  “So then who can be saved?”  Jesus says this:  “For mortals it’s impossible, but not for God.”  If we want to inherit the good life, we are going to need God to qualify us for it.  He offers this qualification to each of us if we will only believe that Jesus died on the cross to forgive our sins.

The guaranteed bonus

The third and final insight is this: there is a guaranteed 100-fold bonus involved for those who who choose to follow Christ.  I can tell you from personal experience that this is true.  When Heather and I went to Siberia as missionaries 22 years ago we left everything: our home, our extended families, and our jobs.  We went over there with 10 big black duffle bags.  (That was 9 bags too many as we were later to learn).  Yet what a return we received on our investment.  We literally received 100-fold in terms of God providing housing, Russian friends and family, and the profoundly significant work of restoring people be to hope and flourishing life.

So, do we want to inherit the good life?   We can’t qualify ourselves, but God can qualify us, and when he does, it comes with a 100-fold blessing for the sake of His name.  This is the business our God does best.

Your thoughts?

  • What in this did you find particularly encouraging?  Challenging?
  • Where in your own life have you seen God deliver on his 100-fold bonus in response to a decision to follow him?

Does our performance match our profession?

The parable of the talents, as depicted in a 1712 woodcut. The lazy servant searches for his buried talent, while the two other servants present their earnings to their master.

The parable of the talents, as depicted in a 1712 woodcut. The lazy servant searches for his buried talent, while the two other servants present their earnings to their master (1).

Matthew 25:14-30
For Sunday, Nov. 16, 2014
23rd Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 28)

For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away (Matt. 25:29).”  

The parable of the talents is well known.  A contemporary outline might go like this.  There were three employees at an investment firm.  The owner is about to go on a summer hiatus.  He gives the first employee, an “A player”, $500,000; the second, a “B” player, $200,000, and the third, a “C” player, $100,00.  He asks them to steward these funds responsibly.  When the owner returns in the fall, he calls the three employees into his office to report on their work.  The “A” player reports back with $1 million, a 100% return on investment.  The owner is very pleased.  The “B” player reports back with $600,000, also a 100% return on investment.  The owner is very pleased again.  The third employee reports back with the same $100,000 he was given.  The owner is not at all pleased.  This third employee has done nothing – not even depositing the money in a savings account to earn minimal interest.  The owner takes the $100,000 from this third employee, who is fired on the spot, and gives it to his “A” player.

So what’s the point of the story.  I love how R.T. France puts it:

What ultimately condemned this disciple, and made him unready to meet his Lord at the parousia, was the fact that he had proved to be “useless” for the kingdom of heaven. Like the man ejected from the wedding feast in 22:13, his performance had not matched his profession (emphasis mine), and it is only those who “do the will of my Father who is in heaven” (12:50) who ultimately belong to his kingdom (2).

Does my performance match my profession?  I profess to be an ambassador of the kingdom of heaven, carrying the best news that anyone could ever here, that there is a God who created them, understands them, and offers them forgiveness and a new life.  He commissioned me to advance this message before he ascended to heaven.  He’s coming back and he’s going to ask me what I did with my commission.  Will I be one who acts with “entrepreneurial boldness” (R.T. France again) or one who buries what I have in the ground?

My performance does not match my profession to the extent that it should.  I waste way too much time watching television.  I commit to things that I shouldn’t and fail to follow through on things that I should.  My performance in private and with my family needs improvement.  The good news is that I have already made some good investments privately and publicly and I’m empowered by the Holy Spirit to continue in these.  I’m going to enjoy making some course adjustments today and pursuing the fantastic calling given to me.

How about you?  When you look at your own performance, where are you doing well?  Where do you need to do better?  Please share your comments below.

Points to ponder:

  • What have I done this week to fulfill the mandates of my calling?
  • Do I even know what my calling is?
  • If not, what commitment will I make to discern it?

Suggested resources:

(1)  "Parable of talents" by Unknown - A Woodcut from Historiae celebriores Veteris Testamenti Iconibus representatae, taken from http://www.textweek.com/art/parables.htm. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Parable_of_talents.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Parable_of_talents.jpg

(2)  France, R.T. (2007-07-27). The Gospel of Matthew (New International Commentary on the New Testament) (pp. 956-957). Eerdmans Publishing Co - A. Kindle Edition.

why are we settling for this?

Gauguin, "Swineherd", Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Gauguin, “Swineherd”, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Matthew 5:13-20
For Sunday, February 9, 2014
Fifth Sunday After The Ephiphany

You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.”  (Matt. 5:14)  I may be alone in this, but too often I’m not seeing it and not feeling it.  Instead, what I see and feel is more like, “You are a subculture of Bible thumpers that no one really likes or wants to be around.”

One book that does a good job of seeking to understand this is UnChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons.  The book argues that we’ve earned the perception that we’re judgmental, anti-homosexual, and hypocritical because we’ve been too much like the Pharisees and too little like Jesus.  What we need to do is get into the world and love those that are in it.  I agree (which by the way is why this blog is entitled “Church in the World“).

The reality of the gospel is that we are the light of the world.  So how do we go about being this and enjoying it?  Jesus tells us: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

A good friend of mine told me this week about the challenge he’s facing at his office.  His boss is laser focused on production.  You don’t produce, you’re out.  One colleague returned to his desk recently to find a piece of paper on his desk indicating just this.  He was shocked and so was the rest of the office.  They all work under great stress and fear as a result.   My friend said, “I’ve talked to my boss.  I told him that if he really wants to be an effective leader he needs Jesus.”

On the one hand I admired my friends courage.  He was willing to put his faith on the line.  He witnessed to his boss.  That’s what we’re supposed to do, right?  One problem: it’s not what Jesus had in mind in Matthew 5.  Jesus said, “that they may see your good deeds, not “that they may hear your good words.”

What if we led with our deeds rather than our words?  This is the approach Jesus himself used so often.  Another book I really like, Mike Metzger’s Sequencing, provides a practical and powerful way for us to do this.  Metzger suggests that the Christian story – Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration – can be distilled into four simple words: ought, is, can, will.

What if my friend in the oppressive office, instead of leading with an invitation for his boss to follow Christ started a conversation with his colleagues about what kind of place his office ought to be.  Certainly it ought to be a place that is profitable.  This is where his boss is strong. Yet it also ought to be a place where people feel safe, where they can grow, and where they want to come to work.   The conversation could then move to why this isn’t the case presently.  It could then move to what could be done to change it, and what would result if those changes were implemented. I challenged my friend, “Why are you settling for this?  You know that your office could be both more profitable, which is what your boss wants, and more inviting, which is what everyone wants.”

The reason the gospel is so powerful is that it aligns us with reality and allows us to move forward in a way that restores everything around us, not only spiritually, but also materially and emotionally.  Why do we fail so often to recognize this and why are we so ill equipped to live this out?  I think it’s because we’ve allowed our secular culture to compartmentalize our faith.  We’ve lost hope that the authentic community we experience on Sunday mornings can be replicated at the office Monday through Friday much less at home over the course of the entire week.

Why are we settling for this?   May our light shine before everyone  around us such that they see our good deeds and come to praise our Father in heaven along with us.

preserve this our city

"Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel", Duccio, di Buoninsegna, -1319?, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

“Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel”,
Duccio, di Buoninsegna, -1319?, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Matthew 1:18-25 (Isaiah 7)
For Sunday, December 22, 2013
Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A

I was fascinated to learn this week about Duccio’s “Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekial” (pictured above).  It’s a story that spans from the National Gallery of Art in present day Washington, D.C. all the way back to 14th century Tuscany, Italy, and the city state of Siena.

Duccio di Buoninsegna (say that three times fast) was a prominent Sienese artist with a reputation that extended as far as Paris.  His Siena studio received a commission from the government of Siena to create a magnificent altarpiece called the Maesta, that would serve as a crown jewel of the already famous and beautiful Cathedral of Siena.  The idea was to raise the profile of Siena, and it’s allegiance with the Roman Emperor, as against that of it’s archival Florence, which was allied with the Pope (1).

The Maesta (“The Majesty”) was intended to celebrate the majesty of God as revealed in the coming of Immanuel (Messiah as “God with Us”).   It was a stunningly beautiful free-standing sculpture 7′ high by 13′ wide consisting of many images.  The theme on the front was Mary’s role in Jesus’ birth while the theme on the back was the life of Christ.  The work en toto was the 13th Century equivalent of a modern cinematic blockbuster.  If you had the good fortune of walking into the glorious Cathedral of Siena, and then walking up to the alter to take communion in front of this even more glorious Maesta, it would be an experience of a lifetime.

Across the front of the base of the Maesta was a predalla, a horizontal band of narrative scenes.  Front and center on the predella was “The Nativity’.  It’s only 18″ tall and 34” wide, but it was the invitation to enter into the majesty of the larger work.  When you approached the Maesta this is where your eyes would go first.  Then you would be drawn into the majesty of the entire narrative until finally eyes moved above Mary’s own ascension into heaven and you were forced to contemplate your own mortality in light of eternity.  Mind altering, to be sure.

Duccio flanks the nativity scene itself with the Prophet Isaiah on the left and the Prophet Ezekiel on the right.  Each is holding a scroll.  On Isaiah’s scroll is written ‘ECCE VIRGO CONCIPIET & PARIET FILIU & VOCABITUR NOMEN EIUS EMANUEL’, Latin for “Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Immanuel” (from Isaiah 7:14).   Right… , that certainly makes good sense.

On Ezekiel’s scroll, however, is inscribed  ‘VIDI PORTA I DOMO DOM CLAUSA VIR NO TRSIBIT P[ER] EA DOMIN SOLUS ITRAT ET IT P[ER] EA[M]’, for “I saw a door in the house of the Lord which was closed and no man went through it. The Lord only enters and goes through it” (Ezekial 44:2).   Wow, not the Ezekiel verse I expected.   Yet this was always the citation from Ezekiel that resonated with the Sienese, because for them, “the door” was Mary, and if it wasn’t for her, Immanuel could never have come into the world (2).

The Maesta was installed in the cathedral of Siena on June 9, 1311.  Here is how one participant described the event:

And on that day when it was brought into the cathedral, all workshops remained closed, and the bishop commanded a great host of devoted priests and monks to file past in solemn procession. This was accompanied by all the high officers of the Commune and by all the people; all honorable citizens of Siena surrounded said panel with candles held in their hands, and women and children followed humbly behind. They accompanied the panel amidst the glorious pealing of bells after a solemn procession on the Piazza del Campo into the very cathedral; and all this out of reverence for the costly panel… The poor received many alms, and we prayed to the Holy Mother of God, our patron saint, that she might in her infinite mercy preserve this our city of Siena from every misfortune, traitor or enemy.

Wow!  After reading that I need to see “The Nativity” in the National Gallery of Art in D.C.  And I need to see the parts of the Maesta that remain in Siena as well as the Cathedral itself.  What an incredible story God weaves over time and through nations.  Wouldn’t it be amazing to organize some Christian Worldview culture vulture trips for amazed people  such as us?

I love the last part of the description above.  “The poor received many alms, and we prayed to our patron Saint that she might in her infinite mercy preserve this our city of Siena from every misfortune, traitor, or enemy.”  My prayer today for the poor among us, for you and me, for our families, for our churches, for our cities, for our countries, and for our world is that God might do likewise for us.

Merry Christmas.

finding what moves you

harley 110th

A reflection on the Harley 110th
For Sunday, Sept 8th, 2013

Harley Davidson, one of our cities icons, celebrated it’s 110th anniversary last weekend.  Riders came from around the world.  The other day I pulled up behind a group of Canadian riders.  I asked, “So you are from Canada?”  They responded, “Well, actually, we’re South African, but living in Dubai, and we rode here with this group of Canadians from Seattle.”

Why are so many people so passionate about Harley Davidson?  Harley tries to capture it on their website with the phrase “find what moves you.”  Being on the bike is an opportunity to enjoy the moment, to connect with what revs your soul, and to do this with others who are experiencing the same.  My wife Heather and I were riding home yesterday afternoon alongside just one other bike.  As we roared up a hill on Highway 164 our two V-Twins sang in joyful harmony.   That rumble moves me.

As passionate as I am about riding Harley there is something I’m more passionate about – most passionate about – that I want to share with my fellow riders on the human journey.   It is my commitment to being a follower of Christ.  Why?  Following makes my heart sing just as those V-Twin were singing up the hill yesterday.  In him I can acknowledge what I really am – a profoundly flawed human being – yet at the same time know that I’m now forgiven and free to be the person I was intended to be from the beginning.

Contemporary secular culture gives Christianity a cold shoulder.   Christians are commonly portrayed as narrow minded, judgmental, and hypocritical.  Unfortunately, some of this is accurate.  Yet ironically the heart of Christianity is not judgment, but redemption.  As the Gospel of John says, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world should be saved (i.e. redeemed) through him” (John 3:17).  

If you know me personally, and any of this raises even an inkling in your heart, could we sit down together and talk it through?  No pressure, no judgment, just a chance to step back together and ask, “Hey, what really does move me, what ought to move me, and why?”  We may come away from the conversation with different answers.  I’m okay with that.  But let’s at least enjoy a conversation.  If you don’t know me, I’d be happy to correspond by email. Or there is probably someone in your circle of influence that would be safe to approach.

Life is too rich to miss finding what moves us from deep in our souls.   Peace and joy to each of you in the rumble.