Monday, April 28, 2008

Be O.K.

It's amazing how quickly I become spoiled. When that which I think is exceptional becomes part of my every day occurrence, I get to expect it. This is true in relationships, in employees, and in my church. I am very blessed to go to a church that not only challenges me and excites me on a regular basis, but where I have a community of people who support me and love me even when there's not a lot to love. There was a time in my life where these things were ideals rather than practices. Now that they are just a part of my week, its easy to take them for granted.

The shocking reminder of how blessed I am occurs any time I visit another group of people gathering to worship God. Sometimes the reminder comes from joining a similar group and recognizing how blessed they feel to be a part of the community, and it reminds me that I'm so blessed to get to experience the same thing. Other times the reminder comes from visiting a group that's noteworthy for their contrast. In these circumstances, I'm astonished by how a group of seeming strangers get together for the practice of church without ever experiencing community.

While experiencing the latter recently, I was struck by the dearth of substance to the message from the pulpit. Its not that the message was bad, it wasn't. But if I had to summarize what the message was saying it was basically "be o.k". Compare this to the 5-week series on eternal life that I just heard, and its hard not realize the disparity. Sure - being ok is a good ideal - and letting go of things that prevent us from experiencing God's majesty is also good. But just being o.k. is settling for the most basic premise of the Christian life. Additionally being o.k. is great - if by that you mean letting go of sin and that which prompts sinful behavior. However, in this life, there's always going to be pain, trials, and circumstances that challenge us. Being confidence in God's faithfulness goes a long way in navigating these circumstances with an eternal perspective, but its never going to make the injustices of this world seem right.

There is a lot of things that are comforting about being a Christian. However, being a Christian is never settling for comfort and becoming complacent. Just being o.k. is doing a disservice to the Gospel, to ourselves, to the Cross and to our Savior. It mocks His sacrifice and causes us to miss the joy and strength that comes from digging deeper and investing more.

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Friday, April 25, 2008


You can have this whole world, but give me Jesus - lyrics from a song, author unfound

Being self-sufficient is a much sought after trait these days. Relationships fail, jobs end, parents divorce, and money runs out. Having our own accomplishments, our own trophies that we can point to give us a sense of pride and a confidence that whatever the world may throw at us we can handle it. We like to know that when all else fails, we can count on ourselves.

As encouraging as this awareness might be, its also wholly false. If we're honest with ourselves, we know that we are the most frequent culprit of disappointed expectations. We're never as good, or as nice, or as smart as we want to be. We all have our "D'oh!" Homer Simpson moments. Hopefully these moments are more about finding our remote control in the refrigerator than causing a rift in a relationship, but we all probably have plenty of both to fill a book. Being self-sufficient may seem like a nice ideal, but its an illusion.

Our accomplishments, our work, our achieved goals can no more be counted on during tough times to sustain us, than they could ensure that we would have continued success. When this is all stripped away, when our pride no longer can puff us up to such a degree that we walk on water all our own, what is left to depend on?

For the Christian, then answer is Jesus. And as often as we turn to Him when things are tough, the challenge is to have the same kind of reliance when things are good. While we are accomplishing those goals, reaching those dreams, and loving our relationships, do we daily sacrifice all of it to Him and acknowledge that even if everything is stripped away, we have all we need, because we have Him?

Jonah had to go to the bottom of the whale to learn this truth and even then the lesson didn't stick. May we learn it while we are still atop dry land.

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Links in a Chain

I have one of the coolest jobs in the world. As the marketing director for a jewelry design and manufacturing company, I get the opportunity to be surrounding by sparkly things all day. It's pretty much a girl's dream job and because we make the jewelry here in the States, I not only get to understand the design concept, but get to see that concept translated into reality.

When people come to visit our factory, one of the things that I like to tell them is that no one realizes how complicated a piece of jewelry really is. Even a simple pendant has at least a half dozen components that go into creating it. All of these details have to be thought through in order to execute the design fully. Otherwise the strength of the design, and the strength of the product, would be compromised.

The amazing thing about all those components is that you have to have each of them for the product to be saleable. You can't fudge on one and expect to still have a pendant that someone could actually wear. Every jumpring, every casting, every link is important.

In her book "God Gave Us A Valley", Helen Roseveare writes about her experience returning to the Congo after rebellion had destroyed the land. Originally trained as a medical missionary, her return trip was primarily spent building a medical school where she found herself much more of an administrator than a doctor. Questioning the value of the years that were spent building the school and her own life calling as a missionary she was reminded that her latter work might not have involved a lot of personal evangelistic efforts, but that through her work multitudes of others had been trained and executed that call. "Not every one can be the last link in the chain" she was told. Sometimes our efforts have to be built upon others before the Designer's final masterpiece is complete. Being the middle link may not be as flashy as being the last, but they are all necessary.

As someone who feels that she rarely takes the opportunity to directly share about her faith, this brings me comfort. As someone who is involved in training the next generation to be witnesses of Christ's love in business, this brings me joy. For every Christian, it should bring confidence that all the work that we do on our Father's behalf is used for His purposes and therefore is valued and important.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Beautiful Body

Recently I've been struck by the privilege that it is to be part of the body of Christ. This isn't a new revelation as anyone who is a Christian realizes that being called by Christ and having a relationship with Him, while not easy, is always worth it. However, while a relationship with God and His glorification on Earth are the primary purposes of being a Christian, there is another comfort that is less-often acknowledged. When we choose to follow Christ and to take up our cross and serve Him, we become a part of a community of people who share a common purpose. Just like people join organizations or sports teams for the thrill of joining together to achieve something, being a Christian means that you immediately join a team that has already accomplished much for His kingdom. Just like a sports team, it means you all the sudden have a group of people who are there to cheer you on, and to wish you the best in the accomplishment of your common endeavor. Additionally, you know that there are other people working alongside you in pursuit of the same goal. This team, this family that you are now a part of has an advantage that Earthly groups don't. Followers of Christ know that despite distance and lapse of time, they will always see each other again. Even when they don't know how the other members are doing, they know that other work is being undertaken to provide praise to our Father. It's what enables us to immediately get real with one another; to relate without pretense, to pray with out specifics, and to love without obligation. Our common position as servants of Christ bind us together like nothing else can.

And this is pure beauty.


Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Gamble

On a recent trip to Las Vegas to visit some friends, we walked through the casinos. It amazes me every time I'm there to see the commitment that people maintain to their game. I think its more amazing because its my understanding that some of these individuals can remain committed to little else. After all, Las Vegas isn't exactly known for its reputation of promoting long-term relationships.

Every individual who is sitting at a table (or at a machine as the case may be) is making a wager that through the random distribution of cards (and in poker, their own strategic intelligence) they will be able to win more money than that which they bet. It's a wager that few win. After all, there's a reason the buildings in Las Vegas are so big and bright and its not because the house has a tendency to lose. Its a gamble that has caused much destruction as people have wagered their lives to vie for its fulfillment.

There is another wager that's happening on a regular basis. It's the gamble that people take when they choose to acknowledge that they know about God and yet they are not sure whether they want to follow Him. Along with countless hours at the table, its a proposition that I don't completely understand. I believe wholeheartedly that God reveals Himself who those who seek Him, but there are those who, while acknowledging His presence refuse to obey His precepts. The admitted Creator of the world is pursuing a relationship with them, and they are rebuffing His attempts.

The gambling industry in Las Vegas causes the lost of money, of time, of marriages, and at the extreme, of life. With God, the wager is your soul. Is the ability to feel like you're living life you're own way really worth that bet?


The Evils of Marketing

In business, there is often good-natured teasing between the disciplines. The division of power not only ensures fulfillment of all the responsibilities, but it creates barriers between those who spend the money and those who count the money. This tension is beneficial and if parlayed correctly helps ensure that the organization is properly run. Recognizing this doesn't eliminate the tension but it does make it more hilarious.

What's true in the confines of an organization often gets carried over to the classroom, and my students have repeatedly heard about the evils of marketing, mostly from those who participate in other business disciplines. While this is understandable, some of the jokes may have had an unintended effect. They cause those who feel called to a career in marketing to question the validity of their chosen path. As an individual who has spent her adult life in this field, this makes me sad. Sure, marketing can be used for less-than-commendable purposes, but so can any discipline (Enron, anyone?). The marketer's job isn't to convince people to buy something they don't know, it's to communicate to the organization's audience on its behalf. It's the responsible marketer who listens to the customer, discovers their needs, and creates products or services that meet those needs. It's not about need creation, it's about need fulfillment.

And while some may see this as evil, there's also a part of me that wants acknowledgment for all the good that happens as a result - all of the innovation, and new product creation, and communication that helps customers understand what they're purchasing and why. There are times when the good gets lost in the clutter - often as a result of the marketers' own actions, but that doesn't mean the good doesn't exist. Just like how the media spokespeople for Christianity can be some of the worse representations of my faith, those who often get notoriety for their marketing exploits, aren't the ones who really represent its significance.

The battle between disciplines is one that I've verbally chosen to stay out of. After all, I appreciate those individuals who count the money, sell the product, or ensure that my HR benefits are maintained. But for all my students who question whether the field they've chosen is good, this blog's for you.

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Changed and Commissioned

Teaching college students is one of the greatest joys of my life. It combines two things that get me excited - business principles and helping others. Although it may be strange to think that business principles can get one excited they truly do. Its just one of my many quirks.

Along with teaching though, there comes the time that the students will inevitably leave. This isn't a time I look forward to although it is a time that's filled with mixed emotions. You're proud of what they've accomplished and yet sad that you will in all likelihood never see them again this side of heaven. At the same time, many students approach their date of graduation, a day that they've been preparing for the past four years, with trepidation. Many don't know what they'll do at the time of their departure and they are looking for some sort of plan.

My hope for all my students, regardless of the plans that they've established for themselves, is that they've used their time during their college careers to get know their Father better, to deepen their relationship with Him, to make a commitment that they'll be used by Him "any way, any time, any place." In other words, its not only their increase in business knowledge that I hope has changed them, I hope that their hearts have been changed as well.

The amazing thing is that immediately upon being changed, we have a commission. Christians do not have to wonder what their purpose in life is; God has made it abundantly clear that all of creation was instigated for His glory. We may feel that we don't know which path to tread, but in truth, we always know what we are to do. We are to do that which brings our Father honor, praise, and adoration - from our own lives and the lives of others.

What is true for my students, is true in each life that has been made a new creation by the work of the Spirit. Being changed by God precipitates a commission. Our job is to be committed to fulfilling it.


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Lessons of the Cross

One of the great things about being a teacher is that you are not required to come up with any new ideas. Unlike an inventor who must break the mold of conventional thought, a teacher appropriates wisdom for where it can be found and shares it with their audience in a way that hopefully speaks to them where they live. Most of what I write here is not original to me. It's lessons I've learned from others, reformatted to hopefully share the same truth in a different light.

I write all this as a disclaimer because what I'm about to share is the result of listening to someone else. In a recent sermon the pastor of our young adults ministry shared that if you want to learn about Christ, look to the Cross. The Cross is a practical example of every aspect of Christ's character; His love, His justice, His mercy, and His grace are all on display at the Cross. The pureness of His holiness and its complete incompatibility with our sin is conclusively related on the Cross. Our equality before God as sinners is shown in the fact that one payment was made for all. God's receptivity to prayer, His completeness forgiveness for those that call Him Lord and Savior, and His abolition of the legal requirements for salvation are all shown through His sacrificial death on the Cross.

And so when we say that our job as Christians is to "take up the Cross" maybe we shouldn't think of it as just an obligation to bear the burdens of persecution and the perceived inconvenience of living to God's standards and not our own. Maybe we should see it as a call to display all these attributes of Christ, wherever we go.

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Monday, April 7, 2008

Weather or Not

During most of the conversations that I have with my grandparents, eventually we'll get around to talking about the weather. This makes sense as my grandfather is a farmer. Although he has sold most of his land and his garden gets smaller every year, he grew up knowing that the elements would determine his family's wealth for that year. The proper amounts of rain and sunshine were required for their crops to flourish. This reliance on the weather was ingrained into him and so even now, all these years later, the outlook for the coming days is of utmost importance.
It seems to me that the same should be true for Christians. The One that we depend upon should be a regular part of our conversation because we know that our future is mediated on His grace. We tend to strive to be intentional about the sharing of our faith and as someone who is one of the world's most reluctant evangelists, I understand this focus. But I think our dependency should be evident even without a specific evangelistic outreach. After all, just like my grandfather can't help but talk about the weather, I should not be able to relate my life experiences without acknowledging Him who makes my life possible. The proper acknowledgment of His love and His justice is just as important for growth in my life as precipitation and sunshine are necessary for the fields. It shouldn't matter whether or not I'm trying to "tell someone about Christ"; Christ's influence in my life should be so central that my life story is His.

Long after my grandfather ceases to farm a thing, I can almost guarantee that the weather will be a primary topic of conversation. I hope that when I reach that age, the subject on my lips has also not changed.

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Better Things Ahead: April 2008

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Better Things Ahead