Monthly Archives: September 2015

Enlarge Your Tent

Both Pope Francis and the Prophet Isaiah share a common theme that we should enlarge the tents of our lives and work.  “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.” (Isaiah 54:2)

Whether as individuals or as a group, we tend to get comfortable with familiar people, familiar friends, familiar routines, familiar work, and even familiar forms of outreach.  Francis and Isaiah encourage us not to fall into the bed of comfort and familiarity, but rather to move the walls of our tents to include people who are not a part of our normal social patterns, people who may not necessarily share our background, beliefs and values.

I have been involved in various forms of Christian ministry for a good part of my adult life.  Much of it has been peer related – young people when I was young; business people when I was in business; people who were part of my social patterns at the time.

Last year I started volunteering in a local jail ministry.  It has challenged me.  I am not comfortable and feel like I am out of my element.  I don’t see much fruit so far, but I believe God wants me to continue.   God calls us to faithfulness, often without the benefit of a report card or feedback.  It is our presence and love that he wants regardless of what we perceive the outcome to be.

Enlarging our tents can also include how we relate to one another — family, friends and strangers.  Pope Francis encouraged us to engage in “little gestures” of love.  He cited examples for the family. “They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion,” he said.  “Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early breakfast awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work…a blessing before we go to bed.”  “Love is shown by little things,” said Francis.

On Christians in Commerce retreats when we pray with men to experience the Holy Spirit more fully in their lives, we often hear about their desire to love more.  Loving more starts with “little gestures” of love.  As the King said in the Parable of the Talents, “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” (Mt. 25:21)

Loving more starts with the little things every day.  As loving in the little things becomes a habit, God increases our capacity to love and sacrifice in the larger things.  A habit of love in the little things will open the door to people familiar and unfamiliar, and enlarge our tents. 

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Exercises for the Heart

Pick up any health magazine and you will likely see an article about the importance of exercise, diet and eliminating stress to maintain a healthy physical heart.  But what about our other heart – the non-physical one that the Bible talks about so much?

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”   The abridged concordance at the back of my NIV Bible shows 75 references to the use of the word “heart.”  None of them seem to be talking about the physical organ that is the center piece of our circulatory system.  The following are just a few examples:

  • “Serve the Lord your God with all your heart” (Dt. 10:12)
  • “Trust in the Lord with all your heart” (Proverbs 3:5)
  • “Love the Lord God with all your heart” (Matthew 23:32)
  • “A cheerful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22)
  • “Where your treasure is there is your heart” (Matthew: 6:21)

Some of these verses come from texts that go back more than 3000 years.  None of them are referring to our physical heart.  All of them seem to be searching for a way to express that mysterious interior part of our existence that determines who we really are – our attitudes, our propensity to love or be selfish; our inclination toward joy or depression; our motivation, courage and thirst for life; the source for many of our daily choices. 

Since we can’t physically see or touch these non-physical aspects of our existence we use words like heart, soul, spirit, and inner self to describe them.  Although separate from our physical being, they take up residence there.  If our physical being is destroyed, God promises that our heart, soul and spirit live on.  That’s why St. Paul says our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. (1 Co. 6:19)

Since our non-physical heart is so instrumental to all of our overall existence, are we treating it with the same care as our physical heart?  What are we feeding this “other heart?”  How are we exercising it? Is our diet primarily one of pop culture that includes mostly R and X rated movies, comedians that love to use four letter words, busyness that leaves no time for daily prayer, the reading of God’s word or the serving of someone other than our self?

Fill this “wellspring of life” with: a dedicated and exclusive time of talking with and listening to God each day; reading the Bible and other spiritual books; serving a spouse, child, colleague or friend; seeking God’s will in all things; and this other heart will be sufficiently nourished and exercised to realize Jesus’ promise in the sixth Beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8)

Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”  (John 4:34) May we nourish our other heart with similar food.   

Where Do You Look for Meaning and Purpose?

When Mary Magdalene and the other women went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body after his crucifixion they encountered two men described by Luke as angels who asked, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5)

To their astonishment, these men told them that Jesus was alive!  He was not dead, though he had been put to death on the cross.  How incredulous the whole scene must have appeared to them.  Two days earlier, they saw him die and taken down from the cross.  They saw his dead body embraced by his mother as she wept.  They saw his body placed in the tomb.   How could he be alive?

Our God is the author and creator of life.  He is not confined by the boundaries of our perceptions. 

How often do we look for the living among the dead?  How often do we search for Jesus where he is not present?   How often do we look for real meaning, purpose or happiness in life where they are not to be found – in that next job, promotion or the ever-changing notion of success; in a particular friend, group of friends or organization; in a sports team, sports hero or celebrity entertainer; in that new house, boat or car; in breaking 80 in golf, achieving a perfect 300 game in bowling or completing a full marathon in record time; in food, alcohol, drugs or other unique experience?

I know a friend who was looking for meaning and purpose in life and tried all kinds of things, even traveling to the Himalayas in India, searching for the “Living Master.”  He did not find him.  Only later, after attending a weekend retreat in his hometown conducted by a Christian outreach to the business community, Christians in Commerce, did he find the true living master, Jesus, the Messiah.  This friend found that Jesus had been waiting for him all along.  “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20)

Jesus became alive and present to my friend, providing the meaning and purpose he had long sought.  Ever since, he has been operating a construction business, bringing God’s presence to his employees, customers and community in how he relates to others, does business with integrity and seeks excellence in all that he does.

Where do you look for Jesus – among the living or the dead?  He is present to you this very moment. 

Opportunists for God

Do we look for opportunities to build God’s kingdom in the daily moments of our lives?  In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul says, “Be very careful, then, how you live – making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Eph. 5:15-16)  He goes on to say that we need to understand what the Lord’s will is in every situation.

Surely our day, with beheadings in the Middle East, the disregard for human life in the sale of aborted baby body parts, and the random shootings in schools, theaters and churches, is no less evil than what Paul saw in his day.  Nor is our need to seize opportunities to serve God and build his kingdom any less. 

The key, Paul says, is to be wise and understand God’s will.  This requires a mindset always to be asking what his will in every situation is, particularly with the people in our lives — family, work colleagues, friends and strangers.

These opportunities are often unexpected.  Once I was at lunch with a work colleague who started to share how he was estranged from his wife.  He was feeling bad for some things he had done and was angry over her response.  I just listened as he uncharacteristically shared his emotion over the crisis in their relationship.  Though we were in a public restaurant with other patrons close by, I reached across the table, took hold of his arm and prayed that God would give him the courage and grace to reach out to his wife, and that they would both open their hearts to forgiveness and reconciliation.

While I never learned the details, they did subsequently reconcile.  In reflecting on the moment, I believe God’s grace prompted me to say the prayer and use it to soften hearts and bring an end to this estrangement.

When someone expresses a need or lets us know that they are hurting, alarm bells should go off alerting us to an opportunity to be and bring God’s presence into the situation.  As Paul suggests, our first reaction should be to understand God’s will. “What do you want me to do and say, Lord?”

Jesus encouraged us to “let your light shine before men.” (Mt. 5:16)  He seized countless opportunities to heal a cripple, give sight to the blind, expel a demon, open the ears of the deaf and even raise the dead to demonstrate that the kingdom of God was at hand.

The Book of Acts reports that Peter and John did not pass by a crippled beggar as they entered the temple, but similarly seized the opportunity to demonstrate that the kingdom of God was at hand by commanding the beggar to stand and walk.

Are we recognizing the opportunities God places before us each day to be and bring his presence to the people and circumstances of our lives?

Overcoming Workplace Violence with Forgiveness in Christ

Last week Vester Flanagan killed TV reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward in Roanoke, Virginia, because he was angry with their employer, TV station WDBJ, for having previously fired him. He was fired because he could not control his anger against other employees involving alleged racial slurs. His allegations appeared to be more imagined than real when his discrimination lawsuit was dismissed by a Virginia state court.

Anger is one of Satan’s most favorite tools in stirring up conflict in ourselves and others. Pride is the source of most anger because we become angry when our ego is offended or when we think we are being disrespected and treated unjustly.

The antidote for anger is forgiveness of the offending party, which may be difficult for us without God’s grace available to us through Jesus Christ.

Jesus had a lot to say about forgiveness. It was one of the petitions he gave us in the Lord’s Prayer, and the only one he went on to explain that if we can’t forgive others of their sins against us, God will not forgive our sins. (Mt. 6:14-15) When Peter asked how many times he should forgive a brother who sins against him and suggested seven times, Jesus responded, “seventy times seven.” (Mt. 18:21) And, how can we forget Jesus’ words of forgiveness from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

In Hope for the Workplace-Christ in You, there is a story about workplace forgiveness that illustrates Jesus’ words. Bill taught high school business classes for fifteen years. He then earned a master’s degree that qualified him to move into counseling. He initiated an application for a $250,000 grant for his school district which enabled the district to hire four vocational counselors. Bill was able to both counsel students and administer the grant.

Then there was a change of administrations and Bill was moved back into the kind of teaching job he had previously.   Bill said, “My boss told me there was an emergency vacancy in another school, and because of a hiring freeze I had to take the job. It was clear to me, however, that my new boss wanted his own person in the position I was holding.”

“Needless to say, I was angry,” Bill said. “I felt the change was unjust, and found myself blaming my boss. Many told me that I should have been given his position when the change in administration took place. For nearly six months I was preoccupied with anger and resentment. It affected my attitude and performance. My ego got a hold of me. ‘You’re better than that,’ I told myself. You’re not being treated fairly.’”

At this point, Bill’s anger and resentment could have continued to grow into an angry confrontation, but he heard a teaching on forgiveness at a meeting of Christians in Commerce that said, “As a result of forgiveness, everyone is set free. The wrongdoer is released from obligation, guilt and shame. The victim is released from indignation, anger and bitterness. And the Lord releases more of himself.”

Bill said, “This really hit me; it was a turning point for me. I prayed for the strength to forgive and let go of my anger, and my prayers were answered. Almost immediately, I had a new outlook and peace of mind. The Lord gave me the grace to forgive and truly let go of my anger and frustration. My life was changed.”

“A year later I went back into counseling in the same area I had been previously. I kept the same boss for the next fifteen years and we enjoyed a relationship of mutual respect. I thank God for blessing me with a wonderful career of teaching high school and middle school students for many years, and I thank him for freeing me from a time of anger and resentment that could have distracted me from the calling he had for me.”

The difference between Bill’s story and Vester Flanagan’s is that Bill sought God’s grace to forgive and Vester did not. The workplace is full of opportunities for offense, hurt and injustice. Through God’s grace available to us in Jesus Christ and the power of his Holy Spirit, we need to be willing to forgive when we have been offended. Similarly, we need to be open to offering an apology and seeking forgiveness when we are the offending party.   Are we willing?