Archive for the ‘Service’ Category

Your Beliefs Don‘t Make You A Better Person

July 11, 2018

…Your behavior does.

You can tell me what you believe. But I’m watching how you behave.

You can tell me you are a Christian; but if your actions are not those of a disciple of Jesus, I will think you are not a Christian.

On the other hand, you may wake up in the morning not feeling very Christ-like. But you help someone with a bag at the store, or open a door, or let someone pass in front of you on the road to work, or some other small blessing to someone else.

You can “fake it ’till you make it” or better you can intentionally choose your behavior and discover a Jesus-like attitude toward life.

Jesus said to follow him and love…God and our neighbor. Love is an action verb, not a noun describing an emotion.

You go out and do love by how you treat other people. In so doing, you are following Jesus. After all, he often said to go and do.

Beliefs don’t make you a better person, your behavior does.

Talking Is Not Doing

June 27, 2018

The Washington Post recently ran an article profile on gossip writer Elaine Lui. In it, she is quoted–“Talking is action. Conversation is action,” Lui says. “The result of a conversation is that you’ve conversed; you’ve heard each other. That’s an action.” I picked this up from an email on the Daily Stoic.

Ryan Holiday, who writes the Daily Stoic, was aghast. Talking is not doing. He quotes Marcus Aurelius, a leading Stoic philosopher and Roman Emperor–Marcus Aurelius struggled with this even two thousand years ago, and reminded himself that it was meaningless to have philosophical debates about being a good person—all that mattered was what you did. “No more talking about what a good man is like,” he said, “Be one.

I am reminded that Jesus left us with action verbs in his commands–Go into the world, Make disciples, Love God, Love your neighbor.

One of the largest bursts of growth of Christianity occurred in Rome early in the Christian era. There was a plague that ravaged Rome. All the men fled to the hills. They left women, children, elderly, servants behind to fend for themselves and probably die.

Christians came up out of hiding and nursed the sick and dying at great risk to themselves. People were so impressed by the way that Christ-followers lived that they also wanted that life. The church grew out of an active response to calamity.

One of today’s greatest cultural problems is that way too many people spend their time debating–or spouting off–ideas and opinions. We are doing way too little doing.

To paraphrase Marcus Aurelius, “No more talking about what a Jesus-follower should believe. Be one.

Service

May 28, 2018

It’s a national holiday here in America. A bit of a complicated one.

My great-grandmother always called it Decoration Day–a day to remember family members who had passed away. You went to the cemetery and “decorated” the grave with flowers. That part is still here.

Then the government made it “Memorial” Day–a day to remember those who served in the military and especially those who died in combat.

The church (or some churches) piggy-back on those to add a religious observation.

Actually, I think for most people it is the official beginning of “summer”–a weekend off to relax, grill meat on the barbecue, get the old boat out.

Jesus said he came not to be served but to serve others and give his life for many. There is theology buried there, but also a lifestyle.

If we are disciples, we also are to serve others and give our lives for many.

A day to pause and reflect on our service–and how we might be of more service to others.

When Your Eyes Open

May 3, 2018

Being observant may not always be a good thing. Especially when you are in Las Vegas.

I’m here for a tech conference. Pure geek, I’m not a gambler and the machines and tables have no appeal to me. I’m also probably not headed out to one of the many shows featuring naked women. Purely boring, I go to the conference sessions, write, eat, and sleep.

But…

It has been now 40 years since my first conference experience in Las Vegas. The morning of the second day as I was chatting with the corporate HR director, he said, “Wow, did you see all the prostitutes out last night?” I thought, “What prostitutes?” Oh, so naive was this country boy.

Yesterday, I’m heading down to the convention center. Elevator door opens. There is an older, scruffy looking guy with a cowboy hat. There are also two Asian women with him. I quickly surmised that they were not old friends…shall we say.

We stop at another floor and a woman enters. She glances around and smiles at me. Knowingly.

I’m hoping that she isn’t thinking that I’m part of that group.

I observe things and try to draw out some sort of discipline. But sometimes it’s just human nature I observe. And I have a flash of understanding of rural Midwesterners like me who don’t live with such a diverse population of people.

It’s fascinating. But again, there are so many people who are lost and trying to find a way in life. And so few people to love and help them.

That is the refreshing thing about the company whose conference I’m attending–Dell Technologies. When the chairman/CEO whose name is in the company name devotes time during his keynote to turn the spotlight on the company’s devotion to diversity, and to the many human needs solved by people using Dell technology, you can find reason for optimism.

What Breaks Your Heart

January 9, 2018

“What? You mean we’re only a week into the New Year and already you’ve broken your New Year’s Resolutions?” Mayhem, character in the insurance advertisement.

All of us, when we think about Resolutions or even some of my suggestions are all about us.

Last weekend, Andy Stanley challenged us with a different way of thinking.

In place of an “all about me” approach, he challenged us with a different question.

What breaks your heart?

He reached back into what must be his favorite book–Nehemiah.

Nehemiah was a guy. Not just any guy. He was a high official in the court of the King of the Persians. Oh, he was also a Jew.

He received a report from his brother about the state of things among the Jews returning to Judah and about the city of Jerusalem. The news was not good.

“When I heard these words, I sat down and wept.”

He did more than cry. He developed a plan. He would take the initiative to do something about it. Read the book. It’s short. You can also read Jon Swanson’s conversations with Nehemiah. This is a lesson in leadership you will not soon forget.

I was at a soccer referee clinic Saturday. When the speaker (retired FIFA referee from Northern Ireland) paused and asked for questions, a guy behind me loudly complained about the presentations he was given to teach from. About how they put people to sleep or the kids in the back are on their smartphones. At the break I turned around and as gently as I know how suggested that he was fully empowered to take that lesson, be creative, make it his own, involve the kids in the back. He started ripping on me. <sigh>

The point is that we are empowered to do something.

What one thing breaks your heart? What one thing can you do starting right now to do something about it?

Thinking of Christmas as a Time For Service

December 21, 2017

There are many who are enkindled with dreamy devotion, and when they hear of the poverty of Christ, they are almost angry with the citizens of Bethlehem. They denounce their blindness and ingratitude, and think, if they had been there, they would have shown the Lord and his mother a more kindly service and would not have permitted them to be treated so miserably. But they do not look by their side to see how many of their fellow humans need their help, and which they ignore in their misery. Who is there upon earth that has no poor, miserable, sick, erring ones around him? Why does he not exercise his love to those? Why does he not do to them as Christ has done to him? – Martin Luther

Until I had read this thought from Martin Luther, I’m not so sure I’ve ever thought of Christmas as a time of service. Traditionally it is a time for family.

Increasingly it is a time for non-profit organization fund raising. Our phone seemed to ring constantly all afternoon yesterday (while I was interviewing a senior Vice President of a software company on my business phone). The last call came at 9:21 pm.

There are ways to support others. We support an orphanage and women’s shelter in Tijuana. I’m on the board and we support a local service – Alpha Community Center.

But Luther wasn’t talking about that. He is echoing the words of Jesus who gave us the example of the Good Samaritan.

Should we be thinking bad thoughts about the people who forced Mary to sleep in the “barn” and have her baby alone amongst the animals?

Or, should we be looking in the mirror and saying, “When have I passed by a person, a fellow human being, and done nothing to help her?”

So That You May Lead Lives

September 13, 2017

“For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power,”
Paul writes these thoughts to the Colossians. 

In our rush to parse through the Bible in a rush to pull out rules that make us different (better) than others or in a rush to apply to politics, we miss the “so that.”

Why do we study, pray, meditate, grow in knowledge, spiritual wisdom and understanding?

So that, we may lead lives worthy of the Lord. What kind of life? Pleasing to God, bearing fruit in every good work, strong in character able to withstand those who are against us.

Thinking of descriptions such as compassion, joy, kindness, humility, patience.

What we know is only a foundation or a guide to living a better life. Paul, Jesus, James, Peter, the whole lot of them stretching back to Moses and all the prophets explain what that better way of living is. 

Yet, so many Christians miss that point. It is so sad. They miss the joy in the midst of their anger or pride.

For years I have made it my prayer that from the time I get up in the morning or when I leave the room after a study group that God will guide me to living a life pleasing in his sight.

Be Wise In The Way You Act Toward Outsiders

September 11, 2017

“Well, isn’t it just a matter of law?” he asked. “After all they (immigrants) are here illegally.”

He was a man I respect. He was trying to be respectful while still embodying the typical rural Midwestern values he’d grown up with. It only just made sense to him.

I understand.

But, still, if only life were simple. If only everyone just followed all the laws and rules, life would be great, many think.

Many have always thought. If only everyone were like us and if only they followed our rules and laws, then the world would be perfect.

Except–that didn’t even work in the villages that many of my contemporaries grew up in. Of course, I was an outlier. In a predominantly Lutheran town, I was Methodist. In most of the villages, “everyone” was of the same Christian persuasion. The eastern half of the area where I grew up was Lutheran; the western half Catholic. Much like where all the ancestors came from–Central Europe, principally Germany.

But even the villages in the area are admitting “outsiders” at a growing rate. There are protestants in some formerly 99% Catholic villages. I remember the first time I saw a black person walking unafraid down a street in a local town. I asked, does he live there? Yes, my friends responded, we are changing.

I’m reading about this phenomenon occurring globally. It’s still difficult in a lot of areas where people still sometimes pick up weapons and drive out or kill outsiders.

But Paul, writing in a different time and place, understood this mixing of people. People of different religions, tribes, skin colors, all lived in the same city. Then some became Christ-followers. And Paul advised them, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.”

That’s in his letter to the Colossians. He understood. How do you help people find a new life with Jesus if you talk about them disparagingly? How do you help one person find that eternal life that begins right now if you don’t speak kindly to them? How do you serve other people as James instructs us if you don’t act wisely toward outsiders–that is, those who are different from us?

How many opportunities for help or for our own growth have we missed by disrespecting people who live around us yet are not like us?

I’m guessing, based on my own experiences, way too many.

Who Sinned That This Man Was Born Blind?

August 28, 2017

Jesus and his guys were walking through a probably crowded street just outside the Temple when they pass a man who was sitting begging for money who had been blind from birth.

“Who sinned, him or his parents, that he was born blind?” they asked Jesus.

Jesus proceeds to give the man sight.

This is a great story of spiritual growth and the play on words John loves so well over the double meaning of physical sight and spiritual sight. (Gospel of John, Chapter 9)

As I was preparing to lead a discussion on this story, I thought about how this attitude of sinning can affect out service (or lack of).

Yes, we do live with the consequences of our actions. We make lifestyle decisions that affect our health (smoking, drugs, sedentary life, eating/drinking to excess). But many millions of people are ill, handicapped, or starving through no fault of their own.

Yet I know of Christians who refuse to help others–whether down the street or across the globe–because “they’ve brought it on themselves”.

Jesus said that this man, in this place, at this time, was there so that the power of God could be revealed.

Whom have we met who could have been there at that time and at that place for us to reveal the presence and power of God? And we whiffed. Missed the pitch.

Some of us (me) are quieter by nature, not given to public displays of much of any kind. But it’s important to know when to speak, when to act.

If I’m a follower (disciple) of Jesus, then I need to recognize that situation at that time at that place where I need to heal someone.

Service isn’t getting 100,000 people together into some parody of a football game. It’s one person at a time, at the right place, at the right time.

You Never Know What You’ll Find When You Serve

July 24, 2017

Service is one of the spiritual disciplines.

Maybe it’s one that you struggle with. It seems to be in my nature to help. But sometimes it’s more formal–like agreeing to do something or be somewhere.

I live in a small county in the middle of western Ohio. While there is a lot of manufacturing (which is my expertise), agriculture dominates the local landscape. Since the middle of the 19th century, the county fair is the time when all the farmers and other agricultural-oriented people come together to have fun and show off some of the fruits of their labor. Cattle judging, hog judging, rabbit judging. 

Our church has been the “face” of the fair for thousands of people every year as the gatekeepers/ticket sellers/greeters for as many years as I can remember. I think that I’ve been doing that for maybe 30 years.

You never know what you’ll see when you work the gate. Kids coming in with anticipation of the judging of their projects. Older kids trying to sneak in without paying. Watching tired children crying out of exhaustion at the end of a long day.

A storm blew through about an hour before my wife and I worked last night–the first night of the fair and we drew the 7-11 pm shift.

The storm lifted the canopy erected to protect the gate workers from sun and rain at this drive-in gate where mainly exhibitor come in with their large pickups and trailers filled with animals. When we arrived, the canopy was laying in a crumpled mass against the nearest building. We had nothing over us. Just standing in the middle of the drive with a table and two chairs.

No fewer than four people stopped and asked about the canopy offering to go back and bring us theirs. That Midwestern spirit of generosity and helpfulness was alive and well. As my wife said, “There are nice people in the world.”

On the other hand, there is sorrow at times. (And I’m confessing to a sin. If someone from the Fair Board is reading this, I’ll stop in and pay the $9 tomorrow morning when I work again.) I let a man in without paying.

It seems his 16-year-old daughter had run away from home, and he heard that she was at the fair with someone. He said he had alerted the police. He was obviously a distraught parent. I told him go ahead and good luck.

But, alas, later a deputy sheriff gave him a ride back to the gate. He told us that he didn’t find the child. The worst fear of a father. The next call might be from the sheriff’s office that they found a body in a rural ditch. Or the fear of her getting caught in the web of human trafficking. 

So, we serve. We see kindness, generosity, anticipation, pride (when the judging goes well), some of the great work of our young people, and then stories of young people who have dropped off the track.
You never know what you’ll find. But you are there.