Friday, February 27, 2015

Our Most Distinguished Visitor

This past week, Brenda and I had a wise and distinguished visitor waiting for us when we arrived home.  I mention this because I learned an important lesson from this wise visitor.

It was a rare and unusual visit, and our visitor never uttered a word, teaching thereby.  He was sitting right by our front door.

Most of us feel compelled to speak, I know I do.  I want to show everyone how smart I am, and there is no way to do that without speaking.

Our wise visitor remained silent throughout his visit.  He made eye contact, he responded, but didn't say anything.

I wish I did that more often.  It is better, it is said, " be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt."

Let us be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger. (Ja 1:19).

Monday, February 23, 2015

Shoulder to Shoulder

My friend Jay likes that term, “shoulder to shoulder”. It graphically captures the idea of being united in one effort, one cause.  I have written before about my extreme over-competitiveness, but on occasion I realize the great virtue of unity and cooperation.

I think maybe I best see the values of cooperation within the Church, the Body of the Christ.  We are all on the same team.  We are co-laborers.  We OUGHT to rejoice when one part of the Church, a congregation has great success.  We OUGHT NOT to be competitive with each other.

But this is easier said than done, for me, and for most of us. 

Why is that?

I suspect it has a bit to do with capitalism.  I suspect it has a bit to do with sports.  I suspect it has a bit to do with individualism.  I suspect it has something to do with immaturity.

Sadly though, I think it has NOTHING to do with G^D.  The G^D who is no respecter of persons, the G^D who died to save us ALL, the G^d who created the WHOLE universe and declared it good, the G^d who commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves, has NOTHING to do with our competition among those who believe in Him.

None of that is of G^d, all of that arises from our fallen nature.  Sad eh?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Tithe vs Taxes

I have JUST completed my Federal and State tax forms for 2014.  I typically compute my % of Fed taxes paid.  This year, we paid ~10% of our income in Federal taxes.  That % is substantially lower than my charitable giving for the year.  I want it that way.  But it didn’t dawn until me later that I also pay:

  • State taxes
  • Social Security tax
  • Sales tax

When you add those in, I paid more to the government than I gave to G^d.  Hmmm.  Sad.

Scripture is quite clear, we ought to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to G^d, what is G^d’s.  We have been bought with a price by G^d himself. Part of giving ourselves to Him is to give him a tithe of our finances.  Part of giving ourselves to Him is to give him a tithe of our time, energy, attention.

So, besides looking at the financial side, we ought also to take a look at the personal side.

How much of ourselves are we giving to Him?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Being Treated as We Deserve

From time to time on FaceBook, I read great quotes, slogans, and witty sayings telling us to demand that we are treated as we deserve.  I am certain that the writers and posters mean well, but...

NOTE TO ALL: I do NOT want to be treated as I deserve! I want mercy and grace at all times. Thanks for your consideration.

Yes, absolutely, please NEVER treat me as I deserve!  I deserve disdain, wrath and hell.  Don't get me wrong.  I have a very, very healthy ego, as anyone who knows me will be quick to verify.  I have a wonderful life and have been blessed in so many terrific ways. I enjoy life and have some terrific friends.

But, I am ego-centric, selfish, greedy, occasionally less than honest, and I have been known to break the speed limit from time to time.  And, this is just the stuff I am admitting.

Thanks be to G^d that He is merciful and full of grace.  I deserve hell, but G^d put all that on Jesus on the cross.  I agree with that Psalmist (123:3) who wrote, "Have mercy on us, LORD, have mercy on us...".


Friday, February 13, 2015

Friends, But Not the t.v. Show

I am Blessed with a wealth of friends.  I am on an airplane returning from a conference where I spent two days with a bunch of friends.  On my way to the airport I chatted for about 35 minutes with my friend of over 33 years, Chuck.  I tried to call my old friend Wes, but he wasn’t answering, but I count him among my best friends.

At this meeting, I saw some 30-year friends Rich and Bonnie.  We went to Haiti together on a mission trip, which was the last of several international trips we took together.  There too, were some newer friends.  Jay, Laurie, John, I met just last June.  I had shook hands before that time, but last June we spent some significant time and sweat together, and I felt, and feel, a closeness to them now.

I also saw another good traveling buddy, Steve, with whom I made some trips to Monterrey and Merida, Mexico.  We got stranded in Cancun in a hurricane, so that cements the bonds a bit.  I saw Ceil and Daryl and ate dinner with them and four other Texan friends that Brenda and I met last year in Italy. John was there, and he and I roomed together on a great mission endeavor in England, many years back.  Scott was there, who I have known almost 30 years, and who my son Daniel and I visited at Princeton when we lived at West Point, NY.  Bill has been a great friend for many years, and we share a great mutual friend in Athens, Chuck, who I mentioned above.

I enjoyed making what I hope turns out to be some new friends.  The possibility is very appealing.

Of course, in traveling this time, I was without my best friend, Brenda.  I missed her, but feel comfortable knowing that she is the kind of friend who you miss, but can pick up again with, immediately.  Absence does make the heart grow fonder, but I can only handle the smallest of doses.

We Christians have a friend that sticks closer than a brother, and I think of the L^rd Jesus when I say that.  Friends here on earth are a kind of foreshadowing of what I think we’ll have in heaven one day.  I love my friends and love spending time with them.  We smile just seeing each other.  In heaven we won’t have to rush, we won’t be leaving, we won’t be missing, we’ll just enjoy.

I don’t quite understand the concept of “treasures in heaven”, but I suspect it will be related a bit to the treasures of friendship.  We’ll see one day.

In the mean time, I think I’ll just savor the joys of friendship here in the temporal.  It’s good practice.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Dear Mr. Shermer,

I recently read a little essay by Michael Shermer on why religion is stupid.  I first encountered the work of Mr. Shermer when  I first became a prof at Alabama.  One of my colleagues sent me an interesting challenge to Christianity.  I didn't realize it at the time but my colleague had grown up as a devout Roman Catholic.  Whilst working as a prof at SMU he fell in love with a married woman.  Obviously this resulted in tremendous cognitive dissonance.  In the end, the woman won out over Catholicism and to ease his pain, my colleague vowed to stamp out any vestige of Christianity he encountered in public Higher Education.

Then along comes me...representing the very thing he was stamping out.

I initially thought that my colleague was simply raising interesting objections to Christianity, not realizing he was re-cycling objections from the anti-religion generally, and very anti-Christian particularly, Mr. Shermer.  I would respond to one objection, and a few days later another would arrive.

In the latest of Mr. Shermer's essays I read, he raises the objection that Jewish law included the death penalty for a variety of offenses.  "But Jesus said love thy neighbor!" explains Mr. Shermer with incredulity.  "What a self-contradictory religion is Christianity!"


Surely an experienced anti-Christian like you, Mr. Shermer, can do better than that!

Regardless of your political leanings, even the most simplistic of us recognize that there are certain functions that accrue to the governing council, legislature, etc. that DO NOT accrue to individuals.  I don't want to pass a death sentence, or declare someone NOT GUILTY on my own volition.  I don't want to determine the speed limit, or how many unrelated people can live in the same house.  This is not because I hate making rules, I love it, it is simply because some things are done by individuals, and somethings are done by councils, governments etc., and most people don't have trouble distinguishing between those things... except Mike Shermer.

So, Mr. Shermer, go back to asking questions.  When I ask people things, I tend to look less whack than when I say whacky things.  Just saying...

Monday, February 9, 2015

What is a Leader?

This afternoon I had the occasion to discuss leadership with one of my colleagues with expertise in the area of management.  During our brief conversation, we discussed a well known administrator at our university.  We agreed on what he had done, where we disagreed was what it should be called.
I claimed this person was a great manager, but my colleague argued that he was a great leader.  That got me thinking about the possible differences.  In my mind, managers mainly manage resources (which includes people) whereas leaders inspire those led to act in a somewhat different way than they would on their own.

I looked up some definitions.  Here’s a start:
“… leadership is the art of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal.”  Or, “The act of inspiring subordinates to perform and engage in achieving a goal.” Or, "a process of social influence in which a person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task". A leader is somebody whom people follow, or as somebody who guides or directs others, while others define leadership as "organizing a group of people to achieve a common goal".

 To elaborate:
 “Leadership involves:
  1. Establishing a clear vision,
  2. Sharing that vision with others so that they will follow willingly,
  3. Providing the information, knowledge and methods to realize that vision, and
  4. Coordinating and balancing the conflicting interests of all members and stakeholders.”
And, “A leader steps up in times of crisis, and is able to think and act creatively in difficult situations. Unlike management, leadership cannot be taught, although it may be learned and enhanced through coaching or mentoring.”

Compare this with administration/management: 
“The activities that relate to running a company, school, or other organization.”
 “The management of any office, business, or organization; direction.”

 And: “Management in organizations is the function that coordinates the efforts of people to accomplish goals and objectives using available resources efficiently and effectively. Management comprises planning, organizing, staffing, leading or directing, and controlling an organization to accomplish the goal.” 

While the person in question certainly managed our university well, as far as I can tell he had little influence on the teaching, research or service of any faculty member, nor the performance of any staff member.  To be honest, I enjoyed the quietness on campus while this person ran the show, but I never heard, read, or perceived that he care one whit about our attitude, work, or support.  He had an excellent plan, he executed it well, and it worked, but it had NOTHING to do with the people of the organization.

So, what is leadership and have you ever seen a great leader?  I’m really interested.