Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Business or Personal?

I watched the movie "American Gangster" last evening. It is not suitable for all audiences. It is a violent (and at times graphic) portrayal of the life of 1970's Harlem drug-lord, Frank Lucas and his rise to power and eventual fall. Frank Lucas, according to the amazing portrayal, by Denzel Washington, was a man who cherished his family but was ruthless in business. He abused his own brothers and cousins, murdered a rival in the street in front of hundreds, and treated his employees with little mercy. For him the bottom line was selling drugs and providing a life for his mother that would keep her comfortable in her old age.

Frank Lucas had a way of separating business and personal life that was uncanny. He took his mother to church every Sunday, tithed, and gave away large sums of money and food to the poor of Harlem. He did all of this while hurting the people of Harlem with pure heroin that addicted and enslaved them. While having no mercy in business, Frank Lucas said grace at the family dinner and hosted huge family gatherings.

His life was juxtaposed against the life of Rich Roberts, the police officer who eventually brought his drug empire down. Roberts, in a great performance by Russell Crowe, was well known for daliance with women, heavy drinking, having a friend with mob ties, ignoring his child, missing child support payments and generally having a personal life that was out of control. Roberts was also well known for finding a million dollars of unmarked currency and turning it in while other cops who were corrupt wanted him to keep it and split it with them. His burning fight for justice was central to his pursuit of Lucas and made him a good cop. No family values were evident as they were in the life of Frank Lucas, but justice and seeking the truth was evident.

I have often encountered colleagues who have used the phrase when dealing with people in a harsh manner, "This is business, not personal." As a follower of Jesus, I am not sure how we separate the two. Abuse in the name of correction is often evident, as those of us who are employers or leaders treat those under our influence with little mercy. We also have times in our lives when our business dealings in the church no way mirror what we claim to be in our personal lives.

We may pray. We may know scripture. We may hold our family in high esteem. We can even be very firm. I think the line gets crossed sometimes, because we work in a culture where there seems little accountability, by those of us who call ourselves leaders to those who we shepherd or attempt to lead.

I believe when the Kingdom comes in our lives, our business and personal decisions are informed by a theology of grace and compassion, which does not mean we let everything slide. When the Kingdom is evident in our lives, we cannot separate our business and personal lives. That is because we will live like Jesus, who saw His mission and life as one and the same.

Not only will we make decisions that will be compassionate, but when the Kingdom comes, we will also treat our world with grace. We will be conscious of our carbon footprint and our stewardship of the resources He gives us. In short, we will treat everything we do as sacred and sacremental.

Lucas could not do that. Roberts could not either. They found their way by keeping business and personal dealings as far away from each other as they could. I wonder if we can make our business and personal lives the same, because they are based on Kingdom values, not just the bottom line or our own agenda.

What do you think?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Better Far To Die?

I was at a retirement service for two very good friends this past weekend. These two people were and are outstanding people who have given themselves to their work and to people for over 40 years. They are tremendous servants and have influenced for good the lives of thousands over the years. I have great admiration and respect for these two.

At one point during the retirement, flags entered from the back to the strains of the song "I cannot leave the dear old flag 'twere better far to die." The song speaks to calling and dedication. After putting in nearly 28 years in this vocation, I know something of holding on during hard times in ministry. Yet, I would think that I might be better alive than dead. Maybe I just don't understand the song.

I have been working through the theology of calling. I am not sure that God calls all of us as officers to life-long commitment to this vocation. Is it possible that people are called for a season? I have had many friends painted as sinners for leaving "the work." I am not saying that there is no life-long calling to our vocation. I believe for many, there is. I am not sure it is better to die than live in the world for Christ. The idea of the song is commendable, I am not sure it is theologically correct.

While this post could be just about the theology of calling, I think it has more to do with the idea that fuels our theology. I think that often our shallow living is fueled by pop theology that is shallow. Much of our stance that we have claimed as theological, had their roots in missional stances. Have we become so wrapped in practice that we have watered down theology? Is it that our theology can evolve as well?

The positions we stake out as hard and fast, often are not as hard and fast as we would make them to be. Often, I believe, they are more a matter of denominational loyalty than real theology. I think that many of our people have not really wrestled with their theology, because they feel this denominational pull.

Don't get me wrong, I love our movement. I believe though, it may be time for us to do some more wrestling with many of our ideas of calling and other theological stances, as we look this culture in the face. I am not sure the hermenuetics we have applied for years are the same today. In fact, I am not sure that there is a hermenuetic for all of the culture of today.

I have rambled a bit. I think, however, we may need to wrestle a bit more with what we believe. I am not sure that we need to wrestle so much with doctrinal statements, but our theology in practice associated with that doctrine.

What do you think?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Who Is In Charge?

I have had that conversation dozens of times. You know the conversation. This is one where people need to assert their authority and claim to be in charge.

In our movement we are replete with commanders. We have them on every level. It is because we are in a quasi-military organization. This adds, I believe, to our human need to be in control.

Now I do believe in levels of responsibility and also in checks and balances for all of us. Someone has to make the final call in a disagreement and eventually take the responsibility for the decisions made. I have no problem with that.

I think what is possibly a bankrupt notion is that someone has to be "in charge." Firstly, control is illusory. Anyone who thinks they can completely control another person, short of slavery is fooling themselves. With distance, comes autonomy, to a degree.

We cannot force people to show up for work at hours we think they should, unless we are right there. We cannot enforce much of anything, with the possible exception of some expenditures, over which we have some control.

I think the better question is not "Who is in charge?" I think the better question is "Who is the leader?"

I think there is a difference between being in charge and being a leader. First, if you have to remind everyone that you are the boss, you aren't. Secondly, if you have to ask the question, "Who is in charge?" your idea of leadership may be very shallow.

I believe the best leaders are encouragers, supporters, enablers of mission and people of great inspiration. The greatest leaders, point the way but also help people develop a sense of responsibility for their actions. They also don't have time to tell people what to think, but how to think.

I think the idea of being "in charge" may be against biblical patterns and run opposite what Jesus intended for the Kingdom. I am not sure, but I think that being a leader, may be far superior to being in charge. I will walk through fire for a leader. If you want to be in charge, you will probably have few if any followers.

In fact, being in charge may be close to being theologically indefensible. Maybe I am wrong.

So do you know people who need to be in charge? Do you know real leaders? Are they one in the same or opposites?

What do you think?

Monday, February 04, 2008

Getting Saved?

I posted a week or so ago about the meth lab across the street. As I have talked to some of my friends, they have said, "Too bad you couldn't have gotten him saved." I have also heard comments like, "You can bet if he had been saved, he would not have done that." The next question, "Are you trying to get the family saved?"

I have grown up as an evangelical. I have had some of the greatest spiritual moments in my life come out of this tradition. I have also had some of the greatest guilt trips of my life laid on me by my friends, who wanted to get me "saved." I do believe that people need to be transformed by the grace of our Lord. As noted, a few posts back, I am wondering if our definition of getting saved is really what it needs to be.

So, where does that leave me? I am struggling these days with living a life that is authentic as a Christian. While wanting people to love our Lord and be His disciple, I am thinking that my relationships ought to be about more than getting them saved. I don't need a notch in my evangelism belt. This overwhelming desire to "get people saved" seems to be more a conquest than an actual concern for a soul. The Kingdom, to me as Jesus explained it and lived it, was not about conquest.

I want to build relationships with no expectation. I want to love people just because they are loveable in the eyes of God. Am I concerned about their souls? Yes.

There is so much more to our lives than being saved. Salvation is not necessarily the answer for poverty. There are many saved people living in poverty. Salvation is not necessarily the answer for our environment. There are plenty of people who claim to be saved who pollute and have a huge carbon footprint.

Does that make salvation unimportant? No. What I am thinking these days is that we ought to think less about building relationships for the purpose of people getting saved and more about loving people as God did and sacrificing for them like He did. If they get saved, then it is really up to God working through us.

So am I wrong? Should I be about getting people saved? Should I be about working on the relationships that God has intended so that somehow, there might be transformation?

I have been somewhat vague so as to stir some dialogue. So with all my posts, I want to know,

What do you think?