Archive for the ‘grace’ Category

The best way to be stagnant at work, in your career, or in life is to be a complainer. I’ve learned this the hard way. Trust me when I say, no one likes a complainer. As a complainer-in-recovery, I can tell you that if you want to be consistently marginalized, overlooked, dismissed or excluded, be a complainer.

Yesterday I was browsing in my local Barnes and Noble. Two aisles over, a manager was complaining to a co-worker about a third co-worker whom she felt was milking an injury, slacking off work, and forcing others into covering her shifts. There is a place for theses kinds of conversations, preferably the manager would speak first to the offending employee and then to the regional manager about the issue, and all in confidence. But that’s not what happened. This manager, whom I know, found herself in full-throated complaint mode on the Teenage Fiction aisle. Honestly, it made me want to leave the store. I didn’t need to hear it. So I left knowing that this manager would likely never be a regional manager, and why she probably burned through employees.

Here are a three reasons why your career may be static because of complaining:

1. Complaining puts your preferences over organizational goals. When you complain, what you’re essentially saying is that your way is the one that should carry the day. If the compliant truly regards missed opportunities and the betterment of the organization, then there are likely modalities within the community to address those needs. Complaining about what you don’t like isn’t about the organization, it’s about you. Sooner or later, your superiors will notice your misplaced priorities and they will find someone else to do your job.

2. Complaining stokes unnecessary negativity. Both in work and life, disruption and setbacks create their own negative energy. No one wants to work with people who create and nourish unneeded negative feelings. Over time the negativity engendered by constant complaining grants the complainer a poor reputation. You become the “negative” person and in meetings and other setting you can speak freely, but everyone has long stopped listening. Not being listened to, your ideas are dismissed. When you happen to be correct in your assessment, you’ll complain, “They never listen to me.” And you’ll be right.

3. Complainers go to the end of the line. When organizations begin looking for new hires or to promote from within, the last person they want to hire is a known complainer. In all likelihood, regardless of your skill level, someone else has the same skill set. Why hire you and the complaining that comes with you, when someone more cheery is available? I wouldn’t. If you’re a constant complainer, plan on finding your career on hold. You’re just not good enough at your job to overcome the ill-effects that comes with your complaining.

There you have it. Begin now to re-work your complaining nature and you’ll see much of your life and work turn around.

There is a fundamental problem with “purity test.” If you hadn’t noticed, the American political scene is in shambles. Neither party is looking all that great and regardless of your personal political leanings, you’re likely not satisfied with all that is Washington D.C.. Here in Northern California the disenchantment is heard across the dial from Mike Malloy and Ed Schultz on the Left to Rush and Hannity on the Right.

One of the reasons – at least in my view – is the idea of purity tests.

For some reason, with America facing undreamed of obstacles, so much of our politics has become about pushing moderates out of the picture in order to anoint pure ideologues. Apparently, the worst thing someone can be in modern politics is reasonable, and if not reasonable, and least malleable, or perhaps possessing the simple ability to make concessions and compromise for the sake of the greater good.  It is a sickness of both the left and the Right. As a matter of fact, both parties have recently had to publicly reject the idea of a “purity test” in order to discern who is and who isn’t “fit” or “right.” You are either all or not at all. That’s how purity works. It’s a binary condition. Either you are or you are not.

Here’s the problem: Purity tests don’t work! At least not in terms of relationships and extending love  and well-being to others. Modern politics only illustrates this long overlooked truth. But this post really isn’t about politics. This is really about you and me and how we interact with others who don’t view faith, life, morality and the world as we do.

Jesus enters ministry when religious teaching was almost entirely about purity tests. It wasn’t just the much-maligned Pharisees either. Both the Sadducees and the Essenes were competing in the Jewish religious marketplace, and all three groups rigorously mandated that a series of highly visible, yet largely superficial, markers be demonstrable in order to illustrate who was in and who wasn’t. They each, in essence, had their own purity tests.

But Jesus bucks the entire system of purity. As you know, the Pharisees had reduced God-following to rules and restrictions codified to build a hedge around the Law. What started as 10 fairly straightforward Commandments had blossomed into a yoke of Law that no one could keep and probably no one wanted to keep. People – like the adulterous woman that was brought and accused before Jesus (John 8.1-11) – who stepped outside the hedge, failed the purity test. And, according to the Law of Moses, should have been stoned. Yet Jesus says, and I’m paraphrasing, “There’s something more important than your purity test.” When faced with the opportunity to apply the thumbscrews of purity, Christ rejects it. And not only in this episode, but over and over, when given the choice to accuse the impure and unclean, Jesus chooses grace.

The reason is simple: Jesus is much more concerned with people than He is purity. He is much more enticed by the prospect of relationships than He is enamored by the purebred. And as holy and giving as Jesus is, He chooses grace over purity not because it is an act of the Divine, but because an orientation of grace is the only way relationships can work! Grace is a thoroughly practical choice. If you choose to extend redeeming love to people, you must choose grace. If you reject them, they won’t hang around long enough to be redeemed. Jesus is teaching us that we have to accept people even if we don’t agree with them.

It’s simple really: Without a fundamental orientation toward grace, there is no way people can be in relationship with one another. For example, if our children are required to do everything specifically as we ask and when we ask, what do we then do when they fail us? Better yet, what happens in marriages when one spouse makes a mistake, or, God forbid, disagrees about a significant issue? What should we do with friends whose opinions differ? Cast them out? Spurn them? Turn our face away? Exclude them? Exclusion, interestingly, is the only place a purity test can lead. Purity Tests only add to the divisions, separations and ruptures in our world. If you are consistently giving others a purity test, soon there will be no more takers. No one can pass your highly personalized test! No one thinks, feels, and behaves exactly like you.

Now before the theological or behavioral police club me to death, I should mention that I am not talking about a lack of accountability or moral standards. They exist and are needed. What I am speaking of is the realization that everyone we know will eventually fail to do the thing we wished they would do when we wanted them to. And if purity is the rubric than each new failing threatens to end the relationship. On the other hand, if grace is the lens with which we see the world, then all people – regardless of who they are and what they practice – are potential allies and friends. They are hearts waiting to be redeemed by God, as my wife might say.

So say “goodbye” purity tests and the natural divisions you bring and “hello” to the embrace of grace.  In the end, it is the only way to have one another.

On facebook, I’ve been chronicling my ups and downs – mostly downs – in dealing with my former landlady here in Redwood City. From our arrival six months ago, she has been – in our opinions – intrusive, abusive, and over-bearing, to say the least. At first she stopped by the house every day to see if she had mail, later she asked if she could house an automobile and some possessions in the garage for a nominal fee, which she alone set. Plus, she would drive by the house daily, sometimes stopping to sit across the street for long periods of time. According to her, she “wasn’t bothering anyone.”

But that wasn’t enough.

Light in Darkness

Light in Darkness

Once while Rochelle and I were out-of-town she went by the house everyday to “check on things” and angrily recounted her unhappiness that we hadn’t told her we were going away. She visited my office asking my secretary where we were and if she could go by the house to screw and unscrew the porch light, she also erroneously reported to my secretary that we were late on the rent. When our family returned from our travels we found her parked across the street. As summer wore on, she stopped by early in the morning to check the sprinklers; sometimes we would only know that she was on the property when we saw her walking in the back yard with the gardener. More recently, after we returned from a summer trip to Texas, she was sitting in the yard watering the grass upon our return. Mind you, all this is against the law in California, as well as most other places. More incredible than all that, several times she was openly belligerent and verbally hostile to both Rochelle and me in front of our children.

So when she requested that we break our lease in order to allow her to return to the house and secure a reverse mortgage we agreed. As you might guess, our landlady continued to harass and hound us for her benefit. Some of these exchanges have occured with the full knowledge – and sometimes in the presence –  of my church members. At least one of these church members has known my former landlady for over 20 years and has had multiple contentious interactions with her. The testimony of this member combined with that of our neighbors and our personal experience has led me to believe that she is singularly the most difficult, truculent person I’ve ever had the misfortune of dealing with.

But I’m a Christian and a pastor, so I couldn’t take her back to the woodshed, and trust me when I tell you that there have been multiple times when I wished I could.

In these waning days of dealing with this vitriolic personality, I’m faced with the difficult question of how to behave towards a pugnacious woman while everyone in my church is watching (Note: This home is 365 steps from the church building.) The advice I had from some was to match her venom; to return fire with fire, and indeed in the end, I might have to take legal measures.  But my instincts, and the New Testament, tell me that I should be the last, not the first to go legal or make threats. At times, this ethic has made me feel interiorly weak, as if I’m not standing up for myself or advocating strongly enough for my family. And it is in those times that I must force myself to reclaim the idea that I AM fighting, I’m just doing it with different weapons.

One of the most moving passages of Scripture is found in John 1. The highlight of which is, “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.” And believe it or not, that is what I – even in this most tense of situations – have endeavored to do.

It is unlikely, though not impossible, that my landlady will ever come to have a meaningful relationship with God. But I’m not choosing my behaviors for her. Rather, I’m trying to behave as I think Jesus would, and live a sermon for my church. This morning as I spoke with two church members, who are closely associated with my situation,  and both stated, “You’re a better man than me.” While I’m not testing manhood, I do want to be the kind of pastor of whom my parishioners can believe without hesitation that I live out even the most difficult of behaviors that I teach. In doing so, I believe that I am a “witness to the light.”

Does being a witness mean that I have to hear a lot of slurs, untruths and insults without reducing myself to unwholesome talk? Yes. Does it mean that it cost me money and time, as it did with an unplanned and unbudgeted move as my children try to enjoy their summer and prepare for our first year of school? Yes.

But there is a pay off.

I go to sleep every night with the confidence that I have lived with integrity and honesty. I know that my life has coherence between what I say I believe and how I behave. I see in my daughter’s eyes the trust that Daddy does not debase himself or his language when provoked. I live with confidence that I have testified to the goodness of God through my own consistently good behavior. And I trust that when I am as old as my former landlady, I will not live a friendless, lonely, bitter, bellicose life, as she does.

And that’s worth it!

Jackson MemorialFor some reason, I feel compelled to write a few words about celebrity and humanity with Michael Jackson’s memorial hanging as the backdrop. It should be said at the outset that I have always been a Michael Jackson fan, though a conflicted one.

If MJ were still alive and had a CD coming out next week, would I buy it? Yes.

If MJ asked if my kids could spend the night at Neverland Ranch? No!

I believe people are innocent until proven guilty, but I also trust the old adage; Where there’s smoke there’s fire! Multiple accusations, an “adult alarm” outside the bedroom, it’s all a little odd. Nevertheless, a family has lost a brother, parents lost their son, and, worst, three children are without a father. And that, almost any way you slice it, is a tragedy.

What struck me as most odd about the Michael Jackson Memorial was the obvious lack of authenticity. Not that the people who participated did not care about Jackson or his death, but rather that the majority of them are routinely compelled to protect their public persona and during this “performance” were, at best, concerned with maintaining that persona. Moments of the memorial seemed, not so much as stagecraft, as it did an opportunity for the advancement of some participant’s personal brand. Today celebrities were asked to do what they are never asked to do, never rewarded for, and what might possibly be the farthest thing from their minds – put someone else first!

The rhetorical low-point had to be Usher. The sunglass donning singer proclaimed, “Michael meant a lot to all of us, especially me.” Did you hear that? “Especially” him! Usher, in one sentence, demonstrates why so many people felt that network and cable news coverage of Jackson’s death was untoward. Most folks feel that celebrity is the ultimate landing ground for self-centered, shallow, silicone living. Celebrities are disconnected from reality and obsessed with all the wrong things. And truthfully, there are enough Paris Hiltons and Perez Hiltons to prove the case. So when Usher, for whatever reasons, placed his grief over and above that of Jacksons’ parents, siblings and children, everything we suspect about celebrity is proved to be true. Also, Mariah Carey was clothed barely a step up from her normal state of undress, and Berry Gordy’s 2-minute ad for Motown Records didn’t help either. Throughout so much of the memorial, I felt that I was witness to the Grammys or some other such production. Celebs wearing sunglasses in the darkened Staples Centre, Corey Feldman dressed as the King of Pop; at times I thought I was watching Live Aid or a VH1 Special.

Thankfully, Brook Shields and Paris Jackson broke through the pretention and made

Brooke Shields Gets Real

Brooke Shields Gets Real

Michael Jackson what he always wanted to be; one of us. Brooke Shields spoke admirably and ably about her and Michael’s shared grief of lost innocence. She talked about his humor and playfulness. When Brooke spoke, Michael was human and he was her friend. Her tears were not of the Made-For-TV variety. She sidestepped Al Sharpton’s tirade against the media – as if something he said could’ve changed anything. And made the opportunist, Sheila Jackson Lee, look foolish, grandstanding with a House Resolution on her hip. And Brooke did it all by expressing what so few people could seem to conjure up today: Humanity! What Sharpton tried to do by shouting and Lee attempted with laws, Brooke Shields did by simply being a friend who cared. In that moment, it wasn’t about celebrity – hers or his – but it was about a friendship and relationship of caring. Don’t believe anyone cares about you, if they can’t tell a story about being with you that demonstrates that care.

Paris Reminds the World, Michael was "Daddy"

Paris Reminds the World, Michael was "Daddy"

And of course, there was sweet Paris Jackson simply saying she had the “best daddy in the world.” If your heart didn’t break when you heard this little girl, then you simply don’t have one. This girl, of whom the media has openly and harshly questioned whether or not her dad is her dad, ended the discussion. If you, like me, have little girls, you found that tears easily stream when you hear a little girl missing her daddy. Right there, among all the crudeness, crassness, silliness and shallowness of the celebrity culture, a little girl reminded us that music didn’t lose its greatest performer, the world didn’t lose a generous humanitarian, and concert promoters didn’t lose a meal ticket – three little children lost their daddy.

And they never cared how many CD’s or tickets he sold!

I so wish that some of the people who stood behind microphones today would have set their celebrity and/or political personas aside, been human, and let these kids say goodbye to their daddy. There are three more orphans in the world and not any of them needs someone to moonwalk.

Regardless of what you think of Michael Jackson, I suspect you’ll agree with me on one thing: We don’t need any more celebrities, but could use an injection of true humanity.

The true tragedy of Michael Jackson isn’t his truncated childhood, the unproven allegations, the abuse he took at the hands of his father, but that Jackson spent his life groping, blinded by the spotlight, for a genuine human experience, yet even in his death, so many of his “friends” couldn’t give it to him.

awkwardLast night I began preparing for my summer preaching series, “Summer Blockbuster.” I’m going to take a look at movies that subversively — even to the authors and producers — tell the gospel in beautiful and compelling ways. One of those movies will certainly be “Lars and the Real Girl.”

Lars… is about a quirky young man who falls in love with a sex doll. Believe it or not, it is one of the most touching movies I have ever seen. The ragweed must have been really bad in NorCal last night because toward the end of the movie my eyes were watering. In the film, Lars Lindstrom orders a sex doll (Bianca) on the internet and introduces her to his brother and sister-in-law, Gus and Karen, as his girlfriend. Bianca is a wheel-chair bound returning missionary who does not believe in pre-marital sex (which you would expect from a returning missionary), therefore, she lives in the house with Gus and Karen while Lars remains in the converted garage. Wisely, Karen suggests Biance see the local doctor, who is also a psychologist, since she just returned from the mission field. The doctor’s suggestion to Gus and Karen? Treat Bianca as if she is real. Gus and Karen follow the doctors orders, and so does everyone else in town.

Bianca attends church with Lars, gets carted around town by others, given baths, is invited to parties, everyone treats her as if she is real. Bianca even gets elected to the school board. How great it that!! There is a terrific scene in which a church council is discussing what to do about Bianca if Lars should bring her to church. One woman advocates treating her like anyone else. The woman goes around the room reminding the council of their and their family members quirks and failures. It was simply beautiful! And hilarious! It reminded me of Jesus writing in the sand in the midst of those who attempted to stone the woman caught in adultery. No one gets to exclude because God went to great lengths to include us all.

As the story moves forward, the thoughtful viewer recognizes what Bianca has become for Lars. She is a way for him to work through his terribly damaging emotional issues in a safe, non-threatening way allowing him to open himself to love, to being loved and involvement in the lives of others. But more than that, Bianca becomes a conduit of grace for the entire town. Something about her non-existence allows others to more fully express their own existence. Through doing so the viewer is witness to the only kind of grace there really is; the uncommon kind!

The movie simple ask, “What if we took everyone seriously? And took their needs, took the places they are mentally and physically — seriously? And what if we responded to others by immersing ourselves in what people need in order to receive healing instead of writing people off and penning others’ epitaphs prematurely?”

I don’t want to ruin it for those who haven’t seen it, but I will say:Even though a central figure is a plastic doll, the movie is one of the more real things I have ever seen.

As the Senior Minister for a church, you might find it odd for me to say this: There are times when I HATE preaching. I don’t mean the craft or the art, but rather having to say anything at all.

What I mean is this: There are times when the words of scripture are so powerful and beautiful that saying ANYTHING after you read them only diminishes them.

That’s the case this week.

We’re in the middle of a series about doubt. And we land Sunday on Acts 17 and Paul’s visit to and speech in Athens and the Aereopagus. Beginning is verse 24 Paul lays out one of his most beautiful speeches. Just read it.


And then read it again. I can’t look at it and not be taken with the hope and majesty of it.

“…he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.”

“God did this so that we would seek him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.”

Just tell me that there is a better life available than that! Could there possible be anything left for me to say?

I just don’t think so.