Monday, December 02, 2013

The genius of Apple

Image credit: <a href=''>massonforstock / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
I saw something remarkable tonight.

I stopped by the Apple Store to pick up the new iPad Air. The Genius who greeted me was incredibly efficient and helpful. He had an individual shadowing him - a new employee, I assumed, who took my information and sent a runner to retrieve my iPad.

As we stood, chatting and waiting for my iPad, every red-shirt wearing Genius broke out in a sustained, raucous applause - the sort of applause one reserves for a celebrity. In fact, I assumed that someone famous must be making his or her way from the back of the store to the front.

But it wasn't anyone famous. Just a regular looking guy, wearing a flannel shirt with a duffel bag slung over his shoulder.

I asked my Genius what was up and he told me, "Today is his last day at our store. This is how we congratulate every person when they leave."

"How long has he been here?"

"About a year?"

"Where's he going?"

"To another Apple store."

As the customers and employees in the packed store parted and the guy made his way through the crowd, he was stopped multiple times to receive hugs from his co-workers. I am not exaggerating when I say that this applause went on for five minutes.

I appreciated what Apple communicated through this experience:
  1. Their associate, at least for these few minutes, was the most important person in that store. I stood by, as did every other customer, while 100% of the attention was focused on someone who wasn't making Apple a dime at the time. In a world where the bottom line is almost always the bottom line, I was happy to wait while someone was recognized positively by his peers.
  2. Apple values celebration. The gentlemen assisting me told me that - not only does each employee's experience with Apple end this way - but that it also begins this way. When he arrived for his first day of training to become an Apple Genius, Flannel Guy was greeted with similar enthusiastic applause. What a great culture!
  3. People want to work at Apple. Not long after our hero headed out into the mall I saw him return. Having run into a customer who was looking for the Apple Store, he walked him to the right location, took him inside, answered a few questions, and then connected him with another Apple Genius.
  4. People get it. I didn't see a single grumpy customer complaining about being ignored while Apple loved on one of their own. 
What about you? When have you seen similar examples of companies that have created a culture where their employees are valued and acknowledged? And, for those of you who interact with this blog in the context of a church, what can we learn about creating amazing environments where we serve?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

About my father's business

Twelve-year-old Jesus had just been confronted by his mother for going AWOL on the trip home from Jerusalem to Nazareth. While the rest of his family made the post-Passover trip home, Jesus remained behind in the temple to chew the scriptural fat with the theologians. On realizing that Jesus is missing and not just hanging out with the other preteen kids in the caravan, his parents return to Jerusalem for a panicky three-day search.

The first red letters in Luke's gospel, that is, the first words that Luke records Jesus speaking are, "Why did you need to search? Didn't you know that I must be about my Father's business?"

Why these words?

Why this story?

Luke wasn't there, obviously. This is not an eyewitness account. Someone told Luke this story and, presumably, many others. Was it Mary, Jesus' mother? Did Luke interview her after Jesus' ascension and record this among the events she had "stored in her heart?"

Surely there were other stories, other tales of Jesus growing up in his daddy's carpenter's shop. The time when he got a splinter in his hand. Stories of him falling off a scaffold or hitting his thumb with a hammer. Jesus' back-when-I-was-a-kid tales that took on greater gravity given his father's early death.

So, why this story?

These prepubescent words plucked from an adolescence that is otherwise ignored in the gospels?

(The next time we see red letters in Luke's gospel he isn't talking to his mother; he isn't speaking to his cousin, John, about to be baptized in the Jordan River. The next time Luke turns his attention to Jesus' words he's talking to Satan.)

Why this story?

Maybe it is because all the red-letter words that follow Luke 2:49 are the fulfillment of twelve-year-old Jesus' declaration that the purpose of his life was to be about his Father's business.

Turns out that is the purpose of your life - and mine - too.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Fear and comfort

Sunday is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Millions of Christians worldwide will join together to pray for our brothers and sisters who experience terror because they follow Jesus. South Lansing Christian Church will be joining them.

The statistics are shocking really. I could write about the dozens of belligerent nations that persecute believers - nations like North Korea that are not U.S. allies. But what shocks me most are the persecuted Christians who live in countries like Afghanistan where the United States has invested time, money, and the blood of our service members.

Earlier this year the Washington Post reported on a Harvard study that projects the war will cost U.S. taxpayers $4-6 trillion by the time we are done paying for it. (The study factors in the cost of a lifetime of care for wounded veterans.) To date 2,274 service members have died there. The cost of this war - in blood and money - is making it less and less popular with every passing day, with two-thirds of Americans saying it is not a war worth fighting.

I'm one of them.

But not for the reason you might think.

Our nation has long stood for freedom.

Freedom of speech.

Freedom of thought.

Freedom of faith.

And if I thought we could guarantee those freedoms to Afghans my support would be full-throated.

But is there anyone who seriously believes that Afghans will permit Christians to practice their faith in an unoccupied Afghanistan when they're murdering Christians while United States Forces are still there?

After he and his wife converted to Christianity six years ago, Obaid S. Christ and his wife were forced to leave Afghanistan to relocate to India. According to The Voice of the Martyrs,
Afghanistan is an Islamic nation under sharia law, where the penalty for conversion to Christianity is death. Pastor Obaid knows of at least 22 missing Christians, who are feared to be imprisoned or executed. He believes there are around 1,000 Christians in the country, who meet in underground churches of between 10-15 members.
Not surprising given the leadership of numerous public officials like Afghan Minister of Parliament, Nazir Ahmad Hanafi who was quoted by an Afghan news service as saying, “Numerous Afghans have become Christians in India. This is an offense to Islamic laws, and according to the Quran, they need to be executed.”

The fact remains, though, we're not getting out of Afghanistan any time soon. While troop levels are decreasing - an Army Times story indicates a 20% reduction - we're going to be engaged in Afghanistan through at least the end of 2014. What is more, we are currently negotiating for at least some troops to remain in country after that.

So what should a thoughtful Christian do?


We need to pray for Afghan Muslims. There are moderates in Afghanistan who need Jesus. And there are radicals in Afghanistan who need Jesus. But all Muslims need Jesus. There is no place in the believer's life for a kill-em-all-and-let-God-sort-them-out mentality. Paul wrote, "Christ came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the worst." Do you suppose there were believers praying for Paul when he was the Sanhedrin appointed persecutor of Christians? I suspect so.

We need to pray for our service members. One of our church's elders has a son who will be deployed in 2014. Afghanistan has been mentioned as one of the possible places of his deployment. This soldier is a follower of Jesus. He takes Jesus with him wherever he goes. He is a believer first and a soldier second. Should he be deployed to Afghanistan, he is probably the closest thing to a missionary that our church will ever be able to send to there. I'm praying for his safety; I am praying for his ministry.

Finally, we need to pray for Afghan Christians. 

That's what we'll be doing this Sunday. But perhaps we could pray for persecuted believers every day.

I read something in my quiet time last week that has rattled around in my brain, refusing to go away. In his history of the early church, a church that experienced horrific persecution, Luke mentions, almost as a postscript to his previous thoughts,  
The church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace. It was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord, and with the consolation of the holy Spirit it grew in numbers.
Three years after he came to power, Emperor Caligula ordered a statue of himself erected in the Temple in Jerusalem. Suddenly the Jewish leaders had bigger problems than this strange Jewish sect of Jesus followers. With their attention diverted to stopping this idolatrous intrusion into their temple, the church experienced a period of calm.

In the midst of this calm, the church grew. Luke tells us that the growth was the result of two co-existing realities: the church "walked in the fear of the Lord," and the church experienced, "the consolation of the Holy Spirit." 

This is my prayer for the church. 

Not just the church in Afghanistan, but the Church universal. 

That we would walk in the fear of the Lord. That believers in nations such as ours, where the church is increasing in carnality and looks far too much like the unbelieving world, would begin to walk in the fear of the Lord. 

And that in nations wherever the church is persecuted believers would experience the consolation of the Holy Spirit.

The fear of the Lord. 

The comfort of the Holy Spirit. 

This Sunday, on this International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, we have the opportunity to partake in both.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Next . . .

Jim Leyland stepped down today after an eight year stint as the manager of the DetroitTigers. Most folks are cheering that decision. Some are applauding Leyland's great run as the Tiger's skipper; others are saying, "good riddance." (My Facebook feed has been littered with angry outbursts from Tiger fans after the way the bullpen imploded in the Tigers in the American League Championship Series.)

That makes sense, I guess.

Leyland’s relationship with the media and with fans has been tempestuous the last couple of years. Fans second guess – that is what they do – and the media exists to sell news. So it is no surprise that each constituency has had a love/hate relationship with “Jimmy Smokes.” Of course, those closest to Leyland - his boss and his players love - the guy and that's what probably matters to Leyland the most.

All that aside, here is what struck me about Leyland’s exit today:

It’s already old news.

Barely a half day after his announcement, the sixth story of the Google feed for “Jim Leyland” is “Who replaces Jim Leyland as Tigers Manager?”

I would like to think I am indispensable as the leader of the church I serve, but I know better. Nobody is indispensable. Twenty minutes after I carry out the last box of books from my office I expect they’ll be asking, “What’s next?”

That being said, maybe here are two changes I need to make: 

Make sure I am spending my time on eternal things. 
The only things that will follow me into eternity are my relationships, starting with my Heavenly Father, and the people that I am influencing for the Kingdom. Chief among those are my wife and my children. Jesus said, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” Years ago I heard a pastor say, “What good does it profit a pastor to gain the whole world, yet lose the souls of his children?”
Twenty minutes after the ink on my retirement papers is dry there will be someone thinking about forming a pulpit committee. My kids, though? They’re with me for eternity.
 Stop acting and thinking like every decision is a make or break moment. 
Here is the reality of ministry that your pastor lives with every day: the stakes are high. Eternally high. The eternal destinies of people hang in the balance between heaven and hell. Because the stakes are so high, it sometimes feels like every decision is critical to success or failure.
What topic should we cover in our next sermon series? What person should we hire for the ___________ position? How should we engage lost people this Christmas/Easter? These are important decisions, but the reality is that an occasional misstep is unlikely to bring the entire train to a grinding halt.

At his press conference today, Jim Leyland said, “When it's time, it's time . . . It's time to step down from the managerial position of the Detroit Tigers. ” I respect that. I hope that I will know when it is time, too. I hope I will do so with the same grace Leyland showed today.

And I hope I will do so knowing that I put first things first.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Why I wish you had signed your name

At the conclusion of my sermon this past Sunday, I shared some thoughts about an anonymous note we received in the offering plate several weeks ago. There are several different schools of thought with respect to critical anonymous letters. Some pastors flat refuse to even read a letter that is unsigned. Not me. I read every correspondence that comes my way, and even those that are unsigned are sifted for any insights that might help move the church’s ministry forward. The authors of the note in question concluded with, “We have written this letter in hopes that it will be received in a way that will make the church leaders think a little.” I can’t speak for the rest of the church’s leaders, but it made me think. A lot.

The note was particularly critical, and I anguished about that it for a couple weeks. I don’t know if it was the author’s intention, or if he or she is even aware of the pain such critical comments cause a preacher. I am like many pastors in that it is hard to tell where I stop and where the church begins. (It’s nearing midnight after all, and I am sitting in my home office doing church work.) Rightly or wrongly – and it is probably more wrongly – I live and die with the successes and failures of our church.

Mostly though, I wish the author had signed his or her name. Here’s why:

1.     Signing your name means you are invested. An unsigned note says, “Here’s what’s wrong with your church.” Putting your name on the line, however, takes ownership – not just of the comments, critical or otherwise – but also of the church. Signing your name says, “This is our church, and I am concerned that there is something wrong with it.” Even if we disagree, I respect the author, and I respect the sincerity of his or her concerns because I trust his or her motives.
2.     Signing your name means we can have a conversation. An unsigned note is like a heckler at a baseball game. It is someone standing on the sidelines shouting onto the playing field. It is a cheap concession that he or she chooses to be drowned out by the din of the crowd rather than come close enough to have a conversation. It takes courage to close the distance enough to talk. It takes conviction to speak critically to someone with perceived spiritual authority. I get that. But the pastors, elders, and church staff I know want to have a conversation. We want to hear from people who disagree or who feel voiceless. We’re not looking for flatterers and “yes men,” because we know that it is sometimes the crucible of conflict that yields the strongest and brightest steel.
3.     Signing your name is how it is done in the family of God. Or at least it is how it should be. It’s how we do conflict in my family. If my wife and I disagree about something, we don’t send anonymous notes or pussyfoot around an issue. We get it on the table and deal with it. We might even fight – loudly at times – but, in the end, we’re family and we hash out whatever has us crosswise with one another and then we move on. And, in the end, we end up loving each other all the more.
4.     Signing your name is an act of worship. This might not have occurred to me had the letter not been placed in the Sunday morning offering tray. The weekly collection is an act of worship; tossing a critical letter in with the sacrificial gifts of the rest of the saints is defilement – plain and simple. But signing your name and delivering a critical letter into the hands of an overseer or staff member is a “choose this day whom you will serve” moment. It is a risk, both personal and spiritual. How will the ecclesial authorities react, after all? Accompanied by prayer and reflection, such a courageous response is an act of spiritual worship.

The author revealed in the letter that he (or she) feels ignored. Unheard. His (or her) comments revealed that there are probably legitimate concerns and that others might even share them. I hurt for him (or her). I wish I could offer some consolation and a listening hear and that, together, we could pursue some resolution that grows each of our faiths. But, unless something changes, that won't happen.

And that, Frankly Speaking, is regrettable.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The wisdom of Solomon

I wish I could show this tomorrow during my sermon on Solomon but, alas, it's gonna be a long sermon as it is!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Marching in rhythm

"Pastor, when will this church get moving again?"

"It feels like we are stuck!"

"There just doesn't seem to be any common vision . . ."

Every preacher has heard comments like these at one time or another, sometimes by the member who types out his or her frustrations and drops them in the offering plate (sans tithe). Sometimes they're left unsaid, but are expressed, instead, by conflicts and that nastiest of fights - the "church fight."

Reality #1 - There is nothing more exhilarating than the church of Jesus Christ accomplishing the mission of Jesus Christ. Seeing lives changed, marriages restored, bonds being loosed and destinies changed are the oxygen in ministry!

Reality #2 - There is nothing more frustrating than the church of Jesus Christ standing still. Unmoving. Stuck. Missionless.

When the church isn't moving, it has been my experience that the church is soon fighting. Movement is critical to church members being able to work together in harmony. Soldiers too long in camp invariably end up fighting one another. But put them into battle and their purpose becomes singular and makes an impact.

Jon Cook, the technology director at Great Lakes Christian College sent me the link to a YouTube video that illustrates this reality:

Robert Gonzales wrote about the video in his blog:
If you place 32 metronomes on a static object and set them rocking out of phase with one another, they will remain that way indefinitely. Place them on a moveable surface, however, and something very interesting (and very mesmerizing) happens.

The long and the short of it: metronomes that are on a static surface will never sync. But metronomes on a moving surface will eventually find a synonymous rhythm.

Christians in a static church will never sync either. But get the church moving - behind a unified mission - and eventually the church experiences extraordinary harmony.

Our church's Youth Pastor, Chad, told me something when he joined our team five years ago. He got it from someone else; I'm sure he told me who, but I've long since forgotten and just attribute it to his genius now. He said, "Either the church is on a mission, or the church is the mission." Put in the context of this video: the church on a mission experiences synchronization, but the church that has become the mission - that is, the static, unmoving church - is one of cacophony and discord.