Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Helpful Reminder from the French

My friends the French are in the news again. According to CNN (“Massive protests at French job law”; 3/28/06), “hundreds of thousands of protestors packed the streets of French cities and stalled the transportation system Tuesday, protesting a controversial labor law that would allow employers to more easily hire and fire young workers.”

The whole thing is quite ironic and not a little surreal – people protesting a proposed law designed to help more of them get jobs. You see, in France the unemployment rate among young people is 23%. One of the reasons it is so high is because companies are reluctant to hire young people because it is so difficult to fire workers. As the CNN story puts it, “Under current French law, merit in the workplace has little sway. Workers cannot be easily or inexpensively fired.” And the younger and less experienced a worker is, the more “risk” he/she brings to the employer who is hiring.

So the proposed law would give employers the “right” to hire and fire workers under age 26 without navigating a thicket of regulations. The government essentially is saying to companies, “If you will take a chance on a young person, we will not penalize you for doing so by making it extremely difficult to fire that person if he/she does not perform to expectations.” But union and student leaders say this law will create a generation of “throwaway workers who will have to churn through jobs until they are older than 26” (the implication being that at age 26 they will find a cushy job that is all but “guaranteed” employment).

As Dennis Prager puts it (“Socialism Makes People Worse,”, 3/21/06), “what these massive demonstrations reveal is the narcissism, laziness and irresponsibility inculcated by socialist societies. Socialism teaches its citizens that they have a plethora of rights and few corresponding obligations – except to be taxed.”

Here is why I, a preacher, am writing about a subject that is not religious or even, directly, spiritual (and rest assured that I am not arguing Jesus was a capitalist). I am writing about rights and obligations. All of us face the temptation to inflate our sense of entitlement (rights) and deflate our sense of responsibilities (obligations). Church members do it. Husbands and wives do it. Employees do it. Children do it (In fact, it is the essence of childishness; 2-yr olds don’t think about responsibilities, only about wants). It is also terribly unproductive and even pernicious; it feeds on and multiplies itself. Soon you have regressed into a kind of infantilism.

In his inaugural address John F. Kennedy challenged Americans to “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” One might apply that principle not just to country but to spouse, church, employer, and friends. Doing so makes you proactive. It makes you responsible. It keeps you from having a victim mentality. It is also, in my opinion, consistent with Christian generosity and self-giving.

So I want to thank the French youth for this dramatic reminder for all of us to commit to continually growing up.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

What Was I Thinking?

Last Sunday in the Bay Hill Invitational in Orlando, FL, Greg Owen played the final round flawlessly and found himself in position to enter the 18th (final) hole with a two-stroke lead, which is nearly insurmountable in professional golf. All he had to do was make a 3 foot putt on the 17th green (in the tournament, he was 52-of-52 from inside 5 feet). He missed the putt! Then, flustered, he quickly set up to tap in for bogey and missed that too! All of the sudden, instead of a two shot lead, things were even going into the last hole. He bogeyed that and finished second. The mistake cost him roughly $400,000 and a prestigious Tour win. “It was one of those silly mistakes I’ll be remembered for,” he said afterwards.

For those readers unfamiliar with golf, this mistake is akin to:
· A football receiver dropping a wide open pass in the end zone that would have tied a game his team eventually lost (see Dallas Cowboy tight-end Jackie Smith in Super Bowl XIII).
· A baseball player letting a ground ball that would have been an easy out roll through his legs, thus prolonging a World Series his team eventually loses (see Boston Red Sox’s Bill Buckner in 1986).
· A solid Olympic gold medal favorite in speed skating inexplicably slipping (1988) and stumbling (1992) and failing to medal – until the next Olympics (see Dan Jensen).

My point is two-fold. First, this was an extraordinary lapse of concentration, and second, it happens. Bone-headed, nincompoop, what-in-the-world-was-I-thinking mistakes are a part of life. Sometimes they can wreck a marriage, kill a relationship, or end a career. Many times they cost a person big sums of money. So I don’t want to make too light of them. But most times they just embarrass the snot out of us. Southwest Airlines even ran a series of commercials based on this theme, with the punch-line: “Wanna get away?” I loved those commercials.

One of the things that happens is you learn, really learn, from these experiences. Pain in any form is a great teacher. Several years ago when I was living in Culver City I left the house with $450 in cash to buy several bicycles for my family. I was using cash because it is better for bargaining. As I walked in the store I saw a destitute person riding a bicycle stop near my parked car, reach down and pick up a few dollars. I was happy for her that she had found a little money lying on the ground to help with her difficult life. I smiled and waved. When it came time to purchase the bikes, I was less happy that she had found $450 lying on the ground near my car and I never clued in that my wad of cash and her discovery were related. Do you think I learned a little lesson from that?

There can even be a sort of poetic justice that follows these lapses. Rod Pampling distinguished himself a few years ago as the only golfer ever to lead the British Open after the first round and fail to make the cut after the second round (missing the cut means you are out of the tournament at the halfway point). What an embarrassing distinction! Well, Rod Pampling is the golfer who won the Bay Hill Invitational after Owen’s collapse.

Friends, life usually gives us second chances. Acknowledge your mistakes and give them to God. Consecrate them to him and learn from them. He will help you redeem them into something helpful.

Thursday, March 16, 2006


A couple of months ago I attended a preachers’ luncheon to hear about a pilot ministry the YMCA is launching in our area in partnership with local churches. (The YMCA’s mission statement reads: “A worldwide charitable fellowship united by a common loyalty to Jesus Christ for the purpose of helping persons grow in spirit, mind and body”). And by the way, to my knowledge, Houston is one of the only cities in the nation in which the Y employs a full-time chaplain to work with local churches in launching partner ministries.

At any rate, in 2000 the Y launched a ministry called “Restore” in Middle Tennessee that has been phenomenally fruitful. “Restore” is “a Christ-centered program designed to bring healing and wholeness in spirit, mind and body to individuals who are struggling with life-controlling issues. The program includes 12-Step and Boundary groups which provide education, coaching, support, confidentiality and accountability through the power of a group based process.”

The luncheon I attended (in addition to providing a free meal, to which preachers are notorious for flocking) was for the purpose of enlisting local church leaders in partnering with the YMCA in launching the first expansion of “Restore” outside of Tennessee, in Houston, and through the Langham Creek YMCA, no less!

Here’s how it works. A host church (initially Copperfield Church) serves as the location for weekly meetings of Restore. The YMCA trains volunteer facilitators to lead small groups at these once-a-week meetings. Participants from the community sign up to go through the Restore program. Registration is on a sliding scale so that no one is turned down due to finances. Local churches serve in two primary ways: by providing the volunteer facilitators, and by helping to spread the word about the program.

Friends, I left this meeting so excited I could hardly stand it. I find it so compelling to think of Christians being out in the community, facilitating groups (and participating in groups) designed, in the words of “Restore,” “to help people through a Christ-centered approach who need healing in their lives, hearts and spirits with issues including depression, loneliness, eating disorders, loss, addictions, grief, and simply feeling overwhelmed.” This is what I would term a “Jesus-in-the-marketplace” ministry: basic, fundamental, coming alongside people in the name of Christ.

Facilitator training is Friday-Saturday, March 31-April 1, from 8-5 p.m. at Copperfield Church, with lunch provided. Please let me know if you would like to pursue this ministry opportunity and I will give you more details.

“Working out at the Y” has taken on a whole new meaning. – Matt Soper (3/19/06).

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Long Good Road

There is a short feature near the back of each Money magazine issue called “How I Did It.” This month’s (March 2006) was written by Fred Murrin, 55, from Greenville, PA and is subtitled: “I’m a pilot who couldn’t afford to buy the historical planes I wanted to fly, so I built them from scratch.” Here is the entire essay:

The first replica I built was a German Fokker Dr. 1 triplane. No plane
existed, so I had to do a tremendous amount of research. I found an
original WWI-era engine, which I extensively restored. I also reverse engineered
the propeller, which I carved from birch and walnut. The next plane I built was
a British Sopwith F1 ‘Camel.’ I found all the original instruments, even the
machine guns. I started to build the plane in my shop, but it outgrew the space,
so I rented a hangar to finish the work. That project lasted about 12,500 hours,
and I did everything myself—from working during some of my lunch hours to
tracking down parts across North America.

I worked an average of 14 hours a week, so it took me about 18 years to finish the plane. Building both planes cost less than $39,000, and I did that on a five-figure
engineer’s salary. I saved money for the plane by thinking of it as an extra
monthly car payment. Today both planes are worth almost 10 times their cost, but
their value isn’t really that important. My passion is WWI aviation, and flying
these old planes is what drives me.

I have always admired people who are passionate about a hobby, whether it be a runner who participates in races all over the country, or a hunter who takes hunting trips, or a collector of stamps, or reader of books, or what have you. My next door neighbor loves to tend her yard and garden, and they are exquisite. I think hobbies are fascinating (and healthy).

But you can probably guess what really jumped out at me about this story. That’s right: “12,500 hours. 18 years.” Can you believe it?! Here’s why I admire that so much. Murrin could have put himself into debt up to his eyeballs buying a completed plane so he could fly it immediately. But I’ll bet he knew a deeper truth that eludes many people in our “instant gratification” culture: The anticipation of having something, coupled with the challenge of working towards it, hugely enhances the reward of receiving it. Related to this, the character that is forged in us as we work towards our goal is often a greater reward than the goal itself.

This is difficult, friends, but it is a deep and rich truth. We are tempted to think that if we could just snap our fingers and make our marriage better, or our finances better, or our golf game better (speaking personally) THEN we would be happy, but as Thomas Paine once put it, “That which we obtain too easily we esteem too lightly. It is dearness only which gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price on its goods.”

Here is a good question: What do you really want? Now here is the follow-up: What are you willing to give up, what are you willing to do differently, what are you willing to do more of, and how long are you willing to work, to realize that goal?

Here’s another valuable question: What kind of person will you have to become to realize that goal? That is what ultimately separates God-honoring dreams from superficial ones. Because what we become is far more important to God and significant than what we have.