Sunday, September 24, 2006

The use of wealth

I believe that God has given us, or is giving us, all the gifts and resources we need to do what He has called us to do. We may need to do a better job of managing those resources, but they are there just the same.

This means that God does not give us more than we need. If we have lots of skills and financial resources, it means that God has created something very special for us to do.

Rick Warren said that it is not a sin to be rich, but it is a sin to die rich. If we are rich it is because God has blessed us with resources. If we die rich, it is because we have squandered opportunities to use those resources as God intended.

This idea somehow goes against our modern culture where leaving money for our heirs is considered a desirable thing to do. We might think that leaving an inheritance for our children is noble, but the reality is that inherited money is seldom used wisely.

The best use of our money, or more precisely, the money God has entrusted with us, is always to find out what God gave it to us for in the first place. This is not always easy. It may result in a life-long pursuit of God and His desires and will. It will result in an extremely rewarding and fulfilling life. It almost certainly will not result in seeing how much money we can accumulate.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Customer Service?

I was an early adopter of the cell phone. The idea of not being tethered to a phone line was the answer to my dreams. I quickly dropped my home phone line, confident that my cell phone would be all the communication I would ever need.

Oh sure, there were a few problems early on - dropped calls, poor reception, billing errors. You expect this with any new technology. I was sure these problems would be solved in a few months and the world would be a wonderful place, with people freely communicating with anyone whenever they liked.

Ten years later, the problems haven’t gone away; they may have gotten worse. I may have to go back to a land line in my apartment because my cell phone doesn’t work there. There is a lot of discussion about how this situation came about, but it comes down to not putting the customer first. Good business has always been about giving your best to the customer. Businesses that don’t understand that, shouldn’t last very long.

The Bible says in Philippians 2:4, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interest of others.” Jesus said to treat others the way you would like to be treated. These are pretty basic business principles, but they seem to be overlooked so often in today’s business settings. These principles apply whether you are a barista working in a coffeehouse or a CEO deciding whether to out-source “customer service” to India. Each of us can decide how we would like to be treated. Whether you are the guy behind the counter or the one behind the mahogany desk, are you looking out for your interest or the best interest of your customers?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Hairs on our head

The Bible tells that God has numbered even the hairs on our heads. Well, it turns out that that was a bit of an understatement. God made each of us totally unique and with a specific purpose. He then gave us each a serial number to identify us and wrote that number on every single cell of our body. That makes every last cell and molecule in our body totally unique. Scientists are now able to read this number. It is called DNA. They even know what a small part of it means, but most of it is still a huge mystery known only to the maker who stamped the number there in the first place – God.

God then gave us each interests, skills, and gifts. The combination of these characteristics will give us a big clue as to what our purpose or calling in life really is. If we would rate all of our interests, skills, and gifts or God-given attributes, on a scale of 1 to 100, where 50 was the average person, the high numbers might point to a very specific calling.

For example, this last weekend I rode in the MS150 bike tour. The stated purpose of the tour was to raise money to fight Multiple Sclerosis, but the real reasons varied from rider to rider. Personally I rode to prove to myself that I am not old yet. Others rode just to have fun. On a scale of 1 to 100 my interest in bicycling is about 78. My riding skill is probably about 65 and my giftedness for bicycling is around 85. That means I could be a lot better if wanted to be – if I trained harder. If all of those numbers were over 95, my goal would be the Tour de France not finishing the Missouri MS 150.

Some say that an interest rating over 80 is a need; I would say anything over 95 is a passion. The area where your passion, learned skills, and God-given abilities or “gifts” come together should be the focal point of your life. After all that is why God made you. He wrote it down in His book and then encoded it into every cell of your body.

Monday, September 11, 2006

We made it!

For those of you keeping score, Tim and I and a couple of thousand of our closest friends completed the MS 150 one hundred and fifty mile bike ride with no serious incidents. The weather was great, the rain held off, and we crossed the finish line like the end of the Tour de France. Photos and more thoughts to follow - stay tuned.


Friday, September 08, 2006

Working With Your Hands

Working with your Hands

The first specific instance of a person being filled with the Holy Spirit of God in the Bible was a craftsman named Bezalel. Through the spirit of God, he was given generous gifts of skill for creating and teaching all kinds of decorative arts.
Exodus 35: 30-35

Then Moses said to the Israelites, "See, the LORD has chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts- to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic craftsmanship. And he has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others. He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as craftsmen, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers—all of them master craftsmen and designers.

Later when God Himself chose to come to earth, He came as a craftsman, a woodworker from Nazareth. Wood was rare in Palestine at the time of Christ. It was used as a decorative item, for furniture, or for making household utensils. Jesus was probably much more of an artisan than we are commonly lead to believe.

It seems that God has a special place in His heart for people who work with their hands, for people who have devoted the time and energy necessary to learn how to do something well. It pleases God greatly when we use the resources we have to create something beautiful.

In I Thessalonians 4:11, Paul say, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you.”

My wife and I first became aware of the difference in the way cultures view craftsman on a trip to Switzerland. We were amazed at the quality of even the most mundane things. The door handles and window latches, for example, were of much higher quality than we were used to seeing here. That culture places great value on craftsmanship. One of the shames of modern American culture is that we have devalued the importance of craft. To a large extent craftsman are now considered quaint and relegated to crafts fairs or museums. Except for medical or music schools, only a handful of colleges offer advanced degrees in disciplines where it is required to have skilled hands.

Apprenticeships for things like luthier (stringed musical instrument making), jewelry, fine woodworking, sculpture, and so forth are hard to find and outside the radar of all but the most dedicated student.

A student who wishes to pursue a career where a high degree of learned skill is required is often discouraged and directed to more cerebral pursuits. As a result, only those not considered “college material” are encouraged to learn a trade and college graduates are discouraged from learning a craft.

Because of this, the highest skilled professions are disappearing. Only a relative handful of people can build a violin, cut a diamond, or restore a painting.

I have heard it said our quality of life is determined by the skills we have. This is certainly true. Another definition I’ve heard is that a laborer is a person that works with his hands, a craftsman works with his hands and head, an artist works with his hands, head, and heart. By this definition we should all strive to be artists.

A lot of the problem is economic. Many of the highest skilled vocations don’t earn much money compared to the effort needed to learn them. Whereas other less skilled jobs pay much more. Example: Assembly line workers in the automobile industry make more money than a craftsman that restores classic cars. The autoworker could be trained in a matter of hours while the skills needed to restore classic cars take years to obtain. Should a person who writes contracts make more money than a person who writes songs?

There is no easy solution. It comes down to society’s attitudes and values. We value efficiency and productivity over creativity and workmanship. All of us suffer the consequences in the lack of quality in the products we buy, the music we hear, and the art we live with.

Of course times change. Not all professions need to live on. I once knew a man who built his own television from scratch. I doubt if anybody would do that today. But try getting a car stereo repaired now. It is surprising at how few people know anything beyond taking out the old one and putting in a new one.

If God has given us the desire to create wonderful things with our hands, no matter what form they may take, develop the proficiency to do them well. Give God the glory through the item and the way it was created.

Jim Mathis