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Friday, May 31, 2019

Jeopardy James

    Maybe I need to be more like “Jeopardy James.” Jeopardy James is the latest game show phenomenon. As I’m writing this, he’s won 31 games in a row, second only to Ken Jennings’ record of 74. Even though he’s won less than half as many games as Ken, he’s within two games of passing Jennings’ record of more than $2.5 million. James’ average for his daily winnings is close to the pre-James record for the highest one-day total.

    So what’s his secret? James is a mathematician and a professional gambler. He uses probability and statistics to determine his strategy. He doesn’t play hunches or take foolish risks. (Yes, he takes high risks, but they’re all carefully calculated and therefore reasonable.) That’s one side of his success.

    The other side is what I’d like to emulate. James is completely comfortable with both winning and losing. I’m not. On May 23, he came close to ending his streak. When I tuned in partway through the show, another contestant was ahead of him, which is rare. The contestant then got a Daily Double, boosting his earnings to nearly twice as much as James’. That was a first. But James coolly continued to play, risking everything he had on the next Daily Double and taking the lead. Still calm, still relaxed.

    Unlike me. I was tied up in knots. Screaming in my head, “No! This can’t be happening! He has to win again! He has to break the current all-time record! He can’t lose!” Focusing intently on the game instead of loading the dishwasher, as I usually do during Jeopardy! time.

    Why was I so wrapped up in this game? In the grand scheme of things, an eternity from now, will anyone really care how much money James makes on Jeopardy! or how many records he sets? I don’t think so. During the commercials, I reflected on my reaction and on how James would respond if he lost. That’s when I realized that I need to be more like him.

    As a professional gambler, James knows that the house always determines both the rules and the odds, because it exists to earn a profit. No profit, no house. In the same way, game shows are intended to make money, not to give away unlimited riches. James knows that he will lose at some point. He accepts that as the way the system works. And because he’s comfortable with the system, he wins more. Stress doesn’t mess with his mind or emotions, leading to costly mistakes.

    How comfortable am I with the way God’s system works? Not as comfortable as I’d like to be. I only check my blog stats once a week because I can’t handle the roller coaster of encouragement and disappointment. If the number of page views isn’t as high as I’d hoped, I feel like I’ve failed. Question whether I’m following God’s leading. Search the internet for new ideas on how to be a successful blogger. Get all tensed up inside. And suffer the consequences as the stress messes with my mind and emotions.

    Deep down inside, I know I’m doing my best to listen to the Holy Spirit’s guidance. In a Bible study last summer, I had one of those wonder-full experiences of seeing a familiar verse in a new light. “My sheep hear my voice” (John 10:27, RSV). I always thought this referred only to our initial calling to follow Him. But it also applies to our daily walk with Him.

    Jesus doesn’t hide His will and direction from us. He doesn’t challenge us to search high and low for it with uncertainty and anxiety, as for a hidden treasure that few will ever find. He speaks to us through His Word, through wise counselors, through life’s circumstances. We hear His voice. It’s that simple. And yet I still worry that I’m missing something.

    A few months ago, I was selling off books and games that I no longer wanted. Boxes of treasures went to the second-hand store. The payoff: $38. I’d hoped for so much more. Had I done the right thing in dealing with this particular store? Should I have shopped around or had a garage sale or used eBay? Did I fail to do what was best in the situation? Disappointed and discouraged, I struggled with it all the way home.

    A day or two later, a thought occurred to me: maybe that $38 was exactly what God wanted me to have. Not a penny more. Not a penny less. Just right.

    Don’t I have an even better foundation for facing my gains and losses than James does? He plays within an impersonal system that’s stacked against him. I live and breathe and move and work in the presence of a living God who loves me and wants the best for me. Every hair on my head is numbered (Luke 12:7). He works in all things in my life for His glory and for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). I can hear the voice of my shepherd without straining to make it out.

    So I checked my blog stats this morning from a new perspective. Not as many page views as I would have liked? Maybe that number is just exactly where God wants it to be. Maybe I’m not failing to follow Him faithfully when I have fewer readers. Maybe I need to trust Him to bring just the right people to my blog at just the right time, instead of stressing out over whether I’m doing everything that I should be doing, whether I’m missing some signal from on high that I should be seeing, whether I’m really good enough at this to continue with it.

    Maybe I could have the peace and calm of Jeopardy James, accepting the bad with the good, the trials with the triumphs, because I know that God is leading me and that He loves me, even when I don’t fully understand His system.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Chaplains at Work

    Recently heard about a company called Marketplace Chaplains. Trained Christian chaplains available 24/7 to provide employee care to businesses. Workers going through a crisis or stressful life event can choose to contact them, choose where to meet with them, choose how much to reveal to them, even choose the best match from a team of chaplains serving their particular company. It’s all confidential and free to the employee.

    What a great idea! But after a few minutes of marveling over the brilliance of the plan, another thought: Why do we need these people?

    Yes, they’re providing a valuable service. Yes, there’s a lot of pain and suffering among the workers in any given company at any given time, leading to reduced efficiency for the business. (Let’s be real here. The only reason most businesses would hire this company is to improve productivity.) Yes, Christianity has the best solutions for coping with and overcoming the challenges that we all face.

    My question isn’t, “Why bother?” It’s, “Why isn’t this already happening on a more informal basis?” Aren’t there enough Christians in the secular marketplace that, if each one did a fraction of what Jesus commanded in instructing us to love our neighbors as ourselves, there would be no need for this ministry?

    I can understand how beneficial it would be for some individuals to have specialized training to be able to reach out to people from widely different backgrounds and with widely different kinds of struggles. But shouldn’t every Christian be learning how to fulfill what Jesus referred to as the second greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39)? Shouldn’t we be building loving, kind, generous relationships with those around us, including in the secular workplace? Then when someone needs a listening ear, we’ll naturally be there for them.

    We might not be able to steer them to other needed resources, as a Marketplace Chaplain will be able to do. But from what I’ve heard and seen and read, the majority of people who are struggling with everyday issues in their lives benefit most from simply talking about it with someone who’s willing to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” as James says “everyone” should be (James 1:19). “Everyone” meaning every Christian, not just specially trained experts. Where have we gone wrong?

    I know many loving, caring believers. I marvel at how many Christians are serving God full-time in low-wage ministries to the homeless, to drug addicts, in the inner city, with overseas missions, anywhere there is great need. These people are truly living out their faith.

    But for the rest of us, who are not called into those ministries, the teaching we hear in our evangelical organizations week after week focuses primarily (sometimes exclusively) on how to convert people, not on how to love them. Learn the right Bible verses. Memorize the latest apologetics. Lip service is sometimes given to building relationships, but it takes a back seat to the sense of urgency that if I don’t say something about Jesus to that unbeliever right now, he or she could be lost forever. Little time is spent teaching us members of a me-centered culture how to build genuine caring relationships with those who don’t know Christ.

    Most of the Christians I’ve known who are employed by large secular corporations follow one of two paths in the workplace. Some remain totally silent about their faith. They simply don’t know how to bring Jesus into a conversation. Maybe they’ve tried it a few times and met with nothing but hostility. Maybe they’re introverts who don’t talk about anything personal on the job. I can understand this approach.

    The second group sees the workplace as their mission field and themselves as missionaries. They steer every personal conversation to Jesus and the salvation that He offers. They do more talking than listening. They press each coworker to make a decision. Their hearts are in the right place, but I have to question their methods. And yet those methods are coming from their churches and Bible study classes.

    The problem is that they come across all wrong. They might care deeply about the person that they’re confronting, but their conversations feel more like high-pressure sales pitches than loving concern. If a particular coworker doesn’t respond well, they let the relationship drop and move on to the next victim.

    But every great once in a while I meet someone who models a more biblical approach to workplace evangelism. They build relationships with their coworkers. They love them just the way they are, as God loves us. They demonstrate genuine concern for those around them. They listen. They mourn with those who mourn. They don’t offer quick answers to every dilemma. They don’t judge those who have failed as parents, those who have failed as spouses, those who have failed to resist the attractions of drug and alcohol abuse. At some point, they share their faith, but not in a high-pressure fashion. And they touch lives in deeper, more meaningful, more long-lasting ways than those who follow the evangelically-correct methods.

    Why do we need Marketplace Chaplains? Because we’re falling so far short of God’s demands and desires for us as we interact with those who are hurting. Instead, we pay someone else to do it. I pray for the day when this ministry shuts its doors due to lack of demand, when Christians begin doing what we should’ve been doing all along.