Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Book Review

God Is Closer Than You Think
by John Ortberg

If you've read any of John Ortberg's other books, you won't be dissapointed by God Is Closer Than You Think (Zondervan, 2005, Grand Rapids, MI). The author provides deep insight and thoughts about the ways of God using stories, humor and scripture. He draws analogies to common things of today in order to make the point of the subtitle: This Can Be The Greatest Moment Of Your Life Because This Moment Is The Place Where You Can Meet God. The ideas are presented in a logical order that pull you further and further into the book and into a better understanding of God.

In the first chapter, the author uses stories from the bible and a detailed discussion of Michelangelo Buonarroti's masterpiece painting of God and Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, The Creation of Adam. He makes the point that God is moving heaven and earth, pursuing us. God is the originator of the relationship, not man. The point is further made repeatedly in the bible, from Adam, to Jacob, to Samuel, and the travelers on the road to Emmaus that God is seeking us, initiating the relationship; always present.

Chapter two: We need to train ourselves to find God. He's right there if we look for Him. God is always present whether we see him or not. The point is made clear and memorable by the author's comparison and illustrations to the Where's Waldo books once again interwoven with examples from scripture. The imagery and the detail of the analogy make the point memorable. "Where's Waldo? He's right there on the page. He's anywhere people are willing to see the whole world with eyes incapable of anything but wonder... [h]e's closer than you think."

In the subsequent chapters, he uses modern analogies like "DTR" or Define The Relationship", and movies "A Beautiful Mind" and "The Princess Bride" mixed with biblical exposition, Christian history, and practical application to help the reader practice taking advantage of our proximity to God. He is not to be hidden from as Adam did, but He is to be pursued, studied, known and followed moment by moment. He even took the DTR in chapter and changed it into a reminder that we should be following Jesus so closely, we should be covered in DTR, Dust of the Rabbi.

The book is entertaining and enlightening, compelling and convicting. Study it slowly, think about it deeply and ask God to change you as you learn more about Him.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Capitalism and Meaning

What's the purpose of capitalism? What's the point? What about wealth? Is it's only purpose to purchase comfort, or power or influence?

What about benevolence; have you ever wondered why you feel good when you do something for someone else? Why is doing something for others considered "good?" What if you used your wealth to make yourself feel well and you decided the maximum good feeling is not selfishness, but benevolence? Maybe the purpose of wealth is to do nice things for others?

In recent years, more and more businesses have operated "to maximize shareholder return" or for the benefit of the shareholders. But a business that exists to only provide for it's owners seems to be a pretty shallow undertaking. If you look back 100 years to the people we value as great leaders, they used their talents, wealth, skill, and influence to make things better for others. Abraham Lincoln, for example, is valued and remembered much more highly than many contemporaries for his contribution to society, not for what he gained for himself.

Capitalism has great advantage over every other economic system. In a capitalistic society, such as the United States, people have freedom to choose the use of their profits. (That freedom is somewhat constrained by things like taxes, but we'll withhold that topic for another post.) In a capitalistic economy, we can use profits many ways; one of which is to generate further profit. However if that profit becomes an end in itself, that seems like a short story. Take the money and run.

Profit reinvested creates further profit. Many companies reinvest in customers; customer acquisition, profitability and retention. Profit reinvested in customers does not necessarily guaranteed a return to the business. How many companies do you know that went out of business with satisfied customers? And reinvestment in fixed assets is fleeting also. How many companies invested in buying other companies only to watch the stock market revalue itself in the second half of 2008?

Only when the shareholders invest profits in the lives of the employees or associates, who in turn spend their lives in the service of the company, that profit multiplies many times. Employees and associates care for customers and fixed assets. Their productivity creates the value that becomes profit to the shareholders.

Therefore I believe the employer that truly operates for the benefit of its employees and associates creates a meaningful experience of work and thereby creates a competitive advantage.

Do you agree? Can a company succeed caring for employees and associates ahead of customers and shareholders?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Wide Awake

A book that I recently finished spoke to me, Wide Awake - The Future Is Waiting Within You by Erwin Raphael McManus. It was published in Nashville, Tennessee by Thomas Nelson. You can get it here.

Erwin Raphael McManus is not your normal, run-of-the-mill pastor. He has a refreshing, engaging approach to following Jesus. Wide Awake is a challenge to those of us who have postponed or given up on our dreams. The challenge: embrace the dreams. They were put there by God. He designed them into us. Let's not quench them, or run from them or ignore them. Let's embrace them. Let's become alive in Christ and free enough to live our dreams. Why not dream wide awake?

Inside Flap: "Maybe you have been asleep. You have never lived up to your potential. You have unfulfilled dreams and longings. If you're dead, let Jesus raise you up to new life. If you have been sleepwalking, it's time to wake up and start dreaming wide awake."

McManus begins the introductory chapter titled Awaken with the premise that there is a hero within each of us. He claims (and I heartily agree) that "people are the most underused and undervalued resource on the planet. Earth's unlimited resource is the gifts, talent, passions, imagination, and ingenuity of its citizens." He goes on to say that "the real battle is not between good and evil, but between less and more." He also asserts that the world needs us at our best. We were created by God for a purpose. He states that the "planet is made better or worse by the people we choose to become. If you live a diminished life, it's not only you who loses, but the world loses and humanity loses." We simply need to awaken the hero within us.

The following eight chapters are the attributes necessary to live out our greatness. They are:
  1. Dream
  2. Discover
  3. Adapt
  4. Expect
  5. Focus
  6. Create
  7. Enjoy
  8. Invest
The author's hope is that we would live out the "more" that God created us for and change the world in the process. "Go. Dream big. Dream God-sized dreams and have the courage to live them. If you do, the world will never be the same again." In all, I was challenged and encouraged by this book. I appreciate the author and read everything of his I can get. This book helped me have a better view of a God that is much harder to understand; a God who refuses to fit in my boxes. God is so big, so powerful, so "not me" and still so loving as to be interested in my life and its outcome. Erwin Raphael McManus has helped me know God a little better and challenged me to pursue the dreams God has given me for my life. Who knows, maybe the world will benefit!