Sunday, April 28, 2013

Conflict of Interest

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

-- Matthew 6:24     

When you hear the term conflict of interest, maybe you envision a supposedly neutral politician who supports the pet projects of his or her largest campaign contributors. But according to a paper published in the Electronic Journal of Business Ethics and Organizational Studies, such double-dealing extends well beyond local government offices and the Washington Beltway. In fact, the authors tell us, conflicts of interest are all around us--from investment banks to accounting firms to the Pentagon to the publishing industry...even the medical community is involved. And it's an extremely costly problem. For instance, the consulting firm Marsh & McClennan lost nearly $12 billion in just a few days in 2004 after New York's attorney general announced his investigation into the firm's alleged conflict of interest involving price fixing and collusion. 

The study also reports that such conflicts prevent organizations from running efficiently and remaining competitive in the marketplace. Indeed, it concludes that conflicts of interest have arguably produced the greatest and most widespread management failure ever!

That's quite an assertion. With so much at stake, what should be evident is the importance of eliminating even the appearance of such conflicts. And this principle is just as applicable to our own careers. Our reputation in the office should be beyond reproach. But how do conflicts of interest affect something that's much more important than any job: our spiritual life?

As Christ-followers, we've accepted God's invitation to meet all our needs. This covers deeply intimate issues involving our significance, happiness, value and self-worth. And let's not forget our money and possessions. Deep down, too many of us depend on the size of our bank account, 401-K and stock portfolio for security. We struggle for years to build up our nest egg. But even if we ever make it to the top by the world's standards, this supposed victory turns out to be a worthless idol that gains us nothing once we leave this life.

As the saying goes, money is a wonderful servant...but a horrible master. It's yet another illustration of what happens when we turn a good thing into a god thing. Money and possessions can become an idol that conflicts with the real God for the loyalty of our heart and mind.

We read in the Old Testament that King Solomon had his own problems with conflicting spiritual interests. Rather than depending strictly on God and following His Word, Solomon pursued a life of pleasure by accumulating hundreds of wives and concubines. He relied on them for his happiness instead of looking toward his Creator. 

What about you? Do you have conflicts when it comes to your relationships, money and possessions? The fact is that what we do with each paycheck and how we treat others is a test of how well we use God's blessings. As Jesus reminds us, we'll one day be rewarded with the opportunity to manage many things. But first, we need to demonstrate that we're faithful with just a few things. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Family Feud

Jesus asked, "Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?" Then he pointed to his disciples and said, "Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!"

-- Matthew 12:48-50     

We probably don't need the American Psychological Association (APA) to remind us, but the stress we tend to experience at home, in the workplace--and even on vacations or Christmas--can test our relationships, job performance...and even our health. A recent APA survey reveals that about 75% of respondents experience physical or psychological symptoms from stress. And it turns out that the leading causes of stress include job issues, finances, nutrition and relationships. Media overload from television, radio, the Internet, E-mail and social networking are also culprits. What's more, you could be especially vulnerable to increased anxiety during the holidays if you're already experiencing stress in these areas. 

Whenever families gather--for just about any reason at all--tensions can peak. Sometimes it's because of intrusions into precious personal space--like when the in-laws spend the night (or week) in a house that's already too close for comfort. RamsThere's also that outcast teenager who perceives their older relatives as judgmental, critical or demanding. And let's not forget those pleasant conversations over Christmas dinner about relationships, politics and religion! As stress expert Elizabeth Scott, M.S., rightly observes, "Many a happy holiday has been found by groups of people who have decided to celebrate with friends instead of family."
If this hits too close to home, you're in good company. Jesus Himself--the Son of God--was often misunderstood by those closest to him.

"A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family," Mark's Gospel records Him telling His disciples.

We know that our friends and family can misinterpret our words and actions. But what about God? Does He really understands all of the problems, annoyances and trials we face every day? Luke's Gospel tells us that Jesus came into this world in the poorest of circumstances: with a manger--an animal's feeding trough--as His first bed. It was an unusual entrance. As the King's Son, Jesus could have lived in a marble palace while enjoying only the finest things in life. And God could have commanded His creation to worship and obey Him.

But something would have been missing. As a loving Father, our God refuses to force anyone to accept His free gift of forgiveness and salvation. And since He knew that mankind is without hope because it consistently falls short of His perfect standards for living, God decided to demonstrate the perfect life by entering the world in human form. That meant living among us through the sin-free Jesus Christ--the only acceptable sacrifice to pay for our countless offenses.
That's the way it had to be. And because Jesus fulfilled this mission (one that God had planned since the foundation of the world), our sin debt was paid in full. God came not only to live out the turbulent human experience, He came to understand both you and me.

Jesus knew all about stress and conflict centuries before the American Psychological Association released its survey. "In this world you will have trouble," He says. But there is a solution.

"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls," Christ explains. "For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Friday, April 12, 2013

Queen for a Day

"See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland." 

-- Isaiah 43:19 
Have you ever contemplated some of the great problems of the world...and then decided how you'd fix them right away if you could somehow become the king or queen? 

Back in the 1950's and 60's, there was a popular TV show called Queen for a Day that's considered a forerunner of today's reality television genre. Every episode, viewers could count on host Jack Bailey's heartfelt interviews with three or four female contestants about their troubled lives and families. The would-be queens typically requested medical care for a child or a lifestyle-changing appliance like a refrigerator or washing machine. And it wasn't unusual to see at least one of the women burst into tears in front of the live studio audience.

An applause meter determined each week's winner, who was adorned with a red velvet robe and jeweled crown as she proceeded to an upholstered throne--and all while Pomp and Circumstance played in the background. As Queen for a Day, her prizes usually included the help she requested during her interview with Jack Bailey. She might also receive vacations, appliances and clothing donated by the sponsor companies (much like today's product placements).

Winning an over-the-top game show is one way to solve some of life's problems. But a truth that we find in the Old Testament's Book of Isaiah is that God's ways aren't our ways. All too often, our nearsighted choices result in our actually choosing against Him. We want to create our own options rather than obeying our Creator. What's more, we tend to seek power for ourselves rather than blessing others. And we can become ensnared in life's circumstances rather than waiting on His salvation.

Again and again, we also see through Scripture that God often carries out His will by doing what's completely unexpected--and then choosing the most unqualified people as His agents. Why does He do things this way? The short answer is that HE CAN. Accomplishing the impossible by using the unlikely demonstrates His power and omniscience. After all, if we could always save ourselves and solve our own problems, we'd soon believe that we don't need a Savior.

Of course, we all DO need a Savior--even when life seems to be going fine. And this leads us to the BIG question: Whether your life is good or it's falling apart, are you trying to handle things by being your own Queen (or King) for a Day? What's far better is to live by Jesus' simple words in Luke 22 as He prayed to His Father--the one and only real King--about what lay ahead at the cross:

"Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me," Christ asked. "Yet not my will, but yours be done."

Sunday, April 7, 2013

With Friends Like These

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

-- Proverbs 18:24 
Who is your BFF (Best Friend Forever)? And for that matter, what's the mark of a true friend?

Writer Elbert Hubbard defined a friend as "...someone who knows all about you and still loves you." Actress Marlene Dietrich remarked that the friends who matter are the ones you can call at 4 a.m. But President Harry S. Truman was less sentimental about friendship. "If you want a friend in Washington," he said, "get a dog."

Maybe President Truman was onto something. After all, dogs are known to be loyal and committed. And it so happens that loyalty and commitment are qualities that God values in His people. Joshua--one of the great servant leaders of the Old Testament--demonstrated these traits when he challenged the tribes of Israel to choose who they would serve: the false gods of their ancestors or the one True God.

"But for me and my household," declared Joshua, "we will serve the Lord."

Jesus also seeks this same level of total commitment from His modern-day followers. Rather than would-be believers who might help build His kingdom if it's not too inconvenient for them, Christ demands an all-or-nothing relationship from those willing to give the little they have to eventually gain everything.

Does this sound unrealistic? Jesus' closest friends once thought so. One day, a rich young man asked Christ what he needed to do to gain eternal life. Knowing what was in the man's heart, Jesus reminded him about following God's commandments regarding theft, adultery, murder, lying, and honoring one's parents. When the man replied that he had kept these laws since childhood, the Savior told him that he lacked just one thing: the need to sell all his possessions.

Jesus knew that rather than loving God with all of his heart, soul and mind (the first of the Ten Commandments), the rich young man was actually more devoted to money. The would-be follower was crushed by Jesus' harsh revelation and turned away.

How about you? As Christ-followers, we demonstrate our commitment and loyalty--as well as our friendship with Him--by showing kindness to those Jesus calls "the least of these." They might be famine victims in Africa, tsunami survivors in Asia or folks who are literally picking up the pieces after a tornado in the American Midwest. But then again, those who most need our kindness are often as close as down the street, next door or even across the living room. They might be total strangers. Or they could be your family members, your friends...or even your BFF.