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We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who have died to the world in baptism and have been reborn in Jesus Christ said … AMEN
I want to start by remembering our brother Sam Null who went to be in the presence of the Lord. Sam’s funeral will be this Friday here at First St Johns. We pray for Norma and their son Sam and we praise God that Sam is free from suffering and in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As you see in today’s introduction to worship, I will be saying the words that I say in a funeral. We Christians do not live In fear of death. We died that day we were baptized. We are still in the world when we are baptized, but now we are no longer of the world we are reborn in Christ. This is another area where we are at odds with other Christian belief systems. Other Christians see baptism as sort of an initiation into the faith, a public act, on their part, in accepting Christ. For Lutherans, we see baptism as our new birth, where, when I baptize someone the Holy Spirit is using the words I say and the act of pouring the water as a way to, as Dr Luther would say, to drown the old person and from that the new person in Christ is reborn.
It’s been a really rough week, heck for me as a pastor, throw a bout of flu into the mix of Advent, two Christmas Eve worships, Holly Tea, German Christmas worship, a wedding, a few deaths, it’s been a tough last few weeks. Death has been a very real presence just in the past few days. My Aunt died up in Maine, the Rev Dr Mike Ramey’s mother died in Texas, a fellow pastor and classmate’s mother died, we said farewell to our bother Rev Don Biggs a few weeks ago, we had other funerals this past year of brothers and sisters in Jesus. But here is the upshot, here is the Gospel, the Good News. All of them “died” in Jesus. Yes, they aren’t here with us in the body, but we know for sure, because we have the promise of Jesus Christ, that all of these brothers and sisters are now in the perfect bliss and comfort of heaven, the very real presence of our Lord.
How can we be so sure of this? Was it because of something they said or did? No! We have many Christians who believe that it’s all about them, it’s all about what they do or don’t do. One of the main reasons we baptize babies is to emphasize our understanding of what baptism is. Baptism is when we are called by the Holy Spirit to come into the new life of Christ. It is not a decision we make to “accept Jesus”. Doesn’t it really seem presumptuous to think that it’s our decision to be saved? “Oh, okay, I’ll accept Jesus as Lord, well because I can and I’m going to. I will walk down the aisle and make a declaration for God.” I’ve had more than one person tell me that after making some sort of public declaration of accepting Jesus, they did not feel as if they really knew salvation. I often hear that there is this doubt, that they might have done something wrong, that somehow it wasn’t enough, wrong time, wrong way, etc. In our baptism into Jesus it is not about what we do, it’s not about how we do it, when we do it, why we do it, yada, yada, yada. It’s about the fact that we have the knowledge and assurance that we were called to be baptized, we were called to be saved, we were baptized in the Name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and by that, the Holy Spirit brought you to salvation in Jesus. The Holy Spirit took you up out of the depths of your baptism and gave you the new life, made you the new person in Jesus. It’s not up to you, it’s not your call and that is why, for Lutherans, it is about baptizing babies. I am certainly not saying you have to be baptized as a baby. Certainly God decides when we come to know Christ and that is not always as an infant. I wasn’t baptized until I was in my mid-twenties, I’m sure there are others here who weren’t baptized as babies and others who haven’t been baptized at all. I pray that those who are adults and haven’t been baptized, that God is leading them through the words that He has given me for you to come to new life in Jesus. But I want to make this very clear, it’s not about your decision, it’s not about you making the call. You may have some idea that you don’t need to be baptized, or that you are somehow unworthy. Heck I’d like to know who here, me included, could ever be worthy enough for new life in Jesus. I’ll tell you who, no one, not you, not me, not anyone who hears this is worthy. We are not saved on the basis of whether we are worthy. Sola gratia by grace alone are we baptized. The grace of God, His forgiveness of us, His desire, not yours, not mine, to save you in Jesus. There are no mistakes in God, if you have not been saved in the waters of baptism whether you are 8 months or 80 years you are saved only by God’s grace and united with Jesus in His death through baptism. His death, His sacrifice, His atonement on the Cross that saved us. So no, you are not worthy enough for baptism and neither am I, no one is.
Jesus was baptized and He was baptized as an adult. Why? He was baptized by John the Baptist, John was designated by God to baptize Jesus in the way and at the time that He was baptized. No, Jesus didn’t need to be baptized, but as Jesus lived the life that we live, that He came down from heaven, born as a baby, He identified with us in every way and part of that is to be baptized. We are baptized because He was baptized, we are saved because He sacrificed His perfect life, the life that He lived as a man in complete perfection, a life that we could not live, He lived in order to be that perfect sacrifice, that perfect price to be paid for the payment of all our sins. More and more in the world, you will meet people who feel that baptism is unnecessary or that they are not worthy. You have to know that God is going to speak through you to them for them to hear that they need to be baptized, they need to be saved in the baptism that Jesus had in order to be saved. Paul tells us in today’s reading: “For one who has died has been set free from sin.” OK, sure, after you die you can’t sin anymore. How does that help us during our earthly life? Because Paul gives us God’s promise: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death?” We are free from sin because we have been baptized, we have been brought into new life by the Holy Spirit by the act of baptism. Do we still sin in our life? Yes! But those sins are forgiven, we are freed from those sins. Paul says: “We were buried therefore with Him [baptism as being buried in the waters of baptism] by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Rom 6: 4) We have newness of life in Jesus through our baptism in Him. It’s not about us, we will continue to live and sin, but we turn it over to God, we repent and ask for His forgiveness. We should also ask for His power to overcome our sin, but we are saved in what He has done for us. We may have been a baby when we were baptized, but as that baby, we are brought by faithful parents, who have heard God’s Word, have known the urging of the Holy Spirit and faithfully bring their child to the saving waters of faith and new life in Jesus. Paul gives us these great promises: “Now if we have died with Christ [that is the death and rebirth of baptism] we believe that we will also live with Him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him… So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” What an incredible promise, what an incredible assurance. All those that we have lost, we know that they are very much alive, saved completely by what Jesus did for them in His life, death and resurrection and our baptism in Him. We too have that promise and that is a promise that we need to share with anyone we know who still does not know Jesus as Lord. It’s not what they’ve done, do or will do, it’s entirely what Jesus has done for us. He was baptized to identify with us and He gives us the promise of forgiveness and eternal life in Him in the baptism in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin.
A lot is being written lately, about how younger generations have just stopped going to church. I’m not sure that means stopped being a Christian, but just stopped going to church. Yea I guess this is my favorite whipping boy, but it’s tough to take a lot of “Christian” churches seriously today. Which is why I think it’s not just an issue of younger people but also of men. Women are relationally oriented and will support things that are important even if they don’t seem to be a achieving their purpose. I think the young and immature are too critical in their assessment of anything, except their own shortcomings. I think with men there is too little in terms of cooperation and truly understanding the purpose of a strong Christian relationship, e.g. “I have all the answers don’t need no one else.” Again a maturity issue since it does seem when guys get older they realize that they really don’t have all the answers and it’s not a weakness to find someone who does.
I do find it bizarre how I’m often treated as if a clerical collar took away almost 30 years of corporate and military experience. That lack of respect and maturity seems to have something to do with this lack of respect lack of seriousness on the part of many, the young particularly in respect to the church. The church needs to get out of the entertainment business, it needs to challenge the “big box” churches who lower the credibility and seriousness of the church and clergy need to start being a lot more assertive and a lot less in terms of people-pleasing and a sort of “Sunday School” theology. The rest of society would be doing itself and everyone else to start holding the church, clergy responsible for a serious theology and not country club/Sunday School mentality.
The church should start holding people to high expectations instead of just being happy there are butts in the pews. As much as the world doesn’t treat the church and clergy with respect, perhaps it’s time to have higher expectations of others before they are treated seriously instead of seeming to be accommodating just to get them into church.
Why is there an exodus of men and young from the church is that they aren’t serious and they, rightly perceive the church is not serious.
It’s reached the point of obnoxious with the NFL “gotta get it right”, multiple “reviews” of every tricky-tack play. Frankly they’re not interested in getting it “right” as much as trying to get some cheesey edge. In terms of living our lives in Christ in integrity, seriously trying to get our lives right for ourselves, our wives and our children and all that in relation to the church, not really interested in getting it “right” especially when the happy-clappy, people pleasing churches make it easy to not be taken seriously.
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We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who prepare for the coming of the Son in the new liturgical year said … AMEN!
Happy New Year, sounds a little weird, aren’t we supposed to have Christmas first and then have New Year? Today is the first Sunday of the church New Year, the time of Advent, the time where we wait in anticipation, our whole life is a time of waiting in anticipation of the coming of Jesus in the clouds of His power and glory. But for now we wait on the feast, the celebration of the coming of the Christ child. The Advent of His Kingdom in the world. We joined together in the Apostle’s Creed to remember that He will come again, to judge both the living and the dead. Those who have died in Christ will be raised to the resurrection the eternal Kingdom, the New Jerusalem.
Isaiah says “Be not so terribly angry, O LORD, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold please look, we are all your people.” (Is 64:8-9) Ya, Isaiah is addressing the Old Testament God. Remember Isaiah 6? Isaiah is raised into the presence of God: “Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips… for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts!’ (Is 6:5)? From the beginning of Isaiah to the end, our reading today, Isaiah is readily acknowledging the fact that we are sinful and unclean, we are simply not suitable to be in the presence of a pure, holy, God. Clearly God has revealed to Isaiah that we are sinful and there needs to be a solution to our condition. Yahweh makes it very clear to Isaiah that the sacrifices of Israel; rams, bulls, lambs, just doesn’t cut it. Read all through Isaiah 1: 10-15. But then what does God do? He promises that they will be made as white as snow… our sins will be like wool, nice and white, cleaned, made pure. He makes it very clear all through Isaiah’s book that we are sinful, and Isaiah is completely aware of his own condition. Imagine being brought straight into the presence of our completely holy God, just being overwhelmed by His holy presence, His Holy being and our being, the complete opposite, totally depraved and sinful. It must be an overpowering experience. Many people demand that God come into their presence, we couldn’t begin to cope with that, we would be consumed by our sinfulness in contrast to His holiness, we would be completely blown away and that’s why God won’t do it.
Until we completely internalize Paul’s words in our epistle reading: “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus… who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” ( 1 Cor 1: 4, 8) Only in Christ are we guiltless, that we can then be in the presence of the Father, totally righteous and holy, but only through our baptism-new life, we are made holy, we don’t have to be reduced to the fear and disgust that Isaiah felt. In Christ, in the Father’s presence we are lifted up to joy, we can rejoice. I have no doubt that it will be an overwhelming feeling of love and freedom in Christ, in the Father’s presence.
Isaiah is making a plea for restoration. He has been made completely aware of how unworthy he is, how unworthy we all are. Isaiah is no better or worse then we are, none of us is any better or any worse. Isaiah is making this plea that we can be restored. In what way are we restored? We can now be in the Father’s presence, we are no longer separated from Him, alienated from Him. We are alienated from Him because we are aliens in relation to Him. No we aren’t green or odd-shaped, we don’t have antenna’s in our head, but our nature, as Isaiah has been made profoundly aware of, is totally opposite to His. He is completely holy, completely perfect, we are imperfect and deeply sinful. Walter Roehrs in the Concordia Self-Study Commentary writes: “Isaiah devotes the remainder of his book to correct two misconceptions his hearers and readers are prone to harbor about the way God wants to lead them to glory.” I might add that this is the way we think today, probably more so, then what the people in Isaiah’s time thought. “It is a fatal mistake on the one hand, to … walk with God with one foot, and with the other to stalk through the sewer of sin.”1 That’s the way we think today, “I’m good enough, I haven’t killed anyone, there are others much worse than me.” So we continue to live our lives in this mind-set that I can give God what ever I decide and He has to take what I give Him and deal with it. God is not a half-way kind of guy, it’s His way or no way. How the world comes to another conclusion totally baffles me. Why should a perfect, holy God be happy with some scraps that we throw Him, bring us into His presence and just allow whatever phony, mooshy, sentimental whim we chose over His perfect being? Why would He let our lusts and greed overcome His Holiness. Through our sin, we’ve messed up what God created, away from Him, cutoff from Him. He drove Satan out of heaven when Satan presumed to be better than God, why would He let us in to do the same thing Satan did? He’s not and if you think otherwise, you’re only kidding yourself. Dr Roehrs writes: “Isaiah had to set Israel straight [and by extension us who are now Israel] on both counts. He [Isaiah] foretold certain disaster for a sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity’ and so depraved as to lift ‘hands … full of blood’ to the Lord in a pose of prayer.” (Is 1: 4, 15)2 That’s us, and that’s not going to work in the presence of God the Father, but in Christ we become cleansed and pure and suitable enough to be saved to eternity in God’s salvation in Jesus.
Isaiah is acutely aware of the human condition in relation to God: “We have all become like one who is unclean and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”
So what now, what needs to happen. Can we do anything that is going to make us closer to God, to make us more desirable, more deserving of being in His presence? No… But earlier in his book, Isaiah knew that God was going to move, to do something. It was going to take about 700 years, for us that would be intolerable! We want the solution, we want it now and well, if you can’t make it happen on our time table, we’re just going to have to get ourselves a new “god”. But in God the Father’s time, it is perfect, complete, not a band-aid fix, an eternal, complete, perfect fix: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Is 9:6) I like what David Johnson says: “…Advent is not just anticipatory of a saccharin sweet nativity story, but bona fide bitter judgment against sin! Heaven and earth collide and are mingled in Jesus! God and man! Jesus is wrapped in human flesh; the world is wrapped in divine grace…”3 The seasonal color for Advent is usually blue, although purple is acceptable also. What other season is purple the seasonal color? Lent. The blue, and some say it’s bluish-purple, is a symbol of waiting, it represents Mary waiting with the rest of the church for her child. But the more traditional color is purple and like Lent means a time of repentance, in the sense of preparing for the coming of the Savior in repentance, being prepared for Him by repenting of our sins. That’s why we don’t normally sing Christmas carols, which are celebration, we are faithfully preparing and repenting so that in the Christ Child we are saved and we spend the Christmas season in joy and celebration. Spend the Advent season raising up your sins for forgiveness, clean out your heart, like you clean your house on Shrove Tuesday and you will be prepared to receive the child on Christmas Day as we receive the risen Christ on Easter.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin.
1Roehrs, Franzman Concordia Self-Study Commentary p 490
The following article is from the NY Times, Nov 16, 2014. The subject has been a regular one of mine, in that I’m continually taken by the fear people have of failure. As a Christian pastor seems I deal with failure, at least in a secular sense on a regular basis, a lot more than I did in the corporate world or the military. Failure seems to be kind of built in, and if you read the Bible, you will see much failure, at least in the secular sense. While we see failure as “bad”, I really think that God kind of sees it more in terms of our faith. We see this daunting challenge that God has set in front of us, and our instinct is to just turn around and go the other way. But we can feel the Holy Spirit pressing on us to keep going. Say I’m witnessing to someone about Jesus. The Holy Spirit is pushing me to witness and the other person to hear what I’m saying and be led to Christ by the Holy Spirit. That person can refuse. Did I fail? No. I was faithful, I did what I was led to do, hopefully not only to the best of my ability but also with the Holy Spirit using me to act and speak through. All good things, I didn’t fail, I was faithful, and the take away should always be, that as much as I want someone to be saved in Christ, you can’t dray someone into the kingdom either.
The take away as a Christian is this God isn’t going to see failure the way we do. He’s led me through a lot in the world, business, military, civic, education, family, when I look back on it as a pastor, I really don’t see failure as much as I see God preparing me. Instead of getting too caught up in the world’s ideas, let’s faithfully follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, trust what He is doing and leave the results up to Him and take away the lessons and experience for ourselves. I’ve taken the discussion a little different route then what the author, Adam Davidson, probably intended, but the world knows that failure is often the route to success, we as Christians should know that we aren’t necessarily called to be successful, but we are called to be faithful. I’ve reblogged the article in total because it is a good discussion on how we should see the world:
“When you pull off Highway 101 and head into Sunnyvale, Calif., the first thing you notice is how boring innovation looks up close. This small Silicon Valley city, which abuts both Cupertino, the home of Apple, and Mountain View, the site of the Googleplex, is where Lockheed built the Poseidon nuclear missile. It’s where the forebear of NASA did some of its most important research and where a prototype for Pong debuted at a neighborhood bar. Countless ambitious start-ups — with names like Qvivr, Schoolfy, eCloset.me and PeerPal — appear in Sunnyvale every year. Aesthetically, though, the city is one enormous glass-and-stucco office park after another. Its dominant architectural feature, the five-story headquarters of Yahoo, a few minutes from Innovation Way, looks about as futuristic as a suburban hospital.
As an industry becomes more dynamic, its architecture, by necessity, often becomes less inspiring. These squat buildings have thick outer walls that allow for a minimal number of internal support beams, creating versatile open-floor plans for any kind of company — one processing silicon into solar-power arrays, say, or a start-up monitoring weed elimination in industrial agriculture. In Sunnyvale, companies generally don’t stay the same size. They expand quickly or go out of business, and then the office has to be ready for the next tenant. These buildings need to be the business equivalent of dorms: spaces designed to house important and tumultuous periods of people’s lives before being cleaned out and prepped for the next occupant.
Perhaps the best place to behold the Valley’s success as a platform for innovation is a 27,000-square-foot facility just down the block from Yahoo. This is the warehouse of Weird Stuff, a 21-person company that buys the office detritus that start-ups no longer want. One section of the space teems with hundreds of laptops and desktops; another is overloaded with C.P.U.s and orphaned cubicle partitions. “If founders are in a building that’s costing $50,000 a month, and they’ve lost their funding and have to be out by next Friday, we respond very quickly,” said Chuck Schuetz, the founder of Weird Stuff.
Weird Stuff also acquires goods from the start-ups that succeed, when they are ready to upgrade offices and need to offload their old equipment. “We get truckloads every day,” Schuetz told me. He said that he receives a lot of calls from government offices and large corporate-network operators who desperately need, for example, a 1981 Seagate ST506 hard drive in order to keep a crucial piece of equipment running. But much of his stuff is bought by new waves of start-ups in search of inexpensive keyboards or cubicle partitions. What doesn’t move is sold to scrap dealers. “This,” he said, gesturing to the giant scrap bin out back, “is where everything ends up.”
For decades, entrepreneurs and digital gurus of various repute have referred to this era, in a breathlessness bordering on proselytizing, as the age of innovation. But Weird Stuff is a reminder of another, unexpected truth about innovation: It is, by necessity, inextricably linked with failure. The path to any success is lined with disasters. Most of the products that do make it out of the lab fail spectacularly once they hit the market. Even successful products will ultimately fail when a better idea comes along. (One of Schuetz’s most remarkable finds is a portable eight-track player.) And those lucky innovations that are truly triumphant, the ones that transform markets and industries, create widespread failure among their competition.
An age of constant invention naturally begets one of constant failure. The life span of an innovation, in fact, has never been shorter. An African hand ax from 285,000 years ago, for instance, was essentially identical to those made some 250,000 years later. The Sumerians believed that the hoe was invented by a godlike figure named Enlil a few thousand years before Jesus, but a similar tool was being used a thousand years after his death. During the Middle Ages, amid major advances in agriculture, warfare and building technology, the failure loop closed to less than a century. During the Enlightenment and early Industrial Revolution, it was reduced to about a lifetime. By the 20th century, it could be measured in decades. Today, it is best measured in years and, for some products, even less. (Schuetz receives tons of smartphones that are only a season or two old.)
The closure of the failure loop has sent uncomfortable ripples through the economy. When a product or company is no longer valued in the marketplace, there are typically thousands of workers whose own market value diminishes, too. Our breakneck pace of innovation can be seen in stock-market volatility and other boardroom metrics, but it can also be measured in unemployment checks, in divorces and involuntary moves and in promising careers turned stagnant. Every derelict product that makes its way into Weird Stuff exists as part of a massive ecosystem of human lives — of engineers and manufacturers; sales people and marketing departments; logistics planners and truck drivers — that has shared in this process of failure.
Innovation is, after all, terrifying. Right now we’re going through changes that rip away the core logic of our economy. Will there be enough jobs to go around? Will they pay a living wage? Terror, however, can also be helpful. The only way to harness this new age of failure is to learn how to bounce back from disaster and create the societal institutions that help us do so. The real question is whether we’re up for the challenge.
After a tour of Weird Stuff, Schuetz mentioned a purple chair that he kept among the office furniture piled haphazardly in the back of his facility. Unbeknown to him, that chair actually provides a great way to understand the acceleration of innovation and failure that began 150 years ago. In ancient times, purple chairs were virtually priceless. Back then, all cloth dyes were made from natural products, like flower petals or crushed rocks; they either bled or faded and needed constant repair. One particular purple dye, which was culled from the glandular mucus of shellfish, was among the rarest and most prized colors. It was generally reserved for royalty. Nobody had surplus purple chairs piled up for $20 a pop.
But that all changed in 1856, with a discovery by an 18-year-old English chemist named William Henry Perkin. Tinkering in his home laboratory, Perkin was trying to synthesize an artificial form of quinine, an antimalarial agent. Although he botched his experiments, he happened to notice that one substance maintained a bright and unexpected purple color that didn’t run or fade. Perkin, it turned out, had discovered a way of making arguably the world’s most coveted color from incredibly cheap coal tar. He patented his invention — the first synthetic dye — created a company and sold shares to raise capital for a factory. Eventually his dye, and generations of dye that followed, so thoroughly democratized the color purple that it became the emblematic color of cheesy English rock bands, Prince albums and office chairs for those willing to dare a hue slightly more bold than black.
Perkin’s fortuitous failure, it’s safe to say, would have never occurred even a hundred years earlier. In pre-modern times, when starvation was common and there was little social insurance outside your clan, every individual bore the risk of any new idea. As a result, risks simply weren’t worth taking. If a clever idea for a crop rotation failed or an enhanced plow was ineffective, a farmer’s family might not get enough to eat. Children might die. Even if the innovation worked, any peasant who found himself with an abundance of crops would most likely soon find a representative of the local lord coming along to claim it. A similar process, one in which success was stolen and failure could be lethal, also ensured that carpenters, cobblers, bakers and the other skilled artisans would only innovate slowly, if at all. So most people adjusted accordingly by living near arable land, having as many children as possible (a good insurance policy) and playing it safe.
Our relationship with innovation finally began to change, however, during the Industrial Revolution. While individual inventors like James Watt and Eli Whitney tend to receive most of the credit, perhaps the most significant changes were not technological but rather legal and financial. The rise of stocks and bonds, patents and agricultural futures allowed a large number of people to broadly share the risks of possible failure and the rewards of potential success. If it weren’t for these tools, a tinkerer like Perkin would never have been messing around with an attempt at artificial quinine in the first place. And he wouldn’t have had any way to capitalize on his idea. Anyway, he probably would have been too consumed by tilling land and raising children.
Perkin’s invention may have brought cheap purple (and, later, green and red) dyes to the masses, but it helped upend whatever was left of the existing global supply chain, with its small cottage-size dye houses and its artisanal crafts people who were working with lichen and bugs. For millenniums, the economy had been built around subsistence farming, small-batch artisanal work and highly localized markets. Inventions like Perkin’s — and the steam engine, the spinning jenny, the telegraph, the Bessemer steel-production process — destroyed the last vestiges of this way of life.
The original age of innovation may have ushered in an era of unforeseen productivity, but it was, for millions of people, absolutely terrifying. Over a generation or two, however, our society responded by developing a new set of institutions to lessen the pain of this new volatility, including unions, Social Security and the single greatest risk-mitigating institution ever: the corporation. During the late 19th century, a series of experiments in organizational structure culminated, in the 1920s, with the birth of General Motors, the first modern corporation. Its basic characteristics soon became ubiquitous. Ownership, which was once a job passed from father to son, was now divided among countless shareholders. Management, too, was divided, among a large group of professionals who directed units, or “subdivisions,” within it. The corporation, in essence, acted as a giant risk-sharing machine, amassing millions of investors’ capital and spreading it among a large number of projects, then sharing the returns broadly too. The corporation managed the risk so well, in fact, that it created an innovation known as the steady job. For the first time in history, the risks of innovation were not borne by the poorest. This resulted in what economists call the Great Compression, when the gap between the income of the rich and poor rapidly fell to its lowest margin.
The secret of the corporation’s success, however, was that it generally did not focus on truly transformative innovations. Most firms found that the surest way to grow was to perfect the manufacturing of the same products, year after year. G.M., U.S. Steel, Procter & Gamble, Kellogg’s, Coca-Cola and other iconic companies achieved their breakthrough insights in the pre-corporate era and spent the next several decades refining them, perhaps introducing a new product every decade or so. During the period between 1870 and 1920, cars, planes, electricity, telephones and radios were introduced. But over the next 50 years, as cars and planes got bigger and electricity and phones became more ubiquitous, the core technologies stayed fundamentally the same. (Though some notable exceptions include the television, nuclear power and disposable diapers.)
Celebrated corporate-research departments at Bell Labs, DuPont and Xerox may have employed scores of white-coated scientists, but their impact was blunted by the thick shell of bureaucracy around them. Bell Labs conceived some radical inventions, like the transistor, the laser and many of the programming languages in use today, but its parent company, AT&T, ignored many of them to focus on its basic telephone monopoly. Xerox scientists came up with the mouse, the visual operating system, laser printers and Ethernet, but they couldn’t interest their bosses back East, who were focused on protecting the copier business.
Corporate leaders weren’t stupid. They were simply making so much money that they didn’t see any reason to risk it all on lots of new ideas. This conservatism extended through the ranks. Economic stability allowed millions more people to forgo many of the risk-mitigation strategies that had been in place for millenniums. Family size plummeted. Many people moved away from arable land (Arizona!). Many young people, most notably young women, saw new forms of economic freedom when they were no longer tied to the routine of frequent childbirth. Failure was no longer the expectation; most people could predict, with reasonable assurance, what their lives and careers would look like decades into the future. Our institutions — unions, schools, corporate career tracks, pensions and retirement accounts — were all predicated on a stable and rosy future.
We now know, of course, that this golden moment was really a benevolent blip. In reality, the failure loop was closing far faster than we ever could have realized. The American corporate era quietly began to unravel in the 1960s. David Hounshell, a scholar of the history of American innovation, told me about a key moment in 1968, when DuPont introduced Qiana, a kind of nylon with a silklike feel, whose name was selected through a computer-generated list of meaningless five-letter words. DuPont had helped to create the modern method of product development, in which managers would identify a market need and simply inform the research department that it had to produce a solution by a specific date. Over the course of decades, this process was responsible for successful materials like Freon, Lucite, Orlon, Dacron and Mylar. In Qiana, DuPont hoped that it had the next Lycra.
But not long after the company introduced Qiana to the market, it was met by a flood of cheap Japanese products made from polyester. Qiana, which only came close to breaking even during one year of sales, eventually sustained operating losses of more than $200 million. Similar shudders were felt in corporate suites across America, as new global competitors — first from Europe, then from Asia — shook up the stable order of the automotive and steel industries. Global trade narrowed the failure loop from generations to a decade or less, far shorter than most people’s careers.
For American workers, the greatest challenge would come from computers. By the 1970s, the impact of computers was greatest in lower-skilled, lower-paid jobs. Factory workers competed with computer-run machines; secretaries and bookkeepers saw their jobs eliminated by desktop software. Over the last two decades, the destabilizing forces of computers and the Internet has spread to even the highest-paid professions. Corporations “were created to coordinate and organize communication among lots of different people,” says Chris Dixon, a partner at the venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. “A lot of those organizations are being replaced by computer networks.” Dixon says that start-ups like Uber and Kickstarter are harbingers of a much larger shift, in which loose groupings of individuals will perform functions that were once the domain of larger corporations. “If you had to know one thing that will explain the next 20 years, that’s the key idea: We are moving toward a period of decentralization,” Dixon says.
Were we simply enduring a one-time shift into an age of computers, the adjustment might just require us to retrain and move onward. Instead, in a time of constant change, it’s hard for us to predict the skills that we will need in the future. Whereas the corporate era created a virtuous cycle of growing companies, better-paid workers and richer consumers, we’re now suffering through a cycle of destabilization, whereby each new technology makes it ever easier and faster to create the next one, which, of course, leads to more and more failure. It’s enough to make us feel like mollusk-gland hunters.
Much as William Henry Perkin’s generation ripped apart an old way of life, the innovation era is sundering the stability of the corporate age. Industries that once seemed resistant to change are only now entering the early stages of major disruption. A large percentage of the health-care industry, for example, includes the rote work of recording, storing and accessing medical records. But many companies are currently devising ways to digitize our medical documents more efficiently. Many economists believe that peer-to-peer lending, Bitcoin and other financial innovations will soon strike at the core of banking by making it easier to receive loans or seed money outside a traditional institution. Education is facing the threat of computer-based learning posed by Khan Academy, Coursera and other upstart companies. Government is changing, too. India recently introduced a site that allows anybody to see which government workers are showing up for their jobs on time (or at all) and which are shirking. Similarly, Houston recently developed a complex database that helps managers put an end to runaway overtime costs. These changes are still new, in part because so many large businesses benefit from the old system and use their capital to impede innovation. But the changes will inevitably become greater, and the results will be drastic. Those four industries — health care, finance, education and government — represent well more than half of the U.S. economy. The lives of tens of millions of people will change.
Some professions, however, are already demonstrating ways to embrace failure. For example, there’s an uncharacteristic explosion of creativity among accountants. Yes, accountants: Groups like the Thriveal C.P.A. Network and the VeraSage Institute are leading that profession from its roots in near-total risk aversion to something approaching the opposite. Computing may have commoditized much of the industry’s everyday work, but some enterprising accountants are learning how to use some of their biggest assets — the trust of their clients and access to financial data — to provide deep insights into a company’s business. They’re identifying which activities are most profitable, which ones are wasteful and when the former become the latter. Accounting once was entirely backward-looking and, because no one would pay for an audit for fun, dependent on government regulation. It was a cost. Now real-time networked software can make it forward-looking and a source of profit. It’s worth remembering, though, that this process never ends: As soon as accountants discover a new sort of service to provide their customers, some software innovator will be seeking ways to automate it, which means those accountants will work to constantly come up with even newer ideas. The failure loop will continue to close.
Lawyers, too, are trying to transform computers from a threat into a value-adding tool. For centuries the legal profession has made a great deal of money from drawing up contracts or patent applications that inevitably sit in drawers, unexamined. Software can insert boilerplate language more cheaply now. But some computer-minded lawyers have found real value in those cabinets filled with old contracts and patent filings. They use data-sniffing programs and their own legal expertise to cull through millions of patent applications or contracts to build never-before-seen complex models of the business landscape and sell it to their clients.
The manufacturing industry is going through the early stages of its own change. Until quite recently, it cost tens of millions of dollars to build a manufacturing plant. Today, 3-D printing and cloud manufacturing, a process in which entrepreneurs pay relatively little to access other companies’ machines during downtime, have drastically lowered the barrier to entry for new companies. Many imagine this will revitalize the business of making things in America. Successful factories, like accounting firms, need to focus on special new products that no one in Asia has yet figured out how to mass produce. Something similar is happening in agriculture, where commodity grains are tended by computer-run tractors as farming entrepreneurs seek more value in heritage, organic, local and other specialty crops. This has been manifested in the stunning proliferation of apple varieties in our stores over the past couple of years.
Every other major shift in economic order has made an enormous impact on the nature of personal and family life, and this one probably will, too. Rather than undertake one career for our entire working lives, with minimal failure allowed, many of us will be forced to experiment with several careers, frequently changing course as the market demands — and not always succeeding in our new efforts. In the corporate era, most people borrowed their reputations from the large institutions they affiliated themselves with: their employers, perhaps, or their universities. Our own personal reputations will now matter more, and they will be far more self-made. As career trajectories and earnings become increasingly volatile, gender roles will fragment further, and many families will spend some time in which the mother is a primary breadwinner and the father is underemployed and at home with the children. It will be harder to explain what you do for a living to acquaintances. The advice of mentors, whose wisdom is ascribed to a passing age, will mean less and less.
To succeed in the innovation era, says Daron Acemoglu, a prominent M.I.T. economist, we will need, above all, to build a new set of institutions, something like the societal equivalent of those office parks in Sunnyvale, that help us stay flexible in the midst of turbulent lives. We’ll need modern insurance and financial products that encourage us to pursue entrepreneurial ideas or the education needed for a career change. And we’ll need incentives that encourage us to take these risks; we won’t take them if we fear paying the full cost of failure. Acemoglu says we will need a far stronger safety net, because a society that encourages risk will intrinsically be wealthier over all.
History is filled with examples of societal innovation, like the United States Constitution and the eight-hour workday, that have made many people better off. These beneficial changes tend to come, Acemoglu told me, when large swaths of the population rally together to demand them. He says it’s too early to fully understand exactly what sorts of governing innovations we need today, because the new economic system is still emerging and questions about it remain: How many people will be displaced by robots and mobile apps? How many new jobs will be created? We can’t build the right social institutions until we know the precise problem we’re solving. “I don’t think we are quite there yet,” he told me.
Generally, those with power and wealth resist any significant shift in the existing institutions. Robber barons fought many of the changes of the Progressive Era, and Wall Street fought the reforms of the 1930s. Today, the political system seems incapable of wholesale reinvention. But Acemoglu said that could change in an instant if enough people demand it. In 1900, after all, it was impossible to predict the rise of the modern corporation, labor unions, Social Security and other transformative institutions that shifted gains from the wealthy to workers.
We are a strange species, at once risk-averse and thrill-seeking, terrified of failure but eager for new adventure. If we discover ways to share those risks and those rewards, then we could conceivably arrive somewhere better. The pre-modern era was all risk and no reward. The corporate era had modest rewards and minimal risks. If we conquer our fear of failure, we can, just maybe, have both.
FEAR!!! Fear of failure, of the future, of change, of growing older and either being injured, sick or disabled, or losing physical ability. Fear drives our desperate attempts to keep what we have and never trying to move and grow. If we attempt to move and grow we might risk what we have. Fear of trying church, of taking a chance to follow Jesus, not committing but at least trying, trusting a friend, family or pastor and just giving worship a chance.
Jesse Thomas in “Triathlete Magazine” (May 2014 pp 40-42) talks about the fear, as a professional triathlete of that day when he (or his wife Lauren, also a professional triathlete) will suffer a career ending injury or just realize that his abilities are not sufficient to remain an elite athlete. I participate (I hesitate to say compete, because while I wish I did, wouldn’t really be accurate) in triathlons. I certainly don’t make my living doing triathlons because I’d starve on a street corner. I’ve had all kinds of goofy “owwees”, left heel, plantar, both knees, serious cramps, right now sciatica, all eminently treatable, but when they happen the thought races through your brain, “oh no, this is it, I’ll never be able to …” Last season playing basketball in a church league, my left calf violently seized up. It was so severe that I was sure that I ruptured the achilles tendon, literally had to crawl off the basketball floor. Turned out to be a bad cramp, found a way to contend with cramps, haven’t had another and it’s going on a year now. But I remember thinking as I crawled off that floor, “this is it”, the fear was very compelling.
Thomas points out “”Ninety-five percent of the time our ailments and injuries evaporate within in a week.” And that’s been my experience, but approaching the big “60”, my physical abilities continue to decrease and the better chance that something will happen that will keep me from a high level of participation. Certainly with a professional like Jesse Thomas the fear has to be more profound. l’m a pastor my most visible function is to preach, if I somehow couldn’t speak properly anymore that would certainly put my future as a pastor in jeopardy. “…I’d be SUPER BUMMED”, writes Thomas, “in all caps for emphasis. And even though the risk is remote, I think the weight of that possibility is why my brain instantly goes to the darkest place in moments of doubt. It’s like trying to speed by a black hole without getting sucked in. According to Stephen Hawking, that’s impossible, no matter what your bike split is.”
We are all there, we all have that fear, it certainly does happen but it is rare. The possibility of such an occurrence is something that is supposed to be provided for by society, it’s certainly being abused in this day and age, but for those people with character, integrity, trust in God, and looking to live life they do not want to be “disabled”, they will fight tooth and nail against it.
There is an issue, those of us of want to keep going, are giving in to a different type of sin(s); fear, failure, relying on ourselves/idolatry, lack of faith. It also keeps us from living at the level we should be living: “So this ritualistic thinking about an athletic ending is just a way to acknowledge that fear, no matter how remote the chance that it actually materializes and to acknowledge that stupid trick that the mind can play on us. [I would interject, it’s more about our pride, more than us being victimized by our mind – Jim] And by acknowledging it [I’d say pride] we can stop our minds from dragging us into a fear cycle, make the conscious choice to disregard it and proceed in pursuit of the goal despite the possibility of failure. In that way, we CAN speed by the black hole. Where you at now, Stephen Hawking?” I would attribute Thomas’ claim not to my determination, but to the faith that God gives me to trust in Him and follow where He leads even when it might seem hopeless. He overcomes my fear, gives me the faith I need and then pushes me back to confront the world, but He is always with me.
Now the reality is that at some point I’m going to just be too old or disabled to toe up on a beach somewhere and jump in the water with a bunch of other people. (You have no idea how difficult that was to write), so then what? Could stay home, sit and bemoan my fate and just give up. I like Thomas’ perspective: “Acknowledging that worst-case-scenario, fear, also helps both Lauren and I realize that even if the ‘worst’ happened (our careers ended) in the grand scheme of things, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal… Lauren and I would have to find other professions, we’d be forced to not exercise all day, every day and not go to bed at 8 pm on Saturday night because we have a big session Sunday morning. As terrible as that sounds, nobody dies, we won’t starve… We will go on as a family and probably thoroughly enjoy the next phase of our lives. And after the sting of the disappointment wears off, we’d realize that the journey was all worth it anyway,” Absolutely, we’ve lived the life, we’ve gotten all we’re likely to get out of it, God has taught us what He wants us to learn from it and now it’s time to move on. For sure I won’t like it, yea my ego and dignity will take a hit. But then He moves me on. Thomas doesn’t address the ultimate time when it will really be over, our culture today is pretty sure that death happens to everyone else, not to us. For Christians death will mean the resurrection, put in our perfected bodies, that will never be sick, will never break down, will be perfect for ever. It won’t be over, it will just be starting. I have no doubt that I will actually be able to complete an Ironman Triathlon in the resurrection. Even in eternity I will never be able to do all that the new, very physical world offers, but I will never have that fear, even if I fail, I will have infinite opportunities to grow, develop and go back and start again.
But the thing I will never understand is this fear of ever even trying because you might fail. Bad news, you will!!! Deal with it, get over it and yourself, decide what you’re going to do about it and move on. Fear of trying, like ya worship, making excuses, keeping the mediocre and even destructive and passing on what truly gives life, what truly moves us in life, what is truly life and life more abundant, I just don’t understand. This world is not the answer, it’s only a stage, it will end, do you want it to end with you whining in fear and failure, hidden away some where, to ultimate destruction? Or do you want to live the life God has given us, to live to His glory and then move on to a life that, ya there will still be failure, but it’s OK, it’s perfect life and life with abundant opportunities to succeed and move on in life? Ya, seems rather obvious doesn’t it? So why are you still sitting there obsessing?
I have developed a heart for those dealing with unemployment. I worked in corporate finance for twenty years and went through my share of. Corporate challenges I do know the drill. If you are dealing with this I am sure you have been working hard, doing all the things that are recommended and still keeping a great attitude. I would certainly encourage you to keep trusting in God, looking for His will and trusting that he is moving you where you should be. I truly hope that you will take your foot off the pedal for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Keep a positive attitude, keep regular hours do what you can do but take time to enjoy family and friends to let a group like ours give support, for your pastor to encourage and give comfort. I know how you’re feeling and you need to stop beating yourself. This time of year is particularly tough for two groups, those who have lost a loved one and those who are unemployed. Please be with brothers and sisters in Jesus and enjoy their support. If you are in the York, Pa area and we can provide support of clothing, food, fellowship, please don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now something to think about for next week, maybe you’re kind of in a rut so try this. This is something we suggest to people in the group we facilitate, but now it is backed up with professional opinion. The following is from “Men’s Health” Jul/August 2014 page 20:
“Donating your time really will help you get ahead. In a study in the “Journal of Career Assessment”, unemployed people who volunteered weekly were far more likely to have a job within six months than those who didn’t lend a hand. Even those who volunteered less than two hours a week had a better shot at being hired elsewhere, says Varda Konstam PhD, the study’s lead researcher. The key word here is “elsewhere”. The ability to ladle out soup doesn’t mean you’re qualified to work only in a cafeteria. Interviewers are increasingly viewing such basic skills as indicators of broader skill sets. That means serving soup isn’t about serving soup; it shows that you’re good at customer service and work well with others. Try telethons to show off your sales and marketing tactics or find another opportunity in your area at volunteermatch.org ”
i have seen at least two people in our group end up with really great positions by following this advice. One other note we are more and more seeing ages forty and over with this group. Either they’re the only ones taking the initiative to be part of such group or it’s hitting older workers. I’d be willing to be a combination of both. Any discussion on that would be appreciated we would like to get better in this area and input would be appreciated. Again Happy Thanksgiving and God bless.
I reblogged Dr Hamilton’s post about why gratitude is good for you, certainly there are positive physical effects when we are grateful. Too often we are not just ungrateful, we are envious and resentful of what others have. The ninth commandment is quite specific about coveting what others have.
With just a few days before Thanksgiving we should also discuss being thankful and also how we are blessed. Henry Blackaby gives a good definition as to how a Christian should be thankful: “Thankfulness is foundational to the Christian life. Thankfulness is a conscious response that comes from looking beyond our blessings to their source. As Christians, we have been forgiven, saved from death and adopted as God’s children. There could be no better reason for a grateful heart!” (Henry and Richard Blackaby “Experiencing God Day by Day” p 324). I might add that not only are we saved to eternity which is huge by itself, this gives us the hope that we are living for a purpose, that even in suffering we know that God sustains us, He provides for us, He is watching over us and even in the “worse case”, death, for those who are saved in Jesus, death delivers us to be in His presence. But we shouldn’t just skim over what God does provide for us, that we are kept safe. Sure there are times where we have less than others, there are times when we are sick, injured and even seriously incapacitated. But when you think of the possibilities it is remarkable that for the most part we are kept so healthy and capable.
I often point out that the Book of Revelation tells us that at some point in the end times, God does remove His protective hand. If we think there is evil now, just imagine what it will be like when God takes His restraining hand away and the evil that is unleashed. Blackabys write: “We, too, have been healed and made whole by the Savior. We are free to enjoy the abundant life the Savior has graciously given us. Could we, like the nine lepers, rush off so quickly to glory in our blessings without stopping to thank our Redeemer. … Our worship, prayers, service and daily life ought to be saturated with thanksgiving to God (Phil 4:6) (Ibid p 324)
Blackaby goes on to point out that we should also remember our blessings and I couldn’t agree more. I’d like to say that I faithfully recount my blessings and remember what God did for me. I’d like to say that … One way I try to be pro-active is to record in my journal the circumstances that brought on my need, the way God responded and the way that my situation is worked out by God. Even now I have a tough time thinking of specific incidents, but I know that there have been so many times and each time I often sit back in amazement and I always think “wow, I would never have seen this working out that way. Glory to God for His greatness, His wisdom and His mercy.” Even when things don’t play the way I think they should or that does cause me loss, I still always understand what God is doing and that it is ultimately for my own good.
The Blackabys point out that our blessings often come in what seem to be “ordinary” ways and our attitude is “gee, that was nice, glad things worked out” and don’t really take time to see God’s hand. Our Gospel reading for Thanksgiving this year is about the ten lepers. Jesus healed them all, how many came to tell Jesus how grateful they were? One, one out of ten. Today, even for us in the church, even ten percent is probably a high percentage. Appreciation in the form of telling others how much you appreciate them and offering them encouragement. I get encouragement once in awhile and often won’t really appreciate what was done. I know that I need to show more appreciation, encouragement and blessing for those around me, that I minister to. But I too often fail to do that. It does not seem hard to understand that when we bless others we show gratitude to what God does for us, and what others do for us, but most importantly be grateful to God.
We need to show gratitude, we need to show it in public, grateful to God and to those that God has put in our life. In addition, yea, we should break out that journal and write about how God has blessed us, what happened and what God did in response. We should take some time to be in wonder of what God did, what He does, and the promises of what He will do. We should go back through our journals and re-remember what God did, I should be a lot better about relating in my sermons how God has blessed me. Too often we skim over the blessings and spend too much time whining and complaining about what we think we should have, what we feel we’re entitled to. In this time of Thanksgiving let’s focus on being grateful for the things that we often take for granted and let go of what we think we are entitled to.
Happy Thanksgiving (again don’t call it Turkey Day or I will snap). Have a great time with family and friends and take some real time to tell them what you are grateful for, especially our Lord and the family and friends He’s given us.