Dishes and Crosses—Is your work ever done?

My wife, Nancy, is oh-so-creative in the kitchen. The delectable dishes she concocts are scrumptious, but the resulting piles of dishes sometimes seem insurmountable. Occasionally, one of our three boys pitches in, but they frequently have right-after-dinner plans. (Hmmm. I wonder why?) Consequently, Nanc’ and I wash a lot of dishes. There are times when my attitude is A+ positive. I put on music and flirt with the chef. But I must confess, there are many days when my do-the-dishes mood is not so stellar. I hang my head and think to myself, “Why does it feel like this job is never finished?” You ask the same exhausted question regarding your own most dreaded chore, whether it’s dishes, laundry, floors, yard work, or _______________.

That dreadful day at Golgotha, Christ cried out, “It is finished!” (John’s Gospel, 19:30) What did he mean? We might assume Christ was so profoundly exhausted that he was exclaiming, “The cross has been agonizing, and now, it’s OVER!” Perhaps. But perhaps he meant even more. Throughout Christ’s time on earth, he worked. He worked hard. In Mark 6:3, people recognized him as the carpenter. A tekton engaged in hands-on work with wood and/or other sculpting and building materials. Prior to assuming his role as Rabbi-Miracle-Worker, Jesus plied the trade of his father, Joseph. With Christ’s baptism and inauguration of his kingdom initiatives, his Heavenly Father’s mission-business shifted into a next phase of implementation. Jesus taught crowds; he trained disciples; he touched the suffering; he transformed lives by his grace. In a real sense, his hands were still sculpting. Like most jobs, he had to work around the haters and cynics. On one such feisty occasion, he replied, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” (John’s Gospel, 5:17)

The language of Jesus’ cry from the cross was ripe with significance. Tetelestai. “It is now fully accomplished, totally completed. The plans have come to fruition. It’s paid in full. Redemption has fully arrived!”

How might Christ’s decisive cry, “It is finished!” impact our daily work?

We can affirm the value of long-term planning and implementation. Much of the Father’s work—and then his Son’s work—involved establishing and working out the ancient prophecies. Christ’s life work demonstrated marvelous fulfillment of those plans, culminating in extra-dynamic ways with the cross, resurrection, and ascension. Consider this: when we make strategic plans and work hard to implement them, we are more fully living out the image of God, matching his very character and transformative intentions for us. As we work with him, relying on his plans, we actually find deep rest in his finished work on our behalf.

We can infuse our daily work with his redemptive aims. Christ’s loud personal cry, tetelestai, declared the complete arrival of redemption. This should motivate us to make sure our own work keeps redemptive purposes in view. How does what I do today serve with humble sincerity, bless the mess, clear the confusion, and bring truly Good News to people who experience too much bad news everyday? With both our daily actions and our daily words, we can share Christ’s hope-filled redemption. My attitude starts to improve as I deliberately pray over those greasy plates and spoons, thanking God for the mouths and hands that have touched them. Dish towel in hand, I can boldly ask the Lord to nourish, cleanse, use, and encourage those dear ones in his service.

We can work hard, relying on God’s grace. The Apostle Paul, after rehearsing the creed—Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection—insisted that he had worked harder than all the other apostles, “—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:10) In like fashion, it is the grace of God that confidently propels our own work today. We can fully trust him and praise him for such grace!

We can intentionally plan to finish strong. What does it take to finish strong in your life work? How do you keep from burning out with exhaustion? In their discussion of a strategy for entrepreneurs planning to finish well, Richard Goosen and R. Paul Stevens lend five insights: (1) Keep articulating your life goals, not just when you are young, but throughout life; (2) Constantly refresh your sense of calling; (3) Engage in an accountability group; (4) Practice thanksgiving day and night; and (5) plan on lifelong learning, blending study, work, and play all along the way.[1]

‘Ever wonder what Christ felt on certain days in the carpentry shop, especially when working on tough projects? Did his work feel exhausting? Probably. After all, he was also human. How often did the skin on his hands get dry-cracked and calloused? What expression crossed his face when a splinter snagged him? And I wonder what words crossed his lips when he wrapped up an especially challenging project? I have a hunch I know, and you probably do as well. After all, there was the day his hands held rough-hewn beams, and they felt the ugly work of nails. And on that day, Christ cried out, “It is finished!” That cry was for you, for me, and for countless others who find much-needed rest in his gracious work on the cross.

Take heart. Such finished work and triumphant word supply all the grace we need to press on, work hard, and finish strong.

 

[1]Richard J. Goossen and R. Paul Stevens. Entrepreneurial Leadership: Finding Your Calling, Making a Difference. (Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2013) 176-179.

 

The Bigger Reason You Should Be Worked Up About Beauty and the Beast

I heard all the hoopla leading up to its release. Segments of conservative Christianity were crying, “BOYCOTT!” because of the inclusion of a gay character. I’ve never been one for blindly joining anti-cultural bandwagons, so naturally I concluded I would need to see for myself. “What’s the big scuttle? Is there actually reason to be worked up?”

I went curious but prepared for some level of humdrum. I anticipated saying to myself, “They took the oh-so-familiar story and dressed it with ultra-realistic techno wizardry. Okay. That was kind of cool. And oh yea, they pushed the gay agenda.” I expected to be underwhelmed.

Instead, as our family settled in for the late-afternoon show, I found myself marvelously entertained, enthralled by the amazing cinematography. I was thoroughly captivated by characters, color, musical score, and brilliant pacing. Yes, a character was portrayed as ever-so-subtly gay, but I found myself wondering, “Would I really pick up on that if I wasn’t looking for him?” In actuality, this 2017 version seemed less sultry in male-female interaction than the old cartoon. I thought, “Wow! Less cleavage and sexual innuendo—why weren’t Christians applauding this cleaned up rendition?”

But there’s actually a bigger issue that deeply disturbed me. I’m stunned no one has yet cried out about such a pressing, flagrantly obvious theme.

All across this “tale as old as time,” the castle’s one-time-workers—now cursed household furniture, décor, and dishware—have been actively serving to orchestrate true love, attempting to reverse the curse, both for the Beast and their own existence. Toward the climax, the final rose petal has dropped, the Beast has been shot, and the great castle’s curse is culminating. Very soon, all will be permanently immobile and forever lifeless. The scenes are heavy, dark, and sad with regret. Love has not been found. The characters will be trapped, frozen in place, and lost forever.

With just moments remaining, Cogsworth the Clock and Lumiere the Candlestick realize the end is near. All along, they have been gradually losing their humanity, becoming harder, less functional and life-like. As they are about to lose all mobility and their ability to speak, Lumiere proclaims, “It’s been an honor to serve with you, Cogsworth.” In the next beats, every character stands still. All faces and motion vanish. The Beast has died, and his entire household is now still as stone.

Must confess, I was gushing tears in the theater’s darkness. (Yes, I can be a sentimental schmuck if a story deeply grabs me.) Truth be told, my soul was ambushed by the parallels, having said goodbye to several close family and friends in recent years. Such depiction of the solemnity of the curse caught me off guard. Suddenly, I was crying all over again about losing Dad, losing Grandma, as well as just recently saying farewell to Sherilyn and Bob in our church family. And I was also deeply soul-moved—extremely worked up by something bigger. I knew what was coming.

So do you. As Belle weeps over the Beast and confesses her true love, Agathe the Enchantress revives the rose. Love wins, blowing the mighty winds of change. The Beast rises and is marvelously transformed into the Prince once again. Then one by one, every character including Cogsworth and Lumiere come back to glorious life, now fully human once again. People who had been estranged for many years are reunited, now fully alive and joyfully dancing.

In the theater’s darkness, I was bawling once again. As tears gushed, I felt my chair shaking. These were tears of triumph, born of oft-forgotten, albeit vitally important workplace theology. Truth be told, this scene marvelously portrays a dusty concept known as transformatio mundi. It’s Latin for the eschatological belief that with the end-times arrival of New Heavens and New Earth, all will be cleansed, fully transformed. All of “the house” will be renewed, gloriously redeemed—all of Creation, including the servants, believers in Christ Jesus along with their grace-motivated, God-glorifying work (Ephesians 2:8-10; Romans 8). Very closely related is the marvelous concept of resurrection. Christ rose in his new, physical body, fully alive. His own work of gracious salvation and bodily resurrection supply the first taste and the precious promise of such bodily resurrection for every human who by faith trusts in Him (1 Corinthians 15).*

Gracious, selfless love. The curse reversed, resurrection, and powerful transformation. Please tell me again why conservative Christians cried, “Boycott!” Hours after seeing the movie, I’m still gloriously disturbed. Instead of sporting a grumpy outlook over a possible gay character, I wish we would be worked up by the resurrection message so marvelously portrayed by such a movie. We could be motivated to persevere in our daily good work in God’s kingdom. After all, we know what’s coming. The house and servants will not stay cursed. It’s Gospel. Gracious love wins. There’s glorious transformation yet to come.

But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless. (1 Corinthians 15:57-58)

*For further reading on these provocative concepts, grab a copy of Darrell Cosden’s The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work.

 

 

Make Something

Wind and the wintry mix were pounding our roof as I awoke. (‘Must confess, the little kid deep inside me said, “Ah, the storm did indeed arrive.”) After a foray outside with Brody, our golden retriever, I began the joyous task of carefully stripping newspaper, strategically clumping kindling, and then lighting the flame. Within moments, my boys were gathered around, basking in the glow.

I’m struck with the integral connection between holy interruptions in our regular schedules—these God-appointed disturbances, like snowstorms—and the opportunity to make something. We learn of the God who oh-so-creatively makes things in Genesis 1. Many years later, Jesus reminded his critics that his Father is always working (John 5:16-18). So I’m challenged today with the opportunity.

I can make the most of the space, the sweet grace of extra time. I sense the Lord’s promptings today. “John, whatever you do during this storm, you must make something.” Just perhaps, we might each hear his whisper carried on the winds and driving flakes of snow. Build the fire and keep it burning all day. If you have a woodworking shop, use the time to build that table or refinish an antique chair that’s been gathering dust. Make french toast—and bacon, and eggs, and waffles. Go all out. Throw on your warmest snow clothes and go make memories—even just thirty minutes worth—with your kids. If you’re married, home alone, just the two of you, make the most of your time together. Wink-wink. (Need I really encourage this? All studies show there will be a significant spike in hospitals’ maternity traffic approximately nine months from this wintry blast.)

So, why not make something? You get the idea.

Perhaps such gracious time carved out by snowstorms might, after all, be more like what God intends for our normal Sabbath rhythms (Genesis 2:1-3). I too often forget that intentional holy disruptions are commanded and encouraged, integral to practicing God’s intentions for our workplace theology. We are too typically too busy. Snowstorms and accompanying Sabbath are made by our all-wise Father, for our good. When Jesus and his disciples walked through the fields and plucked grain on the Sabbath, the Pharisees’ critique and Christ’s summative teaching proved unique and mildly puzzling (check out Mark 2:23-28). At least one of Christ’s intentions was to help us embrace the empowering tension of Sabbath. Yes, it’s commanded. Yes, we’re to be spontaneous. Yes, it’s God-like. And yes, it’s VERY good for us.

Stephen Cottrell, describing more sensitive Sabbath principles, urges us: “So never speak of wasting time or spending time. Rather, say you are enjoying it or giving it away freely. Never say you have an hour to kill. Rather, say you have an hour to revive, to bring to life, to ravish.”[1]

Let’s ravish our way through the upcoming snowy hours. Now go make something!

[1]Stephen Cottrell. Do Nothing to Change Your Life: Discovering What Happens When You Stop. (New York: Seabury Books), 2008, p. 69.

Oscar Gaffes and Extra Grace for the Workplace

oscars

Monday morning workspace—AKA Starbucks—was abuzz with incredulity. My laptop open plus notepad and pen, I was attempting to gain some early traction for the week’s tasks. Typically, I block out background chatter quite easily, but this morning’s customer interaction was unique and humorously redundant. Recurring commentary went something like this. “Can you believe what happened at the Oscars? How in the world did they screw that up? It’s astounding!” The statements were being made with more than an edge of glee—such a marvelous public debacle by the twin titans of movie industry and academy.

Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty presented “La La Land” as the winner of the best picture award. Applause and celebration began on stage. However, jubilation quickly ended when one of the “La La Land” winners pointed out that “Moonlight” had won the Oscar instead. Amid the confusion, Beatty attempted to explain that he opened the envelope and read a card that said “Emma Stone and La La Land.” He had indeed paused because of it. “I wasn’t trying to be funny,” Beatty explained. “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins ascended the stage in stunned amazement and received the award.

Banter among my fellow coffee drinkers was ripe with shock and a cloud of judgmental amazement. Really?! How could a group of highly skilled, overpaid, and oh-so-talented people actually commit such a blunder? And of course, there were chuckles over oh-so-easy, knee-jerk comparisons to Steve Harvey’s botched announcement of the wrong Miss Universe 2015. Even the Starbucks baristas joined the jeers at such apparent incompetence.

On the one hand, it’s human nature to be stunned and have a good laugh over such incredible mistakes. Who doesn’t enjoy a good laugh at another’s expense? But I am readily reminded of two healthy lessons that can come our way when processing the missteps, mistakes, and all-out flops that often happen in our own workplaces.

Burst Your Bubble

There are times when having our collective bubble burst is actually helpful in recalibrating our over-inflated hubris. R. Paul Stevens and Alvin Ung have observed:

“Pride permeates the modern workplace. Like the air we breathe, pride is absorbed into our celebrity culture, corporations, and self-image. This workplace sin often masquerades as ambition, confidence, and chutzpah. It makes us unwilling to listen to or acknowledge any painful truths about ourselves.” Stevens and Ung further explain that workplace pride is frequently “killing us but we don’t know it.”

But what can we do in the face of such deadly pride? They prescribe humility as the cure, a character trait best developed by cultivating a serve-others approach.[1]

Christ Jesus’ attitudes and actions supply exemplary patterns for our workplace interactions (Philippians 2:1-11). There’s something healthy about re-sizing of ego, the sudden reminder: “Let’s not take ourselves TOO seriously.” And we can benefit from the gift of remembering, “We ARE here to look out for others’ interests, not just our own agenda. We are here to serve.”

EGR

A mildly sarcastic, simple, secret statement—at least until right now—has been part of our office culture for several years. We have learned there are times it’s helpful to hear someone remind you when facing a fellow employee’s sudden blunder or experiencing an especially frustrating moment, or perhaps encountering an extra-trying individual. We simply say three letters to one another, with a quirky grin. “EGR.” If one of my colleagues says it to me, I automatically know she or he is reminding me. “Careful how you respond, Pletch. EXTRA GRACE REQUIRED.”

Stephen Graves queries: “Is grace really something that can live in a fierce business-like culture or is it only part of the DNA of soft-side not-for-profits? What happens in an organization when someone fails to live up to expectations? . . . A company with a cutthroat attitude and low tolerance for failure will likely threaten poor work reviews, disciplinary action, or firing. A company with a culture of grace, on the other hand, will more likely try to understand what’s going on in a person’s life. It will recognize that it’s okay to fail sometimes. It will try to help people through rough patches so that they can return to a higher level of productivity and contribution to the company.”[2]

EGR. Extra Grace Required.

When someone “reads the wrong winner” in your workplace today, let laughter, judgment, and frustration more quickly step aside.

Let humility and grace take the stage.

 

[1] Taking Your Soul To Work, by R. Paul Stevens & Alvin Ung. pp. 17-20.

[2]The Gospel Goes to Work, by Dr. Stephen R. Graves. p. 114.

Beyond Walls and Borders—Working to Bless Foreigners

immigrants

Ten days into a new presidency, the media is abuzz with controversy. (I know, shocker! Did we really expect anything less?) What are we to make of declarations like “America FIRST!” and executive orders aiming at exclusion and long-term consequences for refugees, immigrants, and others seeking a homeland in our midst? No matter where you fall on the political landscape, every Christ-following leader must boldly seek to explore the issues through the lens of King Jesus’ redemptive plans for the Gospel. How will our allegiance—whether to Trump or to King Jesus—create healthier rhythms of mission, including strategic choices for treatment of others in our workplaces?

Wise leaders cultivate profitable business for greater job creation that leads to poverty alleviation—marked by marvelous dignity on behalf of every worker. A very deliberate aim for blessing-focused, workplace leaders is to strategically express God’s love to the outsiders—the foreigners, the marginalized, and those previously outside the faith community.

With such focus, we embrace God’s global mission—to welcome and enfold others. We discover a model leader in an Old Testament business owner, Boaz. Leading man in the Ruth narrative, he very intentionally lived out Leviticus 19:34: “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” Recall Ruth’s label; she was readily known among Judah’s inhabitants as “the Moabite.”

Here is the thick, loving thread of God’s mission, to reach the nations, to intentionally include the outsiders, those from other people groups (Gen 12:1-3; Matt 28:18-20). Action-biased love for the foreigner is a phenomenal method of applying the second greatest commandment, the others-oriented portion of our calling: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18; Matt 22:39). When Boaz welcomed Ruth and supplied work in his field, he was demonstrating the faithful life of a God-follower. In a real sense, he was a gospel-centered, mission-driven, disciple-making business owner.

Our daily business and work endeavors can leave a definitive, emotional-spiritual impact toward others’ redemption, especially people who are not yet a part of God’s family. Don’t forget, Ruth was previously an outsider, riffraff from Moab. Boaz and his team took a risk, included her on their labor force, and very deliberately embraced God’s mission (Ruth 2).

Ralph Broetje had a dream one night as a teenager. Ralph explains: “The dream was that I would own an apple orchard and use the money we made to help feed kids in India.” In 1968, Ralph and his wife, Cheryl, bought a cherry orchard in Benton City, Washington. During the first three years, the orchard was plagued by a deep freeze, excessive rain, and treacherous fruit flies. It appeared the fledgling enterprise was ruined and ready to fold. Providentially, help arrived when the Broetjes received the immense blessing of financial backing from a dream team of friends. As a result, they were able to persevere and see stable progress across the coming decade.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Broetjes purchased hundreds of acres of sagebrush land in the Columbia Basin of Washington State. This was not previous apple orchard territory. It was risky, but they began to plant apple trees. The trees grew and the orchard began to thrive. In 1984, the Broetje family embarked on a mission trip to Mexico. Their trip proved to be transformative for their business’ entire focus. Ralph explains: “That mission to Mexico made me realize how hard it was for people there to dream about achieving anything, because the opportunities did not exist. I understood that they were coming to the United States for better opportunities for their families. It gave us more insight into what their needs are, and it reminded me of why we had this orchard. It wasn’t so we could keep building things for ourselves. It was so we could try and give back to the families we worked with as much as we can.”[1]

In the wake of that trip, the Broetjes have not only developed numerous additional full-time jobs, but a large complex of single-family homes and apartments, available to rent at low cost to year-round employees. In addition, the New Horizons Preschool and Vista Hermosa Elementary (K–6) were founded. The Vista Hermosa Foundation supports local initiatives for families and reaches out to partner with underserved communities around the world. Such partnerships exist in over thirty countries, including Mexico, India, Honduras, Colombia, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Chad, Haiti, Jamaica, Romania, and the United States.

In recent years, the Broetjes’ work has continued to thrive and flourish. They have developed additional endeavors, like CASA LLC and Mano a Mano, supplying further focus on housing and community building. These endeavors contribute to educational outreach and on-farm seasonal housing for workers needing temporary shelter. Today, the Broetje Orchard in Washington State stands out as a blessing business, accomplishing God’s mission in amazing ways, both locally and globally.

Workplace leaders dare to risk, step outside their comfort zones, and develop holy anticipation for what God might accomplish with each of their relational opportunities. In Workplace Grace, Bill Peel and Walt Larimore encourage us: “Whether we work on a factory floor, in a cramped cubical, or in the corner office, each of us is significant and every gift is important in God’s master plan to draw people to him. He has given us the privilege of being part of the world’s redemption. Never forget small things—a word of encouragement or a simple act of kindness—can be used by God to accomplish big things.”[2]

In whatever daily work we do, when both our actions and words are carried out in the character of Christ, we can reach others with Christ’s redemptive love (Col 3:17, 23–24). In the days ahead, let’s join Boaz and the Broetjes. Will you wonderfully welcome and creatively employ the foreigners, the refugees, and other outsiders in your daily work? We must remember, this goes beyond the partisan chatter over walls, the President, and his executive orders. It’s a serious matter of allegiance to King Jesus and his missional orders—to keep our hearts and borders open, to bless the foreigners with His loving Good News.

This post is adapted from chapters five and eight in EmotiConversations: Working through Our Deepest Places, coauthored with Holly Hall-Pletcher. EmotiConversations is available from Wipf and Stock Publishers and other favorite booksellers.

 

[1]Broetje, http://www.firstfruits.com/company-history.html.

[2]Peel and Larimore, Workplace Grace, 79.

My One and Only Resolution for 2017

new-years-resolutions-chalkboard

I’m sick and done with resolutions. Okay. There, I said it.

Work smarter. Not harder or longer. Clear the clutter and get your stuff organized. Join a gym and lose the weight. Surf social media less; practice more productive habits. Quit smoking; walk in fresh air on lunch breaks. Drop snarky gossip; be kinder to coworkers and clients . . .

We can each add our own declarations to the list of best-intended, platitudinous resolutions. But I say, “Bah-humbug!” Have you had enough of the “New Year, New You” mumbo jumbo? I know I’m not alone. Many folks have a propensity for cynicism. Perhaps you can tell, my own inner Scrooge emerges as the holidays wrap up. I can’t help it. I’ve kissed one too many resolutions in the past, only to break up about five or six days later.

In case you’re still wondering, I’m not making resolutions this year. Except for ONE, and I have a hunch this one is a keeper.

In these wrap-up days of ’16, I have been pondering a dusty old Psalm from the archives of Holy Writ. At first glance, Psalm 90 feels pessimistic, pathetically Ebenezer-esque in tone. Moses was grumbling as he conversed in prayer with the Lord. He recalled how God himself has always existed, “from everlasting to everlasting” (vs. 2). Moses, the legendary leader of God’s people, observes how humans don’t actually live very long. In the wake of sin’s curse (Gen. 3), we too quickly return to dust. We might live seventy years, maybe eighty if we’re extra-strong. Like dreams in the night, we are swept away. Like spring grass, we sprout up but wither in the scorching sun. It feels like God tracks our sins and is frequently angry with us (vs. 3-11). Moses had his own list of regrets, epic failures, and ugly consequences contributing to his own cynicism. (See Numbers 20:1-13 and Deuteronomy 32:48-52.) But he makes ONE resolution in the form of a prayer, ONE heart cry that changes everything:

Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.      (Psalm 90:12 NIV)

stopwatch-striking-midnight

He’s calling for a deeper, daily personal awareness, with full-throttle aim to live well. Following his prayer of resolve, Moses’ tone marvelously shifts. He anticipates God’s own shift in attitude, a return of His compassion and non-stop love, a newfound reason to sing for joy, a swap of their bad days for good days. He even anticipates a revival of God’s wonderful work on their behalf and God’s extra blessing for productivity in their everyday work:

Establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands. (Psalm 90:17 NIV)

I will pursue wisdom every day in 2017! There it is. My one and only resolution!

Biblical wisdom is skillful living, choosing to go God’s way on your everyday paths. Application includes your workplace, family life, finances, conversations, leisure and hobbies—EVERY road you travel! The Apostle Paul urges similar resolution in Ephesians 5:15-17: Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (NASB)

Howard Baker has observed: It is true, I suppose, that the road to hell is paved with good intentions . . . but so is the road to heaven. My daily decisions become the mechanism of translating my holy intention into holy living.[1]

What’s it look like to pursue wisdom daily? At the core, in its most primary way, this means I will seek Christ, his character, his teachings and road map to reorient my interior world. I will explore and encounter Him, then choose HIS ways in all I do and say. After all, Jesus is the fulfillment; He is wisdom fully personified!

In a posthumous work, Stephen R. Covey urges us to “Get wisdom . . . the goal of primary greatness is wisdom.” Covey posits: “wisdom is knowing that sustained, positive change begins on the inside,” and “wisdom is manifest when character and competence overlap.”[2] Such emphasis on the work of internal changes—a holy marriage of character and competence—reflects the heart-focused priorities of Moses, St. Paul, and Christ Jesus himself!

So I’m aiming to make all my days count in 2017 by centering them in the Lord Jesus. Join me in praying with resolve at the start of each day in ‘17: “Lord, increase my heart of wisdom today. Fill me with your character and your competence for living well!”

Who knows? Perhaps if I pursue a heart of wisdom every day, I’ll also discover through Christ a greater life fulfillment, even on my difficult days. It’s almost certain we’ll encounter greater joy and gratitude. Walking Jesus’ wise ways, we’re bound to truly forgive others and make peace with feisty coworkers. And we can take courageous new steps of missional living, to be bolder witnesses of His grace in our everyday opportunities.

With this one resolution for ‘17, we will be employing KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) and “first things first.” Long before Covey popularized the mantra, C.S. Lewis said:

Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first and we lose both first things and second things.

Let’s resolve, our first and most essential thing for 2017, to pursue wisdom—Christ himself! And who knows? Perhaps we’ll also gain the heart and skill to get more organized, lose some weight, and maybe even become less cynical. Okay, let’s not push it with that one. First things first!

[1]Howard Baker. The One True Thing. (Colorado Spring: NavPress) 2007, p. 57.

[2]Stephen R. Covey. Primary Greatness: The 12 Levers of Success. (New York: Simon and Schuster) 2015, pp. 161-169.

Joy at Work

Here’s a quick excerpt from my new book, Henry’s Christmas: A Story for Discovering God’s Joyous Work at Advent. ENJOY this chapter!

Back on the road, Zach was driving extra-cautious. After the incident last week, he couldn’t help but feel a bit apprehensive maneuvering through such a mix of sleet and freezing rain. He turned the knob on Henry’s old retro radio and started scanning. This required an old-fashioned, tiny turn of the knob instead of auto-scan.

“Better see if we can catch a weather update,” Zach explained. All he could find was Christmas music, so he landed the dial on one of Philly’s easy listening, pop stations.

“I find Noni’s proper manner and careful words to be so mysteriously captivating. What did you think of her?” Mags asked.

“She’s fine—very fine. It’s the great grandson I can’t stand.” Now it was out there, and not an ounce of question dangled in Mags’ mind regarding what Zach might think of him.

Mags feigned a smile. “Now, Zachary, have a little charity. He’s really not all that bad a fellow. I think you need to give him some time. Perhaps he’ll grow on you.”

“Perhaps you’re right.” Zach realized that he’d said too much. “But then even mold can grow on you.” He chuckled at his own wit but started quickly recalculating. “Anyway, his great grandmother’s description about joy was certainly intriguing. I’ve never thought about joy as a deep choice of gladness, rooted in God’s gracious work in and through us. And it just makes sense that such an attitude change is exactly what your dad is experiencing.”

“Yes, I think you’re right, Zach.” They both noticed that the wintry mix had begun to lessen in intensity. The traffic was moving at a bit steadier pace. Henry was handling the road famously.

“What’s amazing is also what Noni said about joy being contagious. It’s been true in my own life. Because your dad’s overall tone has been more joyful, my week has been more positive and productive. And this thought hits me, Mags.” Zach was speaking with excitement in his voice. “Joy is mentioned by Apostle Paul as one of the Holy Spirit’s fruits—one of those outcomes, a byproduct of living a Christ-honoring, loving, kingdom-oriented life.”

“That’s a sweet connection, awesome strands of truth weaving together,” Mags concurred. “And something else. Think about this! Oh wow—” She said it with that just-connected-the-dots, eureka tone in her voice. “Joy to the World. It’s possibly the foremost, seriously famous Christmas carol of all time.”

“Yep, great point, Mags.” Zach was nodding and still gripping the wheel very tight.

“But contemplate several of the key lines.” Mags softly sang: Let earth, receive her King…. No more let sin and sorrow roam, nor thorns, infest the ground…. He comes to make his blessing known…. far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found.” As she was singing it, Zach realized that she had inched her way across Henry’s bench seat. They were almost shoulder-to-shoulder again.

“Wow!” Zach exclaimed. “Several ideas are zinging my way. Here’s the kingdom anticipation all over again, much like Doc Ben and I were talking about in the church café. The King has arrived, so his kingdom has been inaugurated. Of course, it’s not fully here yet. There’s so much more to come! But it has begun.”

“I think I’m following, but you’re saying it like there’s more,” Mags coaxed him.

“Yes, here’s more of that impetus, a big-time motivation to reverse the curse. Doc Ben insists that it’s not simply a matter of Christ himself having come to create such a curse-reversing effect. Yes, the Father’s planning and sending of his son is certainly exceptional work. But as his kingdom citizens, it’s also now our role to work to accomplish royal new things that reverse the curse. We can be—we should be—bringing greater joy to the world as we actively lead in endeavors and serve others.”

“Oh, boy, I’m getting it!” Mags exclaimed. “I’m wondering how I’ve missed this all along.”

“Ah, don’t feel bad, Mags. We’ve all missed it. We readily enjoy the Christmas tunes, which are great, but we seldom slow down enough to actually process the biblical messages that can be seen in the lyrics.”

“So if we play this out, more people can experience this genuine, deep joy when you design really good buildings, and I care for pets and their owners with exceptional service. Right?” Mags was checking her trail of thinking. Zach was nodding and smiling.

“And the curse is reversed—more joy spreads across the world—as researchers discover new treatments for disease, as entrepreneurial farmers develop bright, eco-sensitive methods of producing even more food for the hungry world, and as teachers cultivate young minds.” Zach was on a roll.

“Of course, don’t forget, great car guys reverse the curse and bring a lot of joy when they turn wrenches, repair, and restore vehicles. Can you imagine our world today without the likes of a Henry?” Mags patted the dash, as if she were petting her favorite canine. Zach shook his head and rolled his eyes.

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“It is rather amazing,” Zach reflected, “to realize that every Christmas season puts up a great big sign—a virtual billboard, really—reminding us of how the King has arrived, and we can be busy doing kingly, joy-filled, world-changing work as citizens in the kingdom.”

Ironically, in that very moment, Josh Groban’s version of Joy to the World began playing on Henry’s classic, silver-knob radio. “Okay, what are the chances of that? Is that cool or what?” Mags chimed in enthusiastically. “Gives me goose bumps!”

“Odds are actually pretty strong that someone’s rendition of that song would be played during our hour-long trek out of the city, when you consider that after all, it IS Christmastime, Mags.” It was Zach’s extra-realistic sarcasm, at his finest.

“Okay, you don’t have to be such a killjoy, Zachary David. You, ever the rational, uber-analytical, would of course insist on ruining my moment.” She smirked and pushed away from him just enough to slug him in the arm. But then she moved even closer and put her head on his shoulder for the final stretch of the journey back to Valley Forge. In that moment, Zach concluded without a doubt that this evening was ending with immense joy.

There’s still time to get your copy of the full story, Henry’s Christmas—including reflection questions! It can be purchased through Amazon, CrossLink Publishing, Hearts and Minds Bookstore, and other favorite booksellers. For inquiries on purchasing multiple copies at a quantity discount for a class, small group, or gift bundle, please contact me directly at johnp@manorchurch.org. Big blessings & joy for your season!

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