Will we see people with greater wonder?

Streaming tears. Yes, I will own them. Each time I’ve watched Wonder—the movie based on R.J. Palacio’s award-winning novel—I’ve been ambushed by this oh-so-moving story.

Born with a genetic disorder, Auggie’s little body required multiple surgeries. He wears his astronaut helmet because his face is distorted, even after plastic surgery. Auggie and his loving family live in Brooklyn. Originally taught at home, he’s finally sent to school in fifth grade. With helmet off, Auggie faces the full range of staring, pity, mockery, and bullying by kids. This amazing story traces Auggie’s school year, along with his parents, his sister Via, and his struggling friend Jack Will. We encounter stunning twists and turns revealing how people see Auggie and how Auggie sees everyone else.

The bulk of my daily work involves seeing and serving suffering people, deeply in need of help. If you ponder your own projects and tasks, you’ll likely conclude that’s true for most of us. From financial planners to nurses and doctors, school teachers to store clerks, automotive technicians, physical therapists and pastors, we major in helping all sorts of people. Precious people with very special needs, capabilities, disabilities, heartaches, hang-ups, hopes, and dreams.

Many days, our most pressing question becomes:

How will I see the person or group of people in my path? Will I see people more deeply, beyond my face-value, knee-jerk reaction?

The local church where I serve as lead pastor aims to love others with Christ-style love. Our aim is based on Jesus’ holistic call to love God with all we are and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40). That means our planning and behind-the-scenes efforts often involve strategizing endeavors for people who are experiencing physical, emotional, financial, spiritual, and mental suffering. Then our very public, weekly events, gatherings, and services include active interface with those precious people.

Every Sunday, a host of people greet me, including multiple individuals with special needs, pressing health crises, and emotional distress. They long for encouragement, a listening ear, affirmation, prayer, a dose of genuine good news, directional wisdom, and practical help. I am regularly challenged with this foundational attitude choice: Will I see them as too different, unique, other and awkward? Will I glance their way, feel uncomfortable, and say to myself, “Yikes! Let’s move along now. Look away. Let’s shift focus to the ‘normal’ and ‘beautiful’ people!” OR will I truly and deeply see the precious people in my path?

During Auggie’s wonder story, especially poignant are the moments in Mr. Browne’s homeroom. This oh-so-wise teacher places a monthly precept on the board. September’s is:

“When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.”

In Palacio’s book, Mr. Browne’s May precept is from John Wesley: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.”

Masterfully and subtly, Wonder’s screenplay writers wove the issue of how characters truly see one another all throughout the film. Auggie’s potential new friend, Jack Will, struggles with peer pressure from other boys who don’t want to hang out with Auggie. Jack vacillates between befriending him and bullying him like the other kids do. Eventually, Jack reveals his own true feelings about Auggie: “You get used to his face . . . He’s really good at science, and I really do want to be his friend.”

Mr. Tushman, the seasoned school principal, says something so stunning during his office confrontation with the bully Julian and his haughty parents. He challenges them: “Auggie can’t change the way he looks. Maybe we can change the way we see.”

A wrap-up concept near the movie’s end nails it:

“If you really want to see who people are, all you have to do is look.”

How do you see people with whom you work? Your clients, coworkers, and employees, especially those who are suffering or just different in light of their disabilities and special needs? I am moved by the divine work of seeing people, really seeing them. At the biblical culmination of creation, right after God crafts humans, we read:

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31a).

Scene after scene during Jesus’ ministry here on earth, we read:

“When Jesus saw __________ . . .” (Matthew 5:1, 8:14, 9:22, 14:14 plus numerous others).

When Jesus saw all sorts of people with all sorts of needs, the result was always some deliberate action, instruction, or other form of loving service in response. All because of seeing people via deeper outlook.

Let’s slow our steps, fix our gaze, and savor conversation. Let’s ask better questions, hear people’s stories, and gush kind affirmation. Folks are full of hopes, hurts, special needs, and yes, setbacks, missteps, mistakes, struggles, and heartache. But they also possess such powerful potential to display wondrous love and real joy. As we really see people, we’ll recognize more of God’s image and what a wonder people truly are.

O how I need greater doses of divine sight for all my interaction with others. Let’s see each person we encounter with fresh wonder this week!

When You’re Sick of Waiting

“Will it ever arrive?”

“I’m sick of waiting!”

“Is this ever going to end?!”

You know how agonizing it feels to wait for the train.

The 2020-2021 edition of the waiting game is getting old for everyone. We all feel it on multiple fronts. There are still rampant COVID diagnoses and grieving. So many people are awaiting vaccination. Hosts of friends and family are hoping to return to the workplace, struggling to help kids with school at home, praying for a new job, and a host of other issues. Lots of precious folks are struggling to cope and find themselves swept into old addictions.

So many of us are struggling as we approach the one-year mark. I chuckle when I recall how we all thought that everything would surely be back-to-normal by Easter—last year.

The Apostle Paul expressed similar frustration in his letter to the Romans, chapter 8. The oft-quoted, oh-so-famous, standout is verse 28:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

You’re probably saying, “Yea, okay, I saw that at Hobby Lobby on bric-a-brac. So? Big deal!”

It’s comforting indeed, reassuring for sure, that God is working in all things. Even in our agonizing and waiting. That brings us renewed confidence. But because biblical context is vital for greater clarity of understanding and accurately creative application, we do well to look at what’s around these beloved lines. Right before this, Paul employs dismal words like:

Suffering

Waiting

Expectation

Frustration

Subjected

Bondage

Decay

Groaning

Weakness

He utilizes these terms in both micro and macro ways, descriptive of both our personal attitudes and in the larger cosmos, all of creation.

But he also shares bright words like:

Glory

Eager

Hope

Freedom

Spirit

Adoption

Redemption

Help

Pray

And Christ’s Spirit intercedes for us.

Paul’s upside verbiage feels intentionally stronger. We can sense it! He is hopeful and anticipatory. But it’s not mere sentiments of sunshine or some short-term, rosy change of circumstances. For Paul, reflection runs much deeper and far-reaching. With vs. 29-30, Paul actually describes the good work.

“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

There’s some serious upside, seriously divine work! Note, God’s impressive foreknowledge and predestination. These are rich concepts reinforcing vital truth that he powerfully knows and plans. He is sovereign; he’s seriously in control. In Romans, Paul is emphasizing the gracious good news, the Gospel of God’s salvation, his righteousness for us in Christ Jesus. We can assuredly trust him. Even with all the evil happenings and sinful people, his good purpose will not be thwarted. Take that to the bank. He is sovereign. We can trust him.

But what is his good purpose? That we will be conformed to the image of his Son and there will be more brothers and sisters. More family!

What’s that about? It’s our re-creation. Recall how in Genesis 1, we saw the very good creation of humans “in God’s image.” But in Genesis 3, the fall into sin happens—the insurrection against the loving King—and so the image of God was marred, mangled, fallen because of sin. The creation was subjected to frustration, starting right here.

But God, in his love and grace commenced his salvation and redemption plans, to bring King Jesus, our Savior, our Redeemer. He is the firstborn (an old way of saying “first in rank, supreme, the preeminent one”). And notice: “among many brothers and sisters!”

Here’s the amazing deal. By the Father’s good plans and gracious purposes, we get conformed to Jesus’ image, re-made in the image of our Creator. Paul was also declaring that this redemptive work positively affects all creation. And the overflow of God’s good work is that more and more people in turn become his children. It’s stunning good work that he accomplishes. Jesus’ life, love, and work flow through our lives, love, and work, and even more brothers and sisters are conformed to the image of Christ!

It’s really moving to realize the real scope of Romans 8. Just like that original good and blessed intention back at Creation (Genesis 1), our salvation and gracious recreation into Jesus’ image leads to us doing good. Really. We do good works. Others are blessed and join his family!

What train are you waiting for right now? Are you weary? Frustrated? You are not alone!

Think on Paul’s bigger view of how God is working, why he’s working, and what he is bringing to fruition. Even amidst all the waiting and weariness, you can take heart. Be encouraged. He is working so much good, so that each of us looks more like Jesus, so that more people join his family!

Nothing is wasted in God’s workshop. He’s working in our waiting, even when it feels so frustrating.

Even when we can’t see it, he is still working. Especially amidst ugly pandemics, nasty politics, struggling economies, so much groaning and grieving. We can trust him. Think anew! Because of Jesus, you are called. You are justified. And based on his precious promises, he is working his plans for greater glory.

We are all still waiting, still weary, but full of hopeful expectation!

Ravish your way through this snowy day. 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 deliver.”) After a foray outside with Musti, our Bernese-shepherd mutt, I began the joyous task of shoveling the driveway. I am well aware in light of the forecast, that is just round one.

Of course, I am contemplating when I’ll build the fire. This will require carefully stripping newspaper, strategically clumping kindling, and then lighting the flame. Snowy days like today certainly call for a fire. There is other work to do today, but a snowy day like this requires making a fire.

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. Perhaps we’ll dare to embrace our Father’s sacred dance of playful creation and a change of pace.

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? It’s likely there will be a significant spike in hospital maternity traffic approximately nine months from this wintry blast.)

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

It’s an extra-crucial concept right now during this pandemic season. So many of us have become accustomed to working our normal jobs from home. No doubt you will need to do some of that normal work during the snowstorm. Just don’t miss the sacred chance to blow the whistle at least a few times along the way today.

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 truly abundant, good life.

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 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!

Special note: this post has been adapted and refreshed from another post on a snow-stormy day back in 2017. It seems I needed reminded again.

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

The Bigger Reason I’m Weary of the Election and COVID

I feel weary today. Many of us feel the weightiness. I know it’s a Monday, and Mondays can feel wearisome in normal seasons. However, I am weary on a different level. Our current times are fraught with so much turmoil over the election and COVID. I am utterly exhausted and saddened for an even bigger reason. So many people are still struggling to work with the truth. It’s happening in the rascally nexus of both science and politics.

Working with truth in science

I find it utterly frustrating that individuals and their networks continue working double-time to discredit the work of solid researchers, reputable doctors, and those who speak out for safety measures. Yes, I am talking about mask-wearing, quarantining, and additional wise protocol. As a leader in the public service sector of faith and values, I am stymied by how many people who claim the Christian faith have chosen to sow seeds of doubt regarding the veracity of scientific research and best practices. I am weary of people’s apathy and disbelieving looks when I explain I have loved ones who have battled COVID, and I have officiated multiple funerals for families affected by COVID. Really. For real. Precious people I know have died. I have stood at COVID gravesides. That’s the truth.

Let’s cut to the chase. The struggle for such anti-science individuals is largely born of personal inconvenience and self-absorbed expression of freedom, not genuinely solid ideology. “Masks just feel too restrictive. And if I want to gather with my big group of friends for that party, well dang-it, that’s my right!” Personal rights and American freedoms should supposedly trump love of one’s neighbor and even a healthy love for self that might actually mean long-range preservation of lives. I find such thinking and behavior so strange for people who readily claim to be pro-life. Yes, I am weary.

And I have a serious hunch there’s something else in play. Too many Christians still have a deep-seated aversion to science, too often still grounded in their mistrust of evolutionary teaching. Christians often rush to categorize, and the thinking trail often goes like this:

Faith is grounded in the Bible; therefore, faith is good.

Science is grounded in evolution; therefore, science is bad.

And so never the twain shall meet.

With such a trail, too many people jump to the conclusion that scientists and their advice should be resoundingly rejected. Especially when their strong advice is inconvenient and requires uncomfortable self-sacrifice.

What if part of God’s original call to humans actually included science? Many of these same Christians are quick to focus on the good teaching of God’s wondrous creation as depicted across the opening two thirds of Genesis 1. But why is so little attention given to the closing verses of Genesis 1 and the divine call for humans to “rule and reign” over all of it? The ancient language includes the masterful work of royal-like leadership in all sorts of expressions, including arts and sciences, social endeavors and politics. We are called to be career-ready in numerous fields. So many Christians are quick to use the opening sections of Genesis 1 to refute classic evolutionary thinking, especially in support of literal days of creation versus an evolutionary timeline. But then they resoundingly ignore the implications of Genesis 1:26-31.

What if more Christians would join Francis Collins’ perspective? Collins is a rigorous scientist, the leader of the Human Genome Project, and a man of devout faith. (And yes, Collins is currently Dr. Fauci’s lead supervisor and counselor. Gasp! Stay with me, please.) Collins has said:

Aren’t the scientific and spiritual worldviews antithetical? . . . for me the experience of sequencing the human genome, and uncovering this most remarkable of all texts, was both a stunning scientific achievement and an occasion of worship. Many will be puzzled by these sentiments, assuming that a rigorous scientist could not also be a serious believer in a transcendent God.

Collins proceeds to argue that “belief in God can be an entirely rational choice, and that the principles of faith are, in fact, complementary with the principles of science.”[1] In my own deep weariness, I wonder why so many Christians forget that “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2). Science and faith do coincide.

Working with truth in politics

It seems much of the same anti-science crowd also struggles to accept the mathematics associated with the current political outcomes. In spite of the vote count conducted, verified, and now being certified by reputable individuals, judges, and other authorities, so many Christians are doggedly touting conspiracy theories.   

With legal action taken by President Trump, many good people just shrug and say, “Well, he’s a fighter and law suits are his modus operandi.” That’s true, and there is no doubt that the current President has been on the side of conservative politics, successfully picked justices matching the pro-life cause, and has reinforced platforms in support of religious freedom for the Judaeo-Christian population. But with the seeds of doubt sown about election count, including proliferation of conspiracy theories, people everywhere are left scratching their heads. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Who actually won the White House? And how can we know?

I am personally stirred to consider what lies beneath the pursuit of our answers. I believe there’s a bigger reason we should all be worked up about the election results. Again, cut-to-the-chase. Reality involves this vital thread: evidence matters, and truth matters.

It is not sufficient for either the right or the left to make their claims to winning the election, but then supply no substantive evidence. This is a principle known as burden of proof. T. Edward Damer explains:

In many cases, of course, one does not have to supply such proof, for we are not always called upon to defend our claims. But if the claimant is asked “Why?” or “How do you know that is true?”, he or she is logically obligated to produce reasons in behalf of the claim . . . one at least has the responsibility to provide evidence for the main thesis and for any questionable premise, if asked to do so.[2]

In our current election outcome, President Trump claims there was election fraud. It is important to note that this was a concern he vocalized numerous times prior to his victory back in 2016. Burden of proof means that he and his team are obligated to produce reasons, substantive evidence that points to such fraud. It’s not sufficient to just claim fraud if you don’t like the election outcome.

Across these post-election weeks, many Americans have been open to seeing the situation with democratic vision, sincerely open to such Trump-side evidence potentially being produced. I wholeheartedly echoed the same sentiment. If such true evidence exists, by all means, it should be brought to light. Fraud should be held to account. The election should be decided based on genuine evidence.

Truth matters. Thoughtful, engaged, integrated Christians grasp how genuine faith is not a blind faith but a reasoned faith. (This is what Francis Collins is advancing in his statement above.) A reasoned faith is well-founded, credible, and grounded in the evidence of eyewitnesses.[3] This issue—truth matters—is where things get very slippery today. In our current culture, people readily think truth is ultimately subjective. “Make up your own truth; you do you, and that’s what is true.” These are common mantras, prevailing thinking in our day. As a result, math, science, morals, and business ethics just don’t hold steady validity, even for some people who claim to be on the side of truth and faith.

In classic Christian understanding, all truth is God’s truth, whether it’s in the Bible or not. But under current popular thinking, actual objective counting only counts based on each person’s individual count as it coincides with one’s preferred outcome. So, premises, opinions, claims, and principles become highly subjective. With such current-day approach, truth is relative. You get to make up your own end to the story, even if history says it was different. You can make up your own math and craft your own science. You get to make up your own end to the election based on what you wanted for your candidate, your own sense of power, your worldview, and financial safety, even if substantive evidence says otherwise.

Evidence matters; truth matters. After all, if truth is simply “you do you,” then who can you believe? Who can you trust? It is never sufficient to simply make a claim. It would be like a head football coach of an NFL team who suddenly claims the outcome of a down-to-the-wire game was rigged and riddled with fraud. “WE won that game last night!” It would be that coach and team’s responsibility to produce credible proof that negates the calls of the officials and those other eyewitnesses to the game’s outcome. We know it in football. Credible eyewitnesses are essential to substantive evidence.

It’s vital we be open to our own biases when it comes to politicians and elections. I know I have biases. I was raised in a right-wing, conservative family. Our tribe voted for Ronny Reagan and lots of Bushes. Along with passionate friends, I snuck into a Clinton rally in Scranton in 1992. We held up STOP Abortion signs and almost got beat up. I am still a registered Republican, but in recent years I have modulated my political engagement and voting. I have aimed to be more integrated in my faith expression in politics, more prayerful and thoughtful in how I vote. (I’ve written about why and the theological underpinnings in previous articles.) I know, this confuses the heck out of some people. However, by many people’s criteria, I am still highly conservative in perspective, even with such modulation.

With honest recognition of my own biases, I have to be willing to affirm the evidence, because truth matters. The last time I checked, true Christians still believe in working with truth. If there is ample evidence from President Trump’s side, it should be allowed to be heard and win the day. Tough reality is, truth in outcomes can also go the other way, contrary to what you might wish or want. Because evidence is vital when working with burden of proof, I must be willing to accept an outcome that does not match my own biases, either way. And each of us should be willing to accept the truth, especially if the outcome rests squarely on solid math and ample evidence from multiple election officials across numerous states and credible vote counts. Let’s keep in mind, Secretary Clinton was not permitted to make up her own truth in 2016 when she won the popular vote but lost the electoral college. None of us just gets to make up his or her own truth.

Friends, whether you like an outcome or not, evidence and truth are so important for the health of family, coworkers, and neighbors during a pandemic. Evidence and truth matter for the ongoing health of democracy, for confidence in future elections, and for the peace and flourishing of people everywhere. God forbid anyone gets pushy and spills blood over this election’s outcomes. God forbid that families fragment and friends are sundered. God forbid that any leader, either leader, be allowed to lead a coup against our nation’s long-standing democratic process.

Please, please, friends, let’s be rational, committed to working on the side of truth. Let’s be honest, mature, calm, and steady when working with both science and politics. I’ve spent a chunk of time pondering my weariness over Christians’ reactions to both the election and COVID. I am reminded of Jesus’ insight when he noted there are times “the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light” (Luke 16:8). What an indictment. Let’s be wise enough to set aside our own biases, our self-absorbed opinions, and stand with wise truth, even when it feels uncomfortable.


[1]Francis S. Collins, The Language of God. (Free Press: New York, 2006), p. 3.

[2]T. Edward Damer, Attacking Faulty Reasoning. (Wadsworth Publishing: Belmont, CA, 1987), p. 4.

[3]Andreas Köstenberger, Darrell Bock, Josh Chatraw, Truth Matters: Confident Faith in a Confusing World. (B&H Publishing: Nashville, 2014), p. 12-14.

Catching Fresh Creativity Amidst Fall Colors

This is a re-post, originally shared in Fall 2015. ENJOY!

Call me ridiculous, but I must confess childlike delight. On my morning run, I caught brilliant glimpses of seasonal beauty breaking through on the landscape. It’s late October so I should not be surprised, but I’m still a kid in serious awe each autumn. Slowly descending a hill, there I spied it. Just atop a cluster of trees, an explosion of burnt-orange leaves. Within the next ten hours, I began seeing similar deep hues dusting other tree lines, including a fresh blast of golden mums and pumpkins, now gracing ground level in flowerbeds everywhere. Harvest orange has arrived for the season, in all its amazing glory.

Most of us love fall colors and find ourselves in awe at the creativity that emerges with the season. And it’s not just the leaves and overall fall decor. We experience it via multiple sights, sounds, and flavors. (Did I mention pumpkin spice coffee and salted caramel mochas?)

With such applause for fall creativity, there are moments I wonder . . .

  • How could I personally be more creative in my approach to projects?
  • Are there ways to gather more and better ideas?
  • How do I inspire our team in order to increase our skills in creative thinking?
  • ‘Any chance we can move out of “stuck in a rut” and “bored stiff?”

Here’s an arena where I’m constantly aiming to stretch and grow. Throughout my leadership experiences, I’ve found these ideas are extremely useful in exponentially increasing creativity.

Make time for story time!

I had heard of this practice, but rarely ever actually practiced it. So this past year, I have started to more regularly storyboard. It’s proving to be simple, profound, fun, and amazingly productive. I gather oversized whiteboard paper and various colors of Sharpie markers. At the top of several sheets, I label the various sections, breakdowns, chapters, or pivotal movements. Then, I just start splashing thoughts—somewhat color-coded—and brush stroking ideas under each heading. Along the way, we constantly push the envelope by asking “what if” questions and otherwise challenging assumptions.

I LOVE to use the “what if” question. It opens new doors, breaks through stereotypes, keeps people dreaming, and stretches the boarders in extra-good ways for leaders. When I’m done, I usually have six to ten sheets hanging on a wall, full of fresh ideas from which to choose. Such an exercise can be done either on my own or with our team. This past year, we’ve used storyboarding to deliberately design big initiatives, a fresh series of talks, and other exciting projects.

Go play!

Richard Allen Farmer urges: “The person who would be authentically creative must not despise the power of play. In our fun we see parts of ourselves we do not normally see; we get a different perspective on an old problem. We grab hold of images to which we would otherwise not have access.”[1]

In the 1990’s, Nissan was attempting a fresh breakthrough in design for their popular Pathfinder SUV. Jerry Hirshberg, head of Nissan’s U.S. design studio at the time, sensed one afternoon that his team was bogging down in frustration and blocked conceptual creativity. His solution was nothing short of genius. He led the company’s entire staff, including the shop, secretaries, and maintenance crew in playing hooky to go to the movies for the afternoon. Hirshberg delightfully reported: “Upon returning from the film, there was much chatter among the staff about how delicious it had been to leave . . . knowing we had been ‘baad’ together. As everyone returned to their work . . . tension in the building began to dissipate. Within days the ideas again started flowing, knotty problem areas unraveled, and the design began to lead the designers, a sure sign that a strong concept was emerging.”[2]

Here’s a must-do on a regular basis with your team, especially when you sense you might be stuck in a deep rut, paralyzed by group-think, or otherwise experiencing a serious case of no-new-idea-itus.

Take big cues from your Creator!

The opening pages of God’s story demonstrate the magnificent collages and cadence of creation (Genesis 1). We are wondrously treated to an encounter where God is the most creative design worker ever. With completion of his oh-so-deliberate, colorful accomplishments each day, he pauses to reflect and celebrate. “And it was good!”

At the culmination of Day Six, humans were created in God’s likeness, his very image. Consider this: the imago Dei included our commission to be “fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth”—to “rule and reign” over it all. ‘No doubt about it, we were called to be creative workers, just like our oh-so-creative God.

When our boys were young, we took them to the circus. One of my favorite features was watching the elephant tricks. The crowd roared in laughter and thunderous applause. You have to admit, an elephant is a sure sign that God possesses a sense of humor as well as one mighty creativity quotient. But then ponder how the humans tamed and trained, “ruled and reigned” over the massive creature, so as to wildly entertain a tent full of other humans!

We can draw abundant motivation by remembering God’s amazing original designs, and then get motivated by the realization: we each possess the imago Dei. His very image and his call have come to you and to me.

What might happen? What if we hear God urging us in fresh ways?

“Create with panache. Work with style. Rule your domain with generous imagination. Make things wonderful. Organize with flair. Be boldly intentional. Design beautiful things. Make life healthier, humorous, holistic, and holy. Above all, mimic me and be lavishly redemptive. And when in doubt, choose orange!”

 

[1]Richard Allen Farmer, It Won’t Fly If You Don’t Try OR How to Let Your Creative Genius Take Flight. (Portland, Multnomah) 1992, p. 68.

[2]Jerry Hirshberg, The Creative Priority: Driving Innovative Business in the Real World. (New York: Harper Business) 1998, p. 87-89.

Is there really any heavenly good in our earthly labor?

My first official workplace—the kind that rendered a pay stub—was in eleventh grade after school at Woolworths Department Store. Each evening, my sundry task list included hauling heavy, sloppy trash bags from the old-fashioned lunch counter. The bag’s construction was less than hefty. They frequently burst open, leaving debris and grease across the tile floor. My capacity to grumble grew strong. (In retrospect, those wimpy trash bags meant job security!)  Within a few short weeks, I hated my job.

I never thought of anything I did at Woolworth’s as accomplishing anything truly good. I was certain such labor was far from heavenly. My perspective was: “This work stinks!” (And many nights, it literally did because of the volume of trash.) I also thought, “This is certainly not God’s ideal for me or anyone else. It must be all part of the curse that results from sin.” In slightly brighter moments, I was inspired by the realization: “This stinking job is a way to buy preppy clothes (queue the 80s music) plus juicy cheeseburgers after basketball games.”

Looking back on that first job, I wish I had grasped at least one or two heavenly threads about our human labor. Through contemplating the beautiful biblical story, we discover there truly is heavenly good in our earthly labor! Five story threads summarize and potentially motivate us for God-honoring earthly work.

First, there’s genius in CREATION.

The genesis of our work was an integral part of God’s masterpiece (Gen 1:26-28; 2:15). Made in his image, humans were called to rule and reign, to work the garden. This elevates God’s original plans for our human labors to a place of prominence and genuine creative genius. There is something so significant and wonderfully sacred about getting our hands dirty and deliberately designing goods and services with excellent creativity in mind. However, there is the unmistakable thread of

Desperate FRUSTRATION

The sweat, fatigue, and brokenness of our work arrived with the Fall (Gen 3:17-19). We see the results in everyday ways. Grabbing a cup of coffee at McDonald’s, I encountered a cashier who was experiencing her first day of training. Her trainer was being extra hard on her, and I could tell the newbie was extremely nervous. She fumbled at first to make change, and then she got it right. As I thanked her and told her “great job,” she beamed. The seasoned trainer softened and walked away. The new cashier proceeded to tell me more of her story of previous job loss. Our three-minute interchange was a micro-replay, reminding me of the frustration we all experience everyday as a result of the Fall.

When we pause to ponder, we must admit we each have days we despise—okay, probably “hate”— our jobs? We grow discouraged. Often, we drag our heals and sputter in our motivation. In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien’s beloved character Sam Gamgee wisely recalled: “It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.” Work frustration is all-too-familiar in our sin-cursed world. It’s crucial we not simply stop in our frustration, shrug, and assume we cannot experience anything better. Here’s where we need to encounter another vital thread.

Loving REDEMPTION

Our loving God set a plan in motion to redeem us from our sinful, fallen condition. This includes all Creation AND our work (Gen 3:15; 12:3; 1 Cor 15:57-58). Christ’s incarnation, his own labors, his teaching, his miracles, his death, resurrection, ascension, and empowerment all paved the way for us to know forgiveness and victory over sin. And because of his gracious work, we can approach our daily work as redeemed rhythms of daily worship (Ps 8:3-8; Rom 12:1-2). And there’s a fourth story thread:

Ultimate RESTORATION

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are unfolding the culmination of the redemption plan. New Heavens and New Earth are coming. Such cosmic restoration will renew all Creation, and in surprising ways that includes our WORK (Rev 21-22; Isa 65:17, 21-23; Rom 8).

Author Darrell Cosden stretches us to think even bigger about the scope of Christ’s gracious salvation and restoration. Commenting about Paul’s teaching in Romans 8, Cosden boldly suggests:

Creation’s salvation hope, then, its “liberation” (vs. 21), is that it will be brought or ushered “in us” into our own glory, which is our physical resurrection “in Christ.” Since nature co-inheres “in us,” our salvation and glorification become creation’s own salvation and glory. That this salvation of the natural world includes our work follows logically. Work, which has further shaped nature, is now just as much a part of nature as what God made originally. Unless we want to understand work itself to be “un-natural,” a result of the curse . . . we must conclude from this biblical material that our work experiences salvation along with us.

Percolate and ponder that idea. Our ultimate resurrection will come to us in Christ, and the creation’s glorification will also come. In some unique way, this may also include our work as co-creators with God.

We might be tempted to think, “Yea, yea, yea, SOMEDAY.” But in reality, this isn’t just for someday.

Right now, there’s heavenly good in our earthly work. We experience kingdom foretastes with TRANSFORMATION. Earthly work carries good value now in deeply personal, inter-personal, and even socio-cultural transformation. In Ephesians 2:8-10, Paul urges us to recognize how God’s gracious, saving work results in our good works. Flowing from grace, they are masterful works which God planned in advance for us to accomplish. In Colossians 3:23-24, Paul motivates us to pursue our daily labors with all our hearts, as working for the Lord, fully realizing we serve the Lord Christ.

Four questions might prompt us to see the heavenly good in our earthly work:

Q1: What do you really enjoy about your daily labor?

Q2: How do you seek to intentionally integrate your faith with your everyday tasks?

Q3:  What’s most frustrating, and how do you find encouragement for your labors?

Q4: How do you see your daily work carrying heavenly, eternal impact?

Because of God’s gracious, grand story, there truly is heavenly good in our earthly labor. O how I wish I had known that all those years ago, slogging through the trash bags at Woolworths.

 

 

If We Dare, A Labor Day Prayer

Throughout the years, I’ve noticed a mischievous thing about Labor Day weekend. If I’m not careful, I miss it. I can get so caught up in the sensational hoopla of picnics, yard work, or a last-hurrah-of-summer getaway that I mindlessly skip over this holiday’s true significance.

Might we dare to think, stir, and move a step or two deeper this year on the meaning and opportunity of Labor Day weekend?

Originally, Labor Day was so much more than a calendar marker for wrap-up of summer, the pool’s closing, and launch of all things flavored pumpkin spice. Call for such a day was the creation of the labor movement and dedicated to recognize the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well being of our country. The first state bill for Labor Day was introduced into the New York legislature, but the first to become law was passed by Oregon on February 21, 1887. During that year four more states—Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York—created the Labor Day holiday by legislative enactment. By the end of the decade Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania had followed suit. By 1894, 23 other states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers, and on June 28 of that year, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in DC and the territories.

I’m afraid we too often forget just how meaningful and significant our daily work is in the scope of God’s original call to humans (Genesis 1-2) and his ongoing redemptive plans (Ephesians 2:8-10). For disciples of Jesus who are seeking to actively grow in holistic faith, there’s a thought-provoking, responsive prayer, originally penned by Jim Cotter and Paul Payton.[1] If we dare to pray this prayer, it might just refocus our outlook and help guide us into an even more robust, holistic perspective on the vital role our work plays in God’s great work in this world. It goes like this:

Leader: Let the sowers of seed bless you, great God, the gardeners and farmers sing your praise.

Everyone: May the fishers and foresters bless you, Beloved, praise your name and glorify you forever.

Leader: Let the bread from grain bless you, great God, the wine from the grape sing your praise.

Everyone: May the transformations from cooks bless you, Beloved, praise your name and glorify you forever.

Leader: Let the spinners and weavers bless you, great God, the designers of clothes sing your praise.

Everyone: May the salesmen and retailers bless you, Beloved, praise your name and glorify you forever.

Leader: Let the sounds and silences of music bless you, great God, the great composers sing your praise.

Everyone: May the improvisers of jazz bless you, Beloved, praise your name and glorify you forever.

Leader: Let the software and civil engineers bless you, great God, the architects sing your praise.

Everyone: May the pastors and clergy bless you, Beloved, praise your name and glorify you forever.

Leader: Let the marketers and advertisers bless you, great God, the entrepreneurs sing your praise.

Everyone: May the attorneys and judges bless you, Beloved, praise your name and glorify you forever.

Leader: Let the educators bless you, great God, the academics and authors sing your praise.

Everyone: May the doctors and nurses bless you, Beloved, praise your name and glorify you forever.

Leader: Let the sculptor and scientists bless you, great God, the business owners and janitors sing your praise.

Everyone: May the artists and baristas bless you, Beloved, praise your name and glorify you forever.

Amen.

We’ve prayed this congregational, responsive prayer in our church’s worship services. Might you dare to pray it personally, share it with friends, and even potentially share it in your congregation?

[1]Jim Cotter and Paul Payton. Out of the Silence . . . Prayer’s Daily Round (with changes by Mark Mohrlang and adapted here for congregational responsive prayer).

Working through despicable disappointment

With glowing anticipation, everything inside me believed with utmost confidence that I would get the job. Multiple interviews had revealed great chemistry with the stellar slate of senior leaders. Based on my mix of strengths, I was bringing a complementary set of gifts to the team. And I was excited to learn and grow in the presence of such high caliber colleagues. It was a match made in heaven and also a tremendous next step for our family.

I had been waiting for the final details to fall into place and the offer to be extended. Seated on a warm August morning in a bustling café, I was surrounded by books and papers, deep in work while basking in the warm morning sunlight. My mobile rang. Based on a string of previous positive conversations, I knew the number on the screen quite well, and I was excited to take the call. I quickly stepped from the noisy café into the brilliant rays of sun. (With pronounced memory, I can still see the very stretch of sidewalk that I paced that day outside the café doors.)

With every previous conversation, the hiring leader’s tone had been warm and upbeat. This time, much to my psyche’s surprise, the leader’s voice on the other end of the call was quite different. His spark was gone. It did not take him long to get to the point. Very matter of fact, he conveyed that the organization had just decided: “We need to go a different direction than we originally thought, but we immensely appreciate your robust engagement in the process. Thank you. You have a promising future. Best of luck!” Okay, wow! I was back on my heels and suddenly grasping for a response. What to say? Total loss. I felt blindsided and desperately disappointed.

My sad sidewalk scenario happened many moons ago, but in recent days the all-too-familiar emotions have echoed in my soul. In this current season, I have witnessed what seems like a truckload of disappointment for close family and friends.

A friend is experiencing bad business breaks—what seems like one after another—and then another. He has been slammed with both loss of revenue and a groundswell of criticism from clients and associates.

A young man I know was passed over upon consideration by a prestigious sports team. He had so anticipated playing with the organization. Sadly, this represents deep personal loss. A lifetime dream now gone.

After seven years cancer-free, another friend was recently told that the cancer has returned. A new round of surgery and treatment is necessary. It’s heartbreaking.

One of my own sons received the jolting news that he was not a finalist for a major scholarship. It seemed so promising, this potential award and provision through this avenue for his education.

We’ve all known something similar. Truth be told, rather than wallowing in self-loathing, it’s empowering to embrace this stronger axiom:

Life’s disappointments can actually be appointments that lead us toward something greater, stronger, and more productive.

How do we work through such shadow seasons, those times of dark and desperate news? In the face of serious disappointments, we can take a deep breath and choose to say, “This IS indeed disappointing, but it is really only part of the story.” There’s usually much more going on, more that we just cannot yet see. We can look for the cheerful, even sillier side, to see the surprising reasons to laugh. An old Hebrew proverb says: “A cheerful heart is good medicine.” (Proverbs 17:22) (And after all, people do so often behave in goofy and comical ways when they are creating our disappointments.) We also work through disappointments in healthier ways by looking and listening for what we might deeply learn. It is often in the waiting that our patience quotient grows stronger. We stretch and learn tenacity.

Perhaps most importantly, we work through disappointments best by remembering that God is still working. Joseph of ancient Jewish history experienced a desperate pileup of disappointment. The eleventh son of Jacob, daddy’s favorite was mistreated and betrayed by his brothers. Enslaved but then rising in the ranks in Egypt, he was falsely accused of sexual misconduct while on the job. He was promptly imprisoned, eventually promoted while there, and then comically forgotten by someone who could have quite easily effected Joseph’s release. Years later as Vice Regent of Pharaoh’s affairs, this step-at-a-time, too-familiar-with-failure leader would stare into his flabbergasted, frightened brothers’ eyes and speak those stunning words: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)[1]

In the face of disappointing setbacks, we can be encouraged by similar deep truths from the Apostle Paul: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (Romans 8:28-29, NIV)

Take heart! God is still faithfully working through all things, even through your most devastating disappointments. I look back on that August morning on the café sidewalk and chuckle now over how desperate I felt. In reality, God was protecting and leading me. Had I taken that coveted role, I would have most likely landed smack-dab in the middle of the gigantic mess that unfolded for that organization during the next year. I also might have missed out on several amazing opportunities that emerged in the months to come, including serious appointments for God-honoring influence and mission.

It is so seriously good to know that God is still working His good, even through our most desperate disappointments!

 

[1]For a tremendous treatment of business insights from the life of Joseph, see Albert M. Erisman’s erudite book The Accidental Executive (Hendrickson Publishers, 2015).

Could WORK really be worship?

At the ripe old age of eight, circa 1977, I earned this mighty sum for taking out the trash, washing Sunday dishes, feeding the dog, and tackling anything else that Mom or Dad dubbed a pay-worthy chore. Fifty cents a week was my starting salary. (Okay, so Dad called it an allowance.) Eventually, my responsibilities increased, as did my wage—to one full dollar. Then by the age of eleven, I was pulling down two dollars a week for doing all of those original chores plus feeding our brood of chickens, goats, and hogs. Eventually, this included chopping wood, shoveling very deep snow, and mowing two acres of grass—often by push mower, uphill both ways.

I learned to love payday and hate my work. (Repeated studies reveal this is a pervasive attitude, not isolated to those in the eight-to-eleven age category. Shocking, I know.)

Big blessing for me, ours was a home where the Bible and Jesus were talked about frequently. We integrated spiritual correlations about all sorts of life issues and current events. My mother and father were exemplary. And yet this one thing we lacked. (Alright, perhaps a few others, but this one stands out.) God’s robust perspective on work was not aptly addressed. At best, work was understood as a necessary evil, something to endure—grit those teeth—so as to make a living. I learned that work was harsh because of the fall and the curse of sin, and I pretty much learned that it was just going to have to be that way for all of my existence.

Sweat, toil, and tears. We’re all doomed. “Doomed!” they said. “Get used to it. You won’t get over the blasted agony this side of heaven. So work hard, suck it up, Son, and someday you’ll go to heaven and be done with work.” Now, I’m pretty certain this was never blatantly declared as gospel indoctrination from my father, but that is a pretty accurate summation of what I most definitely surmised.

What if instead, work is actually a primary avenue through which we worship the Lord? What if God’s original creative intention for us (Genesis 1:26-28 and 2:15) included “working the garden” in His image? And what if that word work is also translated as serve—and even worship—across the rest of God’s Grand Story in the sacred Scriptures?

What if our daily work is actually an amazing way to serve the Lord Christ (Colossians 3:23-24)?

Well, that might just change a thing or two! Right? That could deliver a serious sense of fresh calling, even awe and wonder in our daily tasks, especially on those days we feel less than motivated and far less than our best. We know we need regular attitude adjustments, even a perspective tune-up from time to time. But where do we encounter such recalibration?

If you find yourself too often agreeing with my dismal view of work as an eight-year-old, how about joining others for the Work As Worship Retreat on Friday, February 23, 8:30am to 3:30pm at Manor Church (530 Central Manor Rd, Lancaster PA, 17603)?

Eleven influential business leaders and pastors will discuss what it looks like to connect faith and work. This live event in Dallas is being live-streamed to Manor Church along with other satellite sites across the country. The day will be filled with real-life stories, biblical teaching, and practical wisdom that will equip you to see your daily tasks in a brilliantly different light.

Learn more and register here: http://www.manorchurch.org/workasworship

Registration is just $25 and includes lunch! I hope you’ll join us and discover more about this revolutionary concept of Work As Worship!

What Might Tolkien Teach Us About Christmastime Stress?

Are you frazzled and flustered by the season? For fast-paced workers and business leaders, this most wonderful time of the year is also our busiest. Add to your plate the shopping, umpteen school programs, as well as extra baking, wrapping, and all sorts of crafting. Later nights plus earlier mornings often equal less sleep, which too readily leads to rascally illness and flat-out exhaustion.

We wonder at times, “Is all of this holiday stress a recent-days phenomenon?” And in our most reflective moments, we might ask, “Is there any way to find some deeper joy?”

I discovered an intriguing letter by J.R.R. Tolkien from December of 1937, the same year The Hobbit was first released. Written to his publisher, Sir Stanley Unwin, the opening excerpt is tremendously insightful:

16 December 1937                                                                            20 Nonhmoor Road, Oxford

Dear Mr Unwin,

I have been ill and am still rather tottery, and have had others of the common human troubles, so that time has slipped out of my hands: I have accomplished next to nothing of any kind since I saw you. Father Christmas’ 1937 letter is unwritten yet. …. My chief joy comes from learning that the Silmarillion is not rejected with scorn. (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter and Christopher Tolkien, 2000)

‘Fascinating to consider. We might mistakenly assume that Tolkien would have been having a most magical Christmas in light of his book’s successful debut. Instead, this letter reveals one worn out, stressed out, time-crunched, regretful author. He’s even feeling very tardy about his annual tradition of writing the Father Christmas letter for his children.

I find some sense of comfort in the reality that even a highly successful individual such as Tolkien was battered by Christmastime stress. Perhaps it’s not exactly the new-to-our-generation development for which we are too readily prone to accept heaping doses of blame.

But I’m also stirred by the realization that in the midst of his exhaustion, seasonal trouble, and time pressures, he was intentional to discover some glimmer of joy. The Silmarillion was Tolkien’s collection of writings, material totally foundational to The Legendarium. This robust body of work supplied stunning backstory, crucial keys for a fuller understanding of Middle-earth. In 1937, The Lord of the Rings was not yet even a twinkle in Tolkien’s eye or a wispy puff from his pipe. But The Silmarillion, well those tales of the early ages already danced as quite elaborate smoke rings. They were Tolkien’s driving passion and delight. He had recently pitched the collection to his publisher. With this letter, he was simply finding joy in the fact that Unwin and company had not resoundingly rejected it.

Throughout years to come, they would stall Tolkien off again and again on his quest to have his magnum opus placed in print. In fact, The Silmarillion would not be published until after Tolkien’s death forty years later, and only then through the earnest of his son, Christopher. Of course, Tolkien went on to craft and see the Rings trilogy successfully published as well as other masterpieces. But each of these works had their grand basis in Tolkien’s pride and joy. How fitting that in this dusty old letter from 1937, our beloved professor discovered some joy related to his masterpiece, a joy that buoys his otherwise flustered spirit.

I am moved in the midst of my own hustle and bustle of the season with these two rich realities.

First, there is something life-giving and rejuvenating about slowing down enough to celebrate simple goodness in projects you are accomplishing—yes, even the potential good that others might see. Such reflection on The Silmarillion brought Tolkien delight amidst his hectic Christmas of 1937. And I am reminded that similar reflection brought the original Creator great delight at the wrap up of each day of his creating (Genesis 1).

What have you been creating this year? Amidst all of the challenges and setbacks, what has proven productive? What product line is making some progress? Is there a group of leaders or students in whom you are seeing real growth? What project have you been bringing to life, perhaps one you sense is starting to take shape? Amid the Holiday rush, take intentional time to pause, celebrate, see the good, and rejoice!

Second, I am encouraged to realize I am not alone in the rush and push. Neither are you. Tolkien was acquainted with feeling overwhelmed at Christmastime. And don’t forget, so was that holy family over two millennia ago as they wearily entered the gates of Bethlehem. Winsomely, Mary found time to ponder and treasure all these things in her heart (Luke 2:19).

I am stirred to intentionally make time in the midst of the stress and exhaustion, time to reflect and encounter greater joy. May we all!