What if we fail to make America great again?

I am deeply saddened for my three sons as they launch into adulthood. When I was their age, we still had numerous politicians—including presidential candidates—who engaged their tasks with a solid sense of genuine greatness. They were in no way perfect, but they sincerely viewed themselves as public servants. Theirs was greatness born of common grace goodness, including core character competencies essential to lead well. Alas today, I am increasingly vexed over the lack of such leaders. Too few possess those qualities necessary for a nation’s greater good and that nation’s ripple of good influence. I long for such leaders for my sons and future generations. Before you label me nostalgic or grumpy, please indulge my musing.

Disgrace of impeachment proceedings

Disturbing. Disgraceful. Discouraging. Amid blasts of mounting accusations and fuming vitriol from either side, I find myself using all three words to describe the current landscape of US politics and public sentiment. This past weekend, major rallies and policy-sharing events were held by both Republicans and Democrats. Those events revealed extremely troubling views, misguided agendas, and more all-out ugliness.

Gene Edward Veith urges us: “The Christian’s involvement with and responsibility to the culture in which God has placed him is part of his calling. Human societies also require governments, formal laws, and governing authorities. Filling these offices of earthly authority is indeed a worthy vocation for the Christian . . . ”[1] Now more than ever, we need people who genuinely show up, pray up, speak up, and step up. But how might we engage in a way that brings something different to the already disruptive equation?

Amidst today’s political turmoil, we all feel dissed. But there’s a much bigger brand of dis to blame. Pelosi and her peeps are guilty of it. Trump is egregiously guilty, including his evangelical leader cronies. In reality, we are all outrageously guilty of this particular ugly one.

It’s called dis-integration.

And it’s especially tricky. Here’s what happens when people say, “My faith is important, but I don’t need to mix that too much with political work. I can and should keep my church life and spirituality separate from my political views and actions.” Many people today bring this attitude: “It’s not spiritual; it’s just political.” Such outlook is a kissing cousin to “It’s not personal; it’s just business.”

Can integration really happen?

Overcoming dis-integration is not only a Red vs. Blue issue. It runs much deeper. At the core, it is about reclaiming the grace of serving fellow humans, both nearby and round the globe. Its roots are found in Genesis 2:15, where God purposed for humans to work in his Garden. In other places in Scripture, this ancient word for work is also translated as serve. God’s unfolding biblical story reveals a handful of characters who served in government in amazingly integrated, service-oriented ways. The likes of Joseph, Esther, and Daniel demonstrate how God’s people can be vibrantly involved in the work of politics and public service.[2]

One party trumpets the MAGA slogan, but both the Elephant and the Donkey want to see America great again. They just seriously disagree about what the nuanced outcomes entail. Sadly, for both parties, greatness means some version of sassy rhetoric, fat-cat wealth, savvy power bases, and the firepower to successfully obliterate whomever they deem the enemy. Precise applications of such supposed greatness are what’s up for debate. This prescriptive understanding of greatness—both greatness of individual leaders and what greatness should look like for a collective people—is painfully flawed. It’s true on either side of the aisle. I feel sickened and saddened by such a despicable description of greatness.

Jesus supplied a deeply different understanding. He taught his disciples that true greatness means learning to humbly serve others (Mark 9:33-35) based on holistic, integrated love (Matthew 22:34-40). I know, this probably sounds like a pie-in-the-sky platitude, a hearkening back to Mayberry or Walton’s Mountain. But Jesus said it. Greatness is born of humble service. Will we believe him and work like that’s true in our own everyday vocations—including political and governmental responsibilities? In his book The Integrated Life, Ken Eldred argues for people to live all of life—especially their everyday work—fully informed and integrated with their faith. That means great leaders humbly serve others.[3]

Greater guiding questions

Aiming to pull out of my sadness, I try to envision what true greatness might look like for my sons and so many others for future years. True greatness would look like a fuller integration of our faith in the public sphere, an integration that impacts not just our nation but the globe. Such integration must involve once again the twin concepts of character and service. Too many good people are allowing their own hunger for political power and economic comfort to control their allegiances, their choices, and their votes.

Why do we continue to defend leaders whose words are persistently malicious, whose moral choices are corrupt, and whose practices are ripe with deception? How long will we ridiculously look the other way when leaders are obviously corrupt through and through? Why do we continue coddling all sorts of vices just because a candidate supports our own favorite view related to abortion, or race, or healthcare, or immigration, or some other singular, deeply held issue? Too many of us pledge our allegiance based on myopic tunnel vision.

Character matters. Good character means being trustworthy, full of integrity. Good character matters because telling the truth matters. Leaders must be willing to tell the truth, first to themselves about themselves. Truth be told, we are not always good leaders, both at our core and in our actions. During a political campaign early in his career, Abraham Lincoln noted:

Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition . . . I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem.[4]

Note Lincoln’s great ambition. He realized that in order to be truly esteemed by fellow men, he needed to render himself worthy of that esteem. There was no sense of entitlement. In Lincoln’s leadership framework, self-rendering was essential to a sincerely great ambition.

O that we had more leaders today willing to tell themselves the truth and “render” themselves. Lincoln was relentless in self-examination, working on personal change—even altering his viewpoints and platforms when necessary. Then he avidly pursued active, hands-on service to others. Being a deeply, truly kind leader truly matters. I long for such leaders in public service today.

I wonder what would happen if more of our politicians—and especially the ones aspiring to be President—would ask this two-part, formative question every day when they wake up:

What sort of person should I be—in light of King Jesus—and what actions should I take in order to actually bless the people I serve, to intentionally create greater flourishing?

I hope we fail. I hope we fail miserably at the current crazed attempts to make and keep America great again. And may that failure open the way for us to understand a truer, kinder, stronger greatness. O that such greatness would be born of good character and genuine service on behalf of others.

 

[1]Gene Edward Veith Jr. God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life, 101.

[2]For a winsome analysis of Joseph’s integration, see Albert M. Erisman’s book The Accidental Executive.

[3]Ken Eldred, The Integrated Life.

[4]Doris Kearns Goodwin. Leadership in Turbulent Times, 1-20.

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).

How Cheesy is Your Job?

I love cheese! In our kitchen, cheese is often employed at all three meals of the day (Yes, even at breakfast on my bagel with an egg and pepperoni). Cheese makes everything taste better! Apparently unbeknown to many of us, we have been sprinkling our spaghetti and meatballs with a bit more than the green and red canisters claim.

Stunning news broke last October. The president of Castle Cheese in Slippery Rock, PA was sentenced to two hundred hours of community service, a five thousand dollar fine, and three years probation. The offense? Her company was caught selling Parmesan cheese that was not fully cheese.

Both the U.S. FDA and IRS raided Castle Cheese’s facility in early 2013 and discovered their products included substitute ingredients such as cellulose, an additive produced from wood pulp. The problem of adulterated cheese is not limited to Castle’s plant. A Bloomberg News report in February 2016 cited broad-based, nationwide test results of various companies claiming to sell 100 percent grated Parmesan. An independent lab found cellulose levels as high as 8.8 percent.[1]

What’s the big deal, besides my gag reflex at the thought of digesting wood chips with my pasta? Why such public outcry and legal proceedings? Two correlating issues are in play, issues that actually hold big personal implications for our own jobs every day.

First, integrity in business is at stake. What do we expect to be produced by a cheese company? Well, um, cheese please. (And though some cellulose supposedly serves as a non-clumping agent, our collective conscience demands that what they say on their label will truly be what they are really selling.) Before we get too high and mighty, judging the cheese makers’ false blend, let’s take stock of our own work products and services. Our customers and clients expect nothing less of our ingenuity, time investments, and relational focus.

Will we step up as leaders, to design and deliver our most creative, thoughtful, and empowering goods and services? We are amazingly created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-28) and whatever our daily tasks, we are called to serve the Lord Christ (Colossians 3:23-24). With such divine identity motivating us, there can be an ever-growing uptick in the quality and integrity with which we work.

Second, there’s a crucial link between such authentic excellence and our witness for Christ. Tom Nelson urges us: “The excellence of our work often gives us the credibility to speak of the excellence of our Lord Jesus and to share the good news of the gospel with our coworkers.”[2] We want to be sure that with both our words and our goods, we are serving up beautiful, deliciously genuine helpings of the gospel!

Bottom line: No wood filler in our work.

Let’s make certain our jobs are very cheesy!

 

 

 

 

[1]https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-10-11/cheese-executive-gets-probation-fine-for-fake-parmesan

[2]Tom Nelson. Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 96.

Paperwork OR Peoplework? You’re probably PARALYZING your productivity!

I was first asked the insidious question many years ago as a student in a leadership workshop: “Which are you?” I naively assumed it was a valid question, a thoughtful call for leadership categorization.

HGTV’s hit show insists their contestants “Love it OR List it.”

People are commonly either “dog people OR cat people.”

As a passionate coffee lover, I often encounter folks who are either “coffee lovers OR tea lovers.” I rarely meet someone who claims allegiance to both beverages. (And anyway, how could a tea lover also appreciate coffee? I say you’re either strong OR wimpy.)

So which are you? Tasks and details-oriented OR people-oriented and more contemplative?

Either-or thinking flows naturally in so many arenas of life. BUT when it comes to work life, I believe our productivity often suffers from such either-or attitudes and actions. We say things like:

“I thrive on relationships and time well-spent with others. C’mon, pour more coffee. Let’s chat, build trust, and bask in the process. But please, I don’t do the administrative stuff.” The result? There’s usually great talk with others, but little if anything actually gets produced.

Another coworker might declare, “Bring on the tasks, strategies, and lists. Divide and conquer! But please, oh please, don’t make me work with other people!” Such go-getter leaders insist: “I push, drive, and accomplish. I’m HIGH D, baby! That’s me. So cut the relational crap. Let’s just get ‘er done!” And what’s the outcome? Great accomplishments abound, but there’s usually a serious body count in the process. (Even if it’s not right away, the carnage happens over time.)

“Tasks and deets” OR “people and contemplation?” Workplace assessments, personality profiles, and job satisfaction surveys often force people into such categorical buckets.

What if God’s view is much more integrated? When we analyze three of Holy Scripture’s hallmark work scenes, we make a unique discovery.

Work Scene 1: In the biblical book of Genesis, chapters 1 and 2, we find a detailed, poetic, methodical list of day-by-day accomplishments. There is no doubt about it—God is orderly and very strategic in sequence. AND in this same report, humans and our subsequent relationships—both with God and one another—prove to be the apex of the Creation encounter (Gen 1:26-2:3). God’s work cannot be tightly filed into either-or folders. God does BOTH.

Work Scene 2: When instructions are given for the building of the Hebrew Tabernacle during the Israelites’ wilderness wandering (Exodus, chapters 25-30), the Lord supplied a serious task list. (Admit it, many of us have lost it right here, our best Bible read-thru momentum has gone up in flames. ZZZZZZ.) We dare not miss the beautiful reality that God’s tedious tabernacle details culminate with a passionate focus on the skilled craftsmen named Bezalel and Oholiab. It was God’s oh-so-personal impartation of his Spirit that empowered them to accomplish their tasks. God’s work cannot be tightly filed into either-or folders. God does BOTH.

Work Scene 3: The Gospel accounts reveal God’s Son, Jesus, working with similar modus operandi. Christ remarkably blended accomplishment of tasks, his focus on details with his priority for people and relational/contemplative cultivation (See Mark’s Gospel, chapter 6, verses 30-44 for Jesus’ both-and blend in this story. Five thousand+ people enjoy an amazing picnic!). The God-Man did both.

If you’re more of a task-oriented person, marvelous! Bridges would collapse without the engineers and code enforcers. Cars and trucks would not make it down the road one mile if we lacked auto designers and mechanics. You rock! Local and global economies would crash without the pencil pushers and number crunchers. God’s work in this world needs you. We need you and your penchant for spreadsheets and schematics. We applaud you!

And there are those of you who are all about the conversations, extended times of deeper contemplation, and fostering dynamic connections. You lunch meeting experts and relational gurus, thank you! You keep us caring, encouraging, feeling, healing, networking, learning, and growing. God’s work in this world needs you. We need you and your bent toward conversing and flourishing with others.

But over the years, I’ve observed: Most of the most effective leaders deliberately develop a skillful blend. They’ve learned to do the dance between details and people. They resist the bog-down and paralysis that often comes with either-or thinking. How can we do that in our own businesses and workplace leadership?

  • Push back against your own either-or thinking. You’re seriously limiting your own potential and the productivity of your business when you willingly decide it has to be either-or. Instead, embrace attitudes and daily patterns that involve both strategic tasks AND loving conversations with people. Dare to embrace this bolder, image-of-God reality. You CAN do both!
  • Don’t aim for perfect balance in this crucial leadership choice. Balance is a ridiculous pursuit. Instead, shoot for a God-like blend, skillfully choosing between people and tasks as opportunities emerge. Since the Lord is our ultimate example of a creative leader and flourishing worker, let’s dare to cultivate such a tasks-people blend in our workplace approaches.
  • If you’re more task-oriented, deliberately schedule more people time. Hans Finzel warns us about “putting paperwork before peoplework.” (The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make, chapter 2) When you create greater margin for relational cultivation and reflective contemplation, you’ll likely see an exponential increase in your quality of connectedness with others and subsequent productivity in teamwork.
  • People sometimes ask me how I get so much done while being strongly relational in my approach. I smile and tell them my secret weapon. I make aggressive task lists. Now because I personally bristle at the thought of being too task-oriented, I label my uber-full weekly list as “OPPORTUNITIES this Week.” (You’re probably chuckling and calling me out: “Okay, Pletch is crazy—just playing a semantics game.” But hey, it works for me. Really!) And the silver bullet is this: My “OPPORTUNITIES” list always includes more people with whom I’m aiming to connect, equip, and cultivate.

What have you found best helps you push back the either-or approach and more fully live out God’s beautiful blend of details and people?  

Henry’s Glory—Back to School in Nigeria!

Henry's Glory Cover

God is at work all over the world! He has graciously allowed Henry’s Glory to journey into some very special communities in the past two years. One of those new places is Nigeria! In the coming school year, a principal is planning to have 50+ upper-level students read the book.

Segun, the school principal, has graciously granted us an interview. Enjoy gleaning bright insights into their endeavors!

John: “It’s a great joy to hear of God’s work through you and your teachers, Segun. Would you please share with us a bit of background about your school, your students, and your school’s unique characteristics?”

Segun: “Our school is a k-12 school named Kingdom Citizens International School, located in Jos, North Central, Nigeria. Founded in September 2004 by The Kingdom Citizens Pavilion (our church is the mother organization), we use basically Nigerian Government curriculum. We have about 400 students and 37 staff. Our school’s vision/mission is to produce students who will have a global mindset and national relevance.”

Nigerian map

John: “What are you aiming to accomplish in your student’s minds/hearts related to a biblical worldview, and specifically God’s perspective on work and vocation?”

Segun: “We have been exposed to several training events, seminars, and books about Theology of Work, and it has shaped the minds of our staff immensely on how to approach work from God’s perspective. This mindset is what we are trying to pass along to the students by making them see God’s perspective through every subject matter taught to them. We are currently undergoing a course called Worklife Restoration and Advancement Project (WRAP) by Dr. Christian Overman. This course is really revolutionizing how a teacher should weave Theology of Work into the curriculum in a systematic, intentional, and repeatable manner. It is a three-year course and we are just about to conclude the second year. The impact of this course is already being felt in the lives of our students and their parents. The whole intention is to INTEGRATE Biblical worldview and Theology of Work premises into the government-approved curriculum.”

John: “I’m aware that you plan to include Henry’s Glory in your required reading for Middle/High School students in this coming year. How do you anticipate Henry’s Glory will help shape such worldview related to work/vocation?”

Segun: “Henry’s Glory is such a fabulous book that teaches Theology of Work in a prose format. I really enjoyed reading the book. It has a way of helping one assimilate the basic truths of God’s perspective of work as one enjoys the story. I believe that our students will enjoy reading the book as it is written with a fictional design and will drive home the basic truth about work that the teachers have been trying to get across. I am also sure that the stories in Henry’s Glory will guide our High School students in making accurate career choices as they graduate from our school into the Universities.”

John: “Thanks so much for your enthusiasm for the book and your plans to utilize it with your students. How may we best pray for you, your teachers, students, and their families?”

Segun: “Kindly pray that God will enable our staff to continue with the momentum and excitement that they have in the WRAP program. Also pray for our students to remain open to this new paradigm of teaching that incorporates Biblical worldview into every subject matter. Please pray that the parents of these students will continue to cooperate with the school to use every means to consolidate on the teachings of accurate perspective about work to their children. Many thanks!”

John: “We are grateful for this opportunity, Segun, to partner with you in shaping young leaders’ perspectives! We will indeed be praying, and thank you for your meaningful work for Christ!”

nigerian-school-segun

Why Don’t More Christians Take their Spiritual Gifts to Work?

garagemechanicgifts

It’s my fault.

The seasoned attorney stared me in the eye, stretched his fingers and tapped his very large hand in a declarative pose over the oak table. He boldly stated, “Right here—every day—THIS is my ministry!”

I was twenty-seven years old, serving my first pastorate, and seeking legal counsel on property that our church was purchasing. Highly respected across the community, this accomplished lawyer was aiming to build common ground with me, a “man of the cloth.” Ironically and foolishly, I bristled inside. After all, pastors want people to be ALL-IN for the “real kingdom work” at the church building and the church’s activities. I’ll admit it. We are largely to blame. We pastor-types think (and too often do and say) things that foolishly communicate, “People should downplay their day jobs and up-play their efforts at church in all the other free hours.”

That’s the way I used to think. Two decades later, I now realize how skewed my own thinking was and how desperately we’ve missed practicing the priesthood of all believers. Subtly or not-so-subtly, church leaders communicate that our special, Christ-given abilities should only be relegated to Sunday services, ministries within churchy walls, and officially church-sanctioned missions in the community or ‘round the globe.

Grant it, these days we heartily spout off: “WE ARE the church. We should BE the church everyday.” Such statements are a good start, well, sort of. Unfortunately, this still remains largely lip service. Could we dare to change this? If it’s true that we ARE the church everyday, let’s take seriously these three postures for taking our spiritual gifts to work:

Take a fresh look at your own gifts.

Ask trusted friends, “Where do you sense my daily strengths reveal God’s work in and through me?” “Where would you say that I’m really good at what I do?” You can also use a simple diagnostic tool (check out www.manorchurch.org/gifts). Then talk about your results with friends to gain their feedback.

Take stock of your everyday roles and responsibilities.

Ask yourself, how might I employ my God-given gifts all day long, in all I do in my role? If you have administrative gifts, ask yourself, “How might I recognize and rely on the Holy Spirit for even stronger functionality.” If you have special gifts of helping/serving, “How might my gifts further fuel my capacity to make a real serving difference this week with clients out in my field.” Or, “How can I best bless car owners who bring their vehicles to my garage?” If you possess leadership gifts, “What will it look like for me to catalyze people around God’s deeper and wider purposes for flourishing?”

Tap into the intentional, relational side of employing your gifts.

The Apostle Paul clarifies that our gifts are very deliberately given “for the common good of others” (1 Cor 12:7). So let’s dare to ask, “How might my gifts/abilities more seriously reach and bless others for Christ? How can I speak encouragement? How can I both be and share the Good News with coworkers? How can I lead stronger so as to shape my company’s corporate culture in ways that more tremendously reflect Christ?”

Why don’t more Christians take their spiritual gifts to work? I will take the blame. Yes, looking back at that talk-tough hour around the attorney’s table twenty years ago, I received way more than real estate legal counsel. I now realize that I was treated to a dynamic clinic on holistic, kingdom work from a far more robust perspective. I wish I could go back and exclaim, “HUGE thanks, Sir, for being on mission at work—what a way to use your gifts for God’s glory!”

We are the church every day, so let’s take our spiritual gifts to work!

attorney—gifts at work?

 

 

One Extremely Trendy, Very Dangerous Thing We Do at Work

judgingothers

We were stunned. No one would help us. My wife, Nancy, and I stood in the men’s department of a fine store, looking at new suits. In my mid-20s and having just completed my master’s degree, I was about to start a new job. I had received a very generous graduation gift, so we allocated it toward new dress clothes. I donned a navy pinstripe blazer and stared into the mirror, contemplating how seriously good I looked. Sales clerks were busy, apparently too busy laughing and chatting. After some awkward moments of no assistance, Nanc’ walked over to the sales counter and asked a question, anticipating that her inquiry might shake out some attention. Met with a curt answer, the associate’s nonverbal responses screamed, “I’d really rather not be pestered.” He quickly returned to his animated conversation with work cronies. They glanced my way and chuckled.

After several more minutes of being ignored, we looked at each other and shook our heads. We knew exactly what was taking place. They had sized me up, performed a snap judgment, and decided that I was not worthy of their time. “Too young. Not nearly professional enough in his current garb.” Apparently, I did not fit the profile of the typical big spenders who frequented their department. Why bother with me?

Snarky judgment and snide comments are extremely trendy, all-too-much the norm in our daily workplaces. Stephen Graves wisely urges leaders: “An organization that values people will demonstrate care by . . . how it communicates with people . . . It will treat them with kindness, fairness, dignity, justice, and compassion . . . intentional about treating people decently.”[1]

Jesus made a very pointed prohibition in Matthew 7:1. “Do not judge . . .” And he proceeded to explain the rationale for his caution. Judging other people makes us very vulnerable in return. Jesus knew that judging others often has a boomerang effect. How do judgmental attitudes show up with our coworkers, employees, and clients? We think and say things like,

  • “That had to be one of the most ludicrous presentations I’ve ever seen!”
  • “Can you believe she only turned in those measly numbers last quarter?”
  • “He is certainly not the sharpest crayon in the box. Can you believe he . . . ?”
  • “I know before I even open this doc, their proposal is going to be a real joke.”
  • “Whatever you do, don’t invite her to go to the conference. She always . . .”

Jesus probed: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:3-5). Extra-stunning to realize—Jesus was employing a comical picture, most likely straight out of his own experiences with woodworking in his family’s carpentry business (Mark 6:3). Jesus was no stranger to flying sawdust and boards.

judgenot—plankeye

Judging others at work is extremely dangerous. Christ calls us to work humble and helpful, not judgmental and hurtful. First, I must make certain I have addressed my own integrity issues before I jump to scold or correct others. First, I need to truly bring my A-game to the team before I label others as inadequate for the job. When I do believe I have genuinely discerned that something should improve or someone has room to grow, I must employ kind, empowering methods of addressing what/who needs changed (Gal 6:1-2). Work humble and helpful, not judgmental and hurtful.

A wise practice is to pause regularly for self-evaluation. Good doses of personalized judgment are healthy for our workplace interaction and influence. Two questions can assist you:

  • With which coworkers or clients do you need to stop being judgy, and instead, start being more humble and helpful?
  • Any wooden planks you need to first remove from your own eye, before you help someone remove their sawdust?

Nanc’ and I moved on to another store to make my professional clothing purchases. There is serious irony in the salespeople’s jump-to-judgment about me that day. What they did not know was that I had more than enough money in my pocket, a stash of cash thick enough to purchase not one, but two very fine suits. Though they never knew it, their judgmental outlook cost them some serious commission. Judging others at work can prove very dangerous. To this day, we chuckle over how they judged me, and all the more over their self-incurred loss in the process.

[1]Stephen R. Graves. The Gospel Goes to Work: God’s Big Canvas of Calling and Renewal. (Fayetteville, AR: KJK Inc. Publishing) 2015, p. 125.

 

 

 

Your Must-Do Work in the Snowstorm

blizzard

Wintry weather pounded our classic two-story, antique-Iowan home during January 1998. Nancy and I did not yet have kids, but we had a houseful of “kids” that weekend. Our church regularly hosted worship team interns, all late-teen and early-twenty-something students. This crew of courageous collegians regularly traveled two hours from Ankeny to serve on weekends. Typical accommodations involved guys bunking at our place, and the girls staying at another leader’s house nearby.

In typical fashion, the car full of friends made their trek on Saturday morning. By Saturday afternoon, a surprise snowstorm was brewing. By evening, Old Man Winter was blasting our vintage house with all-out-blizzard gusto. Sunday church was cancelled as wind and whiteouts piled on a foot of fresh powder. The “kids”—including a gaggle of other local young adults from our church—ALL piled into our place for the long weekend.

Our house was abuzz for three days. We watched movies (Harrison Ford’s high-energy, action flick Air Force One had just come out. “GET OFF MY PLANE!”). We gobbled homemade pizza, toppings-piled-high nachos, and thick pans of lasagna. We laughed. We teased (two of our interns were in their early stages of flirtation and dating). Feeling some compulsion to add a dash of productivity, we held a worship arts planning meeting (well, sort of). We philosophized. We fought and made up. (After all, who doesn’t squabble after being cooped up that long with that many friends?) We sang outrageously goofy songs, made breakfast together both Sunday and Monday mornings, and otherwise created some of the most marvelous memories.

Eighteen years later, there is a snowpocalypse forecast for a large swath of the US east coast. Pictures of empty bread aisles and abandoned milk coolers are posted across social media. While I cannot recreate that one-of-a-kind, blizzard ’98 experience, I can envision a handful of must-dos we can each carry into the forthcoming labor of these snowy days.

First, there will be surprises. So, let’s roll with joy. Looking back, it would have been easy to tell those young adults a polite “no, you can’t stay,” or even “GET OFF MY PLANE.” I do recall that Nanc’ and I had already experienced a jam-packed week. No doubt it would have felt good to have our own space and breathing room. But we have never regretted those three hilarious days, and we are so glad we rolled with the opportunity.

Second, work will emerge, accompanied by opportunities to lovingly serve others. While we thoroughly enjoyed the cabin full of friends, it was some serious labor to host and navigate that flight. During this year’s blustering storm, will you find neighbors to assist with shoveling or nearby friends to serendipitously invite for a meal? While making bread, stacking wood, or washing dishes—tasks that certainly seem mundane—we must choose Christ’s joy and servant-hearts.

Finally, make the most of the space, the sweet grace of extra time. With that crew of young adults, we made delicious food, played hysterical practical jokes, planned for upcoming Sunday services, and unearthed a treasure trove of marvelous memories. Whatever you do during this storm, you must make something. If you have a woodworking shop, use the time to build that table or refinish an antique chair that’s been gathering dust. 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 weekend.) 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 our workplace theology. We are too typically too busy. Snowstorms and accompanying Sabbath are indeed 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 (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.

Every one of those characters who camped at our house for snowzilla ’98 is now all grown up, working hard, and serving strong in God’s kingdom. Nanc’ and I would never dream of taking credit for such marvelous adults—they had exceptional upbringings with brilliant parents. But we can relish the reality that we were privileged to play a brief role, including those seventy-two hours. And oh, what a fun plane ride it was!

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, fully embracing both the joyous work and wonderful people God brings onto our planes.

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

George Bailey’s Wisdom for Workplace Significance

GeorgeBailey

It’s a long-standing tradition for many of us. At least once each Christmas season, I have to watch the classic, It’s A Wonderful Life. In recent years, what I had previously viewed as simply a feel-good Christmas flick has now seriously morphed in my thinking. I have begun to realize that George Bailey’s desperate personal struggle conveys much more than a warmhearted, life-turnaround story. With deeper reflection, we encounter great wisdom for discovering personal significance in our daily work. Consider it.

In spite of the movie’s title, George’s life seems anything but wonderful. As the story opens, we learn that George is thinking about taking his own life. Plagued by one setback after another, this “every man” character has struggled for years with feeling unhappy, discontent, and purposeless. George Bailey’s struggle points out this extremely inconvenient reality, all-too-common to our plight:

Working hard to serve others never guarantees immediate “success.” In fact, such posture often leaves us feeling frazzled and forgotten, beleaguered and belittled.

George and the entire Bailey Building and Loan enterprise endlessly wrestled with doing what was right—selflessly serving others—and yet never getting ahead. George Bailey does consistently make right choices, but again and again, he’s filled with regret and seethes inside with raucous feelings of pointlessness and emptiness—even jealousy and anger—over others who seem to succeed and have easier lives. For George, intentionally working to do the right thing feels difficult, lonely, and fails to land him in first place.

Even as we focus at Christmastime on Jesus’ coming and his service-oriented mindset (Phil. 2:4-5), we can easily feel conflicted. We are busy and pushed with extra demands and distractions. We feel the crunch of end-of-year expenses and deadlines. We encounter the relational strain of coworkers and family who are frazzled and grumpy. We even wrestle with déjà vu, easily recalling the “ghosts” of Christmases past, those years that were less than snow-globe-like.

George Bailey knew these feelings all throughout his life. His story becomes more than ironic and harsh. Consider these famous scenes:

  • He courageously saved his brother’s life, but he lost his hearing in his ear as a result.
  • His big dreams of traveling & making a million—they’re always just out of reach!
  • He stayed stuck in Bedford Falls, tediously tending to the oh-so-slow, seems-to-never-really-grow, Bailey Building and Loan.
  • The Bailey family stood in stark contrast to grumbly old Mr. Potter, the mean, fat-cat tycoon who seemed to own everything else in the town.
  • While embarking on his honeymoon with Mary—just like George’s dumb luck—the stock market crashed. There was a run on the bank, and the newlyweds ended up using their honeymoon money to hold people over.
  • They settled in Bedford Falls and started renovating the old Grandville House. As years passed and kids came along, George found himself more and more disillusioned, constantly embroiled in business conflict with Potter. Life felt cold and desperate instead of wonderful and fulfilling.
  • When World War II began, George couldn’t even be drafted and travel the world on account of his injured ear. His kid brother, Harry, went off to war, and of course, he ended up a hero!
  • Christmas Eve, Uncle Billy misplaced $8000 of the Building and Loan’s money, actually mistakenly placing it in Potter’s hands. Unaccounted for, such missing money would mean financial disgrace and scandal for the Bailey Building and Loan and George’s whole family.

If we pause to reflect, we discover that George Bailey’s story shows us a handful of rich insights for finding greater significance in our daily work. For starters, George’s condition proves . . .

God uses ordinary, struggling, disturbed, fearful, down-on-their-luck people to change the world. It was true in God’s personnel plans for bringing Jesus to earth. (Just look at the lineup in the family tree, the genealogy of Matthew 1.) It’s powerful to realize that Jesus came to bring us hope and joy, and God still uses everyday, ordinary people like us in his process of redemption and transformation.

Consider the fictitious angel in George’s story—Clarence, the funny little guy who needed to earn his wings. “Earning wings” is a fanciful add-on in this movie (not biblically-based). Nevertheless, there’s no mistaking the connection with God’s angelic messengers who play a huge role in the original Christmas story. And we gain this second insight for discovering greater significance in our daily work.

God cares. God communicates. And we can connect with him.

Whether it’s the angelic messengers in the biblical accounts, God’s often-stunning orchestration of events in our lives today, or his precious written Word—readily available for us—this much is certain. Christmas reminds us that God communicates so we can connect with him. Take a few moments to explore these examples of God communicating, so we can be blessed for greater redemptive connections: Gen. 12:3; Isaiah 9:6-7; Micah 5:2-5; and Hebrews 1:1-3. Christ brings us such hope!

Clarence went on to show George what life would have looked like if he’d never been born. Bedford Falls was now Pottersville, a dismal place. No one recognized him. No one. George and Mary’s grand old house was nothing but an old shell in shambles. He ran through the house, shouting for Mary and the kids. No one answers. When he goes to his mother’s house, she answers the door. She’s rough and haggard, and she does not know him. No one in town recognizes him. George stumbles upon a graveyard and finds his brother, Harry’s gravestone. Clarence shows up and tells him Harry drowned. George shouts a flamboyant denial, “I pulled Harry from the icy water that day. Harry’s alive! He’s a hero. He rescued all the men on that transport!” “No,” Clarence retorts, “You were never born, George. Every man on that transport died. You see, you weren’t there to save Harry.”

Through these spectacular realizations, George ends up back on the bridge, praying and pleading, “Please, oh, God, let me live again. Please, I want to live again.” And at that moment, he is restored. With great jubilation, he heads home and discovers that Mary has rallied the townspeople, who all bring money to bail George and the Bailey Building and Loan out of trouble. The house is jam-packed with friends, and in the closing scene, George’s hero-brother, Harry, arrives and makes a toast, “To my big brother, George, the richest man in town!”

We’re stirred because we can SO relate to George’s feelings, but there’s more. Here’s the final takeaway:

Christ gives our daily work real significance as we serve others—to his glory. A life of serving others is wonderfully abundant and leaves a HUGE impact!

Ken Eldred has winsomely declared the real goal of business: serve others to the glory of God. Eldred thoughtfully expands our understanding of service with three clarifications:

  • Business that effectively serves others will generate value and expand the total pie. Profit is indeed a sign that others are being served.
  • Business cannot neglect efficiency and profitability or it will cease being able to serve others.
  • Serving investors means that we’ll generate a return on their investment (Matt 25:14-30).[1]

Eldred's The Integrated Life Two questions will serve us well as we consider greater significance.

First, will you deeply connect with God this season, with his heart and purposes for your life? No matter how discouraged you feel, you can cry out like George, “God help me. Get me back! I want to live again!” God cares and promises to supply you with his hope, purpose, and joy.

And second, will you intentionally adopt a Christ-focused purpose in your daily work, to serve others to the glory of God? Jesus said in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Such abundance can overflow as we bring greater significance to our daily work. Serving Christ to the glory of God—such purpose imbues our daily work endeavors with greater significance, allowing us to truly live a more wonderful life!

For further exploration of these themes, check out Eldred’s exceptional book. And for a heartfelt, thoughtful story conveying this quest, grab and enjoy a copy of my book, Henry’s Glory: A Story for Discovering Lasting Significance in Your Daily Work (available at http://www.wipfandstock.com)

 

[1]Ken Eldred. The Integrated Life: Experience the Powerful Advantage of Integrating Your Faith and Work. Manna Ventures: Montrose, CO, 2010, pp. 44-45.