What’s your attitude at work? The Greatest Showman OR the Greatest Sufferer?

Consider your attitude at work toward others—especially with people who are suffering, experiencing pain, or dealing with special needs. A study in contrasts often serves us well.

The star-studded, big-screen story captured my imagination and proved wildly entertaining. I was entranced by Phineas and Charity Barnum. The flick was riveting and the songs so memorable. But I also recall lines from a biblical story whose theme supplies a stunning counterpoint.

The Greatest Showman

Barnum collects various shocking personages from the streets of New York. All of them have distinguishing physical attributes, abilities, disadvantages and yes, disabilities. His cast includes the likes of Lettie Lutz (the bearded lady), Charles Stratton (General Tom Thumb), Lord of Leeds, the Albino Twins, the Strong Man, Woman in Gold, plus others. Many of these precious people were considered oddities and outcasts in society, as evidenced by the riotous protestors outside Barnum’s Circus. These featured characters attracted large crowds.

By movie’s end, Barnum has journeyed from rags to riches, and back to rags again. Following the disastrous fire, we are moved with emotion. His cast of “strange attractions” actually visit him in the saloon and implore him to come back, to restart again. They praise him as one who believed in them, accepted them—made them feel like family—so they urge him to not give up.

As movie goers, we are cheering for him as he comes home to Charity and his daughters. And to his cast of wonderful people, Barnum vows “from now on” he’ll rebuild. Barnum will be a better man. It’s a marvelous, feel-good tale, splendidly tailored for the big screen.

Alas, true history is seldom fully found on the big screen. With deeper research, P.T. Barnum’s own motives and shadow side can be seen in his glaring mistreatment of another human.

Something more to the story

In 1835, Barnum purchased Joice Heth, an elderly black woman, for one thousand dollars. She was an ancient, toothless, shriveled woman. The showman exhibited her as the supposed slave purchased by George Washington’s family back in 1727. Stunningly articulate, she could sing old hymns from the bygone era and tell tales of “little George.”

Barnum placed her on display in New York and purported her to be at least 161 years old. In local papers, Heth was publicized as “THE GREATEST NATURAL AND NATIONAL CURIOSITY IN THE WORLD.” It was an outrageous claim, but provided a captivating show attracting crowds and garnering Barnum a fortune. There was something even more outrageous, sad, and sinister about Barnum’s business.

Matthew Goodman explains the Showman’s motive: “Barnum, after all, wanted not youth but age, not vigor but feebleness, not strength but fragility. In Joice Heth he had found just what he was hoping for, a perfect combination of mental acuity and physical decrepitude. Though blind and paralyzed in nearly all of her limbs, the old woman had not lost her power of speech, and Barnum was struck—as were all who came to view her—by how sociable she was, how she kept up an almost constant conversation on a wide variety of topics.”[1] Goodman’s full account reveals the stunning hoax and utterly self-absorbed nature of Phinehas Barnum’s public display of this woman with disabilities.

The true story is so sad. He fully exploited Joice Heth as an oddity. In retrospect, I find it personally appalling to cheer for Phineas and his show.

The Greatest Sufferer

I recall another wildly successful business person in history. This man’s story goes from riches to rags to riches again. But his tale is long, arduous, and marked by personal lament during poignant suffering. Job is one of the most famous sufferers of all time. One day he had a full family, a flourishing household, land and wealth, but then in a sudden series of cataclysmic events, he lost it all.

Our biblical account of this amazing individual conveys much of his own wrestling through his suffering, via poetic lament. He pours out his complaint to his graciously listening God. In one such section, he presents his own case, his track record of work. It goes like this:

Whoever heard me spoke well of me,
    and those who saw me commended me,
12 because I rescued the poor who cried for help,
    and the fatherless who had none to assist them.
13 The one who was dying blessed me;
    I made the widow’s heart sing.
14 I put on righteousness as my clothing;
    justice was my robe and my turban.
15 I was eyes to the blind
    and feet to the lame.
16 I was a father to the needy;
    I took up the case of the stranger.
17 I broke the fangs of the wicked
    and snatched the victims from their teeth. (Job 29:11-17)

So intriguing to realize this wholly unique attitude: Job passionately helped sufferers. Though he was now suffering himself, his posture at work had been one of helping those in need.

Job’s explanation of how he had personally worked on behalf of other sufferers supplies a powerful foretaste, an early anticipation of an even greater one to come, Jesus. The Greatest Sufferer was the ultimate worker of wonders for others who suffered. He brought sight to the blind, steps to the lame, bread for the hungry, and ultimate blessing to the dying. The One who took up the cross had already been bearing a cross on behalf of others in need.

Blessing other sufferers through your work

What if instead of Barnum’s outlook, we aim to conduct our business affairs like Job—and ultimately, Jesus? What if we very deliberately work to bless others in need?

In Work: The Meaning of Your Life, Lester DeKoster notes the importance of self-denial:

Isn’t this exactly what the Lord requires of those who would be his followers? Self-denial for self-giving to others—that’s what we do through our jobs! “Take up your cross,” the Lord adds . . . Yes, the Bible takes full account of the wounds inflicted by working. And God instructs us that in suffering these to give our selves to the service of others, we follow the way set before his followers by the Lord Jesus himself.[2]

I am challenged to lay down “greatest showman” attitudes this week. May I instead take up the attitude of the “Greatest Sufferer,” Jesus!

Will you join me? As we more clearly sense others’ needs, let’s make plans to shoulder their burdens. Let’s take up their causes, create more accessibility, level the playing field, right the wrongs, help them heal, and mobilize to deeply serve others in our work with the attitude of Christ Jesus.


[1]THE SUN AND THE MOON: The Remarkable True Account of Hoaxers, Showmen, Dueling Journalists, and Lunar Man-bats in Nineteenth-century New York, p. 115ff.

[2]Work: The Meaning of Your Life, p. 36-38.

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.

A snowstorm is coming. Go to church anyway. Really!

The Abominable Snowman is stomping our way! Yes, a big snowstorm is predicted. Our region of PA has a forecast for an apocalyptic snow event starting sometime Sunday. And I can read your mind. You’re seriously contemplating just skipping the church service tomorrow, whether in-person or live-streaming.

Backstage secret. Here’s an underbelly-of-the-beast truth: Every Sunday on the calendar is tough work, but pastors dread such a wintertime collision of nature and scheduled worship gatherings.

Whether you live in our region under the threat of a storm or somewhere else across the U.S. there’s a really good chance you are contemplating skipping church tomorrow. Pre-COVID, church attendance was already trending downward. People had good reasons galore. Sunday kids’ sports, golf with buddies, sleeping in, better TV preachers, fabulous breakfast buffets, or more open treadmills at the gym. “Easy like Sunday morning” is a smooth, catchy song lyric, indeed. And it seems so delightful to roll with such easiness.

The pandemic has produced a host of additional complexities, fears, disruptions for everyone. In that whirlwind, faithful church involvement has become more optional than ever. Good excuses abound and are multiplied.

Icing on the cake for this weekend, there’s a snowstorm coming, and you’re thinking, “I don’t really need to connect via live-stream, and I certainly don’t need to get in the car and go attend in-person. After all, the flakes might start falling at 10:13 a.m. Yikes! That’s risky. And then they want me to wear a mask, stay six feet apart—certainly no hugs or handshakes—and the café menu is so scaled back. It just doesn’t feel like church like I liked it back in 2019.”  

Are you really contemplating skipping church again? Really?

Don’t do it. Really. Just determine right now you’ll be made of stronger stuff. Decide you’re still going to attend—or even go back for the first time—either in-person or online for live-streaming.

Here are three bigger reasons you should gather in-person or online this week. Hear me out.

Reason #1: Your local leaders have been uniquely planning, creating, studying, and crafting something really good for you.

Really. Trust me, no matter who your leaders are, their unique gift mix, passions, weaknesses, and expertise, they’ve got something very meaningful planned. If you skip tomorrow, you’ll miss the encouragement, the challenge, the conviction, the hope, and the good gracious help that’s being served up. You’ll miss the songs, the teaching, and the opportunity to fellowship with others. Every Sunday, these elements stir together so you can be inspired to be good and do good in the coming week. For fresh perspective, see Hebrews 10:19-25. Determine you’ll gather. It’s good for your heart. It’s good for others. You don’t want to miss out!

Reason #2: Your local leaders are uniquely available and accessible. After all, well, they’re local.

This should be so obvious, but in the YouTube and TV celebrity status of so many national and international ministries, it’s quickly forgotten.

Andy Stanley, his great dad Charles, Rick Warren, and Francis Chan. They’re awesome dudes, and they are indeed fantastic communicators. Out of sight. I’ve been blessed and learned from all of them. But stop and think about it. They’re not going to chat with you after the message regarding your questions, pray with you in the lobby, call you in the hospital, do your child’s wedding, or send you an encouragement card. They’re hundreds of miles away.

So why not jump into the mix this week with your local congregation? Tap into what’s been creatively crafted by your local leaders in your unique context.

Go to church this weekend. Really. You’re warmly welcome! And welcome back if you’ve been away for a while. Go online or in-person with an open heart, a level-head, with non-judgmental expectations about the music and preaching. Bring a serious others-orientation. Aim to be a blessing yourself, not just be blessed, fed-to-the-full, and encouraged yourself. Go to encourage others!

Reason #3: Jesus went to church faithfully. You should too.

There’s a little phrase that jumps at me in Luke 4, verse 16. We’re told Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath. (Yes, it’s not precisely our present-day Sunday gatherings, but it’s a very similar, Jewish, first-century approximate of our twenty-first century worship gatherings.)

Now here’s the intriguing little phrase about Jesus. He went to the synagogue “as was his custom.”

What’s that mean? He went to synagogue every Sabbath. Jesus was a regular. He was faithful, whether it was going to snow or not.

You say, “Well of course he did, he’s JESUS.” Okay, but think about it; he already knew all the truth there is to know. By nature of his divine position before coming to earth, he was intimately familiar with the best worship and the most sublime teaching. Andy and Rick don’t hold a candle to what Jesus already heard and knew by heart. But he still “went to church,” and because he did, others were abundantly blessed.

You say you want to be like Jesus. You really want to grow to be more like him in 2021, in spite of the horrific pandemic, a sagging economy, and raucous political turmoil? Wonderful.

You say you’re aiming to be like Jesus? Fantastic. Start by gathering for church, either online or in-person. You won’t regret it!

And after all, the really heavy snow isn’t supposed to start until afternoon.

Go to church. You’ll be blessed, and you’ll be a blessing in the mix with others. Really!

The Extraordinary Strategist of Christmastime

I face plenty of confounding, confusing, utterly puzzling situations, especially right now. Don’t we all? Christmas season 2020, questions loom large. All is not automatically merry and bright, right? What do we do about family gatherings? How do we make already-stretched dollars stretch even further? And advance planning for 2021, is that even possible?

Amidst my own wondering, I’ve found lately that it’s really good to simply, boldly pray:

“Please King Jesus, come meet with us. Show us the way. Lend your wisdom, please Lord.”   

Headed into a board meeting and wondering, “What in the world? How will we address that?” Or a tangled situation for one of my still-maturing sons and asking, “Where’s the wisdom? What’s the right way to go?” Or trying to encourage a friend but honestly grasping at thin air: “Is there something, anything I can really say to help.”

Here’s where I find myself more and more these days just tossing out the gutsy, on-the-fly, hurry-up heart cry, “Please Lord Jesus, come meet with us. Show us the way. Lend your wisdom, please.”

We tend to think of Christmas as the magical miracle time. But I think this year, more than ever, we need the wisdom of Blumhardt: The work for God goes on quite simply in this way; one does not always have to wait for something out of the ordinary. The all-important thing is to keep your eyes on what comes from God and to make way for it to come into being here on the earth. If you always try to be heavenly and spiritually minded, you won’t understand the everyday work God has for you to do. But if you embrace what is to come from God, if you live for Christ’s coming in practical life, you will learn that divine things can be experienced here and now . . .” (Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas)

If you’re like me, you might be saying, “Okay, okay, but what about those times when I just don’t see it, or no answer is landing, no insight cometh, and all still feels utterly confusing?” I think that’s where we must come back to the confidence that comes from the babe who already came. The prophet Isaiah foretold:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.  Isaiah 9:6-7 (NIV)

One name really stands out for me this week: Wonderful Counselor. I love how The Passion Translation renders “Counselor.” TPT says his name is “The Extraordinary Strategist.” There’s a wonderfully fresh and encouraging way to think of your wonderful Christ. Even when I don’t yet have the answer for the puzzling family conundrum or know a solution to the board room dilemma. When I’m still not sensing how to work out a snarled situation or have a word of encouragement for my friend. It’s in those moments I can turn to my Extraordinary Strategist and say,

“Please King Jesus, come meet with us. Show us the way. Lend your wisdom, please Lord.”

So good to know, I can trust he will accomplish that, because he already came. Based on the ancient prophecy and Jesus’ arrival, I can know with confidence, he’s on it. He’s working. He’s got this! Why? He is the Extraordinary Strategist of Christmastime.   

The Bigger Deal About the Bill Hybels Accusations

Stunned. Saddened. Angered. Grieved. Determined. Questioning.

I have this jumbled mix of emotions upon reading the Chicago Tribune article. How can this be? Who is really telling the truth? I know there are no absolutely perfect professions that get a pass on scandal. No perfect families, no impeccable churches, no spotless tribes of churches, and there are certainly no perfect pastors. (I know that first-hand.) But I find myself scratching my head and proclaiming:

“Not Bill. O Lord, not Bill.”

I am very aware that Bill adamantly denies the accusations. (I so hope he’s telling the truth!) What should I think, since the likes of Ortberg, Jimmy, and Nancy have joined their voices purporting that the accusations may carry some validity. They have been trustworthy friends of Willow Creek (and it feels like friends to so many of us as readers and listeners over the years). Whom to believe?

In the wild wake of #MeToo, the raucous flood of high-profile Hollywood accusations, as well as the skeletons in the closets of a much-too-muddy White House, we have settled into a ridiculous new normal. What we might have known a year ago as a healthy sense of disgust when hearing blasts of smutty news now gives way to a cold case of calloused numbness, a grogginess that’s settled over our collective conscience.

The Hybels accusations serve as a fresh slap to my sleepy soul. I cannot help but wake up and ask: “How can so many mature people who claim to know better act this way? Really? No! Enough is enough!”

“Not Bill. O Lord, not Bill.”

Sadly, such sickening scenarios are lose-lose-lose. Someone is lying while someone is truth telling. In the process, they each lose big-time. But there is another bigger, even sadder set of losers. No matter which side is right, the “skeptics, moralists, and long-time seekers” just grew less trusting and took another step away from the kingdom. I grieve and say to my skeptical and seeking friends, “Please, O please, I beg you to believe that there are still some good and reliable Christians left in the world. I so hope and pray at the end of the day, you remember how much we all need God’s loving grace. That includes Bill—and you and me—and every person pulsing on the planet.”

For many of us, “Me too” is no longer something that remains in the safe distance of a far-off scandal traipsed as tabloid in the Tribune, splashed across Christianity Today’s weekend headline, or blasted across a CNN banner. It hits way too close to home for that friend or family member who suddenly has to leave their job due to a previous season of sinful indiscretion. Many of us know someone not in the presidential, Hollywood, or mega-pastor limelight experiencing something that feels like collateral damage during this dreadfully punitive season. The self-centered choices and slippery compromise finally came home to roost. The pain is real.

In actuality, accusations of infidelity and sexual misconduct are as old as some of humanity’s famous families. The stunning story of Joseph in Egypt features a season when he was rising in influence, second in charge to a powerful man’s household. Joseph was relentlessly tempted; he remarkably resisted but was framed by his seductress. (See the Hebrew Scripture’s account, Genesis, chapter 39 for more of the story.)

Sage workplace author Tom Nelson elaborates: “When it comes to sexual temptation in the workplace, we don’t have to go out of our way to look for it; it often finds us. Joseph’s wise response to sexual temptation in the workplace is a model for us to emulate. Joseph didn’t cozy up to sexual temptation, he fled from it.”[1]

What’s the big deal? Our core struggle with workplace temptation lies deep inside. Jesus’ wisdom shines his probing searchlight on our eyes and hearts (Matthew 5:27-30). Lust is sparked when we indulgently imagine how people can be used for our self-serving interests instead of genuinely loved. God’s style of selfless love aims at practically caring for others’ best interests, not using or abusing them from our own places of power and control.

How do we develop a strategy to stand strong against workplace temptation, or as in Joseph’s case, to decisively run away? In Taking Your Soul to Work, R. Paul Stevens and Alvin Ung urge these five strategy steps:

(1) Know that your heart’s desires are for God. Hunger and passion for God put all lesser desires into perspective. (2) Reduce exposure to erotic stimulation in your choice of movies, novels, and Internet sites. Put a plan in place that will help you avoid temptation on business trips. (3) Pray for a colleague, a customer, or a supervisor whom you find attractive. Choose God’s perspective on the person instead of treating her/him as “just a body” to be visually consumed. (4) Seek accountability partners; commit to transparently answering tough questions. (5) Identify the early beginnings of lustful thoughts. Heightened vigilance in advance allows you to be more responsive to the Spirit’s guidance.[2]

Instead of being trapped in daily rituals of workplace lust and other sexual sins, we can stand strong. We can run away, stay pure, and truly honor Christ. With such choices, we will honor others with more wholesome love at work.

What is the truly bigger deal about the Bill Hybels accusations? Upon deeper reflection, I am struck with this reality. Instead of saying: “Not Bill. O Lord, not Bill,” I need to be saying, “Not me. O Lord, not me!”

Rather than shaking our heads in dismay over such scandals, jumping on judgment bandwagons, or allowing ourselves to be further numbed by the relentless shock to any remaining thread of moral leadership compass, we must realize we are called to genuine love. After all, virtues like decency, purity, and loving respect for others are God’s high calling for all of us—not just the mega-leaders of today’s world.

New levels of loving respect must start with everyday leaders—like you and me—making those solid, everyday choices. I want to stand strong. I want to stay holy and true to my wife and children, committed through and through as a truly good leader.

Will you join me in making fresh commitments to wholesome and holy love, the kind of love that is relentlessly loyal to those with whom we live and work each day?

May we all join our determined voices: “Not me. O Lord, not me!”

[1]Tom Nelson. Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 173.

[2]R. Paul Stevens and Alvin Ung. Taking Your Soul to Work: Overcoming the Nine Deadly Sins of the Workplace. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2010), 26-31.

 

Finding God’s Work in William Faris

faithworkpuzzle

I was stunned, quickly swept up in such brilliant insight. We were in staff prayer time; I was standing by the bulletin board. A section of this board holds William’s drawings of various Bible stories. Lifting my eyes while listening to others pray, this particular composition’s title grabbed my attention. Carefully scribed on the page is a combination of both thought-provoking words and detailed sketch. His picture’s simple, crisp lines drew me to further consider the implications—both deeply theological and practically down-to-earth.

Our church has been on a faith @ work adventure over the past two years, deliberately seeking to engage with God’s view of our daily work. We are aiming to see more clearly how we join his mission in our daily tasks. We’ve been learning to break up the sacred-secular divide, to view and do our ordinary tasks as kingdom initiatives, and to appreciate our everyday workplaces as our primary mission fields. By his grace, we are beginning to see God in all things, even in the dusty and seemingly mundane.

Just last Sunday, we enjoyed hearing Dr. William Peel, the Executive Director of the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University and co-author of Workplace Grace: Becoming a Spiritual Influence at Work.[1] During an extended interview, Peel shared one of his favorite practices for faith integration. “Ask the WIGD question each morning and throughout your day. What Is God Doing? What is God doing in and through my business today? What is God doing in this client or coworker’s life? What is God doing through these opportunities, and how might I join him?”

WorkplaceGraceCover

It should not have surprised me that William Faris’ artwork expresses kindred theoretical sentiments. He listens carefully in church services and his weekly Life Group study. His hands then skillfully join his mind, both working together to express what he sees. This particular drawing is simple yet poignantly intriguing. A bearded stick figure is draped in a strange-shaped gown, with unique décor embellishing the garb. William supplies a top-of-page biblical passage as the source of his inspiration: Exodus 37:1—39:31.

William Faris sketch

My suddenly curious yet cursory review of this Scripture validated my dusty recollection. Here is a description of the work performed by the ancient artisans of Hebrew sacred relics. Bezalel, Oholiab, and a team of craftsmen created the Ark of the Covenant, tabernacle furniture, and the priestly garments. Chapter 36 sets the stage: “the LORD has given skill and ability to know how to carry out all the work of constructing the sanctuary . . . to do the work just as the LORD has commanded.” I am deeply moved by this realization: such scriptural setting supplied inspiration for William’s own artwork, now thousands of years later.

I must confess the reason I am so stunned. William Faris faces a great personal challenge; he lives with a profound cognitive disability. Now in his fifties, William lives in Faith Friendship Villa, a couple miles from Manor Church. He faithfully attends worship services each weekend along with other residents. Willam and friends are vibrantly involved in their Life Group, led by people who are lovingly committed to working with individuals and families affected by disabilities. With such passionate work, this group regularly chooses to see God in all things.

William Faris

So, I am personally stirred by William’s artistic expression. Not only does he reflect theological savvy in his sketch; his own work remarkably reflects the image of his creative God and the extraordinary capabilities God has granted.

Drawn in by his work—both the sketch and the link to the biblical account—I am stirred afresh by the fact that it is God who gives skills and abilities to workers. William captures with loving stroke of pen on paper the old, old story. And he embodies with vibrant Spirit the very essence of such gifting. As William Peel reminded our crowd, we can see God at work daily in all things. WIGD? We see God at work through William Faris and his art.

And I am further captivated, swept up in this oh-so personal, yes, even convicting question: Am I personally integrating each day with such skillful sophistication—daring to see God at work in the “all things” of my own life—both in the old, old story, and in the current story of our lives?

[1]Bill Peel and Walt Larimore. Workplace Grace: Becoming a Spiritual Influence at Work. (Longview, TX: LeTourneau Press) 2014.

4 Reasons You Can Whistle @ Work

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I could not help but chuckle. My morning walk on the golf course cart path was proving to be gorgeous. Leaves revealed a hint of fallish tint. The mid-September sky was bright, and the air was crisp. Amid the rustling treetops, birds were chirping, but I was suddenly struck by another high tone, piercing the soundscape. Overtop the birdsong and gentle hum of a green machine at work, there danced a stunning, pronounced melody. The tune was distinct, recognizably classic in cadence, echoing off the arcade of trees and turf. I scanned in all directions, eventually to discover that the beautiful whistling was coming from the lips of the hard-working grounds keeper. It was a stunning, spot-on-pitch performance—and he was oblivious to having an audience. ‘Top of his lungs, he kept whistling, and I laughed aloud.

Immediately struck with amazement and query, I thought, “It’s very early morning; his work is tedious, mundane, for sure. It’s repetitive and ridiculously thankless for that matter.” Confession: I’ve never gone back to the clubhouse after a round of golf to deliberately compliment, tip, or otherwise praise the grounds crew. But here’s this early morning laborer, whistling as he works, with volume level at Max 10.

So what gives? ‘Something special in his 5 a.m. java? How can the rest of us find healthier joy in our daily work, whatever we do? Based on God’s view of work, I’ll suggest four reasons we can whistle in our work this week.

YOUR WORK TODAY MAKES GOD SMILE.

God originally made us in his image—his very likeness as creative coworkers—and he called us to work. In Genesis 2:15, we discover that a great big part of this imago Dei and our original call was for humans to work the garden. The Hebrew word for work carries the ideas of labor, service, and worship. Originally, this was all good, all positive. Yes, Genesis 3 records the curse in response to the Fall, but work was originally a part of God’s very good plans for humans. In response to the Curse’s ugly consequences, God’s story unfolds redemptive plans to renew all of creation, including work and its creative outcome (Rom. 8).[1] When we work, God smiles.

YOUR WORK TODAY IS THE OVERFLOW OF GRACE.

Our everyday work is part of our living out God’s saving grace. He planned for it! Ephesians 2:8-10 reminds us that we are saved by grace through faith; it’s not of our own good works. Yet, we discover with verse 10 that the overflow of God’s creativity, his remaking us, is that we now ACTIVELY live out creative good works. Faith is indeed about DOING something. He planned in advance for us to accomplish good works.

WHATEVER IT IS—YOUR WORK CAN SERVE CHRIST AND MAKE HIM FAMOUS!

For your own deeper inspiration and recalibration of perspective, explore these verses. Soak up fresh motivation for the soul of your work. See 1 Cor. 10:31 and Colossians 3:23-24.

YOUR WORK MATCHES JESUS’ HEART, ACTIONS, AND MISSION.

Jesus’ own example and his kingdom teachings are full of business and workplace implications. Mark 6:3 tells us that Jesus was a tekton, one who works with his hands. We often forget that Jesus was a carpenter and/or sculptor many more years than he was the traveling rabbi and miracle-worker. As a result, Jesus knew business and marketplace workers. Perhaps this sheds some light on why the majority of his parables are infused with business context and kingdom principles related to everyday work scenarios. Tom Nelson reminds us:

“Working with his hands day in and day out in a carpentry shop was not below Jesus. Jesus did not see his carpentry work as mundane or meaningless, for it was the work his Father had called him to do. I have a good hunch that Jesus was a top-notch carpenter and did top-notch work . . . I am sure there were many things that made the Father well pleased, but one important aspect of Jesus’ well-pleasing life that we must not overlook was his well-pleasing work as a carpenter.”[2]

So, as the golf course greens keeper continued whistling, I found myself grinning and saying, “Sign me up! I want what he’s having!” God’s smile, great big grace, his glory, and Jesus’ own work—four reasons you can rejoice with God in your work today. Let’s get whistling!

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[1]Darrell Cosden, The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work. (United Kingdom: Paternoster Press, 2006), 86-91.

[2]Tom Nelson, Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 90.

Busyness and a Missio Christmas

Christmas Cards

It was in my mailbox again this year—a marvelously mysterious Christmas card from a remarkable businessperson. “But why?” I wonder every year.

Most of us feel the strenuous stress, the tug and the tension of these days. This year is no different. You have extra product to push out the door, additional tasks to conquer, reconnections to make with long-term clients, and hopefully a pleasant handful of new relationships to foster. You also have a wish list a mile long, still to conquer, plus the wrapping, maybe a batch of baking, school concerts, the extra-special church services (queue the child-shepherds, clad in bathrobes), as well as the parties to attend (and possibly one or two to host!), and—well, you know, on and on, ad infinitum. As of this morning, there are just nine days ‘til Christmas—so sorry to scare you.

I am still shaking my head over the card. “Where does she find the time to send it?”

We all have a lot to cram into the upcoming hours, and this thought arrests my psyche this morning. If I do not make the time, in all the busyness of my business, I might miss the fuller significance, the blessed connections, and the real joy. I’m struck again: What was the origin, the purpose—the deeper significance, the real business of Christmas?

A dusty Latin phrase sums it up. Missio dei. The mission of God.[1] The babe of Christmas came and lived in light of his Father’s busy business. Whereas God certainly knows how to pause, to rest and reflect, he also seems very at-home with busyness. We first meet God in his story as an uber-creative, hard-working character (AKA, Creator, see Genesis, chapters 1-2). Across God’s story, he is constantly, intentionally planning and tangibly working out his redemptive plans. He’s busy. When he was a middle school kid, Jesus’ parents lost him in Jerusalem. (Yes, I know, how do you lose Jesus? A deep question to ask Mary and Joe, someday.) They finally found him, several days later, talking it up with the leaders in the Temple. Jesus’ response at his parents’ what were you thinking? is profound with intentionality. He replied, “Didn’t you know I would be busy with my Father’s business?” (my paraphrase; but see Luke 2:49, NKJV) When confronted about his Sabbath work, Jesus said, “My Father is always working, and so am I.” (John 5:17 NLT) Years later, one of Jesus’ followers, an early leader in the movement, Saint John, penned these words. “The Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.” (1 John 4:14 NIV) These words capture the Father’s intentional planning, the busyness of his business, and the full push of the missio dei.

Our mystery card comes from Renae, a phenomenal realtor in Marion, Iowa. She sold our first house for us in 1999, when we were trying to move back to the east coast for a new endeavor. I chuckle now. Renae made a grand windfall of a few hundred dollars on the deal, and she treated us like we were million dollar clients. Every year, we receive the hand-written, personalized Christmas card, and I shake my head in amazement. Call it smart real estate business (you never know whom I might refer her way). Yes, AND we should call it smart mission. She has not forgotten that God’s business places precious, life-changing connections with people right at the forefront!

So, I am compelled to slow down, breathe deep, and remember the WHY behind all of the busyness. I am struck with fresh gratitude for people with whom I can connect, the energy for creativity to produce, and the joyous opportunities to join God in his mission this season and into the New Year.

I pray you make the time to pause and remember the why of this season—and have a very missio Christmas!

 

 


[1]C. Neal Johnson, Business As Mission: A Comprehensive Guide to Theory and Practice (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2009), 28 and 49.