More joyful planning during COVID-times

How many of the following statements are true for you?

In the past two years, I planned for a vacation or some business travel.

Our family shopped at a grocery store at least once in the past ten days.

We own at least one vehicle.

I slept last night with a roof over my head in a relatively clean, dry place.

Our family ordered take-out at least once in the past six months.

I made a purchase with a credit card this past month.

We are making tentative travel plans for time away with family or friends, sometime in the coming one to two years.

Based on the fact you probably circled more than two of the above, most of us live relatively comfortable lives. One of those comforts is the luxury of planning. However, the COVID-crisis of recent months has reawakened us to a difficult reality. Our best plans are really rather uncertain. Across this precarious season, we have been learning to hold our plans, possessions, and privileges more loosely—and probably more gratefully. We can relate much better to James’ words in 4:13-17:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.  If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

In previous verses, James spoke to the issue of proper humility. Arrogance, boasting, and over-confidence are radically opposite to God-dependent reliance. In this cluster of verses, he supplies three facts of life.

First, life is remarkably short. It’s like the morning fog that seems dense, thick, and abundant. But soon, it lifts with the blazing saturation of morning sun. One hour you’re young, and soon you’re old. And you wonder where it all went. Where did the time go? Where did the kids go? Where did the opportunities fly?

One of the most haunting features about the now-classic movie, Titanic, is the story-telling motif. We meet Jack and Rose as very young adults, full of such fervor, zeal, and adventure. The tragic sinking takes place. Jack dies; Rose lives. But at the very end, the camera fades from young Rose’s face to a very tight shot of aged Rose. We see her wrinkled face, and in that moment, we sense how the years flew by. The scene still gives me chills as we’re confronted with the rapid pace and uncertainty of life.

History is full of sudden twists and turns. Powerful, respected, witty presidents like Ronald Reagan are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Popular, beautiful princesses like Diana get killed in car accidents in tunnels. Basketball players like Kobe—enjoying the prime of life, career, and family—have helicopter crashes. And sadly, whole nations are stricken with a pandemic.

Second, we can so easily make plans but “leave God out.” How? When we carry the smug attitude that we’re in charge. When we think God doesn’t care about the “mundane” details of our lives. When we make decisions based only on the prospect of more money, business deals that might not exactly square with God’s values of honesty and integrity. When we’re engaging in arrogant planning, we’re leaving God out. When we make career or location moves that don’t factor in the spiritual well-being and life of our family members. When we embrace business decisions that leave little room in our schedules to help others and be on mission in our neighborhood and community, we’re saying, “I don’t really need to consult the King’s values and agenda. I got this!”

Third, we need to focus on God in all our planning. Only then can our days really count in long-lasting ways. To learn to say, “If the Lord wants us to, we will . . .” This is so much more than a Christian’s lucky-charm statement or four-leaf clover for recognizing God’s sovereignty. It’s an overall attitude to learn in, grow in, and let it saturate our perspective. Consider these power questions to help you focus your planning:

What can I see myself doing across the coming months and the coming one to three years? God does not disapprove of good planning. There are proverbs and other examples in God’s Word, the Bible, that demonstrate how powerful advance planning can be. The big issue is our attitude: how will I respond if God rearranges my plans? What if he surprises me? I have to learn to hold plans loosely and thereby let God do his best work in me. It’s quite often the true path to thriving.

Do my plans include the priority God places on time with my family? As busy people, we have an emotional responsibility with our families. Andy Stanley urges us regarding family time: “They want to feel like your priority. It is not enough for them to be your priority. They must feel like it . . . A measure of loyalty is assumed in every relationship. The more intimate the relationship, the greater the expectation.”[i] Prioritizing our plans to reflect such God-honoring priorities is vitally important if we are going to grow stronger and thrive with kingdom values.

Do my plans include the high value God places on serving others—yes, inside church walls, but in all my life spheres? It’s this kind of whole-life, faith-in-action, thriving that James is calling us to practice. Alan Hirsch and Lance Ford say: “A missional movement must apply the gospel to all spheres of life (business, family, art, education, science, politics, etc.)–it cannot be limited simply to ‘coming to church’ or participating in building-based programs.”[ii] Across his letter, James is urging us to make plans that are Jesus-pleasing, action-oriented, joyously integrating our thriving faith.

Is there anything about these plans that violates God’s principles for living? Will I have to bend the truth? Will I need to cut corners, act in immoral ways, or otherwise skimp on the high integrity to which King Jesus calls me?[iii] Have I searched God’s Word to find out? The classic wisdom in Proverbs 3:5-6, urges us to not lean on our own understanding. Instead, seek his will in all you do. It’s good to pause, pray, search the Scriptures, and seek his guidance.

Have I sought the input of other wise, Godly people, regarding these plans? The Proverbs also emphasize how much healthy energy and direction our plans gain when we seek the wisdom of multiple counselors. Here’s a solid life principle: we run stronger when we run with wise people. No plans are ever fail-proof, but they are certainly more likely to succeed when we’ve gained the input of other seasoned, experienced, Christ-honoring individuals.

Asking these questions and pursuing God’s priorities will help guard us from arrogant planning. We will be grounded in God’s will for our next steps.

Money, money, money . . . Money!

In the opening verses of James 5, the Apostle turns the application on a very poignant arena of life planning and pursuit. Use of moolah. James warns rich people who have misused their wealth. He shouts a warning about the misery they can expect, and James catalogs their offenses: They have hoarded their wealth, so it’s rotten, moth-eaten, and corroded. Once again, these vivid word pictures mirror his brother’s words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6:19-21). The powerful rich people have failed to pay their workers fair and generous wages. “The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty” (James 5:4). They have lived lives of self-indulgent luxury. They have even committed acts of unjust condemnation and murder of innocent people. And James tells these rich abusers, “You have fattened yourselves.” It’s picturesque language that should seize the imagination of our souls with a blend of humor, horror, and introspection.

James indictment of these “fat-cats” correlates back to the inflated arrogance he decried in chapter 4. Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson, exploring Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 6:17-19, urge us: “Don’t be arrogant. Don’t assume you have wealth because you are so talented and smart. As the saying goes, ‘If you see a turtle on a fencepost, you know it didn’t get there by itself.’ Don’t put your hope in wealth. Instead, put your hope in God. Do good! Be rich in good deeds. Money is a great tool but a poor master. Be generous and willing to share—enough said!”[iv]

Tucked back in chapter 4, we find words from James that supply strong summation. So typical of this sage, early church leader’s style, he fires with bold conviction: It’s sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it (vs. 17). You’ve asked the above questions. You’re aiming to make plans that reflect God’s priorities. You’re grabbed by the vivid word pictures. You’re convicted and motivated for life change. Now it’s essential you act on what you know is right. Nothing less. Nothing more.

We mistakenly think that sin is only doing bad things. Often, sin shows up as not doing the good we ought to do. If we rush through life just living self-consumed, totally missing what really matters, failing to joyously thrive in our King’s plans for our lives, indulging our every financial whim, missing our opportunities to impact others with his kingdom grace, then we are sinning. Plain and simple, but oh so sad. We are missing the mark of God’s gracious intention, his Fatherly aim that we grow stronger in the tough times.

Consider these smarter ways to invest your money, time, and energy for eternal results:

Give your spouse and kids an extra hour of YOU this week. I guarantee, you will not regret it, and they will feel like they are truly your priority.

Deliberately sell something you don’t really need and give the money to a needy person or a special mission endeavor at your church. Instead of hoarding, let go in order to take hold of what matters more.

If you are responsible for the welfare of others, take inventory of how you are treating them regarding wages and benefits. Is it fair? Is it kind and gracious, like you would want to be treated?

Take on a special family endeavor in your own community. Who’s new you’ve not yet met? Who’s old in the ‘hood, but you still don’t know them? Throw a party. Invite several people over for burgers or soup. Intentionally make some new friendships with one or two neighbors you’ve never met. Enjoy the adventure of sharing the King’s love in tangible ways.

Start tithing and graciously giving more to your local faith community.

Volunteer a block of your time to help in hands-on ways alongside your neighbors or some other good community cause.

Time and money are precious gifts. Each day and each increment of pay are graciously granted by the Father of lights. Are you making each one count? You have this day to choose Christ and his priorities. You have this day to deeply enjoy your loved ones. You have today to make a real difference in someone else’s life.

Reflections to help you grow stronger and thrive

Pondering those opening statements, are you stunned to realize just how comfortable you really are as well as the luxury of future planning you enjoy? Why or why not?

Which of James’ “facts about life and planning” really speak to you right now?

Which of the four power questions will most help you focus your planning?

How are you stirred to more wisely prioritize your use and investment of your resources, both time and money? What should it look like in the coming weeks?

How is your heart encouraged toward growing stronger and thriving right now?

This article is adapted from my recent book JOY & THRIVING: Grow stronger in the tough times

 

[i]Andy Stanley. Choosing to Cheat: Who Wins When Family and Work Collide. (Colorado Spring: Multnomah Books, 2003), 48-49.

[ii]Alan Hirsch and Lance Ford. Right Here Right Now. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011), 34.

[iii]For an exceptional analysis of what genuine integrity means across all of life, see Henry Cloud’s Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality. (New York, NY: Harper Collins. 2006).

[iv]Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson. Living a Life on Loan: Finding Grace at the Intersections. (Cincinnati, OH: Standard Publishing, 2006), 160.

 

 

Pies and Hubcaps—In Praise of LOCAL Business

With four drivers in our family, we delayed the extra purchase as long as possible. Finally, I caved into the impassioned teenager pleas. We purchased the third vehicle. It’s used, an oldie but a goodie. We were barely off the car lot before our firstborn was declaring his aim to improve the look of the wheels with new hubcaps.

Our quest for the right new look began online, but we soon found ourselves saying, “’Just wish we could really see and feel what we’re getting before we buy.” In the midst of our hunt, I discovered the Hubcap Barn in Manheim, PA. It’s less than five miles away. Placing a phone call, I was immediately wowed by the personalized interaction and quick mental recall of inventory. Later that afternoon, my son and I were climbing the barn steps and picking out four original, matching hubcaps. We got a great deal including details about how to make them shine. As we drove away, I reflected. “There’s something so unique about buying local, a tangible intangible you just can’t get when buying online.”

I’m struck once again with the realization that Jesus’ own business approach was very local. As the God-Man, he certainly had the wherewithal to make his carpentry business much bigger, even global had he desired such an instantaneous reach. Instead, “the Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, MSG). Jesus’ down-to-earth incarnation included his work-a-day business.

After the formal start of his Messianic ministry, he returned to his hometown as guest speaker at the local meeting place. The townsfolk first praised him but then scoffed. “He’s just a carpenter . . . “ (Mark 6:3). Such critique serves as sturdy evidence. Jesus was well known by the locals as the neighborhood carpenter way before he was recognized as the traveling preacher and miracle-worker.

With our current-day buzz about “being the church” in our communities and living more missional and incarnational, how deliberately diligent are we in cultivating local business that’s God-glorifying? Do we more intentionally shop local businesses with the aim of fostering relationships, stimulating the local economy, and sharing gospel witness for the glory of God?

My life is enriched and our local region is oh-so-blessed because of places like Hearts and Minds Bookstore in Dallastown, PA. (Yes, owners Byron and Beth Borger are oh-so-kind to carry my books!) The Borough of Columbia is much stronger because of a great place like Café 301 (301 Locust Street, Columbia PA).

Pies Galore and More of Mount Joy, owned and operated by Donna and John Alexander, has been serving up delectable pies for over five years now. Our local community is much sweeter because of such Christ-honoring business impact!

Vintage & Co. is a fantastic shop on Marietta Ave, Lancaster. Shoppers encounter marvelous antiques, refinished tables, Country Chic paint, and all sorts of wonderful treasures of yesteryear.

Zack Erswine winsomely reminds us: “In order to follow Jesus we have to go through a carpenter’s shop in Nazareth” (The Imperfect Pastor, 2015). I am grateful for Jesus’ down-to-earth, close-to-home, person-to-person business practices. And I’m motivated in fresh ways to applaud, frequent, and encourage local business for the sake of God’s kingdom. Here is an especially wonderful perspective and practice to carry into Christmastime.

Yes, Jesus’ great commission takes us global, but I am also praying we follow in Jesus’ local missional steps with even greater frequency and passion.

Where will you shop this weekend?

 

 

Working through despicable disappointment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Fire and fury, Charlottesville and antifa—Let’s work for STRONGER HATE!

I’m trying to make sense of the whirlwind. From President Trump’s blustery words with Kim Jong-un to the raging supremacists in Charlottesville, it’s been a firestorm of a week.

Gusty words. Murderous vehicles. Voices cry, “Enough is enough. The hate must stop!” And now the antifa are raising their voices AND fists. “This hate must stop,” they shout, “And we know how! We’ll throw punches and obliterate such horrible hate.” Huh? I’m still trying to make sense of the whirlwind. So are you.

In the midst of the storm, I’ve been wrestling with this concept—

I think we need a stronger hatred. I’m serious. Please hear me out. Consider the Apostle Paul’s words:

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope . . . Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone . . . Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. Romans 12:9-21 (NLT)

It’s wonderfully noble to “hate well.”[1] Hating well means we despise and push back all that is evil in our own hearts and collective conscience. Starting with me, I must vehemently combat the attitudes and actions that promote rank racism, self-consumed vengeance and violence. If there’s any battle to launch, it must start in my own heart.

St. Paul insists that we all CAN work for peace. He calls for genuine love, enthusiastic service, blessings instead of cursing, real-time empathizing, intentional harmonizing, and an everyday willingness to hang out with ordinary people. In these ways and more, we actively “hate evil” and “work for peace.”

Do we grasp the deeper purpose of peace? Additional biblical passages relate the necessity of serious action for Christ-followers, even employing the language of work. Consider these:

Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it. Psalm 34:14 (NLT)

And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare. Jeremiah 29:7 (NLT)

God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God. Matthew 5:9 (NLT)

Do these Scriptures have non-violence and the peaceful resolution of conflict in view? Absolutely. Are these truths applicable for both personal relationships and international affairs? Most certainly!

But do these Scriptures simply present a passive posture? Absolutely not. The core biblical idea behind peace is the robust, action-oriented Hebrew ideal of shalom. Christ’s peace includes redeemed humans actively working for other humans’ flourishing.

Richard Foster correlates: “Shalom embodies the vision of a harmonious, all-inclusive community of loving persons. The great vision of shalom begins and ends our Bible . . . The messianic child to be born is the ‘Prince of Peace,’ and justice and righteousness and peace are to characterize his unending kingdom (Isa. 9:6-7). Central to the dream of shalom is the magnificent vision of all nations streaming to the mountain of the temple of God to be taught his ways and walk in his paths.”[2]

Such Christ-honoring, grace-fueled call to “work for peace” supplies the basis for SO MUCH grace-based work. Christ’s church today is being moved toward—

Stronger collaboration

Rather than rushing to join the saber rattling on “the left” or “the right,” more churches are working harder to actually communicate and motivate for positive change. Stephen Graves affirms: “Collaboration can be a freeway system for the gospel to travel. Non-collaboration can be a disappointing dead end or stifling roadblock.”[3]

Such collaboration begins with a highly personalized, one-person-at-a-time, heart-by-heart approach. Let’s admit it. We all have an encrusted aversion toward those people who are “the others”—those souls and skins who seem so antithetical to our own likes, loves, dislikes, and preferences. In great contrast, collaboration means I cultivate a holy hatred for my personal arrogance, laziness, and disgust for “the others.” Then I move to very deliberately love those people who hold different perspectives, different skin color, and the plethora of preferences that so often fuel my prejudices. Flaming passion for Christ’s mission is a serious antidote for our pandemic of racism. We can each choose to host a meal, join “the others” for coffee, express Christ’s loving message, and intentionally respond to others’ active overtures for conversation.

Strategic innovation toward greater flourishing

More and more churches are working toward Gospel-proclamation through creative, innovative community development. Such development aims for redemptive businesses and more missional workplaces that lead toward economic growth and an overall shalom that’s grounded in Christ’s holistic saving grace. Where this is happening, both globally and in communities near our churches, such innovative work supplies a beautiful picture of counter-intuitive kindness (Romans 12:9-21). Creative discipleship groups join with brighter business plans, producing vibrant, Gospel-motivated movements in communities. Christ’s good news prompts more people to experience greater flourishing—real peace with God and one another.[4]

Herein lies the Christ-like ideal of working to evoke positive change, forward momentum in the lives of people who are in need spiritually, socially, emotionally, and financially. We dare not forget, such real need includes you and me! We are each impoverished, in need of meeting God’s grace on multiple levels. The local church with which I serve has certainly not arrived on these issues of racism, God’s mission, and innovative shalom. Like most churches, we still have miles to go. But we are actively teaching, promoting, and mobilizing for greater one-on-one peace-making as well as stronger regional mission and more thoughtful global impact. Healthier hatred of what’s wrong in our world and our more loving pursuit of peace are rooted deeply in Jesus’ kingdom agenda.

It’s stunning to realize: the Prince of Peace calms the storm and accomplishes his royal work today through us! Let’s thoughtfully hate what is wrong in our world and overcome that evil with love-motivated good works—all for Christ’s glory. And remember—it can start today with just one warm conversation over coffee!

 

 

 

[1]Life guru Henry Cloud expounds this concept in 9 Things You Simply Must Do to Succeed in Life and Love. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 139.

[2]Streams of Living Water (New York: Harper One, 2001), 171.

[3]The Gospel Goes to Work: God’s Big Canvas of Calling and Renewal (Fayetteville, AR: KJK Inc, 2015), 122-123.

[4]For a regional example in south-central PA, see celebratecolumbia.com and on the global scene, explore the amazing work of hopeinternational.org.

My One and Only Resolution for 2017

new-years-resolutions-chalkboard

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

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

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

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

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

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

stopwatch-striking-midnight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discover your most joyous Christmas ever!

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My new book, Henry’s Christmas, is rolling off the press in the next few weeks!

It’s an adventuresome Christmas tale—destined to carry you beyond the daily work stressors, relational turmoil, financial fears, and family feuds so typical during this season. Take a marvelous journey with Zach, Maggie, and old Henry.

Join an action-packed, insightful journey with this set of colorful, current-day characters. Meet the original cast of biblical characters from the ancient Advent scenes, and discover faith-filled courage, kingdom anticipation, jubilant joy, and gracious generosity. Suspense, romance, theology, and mystery combine in this compelling story, helping us discover God’s greater purpose and mission in our workplaces and families during the Christmas season.

Designed for personal inspiration, family Advent reading, or use in your small group or Sunday school class, this story is conveyed through twenty-five fast-paced chapters, grouped into four weeks, with a set of discussion questions and recommended exercises included with wrap-up of each week’s section.

Official release date is November 14, but be watching for pre-order links, being posted during the coming week.

Grab this engaging resource and encounter your own joy-filled transformation in your workplace and family life this Advent!

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!”

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Working with Dad

Dad & Dumptruck

I heard Dad say it often. “I love to work!” He seldom camped on a single profession. Some dubbed him “scattered, shot-gun-like, a jack of all trades.” Reality—he was skillfully gifted in a variety of arenas. His sundry mix of roles included commercial coach bus driver, car salesperson, pastor-teacher, camp director, entrepreneurial auto repairman, truck driver, and avid church ministry volunteer.

I often wondered: Did some of Dad’s work matter more or less than those jobs that were churchy, distinctly ministry-oriented? Randy Kilgore lends holistic insight: “God is at work in every corner of creation, not just the church. He is present in the stock market and the supermarket . . . in the assembly line and the picket line. When we become one with Christ, we join Him where He is already at work.”[1]

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Ironically, many of my best father-son memories involve working with Dad. I usually grumbled under my breath and held such labor in low regard. Little did I know that these sweaty experiences would supply formative personal building blocks for my own outlook on work’s significance.

I mowed grass for the first time when I was seven. Dad walked immediately behind me, his hands giving the push right next to mine. My chin barely touched the lawnmower’s top bar; toes were mere centimeters from the blade. (I’m fairly certain there is a statute of limitation on child endangerment.) I was thrilled at such a big opportunity, failing to fathom the agonizing years of mowing yet to come.

While living in rural MI, our family worked a small hobby farm of animals and crops. I rose at 6 a.m. each morning—bright sun or blowing snow—to perform a vast list of smelly, grimy chores. Gather eggs, slop hogs, milk goats, and clean stalls. The same monotonous routine took place around 5:30 p.m. each evening. “’Builds character, Son. ‘Builds character.”

Dad owned a ’61 GMC pickup. The summer I was twelve, we worked tediously at replacing the motor and refinishing the body. I assisted by handing Dad grimy tools, crawling in and out from under the truck, holding greasy parts in place, sanding fenders, guzzling iced tea, and pretending to help Dad solve what seemed like endless setbacks. I was big stuff.

Saturday mornings during high school, I would drag my lazy bones out of bed to join Dad for breakfast and the big job of visitation. Our church had a bus ministry that transported children to church on Sunday mornings. In order to prime the pump, reach out to families (and hopefully boost Sunday attendance), we would visit each child’s family. Every Saturday was a new people adventure, an all-out foray into a foreign land. Houses were jungles filled with rambunctious breakfasts, blaring cartoons, and stinky furniture—plenty of drama and trauma, the likes of which I had never beheld.

Dad also taught me how to run a chainsaw, chop logs, build a fire, bale hay, change a tire, and quickly prepare to deliver an encouraging faith talk for a ministry team.

Thirty years later, I realize I also learned big building blocks that proved formative to my own work perspective. These include:

  • Every job has tedious, mundane tasks. Don’t gripe. Just do them; then you can ride bike, play Atari, build the tree fort, or read a book.
  • Worst first. This is now one of my own favorite axioms, and my children groan. Set out early to conquer the least fun jobs. Then you can do the tasks you actually enjoy.
  • Hard work can be fun. Your attitude makes all the difference.
  • God is crazy about people. He especially loves the ones with smelly couches who yell at their kids while burning waffles on Saturday mornings.
  • Creativity is good and God-like (Genesis 1-2). Dad repainted the GMC truck multiple times. It started out banana yellow, shifted to classic black with an orange tiger stripe, and finished as candy apple red with a metallic fleck (my personal favorite, because I was a part of that final paint job). Creativity is a joy-filled tool to be employed in virtually any job, a genuine gateway to ingenuity.

Greg Forster declares a vibrant connection between our Heavenly Father’s work and our work: “We can be fruitful because we are made in the image of a Father who creates . . . we do work within the universe he produced to produce blessings within it.”[2]

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Call it rose-colored glasses, but I now realize that working with Dad was truly good. And I find great encouragement in realizing I am in good company. Christ held a very near-and-dear perspective regarding his Father and his Father’s work. When accused of desecrating the Sabbath, he taunted the Pharisees with his own Father’s monster work ethic. “My father is always working . . .” (John 5:16-17) And Christ went on to explain that for insight, direction, and agenda, he takes his cues from his Father. “. . . the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees the Father doing . . . the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed.” (John 5:19-20)

When I reflect on the works accomplished by both of my Fathers, I am indeed amazed and inspired anew to follow their lead.

[1]Randy Kilgore. Made to Matter: Devotions for Working Christians. Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 2008, p. 130.

[2]Greg Forster. Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence & Can Begin Rebuilding It. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014, p. 221.

Finding God’s Work in William Faris

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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?”

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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.

What Christ’s Finished Work Means for Our Life and Work

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After five tedious hours of sanding and three coats of poly-finish, the vintage-1920’s, solid oak chair is restored. I lay my brush atop the can of urethane and step back to inspect. With a satisfied grin and a nod to the chair, I affirm: “This project is now finished.” It’s the culmination of both artful plans and hand-numbing toil. I smile. It’s now beautifully refinished!

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

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

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

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

We can infuse our daily work with his redemptive aims. Christ’s loud personal cry, tetelestai, declared the complete arrival of redemption. This should motivate us to make sure our own work keeps redemptive purposes in view. How does what I do today serve with humble sincerity, bless the mess, help reverse the curse, clear the confusion, and bring truly Good News to people who experience the bad news everyday? With both our daily actions and our daily words, we can share Christ’s hope-filled redemption.

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

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

‘Ever wonder what Christ felt on certain days in the carpentry shop, especially when working on tough projects? How often did the skin on his hands get dry-cracked and calloused? What expression crossed his face when a splinter snagged him? And I wonder what words crossed his lips when he wrapped up an especially challenging piece? I have a hunch I know, and you probably do as well. After all, there was the day his hands held rough-hewn beams, and they felt the ugly work of nails. And on that day, Christ cried out, “It is finished!”

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

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