What if we fail to make America great again?

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

Disgrace of impeachment proceedings

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

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

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

It’s called dis-integration.

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

Can integration really happen?

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

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

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

Greater guiding questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

[3]Ken Eldred, The Integrated Life.

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

Amidst suicidal thoughts, one of Tolkien’s darkest tales delivers hope!

They were so skilled, such stunning characters. We were deeply saddened. What more could be said?

Our collective emotion was rocked last year as amazingly talented creators Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade chose their own exits. And we recently paused in remembrance: Robin Williams has now been gone five years.

What more should be said? My reading and training on grief have coached me to say nothing. Less is more. Remain silent. Do not preach or dispense advice. Simply grieve with the grieving.

And under almost every circumstance, I concur. Indeed, we pray for comfort and divine hope to descend in hearts of family and friends. We live ever-cognizant of the heartache of mental illness and the struggle of addiction. Ours is a pulsing grief, oft best unspoken. Together, our hearts ache.

Albeit for a moment, indulge me. Perhaps we should lean into a shade more reflection. I am compelled to break from the normal silence of our society’s prescribed, safe decorum. When we witness such a sad avalanche of remarkable people, it seems that further commentary might be appropriate. Perhaps, a few next level thoughts might prove helpful to someone. And we join together in confessing, there are still parts both known and unknown.

I shall not engage in diatribe against the supposed emptiness of the splendidly wealthy and the wickedly successful movers and shakers of current culture. Over my years, I have witnessed too much. Suicide regularly claims the upper crust as well as the best of us lower crumbs. She plays no favorites in her deceptive malice. Life’s pressure, pain, and resulting hopelessness are no respecter of persons.

In the wake of Anthony and Kate’s self-determined exits, my mind was moved with sadness. And I was drawn into a Tolkien scene in The Lord of the Rings plus several correlating truths. Beware. This scene happens far from the Shire but not yet Mordor. We find Gandalf and Pippin in one of the dreadful, messy middle places of Middle-earth, the Citadel of Gondor during the apex of the Battle.

He was so skilled, such a stunning character. Denethor, the Steward of Gondor, had served many years as the ruler of the city and surrounding parts, both known and unknown. Overwhelmed by the Shadow and Sauron’s dark influence, this long-time leader chose to do the unthinkable.

With great haste, Pippin desperately explained to Gandalf: ‘Denethor has gone to the Tombs, and he has taken Faramir, and he says we are all to burn, and he will not wait, and they are to make a pyre and burn him on it, and Faramir as well. And he has sent me to fetch wood and oil.’

Denethor’s son, Faramir, had been wounded in battle, a wound the father assumed to be fatal. Gandalf and Pippin raced to the house of the dead in an attempt to rescue both father and son. They rushed in, and we read: “Denethor stepped backward before Gandalf as one amazed.”

Gandalf and Denethor engaged in a volley of heated argument. Denethor declared: ‘Battle is vain. Why should we wish to live longer?’ The old wise guide responded, attempting with all his might to clear the crazed perspective. O if he might talk even an ounce of sense into the frazzled leader.

‘Authority is not given to you, Steward of Gondor, to order the hour of your death…only the heathen kings, under the domination of the Dark Power, did thus, slaying themselves in pride and despair, murdering their kin to ease their own death.’

Here is one powerfully germane, highly potent statement from the Wizard’s lips. Before we quickly shrug, shake our heads, and dub this as insensitive, provincial, or even judgmental, let us ponder the depth of Tolkien’s analysis.

Gandalf was drawing from the recesses of his memory, reaching back to ancient times in earlier ages when rulers chose to exit life of their own accord. His analysis was profound. The root cause was a dark blend of pride and despair. They allowed Dark Power to get the best of them. (Catch the rest of the story in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Chapter 7.)

But notice this standout statement: Authority is not given to you…to order the hour of your death. Tolkien was very deliberately conveying through the wise lips of Gandalf his own world and life view. Humans are ultimately accountable to their Creator. From Tolkien’s perspective, to think otherwise is a misguided, under-the-Shadow, yes even arrogant perspective. When the leading persons of a culture arrive at believing they hold the authority to decide when they shall depart, they are beguiled by “pride and despair.” But Tolkien does not end with diagnosis. In typical Tolkien style, there is hope and wonderful good news.

Gandalf’s next words to Denethor conveyed so much: ‘Come! We are needed. There is much that you can yet do.’ He called the Steward of Gondor to recognize his important stewardship. He called him to humbly recognize his sacred calling and how much he was needed.

We must all remember, even in our darkest moments:

The choice is not our own. Yes, this runs contra popular, pervasive perspective, the groundswell of societal opinion. Misguided, we think we should rule our own entrance and exit. Sadly, we are now slogging through the Shadows of such dark thinking.

We are needed. There are still friends, coworkers, clients, precious children and spouses who do indeed need you to stay in the battle. Choose to stay. Please choose to stay!

There is much we can still do. There are new parts and places to go—both known and unknown. There are fresh meals to create and taste. New people to meet and bless. There are fashions to still make, meetings to lead, and products to create. There is Good News to share, bad news to battle through, and love to spread profusely.

We all battle with our own blend of pride and despair. We all have demons, addictions, and old enemies. Amidst the voices of dark despair, may we listen instead to the voice of Gandalf and ultimately our Creator. Hear him say: You are not your own. You are loved.  You are not alone. COME! You are needed.  There is much that you can yet do. There is hope!

 

 

Beyond Walls and Borders—Working to Bless Foreigners

immigrants

(Special Note: This was originally published in January 2017. Perhaps it still conveys some contribution for the current controversy. Much of the original content was crafted in book creation two years prior—WAY before the political turmoil and raging debate of the current landscape. My aim was/is to help advance a more Christ-honoring posture—not to add gasoline to the fiery political debate. Blessings!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Dishes and Crosses—Is your work ever done?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Oscar Gaffes and Extra Grace for the Workplace

oscars

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

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

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

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

Burst Your Bubble

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

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

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

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

EGR

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

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

EGR. Extra Grace Required.

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

Let humility and grace take the stage.

 

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

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

Beyond Walls and Borders—Working to Bless Foreigners

immigrants

(Special Note: This was originally published in January 2017. Perhaps it still conveys some contribution for the current controversy. Much of the original content was crafted in book creation two years prior—WAY before the political turmoil and raging debate of the current landscape. My aim was/is to help advance a more Christ-honoring posture—not to add gasoline to the fiery political debate. Blessings!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

How Do You REALLY Feel About Your Workweek?

Workweekcartoon

The cartoon hangs in one of my favorite pizza shops. As I pay for my pizza or hoagies, I can’t help but chuckle. Each week, we ride a wild roller coaster of emotions related to our workplaces. And honestly, who among us doesn’t live for the weekend?

But WHAT IF that could be different? Consider these possibilities:

  • What if you gained a renewed attitude and learned to bring meaning to your tasks and appointments, instead of striving to find meaning in your daily work?[1]
  • What if this renewed outlook, bringing meaning to your work, could be found in the wondrous reality that we each reflect God’s image? After all, we are God’s co-creators and coworkers, vital leaders and culture makers in the rhythm of our daily tasks (Genesis 1:27-31). (I too quickly forget this, making everything seem way too mundane!)
  • What if we could discover fresh passion, deeply entrusting the work of our hands to God’s blessings and favor, doing our very best for his glory, and ultimately trusting him for productive outcomes (Psalm 90:16-17 & John 15:4-5)?
  • What if your work-time outlook was infused with the fresh realization that you are daily serving Christ in whatever you do? As a result, you can work at it heartily (Colossians 3:23-24).
  • What if you discover a renewed joy in your calling and gifting? In his winsome book, Loving Monday, John D. Beckett asserts:

“We can be called to the arts, to athletics, to government service or to business. If it is God’s call, it is a legitimate and high calling. In other words, you can be an ‘ordained’ plumber! People called to business have many opportunities for service unavailable to those who are specifically focused on ministry vocations.”[2]

What if we were to uncover the start of renewed passion and childlike joy? We might just start loving the opportunities we encounter every Monday through Friday!

For further exploration of how you can better navigate your own emotions about your workweek, check out my new book, co-authored with my mother, Holly Hall-Pletcher. EmotiConversations: Working through Our Deepest Places. It’s available at wipfandstock.com, amazon.com, and other favorite booksellers.

Print

[1]Bonnie Wurzbacher, as quoted by Christian Overman in God’s Pleasure at Work: Bridging the Sacred-Secular Divide, p. 16.

[2]John D. Beckett. Loving Monday: Succeeding in Business Without Selling Your Soul, p. 96.

One Extremely Trendy, Very Dangerous Thing We Do at Work

judgingothers

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

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

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

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

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

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

judgenot—plankeye

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

George Bailey’s Wisdom for Workplace Significance

GeorgeBailey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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