Closing the Gap Between Sunday & Monday
This morning I read Psalm 138. It’s an appropriate Psalm for Veterans Day, November 11, as we stop to remember and thank God for protecting us through the work of men and women who are devoted to our freedom and faithfully serve us in the military. The opening lines read,
I will give You thanks with all my heart;
I will sing praises to You before the gods.
I will bow down toward Your holy temple
And give thanks to Your name for Your lovingkindness and Your truth...
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch forth Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, And Your right hand will save me.
This Psalm is also a good one for the workplace. Every Monday morning, when innumerable counterfeit gods—greed, fear, envy, pride, deceit and the like—beg for our allegiance, we have a choice. We can succumb to their demand for our devotion or we can sing praise to the only true God who is devoted to us and even desires to serve us. Our ability to praise God instead of capitulating to counterfeit gods is directly related to our thankfulness quotient—because we praise what we are truly thankful for. The key to a thankful heart, I believe, is in verse 6. It is the “lowly” who regard God and are regarded by God.
For though the LORD is exalted,
Yet He regards the lowly,
But the haughty He knows from afar.
Pride distances us from God and insures we will worship the counterfeit gods close at hand. Prideful people believe they deserve things like respect, clout, prosperity, uninterrupted smooth sailing and freedom without sacrifice. On the other hand, humble people recognize that everything they have is a gift: the gift of freedom paid for by the sacrifices of others: the gift of a job created by someone’s risk to start a business; the gift a business dependent on resources, knowledge and human potential that comes only from God; the gift of life itself.
If God seems far away, spend some time considering all the undeserved gifts He has given us, and return thanks to our faithful Creator. But most importantly, consider the indescribable gift of His Son who entered history as lowly human child and gave up his exalted position in the ultimate fight for our freedom.
The kids at my church asked me this question, and it really got me thinking. I hope being part of the body of Christ influences everything I do—whether I’m at work, at home, at church on Sunday morning, or hanging out with friends on Friday night. That is certainly the idea we preach at The High Calling. My daily life matters to God, and this includes my work.
So how does this play out? How is my work different since I’m part of the body of Christ?The more I thought about it, the more I realized how complicated the question is. Because the idea of the body of Christ is complicated.
On the one hand, I think of Luke 22 and the last supper when Jesus says, “This is my body broken for you.” None of us are the body of Christ in this sense. Christ is the ultimate sacrifice, but Paul invites us to see ourselves as living sacrifices in Romans 12. That has implications for how I work. A living sacrifice should not be controlled by unhealthy and selfish ambitions, for instance. Instead, I try to be ambitious to serve others, to listen to them aggressively, and to maintain an open spirit at work. This may not sound too hard, but I mess it up all the time.
The body of Christ also makes me think of the church itself, which Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 12. We are all part of the same body, but we have different functions. Remembering my place in the body of Christ makes it easier for me to accept my role in my current job. I can’t be all things to all people. Some tasks will be outside the scope of my work, and other tasks will need to be delegated. This doesn’t mean that people who report to me have less value than the people I report to. A person’s value is not defined by what they do. This sets me free too. My value as a person isn’t dependent on my productivity at work.
In some ways this is also obvious, but it is easy to start thinking that only leaders matter or only people with power or influence or money. Similarly, I can fall into the trap of thinking I must have power or influence or money if I want my life to matter.
No. Paul reminds us that every part of the body is necessary for the body to remain healthy. Every part of the body matters because it is part of the body.
Good question, kids.
Ten years ago The Externally Focused Church by Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson awakened Christians to the fact that most communities wouldn’t notice if local churches disappeared. The book played a huge role in rebirthing gospel-motivated social consciousness among evangelicals. Armed with hand tools and paint brushes, whole congregations headed to poverty-stricken neighborhoods, extending the love of Jesus through acts of service.
While fixing up blighted neighborhoods is a good thing to do, there’s a much better way to help the poor. Eric Swanson offers perspective in his latest blog, which was inspired by discussion with a friend over the question: "What would you do if you had a billion dollars?"
After batting around ideas, they settled on a common course of action. “We'd use the billion dollars to create real sustainable jobs. We'd be angel investors and funders and let entrepreneurs pitch their ideas. We'd create an X-Prize for job creation...or maybe an X Prize in each country, given to the person/company that created the most jobs for the poor and previously unemployed of their country. Would that be a kick or not?”
Swanson and his friend are onto something critical—and it’s something often overlooked by Christians who sincerely want to help the poor. People need jobs to flourish—physically, emotionally and spiritually. They need good work that allows them to provide food, clothing and shelter for their family. They need meaningful work that gives them the opportunity to use their mind and hands, and fulfill their God-given purpose. They need work in which they join fellow human beings in making the world a better place, bringing God’s creation to full flower.
Certainly, it’s wonderful when business leaders volunteer their time to paint classrooms and clean up vacant lots in distressed areas. Many of them donate thousands, even millions, of dollars to organizations that help the poor—again, wonderful! But what if they used their leadership gifts and financial firepower to do what they do best: create jobs, good jobs that bring dignity rather than a handout. Jobs that lift heads, boost self-respect and allow people to buy their own food, clothing and shelter. Jobs that let them earn enough so they can experience the joy of serving neighbors who need help.
Swanson asks an important question. “If your church or a wealthy individual had $250K to invest in your community, would the community not be better off if it was invested in creating sustainable, tax-generating, charity-donating jobs?”
So why isn’t this happening? Surely a key reason is that this kind of initiative is beyond the experience of most pastors and ministry leaders. While churches and ministry organizations are great at finding ways to meet people’s spiritual and immediate physical needs, that’s not enough. To break the cycle of poverty we must help people find meaningful work so they can meet their own needs. And, though it’s foreign territory to ministry leaders, it’s the bailiwick of business leaders in churches across every city.
But there's another more obvious reason. Making a donation of $250K--much less a billion--is beyond most of us. But that doesn't let us off the hook. Jesus made it clear that it's not necessarily big things that fuel His kingdom--and most often it's small things. Remember the mustard seed? Jesus said,
"The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches." (Matthew 13:31-32)
God can take the smallest action, sacrifice, or initiative done in faith and grow something big that helps people flourish, spiritually and physically.
The past few months I’ve had the privilege of leading a group of small business leaders to reflect on these issues and consider how we might challenge Christians in Dallas to use their business expertise and financial resources to create good work for other Dallasites who are trapped in poverty. January 23rd we will join several hundred other Christians at Greater Dallas Movement Day to learn and discuss possible solutions to such problems.
Even with a mustard seed, just imagine what could happen if we moved job creation to the top of priority list for serving the poor.
Watch this video to jumpstart your imagination.
Last week the President announced that he planned to nominate Janet Yellen to Chair the Federal Reserve Bank. If approved, she’ll be the first woman to ever hold that post. Wow! There’s a lot being said and written about Ms. Yellen’s political and economic views, but what strikes me is that pretty much every—positive or negative—article I’ve read about her makes mention of her reputation as a smart, hard working, consensus builder. I like that Janet Yellen is a woman breaking new barriers in her field, I love that she’s doing so based on such a fine reputation.
Recently I was talking with some business friends about how incredibly valuable it is to have a good professional reputation. Your actions can’t always guarantee that others will always think (or speak) well of you, but a good reputation is nevertheless worth striving for. Proverbs 22:1 advises that a good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.
Better than silver and gold? That sounds nice, doesn’t it? So how do you get one?
This is usually the part of the blog where I tell you that “I don’t have all the answers” (because I don’t), or that “we all have a lot to learn,” (because we do), and then try to offer you a few points of reflection or some practical tips to implement. But I’m not doing that today. Because, frankly, you already know what you need to do.
A good reputation can’t be acquired, it must be built.
That means you need to do good things. You need to treat people well. You need to work hard. You need to solve problems. And you need to choose what is right over what is expedient or comfortable. And you need to do these things over and over. Every day.
The following quote about establishing a good reputation is credited to Socrates, and it’s a good one:
“Regard your good name as the richest jewel you can possibly be possessed of — for credit is like fire; when once you have kindled it you may easily preserve it, but if you once extinguish it, you will find it an arduous task to rekindle it again. The way to a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.”
Strive to be exactly what you want others to think of you.
I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s definitely not complicated.
And although it might sound that way, it’s not about being perfect. You can’t and won’t do the right thing every time. You’ll make mistakes, technical, ethical, and otherwise. When you do mess up, remember that how you handle mistakes contributes as much (or more) to your reputation as does avoiding them. People will pay more attention to you when you fail than when you succeed, so you need to be prepared to take responsibility and to learn from your errors.
As my friend (and 4word partner!) Elizabeth Knox points out in Faith Powered Profession, it’s not just your reputation that’s on the line here: “as Christians in the workplace, God’s reputation is on the line. How we behave reflects on Him.” Elizabeth points to 2 Corinthians 3:2-3: “You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Sprit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
Work hard at your reputation, because at work and in the world, YOU are a living representation of God’s reputation.
What kind of reputation do you want to build for yourself? Think about it this way: If, a decade from now, some future President nominates you for something important, what do you hope your colleagues will say about you?
When I was a boy, I thought mowing the lawn was part of the curse. Maybe that’s because our yard wasn’t beautiful, or by the time I got our clunker mower started, I was already worn out. Recently I met a man who changed my attitude about mowing.
Bob Walker is president of Walker Mowers and a LeTourneau alumnus. I was intrigued when he told me he was “called to business” at age 13 when he heard R.G. LeTourneau speak at his church in rural Kansas. I seldom hear people express their calling to business so confidently. They’re often timid when it comes to claiming that business is the way God has chosen for them to bring Him glory.
So, what difference does confidence in his calling to business make to Bob Walker? We captured Bob’s story on video, and when you watch, you’ll see a number of differences. But I want to focus on one that impressed me. While building thousands of commercial-grade lawn mowers takes serious attention to detail, Bob keeps the big picture in mind. He told me, “We like to say that instead of making lawn mowers we make beautiful places.” That’s not just a marketing line at Walker Mowers.
Beyond ingenious engineering, a well-oiled manufacturing process and a family-like company culture is a vision that Walker Mowers is making God’s world a better place. Bob sees the actual work they do—building lawn mowers—as a way to fulfill God’s commandment to “fill the earth”—develop it and bring it to full flower. And since we worship a God who loves beauty, fulfilling this command includes making machines that help create beautiful outdoor spaces.
Personally, I won’t be surprised if I open my eyes in eternity and see someone mowing an exquisite lawn, riding on a yellow, zero-turn mower with the Walker logo on the side. Maybe I’ll even get to use one myself. That would be heaven on earth.
How does your work make the world a better place?
"A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4, NIV 2011).
I was called out early this morning and notified that a patient of mine was dying imminently. This was expected and the patient was on hospice, but I felt I should be there. As I was driving to his home, slightly over the speed limit, I passed one of our local funeral homes and noted their sign, “Go Grizzlies!” Now, I’m a Grizzly basketball fan and I stayed up until midnight Friday watching them win their quarter-final series, but there seems something incongruous about such a sign on a funeral home, especially as I was driving to the home of a beloved patient who would soon be gone forever from this life.
There is so much eternal meaning in life, and so much superficial excitement about the very same life. How can we, as humans with an eternal destiny, put so much energy into games we play? Blaise Pascal in his Penses called these games “diversions,” pursued to help us avoid facing our destiny with death. And yet such games are so much a part of life that they surely must embody something true.
Looking at my own life: my heart belongs to Jesus; I am looking toward an eternal home; I feel compelled by His love to share His Gospel. And, at the same time, I go crazy when my team is playing basketball. Is this simply a war between the natural and the spiritual man within me? I don’t think so. Both the diversions of this life and the focused spirituality in life are part of God’s creation.
It is easy to see the eternal when we look into the face of one who is dying or when we stand atop a peak in the Rockies….I believe that God wants us to see the same eternality when we cheer for our favorite team, play poker with the guys or share Facebook pictures of our kids. I believe that God not only wants us to see the eternal in such moments, but He wants us also to deliberately place the eternal into such moments, deliberately bring God with us as we enjoy them. Each encounter in our lives, however deep or superficial it may seem, is a divine encounter where God is seeking to touch and love. Our task is to see Him there, love Him there and let Him use us to touch and love those who join us there.
Let me carry you with me into all the encounters of my life.
“He left the ministry.” I can still recall how my father's countenance dropped when he learned that a friend had left the pastorate. A pastor himself, Dad hated to see gifted people leave church work and head for the marketplace. At age 34, he had taken the opposite path. He left a promising career at a utility company to train for what he loved and always knew he was destined for. And for over 30 years Dad served faithfully as the pastor of several churches in Texas.
But my dad's career path is atypical. The longing within a Christian's heart--to do something God considers significant, to make a spiritual impact on others, to experience joy in our work--comes from the Holy Spirit. Many people, however, are confused as to how they should pursue their desire to serve God.
Last week I had conversations with two people -- one who left business for church work and another who left church work to return to business. The frustration of the one who left the business world versus the excitement of one who left church work for his family business rang famiiar. While God certainly calls people, such as my father, out of the business world and into church work, many people who do so find that working at a church or mission can be more frustrating and less fulflling than they expected. On the other hand, every week I speak with people who can barely contain themselves over what they see God doing in their workplace.
Please don’t misunderstand. We desperately need men and women who are called to the ministry of equipping us to live our lives for Christ. But only a small part of the body of Christ is called to this ministry. The rest of us are called to minister in the workplace, doing work that makes life flourish, providing important goods and services we use every day. Here are a couple of examples:
Katie Nienow left youth work and found work as a business woman that not only engages her mind, but her heart and soul as well.
See her story in the video clip below. Read more about her company, Juntos Finanzas in Forbes.
George found himself left running a garage after losing his high-profile enterprise, and yet found meaning and joy in meeting the needs of his customers.
Has Katie left the ministry or finally found the ministry God created her for? Is the ministry George has in his garage less significant than the work he does at his church?
When I was all of 24 years old, I met this guy at church. He was 26. Good looking. Friendly. Pretty wife. Adopted newborn kid. Former college quarterback. Physical therapist. Committed Christ-follower. His name was Butch Buchanan.
Butch made a huge impression on me. He was a quiet guy, but there was substance about him. Depth. Character. You felt it. He looked you in the eye, but with an accepting look on his face. I wasn’t a ‘special case’ for him. I was just another young guy at church. But he reached out to me, asking me to go with him to do something the church wanted done. We did whatever it was and ended up back in the church parking lot after dark. As I started to get out of the car, he asked if he could pray for me. I have no idea what he prayed, or even why he offered. I just remember nervously listening as he prayed, saying goodnight, getting out of the car, and driving home.
Maybe it was the contrast between Butch’s life and mine. His peace. My lack of it. His courage to ask a stranger if he could pray for him. My cowardice to even talk about God. His deep love for God and people. My deep desire to avoid God and use people to get what I wanted.
Or maybe it was the contrast between Butch’s life and other church people. I’d never found a hero in church world. No one I wanted to be like. The men in church world were old and gray. They were slow, not smart. They were passive. Talkers, not doers. And a lot of them were hypocrites. Big time.
That evening was the only time I ever hung out with Butch. It was a snapshot. A random Instagram from inside his life. We moved not too long after that, so I didn’t get to watch the full-length movie of his ‘walk’. I didn’t see him in action as a husband, a dad, a businessman or healthcare professional. But I had a strong sense if I’d watched the movie, I’d have seen a pretty consistent story of humility, faith and dedication to the Lord.
Butch had no idea I was watching. I wouldn’t have gone with him that night if I hadn’t been. If I hadn’t seen something in him I was drawn to.
In the marketplace each day, who’s watching you? How many snapshots are taken? Your computer screen when they walk in unannounced?.....Snapshot! The joke you told at lunch…Snapshot! The tirade you went on when the deal fell through….Snapshot!
So is this a pitch to ‘raise your game’? To always be ‘on’? To live like you’re a rock star, always conscious of the paparazzi?
It’s a call to be like Jesus. To be “gentle and humble in heart”. To be the “pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.”
We all do better when somebody’s watching, and the point is somebody’s always watching. Few people get close enough for long enough to see the movie of your life. But people are constantly taking snapshots.
So remember… “be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” And remember to “let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
Moment by moment. Impression by impression. Snapshot by snapshot.
If you’ve ever been part of a church fund-raising campaign, you’ve likely heard the name R.G. LeTourneau. His story of giving is the stuff capital-campaigns are made of. However, the story of why he and his wife Evelyn chose to give away 90 percent of their wealth--and the life-changing decision that prompted it--is rarely told.
LeTourneau was one of the more unlikely leaders of 20th century industry. From humble beginnings and a 7th grade education, he taught himself engineering and eventually built a manufacturing empire. His earthmoving machines helped win WWII and construct the highway infrastructure of modern America. By the end of his life he held more than 300 patents. He had also become one of the leading spokespersons in the lay-led faith and work movement.
The decision to give away 90 percent of his personal income and stock in the company was the result of a previous decision--made when he was 30 and deeply in debt--to make God His business partner. Chastised by his missionary sister to get serious about serving God, LeTourneau was confused. Like most people, he believed that sincere dedication to God required that he become a preacher, an evangelist, or a missionary. He attended a revival meeting at church and gave in. Thinking he was headed to the mission field, he sought guidance from his pastor. After praying together, his pastor said, “You know Brother LeTourneau, God needs businessmen as well as preachers and missionaries.” LeTourneau responded, “All right, if that's what God wants me to be, I'll try to be His businessman.”
LeTourneau took his business partnership with God seriously, although he felt like God was getting “a sorry specimen as a partner.” When financial success came years later, he believed this made him a debtor to God as well as his fellowman. His commitment to give away so much of his wealth was not a flash of generosity as much as a logical progression from his earlier decision to make God his business partner.
When people undersstand that their work matters to God and recognize that He is their business partner, they become receptive to tithing and LeTourneau's perspective: “The question is not how much of my money I give to God, but rather how much of God’s money I keep for myself.”
What would it mean if you recognized that God is your business partner?
How do you view money: as a measurement of your worth or a tool for serving God and others?
The spiritual significance of what happens in the workplace matters. Just ask Eric Metaxas.
Metaxas is an American author probably best known for writing two New York Times bestselling biographies, one on William Wilberforce titled “Amazing Grace,” and the other about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, titled “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.”
His eclectic career includes authoring children’s books, writing scripts for Veggie Tales, as well as writing for the Atlantic and New York Times and serving as editor and the voice of Chuck Colson’s BreakPoint, a radio commentary that is broadcast to eight million listeners across the globe. His most recent book, “Seven Men and the Secret of Their Greatness,” includes short portraits of widely known Christian men who live their lives by Gospel virtues. Or you may remember him as the keynote speaker at the 2012 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.
Of Greek descent and educated at Yale University, the 50-year-old Metaxas relates in a recent column in Christianity Today how he came to know Christ at the age of 25 after having to move back home with his parents after college when his career plans didn’t pan out right away. He explains that he took a job “proofreading chemical manuals and other nonliterary arcana” in a windowless cubicle. He writes:
“But it was there, alone in the belly of a corporate whale, that I would finally consider the question of God. In my misery I befriended a bright graphic designer who began to engage me on the issue of faith. Ed Tuttle was older, already married with kids, and one of those born-again Christians I had been trained to steer well clear of at Yale. I was perpetually wary, but in my pain and longing for relief I was desperate enough to keep the conversation going, for weeks and then months. To avoid real engagement or controversy, I cagily half-pretended to agree with him and his positions. But whenever he invited me to church, I demurred.
Metaxas writes that his friend Ed pressed him about his relationship with God, prayed for him that God would reveal Himself, and then at a later date, prayed with Metaxas who described it this way:
“So I closed my eyes as Ed prayed aloud, and as he did, some transcendent shift seemed to take place. It was as though a window had been opened onto another realm and I'd felt the faintest touch of some heavenly breeze.”
Our workplace matters to God. It is where we build relationships that open the doors of opportunity for lives to be changed by believers, like Ed, who see a need and share their faith.
Who could you minister to at your workplace today?