Monday, January 31, 2011

Living Sacrifices

Romans 12:1-2

What does it mean to be a living sacrifice? Think about that for a minute. This passage is a relatively familiar one in many circles today, so there's a good chance that you've read it before. What would it mean for your life if you truly lived this verse out?

I think that we try to live our life in compartments. We have the Sunday compartment, where we go to church and think about God. We have the Monday through Friday, eight to five compartment, where we're focused on work. We have the "school night" compartment where we're focused on helping kids with homework but making sure no one stays up too late. And we have the Saturday compartment as a kind of miscellaneous day. As we live, we act differently in each compartment. Our priorities are different. The way we treat others is different. I think that's only naturaly because each of those represents a different role in our lives: church member, worker, family member, etc. But God expects our whole selves. He doesn't want to be in a compartment. He wants it all. Because of His great mercy, He wants you to be His completely, in every aspect of your life.

Even as I write this, I know there are ways that I can better glorify God at work. Ways that I have let too much of me slip through. Ways that I have conformed to the people around me rather than conformed to God.

When you commit to living for God rather than yourself, something else happens--you are better able to understand God's will for your life. You see, sometimes I think we look at our choices, pick the best option, and then convince ourselves it was God's will. "It was God's will that I accept this promotion." "It was God's will that I leave one job to take a higher paying job with better advancement opportunities." I've blogged before about a preacher I know who talked about how we make a decision and try to "apply the gravy of God's will" to that decision. We know what we want to do, and we convince ourselves that's what God wants for us as well. Paul says that it is only through offering yourself as a sacrifice to God, giving up what you want to focus on Him, that you can know God's will.

Being a sacrifice is uncomfortable. If it feels comfortable, ask yourself if you've given anything up for God. If it's hard to commit to being a sacrifice, just remember how much He sacrificed for you.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Our Present Sufferings

I have to admit that I am incredibly blest in my job. I do what I really love to do and get paid for it. Sure, there are disappointments and frustrations. The student who refuses to learn. The letter from a journal that is rejecting my research. But overall, I really enjoy what I do. Not everyone is like that. I've talked with people for whom going to work makes them not even want to get out of bed. Whether you are at either extreme or somewhere in the middle, there are always going to be frustrations, times where you really wish things had been different.

Romans 8 was meant for those times. Start with verse 18: "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." Our present sufferings are not even worth comparing! Wow. This passage gives me hope. A few verses later, Paul compares our present situation to pains of childbirth, which indicates an intense, but temporary pain that leads to something wonderful. In verse 28, we learn that God is working for good in ALL things. It doesn't say that all we'll experience will feel good, just that God is working for an overall good for us.

The rest of the chapter is a crescendo of comfort. "If God is for us, who can be against us?" Remember that when your boss is coming down hard on you. God didn't even spare His own son for you. What can anyone do to you with such a loving, all-powerful being on your side. The whole chapter builds to the last verse. Absolutely nothing can separate us from God's love.

I hope this puts things in perspective for you the way that it does for me. Whether frustration in your job is an every-now-and-then occurrence or something that you face on a daily basis, take hope in this: Whatever situation you face, it is temporary. At the end of the day, all that matters is God.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Remedy for Others' Mistakes

I don't know about you, but I see people around me making mistakes all the time. Not huge ones, mind you. Nothing that will bring jail time or might really endanger someone. But those little mistakes that get under your skin and really annoy you. Those things that make life inconvenient or make you have to do extra work. You know the ones. Locking the door to the copy room at 4:30 instead of 5:00 so you have to go get a key when you're trying to finish up and get home. Leaving the coffee pot on when there's barely any left so the break room smells like tar. Parking over the line and taking up an extra parking spot. Poor performance on a report than you now have to redo. I'm sure you can continue the list with any number of things from your workplace.

Today, I was reading Romans 5, and Paul reminded me of how to respond to such mistakes. This is not a workplace-specific passage, of course, but I think it can apply to workplaces just as much as anywhere. Look at verse 8: "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

The older I get, as I see others who make mistakes, the more I think they need Jesus almost as much as me.

That's really the secret to humility and forgiveness in the workplace--knowing how much you've been forgiven. I think it's easy to compartmentalize our lives so that, even if we make mistakes in other parts, at work, we're all together. The problem with that thinking is that God doesn't make such distinctions. He sees your whole self. And He has forgiven your whole self. The only response is a gratitude toward God that motivates forgiveness toward others.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Slaves to the Clock

I heard a comment in a sermon this weekend that struck me to the core. In Genesis, God creates humanity and gives Adam and Eve dominion over all the earth. He tells them to subdue the earth and fill it. Essentially, He makes Adam and Eve masters over creation.

Now think for a moment about time. Where does time come from? From a scientific point of view, there are at least two answers. First, many of the world's most sophisticated clocks base their time off of vibrations in an atom. Atoms vibrate at a consistent, known rate, which makes them great for keeping time. Second, our sense of days and hours come from the rotation of the earth on its axis while our idea of seasons comes from the earth's rotation around the sun. The point is that, whichever method you look at, both are based off of created things.

Now here was what convicted me. We are called to be masters of creation. Yet how many of us are slaves to a clock? Which is essentially saying we are slaves to a created thing. Just a few minutes ago, I posted on Facebook how stressing it was to wake up late. We've all experienced moments where we could do something enjoyable, but we just can't find the time. Perhaps you've experienced a situation recently when you felt at the mercy of your day planner or Outlook Calendar. It's hard to avoid.

How many good and godly things could you have done if you'd had the time? This is a challenge, to you and to me: be master of your time. Take control of this created thing and use it for God's glory.

Friday, January 21, 2011

An Example of Hard Work

Acts 20: 32-35

I think it's interested that, as Paul was saying good bye to friends that he would likely never see again, he thought it worth mentioning that he was a hard worker. In this passage, Paul is saying good bye to the elders from the church in Ephesus, a church with which he worked for a number of years. They had traveled quite a distance to see him, and both they and he knew it was unlikely that they would meet again. You wouldn't think that would be the time to bring up one's work ethic. Paul's point is that he never burdened them by asking them to support him. "You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions." Why was Paul working so hard to meet his needs? "I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak" Paul felt that, because he could work, he should do so to free up the Church to help those who were unable to work.

Paul's example to the Ephesian elders is an example to us as well. I've blogged a number of times about the importance of working. Looking back at the posts from the last year, I think the importance of working if you are able is one of the key themes about work in the Bible. Not to gain fame, power, or wealth, but so that you are not a burden on anyone and so that you can help others. If you are able to work, be sure that you are. There are people who, because of age, a disability, or the economy, cannot work and need our help. But for those of us who can work, the Bible is very clear that we should be doing so.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How Can Your Work Bless God's People

Acts 4:32-36

You hear a lot on television and in popular books about how God will bless your work if you follow Him. That's commonly called prosperity gospel, and there are a number of problems with that kind of theology. But think about reversing those ideas. How can your work bless God's people? The typical answer is that I can make a lot of money and then I'll give a portion of that money to my church, to missionaries, or to other God-centered causes. But that's still a version of the prosperity gospel that says, "if you'll give me more, I'll give back some of it." Regardless of how much money you make, you can still honor God and serve His Kingdom through what you do. My assumption is that your job is both legal and moral. Assuming that, how can what you do serve others?

A perfect example of this is found in Acts 4. The believers were excited about their new faith and the new community that was forming around that faith. They were excited about worshiping Jesus together, and one way that they expressed that joy was to pool their resources to help the needy among them. Look at Barnabas in verse 36. He used a real estate transaction to honor God.

As you work today, think about how your job can honor God. If you are in construction-related fields, can you do repair work at a local church or build churches in foreign places in need? If your an accountant, can you provide that service for your church or offer free tax services to those in need? If you're in marketing or public relations, perhaps your church needs a fresh web page or Internet presence. As a teacher, I can teach Bible classes to help others deepen their love of Jesus. Whatever you do, how can you use those talents to serve God's people?

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Day to Celebrate Mercy

Today, many of us have off from work in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. King was a man who advocated for the disadvantaged. In his day (and some would say this is still true), non-Caucasians were seen as second-class citizens, denied even some of the most basic freedoms provided by our society to whites. I hope that, whoever you are and whatever you are doing today, you take a moment to think about the freedoms that you enjoy and how important those political freedoms are.

But this is a blog about Christianity in the workplace. Jesus had a great deal in common with King. Like King, Jesus identified with the disadvantaged in society. He rebuked His disciples for sending away children, and He praised the innocence with which children accepted Him. Children would never have been allowed around most of the other teachers in Jesus' day, so His recognition of them was truly unusual. Jesus' conversation with the Samaritan woman in John 4 (a Samaritan, a woman, and a divorcee!) and his associates with tax collectors and "sinners" are other illustrations of times when Jesus chose to associate with those that society generally rejected. James must have picked up on this attention to the oppressed as he wrote about perfect religion looking after widows and orphans (James 1:27), groups that had virtually no rights at that time.

How can you show mercy to those around you that are disadvantaged? First, ask yourself who it is that no one wants to be around. Second, look at who gets pushed to the margins in your organization. Then, befriend those people. Advocate for their considerations. You won't be popular--Jesus' actions separated Him from the religious leaders who plotted and later killed Him; King was thrown in jail and later assassinated. But it's the right thing to do. Throughout history, freedom comes to people because others are willing to stand up to oppression.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Obey God Rather Than Men

Acts 4:19- 20; Acts 5:29

Peter and John are commanded by the religious leaders not to say anything more to the people about Jesus. They respond, "Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you or to Him?" Basically, should we do what you tell us to do or what God tells us to do? They go back to teaching about Jesus, and in the next chapter, they are again called before the religious leaders. "Didn't we tell you not to teach any more about Jesus?" In Act 5:29, Peter begins their response with "we must obey God rather than human beings."

This is the only exception in the Bible to obeying your leaders. When a leader (at work or anywhere else) asks/tells you to do something that is contrary to God, you must say no. You should say no respectfully, but you must not follow what a leader tells you when that instruction contradicts God's Word. If only some of the executives at Enron would have said no when told to be dishonest. If only some of people in the housing industry would have said no when instructed to compromise because of greed.

There are many times when our supervisors have us do something that we don't like. This passage doesn't necessarily apply to those times. In fact, I would probably guess that it's rare for this exception to come into play--you need to obey your supervisor under almost every circumstance. But you also need to think, to not blindly follow. The Bible gives several examples of other followers who disagreed with their leaders. In those instances, the followers were respectful but stood for what was right.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Shrewd Manager

Luke 16:1-12

I have to confess that this is one of those passages that I don't fully understand. It seems that a manager was accused of mishandling his boss's wealth. The boss put the manager on notice that he was about to be fired. The manager had no skills or marketable ability. So he went to all of the people who owed the boss money. He basically gave big discounts to some of the debtors, hoping that they would appreciate the generosity and return the favor, hiring him once he was fired. One of the commentaries that I looked at for this passage suggests that the manager was charging extra interest and skimming off the top. So he credited the interest back to the debtors, asking them to pay only the principal. Under this interpretation, he was dishonest in charging more than was due and had helped himself to the extra, and this latest act was a return to honesty. That interpretation has the advantage of making sense of the story in a way that brings admiration to the honest character that the manager becomes. But in a way, I think that takes away part of the point that Jesus is trying to make. Look at verses 8 and 9. First, the boss commends the "dishonest manager." It doesn't say the reformed, dishonest manager. There's no indication that he's being commended for honesty. Second, Jesus says that "the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light." As I read this, I don't hear Jesus praising the honesty of the manager. It seems to me that Jesus is pointing out the manager's cleverness in making friends, in using his resources to his advantage.

But even that interpretation could be questioned because then Jesus goes on to praise trustworthiness, which perhaps does support the interpretation of the dishonest manager becoming honest.

I don't pretend to have all of the answers here. But even in the midst of a passage that is difficult to interpret, I think there is an important workplace lesson. Look at verse 9: "I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings." We all have different resources in our organization, and some of those resources are based on who you know. Again, I don't have the key to unlock everything here, but I think part of the application is to use what you have to honor God. If you're friends with the facilities manager at your work, how can you use that to serve God? If you know the person in charge of corporate giving, how can you use your position to advance God's Kingdom. So part of the thing here is learning to make use of the connections that you have for God's glory. But part of the lesson is also making those connections in the first place. Get to know the people in your organization. Use your position to build relationships with people. The Bible talks in other places about being
duplicitous and some of the other negative aspects of office politics. But here, Jesus may be talking about positive office politics. Build relationships. Get to know people. Those relationships may be something that you can use to honor God down the road.

Monday, January 10, 2011

How Will People Know That You Follow Jesus?

John 13: 34

If you want people to know that you are a Christian, the best way, the only way to let them know is to love other people. "By this, everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another." It's part of the
greatest commandments. It's certainly going to make you stand out in the crowd as others notice that you're different. Love means that you're not justing "looking out for Number One." Instead, you consider others before you consider yourself. Love means turning the other cheek toward a vicious coworker. Love means not hoarding information so that you're the only one positioned for a promotion. Love means treating your subordinates with respect and dignity. Love means praying for your supervisor and obeying him/her, even when they don't deserve your loyalty.

The holidays are over, the new year has begun, and most people are starting to get back into a rhythm, the "daily grind" as some people call it. Before you become too set in that rhythm, think about how you can show God's love to the people around you. You may be surprised that it doesn't always win you friends. In fact, some people may make fun of you or gain at your expense. They did that to Jesus also. Remember that you're not doing those things to advance your career--you're doing them to be known as a follower of Jesus.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Places of Honor

Luke 14: 7-11

I was at a meeting a while back, where a certain group of people who had accomplished something were asked to pose for a picture. Without going into too much detail, I had accomplished something similar, but not in as public a way as the others had. So I held back and chatted with someone while the picture was taken. Later, someone asked, "why weren't you in the picture?" I responded with a paraphrase of the story that is found in Luke 14. Guests at a dinner were arguing over who should get the seats of honor. Jesus suggested that it was wiser to choose a less desirable seat and be asked to move up, rather than choosing a more desirable seat only to be asked to move and let a more honored guest sit there (an embarassment in almost any culture).

For many of us, part of our work is trying to get the "honored" seats. In our minds, we think about which coworkers are more or less deserving than we are. Sometimes, we manuever to ascend that list. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, although you need to show God's love to your coworkers. But be careful about thinking of yourself more highly than you ought. That picture will only be remembered by a few people, none of whom will have any direct effect on me. But in the moment, it sure was nicer to be asked why I wasn't there rather than being told that I didn't belong.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


I have to confess that, as the new year starts, I struggle with ambition. This is the time of year for goal setting. As I think about what I want to accomplish during 2011, it's very easy to think about the accolades that I want to receive for accomplishing those goals. As a professor, my two biggest responsibilities are teaching and research, so I think about being praised as an excellent teacher or receiving congratulations on a ground-breaking publication. Yes, it's easy for me to shift from reflecting about my goals for the year to seeking approval of others.

Part of what makes ambition a tricky thing is that God wants us to produce quality work. In a college class on faith and art, I had a professor once say that you can't be a good Christian artist (or banker or scientist or teacher or...) without being a good artist. In other words, putting "Christian" before one's vocation doesn't automatically make you good at it. You have to work at your trade. No one wants a mechanic that has scriptures quoted all over the waiting room but can't fix your car.

So desiring to be good at what you do is a perfectly Godly trait. I've said this before, but I think it really comes down to where your focus lies. When you think about your job, what are the things about which you obsess? Is it what a particular boss or coworker thinks about you? Is it getting ahead of him or her? Is it advancing in your career far enough that you have "enough" money (an elusive goal)? Or is it to glorify God? To bring Him honor? To advance His cause? One way to understand yourself in this regard is to look at your thought-life. When you think about or daydream about your job, what comes to mind? Is that what God would want?

As you set goals for this year, be careful about ambition. You cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:19-24; Luke 16:13). Take this opportunity to choose the right one.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Servant Leadership

Matthew 20:20-28; Mark 10:42-45
cf John 13:1-17

This is the 100th post on this blog. Plus this is the first post of 2011. As I looked at the notes that I've made on my recent readings for this blog, one of the really important topics that stands out to me is servant leadership, so I wanted to start the year with a discussion of that topic.

In some ways, servant leadership has been a popular buzzword since Robert Greenleaf's 1978 book by that title. In fact, a niche market has sprung up talking about how your business can benefit if you adopt Jesus' principles of leadership (Nehemiah and Moses are also popular models, for good reasons--both were excellent leaders). But here's the thing. When Jesus talks about leadership, he doesn't talk about it in ways that will make a company profitable. If anything, just the opposite may be true. "Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant." Jesus washed the disciples' feet, not because He thought it would make them more persuasive evangelists, but because He wanted to model the humility that He expected from them. The result of this kind of leadership may be that your employees respond in ways that make the company more successful, but that should not be the motivation. The motivation should be to honor God and to follow Jesus.

How can you exercise servant leadership? First, think about your position of authority. Do you "lord it over" you subordinates? When there's a decision to be made that affects everyone, do you make a unilateral choice, or do you allow others to share input? When someone has a suggestion or complaint, do you reject their feedback just because it challenges the status quo or because you didn't think of it first? When a subordinate comes up with a way of doing things, do you criticize it because it's not how you would have done it? All of those are ways of lording your authority over others. And be careful. It's easy to rationalize doing those things with excuses like "they just don't see the big picture," "I've been doing this longer than anyone here," or similar ideas. Remember James and John were among Jesus' closest apostles. Along with Peter, they did things with Jesus that no one else got to do. So if anyone should be recognized as the greatest, surely they deserved a shot? Even if you deserve the authority, Jesus says to serve.

Notice the other disciples' reaction. They "became indignant." Why? Possibly because they wanted the same thing, to have authority over others (and not to have anyone in authority over themselves). It's tough to serve, to be "last." It takes lasting commitment. And it doesn't always "pay off" in a financial sense. But it's the kind of leadership that honors God.

As you begin 2011, make a commitment to serve others in your workplace, no matter what your position.