Monday, February 28, 2011

Salt and Fresh Water

James 3:10-12

Have you ever taken a drink, expecting one thing, only to taste something else? Perhaps you've tried to get Sprite out of a soda fountain only to get carbonated water? Or maybe you asked for Coke at a restaurant but they served Pepsi instead? It's disappointing to say the least. But what if you got a glass of water on a hot day and began to drink, only to discover that salt water is coming out of the tap or water cooler? It'd be pretty gross, wouldn't it? James explains why that's unlikely: "Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water." A fresh water spring is only going to produce fresh water, and a salt water spring is only going to produce salt water. James makes the application that our speech should be just that predictable. He says that we should either praise or curse rather than allowing our mouths to praise God one day and then turn around and curse someone else the next day.

This passage really speaks to one of the central themes of this blog: that our faith should not be isolated to Sunday but should carry over to Monday through Friday as well. We shouldn't be honoring God on Sunday only to live differently in our workplaces during the week. Look at how you talk to people this week. This passage is all about using our speech to honor God. How are you honoring God with the ways that you talk to people this week?

Friday, February 25, 2011


James 2: 1-12

There are so many legal and ethical reasons to avoid discriminating against people. It's just the wrong thing to do. But there are Biblical reasons as well. James exhorts his audience to avoid favoritism, which is essentially the same thing as discrimination. In James' day, one of the big issues was discriminating against the poor, as well as widows and orphans. Those inequalities persists today as well in some forms. But the Bible is clear that any form of discrimination is wrong. From the beginning, we are all made in God's image. We are also told not to judge others. When you treat someone differently because of the color of their skin, their age, their gender, their ability or disability, you are saying that even though you and I are both made in the image of God, I am better than you.

As a Christian, you don't want someone to discriminate against you. Don't do the same to others. Instead, show love for others, especially those that face hatred from many around them.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What Our Hands Have Made

Hosea 14:1-3

Are you proud of the work that you do? I hope so. I know I am very fortunate to do what I love to do and get paid for doing it. I hope that you have also found a vocation that suits your talents and interests.

But there's an important difference between being proud of the work that you do and the kind of pride that the Bible condems over and over again. You can feel joy and a sense of accomplishment because you have used your God-given talents to serve Him and others in your work. That's a completely godly emotion. But there's another type of pride. It's the pride of Babel, where the people said, "look at all we've accomplished." It's the pride of God's people throughout the Old Testament when they said, "look at what we've done--we are a great people." This pride takes credit away from God and places it on ourselves. It allows us to forget God's role in what we do. Hosea indicates that, in this pride, we call our accomplishments 'god.'

In Hosea 14, Hosea is encouraging the people of Israel to return to God, to repent of their wrongdoings. In verses two and three, he explains how the people should apologize to God and part of that apology includes saying, "We will never again say ‘Our gods’ to what our own hands have made."

For me, I can easily think of times when the accomplishment has become the end-result, rather than just a means to honor God. Times when I worked so that others would see my achievements or so that those achievements would give me the peace or security that I wanted. That's the accusation against the Israelites--thinking that accomplishments were sources of pride, of comfort, or of security.

Accomplishments are great, and we serve a Father who loves to shower us with blessings. But remember to worship the Creator, not the created. Know that He, and only He, gives peace, comfort, and security. Be joyful when you achieve something worthwhile, and then give honor to Him who sustains you.

Monday, February 21, 2011

God in the Workplace

If you've ever wondered if you are alone in living out your faith in the workplace, this Wall Street Journal article might encourage you. The author describes a growing trend as people make their faith real at work. The cynic in me wonders about people who gain positive attention in doing so, just because the leading institutions in Jesus' day rarely gave Him such positive press. Nevertheless, I think the growing support is part of a generational movement to avoid being one person in one context and another in a different context. I think our society is longing for more authenticity than that. I recognize that we all have different roles and may need to act and think differently in one role than we do in another. The question is, does your faith transcend your role?

The WSJ author, Rob Moll, cites Dale Evans, cofounder of the video game company Electronic Arts as noting that work was never meant to be punishment. Evans says that, from Genesis, we were created to do work. I've posted about that before. The Fall increased our toil and work's unpleasantness, but work has always been part of God's plan.

How are you living out your faith at work? What difference does it make in your work? If a Wall Street Journal article asked you about God in the workplace, how would you respond and could the reporter see evidence in the way you carry out your day to day tasks?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Knowing God

1 John 4:7-21

By loving our seemingly unlovable coworkers, bosses, and customers/clients, we show God's love to them. But more than that, showing such love is how we know God. Look at 1 John 4:8: "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." Later, John says that if anyone claims to know God but hates someone, he or she is a liar. Love is at the very core of who God is. It is as much of His essence as we can know. And that's not just love for those that love Him back. God loved us BEFORE we loved Him (verse 19). He loved us when we were unlovable (Romans 5:8). By loving those around us that seem unlovable, we experience, to a microscopic degree, what God experienced in sending His Son for us.

Remember--it's not about "killing them with kindness," loving so that maybe they'll be nicer to you, or loving to gain leverage in the future. It's not about showing that you're a team player or that you can get along with others. It's loving because God loved you. If your allegiance is to Him and if you want to know Him, then you need to show love to everyone around you, including those that seem unlovable.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Good Samaritan

Luke 10:25-37

When someone asked Jesus who was his neighbor, Jesus told the story of a Samaritan helping a Jew. One thing that was probably especially poignant to the Jew listening to the story was that Jews and Samaritans hated each other. So remember that loving your neighbor doesn't just mean being nice to those people that you get along with. How are you doing showing love to those people that you just can't stand to be around?

I can think of someone that I really don't look forward to seeing. Inwardly, I groan every time I see this person coming toward me. You know, stops by to chat, even when you're busy, even when they have nothing really to say. Always has an opinion about everything and wants you to know it. Shares too much information, sometimes just to demonstrate that they know something. I have to admit that it's hard for me to show love to this person. But that's what loving your neighbor is all about--loving those people when love doesn't come easily.

I don't really have anyone that I work with that I just can't stand. I'm not at odds with anyone. Perhaps you are in your workplace. Perhaps there's a boss or coworker who is out to get you. Maybe that person is irritable or just hard to love. Jesus' message is that those are the people that you should be trying to seek out. The Good Samaritan knew not to expect anything in return for the love he showed. He knew this Jew might not have done the same for him. And note that the story doesn't say that he received anything back from the man that he helped. Don't show love so that this person will be nicer to you or so that he/she may help you in the future. Show love to this person because God loved you, even when you were unlovable.

Monday, February 14, 2011

It All Comes Down to Love

Romans 13:8-10

Today is Valentine's day, a day when many people are thinking about someone they love. Usually, the people that we love make it easy for us by loving us back. But what about loving people that are not particularly lovable?

Jesus says that the greatest commandments are loving God and loving other people. In Romans 13, Paul says something similar to Roman Christians. "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another." The idea here is that the only obligation you should have is your obligation to love others. He goes on to say "whoever loves others has fulfilled the law."

Obviously, this applies to the workplace as well as it does to the pew on Sundays. How are you doing loving your neighbor at work?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Escalating Conflicts

1 Corinthians 6: 1-11

Have you ever had one of those conflicts that really gets out of control? It probably started over an issue that seemed major at the time but was really not that big of a deal. But now, the whole thing is a much bigger deal. Like the Hatfields and McCoys, what started as a small misunderstanding has become a major feud as one person wrongs another, and the offended makes threats and plots revenge. One outcome of escalating conflicts is taking the other person to court, an option that happens all too frequently these days.

That's not a new problem though. Christians in Paul's day were dealing with conflicts escalating out of control as well. And even then, some of those conflicts were ending up in court. Paul chides the Corinthian Christians for this practice, saying that it completely contradicted what Christ was all about, really for two reasons. First, taking a conflict to court (or sometimes even having a manager or HR director intervene in a conflict) means asking nonbelievers to handle a problem. Here, Paul is specifically talking about conflicts between believers, and Paul says that it is inappropriate for an unbeliever to judge a conflict between believers. I would argue that it's probably wrong for an unbeliever to judge a conflict between a believer and another unbeliever as well based on the second problem that Paul had for condemning court resolution of conflicts. He says that Christians are already defeated when conflicts get to that point! It's better to be wronged, to have your rights violated, than to settle the matter in court. Taking a conflict to court or asking a manager to intervene in a disagreement means that you are standing up for yourself rather than turning the other cheek and forgiving this person.

You may not be on the verge of going to court. But you might be involved in a conflict that's escalating out of control. If so, this passage still applies to you. How can you de-escalate it? First, be determined that, no matter how wronged you are, you will not fight for your rights. They are not worth the damage that this kind of conflict can cause to you and to your reputation as a Christian. As a citizen of God's kingdom, your greater responsibility is to let Him deal with whatever rights you have. Second, try to forgive the other person. It won't happen over night--the conflict probably didn't build in a day and your feelings won't be smoothed that quickly either. But with daily effort and some time, you can do this. Third, pray. Ask God to work in you, helping you reflect Christ by your actions. Remember, He was "led like a lamb to slaughter" (Isaiah 53:7). He didn't stand up for His rights. If you are wronged, neither should you.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Taking Criticism

One of the hardest things to do in any job is to take criticism. Sometimes, that criticism is persecution for being Christian, for being different than everyone else. Jesus tells us to expect this because he was persecuted for being different. Other times, criticism focus on job-related tasks or performance. When the criticism is undeserved, we feel cheated or disrespected. Even when the criticism is deserved, we may feel embarassed or angry about the attention. Two key parts of my job as a professor are teaching and research, and both subject me to criticism. It's almost impossible to please all the students in a class while still maintaining rigor. Student evaluations at the end of the year, even good ones, rarely indicate perfect scores. There's always something. Part of publishing academic research is listening to feedback from peers, feedback that always includes criticism and may often involve substantial rejects. Whatever your job, you can be sure that you'll face criticism at some point.

If you face criticism in your job, take these steps. First, remember that Jesus was perfect but he was still criticized. He knows what you're going through. Second, remember that God's opinion is the only one that counts. Work to please Him. Third, if you've done something wrong or below standards, fix it. Remember to work as if working for God. Be honest with yourself. Could your work have been better? Fourth, regardless of whether the criticism is deserved or not, do your best to not respond in anger or defensiveness. Think back to the first two steps. Jesus was criticized also and God's opinion is all that counts. Finally, use that as an opportunity to think about how you communicate with others. How often do you criticize others? When you do so, is it constructive. And does it come across as constructive?

Monday, February 7, 2011


Matthew 18:21-22

Last week, a friend let me down. It felt like a betrayal. It was a business transaction, and he had the right to do what he did. I would have expected nothing less from a business. But he was my friend, my role model, my Christian brother. It hurts. It hurts me deeply.

I think of Jesus calling His disciples to forgive 7 times 70 times, and I struggle with forgiving just once. How do I not stay up late thinking about this situation? How do I not resent this hurt?

I will probably see this person again. As friends, we have a lot of friends in common, we travel in similar circles. How will I act when I see him? What will come to mind? How can I forgive when I hurt so much?

Some posts end with calls to action or explanations of what to do. As I write this, I don’t have any such answer for this. I know that I am called to forgive, to not hold a grudge, and, regardless of my feelings, to love this person. I know that I have been forgiven for much more than this—in the grand scheme of things, this is really a pretty small issue. It still hurts. I still don’t know how to forgive. I know that, with time, the Great Physician will heal this hurt. With His help, I will be able to forgive. Thankfully, I don’t have to struggle with forgiveness alone.

Friday, February 4, 2011


Romans 13:1-7

Maybe you have one of THOSE bosses. You know the ones, always out to get you. Never recognizing your contributions, always looking over your shoulder. Does that sound familiar? It's easy to resent such a supervisor. It's easy to act submissive in front of him or her, and then when the boss's back is turned, all bets are off. How well does that describe your workplace and your boss? Romans 13 has an interesting perspective: "authorities that exist have been established by God." Your supervisor is in charge of you because of God's will. Look at the next verse: "whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted." Think about that in your workplace. If you're rebelling against your boss, you are rebelling against the person that God put in charge. Kind of compelling, isn't it? These verses are specifically talking about government authorities, but it is completely consistent with other teachings from Paul to interpret this to include workplace leaders as well.

As you rebel against your supervisor, do you ever get that fearful "what if I get caught" feeling? If so, you are probably justified in your fear. In verse 4, Paul explains, "if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer." If you are doing wrong, even if your manager "deserves" it, be prepared to take the consequences. And don't think that just because your manager is a tyrant that you are justified in resisting him or her. Remember Paul is writing to Christians under the thumb of the emperor. Remember how God used the sinful Babylonians to punish Judah (see Habakkuk 1). Submit to your boss. Pay them the respect and honor due them.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Be at Peace with Others

Romans 12:9-21

Sometimes, we get into conflicts with other people. There's no avoiding it. No matter how well you reflect Christ at work, you're going to find yourself in conflict with someone. In face, someone might be at odds with you just because of your faith. But other times, conflicts occur when we fight for our way, when our ambitions cause conflicts with others. Paul speaks to those occasions. "Live in harmony with far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." I see this verse as a call to not cause conflicts. Even when someone wrongs you, as Christians, you are called to turn the other cheek and show love to others. It's not easy, but it is one way to demonstrate how your faith makes you different. The world will tell you to fight back, to take up for yourself. Jesus tells you to deny yourself. If you have wronged anyone, you should make it right immediately. If someone is trying to pick a fight with you, "bless those who persecute you, bless and do not not repay evil for not seek revenge." At the end of the day, the issue of blame doesn't matter--give in to the other person, regardless of who is in the right.

There's a motivation issue here as well. It's not about loving them for the purpose of "heaping burning coals on their head." Kill them with kindness, so to speak? The motivation is not kindness so that they'll feel guilty about mistreating you. It's about showing Christ's love, even when others don't deserve it.