Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Seeking God in Every Decision

Joshua 9:1-27

My wife and I were reading Gary Thomas’ book Sacred Parenting. One of Thomas’ points is to emphasize the need for parents to seek God as they are raising children. He cites the Gibeonites as an example of the dangers of not seeking God. The story is found in Joshua 9. Joshua and the Israelites are in the midst of their conquest of Canaan, and the other peoples in the area are fighting for survival. One such people came up with a trick. They wore old clothes and had old food, and convinced the Israelites that they had come from far away. They wanted a treaty with the Israelites. The Bible specifically says that, before making the treaty, the Israelites “did not inquire of the Lord.” Thomas’ point was that parents should be seeking God in their parenting decisions. What about at work? The lesson of the Gibeonites fits the workplace as well. When you’re faced with a decision at work, do you seek God or do you make your decision on your own? Even in small things, do you seek the Lord or go it alone? From all of the evidence that the Israelites had to go on, they were making the smart decision. It made sense. Have you been in a situation like that, where the “smart” decision turns out to be the wrong one? Seek God in your decisions, even the small ones. Don’t take a risk on a bad treaty.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Setting a Good Example

Titus 2:7-8

Have you ever wondered about the effect of your example? Consider the story of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10:1-9). The Queen of Sheba heard about Solomon’s wisdom and religion and came to test Him (verse 1). After she saw for herself, she left praising God. He must have had an incredible testimony as he talked about how God had blessed him.

Compare that to people who interact with Christians today and leave shaking their heads at the hypocrisy. Perhaps they had an openly Christian coworker stab them in the back for a promotion. Or maybe a Christian beat them out of an account by lying or cheating. If that’s the only contact they have with Christians, it’s easy to see how someone could be very turn off of God’s Word and His people. In Paul’s instructions to Titus, Paul explains that Titus has an obligation to set a good example so that even those people who don’t like his cause won’t have the opportunity to criticize his character.

You may be the first or only exposure someone has to Christ. What impression will you leave? Your example is powerful, either way. Make sure it’s the right example, the kind that will lead people to Jesus.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Be Good at What You Do

Matthew 25:14-30

Although a talent in Jesus’ time was also a unit of money, it’s easy to look at the parable of the talents and see parallels between the master who trusted his servants with money and our Master who entrusts us with unique gifts and abilities. So one lesson from this parable is to use your abilities for God’s glory, and I think that’s a great applications.

But there’s another way of thinking about it. Consider the servants who were given five and two talents. The Bible doesn’t tell us for certain, but I would guess that each was a very hard worker. For the master to be as pleased as he was, they had to have done something worthy of high praise. “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I can’t see the master being that pleased with mediocre performance. Consider what was said to the worker who just sat on his hands and did little more than dig a hole in the ground: “you wicked and lazy servant.”

God cares how well you do your job. That doesn’t mean you have to be the top performer—the man who was given fewer talents was rewarded for performance based on what he had, not based on what the five-talent servant had. But God wants you to do well with what you have. I’ve mentioned this before, but a teacher of mine once said that “to be a good, Christian artist, you first have to be a good artist.” The same thing can be said of any vocation. For me to be a good, Christian teacher, I first have to be a good teacher.

What can you do to sharpen your skills in your job? It doesn’t mean that you have to be the world’s best at whatever you do, but you do need to use the abilities you have. Think about your job performance over the last week. Where did you waste time? Where could you have put in just a little more time and effort to make something better? God wants your very best, and that doesn’t just apply to Sundays.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Do Not Steal

Deuteronomy 5:19; Ephesians 4:28

We can hear stories of embezzlement and fraud on the news and think to ourselves, “how could they ever do that?” It’s easy to look at the publicized ethical lapses and realize that stealing millions of dollars from a company (or from individuals) is wrong. Most of us will never be in a situation where that’s even a temptation. But what about the little things? Some extra copies here, a few paper clips there. Never missed. A pack of pens as the kids go back to school, some “extra” expenses that no one will ever question. Not a problem, right? Even though many companies are trying to tighten their belts in a tough economy, most of these things are caught and happen frequently in organizations. But that doesn’t mean that these “white” sins are ok with God. God doesn’t differentiate between the Wall Street tycoons who are driven by greed and steal millions and you and me when we take those extra office supplies home. Stealing is stealing, and either way, it’s wrong. Write a note to yourself (where only you can see it) to remind you not to steal, even in the little things. Sure, no one’s counting the copies that you make and they might not even miss the paper. But as a Christian, you are called to a standard higher than “can I get away with it.”

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Real Power of Positive Thinking

Phillipians 4:8

Have you ever been around someone who is a negative person? Growing up, I heard such people referred to as "gripey guts," although I'm not sure labeling a person that way is exactly the best cure. Some people always see the glass as half empty, always see the problems before the solutions.

A number of years ago, there was a series of programs entitled "The Power of Positive Thinking." The idea was, if you think about something positively, you can make it happen. The reality is that we live in a fallen world, and sometimes, bad things happen. Work is no different. There are challenges and hardships that we can't overcome, no matter how positively we think about them.

But Paul tells us that attitude still matters. "Whatever is true, whatever is noble...right...lovely...admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." Our minds are to be filled with positive thinking, not because of some mystical, self-help power, but because our hearts are set on Christ. Look just before verse 8--Rejoice in the Lord. Don't think that your attitude will necessarily change your circumstances; your attitude should be based on God, not on anything around you. Look just after verse 8--Paul knew what it was like to be content, regardless of his situation. He could hold that positive attitude because of Christ (verse 13). Maybe that's a good verse for you to keep at your desk today.

Today, focus on Phillipians 4:8 and how many things around you are excellent or praiseworthy. I know it's cheesy, but don't think about the glass as half full or half empty--think about your Savior who gives you Living Water, more than you can ever drink. He is the one who lets you see the world through eyes of joy.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Calling Upon the Lord...At Work

How often do you call upon God at work? How often are you meditating on his word while sitting at your desk or workstation?

If you're like most, perhaps you cry out to God if something's going really wrong at work. Or maybe you think about how God would have wanted you to handle a situation as you think back on your day.

Go to God when you're making decisions at work, even the seemingly insignificant decisions. Go to God when that coworker that you don't like approaches you. Go to God when you're tempted to push the limits of ethics in a business transaction. There is a tremendous, untapped Power that is waiting for you. If you are serious about living out your faith in your workplace, call on God and watch His Spirit move you.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Positive Gossip

I used a textbook once that talked about relating to others in an office. One danger that the book admonished students to avoid was negative gossip. Obviously, this blog has made similar statements. But, if you're discussing negative gossip, then that brings up the question--what is positive gossip? According to this textbook, positive gossip is telling others about the good things that someone else has done, kind of spreading praise behind someone's back--if a coworker accomplishes something, bragging about him or her to others, or let your supervisor know how easy so-and-so is to work with. This secular textbook described positive gossip as a way to build relationships, to be well-liked by your peers. From a Christian standpoint, this idea of positive gossip shouldn't be anything new. It is spreading joy, using your tongue to bless instead of to curse (James 3:9-12).

The opposite of this is constantly challenging everyone around you, vying for achievements of your own while denegrating those of your colleagues. Be careful about that. That was the same trouble that James and John got into as they asked Jesus to “promote” them ahead of the other disciples.

Be free with your praise of others. Spread the bragging rights around and see what some positive gossip can do for your workplace.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Recognize Others' Accomplishments

Matthew 25: 21, 23

How long has it been since you've recognized the accomplishments of your subordinates? Most of us are quick to correct others' work, but may not be quite as ready with praise. The Bible is replete with instructions about encouraging others (1 Thessalonians 5:11 and Hebrews 3:13 are two examples). One early church missionary was recognized as a "Son of Encouragement" (Barnabas in Acts 4:36). Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus include recognitions of the gifts that each of these subordinates had displayed. But perhaps the best example of a supervisor recognizing subordinates is in Jesus' parable of the talents. The man with 5 talents and the man with 2 talents had worked and earned a 100% return on their masters' investment. The master was quick with praise: "Well done, good and faithful servant...come and share in your masters' happiness." The good work by the servants was followed by praise from their supervisor as well as a promotion/recognition appropriate to their accomplishments.

In this economy, it's hard to give raises and promotions, particularly as many businesses are cutting back. But you can always give recognition to the people around you. Encourage others by showing that you see their value. And brag about their accomplishments to others. You'll be amazed at how hard they continue to work for you. But more than that, you'll be showing Christ's love to them as you encourage.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lessons from the First Organization

Genesis 11:1-9

I was reading a book by Myron Rush entitled "Management: A Biblical Approach" last week, and he made a point that had never occurred to me. As far as we know, the first organization in the Bible occurred in the City of Babel as the people were constructing their tower. Sure, there may have been what you might call family businesses before that--farming and herding types of things. And yes, if Noah's sons or neighbors helped him, you could call that an organization. But in terms of explicitly mentioned references to people organizing their labor, the Tower of Babel is the first one in the Bible. A lot of times, we skip over this story on our way from Noah to Abraham, and when we do hear lessons about Babel, it's usually related to pride or to seeking God's will. But Rush explains that there's a lot to learn about running a business in those verses as well.

When you think about it, Babel Construction was an extremely successful company. God didn't say, "well, this isn't going to amount to anything, but let's mess up their language anyway." He said, "nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them." The organization set up by the people of Babel was second to none. What did they have that gave them such potential? Commitment to a goal (verses 3-4), everyone on the same page (verse 6), and effective communication (verses 1, 6). Of course, the thing that ultimately became their downfall was that their goal was not alligned with God. But their potential was tremendous!

There are two points to take away from this story in terms of faith in the workplace. First, as a communication professor, I would be falling down on the job if I didn't point out the importance of good communication. The way God doomed their project was to mess up their communication. He could have brought an earthquake or a hurricane, but instead, he made it difficult for them to talk. Communication is key. Second, and more importantly, you have to be pursuing godly objectives. If your business pursues money above all else, watch out that your tower doesn't fall. James reminds us to keep God at the center of our plans. Proverbs 16:3 explains that we should commit our plans to the Lord, who will make our paths straight. Perhaps even more to the point, unless the Lord is building your house (or business or nonprofit or church), the workers are laboring in vain (Psalm 127:1).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Do Not Be Yoked with Unbelievers

1 Corinthians 6:14-18

This is a tough passage. Compare any two Bible commentaries on this passage, and you're likely to get at least two positions on its meaning. Part of the confusion stems from the fact that most version of the Bible translate this passage differently. For example, the TEV and Phillips versions specifically talk about not working with an unbeliever. So I want to start by saying that I'm still exploring this passage and this post is not the final answer, by a long shot.

Earlier this month, I wrote about how difficult it would have been for early Christians to do business while not paying homage to Athena or the Roman emperor. That's probably a big part of what Paul had in mind.

But more than that, there's an idea of an unequal partnership here. You wouldn't yoke an ox and a donkey together to plow your field. The animals would move at different paces, pulling different amounts, and they'd probably hurt themselves and definitely wouldn't get your field plowed. The same is true for partnerships between Christians and nonChristians. This passage is often applied to marriages, cautioning young Christians to focus on courting only other believers. But I think this idea of equal partnerships also applies to the workplace. A believer and a nonbeliever see the world in fundamentally different ways. Even a nonbeliever who can admit that serving others is a good idea or that maybe the bottom line shouldn't be the ultimate goal is still a long way from acknowledging God as master of the universe and Jesus as His Son. If you believe that your faith should directly influence who you are at work (which is the point of this blog), then you have to acknowledge the difficulties inherent in partnering with people who see the world in very different ways.

I don't think that means that you can't have any workplace contact with nonbelievers. If you look at the Greek words that Paul uses, they are words that refer to casual relationships. In each instance, the words refer to partnerships where there is a heavy degree of mutual dependence. According to this passage, these are the relationships to avoid--those that put a believer in a position of dependence on someone who has different values and a very different way of approaching existence.

So what to do? How do you function in our heavily interdependent society and not form partnerships with nonbelievers? I have to confess that I don't know. I work with and for people who do not seem to be Christians. I am dependent on them in many ways. Similarly, I've worked with others on projects when I'm not sure about the religious values of the other person. So I don't know what to do about this passage or how to handle workplace connections with nonbelievers. It's something that I am continuing to think about.

Monday, March 7, 2011

How to Survive Differentness

On Friday, I wrote about how difficult it was for early Christians to work. Because they wouldn't pay homage to the patron Greek or Roman god of their city, they were excluded from much of the economic, political, and social life of their society. How did they deal with that kind of exclusion? They clung to each other. In Acts 2:42-47, Acts 4:32-36, and a number of other passages describing early Christians, the Bible talks about how they stuck together and depended on each other and on God. Archeological evidence has revealed meeting rooms where Christians assembled. These Christians knew that they couldn't make it on their own, that they had to support each other.

So two questions. First, how are you doing being different? If you're doing it right, you probably need support from others. That may not be monetary support--it may simply be encouragement to continue living for Christ. Second, how are we doing supporting each other? It's tempting to show up on Sundays, say "hi" to everyone, and then leave that community behind as we join our "Monday" community. That's not the support we need to live for Christ in our workplaces. We need the freedom to be authentic, to be able to say, "I'm struggling with what it means to be Christ at work." Pride sometimes gets in our way, that feeling like we have to show people we have it all together. Sometimes business interferes as well, when we don't have time to really listen to people and get to know their needs. But to be truly different, to really reflect Christ at work requires a support community of fellow Christians.

To find that kind of support from others, we first need to be that kind of support. Talk to someone in need today. Find out how you can be someone's support. You'll soon find that you've got others around you, ready for when you need the support.

Friday, March 4, 2011

To Whom Do You Pay Homage?

In ancient Greek and Roman cities, as you entered the Agora or marketplace to do business, you passed an altar. You were expected to take incense and pay homage to the god of that city, whether Athena or Zeus or whomever. And the manager of the marketplace greeted people, probably paying attention to who came to do business in his market. Failing to pay homage to the god was considered a serious offense and would probably get you thrown out, unable to sell whatever it was you came to sell. So imagine the dilemma for early Christians. If they made the decision to follow Christ, they couldn't pay tribute to another god. They really stood out as different, and in many cases, it meant that they could no longer buy and sell goods in the market. For these Christians, the decision to follow Christ meant a fundamental change in the way they worked.

This raises an important question for us in our workplaces. To whom do we pay homage as we go to work? I don't know of anyone who burns incense to Zeus, but I wonder if there are not things that we do to honor the "gods" of our age. Perhaps you throw incense on the altar of careerism. Or maybe it's the altar of your self-worth being measured by accomplishments or status or gossip/sarcasm/course language around a water cooler. As a Christian, you have the opportunity to really stand out for Christ by not paying homage to these gods. It won't be easy. People may make fun of you, they may criticize you. You may lose business, lose promotions, or lose your job completely. But being a Christian means being different than others in the workplace.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Christ's Ambassadors

2 Corinthians 5:16-20

We hear a lot about ambassadors from this country or that country, but have you really thought about what ambassadors do? Essentially, an ambassador enables a country to have a close presence with another country. The ambassador represents the interests of his/her home country while living in a foreign land with foreign people.

That description may be what Paul had in mind as he explained to the Corinthian Christians that they were ambassadors for Christ. Think about that for a moment. We're citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20). But we are residents on earth. As ambassadors, Christians represent the interests of our King in this foreign land. Which is why Paul said that "from now on, we regard no one from a worldly point of view" in verse 16. We need to see the people around us from a heavenly perspective. Why? Because God has reconciled us through Christ and He wants others to know that this reconciliation is both possible and necessary (verses 18-19). In our role as ambassadors, God is making His appeal to the world through us.

Don't underestimate what that means. Everyone watches what an ambassador does. Because he/she represents another country, an ambassador's actions have far-reaching consequences. If he or she messes up, people see it and make assumptions about the home country. How you act at work is very similar. People are watching. You have the opportunity to be God's appeal to the world!