Friday, July 29, 2011

Radical Worldview

Matthew 5:3-12

Have you ever stopped to think about how radical the Beattitudes found in Matthew 5 really were as Jesus spoke them? Better yet, have you ever thought about your attitudes and actions would be completely counter cultural if you chose to enact them in your life, especially in a workplace?

We are taught from an early age to value achievement and accomplishment. Great people do great things. And they make sure people know that they do great things. We believe that, if we work hard and do our jobs well, then we deserve promotions and raises. And if we have to fight for our rights, then so be it. After all, it's a "dog eat dog" world, a "rat race." But Jesus says "blessed are the poor in spirit...blessed are the meek..." What? Meek? Poor in spirit? But if I'm meek or poor in spirit, how will I ever get ahead? How can I support my family? How will I get noticed?

Our culture uses metaphors of conflict and struggle to describe going to work--another day "in the trenches" or "it's a jungle out there." Jesus says "blessed are the peacemakers..." No, no, we've got to fight to get ahead. And if someone shows weakness, we can use that to our advantage. But Jesus says, "blessed are the merciful..."

It's a different way of living. This weekend, read the Beattitudes (or the whole Sermon on the Mount). What could you do differently to live out these ideas? How would that kind of living change your workplace?

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Things of First Importance

I heard a sermon yesterday that started with an important distinction--everything in the Bible is important, but everything is not equally important. Everything in the Bible is important, but there are things in the Bible that are more important and things in the Bible that are less important.

You may not have thought that way before. But there are a number of passages in 1 Samuel, Isaiah, Micah, Hosea and other places in the Bible where God talks about the most important things. For example, in Hosea 6 and Micah 6, the people were taking care of sacrifices but they were neglecting justice and mercy. In 1 Samuel 15, Samuel tells Saul "to obey is better than sacrifice." It's not that sacrifices and religious rituals were unimportant. It's that justice and mercy, obedience to the big things were more important.

When you want to honor God in your workplace, if you look at the list of labels to the left, you might think there's a lot of things to do. Attitude, ethics, honesty, importance of work, perspective, etc. But really, it comes down to two things. Jesus explains in Matthew 22 that the greatest commands, the most important things, are to love God and love people. There were over 600 laws in Jesus' time. And beyond those, they had laws about laws. But the most important things are to love God and love others. Everything else is subordinate to those. Everything "hangs" on those, to use Jesus' words in the NIV translation.

It's easy to feel overwhelmed when you think about all that God asks of you in your workplace. But really, you need to focus on two things. As you look at the week ahead of you, don't worry about the details. Instead, focus on the big picture: love God and love other people. If you get those right, the details will take care of themselves.

Friday, July 22, 2011

It's All About Grace

I want to end the week thinking about grace. As I look at the list of posts or the label categories on the left, it's easy to see a list of do's and don't's:

  • Do work as if you're working for God.

  • Don't be selfish.

  • Do stand out from the crowd.

  • Don't be sarcastic or hateful in your speech.

It's easy to think “if I do these things and avoid doing those things, I will honor God in my work.”

So you try to live by those lists and everything is going well for the first few days until Joe comes in late and you yell at him for messing up your day. Or your coworker Sally tries to steal your biggest client, so you let her have it. “Uh oh, I blew it. I'm not living by the lists.”

I want to really emphasize this—the ideas about which I'm writing are in no way lists of do's and don't's. I don't want anyone to read this book as a Pharisaical law of how to act at work. Paul says that we have all sinned and are justified through God’s grace (Romans 3:23-24) and that following rules can’t save us (Romans 3:30; Ephesians 2:8-9). While the Bible is full of commands and admonitions, that's not the “way” to God. Instead, the ideas that I've written in terms of honoring God at work are things to do because God has forgiven you for not being perfect. He knows that you're going to mess up. That's why He sent Jesus to begin with.

Don't think of these posts as rules for following God. Think about them as ideas from a fellow pilgrim.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Every job has those little things that aren’t any fun, don’t get you any recognition, but have to get done. They range from mildly annoying to something that you really hate to do. Those tasks are particularly burdensome when you can’t see why they need to be done or why they need to be done by you. Even when you like your job, there are days where you’re caught up in the drudgery of these tasks.

Oswald Chambers makes a great point in his book, My Utmost for His Highest, when he says that “drudgery is the touchstone of character” (p. 167). Chambers explains that we look for the big things, the grandiose ways to please God. We search for inspiration rather than being faithful with the day-to-day tasks that await us.

That’s true in life, but it’s also true in workplaces. Those day-to-day tasks that make a great job feel like drudgery are perfect opportunities to honor God. As others complain and gripe, maybe you complete those tasks with a smile. As others do the work barely good enough, you put your heart into it because you know you’re working for God.

Chambers explains that “if I do my duty, not for duty’s sake, but because I believe God is engineering my circumstances, then at the very point of my obedience, the whole superb grace of God is mine.” Don’t wait for “big” moments to honor God at work. Look for the little things, the common tasks, and think about how you can be faithful to God in those.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Set a Guard on Your Mouth

Psalm 141:3
cf James 3

I say stupid things sometimes. It's like the clutch between my brain and my mouth doesn't always engage.

You've probably had those experiences like I have where you say something and instantly wish that you hadn't. If only life had a rewind button and you could take back that insensitive comment, that harsh criticism, or that sarcastic dig. Unfortunately, there is no way to take it back. And while "sticks and stones may break our bones," words can hurt infinitely more.

James talks about the tongue as a world of evil (James 3:6), full of deadly poison (James 3:8). Perhaps that's why David asks God to "set a guard" over his mouth, to "keep watch over the door of my lips."

I talked with my classes about honesty a few semesters ago. I asked them if there were times when they lied without really thinking about it. Many answered yes. I suspect that we are the same way, not just about honesty, but also in terms of insensitivity, harshness, and sarcasm. Those things slip out before we have a chance to think.

Back to David's prayer. He knew that only God could really master his tongue. It starts with lots and lots of prayer. Prayer that God will help your speech be holy. And then it takes a lot of work. You have decades of speech habits to break. But then you can spend your time building others up rather than tearing them down.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Ultimate Performance Evaluation

Colossians 3:23-24

Performance evaluations can be really nerve-racking. Organizations have different ways of evaluating employees, but they often involve the employee reporting all of his or her accomplishments in the past year (or quarter or month). Then, the supervisor considers that self-report, makes "objective" judgments about the employee, and usually schedules a meeting to discuss the performance and highlight goals for the next year or quarter or month. If done well, the employee knows what he or she is doing well and what needs improvement (and has tools to improve it).

I know what you're thinking. This is typically the point of the post where I say that you shouldn't worry about your performance evaluations. After all, look at the verse at the top of the post: "working for the Lord, NOT FOR MEN." So your supervisor's evaluation of your performance shouldn't matter. Great post!

Actually, performance evaluations are hugely important for the Christian. No Christian should EVER discount being evaluated at work. These verses, and the context on either side of these verses, are saying that you must do quality work. You must do your dead-level best at work.

The question is who is doing the evaluating. If you're talking about your immediate supervisor in your job, then yes, you're not working for him or her in a spiritual sense. You need to respect and obey that person, but they are not the ultimate judge of your work. You are "WORKING FOR THE LORD, not for men." God is the ultimate judge of your work, and He expects your best. He wants you to work hard, even when your boss isn't watching (v. 22). He wants you to put your heart into it (v. 23). And He gives the ultimate bonuses and demotions (v. 24-25).

Performance evaluations can be very intimidating, but remember who is evaluating you. And don't wait until you're trying to summarize the last year on a piece of paper. Every day, remember that God is expecting your very best. And His evaluation of your performance matters!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Art of Peace

Recently, I watched a History Channel documentary on Sun Tzu and the Art of War. If you aren't familiar with it, Sun Tzu was a general in a Chinese province more than 2500 years ago. According to the documentary, Sun Tzu's province, Wu, was under attack from a neighbor. Sun Tzu taught his emperor how to win in combat and later recorded the principles in written form. He emphasized deception, misdirection, and mistrust.

The Art of War has become quite popular, not just as military strategy (it is taught at every military academy), but also as a way of doing business. I searched for "art of war business" on Amazon and had over 500 hits. These are the first six:
• The Art of War for Executives: Ancient Knowledge for Today’s Business Professional
• Sun Tzu and the Art of Business: Six Strategic Principles for Managers
• Sun Tzu—the Art of War for Managers: 50 Strategic Rules Updated for Today’s Business
• Sun Tzu for Success: How to Use the Art of War to Master Challenges and Accomplish the
Important Goals in Your Life.
• Sun Tzu for Women: The Art of War for Winning in Business

Look at that list. I can guess how the strategies proposed by those books compare to the Bible. Jesus advocated turning the other cheek and loving your enemies. Those strategies wouldn't go far in war.

But that's just the point. According to Jesus, your workplace isn't a warzone. You might say, "well, He hasn't seen where I work," but He has. And it doesn't matter what the other people around you are doing. They may be well versed in the Art of War, but you are supposed to respond with the Art of Peace. Paul tells the Romans to be at peace with those around them. And the Church was about to face intense persecution in Rome, probably worse than what you or I experience at work.

The next time you're tempted to maneuver for political advantage at work at someone else's expense, remember the Art of Peace. You're unlikely to win any wars with it, but your General is already taking care of what matters.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Abide in Him...Now

In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers challenges his readers to think about things that interfere with abiding in Jesus--"Yes, Lord, just a minute, I have got this to do; Yes, I will abide once this is finished; When this week is over, it will be all right, I will abide then" (p. 166). Obviously, Chambers (and Jesus) challenge those notions. Jesus has little patience for those who wanted to follow Him on their own timetable (Matthew 8:21-22).

What are the things in your work that keep you from abiding with Jesus? Don't say "my coworkers" or "my boss." Those are just excuses. Jesus calls us to abide with Him regardless of our circumstances.

"So you have conniving or incompetent coworkers? Abide in Me."

"So your boss is a tyrant? Abide in Me."

What about your pride? Does it interfere with you abiding in Christ? Is anger or resentment getting in the way? Or is it worry and fear? Whatever it is, you can be sure that when it's boiled down, it's probably self-centeredness rather than Christ-centeredness.

As the week begins, take stock of where you are. And if you aren't abiding in Christ, take steps to do so now. God doesn't just want you to abide with Him on Sundays--Mondays through Fridays count too!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Pride and "Empire-Building" at Work

I really appreciated a recent post by Hernando, talking about "empire-building" at work. He describes empire-building as being blessed with certain talents and then working to make sure that you are the only one who has those particular talents. If you're a great accountant, you might go around making sure that everyone where you work knows that you're the only accountant who can do the work that you do. If you're a computer programmer, you might position yourself so that no one else can do the things that you do. The problem is both pride and focus. Pride in your talents rather than the One who created those talents in you. And focus on yourself rather than on Jesus.

Hernando draws from Micah 6:8 as God instructs the Israelites to "walk humbly with your God." A concordance search reveals verse after verse where God's people are told to humble themselves before Him.

How are you at work? We are told to do quality work--it's not that you shouldn't do admireable work. But remember that you do that work because of the talents God gives you. Ultimately, your very life is from God.

I really like the way that God approaches Job, how God describes all of His accomplishments to Job (laying the earth's foundations, showing the dawn its place, etc.). Think about that in the context of your work. Sure, you landed a big client. But how are you at binding the stars (38:31-32)? What about leviathan wrestling (41:1-34)? It's an interesting perspective on accomplishments and pride. No matter how great we think we are, all that we accomplish is pretty insignificant when compared with what our Creator has done.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Set Your Hearts on Things Above

Colossians 3:1-17

I've blogged about the
last verse in this passage as really central to what this blog is all about--everything that you do, including work, should be centered on Christ. And I've written about the middle verses in talking about honesty and anger. As I look at the larger passage, I see verse 17 ("whatever you do... do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus...") being the center of the entire chapter. Verse 17 is the climax of the first section on general, holy living and is the introduction to Paul's specific instructions to wives and husbands, to children and fathers, and to masters and slaves. Whatever you do in any role, honor Jesus.

But how do you do that? Paul gives us an answer at the beginning of the chapter. "Set your hearts on things above." He repeats, "set you minds on things above, not on earthly things." For many people, setting their hearts on "things above" may mean looking forward to a spacious office at the top. When you're working, what's your motivation? Are you working for prestige or respect from colleagues? Are you trying to win the boss's favor and that next promotion? Are you trying to build your resume? When you're pushing hard, trying to win more business for your company or trying to serve more clients, why are you doing that? Are you obsessing with the bottom line?

Or are you obsessing with how your work reflects on Jesus? Are you constantly thinking about how your job honors your Creator and Savior?

If I'm honest, I have to admit that I often focus much more on the day-to-day tasks that I need to complete and on the prestige and accomplishments that come from those tasks than I focus on Jesus.

How would work be different if we really set our hearts on things above? Maybe missed promotions wouldn't heart so bad. Maybe we could better deal with the every day things that cause others so much stress. Maybe we wouldn't try to play politics with those around us. One thing is for sure--we would be seeking to honor Jesus in everything that we do.