Tag Archives: Job

Vocation and Ministry

Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living?
1 Corinthians 9:6 (NIV)

Work has been a little crazy for me in recent weeks. I’m in the midst of my 25th year with our company and completing my first year at the helm, leading the operation. Year-end means wrapping up current year business for clients, writing and managing proposals for the coming year, Board meetings, year-end financials, and all of the administrative work that comes with all of it. Beyond that there is the vision casting and strategic planning for where I hope to lead the company in the year(s) ahead.

When I was hired back in 1994 I left 6 years of working in full-time pastoral and para-church ministry. At the time, my mother was a bit disappointed in my vocational change. For several years she would occasionally ask “Are you ever going to go back into the ministry?” My response was always, “I never left ministry.” She would roll her eyes and say, “I know. But, you know what I mean.

What she meant was that “ministry” means working full-time for a church; That “real ministry” is a higher spiritual status reserved for those employed in an institutional church organization. I have found this to be a very common belief, especially in previous generations. I still, on occasion, have someone approach me after I teach on a Sunday morning and ask, “Why aren’t you in ministry?” Once again, I always respond with, “I am in ministry.” I always would like to add: “And, so are you!”

I love an appreciate the incredibly gifted and driven full-time staff members of our local church community. The operation couldn’t function without them, and because of them it functions remarkably well. Because of them, the operation accomplishes abundantly more than most of our community’s members even realize. I’m quite certain, however,  that even they would agree with me that “ministry” is not confined to those individuals on the organization’s payroll.

I find it a dangerous notion to place a label of “ministry” on those in full-time employment by a church or non-profit para-church ministry. The implication is that any believer who is not in one of those two vocational silos is not in ministry. This means that those of us not in full-time church or ministry employment are not in ministry (and comfortably off the hook from having to think about all that it might otherwise mean).

This is, however, contrary to the entire paradigm that God’s Message teaches. Every believer is a part of the body of Christ. Every believer is spiritually gifted by Holy Spirit regardless of age, gender, background, education, or training. Why? Because every believer is part of the ministry of the Body of Christ. We, all who believe, are His hands, feet, eyes, ears, and mouth. There are no exemptions or exceptions. I find this to be a radically different paradigm than what the institutional church has taught and exemplified for centuries. I believe it’s time to rediscover the fullness of meaning in the “priesthood of all believers.” We’re far overdue to rediscover the inherent ministry of every vocation.

I couldn’t help but read today’s chapter in context of yesterday’s chapter, in which Paul urged the Corinthian believers to surrender their right (to eat food sacrificed to idols) in order to lovingly honor fellow believers who think differently. In today’s chapter, Paul explains how he has done the very thing he’s urging them to do. He had a right to be married, to travel with a wife, to receive a full-time income for his preaching and service to the church just like all of the other apostles were doing. Paul, however, chose not to be married. Wherever he was living in the moment he chose to work at his family trade (making and repairing tents) to provide his own income. I can guarantee you that Paul leveraged his day-job of tent making and manual labor into opportunities to meet strangers, build relationships, have conversations, be an example, and extend the reach of his ministry. Tent making wasn’t separate from Paul’s ministry. It was a central and crucial part of it.

This morning I’m thankful for an amazing company I’ve had the privilege of serving for 25 years. I’m thankful for a host of relationships with colleagues, clients, and coworkers that I’d never have had were it not for my vocation. I’m grateful for the honor and privilege to lead and serve in both business and among my local community of Jesus’ followers. This morning in the quiet I find my spirit echoing Paul’s sentiment to the believers in Corinth:

What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.

The Slog Will Give Way to the Passion

“But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.”
2 Chronicles 15:7 (NIV)

Yesterday I had the pleasure of sharing a rare meal with my oldest friend. Scott and I grew up on the same block growing up and we shared some of our most formative years together. Let’s just say, we’ve got lots of stories. Scott lives in Georgia now and spends a lot of time working in Africa providing love and life’s basic necessities to some our world’s neediest people. We’re lucky if we get a conversation every 5-10 years, but when we do it’s as if no time has passed. We cannonball right into the deep end of the pool.

We were talking about our vocations and where we find ourselves in our careers at this stage of our journey. Scott asked me if I love my work. He asked if I’m passionate about it. The truth is that I do love my job and I do experience passion in my work. Having said that, it’s also work and in my experience every job is a slog sometimes. That’s why it’s called work. It’s also not the thing I’m most passionate about in this life.

In this morning’s chapter, King Asa of Judah is approached by a prophet named Azariah. King Asa and his army were flying high from a huge victory of the nation of Cush (modern-day Ethiopia). Asa had sought God and had been rewarded. Now the prophet brings a message telling Asa that while the thrill of victory and the spiritual high everyone is feeling from God’s blessing is awesome, the work is just beginning. Being passionate and clinging to God can be easy in the midst of a battle. Being passionate and clinging to God when nothing much is going on or I’m slogging through the mundane is a different story.

Scott’s question came to me yesterday morning at breakfast. It was my first day back in the office after a week’s vacation at the lake with Wendy. I knew what was waiting for me after the joy of breakfast with my oldest friend: a pile of calls and emails to return, the backlog of work that didn’t get done last week, and the pressure to catch up. I knew this week would be a slog and I’m wasn’t feeling passionate about it. I’ll feel more passionate next week when I’m working with our client, rewarding people for the great service they’re providing, and helping to make a measurable difference in that company.

Today? I have to listen to the words of the prophet: “Be strong and don’t give up.” The slog will give way to passion.

“So, You Want a Promotion?”

Then Jeremiah said to the family of the Rekabites, “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘You have obeyed the command of your forefatherJehonadab and have followed all his instructions and have done everything he ordered.’ Therefore this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Jehonadab son of Rekab will never fail to have a descendant to serve me.’”
Jeremiah 35:18-19 (NIV)

Once upon a time, I was asked by an executive with one of my company’s clients to mentor a handful of young people with management potential. The executive was looking for my objective insight and assessment regarding the young employees’ fitness for promotion and development.

At one point in the coaching process I asked each of my protegés to complete a certain strategic task. I provided them with instruction and examples. I also offered to assist as they progressed in their work.

One of them set to work, emailing me drafts and asking for my feedback and assistance. The task was completed on time and had already been fruitful in initiating some other positive outcomes in the person’s work. Meanwhile, I had not heard from one of my other charges at all. When we sat down to review the project, this person shrugged and admitted that the task had simply not been done. My charge then went on to explain that there were other important things that took precedent.

Who do you think I recommended for promotion?

Who do you think received a promotion?

It’s a simple word picture of obedience, which is exactly the point of today’s chapter in the prophet Jeremiah’s works. God asks Jeremiah to bring a nomadic clan called the Rekabites to the temple and offer them some wine, knowing that the Rekabites would refuse. For generations the Rekabites’ entire clan shunned wine because their forefather had been promised that God would bless them if they didn’t drink wine or build houses. As expected, the Rekabites politely declined the wine offered them.

Jeremiah then uses this simple example of obedience as a foundational word picture for his message to the people of Jerusalem and Judah. The simple obedience of one nomadic clan contrasted with the countless prophetic messages God had sent to the people of Judah promising them blessing if only they would stop their worship of local pagan dieties. They continually refused.

This morning I’m reminded of the prophet Samuel’s words to King Saul when Saul flatly disobeyed God’s simple command that a King was not to offer sacrifices (only a priest should do that):

“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
    as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
    and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
    he has rejected you as king.”

Simple command. Simple obedience.

This morning in the quiet I’m taking stock of my own thoughts, words, relationships, and actions. Are there areas of simple, willful disobedience in my life?

I have often observed in this chapter-a-day journey that, unlike today’s educational system, God doesn’t just promote us to the next grade level until we’ve learned the lessons in the stage we’re in.

Are there places in which simple disobedience is keeping me from getting a promotion?

Mysterious Ways

But Balaam answered them, “Even if Balak gave me all the silver and gold in his palace, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the Lord my God.
Numbers 22:18 (NIV)

Wendy and I went to see The Color Purple in Des Moines a few weeks ago. It is one of our favorite musicals. The story of a young African American woman on a journey of discovering just how beautiful and strong she is has been a source of fascination and conversation for us since we first saw it years ago.

The musical begins with a raucous gospel song in which we are told that the Lord works in Mysterious Ways. What proceeds is a story of a young woman who finds herself on an unconventional path out of unspeakable circumstances to discover what a beautiful and beloved child of God she truly is. The Color Purple is not a neat and tidy morality play residing inside the safety of religion’s comfortable box. True to the message of its opening song, the musical reminds us that God, the Creator of this universe, often works outside the boxes we create to put Him in for our our comfort.

Mysterious Ways flitted through my head this morning as I descended the stairs to pour my first cup of coffee after reading this morning’s chapter. Numbers 22 is one of the strangest, most mysterious chapters in the entirety of the Great Story. It is the story of Balaam, an ancient seer. Balaam is not a Hebrew. He is not Jew. He is a non-Jew living Mesopotamia. The Moabites, fearful of this massive wandering nation of Hebrews heading their way, reach out to Balaam to divine some help from the Almighty.

We quickly learn that Balaam takes a night to seek the LORD’s guidance. Balaam says he will report what the LORD tell him. When he reports to the Moabites that the LORD won’t let him curse the Hebrews, they offer him a huge wad of cash. Balaam reports that no matter how much cash he’s offered he can’t go against what the LORD has told him to do.

Time-out. Back the truck up.

This Great Story we’re journeying through is about God working through the Hebrews. They are “God’s people.” So who is this bit player named Balaam who suddenly appears from the wings for this important cameo moment? Where did he come from? How on earth did he forge a relationship with God, which it is clear he has, outside the box of the Great Story?

And we aren’t even to the strangest part of the story yet; The part where Balaam’s donkey speaks to him.

The further I get in my journey the more appreciation I have for the fact that God is, and does, “exceeding, abundantly above all that I could ask or think.” Whenever I think I’ve got God figured out inside the neat and tidy box of my religious doctrine I, like Job, am confronted on the cosmic witness stand as God stands me up and asks,

“Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades?
    Can you loosen Orion’s belt?
Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons
    or lead out the Bear with its cubs?
Do you know the laws of the heavens?
    Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?”

No, sir.

This morning I am both fascinated and humbled by the sudden appearance of the perplexing character of Balaam and his miraculously anthropomorphic ass. I am reminded that God is not, and can not, be confined. Balaam, much like The Color Purple, reminds me that the Good Lord works in mysterious ways.

Rebuilding

Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them.
Ezra 1:3 (NIV)

The temple in Jerusalem lay in ruins. It had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar’s army just as had been prophesied by Jeremiah and others. Now, time has passed and the wind has changed. God’s people living in exile in Persia have been granted permission by Cyrus to return home and rebuild.

This morning, I’m thinking about the seasons of life. All of us will face times of rebuilding that may or may not be physical. Some suffer the loss of some natural tragedy, but more often than not our rebuilding is  the rebuilding of our lives after the loss of a loved one, rebuilding after a divorce, rebuilding after a significant move, a job change, or the rebuilding of life after our hopes and dreams shatter.

Whenever my life journey has brought me to a season of rebuilding, I have always, always felt overwhelmed by the task. It is the nature of the process. It stretches us, tests us, and generally requires an increased measure of faith. How apt that Cyrus’ decree to the Hebrew exiles included “May their God be with them.”

Facing a time of rebuilding life? May God be with you.

 

photo: FEMA

A Work in Progress

…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Philippians 1:6 (NIV)

Last night was our community theatre’s annual meeting and potluck picnic. It was a gorgeous Iowa evening, and we had the best turnout we’ve ever had with over 50 people attending. At the end of the evening, I gave my final report as President of our group providing a recap of the previous fiscal year. I’m stepping down after a decade in the position. Wendy and two other long-term board members are stepping down, as well. There’s a whole crop of new faces on the leadership team.

I will admit that I had bittersweet feelings about the whole affair last night. I have loved doing the job and I leave the position knowing that I have not accomplished all that I set out to do. I’ve come to realize, however, that unlike the marathon that is our life journey, positions of organizational leadership are actually legs in a relay race. Your job is to run your leg well and then pass the baton off so that the next runner is in a stronger position to win than you were when you got the baton. If you run too long and refuse to pass the baton, then you eventually lose momentum and the entire team suffers.

Both people and organizations are works in progress, as today’s chapter so aptly reminds us. I have a far greater appreciation for this fact today than I did  when I was younger. Works in progress still have rough edges to hone, opportunities to improve, potential to reach, and depths to mine. If I am going to accept this truth about myself (and it for my own good, and the good of the whole, that I must accept this truth about myself) then I must also accept this truth in others. It is a step towards wisdom, forgiveness and grace.

I’m excited about the new leadership team of our community theatre. I’m excited to see what new thoughts, ideas, and directions they bring. I’m excited to focus my energies in different ways. I may have passed the baton of leadership, but I have not left the team. There are other ways to contribute, other events in which to compete, and other opportunities to lift the team. Because we’re all works in progress, we need each other.

featured photo by funnyglowingsmurf  via Flickr

Paving the Way to Person I’m Becoming

paperboyBut they do not know
    the thoughts of the Lord;
they do not understand his plan,
    that he has gathered them like sheaves to the threshing floor.
Micah 4:12 (NIV)

Wendy and I spoke to both our daughters over the weekend. They find themselves in similar situations. Taylor finishes her graduate work in August and then has to figure out where life’s road will take her. Madison finishes her bachelor’s degree in December and has the same questions about direction. It’s a time of both anxiety and excitement for them. I can appreciate that. They’ve both worked hard, done well, and I’m a proud papa. I’ve enjoyed seeing how their experiences earlier in life are framing their current and future directions. Some things I could have predicted, while other things surprise me.

It also has me reminiscing about my own experience. I started working when I was a kid. Paper route, lawn mowing, doing inventory for my dad’s company, and babysitting were my first endeavors before I became a teenager. I even  worked at a campaign during the Iowa caucuses. At thirteen I was allowed to bus tables in a restaurant and eventually I made my way to retail. But I still had a lot of odd jobs like pollenating and lifeguarding.

As I’ve continued on through life I’ve come to appreciate all of my experiences. The biggest lesson was the development of a work ethic, but I also learned things like what I really don’t want to do for a living if I can help it. At the same time, it gave me a tremendous respect for those who really do like jobs that I could never do and gave me a huge appreciation for those who do whatever they can, because that is where they find themselves on life’s road.

I’ve come to accept on this journey that I rarely know or comprehend the plan. I find myself in this place going through these circumstances with little knowledge of how this is going to be of great help to me further on down the road. But they do. If I am wise and continue to walk this path intentionally, then I will someday look back and see how my experiences today pave the way for the person I will be tomorrow.