Tag Archives: Work

The Litmus Test

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.
1 John 4:20 (NIV)

For a brief two-year period of my journey I worked as a youth pastor. I was not tremendously good at it. The evidence of this fact was the meeting requested one night by a few of the mothers in which they needed a legal pad to record all of the issues they had with me and my performance. It was a much-needed lesson in honesty and humility. Nevertheless, I loved the young people under my charge some of whom I still connect with from time to time.

I recall a young person in my charge from a fine, educated, upstanding white-collar family. I loved this young person and enjoyed the opportunity to build relationship. I recognized very quickly, however, that underneath a well maintained personal facade there hid a seething spirit of anger. It came out only on occasion, but when it did it was a scary thing to behold.

As time when on it was revealed to me that there was a generational spirit of hatred that descended through this young person’s father. There was hatred and suspicion of anything and anyone outside of the legalistic, straight-and-narrow norm. There was hatred of anyone and anything “different.” There was racial hatred, ethnic hatred, and you name it. What I eventually came to perceive was a warm-hearted, confused young person who was raging inside because of a very real spiritual conflict churning inside. I believe that everything this lovable, valuable and capable youth had been systematically taught to believe in the family system was at war with the truth John writes about in today’s chapter:

My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love.

I personally struggle with the concept of “litmus tests” as used in the political arena because it tends to reduce broadly complex people, issues and circumstances down to a singular thing. As I read this morning’s chapter, however, I couldn’t shake the fact that John is expanding on the “litmus test” that Jesus, Himself, provided: “They will know you are my followers if you love one another.” John simply takes that to the next step. If you have hatred inside you, you can’t possibly have received the love of God. When you experience the love of God, it transforms hatred into love.

This morning as I prepare for a day of presentations and coaching sessions I am thinking about the diverse group of people I have the privilege to train and coach. For the most part, they are very different from me racially, ethnically, in life experience, and circumstances. But what wonderful, lovable, valuable, and capable people. What an opportunity I have to make new friends, to inspire nervous young people in their first “real” job, to equip struggling leaders in their first managerial positions, to teach eternal truths that drive sound business principles, and to love others well.

There is so much hatred out there. Count me as a simple “grunt” in Love’s army.

As for the young person I referenced earlier in my post, I’m afraid I can only pray that love eventually won that battle. I’ve come to realize that we are constantly part of stories of which we will never get to know the end in this life journey.

Love well, friends.

“Labor” of Love

We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 1:3 (NIV)

Just this week our daughter Taylor publicly announced that she is pregnant with Wendy’s and my first grandchild. Her former husband, Clayton, is the father. We’ve known for several weeks, and have been eagerly engaged with her in processing this unlooked for curve in her life journey. When she showed up to tell us it came as a bit of a shock…well, a giant shock, to be honest. We had no idea that she and Clayton had seen each other while he was home from Africa. Taylor’s well-worded Facebook post nailed it: “Well, life is full of the hard, messy and unexpected. And yet experiencing all of that can also be full of goodness, beauty and purpose.”

I thought of this momentous new change in life this morning as I read the opening of Paul’s letter to Jesus’ followers in the bustling Greek seaport of Thessalonica. Paul begins his letter by expressing a trinity of goodness he and his companions observed in the Thessalonian believers:

  • work produced by faith
  • labor prompted by love
  • endurance inspired by hope

If the three motivators sound familiar, it’s because they anchor Paul’s famous discourse on love in his first letter to the believers in Corinth when he wrote, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

What really struck me however, was the fact that two synonyms were used in the triad. “Work” and “labor” can be defined in English as the same thing. So, I did a little digging into the original Greek words Paul used in this sentence. The Greek word translated as “work” (ergou) refers to more of a routine job. Think of it as daily chore on your task list that simply has to be done. The Greek word translated as “labor” (kopou) is more specifically defined as “laborious toil.”

Thus I find myself contemplating both work and labor this morning. I will “work” today analyzing a client’s phone calls, filling out an expense report, and attending a corporate Board meeting. I am doing the routine “work” of writing this blog post. I will “work” to carry out the tasks Wendy has for me on my trip to Des Moines. All of these are part of my journey of faith, doing what I need to do on the path I believe God has called me to tread on a day-by-day basis.

Both our adult daughters are out of the house and have been on their own for some time. The “work” of providing for them, making sure they’re up, making meals, doing laundry, driving them to activities, and et cetera are long over. These routine daily tasks were simple acts of faith, believing that we were raising capable young people who would be mature adults who would successfully follow the respective paths God would lead each of them. Mission accomplished.

But the labor never ends.

Last evening I happened to have conversations with both Taylor and Madison by phone. The work of parenting continues. It’s no longer the grunt work of daily provision. It’s different. It’s the loving labor of watching helplessly from a distance as they make their own decisions, choices, and occasional blunders. It’s the emotions that come from caring so deeply about lives you cannot (and should not) control. It’s the struggle of the protector in me wishing I could spare them the pains of “the hard, messy, and unexpected,” but knowing that it is that very hard, unexpected mess that teaches us the most important life lessons that lead to maturity. And so, I mostly labor from a distance as counselor, confidant, advocate, sage, comforter, cheerleader, and friend.

This morning in the quiet I’m thinking of the “work” ahead of me today and this weekend. I’m also contemplating the continued “labor” of love in the weeks and months ahead as father, and now as grandfather. I am so excited. I’ve learned along this life journey that the “hard, messy, and unexpected” usually produces life’s deepest, richest, most meaningful blessings.

Practice Required

But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
2 Corinthians 8:7 (NIV)

I received a text from one of our daughters the other day. She was doing an exercise for work and each person was asked to quiz a few people who knew them well and ask , “What is it that I do better than anyone else?” In other words, what was the thing or things at which she excelled. It was an interesting question to ponder and fun to be allowed to share my thoughts with her.

I have always had certain things at which I excelled and many things at which I did not. I was never very good at sports. The only sport at which I exhibited some excellence was swimming, and this was only because of years of constant and disciplined practice. I was always a pretty good student, however. And, I displayed a modicum of excel-lence in the arts, especially on stage.

In today’s chapter, Paul answers our daughter’s question to the followers of Jesus in Corinth. Paul reports that they excel in faith, in good conversation, in being knowledgable and in their earnestness. Then, Paul then urges them to add one more thing to the list. He wants them to excel in giving.

The interesting thing about the encouragement given here is that generosity must have been an area that the believers in Corinth had not already displayed excellence. It was something that was going to require exercise and practice, and this was the entire point behind today’s chapter. Paul was urging them to stretch their generosity muscles and practice giving.

One of the passages of God’s Message around which I’ve chosen to try and model my life is Psalm 112, which has ceaselessly admonished me in the same way Paul encourages the believers in Corinth. The lyrics of the psalm describe the person who is “generous and lends freely” and who “scatters abroad their gifts to the poor.”

I must confess this morning that when it comes to generosity and giving I am an honorary Corinthian. I have known people who excel at giving, for whom it is a spiritual gift. For me, it is a lot like swimming. If I want to excel I’ve got to endlessly practice. Generosity stretches and builds spiritual muscles that are not naturally strong for me, but the effort and development is good for me in a myriad of ways.

This morning I’m pondering the areas of life in which I easily and naturally excel, and the areas like generosity that require repetitive practice. I don’t ever want to stop working on improving. I’m encouraged this morning to keep working, keep practicing, keep driving towards excellence in these important areas of Life and Spirit.

The Fragrance of Presence

 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.
2 Corinthians 2:15 (NIV)

I’m on the road on business this week. I’ll be coaching three different teams of people over the next two days. I meet with these individuals every 2-3 months. In my job I often have the opportunity to be around people whom I only see on occasion. I come into their offices for a day or two, work with their team, and then I am gone for months at a time.

Early in my career I learned the importance of making the most of my visits. I don’t want clients to think, [rolling their eyes] “Oh great, it’s him again.” I want people to be happy to see me. While there will always be those who don’t like me (or perhaps they don’t like the process of being coached), the truth of the matter is that I have a lot of control over how people react to me with my dress, my demeanor, my facial expressions, my enthusiasm, my words, my conversations, and my actions.

This is not something that I take lightly. In fact, it’s motivated by more than good business. It is truly a spiritual motivation for me. I know that our jobs and working in our offices can so often be places where people feel like they get the life sucked out of them. I’ve literally had people tell me in coaching sessions that they feel like they’ve slowly been “dying” day-by-day in their jobs. Ugh!

When I’m working with clients I often think about the word picture Paul gave to the followers of Jesus in Corinth. I want my presence to be the fragrance of life for the people I work with. Many already experience the stench of death every day. I want my presence to bring something different to their environment. I want their spirits to sense the fragrance of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and gentleness. I want them to feel better when they leave our session than they did when they walked in.

I  know I’m not always be successful. I have my days like everyone else. But I always think about it on days like today when I’m preparing to go on-site. I don’t want to stink up the place. I want to have the opposite effect.

The Ancients Way of Welfare

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.
Leviticus 19:9-10 (NRSV)

The ancient Hebrew legal system had a way of providing food for the poor. Farmers were forbidden from harvesting everything in their fields. The edges of the field (e.g. more easily accessible) were to be left unharvested. In addition, if grapes or grain fell to the ground during harvest they were to be left there. Those who were poor could gather food from the fields.

The thing I find fascinating about this ancient tax and welfare system is that the poor still had to work to gather the fruit or grains themselves. If they were incapable of harvesting themselves, then they had to work to arrange for someone else to do it for them. Once harvested, at least some of that which was gathered still had to be prepared. It wasn’t a “free” handout. It required some effort of the recipient.

This morning I’m thinking about giving and gleaning. Having been raised in the midwest and steeped in the Protestant work ethic, I’ve always known that the value of work goes beyond the paycheck. When you work for what you have you earn self-respect and self-esteem. There are always exceptional situations, but I have always thought it foolish to base societal rules on exceptional situations. In general, I believe there is something subtly and insidiously damaging to a soul when it continuously reaps without having to glean.

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Takin’ Care of Business

Then the high priest Eliashib set to work….
Nehemiah 3:1a (NRSV)

[cue: Takin’ Care of Business by Bachman-Turner Overdrive]

You get up every morning from the alarm clock’s warning…”

…walk through the kitchen and head upstairs.

I have labored in a non-traditional work environment for the past 22 years. My company has never had a traditional bricks and mortar location for our business. Every member of our group works from home. It has always been this way since our founder started the company in his own home. Our staff meetings began around his kitchen table.

Over the years we’ve had many group members who have struggled with working from home. Some, after trying it for a time, have opted to move on to a traditional job where they “go to work” in the morning and “come home” at night, which I totally get. I have had to forge a more non-traditional approach to finding the balance between work and personal life when they co-exist in the same space.

One of the qualities I’ve had to develop in my life is self-discipline. Our team operates on weekly, monthly quarterly, and annual project deadlines for our clients. The work has to get done and his has to get done on time. If I don’t set to work on a regular basis then I’m going to find myself in a world of hurt. And, I confess that a certain amount of my self-discipline development has come from learning the hard way.

In today’s chapter I was struck by the sheer number of people who were mentioned in the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls. The project took a host of people who “set to work.” Many took responsibility for the sections of the wall near their homes and/or businesses. It wasn’t left for others. It wasn’t hired out. The work wasn’t placed on the back of slaves. High priests, rulers, officials, businessmen, and laborers all set to work.

This morning I’m reminded of the value of setting to work. I observe a world and a culture that is constantly trying to get out of having to do anything. The temptation to procrastinate never goes away, and there is so much value in the simple discipline of getting the job done. Jesus said that the harvest is plentiful, but there aren’t enough people willing to do the work.

Now, if you’ll excuse me. I have some business to take care of.

…For 30 Minutes

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged….”
Joshua 8:1a (NIV)

Everyone who knows Wendy and me knows that we are baseball fans. In particular, we’re fans of the Chicago Cubs. Right now there is a lot of excitement in our house as the regular season opens next Monday night. The first game against Anaheim will start at 9:00 p.m. CDT. We will just be getting back from rehearsal. We’ll see how much of it we actually watch before we fall asleep. (Thank God for DVRs!)

Of all the major league sports, baseball’s season is truly a marathon. In the NFL’s 16 game season, every game is technically important, as one loss can come back to bite you when it comes time to the playoffs and home field advantage. In baseball, there are 162 regular season games between the beginning of April and the end of September. The best of teams will lose about a third of their games and occasionally suffer humiliating defeats. Even the worst teams in the league will win a third or more of their games and occasionally beat the best teams.

The Cubs manager, Joe Maddon, instituted a tradition in the Cub’s clubhouse last season. When the Cubs win, there is a party in the clubhouse for 30 minutes. Loud music, disco ball, dancing, shouting, and basking in the joy of the moment….for 30 minutes. Then, it’s back to work thinking about the next day’s game. Likewise, when the team loses, they are allowed to grieve for 30 minutes. Mope, scream, cry, commiserate, and feel the discouragement…for 30 minutes. Then, its back to work thinking about the next day’s game.

Our life journey is more like baseball season than football season. We all will experience our share of victories, and our share of defeats. No one, no matter how good the press and social media make them look, runs the table and is exempt from suffering loss and hardship. Everyone strikes out.

In today’s chapter, Josh and his team have just suffered an unexpected defeat after the huge victory at Jericho. It was the let down after the big game. Reality check. There is a sudden sense of gloom permeating the clubhouse. God, like a good manager, only lets the grief last for 30 minutes. It’s time to get the team’s focus on the next game: “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be discouraged. We’ve got a game against the King of Ai today, and I’ve got a game plan for one you’re gonna love!”

Today, I’m thinking about victories I’ve experienced in this life, and defeats. No matter how bad the loss, there are victories ahead. No matter how great the victory is, I’m going to strike out again at some point. As sure as the sun is going to rise and set. I need to let myself enjoy the victories…for about 30 minutes. Then I get back to work. I need to allow myself to grieve the losses…for about 30 minutes. Then get back to work.

Go get ’em.

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featured image by yozza via Flickr