Monday, December 28, 2009

Two Ways to Live Our Lives

"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." Albert Einstein

I love the sentiment behind this quote even if I'm not completely certain of its attribution to Einstein. What's important is that it offers two views on how to interpret the world around us. The former view is one where God is disinterested or absent while the latter view presents a God active in His creation.

I believe the latter. There are "miracles" around us all the time. There are miracles found around the corner, in your neighborhood and your workplace. These miracles are often masked in the mundane grind of daily life. They seem more evident in times of blessing. They are sometimes covered by a cloak of trial or hardship....even then, if we look with eyes of faith, God is present and active.

Do you see the invisible hand of Providence in the various situations of your life? Do you see God in the blessings you receive? Are you comforted by Him in the trials of life? Is the Almighty at work in the mundane and the ordinary of your life?

This is the essence of a practiced Christian worldview - daily seeing the fingerprints of the Almighty God in the world around us.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Quote of the Week

"At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of the morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in."

C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Friday, December 04, 2009

Getting It Done But Doing It Right

My friend Alex, a software executive recently shared his approach to evaluating his team. Alex assesses each person in his organization along two axis - "getting it done" and "doing it right".

"Getting it done" pertains to performance. Is the individual achieving the objectives of his job? It is a reality of our working lives that performance does matter. In most jobs, there is an explicit expectation of results to be achieved, tasks to be completed and objectives to be met. We cannot escape this fact - God has placed us in the "garden" of our lives to tend, cultivate and bear fruit.

But "getting it done" isn't the whole story - it's also about "doing it right". We're called to work to the glory of God. This means both working in the right way and doing the right things. It is insufficient for us to simply complete the project on time and within budget. We're also called to do it in a way that cultivates teamwork and joyful labor. Doing the right thing means redefining what it means to succeed. Succeeding in business isn't simply about increasing revenues or profits - it's also about ethical business.

I think this framework can be doubly beneficial - not only for managers in evaluating team members but also for each of us to conduct a little self assessment as well. Are we succeeding in meeting the objectives of our job? Are we "getting it done"? How about "doing it right?" Are we working in way that brings joy and peace to our workplace? Is the way we work not only effective but life giving? I also like it because it ties in with an assertion I made recently that a culture of performance and a culture of encouragement are not contradictory but rather complementary.

What do you think? Does this approach make sense? How are you doing along each of the two axis?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Quote of the Week

"God works strangely. He brings order out of confusion, harmony out of discord... God often helps when there is least hope, and saves His people in the way that they think will destroy.... God's ways are past finding out (Rom 11:33). They are rather to be admired than to be fathomed"

Thomas Watson, All Things for Good, p. 60

Saturday, November 14, 2009

How to Fail Like a Christian

Failure - we've all had to deal with it. Even if you consider yourself to be successful, you've probably had to deal with some failure at every stage of life. The big issue for us isn't whether we fail but how we respond when we fail.

I've found that how I actually deal with failure says a lot about what I really believe about God and His work in my life. While I neither seek failure nor prefer it, it's helpful to view failure with a Biblical perspective when I confront it. Here are three "good" things that can be accomplished through failure.

First, we learn of our limitations. We're limited in our talents, limited in our effort and even limited in our character. We are reminded that we're finite and God is not. God is unlimited in His ability to affect His universe:

"Our God is in the heavens and he does all that he pleases" (Psalm 115:3).

God never tires or sleeps:

"He will not let your foot be moved. He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold He who keeps Israel who neither slumber nor sleep." (Psalm 121: 3-4)

Second, through failure, we are disciplined and refined. God often works in our lives more prominently through hardship and failures than through prosperity and success. Through failure, God works to free us from the siren songs of this world - particularly the love of the "praise of men". I've discovered that much of my "fear of failure" actually stems from a craving for recognition and praise. Understanding this brings forth the seed of repentance and I'm comforted that God is at work even in the midst of failure.

Finally, failure draws the Christian to God because we are one step nearer to the end of ourselves. We better understand our limitations and our weaknesses. We are not crushed by failure but humbled by it. When we experience the pain of failure, we are drawn to trust in our Savior who died a failure in the sight of men but accomplished more than anyone perceived at the time.

By responding to failure in this way, we testify to the reality of the invisible God we love and serve.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Quote of the Week

The experience of our modernized world leads us to think of it not only as the absence of God but, as it turns out, the absence of human nature. This is no coincidence. The death of God is always followed by the death of the human being.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Don't Waste Your Recession

Perhaps we're not quite out of that recession after all - now that unemployment has hit a 26 year high. Let's face it - economic downturns are not fun - companies fail, real estate prices plummet and hardworking men and women lose jobs. Yet, even in the midst of financial trials, God is faithfully at work to accomplish His purpose.

Where do you see God at work even in the midst of rising unemployment and financial uncertainty? What is He teaching you?

Here are a few ways that God uses financial trials to instruct our hearts -

1. We learn that wealth is fleeting - nothing like a loss of carefully cultivated nest egg to remind us of how fleeting wealth is ... how temporary its satisfaction. We are provoked to treasure Christ - the promise of the One who never fails, never loses value or beauty. We are reminded to find our joy in Him.

2. We learn to trust God - ever notice how we don't really exercise faith in the midst of prosperity? On the other hand, we are often compelled to turn to Christ when things are not going well..when we lose our jobs or when we're under stress.

3. We learn to testify to the Hope that is within us. We can proclaim the gospel by virtue of our response to the prevailing financial crisis. Instead of fretting over the loss of earthly treasure, we can testify to Christ, the eternal, incomparable Treasure - we can be otherworldly.

Here are a couple of resources on not "wasting" the recession.

What have you learned? How has God met you in the midst of this recession?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Quote of the Week

"Work in the Bible begins with God's work of creation. This creative work is obviously not toil. It is more like the exuberance of an artist. It is joyous, self-expressive and energetic, unencumbered by the need to overcome obstacles or wrestle the physical elements into a finished product."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Why God May Will An Unsatisfying Job

Conventional thinking assumes that God wants us to have jobs that are fulfilling. We are naturally convinced that God would have us satisfied in our work. But is that always true or even generally true? Might God actually place us in jobs that are unsatisfying? Would we find ourselves led to a place where our work is unrewarding?

As I've explored this in my own life, I've come to consider the possibility that God will sometimes, strategically place us in such situations, in order that His greater purpose might be fulfilled in us. Here are three reasons why God may will an unsatisfying job for us -

1. Unsatisfying work can lead us to center our joy in Christ and not in our work. From my own experience, it's easy to be happy when everything is going right. It's not so easy when work is hard, projects are failing, companies are struggling. But these situations offer us an opportunity to center our joy in Jesus Christ. We learn that knowing Christ is more valuable to our souls than the best paying, most satisfying job.

2. Unsatisfying work can be a means to sanctify us. God may be seeking to teach us something through a less than satisfying job. We may discover our need for God...we may learn perseverance....we may grow in patience. All this to better fashion us in the image of His Son.

3. Unsatisfying work reminds us that we're not home yet. When we find ourselves in the midst of unrewarding work, we are reminded that in this life, our work is tinged with sin and difficulty. But it won't be like that forever. God will redeem us and bring us to a place of rich, fulfilling labor. We can cast our eyes heavenward and trust that His work in the past and currently will bring this to pass. We can be truly optimistic and hopeful when we consider the future.

I've found it helpful to think through these points but perhaps I'm wrong on this. Please let me know. Please share if you occasionally struggle with work that is not satisfying. How do you respond and why?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Quote of the Week

"Jesus did not come into the world mainly to bring a new religion or a new law. He came to offer himself for our eternal enjoyment and to do whatever he had to do - including death - to remove every obstacle to this everlasting joy in him."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Leadership Tip: Build a Culture of Encouragement

I spent some time this weekend thinking about how to build a culture of encouragement in my workplace and family. When your tendencies are to manage toward a performance based culture, encouragement can often take a backseat.

However, I'm also convinced that a culture of encouragement and a culture of performance is neither mutually exclusive nor incompatible. In fact, mature Christian leadership involves the cultivation of both performance and encouragement. Building a culture of performance without encouragement dehumanizes the work experience - it denies our identities as image bearers of the Creator God. After all, we're not just machines measured simply by virtue of productivity. In fact, every worker uniquely bears the image of the Creator with special character, gifts and abilities.

So how do we build a culture of encouragement? A friend was helpful in formulating thoughts around this. He offered that a culture of encouragement is one where encouragement is:

- Personal
- Specific
- Genuine
- Regular

But I also believe that biblical encouragement has an additional component - it brings to bear the reality of God at work in our world. It affirms the fact that each person is uniquely gifted and bears the image of God. It reminds us that God is at work in our lives - in our circumstances, plans, hopes and dreams. For the Christian, it brings the comfort of knowing that Jesus Christ has addressed our greatest need and promises that He will neither leave us, nor forsake us. This is the kind of encouragement I hope to bring to my family and workplace.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Quote of the Week

"How you make plans tell a lot about yourself. Specifically, and of greatest importance, it tells you much about your relationship to God - how important He is to you in everyday life."

Friday, October 02, 2009

Criticism and the Christian

Let's face it, no one likes to be critiqued or criticized. It can be especially challenging to handle if we perceive the criticism to be unwarranted or unjustified. In those situations, we can often respond with a defensive posture, a myriad of excuses or even with counter-attacks.

But is there a different way that we can respond to criticism? I think so.

I was reminded of the value of criticism as I read the article entitled "The Cross and Criticism" from Peacemaker Ministries. The author, Alfred Poirier makes the point that the Bible commends the ability to heed criticism as a mark of wisdom.

"Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser;
teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning"
(Proverbs 9:9)

In fact, wise men and women, not only heed criticism but consider it to be a blessing when it comes from a righteous source.

Let a righteous man strike me - it is a kindness;
let him rebuke me - it is oil for my head
(Psalm 141:5)

The point Poirier makes is that the Bible teaches us that correction and criticism can often be a means of God's blessing for our lives and he's right. In the article, he argues for how Christ's death on the cross enables us to view ourselves critically, yet secured by God's justifying love for us.

Certainly, there is a place for clarifying misconceptions and appropriately defending oneself against false accusations. Sometimes criticisms are actually unjustified or incorrect. In those situations, we should feel at liberty to "set the record straight" but not at the expense humbly listening and receiving the corrective input.

However, even when criticisms are unjustified, I've found them helpful in humbling my soul as it leads me to put my trust in Christ. Just think - if we are not open to receiving criticism, we might be overlooking the blessing of God hidden in a corrective word.

How do you respond to criticism? Do you make it easy for others to provide constructive criticism or feedback?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Quote of the Week

"The natural qualities in his creation often show how they can be rightly enjoyed. Has the Lord given flowers great beauty and perfume, and then made it wrong for us to enjoy it? Hasn't he given us colors to enjoy and qualities in material things like gold and silver, ivory and marble which make them precious? "

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Humility is Essential to Effective Leadership

Author and leadership guru John Baldoni, believes in the importance of humility in leadership. Here's what he said on his blog recently -

Leaders who want to inspire followership... need to demonstrate not simply their accomplishments but their character... A sense of humility is essential to leadership because it authenticates a person's humanity. We humans are frail creatures, we have our faults. Recognizing what we do well, as well as what we do not do so well, is vital to self awareness and paramount to humility.

Baldoni raises some interesting points and anyone who leads in any capacity should take heed. He reminds us that it's one thing to be in a position of leadership, it's another thing altogether to "inspire followership". The former requires that authority be established but the latter happens only when the leader demonstrates character.

Yet, it wasn't the emphasis on character that drew my attention to Baldoni's blog post - other experts have said similar things. Rather it's his insistence on humility as a necessary character trait for effective leadership that sets Baldoni apart. This is rare. Many leadership experts will gladly mention the importance of character but they tend to focus on integrity or trustworthiness as primary traits. Very few highlight the importance of humility.

Baldoni goes on to list different ways we can demonstrate humility in our role as leaders -

1. Temper authority - don't make "pulling rank" a regular practice but through delegation, allow your subordinates to set priorities and make decisions along the way.

2. Look to promote others - seek to advance and promote others...sometimes at cost to ourselves. When we do this, we are serving our neighbor and seeking his/her good.

3. Acknowledge what others do - this can mean several things like simply saying "thank you" for a job well done or publicly drawing attention to the contribution of others.

Another way that we demonstrate humility everyday is the way we respond when we're wrong. Do we give ourselves a pass or hold ourselves accountable? Interestingly, I was faced with such a temptation this past week, when I harshly corrected a subordinate. I thought he had neglected to respond to an important request I made of him. However, when I retraced my original request, I became aware that I actually addressed the request to someone else. I was completely unjustified in my response!

At that point, I had a choice - either to 'fess up and apologize or simply sweep the whole incident under the rug. Thankfully, I was compelled by the grace of God to humble myself and apologize to him.... and not only to him but to everyone who was aware of my misplaced blame.

The kind of humility God calls us to is otherworldly ... and unattainable apart from His grace at work in our lives. May God work such humility in us, not simply because it'll make us better leaders but more importantly, because it pleases our Savior and King.

"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant"

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Quote of the Week

"A Christian's main vocation is to become a prime citizen of the kingdom of God - and this is true of every Christian, of artists and engineers as well as ministers and evangelists. All are called to mesh their kingdoms with those of other citizens in order to work together inside the kingdom of God."

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Salt and Light in the World

I’ve been working my way slowly through Unfashionable by Tullian Tchividjian. The thesis of the book is simply this – Christians make a difference in this world by being different from this world; they don’t make a difference by being the same.

It’s a notable point simply because as Christians engaging the world around us, we can easily forget that we’re called to be different and distinct. That's understandable - after all, we want to be relatable as Christians. And truth be told, most of us prefer to comfortably “fit in” rather than “stand out”. Who wants to branded as the “religious” guy, especially at our place of work? If it's there's one place where the gospel is not welcomed today, it's in the corporate boardroom.

I was reminded of this challenge when I read Matthew 5:13-16 this week –

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

The challenge: to authentically love and relate to our co-workers and neighbors while being uncompromisingly distinctive as Christians. We’re called to be distinctive in our ethics, our conduct, our motivations and our passions.

What does this look like for you everyday?
What does being “salt and light” in this world mean to you?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Quote of the Week

"Job learned about the vanity of this world by losing it all; the Teacher {Qoheleth} saw it by having it all."

Friday, September 04, 2009

Pleasing God in Our Work and Life

I've been thinking about Hebrews 11:6 today -

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

If we're to please God in any way, we must approach Him in faith - it is a necessary condition. According to this verse, faith starts with a belief that God exists. At first glance, this would appear to be obvious and inconsequential. But it's not. That's because the existence of God is of great consequence. Believing in God isn't just mental assent - it has ultimate impact on all matters pertaining to our lives - on how we work, play, live and die.

So I'm just wondering -

How does the existence of God impact the way I do my work or engage those around me?
What does it look like for me to work with faith toward God?
Why am I so self reliant and forgetful of my need for God?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Quote of the Week

"The most dangerous idols are the ones that fit most comfortably in your everyday Christian life."

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Gospel and Your Identity

This weekend, my church hosted a conference featuring Paul Tripp, author of Lost in the Middle. Based on the book, this conference addressed the issues of mid-life through the lens of the gospel. There was much said that was both helpful and thought provoking. Far more than can be touched upon in a single blog post.

But one of the points that Dr.Tripp made is particularly important to many of us engaged in the workplace. It involves the issue of personal identity. Due to remaining indwelling sin in our lives, many of us derive our identity from the position we hold or the kind of work we do. Rather than revel in our position as rescued sinners and children of the Most High, we invest our identities in our roles at work or even at home.

Like all false gods, this misplaced identity ultimately fails to satisfy. God ordained trials can expose the limitations of these idols - through failed projects, stalled career aspirations or even lost jobs. These are occasions for repentance, they are reminders of God's sovereign love. We are meant to anchor our hope in Christ alone and our identity as God's children.

What identity is more glorious than that? What hope is more enduring? If we are found in Christ, we are blessed indeed.

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—10that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death

Phillipians 3:8-10

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Quote of the Week

"It seems natural to us all to wish to make a name and gain some note, in the circle we move in at any rate, and we wish to make that circle wider if we can... Men, in seeking after notoriety or honor, have a degree of pleasure in the search that they do not possess when they have gained their object... If you have honor or fame, accept it, but let this prayer go up, 'My God bless me indeed, for what profit were it, if my name were in thousand mouths, if You should spew it out of your mouth? What matter though my name were written in marble, if it were not written in the Lamb's Book of Life?..."

If you happen to live in obscurity, and have not entered the lists of honors among your fellowmen, be content to run well your own course and fulfill truly your own vocation."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Twenty Years Together

Kathy and I were married twenty years ago on August 19, 1989. Like many couples, we've had wonderfully good times and terribly tough times but the one constant is God's grace over our marriage.

Every since Kathy's encounter with cancer in 2001, our motto has been - "every day together is a gift from God". Sadly, I didn't always see that earlier in our marriage. But God has a wonderful way of bringing forth the sweet fruit of sanctification from a bitter seed. As two sinners living, loving and parenting together, we still have many issues but we're more aware than ever that God has been kind to give us twenty years worth of daily gifts. We're grateful.

Here's what I read recently -

"The ultimate thing we can say about marriage is that it exist for God's glory. That is, it exists to display God" - John Piper, This Momentary Marriage, p.25

We pray that in some mysterious, inexplicable way, our marriage may fulfill its ultimate purpose.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Quote of the Week

"God's children are strengthened by their falls. They learn to stand by their falls. Like tall cedars, the more they are blown, the deeper they are rooted.''

Sunday, August 09, 2009

God@Work - Your Calling as a Witness

God@Work Part 4 probably doesn't translate as well to a blog post since a good part of the session involved a general back & forth discussion about how we can be witnesses at work - ethical issues related to a work environment that may be hostile to the sharing of the gospel. But since I covered past 3 sessions, I'll finish up with a brief post on session 4 which is entitled God@Work - Your Calling as a Witness.

Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46and said to them,"Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."

Luke 24:44-49

The commission to the disciples involved being a witness of the person and work of Jesus Christ. The essence of the commission -

  • that "the Christ will suffer" (v. 46)
  • that he will "rise from the dead on the third day" (v.46)
  • that "repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name" (v.47)
We are likewise called to proclaim this message to the world around us. Check out the Two Ways to Live presentation - it's is an effective tool in communicating the gospel.

Application Questions:

When was the last time you shared the gospel with someone from your community or workplace?
What prevents you from sharing the gospel on a more regular basis?
How does meditating on the gospel help you do so?

Check out God@Work from the first session onward

Friday, August 07, 2009

Quote of the Week

"The world strongly influences us in a thousand ways to take a short view of life - eat, drink and be merry now because tomorrow may never come. Christians, on the other hand, are to take a longer, more clearheaded view of life, living intentionally and responsibly in order to make contributions to society that will last long after our individual lives in this world are over."

Monday, August 03, 2009

God@Work - Your Calling as a Worker

This post summarizes part 3 in the God@Work series and is entitled "Your Calling as a Worker". It addresses the distinctive characteristics of a Christian worker and it's my hope that you find these notes helpful.

The Gospel is Central to Our Calling as a Worker. Ephesians 2:8-10
What does Ephesians 2:8-10 have to do with the topic of vocation? When we think about our vocations, we need to start with our first and primary vocation - the call of the gospel into a life of faith. We are called into fellowship with God through the work of Christ on the cross, who reconciled us to God and, according to Ephesians 2:8-10, has summoned us to good works. These good works prepared for us are to be walked out in the various vocations, in various realms of life that we're called to - in society, in church, in family and in our workplace.

The Gospel Influences How We Work. Colossians 3:22 - 4:1
Colossians 3:22 - 4:1 offers a view of how the gospel influences the way we should work. This passage unveils five different gospel implications related to our work life -

a) We work to worship our Savior - the highest aim of our work is as an act of worship before God. Our work is an opportunity to worship and this is a uniquely Christian opportunity. Paul remind the slaves of the privilege of working "as for the Lord, and not for men"

b) We work to serve - our work is to serve our neighbor. We are accustom to the notion of serving in church, in our families and possibly in our community. However, many of us do not approach our work life with service in view. Yet, God has called us to serve in all of life. And, our service should be exemplary. Paul's exhortation to the slaves calls them to be exemplary in their service - "...obey in everything those who are your earthly masters". Our motivation for service? Simply that we serve Christ by serving our neighbor.

c) We work for a reward - Paul's encourages the slaves by pointing them to the promise of a reward from God. He reminds them that the work they faithfully performed is not in vain - they will receive a better reward from God. "Whatever you do, work heartily... knowing that from the Lord, you will receive inheritance as a reward." This isn't just about money - it's about eternal life and reward on the Last Day when we stand before God.

d) We work with accountability - the thread of accountability runs throughout this passage. God will hold us accountable for our work, either as "slave" or "master". We are responsible to give an account for not only the outcome of our work but the manner with which we work. Just a couple of questions - Do we treat our coworkers with respect and kindness? Do we work with trust toward God or self reliance on our own efforts?

e) We work with humble contentment - implicit to this passage, is an encouragement to the slaves to be content even in their work. Contentment requires faith. The work that God has called us to will result for our good and for His glory. The "good" spoken of in Romans 8:28-29 is first and foremost, about conforming us to the image of Christ.

Obviously, much more was shared but hopefully, this post offered a glimpse into why the gospel is foundational, not only to the purpose of work but to the essential distinctives of Christian work.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Quote of the Week

"Clearly there is a direct link between the profession of faith, the practice of faith and the plausibility of faith. Practice what you preach and you commend your faith; don't and you contradict it"

Os Guinness; The Call, p.103

Sunday, July 26, 2009

God@Work - Your Multiple Vocations

God@Work is a four part series held at my church to provide a biblical understanding of work - notes from the first session are posted here.

The second session of the God@Work series is on our multiple vocations. Many of us use the word vocation to mean a job or career but in fact, vocation has implications on primary areas of our lives - family, church, society and yes, our daily worklife. The word vocation is derived from the Latin word for calling (vocare).

The Reformation promoted a view of vocation that encouraged each person to see their work as a sacred calling. Callings are not reserved simply for the priests or pastors but in fact, God creates and equips each person in His kingdom to accomplish His purposes and plans in this world. Instead of seeing vocation as what we should or could do, the Reformers' emphasized God's work in and through our vocations. God uses us in our vocations to reveal himself to the world around us.

Our vocation starts with the Greatest Commandment from Mark 12:29-31

"Jesus answered, "... 'And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' ...'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."

Vocation starts with loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength... because He first loved us. His initiating love is the foundation of our vocation.

We are also called to love our neighbor. Vocation is played out, not only in extraordinary success but also in the realm of ordinary, daily life. We don't find vocation only in the realm of our job or career but also in other areas that God has called us to work in - family, church, society. You could say that vocation should be not viewed in the singular but in the plural - vocations in the spheres of life that God has called us to.

Workplace - we are called to serve our neighbor through our labor.
Family - we are called to serve as husband/wife, father/mother, brother/sister, grandparents
Church - we are called to serve in the local church community and for the advance of the gospel.
Society - we are called to serve our neighbor through charitable work, political involvement

All of these are callings to which God has called us. Not all of them carry equal weight. As an example: our calling as a husband or mother supersedes the call to bless the broader society through charitable work or political involvement.

Scripture will guide our priorities and emphasis. The important thing to remember is that all these callings are not in conflict but rather work in concert under God's guidance to bring about good in our lives and the lives of those around us. We also need the wisdom and fellowship from our church community to understand and fulfill these multiple vocations.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Quote of the Week

"There is a keen test of character in prosperity. Everybody longs for it, but it is not every man that can bear it when it comes. True faith forbids our setting great store by worldly goods and pleasures and enjoyments, for it teaches us that our treasure is in heaven."

C.H. Spurgeon, Everyday Religion (sermon #1599)

Monday, July 20, 2009

God@Work - The Biblical Basis for Work

In July, my church is running a four part series on Sunday evenings called God@Work. These sessions are meant to equip men and women with a biblical perspective on work and vocation.

I thought it might be interesting to share highlights from each of the sessions. Session 1 (Theology of Work) covered a biblical understanding of work - God's work in creation, the effect of the Fall on work, God's work in redemption. We also discussed the purpose of work in our lives. Here are some of the notes from the session -

In Genesis 1-2, we see that creation reveals the "work" of God. God is a worker and in fact, introduces the concept of work. There are three kinds of work that God is engaged in -

Providential work - this is the work that God does in governing, sustaining and overseeing the world. God never rests from this work.

Redemptive work - this is the work that God accomplishes through His Son to redeem the world to Himself. Likewise, God does not rest from this work

Creative work - this is work that we equate to labor. This is the creative work that God accomplished in creating, bringing order and completing His creation. God rested from this work and delighted in the excellence of His creation.

Since God is the ultimate worker, the act of work itself is loaded with inherent meaning, significance and dignity.

Why do we work? First, we work because we're made in the image of God - we're image bearers. As God's image bearers we are to use our God-given creativity and responsibility to use the earth for godly purposes.

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

Genesis 1:26-28

Second, God calls us to subdue and rule over the earth. This doesn't mean we can plunder and pillage the earth. Rather, just as Adam and Eve were commanded to "work" and "keep' the Garden of Eden, we're responsible to take care of what God has entrusted to us.

The Fall has distorted God's intention for work. Instead of being enjoyable and satisfying, the "garden" we labor in is now filled with thistles and thorns - work is now hard and marked with difficulties. The other effect of the Fall is that as workers, we lose perspective on who God is and His purpose for our lives. We no longer work to the glory of God.

Thankfully, that's not where it ends. Instead, God through the work of His Son is redeeming men and women to Himself. Those who trust in Jesus Christ are transformed from "the image of the man of dust [that is, Adam] into those who will bear "the image of the man of heaven [that is, Jesus]" 1 Corinthians 15:49. In the process, He is restoring the nature and purpose of work in the lives of those who belong to Him.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Quote of the Week

The essence of eternal life is not found in having my sins forgiven, in possessing a mansion in heaven, or in having streets of gold to walk forever. Rather the essence of eternal life is intimately knowing God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. Everything else that God gives me in the gospel serves merely to bring me to Himself so that this great end may be achieved.

Milton Vincent, A Gospel Primer, p49

Friday, July 10, 2009

John Calvin on Vocation

Today - July 10th, 2009 - marks the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin, one of the greatest theologians in the history of the church.    You might recognize his unique contribution in shaping the doctrines of the church but are you also aware of how his views have helped shape our understanding of work and vocation?  

Together with Martin Luther, John Calvin shared a high view of what it means to receive and fulfill one's vocation in life.   Here's a sample of what he wrote on the topic  -

"...the Lord commands every one of us, in all actions of life to regard his vocation.... to prevent universal confusion being produced by our folly and temerity, he has appointed to all their particular duties in different spheres of life. And that no one might rashly transgress the limits prescribed, he has styled such spheres of life vocations, or callings. "

According to Calvin, every one of us is assigned vocations by the sovereign God.   These vocations are to be taken seriously and represent specific responsibilities in different areas of our lives.  He viewed them as so important as to liken a person's vocation as a post assigned by the Lord for the course of his life.   For a person to not discharge the duties of  his/her post in a responsible manner was to be unfaithful to the calling of God upon his/her life.    Further, to receive these callings from God is actually a blessing from God, to direct us and to grant us purpose.

"Every individual's line of life, therefore, is, as it were, a post assigned him by the Lord, that he may not wander about in uncertainty all his days."

Calvin also wrote about how pursuing our vocation in God will lead to a satisfying and joyful life.  When the obstacles and troubles of this life are seen in light of our vocation(s), we will be better able to cope with them.   Furthermore, no task or career will seem insignificant or irrelevant.

"It will also be no small alleviation of his cares, labours, troubles, and other burdens, when a man knows that in all these things he has God for his guide. The magistrate will execute his office with greater pleasure, the father of a family will confine himself to his duty with more satisfaction, and all, in their respective spheres of life, will bear and surmount the inconveniences, cares, disappointments, and anxieties which befall them, when they shall be persuaded that every individual has his burden laid upon him by God. Hence also will arise peculiar consolation, since there will be no employment so mean and sordid (provided we follow our vocation) as not to appear truly respectable, and be deemed h'ghly important in the sight of God"

Do you see your vocation(s) as a gift from God?   
Are you faithful in fulfilling the post assigned to you in this life?
How will seeing your work in light of a calling from God change your perspective?

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Quote of the Week

"When does our toil become vain? When we detach our work from trust in God. When we seek to wrest control from God and take our lives entirely and exclusively into our own hands... It is the Lord who must be in all our labors or they are pointless"

Anthony Selvaggio, A Proverbs Driven Life, p.59-60

Friday, July 03, 2009

Personal Accountability Cannot Save Us

Over the past few weeks, Mark Sanford has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. First, he was missing...then, his adulterous relationship was exposed. It was followed by a public apology and Sanford's assertion that his adultery is really a "love story". Mark Sanford is in a load of trouble, not least because he doesn't actually see the error of his ways. He needs to be concerned, not for his political career but for the state of his soul and the well-being of his family...but that's really not the point of this blog post.

Instead, let's discuss what has caught the attention of many - the substance of his apology where he invoked Christian "language" and compared himself to King David.

“I remain committed to rebuilding the trust that has been committed to me over the next 18 months, and it is my hope that I am able to follow the example set by David in the Bible — who after his fall from grace humbly refocused on the work at hand. By doing so, I will ultimately better serve in every area of my life, and I am committed to doing so.”

The editors of New York Times noted this in a commentary entitled God and Mark Sanford. They asked five "experts" including Chuck Colson and LaShawn Barber to comment on Mark Sanford's confession/apology. It's worth checking out the different points of view.

But I found one of the most unintentionally insightful comments to come from Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who does not subscribe to the Christian faith. Here's what he said -

"The paradox of American evangelicals is that they are Christian on the one hand and political conservatives on the other with utterly opposing views of redemption. Christians believe that no one is blameless and all must therefore ride the coattails of a perfect being into heaven. But conservatives espouse the gospel of personal accountability. The state cannot save them. Man must earn his bread by the sweat of his brow and not by welfare alone."

It's an interesting comment because I think many Christians actually subscribe to this "gospel of personal responsibility". We may erroneously believe that if we own up to our mistakes, put accountability controls in place and try harder next time, we'll be ok. In other words, when it comes to our moral state, we might think that personal accountability can save us....but it cannot. To be sure, accountability is good thing - taking responsibility for our moral failings is foundational to true repentance. And, being accountable to others is wise.

But what we really need is a Savior, not just accountability and earnest confession. Our moral failings are first and foremost against God and apart from the person of Jesus Christ, we have no means of relating to a holy God. True repentance must be directed to Him and it must rest of what Christ has done on our behalf by bearing our sins.

Our weaknesses are greater than can be addressed by personal accountability or accountability groups. We need a Savior every single day to protect and keep us. That's why I love these words from the hymn, "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing" -

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

The real gospel doesn't just feature sin and personal responsibility, it highlights a Savior who has come to save and keep us. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Quote of the Week

There is a kind of creation that only God can do.  For God to bring something into being required nothing other than his eternal, loving reality as a starting point.   We, on the other hand, always start in the middle of things, working with raw materials given to us by God and by the generations before us.

Monday, June 22, 2009

No King is Saved By His Great Army

The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue.

Psalm 33:16-17

Trials and obstacles are part and parcel of living in this fallen world. These days it can seem like bad news is lurking just round the corner - widespread financial collapse, rising unemployment, H1N1 virus, turmoil in the Middle East, etc... Maybe your concerns are much closer to home - perhaps you're concerned about holding on to your job or you have mounting personal debt or you're dealing with a chronic illness in your family.

In times like these, it's easy to locate our confidence in the wrong place. Perhaps Psalm 33 was written in response to such mounting pressure. If you're fighting a battle, it makes all the sense in the world to put your confidence in the size and abilities of your army. It wouldn't seem altogether unreasonable to hope in the battle tested assets that might secure victory.

Yet, the Psalmist reminds himself and us of the folly of such thinking. Despite conventional wisdom, no king is saved by such things. He looked beyond the means of salvation to the source of salvation - the LORD, the eternal God who is able and willing to rescue those who fear Him.

Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love,
that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine.

Psalm 33:18-19

When you encounter the next trial or challenge - whether at work or at home, whether great or small, where do you plan to locate your hope?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Quote of the Week

"...Christians make a difference in this world by being different from this world; they don't make a difference by being the same."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Conflicts At Work

Fights, conflicts, disagreements – it’s one of the sad realities of the workplace. It’s not only undesirable, it’s actually inevitable when sinners work together...even justified ones. You might work in a relatively peaceful environment but you’re never free from conflict. It seems to me that there’s a fair amount of conflict and disagreement at my workplace in recent weeks. Mind you, not the kind that’s destructive or irreparable - just more than desired or productive. Perhaps it’s a result of stress - business is tight, projects are critical and sometimes it seems like there’s no room for error.

Why do these conflicts occur? James 4 offers one possible reason -

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.

James is saying that many fights and quarrels arise from selfish desires and from inner conflict within our hearts.

But that's not the case for every conflict. Sometimes, one or all parties in a conflict may well-intended, yet may respond sinfully in other ways. For instance, in arguing for our position on an issue, are we being dismissive of other points of view? Are we failing to acknowledge the contribution of our colleagues? Worst still, could we be sinfully judging our co-workers by assuming ill-motive on their part?

How should we respond? Better yet, how should I respond in the midst of my situation? Here are a few questions I’m pondering for my part –

How can I speak more gently when all my tendencies are to the contrary?
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1

How can I encourage my co-workers by speaking hope rather than despair?
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. Psalm 19:14

How have I contributed to conflict by my lack of leadership or poor example?

How does this challenge help me see more clearly my insufficiency and spur me on to count on the sufficiency of Christ?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Quote of the Week

When we pray, we recognize our dependence on Him, and we turn ourselves over to His will. When we pray in our vocations, we recognize their connection to God - to His will, His judgments and His grace. We have said that God is hidden in vocation. In prayer, we get a glimpse of Him. The mask is lifted.

Gene Edward Veith, Jr; God at Work, p. 150

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

In Honor of My Mother

In His good and sovereign will, the Lord called my mother home last Thursday. She was 77. In the two years preceding her death, my mom was not herself - she battled depression and various ailments including cancer.

But when we held the memorial services over two nights, we received an outpouring of grief and condolences from fellow church members. and friends who deeply loved her. They also honored her with God glorifying testimonies of how my mom was used by God.

One church leader spoke of how her ministry in her small group was instrumental in discipling other small group leaders. The senior pastor cited how her leadership gave birth to the church hospitality team - a ministry to greet and welcome visitors to the church. Many women viewed my mom as a second mother to them as she extended both loving care and godly counsel to them. Her zeal to share the gospel was noted by many - she led many to the Lord.
For me, I will remember her as a mother who poured her life into her children. When I reflect upon my life, I think of how much of my mother's influence is evident in who I am today. My love for reading was seeded by my mother's inclination to give me books, rather than toys for birthday presents. Toys, in her mind were frivolous and pointless (I didn't agree then, and I don't agree now). She was also a faithful and loving wife. She and my father were married for over 48 years - to my mind, all of them blissfully happy.

Perhaps what is most notable about her life is the transformation she experienced when she encountered Jesus Christ in her late forties. She went from being someone who was self focused, reserved and fearful to being bold, confident and generous to others. After becoming a Christian, she would have opportunity to teach the women of her church - she would be leading ministry teams - she would be discipling and caring for the younger women. Almost always, she would take any opportunity to share the gospel with unbelieving strangers and friends alike.

I am grateful for my mom and we will miss her dearly. But we are comforted by the realization that she is with the Lord and experiencing more joy than we can imagine. In some ways, she is more alive than she has ever been.

Death is a terrible thing - it's not the way it ought to be - but for the Christian, it is not the final word. Christ will have the final word at the close of the age and He will put things right in this fallen world. I'm looking forward to that Day.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Quote of the Week

Desires are the spiritual pulse of the soul, always beating to and fro and showing the temper of it; they are therefore the characters of a Christian and show more truly what he is than his actions do

Sunday, May 17, 2009

What's the One Thing You Want in Times of Trouble?

Life in this fallen world is messy - jobs are lost, family members become ill, projects fall behind schedule, etc.   Even as Christians, we contend with trouble everyday.    Perhaps you're one of the many who've lost their jobs in this economic depression.  Maybe you still have a job but it's fraught with difficulties and difficult people.   Or perhaps you might be battling a long standing illness.    

Sometimes the problems of life come upon us so unexpectedly that they can overwhelm us.   All we can think of in those times is our need for relief.  How do we contend with these and other challenges in light of God's active presence in our lives?   According to Psalm 27,  David faced many difficulties.   He contended with serious enemies who threatened his very life.   

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh,
my adversaries and my foes, it is they who stumble and fall
Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me, yet I will be confident

Psalm 27:1-3

Under such pressure, what did David pray for?   What is the one thing he asked of God?  Not deliverance from his enemies, nor for his own personal safety.   Not for an unbeatable battle plan, nor the destruction of his enemies.

One thing have I asked of the LORD that will I seek after
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple

Psalm 27:4

Instead, David desired the nearness of God.  For David, to inquire before the presence of God was far better than a winning strategy.   If we have one thing to ask of God, what shall we ask for?   If we have deadlines to meet and troubles of every kind looming on the horizon, where are we going to find relief?   Where will we find peace and satisfaction?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Quote of the Week

"Our activity can promise us everything and make us forget God. Therefore God commands us to rest from our work. It is not work that supports us but God alone; we live not from work, but from God alone.... The Sabbath rest is the visible sign that human beings live by the grace of God and not by works."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer; I Want to Live These Days with You, p. 43

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Why We Don't Need Jesus as CEO

I was researching for articles pertaining to work and faith when I came upon a book entitled Jesus, CEO: Ancient Wisdom for Visionary Leadership.   Admittedly, I've never read the book but somehow the title didn't sit well with me.   I'm sure the author meant no harm and in fact, she probably considered it a compliment to feature Jesus as the ultimate executive leader.   

Unfortunately, this book title serves as another example of how we can recast Jesus into the image of our own liking, ignoring the essence of who He is and what He came to do.      

Ironically, Jesus is never more popular in our modern culture than when He serves as an example.    Talk about Jesus as CEO and you'll have heads nodding in approval in the boardroom.  Share about Jesus as Savior and you're asking for trouble.   Perhaps that's why the title of the book troubled me - I'm acquainted with my sin, weakness and failure.  In the context of my work, living off leadership principles from the life of Jesus just doesn't suffice. Rather, I need to be saved from laboring in unbelief.   I need redemption from selfish ambition.   I need to be rescued from a failed project.  I need life giving hope from Someone greater than myself.  

Sometimes an example, no matter how admirable or perfect, just won't cut it.    

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Quote of the Week

The habit of thinking about work as something one does to make money is so ingrained in us that we can scarcely imagine what a revolutionary change it would be to think about it instead in terms of work done... We should ask of an enterprise, not “will it pay?” but “is it good?”; of a man, not “what does he make?” but “what is his work worth?”; of goods, not “can we induce people to buy them? but “are they useful things well made?”; of employment, not “how much a week?” but “will it exercise my faculties to the utmost?”

Dorothy L. Sayers, essay entitled "Why Work?" in Creed or Chaos?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Leadership Tip - Fulfill Your Commitments

My mother has been very seriously ill and I'm visiting her this week. If you're inclined to pray for her, I would be appreciative. Please pray that God will restore her and sustain her faith.

I've had the opportunity to remember her advice to me when I started working. My mother never spent a day in college and worked for over 30 years as a secretary. But she gave me one of the most important pieces of advice I've ever received - "fulfill your commitments... if you say you're going to do something, make sure you do it... if you say you're going to show up with a report on Tuesday morning, make sure you actually do it".

It may seem simple to you but it's had a profound impact on the way I work and the decisions I've made along the way. It once meant turning down a very lucrative opportunity after I'd given my word to stay at my then current company. It's also meant that I've become known as someone you can count on - "someone that will get you to the finish line" especially on a challenging assignment. I have my mother to thank for that.

Fulfilling our commitments and keeping our word - that's one way we reflect God in the way we work.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Quote of the Week

"Do you not see that if the richer you get and the more often you go to the Cross, it will be safe for you to be trusted with wealth?   Take care to sanctify everything that God gives you by giving Him His proper portion and do not use your own portion till you have given Him His"

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Gospel and Risk Taking

Risk taking - it's exposing ourselves to the possibility of loss or injury for the sake of gaining something of great worth.

The truth is that most of us are averse to risk - we hate it, we avoid it, we mitigate against it. We do everything we can to eliminate it. "Risk avoidance" is the secret idol in the hearts of most middle class Christians, myself included. We play it safe. We're not inclined to put our 401(K) plans at risk, much less our physical well being. We're so concerned about fitting in at the workplace that we're blending into the background. No risk of us being perceived as an irrational, fanatical Christian.

Yet, God calls us to pursue him whatever the cost. In fact He demands it. He calls us to do hard things like start God-glorifying ventures, take on risky projects, write books, share the gospel with our unreceptive co-workers and impact the world around us even at the cost of our reputations, money or in extreme cases, our lives.

Because of the gospel, Christians are better positioned to take risk than anyone else - we have the least to lose and the most to gain. Here's how the apostle Paul viewed his life in terms of risk and loss -

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him...

Philippians 3:7-8

His capacity for risk taking was enhanced by two factors - counting what he had as loss and counting what he stood to gain as immeasurable treasure. May God help us do the same.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Quote of the Week

Crown him the Lord of life who triumphed o'er the grave,
and rose victorious in the strife for those he came to save.
His glories now we sing, who died, and rose on high,
who died, eternal life to bring, and lives that death may die.

Matthew Bridges

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Redeeming Culture

Last Saturday, I had the privilege to attend the Entrepreneurship Initiative (EI) Forum hosted by the Redeemer Center for Faith & Work (CFW). CFW's mission is to promote cultural renewal through the integration of faith and work. Through the EI Forum, I had an opportunity to meet several Christian entrepreneurs, executives, financiers and artists who are seeking to make a difference through their God given gifts and talents.

The event was kicked off by Andy Crouch, author of Culture Making. His big point was simply this - you don't change culture by critiquing culture or condemning culture or consuming culture. You change culture by making culture.

Simple but profound. If you buy off on his premise, it really highlights a huge limitation with the state of Christian activism today. It would appear that a lot of energy is expended to generating more boycotts of certain companies rather than building businesses that make a positive impact. Many Christians are swept up with concern about the anti-Christian bias in media rather than about developing new creative content that reflects the glory of the Eternal God.

Creating culture, not just consuming it or condemning it - that's how culture changes.

Do you agree? Is changing culture even something Christians should be concerned with? What do you think?

Friday, April 03, 2009

Quote of the Week

Godly men exercise faith in God in their callings by trying to manifest a Christian spirit in all that they do. The spirit which actuates us may seem to be a small matter so long as we are outwardly right; but it is in reality the essence of the whole thing. Take away the flavour from the fruit, or the fragrance from the flower, and what is left? Such is correct living without the savour of grace.

CH Spurgeon 1834-1892

Thursday, March 26, 2009

What Godly Ambition Looks Like

Recently,  I had the opportunity to discuss the topic of ambition with a group of mostly young men who find themselves wondering "what does godly ambition like if you're not a pastor?".   

We looked at Nehemiah as a profile in godly ambition, deriving observations from Nehemiah 1.

Here were the main points from our reading of Nehemiah 1 and subsequent discussion -

1. Godly ambition is concerned with God's glory and purposes.   Although he lived securely in the fortified capital city of Susa, Nehemiah was deeply affected by the ruin of Jerusalem.  He was moved to tears upon learning of its condition.  And, he longed to see the redemptive purpose of God fulfilled to the glory of God's name.

"Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, "If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name."

For the Christian today, this means giving priority to the advance of the gospel - yes, even if you're not a pastor or minister.   We do this by proclaiming and living the "message of cross" in the workplace, in our neighborhoods, in the broader community.   Consider that in your sphere of influence, you may be one of the few to bring the gospel to those who need it most.

2.  Godly ambition is concerned about the well being of others, especially the people of God.   Nehemiah's concern wasn't only about the city of Jerusalem but also about his countrymen.   

And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem.   And they said to me, "The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame.  The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire."    As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days.

One measure of ambition is whether it extends God's compassion outwardly to others.  This doesn't just mean social work - it can also mean something as simple as engaging our workplace with an intention to exercise care to those around us.

3.  Godly ambition is founded on our identity in God.   I'm no expert on cupbearers but it would appear that it was an important position, affording access to the king.   Yet, Nehemiah only mentions his position as cupbearer in a simple statement at the end of the chapter - "Now I was cupbearer to the king".  It was a modest acknowledgment of God's sovereign hand in giving him such a position of access.   Yet, his identity was not linked to this unique position in the court of the king but rather in his place among the people of God.   

Whether we achieve much or little in the sight of men, we rest in the knowledge that, in Christ, we have immeasurable wealth.   We stand, not upon our achievements, but upon His achievement on our behalf.

4.  Sometimes ambition finds us.   Nehemiah didn't just get a passion for God when he received the news about the state of Jerusalem and his countrymen.   He was clearly a man who had deep interest in God's purposes prior to that point.   The news of Jerusalem merely offered the opportunity for Nehemiah act upon this passion in a unique way.   Don't worry if there isn't something "great" or "dramatic" for you to do today - simply focus on developing a passion for God and His purposes wherever you find yourself.   You might discover the opportunities to express godly passion are all around you.

What does godly ambition look like to you? 
Please share your thoughts on this topic

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Quote of the Week

"Despite what our culture leads us to believe, vocation is not self chosen. That is to say we do not choose our vocations. We are called to them. There is a big difference."

Gene Edward Veith, Jr ; God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life , p. 50

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Is Ambition Wrong?

This morning I had the opportunity to lead a discussion on the topic of ambition with a group of friends from my church. The dynamics of ambition in the workplace can be a thorny issue for many Christians. It raises some challenging questions like - "is ambition wrong?" or "what does godly ambition look like, especially if you're not a pastor or minister?"

I'd like to share and extend the discussion on this blog post by addressing the first question - "is ambition wrong?" Ambition is often defined as "an earnest desire for achievement or distinction...and a willingness to work for its attainment". Many would equate that achievement to wealth, fame or power but does it really have to be so? For Christians, the seeds of ambition are often the dreams, desires and goals that God places in our lives. Seen from that perspective, ambition isn't just "not wrong" - it's normal.

However, the Bible does warn us about certain kinds of ambition that are unfruitful or even sinful. Two kinds of wrong ambition come immediately to mind -

1. Selfish ambition - where we measure opportunities (think: career , ministry, etc...), primarily in terms of "what's in it for me". James 3:16 warns us of negative consequences when selfish ambition is played out in real life.

"For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice."

2. The pursuit of wealth - where we measure opportunities, primarily in terms of material gain. The reality is that many of us might not even consider the "desire to be rich" a problem to grapple with. Yet scripture couldn't be more plain in 1 Timothy 6:6-10.

"Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs."

Here's the main point of this post -

"Ambition isn't wrong but there is such a thing as wrong ambition and scripture warns us to be on our guard against it"

In the next post, I'll share our discussion about what godly ambition looks like

Have you wrestled with ambition in your life?
Have you identified the presence of selfish ambition?
What does the pursuit of wealth say to the world around us about the value of Jesus Christ?

Please share your thoughts on this

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Quote of the Week

"Boys, be ambitious.  Be ambitious not for money or for selfish aggrandizement, not for that evanescent thing which men call fame.   Be ambitious for that attainment of all that a man ought to be"

William S. Clark, (1826-1886)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Gospel and Authentic Leadership

It can hardly be called a groundswell, but over the past couple of years, there has been an increasing appreciation for authenticity in leadership.    Harvard Business School professor, Bill George has been at the forefront of this discussion.   His book, True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership promotes the idea that effective leaders are first and foremost, authentic leaders.  Leaders with character, rather than simply charisma.   In this HBS podcast interview, he discusses some of the concepts in his book.  

I think Bill George is absolutely correct about the importance of authentic leadership.   However, I'd like to extend the discussion in a specific way by suggesting that it is the gospel that truly and ultimately brings authenticity into our lives and hence into our leadership.  

The lack of authenticity in life or leadership stems from our fallen nature.   We seek to obscure who we are, consciously or otherwise, because we find it difficult to confront our own fallen state.   As David says in Psalm 51 - "For I know my transgression, and my sin is ever before me... Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me"

Without the remedy of the gospel, we have no recourse.   But in the gospel, we discover the both the gravity of our moral failure and the power of God's gracious love for us.    We are freed to love and serve others rather than to live for ourselves.    We are freed to lead, based on what is right rather than what is popular.   We are freed to fight injustice at great cost to ourselves because we have a eternal treasure in Christ that transcends our experience in this life.   Most importantly, when we fail, perhaps even in being honest or authentic, we can dispel guilt by remembering the work of Christ on our behalf.

For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.    (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Here's the point - authenticity means being who you were really meant be.   The effect of Christ's saving work restores us to our Maker and frees us to be, exactly who we were created to be.   Want to be an authentic leader?  You might want to start by believing and applying the gospel daily.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Quote of the Week

In the exercise of our callings, when we think we shall do no good, but all things seem contrary, yet faith says 'God has set me here; I will cast in my net at Thy commandment.' Let us look upon God and see what He commands, and then by faith cast ourselves upon Him and leave the success to God.

Richard Sibbes (1577-1635)

Friday, March 06, 2009

How to Be Distinctive

The sermon at our church last Sunday touched upon Philippians 2:12-16. Lots of good points were made but the one that got my attention focused on verses 14-15:

"Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe "

Do you want to be distinctive as a Christian in the workplace? Would you like to shine in a dark and confused world? Simple - don't grumble or complain or be argumentative.

This verse is striking because of what it doesn't prescribe as a path to being distinctive. For instance, it doesn't cover the really "serious" sins -"don't commit adultery" or "don't murder". It doesn't suggest that the path to shining in a dark world is to " end world hunger" or "fight poverty" or even "reshape your culture" - all worthwhile pursuits.

Instead, here's what we get from the apostle Paul - "do everything without complaining or arguing". It's simple, mundane but it's right where we live everyday. If you believe this verse, just doing our daily work without complaining is precisely what can make us stand out as a people called by God.

That's because "not complaining" takes a trust in God. Consider this - how can we preserve peace in our hearts when things don't go our way or when we don't get what we want? We live in peace and maintain hearts of joy by trusting God. We remind ourselves that He is supremely in control of the situation, yet in accordance with Rom 8:28, He has our best interests at heart.

Just doing whatever we're called to do without complaining or being argumentative - that's how we shine.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Quote of the Week

God gives human beings authority in the created world, what we might call "responsible dominion". Here is the first big work project. God, the king assigns sub-kingdoms, in which, under God, we human beings have our say. "Let them have dominion", says God....

The Bible speaks of dominion, not in the sense of conquest but in the sense of stewardship. After all, how does God exercise dominion? How does God demonstrate hospitality in creation and providence?... In the kingdom of God, to have dominion is to care for the well being of others

Cornelius Plantinga, Engaging God's World p.31

Friday, February 27, 2009

Leadership Tip - Just Say Thank You

I was listening to an interview on radio with the legendary but controversial coach, Bobby Knight.  During the interview, he made a very simple point on leadership - the importance of thanking people who help us along the way, every day.   I'm no fan of Bobby Knight but I do think he makes an excellent point.

In our hurried, "what have you done for me lately" lives, saying "thank you", just isn't common practice anymore.  Yet, it's absolutely foundational for leadership.   Obviously, it's not simply the words but the expression of gratitude that makes a difference.   To grasp this leadership tip, it's important to view this not simply as a technique for manipulating others but rather to consider how this is essentially biblical in spirit -

1. Saying "thank you" is a recognition that those who help us or work with us are "eikons" - bearers of the image of God, not simply "resources" to get the job done.   

2. Saying "thank you" is one way we show honor and express care to others.  "Outdo one another in showing honor" Romans 12: 10

3. Saying "thank you" to others just overflows from a grateful heart to God.   If you're grateful for God's help through the common means of your colleagues and co-workers,  saying "thank you" will come naturally

When I've done this consistently, I find some curious responses besides the typical "you're welcome".   Some will say "I was just doing my job".  Others go to great lengths to explain how what they did was "no big deal" .  Regardless of their response, most are just wonderfully encouraged and strengthened to take on their next challenge.   

What do you think?    How does it make you feel when someone appreciates what you do?  Why wouldn't we make it a regular practice in our lives?