Archive | January, 2014

Who’s Your Boss? Part II

31 Jan

If you take a minute to turn in your Bible to Daniel chapter three, you’ll find the old Sunday school classic: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  What makes these three guys special is not that they did the right thing (though that is certainly commendable), but that they chose to do it long before they ever knew that there was going to be trouble.  Before their boss, the king, had even begun to think of setting up a golden statue of himself and demanding that everyone worship it, they had decided that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be their God as well.  This decision to allow Him to direct their lives affected the way they behaved in the king’s court and that behavior earned each of them positions of special honor in Babylon.

More importantly, however, by making the choice to serve God above the king, they prepared themselves in advance to do the right thing when circumstances did turn against them.  Threatened with losing not just their jobs, but also their lives, they were able to stand strong. Instead of bending their morals, they stood in front of their boss and answered, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you.  If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us.  He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty.  But even if he doesn’t, Your Majesty can be sure that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”  (Daniel 3:16-18)  They recognized that everything they had or ever would have originated with the God they served and not the king who wielded power over them.  Whatever happened, everything would be okay.

This determination and faith in God’s sovereignty are just as important for us today. Faced with workplace scenarios in which unethical behavior can be the norm, we may find ourselves struggling to decide between holding onto our job and doing what we know to be right. When faced with a choice between maintaining the respect of our boss or coworkers and clinging to our faith, our only hope is to have determined Who’s approval matters well in advance.

That said, the decision to trust God (who we can’t see) instead of our boss (who is sometimes painfully visible) can, at times, be counterintuitive. After all, falsifying a time card or lying to a customer can seem like small potatoes when the alternative is an earful of profane ranting from a man or woman who has the power to throw us out into the streets. Perhaps that’s why God took such pains to remind us that if we make His kingdom our primary concern, He will provide all of our earthly needs.  Indeed, we are promised that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”  (Romans 8:28)

But what is that purpose? And once we’ve discovered it, how do we stick to it, even in the face of adversity? We’ll begin to explore the answers to those questions next week. Meanwhile, feel free to share your own thoughts on the topic in the comment box below!

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Who’s Your Boss? Part I

24 Jan

At the age of seventeen, I found myself working for a moderately sized retail outlet that employed one manager and five assistant managers.  While each manager had their own department, they all had equal authority over all of the staff and this loose structure led to a number of humorous, experiences, one of which particularly stands out in my mind.

It all began one warm afternoon when, while sorting through pallets of new shipments, we stumbled across several boxes of garden clogs.  (You know, those clunky rubber shoes designed to protect your feet while allowing dirt and water to get between your toes for the complete gardening experience?)  My manager took one look at the shipment and told me to take it to the clothing department where all of the footwear was neatly on display.

Obediently, I picked up the armload of cardboard containers and trekked across the store to the disused returns counter that marked the edge of what I had come to view as enemy territory.  I was just about to set the boxes down when the clothing manager spotted me informed me that “garden” clogs belonged in the “garden” department and immediately ordered me to return them to their proper location.

Politely, I readjusted the boxes and wandered across one of the center aisles, returning the shipment to my own department.  I hadn’t even managed to set them down when my manager appeared and voiced her concern that I hadn’t followed through on her orders.  I readily explained that the clothing manager didn’t feel that they belonged in her department and patiently awaited the impending directive.  “Take them back to the clothing department.  Now.”

So off I went.  When the clothing manager saw me, she curtly repeated her edict that the boxes were not to be deposited anywhere within her realm.  I had turned on my heels before she even finished her sentence and was off and running towards my own, safe section of the store.  But upon returning to my own department, I was informed once more that the footwear was to be left in the clothing department.  For the next hour, I wandered back and forth between the two departments toting the boxes and relaying the increasingly more warlike messages which the two managers wished for me to deliver.

While at first I was irritated by the waste of time, it did serve to illustrate a valuable Biblical principle which is important to us even before we hop into our cars, onto our bicycles, or head down the sidewalk to our place of employment each day: “No one can serve two masters.”  (Matthew 6:24a)  I’m not talking about showing up at Walmart when your paycheck is coming from the Home Depot, but rather the danger involved in attempting to split your service between God and well, everyone and everything else that is vying for your attention… including your boss.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be examining what it means to serve God in the workplace. We’ll take a look at some helpful Biblical advice on striking the balance necessary to retain our relationship with the Master while successfully satisfying our boss’ demands. And we’ll explore some of our options for those times when it isn’t possible to do both. Stay tuned and, as always, feel free to share your own thoughts in the comment box below!

Job Security Part II

17 Jan

Last week, in Part I of our series, we explored why “job security” is more myth than reality. This week, we’ll begin taking a look at how to handle that reality… beginning with the recognition that nothing in this world is ever quite as secure as we like to fool ourselves into believing it is.  Families break up, the stock market falls, our car blows a tire, terrorists attack, friends come and go, and so do jobs.  The only real security for any of us is the kind that God offers through faith in His Son.

According to the Bible, this sort of security is eternal and totally exclusive of own efforts.  John 10:27-29 says, “My sheep recognize my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.  No one will snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else.  So no one can take them from me.”  And in Romans 8:38,39 the apostle Paul declares, “I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love.  Death can’t, and life can’t.  The angels can’t, and the demons can’t.  Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away.  Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

So how do we know if we have this kind of security?  To begin with, we need to understand that God created us with the desire to be close to us. As with most relationships, that closeness involves love and consideration. Unless you’re an eight-year-old child, you don’t hit someone with whom you hope to develop a good friendship. And unless you really don’t want a relationship with God, you don’t intentionally hurt Him either.

Unfortunately, instead of nurturing our relationship with God, each of us has chosen the route of that eight-year-old. Romans 3:23 states that, “…all have sinned; all fall short.” We’ve chosen to strike God rather than embrace Him. And as much as God would like each of us to be His friend, He isn’t going to force us to do something we don’t want to do.

Rejecting His friendship, however, also means rejecting all of the benefits of that friendship. James 1:17 tells us that, “Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father.” (NLT) So in rejecting God, we’re also rejecting everything that’s good. This absence of good is known as “Hell” and the description the Bible gives of this place is not pretty. The Apostle John wrote, “I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne.  And the books were opened, including the Book of Life.  And the dead were judged according to the things written in the books, according to what they had done.  And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire.”  (Revelation 20:12,15) This is eternal separation from God, beyond the reach of His friendship. And it’s a choice we make.

So what happens when we realize that we’ve made the wrong choice? Well, there’s good news… God didn’t quit wanting a relationship with us just because we didn’t want one with Him. In order to make reconciliation possible, He took on human flesh and died on a cross to pay the price that justice demanded. (This would be a bit like a person being convicted of assault… and someone else serving the prison sentence.) All we have to do is accept that gift. Ephesians 2:8,9 states that, “God saved you by his special favor when you believed.  And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.  Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”

If we’ve accepted that gift, then we have the eternal security we talked about earlier.  Nothing that we or anyone else can do will ever change the fact that we’re Heaven bound!  This free gift, however, effects more than our eternal destination: it plays an important role in how we cope with the insecurities that we experience right here on earth.  Once our relationship with God has been restored, He offers us peace amidst turmoil, patience in the face of injustice, and satisfaction even when we’ve been wronged.  He offers us the grace to handle any situation we encounter either at home, at school, or in the workforce with the confidence and assurance that He is on our side.  And that is security at its best!

Job Security Part I

8 Jan

Ask a random group of people what they hope to gain from their careers and you’re likely to get a wide variety of answers. From developing technical skills to acquiring a sense of personal achievement, we look to our jobs to help fill our hours, pay our bills, and, ultimately, provide security for our families and ourselves.

We want to wake up tomorrow knowing that we have the income necessary to improve our education, start our own business, or put food on the table.  We want to go to sleep each night, knowing that our future is firmly under control: our control.

This is called “Job Security” and it happens to be one of the most widely accepted illusions that our society has to offer.  Why an illusion?  Think about what comes to mind when someone says the word “secure”.  Webster’s dictionary defines the word as “Free from danger, safe; Free from fear and doubt; assured; certain.”

We try to obtain this in our jobs by being reliable workers who give “a day’s work for a day’s pay.”  If we know our trade well (for example, if you can scoop more ice cream faster than any of your peers, have the skills necessary to maintain an efficient freight flow, or the vision to advance your company’s financial interests), we call our job “secure.”

The problem with this is that in each of these cases our “security” is based upon our own efforts.  The real world (not the one we pretend to live in, but the one that actually exists) is like a roller coaster: full of unexpected bumps and the occasional derailment.  Factors beyond our control often affect the stability of our workplace and the surety of our employment, leaving us scrambling for something, anything, to hold on to.

For example: A year and an half after getting my first job, I moved on to my second as a sales-clerk in the seasonal department of a local farm store.  Unlike the hardware store which stayed in business by providing things that people need year-round (like paint, nails, and plumbing parts), a large portion of this particular company’s income came from the merchandise in this seasonal section.  Our selection was constantly changing and, once each year, we’d rearrange everything to make way for the best assortment of winter gear for fifty miles.  We brought in snow blowers, insulated coveralls, shovels, and snow boots.  Half of the warehouse was dedicated to the back-stock on these items and everyone felt secure in knowing that the product was there, ready to sell.  The only problem was that, for the first time in almost 100 years, it didn’t snow!  The store didn’t sell the product and had to pay for storage on the items until the next year rolled around.  The company lost money and, as a result, employee hours were cut.  So much for security.

Yes, you’re thinking, but that was the result of poor human speculation. If I do my part as a worker, then I have nothing to worry about.  Wrong again!  My Dad has a highly enviable job as an aviator (the sort where little kids are constantly asking for his autograph).  He flew helicopters in the Marine Corps and then went on to fly for assorted civilian companies prospecting for oil, fighting forest fires, flying life flight, and even transporting skiers to the tops of inaccessible peaks.  My mother still tells the story of a year when my Dad had done the work he’d agreed to perform, but when it came time for the check to arrive… well, it didn’t.  You see, the owner of the company he was flying for had decided that a permanent off-shore vacation sounded like a great idea.  He disappeared along with all of the company’s funds, leaving my parents without the cash that my Dad had already earned!

These stories serve to illustrate what businessmen refer to as the “dynamic environment”. They are a brief sampling of the competitive, political, economic, legal, technological, and sociocultural forces over which we as individuals have very little control. Sadly, these forces often, have a great deal of control over both us and the jobs from which we sometimes derive our sense of security.

So what do we do when the one thing we look to our jobs to provide doesn’t come through? We’ll take a look at that next week. For now, feel free to share your thoughts on job security in the comment box below!

Where Does Evangelism Really Take Place?

3 Jan

I started this blog two years ago at the urging of family members who argued that, “Every serious writer needs a blog.” I had just been laid off from a terrific job (the victim of a company-wide reorganization), and had plenty of time on my hands. I confess that I didn’t really know what I was doing. I knew that I had a passion for youth, missions, and evangelism and decided to experiment by blogging about all three.

I’ve had a great time and have learned a lot since then. I have a much better idea about what works and what doesn’t than I did in the beginning and now it’s time to narrow the focus. That’s why, over the next few weeks, the blog will be getting a new look and feel. We’ll do our best to make the pages a bit more “reader-friendly” and bring up the tenor of the blog to match our “viewing audience” (most of whom happen to be adults rather than youth).

We’ll also be exploring some new subject matter as we delve into the world of workplace relations. The Bible has quite a bit to say about how we handle ourselves in relation to bosses and coworkers. Most of us spend almost as much time at our jobs as we do at home. Our bosses and our coworkers are our most immediate sphere of influence. They see how we react to unpleasant customers, how we handle disagreements with members of staff, even how we approach simple things like showing up on time. While we may view our presence “on the job” as something that simply pays the bills, our attitudes and actions can have a huge impact on the way bosses and coworkers view both Christians and Christ.

With that in mind, next week, we’re going to begin exploring what it takes to let Christ shine through us in an environment which often appears quite hostile towards faith of any kind. We’ll examine what the Bible says about common workplace issues like teamwork, submission to authority, and job security and take a closer look at some of the stickier issues like dishonesty and discrimination. We’ll also be exploring ways in which we can thoughtfully develop our careers even as we openly live our faith. It’s sure to be an interesting journey and I look forward to our taking it together!

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