Vocations and hairballs

A quick post today as this has been quite a week, but if you’re familiar with the wonderful theologian and author J.I. Packer, he has some very insightful words about the Christian concept of vocation over at Crosswalk.com. You can check it out here. I’ve given this topic some thought over the years and I find that there is the constant need to transcend the tyranny of the moment… it’s nearly impossible to keep a healthy perspective on what we’re really here to do (and whom we’re here to serve) when we get all worked up over the daily and weekly hairballs of corporate life.

Incidentally, I borrow that phrase “hairball” from the wonderful (albeit theologically questionable) book Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Graceby the late Gordon MacKenzie. It’s a book about behaving as a creative innovator by orbiting the hairball – you know, the politics, the pettiness, and the inertia of the status quo found at the center of most bureaucracies. He suggests that the key is not launching ourselves in the stratosphere, thereby declaring ourselves immune from relevant daily issues, and not getting ourselves tangled up right in the middle of the hairball. The same principle is true for us as Christians. We need to orbit these hairballs, reminding ourselves of our true vocation and staying close enough to be relevant (salt and light) without becoming entangled in the mess.


The gift of music

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” – Matthew 7:13-14

I got thinking earlier about the music I listen to throughout the work day. I listen to just about everything, from classical to hip-hop, but Christian music offers something unique – perspective. I turn to TobyMac for energy, Nichole Nordeman to chill me out, and Third Day for a moment of worship. But there’s one song that I lean on more than others – This Road by Jars of Clay. There are those moments, and unfortunately they happen more than I’d like to admit, when I totally lose perspective on the role of work in my life. Of course our significance as humans isn’t dependent up on our careers or whatever issues we’re caught up in during the work day, but sometimes we need a reminder of that fact. The song for me is a simple reminder that we’re on a road that God has laid out for us… and our sole purpose is to cling to our Creator as the one who shepherds us down that road and provides us the energy and joy that sometimes can’t be found on it.

Here it is for your listening pressure. And by the way, I connect with the song much more than the video… it’s just one of those songs that works better without visuals…

Lighten up

Anyone see this article on MSNBC today? It’s about the benefit of humor in the workplace (and the host of issues surrounding offensive jokes). Years ago, when I worked at the School of Management at North Park University, I worked for a wonderful retired Air Force Colonel who, among other things, taught strategic mangement classes and attended a yearly conference put on by the Humor Project. He taught his management courses from a Christian worldview and often remarked that humor should have it’s place among the other sound disciplines of management. I think he was right. The Apostle Paul tells us to avoid “obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes” (Eph 5) but that certainly doesn’t relegate us to become a bunch of humorless relgious stereotypes, does it?  I think not. As an example, if you’ve not seen it yet, one of my favorite funny places for a Christian laugh is the blog Stuff Christians Like. For example, hand raising in church. Enjoy.

Productive Anger

“A man is about as big as the things that make him angry.” – Winston Churchill

“Speak when you are angry – and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.” – Dr. Laurence J. Peter

I had the pleasure of catching up with an old coworker this past weekend. While we mostly talked about our personal lives, we also got a chance to catch up on what each other is doing at work and the opportunities and challenges we face. It’s always interesting to me to see that people who really care – those who are really invested in their organization and its future – often go through periods of feeling disenfranchised and even angry with the decisions of their organization. I’m not talking about being angry because one feels personally wronged (although that sometimes happens); I’m talking about feeling frustrated with not having the ability to help your organization make better choices. And while no one can be assured that their way is the right way, we shouldn’t be surprised that sometimes these situations can create a degree of anger wtihin us.

Understandably, we’re taught on some tacit level that  if we disagree with the organization’s decisions, that concern – not anger – is the more appropriate response. That’s probably true behaviorally (I’ve not yet “cleansed” the conference room after a meeting a la Jesus in the temple… yet), but we need not be ashamed when frustration bleeds over into anger. I’ve seen similar situations within the church. No one wants to seem like they’re too sensitive or easily provoked, but when we ask people to heavily invest their time, talents and their heart into an organization, we get the whole heart – not just the fuzzy part.

Fortunately, there is such a thing as holy anger. Simply put, holy anger is that anger which stems from somthing that is justifiably upsetting and that is handled appropriately. As Paul told the Ephesians, “In your anger, do not sin.” Jesus and many other people in the Bible grew angry at times without letting their anger lead them to sin. The real test for us, it seems, is to handle it well… to channel it into productive means of improving the organization, and, when those opportunties arise, to seek the campanionship and counsel of our fellow workplace believers to give us some healthy perspective.

Standards of excellence

Today I hopped in the car to travel between buildings for a meeting and caught all of two minutes of Pastor Greg Laurie’s talk about Daniel in the lions’ den. Daniel is a really interesting guy, isn’t he? He’s a Jewish exile, but he’s got a killer job, working as a right-hand man for Darius, the King of Babylon. Darius, and for that matter the other high officials that plotted to kill Daniel, found him faultless in his behavior and outstanding in his service to the king. Now this is a guy who cared about integrity and pursued excellence.

In the part of Greg Laurie’s talk that I heard, he was exhorting Christians to raise our personal performance standards. On some level, many of us assume that because we’re Christians that others will want to work with us (or have us work for them). We assume that letting others know we’re Christians will let them know that we value integrity and carry a strong worth ethic. Christian business owners put Jesus fish on their logos and many of us take steps to brand ourselves as workplace believers. These aren’t necessarily bad things, but as Laurie pointed out, we may have the process backwards. If we are Christ-followers, we should do like Daniel did – create a standard of performance and professionalism that is unquestionable. Then, once our reputation is cemented, and people later realize that we’re people of faith, our reputations in the workplace will assist us in representing (“re-presenting”) Christ to an unbelieving world.

To hear the rest of the sermon, go here and choose “Daniel in the Lion’s Den – 7/23/08”

An ambitious week

What comes to your mind when you think of having an ambitious week? Making a huge sale? Taking charge of a major project? Putting in long hours to get ahead of your upcoming work? Applying for a new position that has more responsibility and pays a little more? I don’t know about you, but some weeks I crave the simplicity of something a little less… well, ambitious.

Fortunately, my upcoming ambitious week will consist of putting in 45 hours at the office, mostly staying focused in my project room on tying up some loose ends on a number of projects, and getting home by 5:30 to have dinner with the family. Life has been a little crazy lately, and tonight I got thinking about God’s words to the people of Thessalonica (in 1Thes 4),

“This should be your ambition: to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we commanded you before. As a result, people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others to meet your financial needs.”

How awesome is that? Isn’t it great to know that the ultimate boss doesn’t really care that much about us trying to achieve that bigger title or the “Salesperson of the Month” award? What’s really important is working hard, having integrity, and being respectful of others.

That, I can do.

Forks, Fat and Fruit

Well after nearly two weeks of traveling, I’m finally back at home. Last week, the family and I went on a very enjoyable vacation and I spent the early part of this week in Chicago and Milwaukee. And what have I got to show for all of that travel? About four pounds.

I should have known better. Some time ago, I determined that controling my burgeoning waistline during times of business travel really just boils down to making a few smarter choices and having some self-control.

Part of the issue is just that I love free things. Why eat that same Fiber One granola bar that I eat each morning when the company will pick up eggs benedict in the hotel restaurant? The other issue is that going out with coworkers for dinner and a beer often trumps getting up early and working out. But being gluttoneous is Biblically paramount with being a drunkard (Prov 23:20-21), and both vices ruin far more lives than most of the crazy things the news has us worried about.

Last year I managed to actually lose 10 lbs when I was traveling a lot, thanks to having both a great boss and a great traveling partner. My boss, who had truly embraced the concept of office wellness, encouraged all the members of our team to schedule a daily hour at the gym just as we would any other mandatory meeting. Knowing that none of us ever put in less than a full work week anyway, he was precient in realizing that this strategy would keep us mentally and physically in the game over the long haul. In addition to him, I had a traveling partner that enjoyed being social as a team during morning workouts instead of at the hotel bar each night. That changed things… fewer late nights, better sleep, fewer calories and more exercise. On top of that, I learned that opting for smarter food choices – sushi instead of chinese, and a glass of red wine instead of a heavy beer, oil and vinegar instead of ranch – can make a huge difference. 

I guess it’s time for me to brush off those learnings from last year, drop the fries, and opt for some fruit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and SELF-CONTROL.”