Legacies

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Ever stop and wonder what is it that we’re really trying to accomplish as individuals in the workplace? Better jobs? More authority? Nicer titles? More money? Sometimes it’s good to take a step back and evaluate where we’re heading and why.

This week I’d like to use some great Christian songs from recent years as inspiration for my posts. Yesterday, I got listening to Nichole Nordeman’s song Legacy and as a result got thinking about what legacy I’d like to leave through my working years. Without having to think too long, I began to realize that it’s the people, not the position, that make a difference. 

When I think of someone who is creating a wonderful legacy at work, I think of my friend Shirley.  She’s not just my friend; she’s everyone’s friend. She works at our training center and is one of the people who helps new employees get settled into our culture and shepherds them through their training. I’m not really sure what her title is, who she reports to, or all that jazz because none of that stuff really matters once you meet her. She’s nurturing, funny, a fantastic listener, and insatiably optimistic. And best of all, she’s a Christian who cares very deeply about living a life of discipleship and isn’t afraid to say so.  I wish there were more Christians like her in the workplace.  

I can’t help but feel that I spend too much time trying to leave a legacy based on career accomplishments, while forgetting that we’re here to represent (literally, “re-present”) Jesus to a world that has seen too many lousy examples of those who claim to do so.

Nichole Nordeman asked the right question in her song when she asks, “Did I point to You enough to make a mark on things?” I aspire to someday leave my kids something to remember more interesting and important about their dad’s career than my old job titles.

If you’re not familiar with Nichole Nordeman, she’s one of my wife and my favorite artists, and Legacy is one of my favorite songs from her. If you haven’t heard it, take a listen…

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Seeking and receiving rest

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I’m tired. Our youngest child was up for hours last night with what I can only assume was a teething problem. As a result, I’ve felt like a zombie all day.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve dragged myself through a workday. There are those inevitable unexpected demands (Red Wings games) that come up in the course of a week that require us to get less sleep than required. And there have been times when I’m exhausted not from lack of sleep, but from the sheer stress and chaos encountered during the workday.

I’ve learned the hard way that we need rest not only to function in our work activities, but to function well spiritually. I know that being tired makes me less productive, less patient with coworkers, and according to a recent article, fat. It’s pretty tough to be a good representation of Christ when you’re staring at your computer monitor, sniping at the person next to you, or stealing their morning danish. Mmm… danish.

If you missed this post, I believe strongly that one great way to stay physically replenished is by taking a Sabbath each week. Beyond taking a Sabbath (and the eight hours of sleep that I fully intend to get each night post-playoffs) we can seek mental rest from the challenges of the daily grind through Jesus. In, Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus said,

Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

A yoke is a wooden frame that was used in Jesus’ day to hitch two oxen together while plowing a field. If Jesus is willing to be yoked with us – to be hitched with us to share in our burdens and lighten our load during the demands of our days – then we should take a moment to seek him during the day. That’s a prayer that shouldn’t wait until bedtime.

The risk and rewards of Christian enterprise

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Most of my blog posts are about what it’s like to be a Christian in corporate America, but today I’d like to touch briefly on something even more specific – Christian companies. There are a small number of entrepreneurs that have started these organizations – companies that have explicitly Christian missions – who try to balance profits with purpose.

I’ve been aware of some of the most famous of these corporations, mostly large ones such as Servicemaster, Curves, and Chick-fil-A, for some time. I’ve learned, though,  that there are many more smaller Christian companies out there as well.  As an example, I’ve passed this sign many times here in Grand Rapids and only recently went on their website to learn more about this Christian company.

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I applaud those who start Christian companies, as doing so comes with a lot of risks and rewards. On the upside, it allows someone with a mature faith to express it in their organization’s culture, to nurture employees in a holistic manner, and to differentiate their organization in the marketplace as a company that can be trusted to behave with integrity. 

However, there are big risks as well. As an example, Christian entrepreneurs risk abandoning non-Christian clientele, although this is relatively minor given that a majority of Americans identify themselves as Christians. More importantly, though, they expose their behaviors and the behaviors of their employees to tremendous scrutiny and risk tarnishing the reputation of Christ in doing so. If taken seriously, this risk can become a source of tremendous accountability if a business owner is willing to do whatever is necessary, including sacrificing profits, to protect the organization’s reputation. There is one other less-understood risk, and that’s the risk of hurting, rather than encouraging, their employees’ faith. Whenever Christianity becomes highly institutionalized (as an example, say… Western Europe) the faith can be percieved over time as imposed and legalistic, usually resulting in an abandoning of the it.

To do it right, owners of Christian companies must maintain a vibrant Christian culture that doesn’t just permit, but actively encourages, employees to live out their faith at work. A clear, simple message about the role of faith in the company is best, and legalism should be avoided. One strong example would be the approach that Truett Cathy has taken with Chick-fil-A. To read his “recipe” for business success, click here.

Deuteronomy 6 encourages us to write God’s word on our doorposts and our gates. For some faithful business owners, that also includes putting it in their mission statement and exterior signage.

Sacrificial smiles

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We had some good news today – my mom got a great new job. We’d been praying for some time that God not only provide her with a job, but that it would be one that put her many talents to good use and that she would enjoy. He generously delivered on our requests – praise God!

Actually, we’ll probably not offer the Lord nearly as much praise as we should. Like most, I’m guilty of offering a lot more petitions in my prayers than praises. It shouldn’t be that way.  I once heard someone say that God takes his biggest risks with us when he gives us blessings. When we’re in need, most of us take the time to get closer with God in order to petition him for assistance. Then, when he generously says “Yes”, then WHAM – we’re outta there.  We’re too comfy living the good life to give many thoughts or thanks to the big guy.

There’s a guy named Asaph (actually Asaph may also refer to the name of an Israelite clan) who wrote a number of Psalms, including Psalm 50, which is about giving authentic thanks. It’s worth a read.  The Psalm provides great instruction – take the time to appreciate God’s generosity and “make thankfulness your sacrifice to God.” (Psalm 50:14) 

Offering a sincere “Thank you, my Lord” is a simple sacrifice that blesses God, and something tells me that if I rejoiced always, as 1Thes 5:16 suggests, my relationship with God and my quality of life would be blessed as well.

I’d better get started… praise God for Psalm 50!

Deep waters

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An odd thing happened the other day – I told someone that I work in brand strategy. Why is that odd? Because in January I stopped working in branding and now work in sales strategy. I didn’t forget which department I worked in; it was something else. It seems that despite spending most of my career in sales, I’d now prefer to identify myself as a branding guy.

If I view this through a business lens, it shouldn’t surprise me. “Tribal marketing” has been a dominant force in the marketplace for many years. It refers to the decisions that consumers make based upon what the product says about their identity – which groups people prefer to belong to drives their purchasing decisions. People buy Jeeps, Apple computers, and Abercrombie clothing because they identify with the brand, or rather, the brands identify them. It’s also, as my wise wife recently pointed out to me, the reason that the same people who complain about higher gas prices spend $1,000 each year buying themselves a cup of Starbucks each morning.

Through a business lens, my desire to identify myself with spectacle-sporting, jean-wearing, Apple-computing, design-driven, brand specialists makes a ton of sense. Through a Christian worldview, though, it says something less acceptable – that there is pride lurking underneath my conversational faux pas and that I’ve allowed my job description to help shape my identity and self worth. I know better than this – we’re called to singularly identify ourselves as followers of Christ and to be in, but not of, this world .

Proverbs 20:5 reads, “the purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.”  Sometimes pursuing godliness means being willing to dive deep underneath the surface of seemingly benign behaviors that are easily ignored.

Messing up at work

Happy Monday! I hope each of you had a blessed and reflective Easter. I was reminded by a very fine sermon at our church that the resurrection is just as important as the cross. Jesus died for our sins on the cross, but resurrection became real for us three days later. I’m glad that God is still in the resurrection business, because I make lots of mistakes – including in business.

As an example, I found myself apologizing to a coworker on Thursday. I hadn’t actually offended her, but I realized that I should have been more supportive earlier when someone else upset her. It certainly wasn’t the first time I’ve apologized to a coworker, and usually for offenses far worse than this.

I can’t remember who once gave me this advice, but I was told that a sincere apology is far more memorable than most offenses. Thankfully, I’ve found this to be true.  In Psalm 25:8-9, David wrote,

 The Lord is good and does what is right;
      he shows the proper path to those who go astray.
 He leads the humble in doing right,
      teaching them his way.”

If as Christians in the corporate world we really want to make a difference in the lives of our coworkers, we should begin by accepting God’s forgiveness for our own mistakes and offering apologies sincerely and often.

(and here’s an oldie but a goodly – DC Talk’s “What if I Stumble?”)

Steve, Max, John and Stanley

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 Well, it’s been nearly six weeks of blogging and somehow I’ve managed to not mention the Detroit Red Wings. Of course this blog is about faith at work, but those of you who know me know that I’m obsessed with hockey. I thank the Lord regularly for the joy that I experience watching the Red Wings (you think I’m kidding… I’m not).

My all-time favorite player is Steve Yzerman. One of the reasons that he’s my favorite is that after ten years of being one of the greatest offensive scorers in the league he decided to become one of its best defensive forwards. Why? Because despite the fact that his own scoring stats would suffer, he felt that’s what the Wings needed to win the Stanley Cup. The next year in 1997 they did, forty-two years after they’d last won it. And under his leadership, they did again in 1998 and 2002.

Now from Steve to Max – Max DePree. He’s one of my favorite Christian businessmen and authors and while I’ve never met him, I have great respect for him. One of my favorite quotes by him is, “We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.” I’m guessing Stevie Y would agree.

As the weather has warmed and spring has sprung, my attention has turned the overgrown shrubs by our back fence that need pruning. That’s where John comes in, specifically the agricultural analogy that Jesus uses in John 15, 1-2: 

I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.”

I’m wondering what part of who I am needs to be left behind. Are my opinions crowding out those of my coworkers? Is my own ambition impeding the progress of our team? Or how about the really big challenge – what part of who I am needs to be pruned back so that I can reflect the grace that Jesus offers in my daily behavior?

That goal is my own, spiritual Stanley Cup.