Modern-day Elijah & Elisha

 

When I moved from Grand Rapids to Chicago back in the late nineties, I was blessed to meet someone that changed the course of my career. Deb is a veteran salesperson, greatly respected for both her talents and her character. Over time, she began to mentor me (although I’m not sure I ever called her my mentor until after I left Chicago), and I can thank her today for teaching me the ropes and giving me a tremendous foundation upon which to build, much of which I now share with our younger employees.

There are a variety of mentorship relationships in the Bible, but perhaps top on my list of interesting ones is that of Elijah and Elisha. Elijah’s incredible efforts to thwart the worship of the idol Baal has made his name synonymous with Israel’s great prophets. His protege Elisha stuck close to Elijah, not just learning from him, but offering him his sound loyalty (“As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.”) When it came time for Elijah to die, Elisha’s only request was that he receive a “double portion” of Elijah’s spirit (2 Kings 2), and he went on to perform some of the most amazing miracles recorded in the BIble.

With mentorship programs on the rise in Corporate America (check out this article from March’s Businessweek), now is the perfect time to look for a mentor, a protegee, or both. What a great way for us to learn, share, and perhaps earn the right to invest in someone else’s life.

 

Modern-day Asa

 

“The older I grow the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.” – H.L. Mencken

We continue this week’s look at Old Testament figures that can teach us a think or two about being a Christian in Corporate America with a look at Asa.  Before Asa became king of Israel, the nation had been led for decades by those who worshipped idols. Upon becoming king, Asa wholeheartedly gave his heart and that of his nation’s to the Lord. He purged the nation of idol worship and relied upon God for sustenance and wisdom.

One of the great moments of Asa’s reign was when a huge army of Ethiopians came north to invade Israel. After Asa cried out to the Lord, “O Lord, no one but you an help the powerless against the mighty! Help us, O Lord our God, for we trust in you alone.” the Lord helped Israel achieve victory despite being outnumbered.

However, with age Asa began to rely too heavily upon his own knowledge and no longer felt that he should trust in “God alone.” When another smaller army came threatening, Asa came up with his own scheme – a partnership with the local pagan Arameans. The plan worked, but a prophet told Asa that he had blown it by not seeking God’s input. For the rest of his life, Asa remained too stuborn to admit his wrongdoing and never fully turned back to the Lord.

I’ve been surrounded by veteran members of our company for many years and have found that they are a very diverse lot. Some seem to reinvent themselves constantly, learning new things and engaging with new (and often younger) people, while others seem stuck in earlier eras. In our world of constant change – where markets, strategies, technologies and conventional wisdom change quicker than the price of gasoline – growing too reliant upon our own smarts can be a terrible liability. Wisdom is timeless, but being wise means remembering how we grow as professionals  – through keeping an open mind, learning from others, and always seeking God’s will in important decisions.

Modern-day Amos

 

Have you ever noticed how much better known the people and stories of the New Testament are than the Old Testament? As a bonafide history geek, I enjoy looking back at books like 1 & 2 Chronicles, the books of “minor” prophets such as Hosea and Habakkuk, and digging up some of the classic narratives from Genesis. So for something a little different this week, I thought I’d highlight some of the folks I’ve found interesting from the OT and we’ll see if their lives offer us any helpful perspectives for being a 21st Century Christian in Corporate America.

Do you ever sense that you’re in the midst of a world that never really stops and thinks about their relationship with God? Sure, lots of folks go to church, some might even tip God a $20 when the basket passes by, but the stuff they hear in the Bible (or don’t hear) and the exhortations of the minister never seem to transcend that hour on Sunday mornings…

Welcome to the life of Amos. Amos was a shepherd living in Israel about 700+ years or so before Jesus was born. Israel was in a time of prosperity, and while religious ritual was common, living God-pleasing lives was rare. God called Amos to take a break from his day job to send some prophecy to Israel’s leaders that, well, wasn’t exactly optimistic. He was quick to explain that he was an amateur (“I’m not one of your professional prophets. I certainly never trained to be one.“) and used his position among the people to tell them what God needed them to hear, and to set a bold example of devotional living for them.

This is us, friends. We might not be paid ministers, but we find ourselves in a land of prosperity, often surrounded by those that think being a Christian is about weekly church attendance. Like Amos, we should be perceptive of the differences between rituals and authentic Godly living. After using Amos to rebuke Israel for all of its immoral behavior, the Lord said, “I hate all of your show and pretense – the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.”

So should we go and tell someone at work who is acting in an ungodly manner that their ritualistic church attendance displeases God? Maybe, but I also believe that we’re sometimes called to add perspective in the workplace in more subtle ways than what Amos was asked to do in his day.

If we lead dynamic, God-honoring lives, people are bound to notice. When they do, we should encourage them to see beyond the doldrums of rote religious service.  Can you imagine being stuck going to weekly church services while stuck in a life that was devoid of spiritual vigor? How boring. As C.S. Lewis once said,

“Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

A departure from the norm

So I follow a fairly rote and formulaic approach to these posts… I post before each weekday and try to use some event from work to dig into scripture and share what I learn. Oh, and I try and find a cool picture to kick off the post. But allow me a singluar digression.

This week was exhausting. Meeting after meeting after meeting, many resulting in work that has yet to be completed. I spent time on facebook this evening IM’ing someone about a meeting next Tuesday (which, thank goodness, is actually scheduled not for next Tuesday but for August 27th, which I think is good, right?) I had a coworker come and find me to ask my help with something (actually to let me know that I’ve got a new task) that needs to be complete by mid-June. After checking my schedule, I tallied it up… I have four hours free (cumulatively) between this afternoon and June 16.

Is this the new reality of the workplace? Are we each destined to do the work of 1.5 people and our days will be spent in group meetings with individual work done over lunches and at night? I’m guessing (praying) that this trend will ultimately correct itself or that some technology will simplify this.

Thoughts?

Spiritual legitimacy

I love to read history, particularly about the formation of the U.S. during the Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary years. I’ve been Reading a book about Hamilton by Ron Chernow that reminded me that winning the war against Britain was just the first step towards creating a legitimately independent country. The second step, which was nearly as challenging, was making the US financially solvent. Only through millions of dollars worth of loans secured from the Dutch by John Adams, combined with the formation of the first federal bank by Hamilton (two men that, ironically, couldn’t trust one another), was our new country truly considered by others to be legitimate. It was weapons that enabled our independence, but currency that gained the trust needed to secure it.

In our modern economy, money doesn’t buy trust. In fact, it’s the opposite. The musical Cabaret got it wrong when Liza Minnelli sang that money makes our world go round. Trust is what makes the world go round. Our world is a highly interdependent ecosystem of relationships and trust is what makes those relationships legitimate. This is true of all relationships: child-parent, customer-salesperson, husband-wife, friend-friend, lender-borrower, coworker-coworker, employee-boss. Trust is the infrastructure upon which each of these relationships is built and if we want to legitimately impact our world, trust must be present in our relationships.

When it comes to faith, we should remember the role of trust in helping others grow closer to God. People come to faith through trust. Paul wrote in Romans 3:22 that, “We are made right in God’s sign when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins.” Likewise, others who know that we’re Christian will over time either come to trust that our faith is true or otherwise and most of these impressions are formed on a day-to-day basis. Sure, big life moments can prove our trust, but trust is built daily. Brendan Manning (I first wrote Brendan Morrow – can anyone tell it’s Stanley Cup playoff time?) offered us this fantastic quote,

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”  

If we aspire to be positive spiritual influences in our workplace, it starts with first proving our own faith legitimate by making the small, daily decisions that allow us to build the trust of others over time.

(Speaking of trust, I’ve got some big things this week that need my attention – my new team is spending the week together in Grand Rapids, I’m celebrating an anniversary with my wife, and I still need to put the finishing touches on the message for a wedding I’m performing this Saturday… as such, I wanted to give you a head’s up that I’m going to be blogging less frequently this week but I’ll still post occasionally. Trust me.)

You can quote me on this, part deux

A quick add-on to yesterdays post…

As powerful as quotes can be in terms of enlightening and persuading others, have you ever noticed how few people seem to be able to quote (or paraphrase) scripture naturally into conversation? This is particularly important when talking with non-Christians who aren’t used to pulling numbered quotes out of their brains to apply in daily situations. For some reason, people think they need to introduce Biblical ideas differently than they would other ones.

Some seem to slow down their speech and breifly borrow Charlton Heston’s voice, Well you know,the Apostle Paul wrote in First Thessalonians that Jesus will someday… COME FROM HEAVEN WITH A LOUD COMMAND!!” 

Or how about those folks that like to quote the King James version verbatim? “Well Bill, that’s a good question. I like to think of 1 Thessalonians 4:8 when God said, ‘He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.”‘Uh huh. Okee-dokey.

The worst offenders are those that have actually gone to seminary (yes, me included) and have payed $40k to learn how to stop relating to all non-theologians. “Oh, you’re feeling like the world is turning for the worst, Mary? Well, allow me to reference the eschatalogical prophecies found in the Pauline epistles, specifically the fourth chapter of the epistle to the church at Thessalonia.” Oh, please do.

Moses made things pretty clear for the Israelites when he gave them God’s law. He told them that God’s words should “be upon your hearts” and he told the people to “talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deut 6:6-9). In other words, they should really know them and talk about God’s word and see how they apply in their lives.

If we aspire to be Bible quoters, we first need to be Bible-appliers… applying God’s word in our own daily lives and sharing relatable perspectives that are derived from doing so.

You can quote me on this.

Ever notice how often quotes get used in business language? Business talks and PowerPoints are peppered with quotes from modern day business gurus like Peter Drucker, Seth Godin, Malcom Gladwell and Bill Gates. Most are used to justify a key point, but every once in a while they just seem to do a great job capturing a big thought. I’ve had a favorite quote near my cube for the last few years by Michael Hammer. In his book The World Is Flat, he wrote,

“One thing that tells me a company is in trouble is when they tell me how good they were in the past. Same with countries. You don’t want to forget your identity. I am glad you were great in the fourteenth century, but that was then and this is now. When memories exceed dreams, the end is near. The hallmark of a truly successful organization is the willingness to abandon what made it successful and start fresh.”

I’ve found this quote relevant in many contexts, including at work, in politics, in family matters, and in our churches. In business, it’s a cry for reinvention. With respect to our spiritual lives, it can be a reminder not to live in the past.

It’s critically important to understand our history, both as individual Christ-followers and as his collective body here on Earth. We should always remember him (as we do in communion) and what he did for us when he was on Earth, as well as what he’s done for us in our lives as we’ve walked with him. But we shouldn’t stop there. Do we spend enough time dreaming of what God will do, and whether or not we might get to help play a part in his plans? I know that I don’t. Many of us fall into the trap of thinking too fatalistically about the future, as if it’s going to hell in a handbasket and God has nothing wonderful in store until the Jesus returns. As the great William Carey once said, “Attempt great things for God, expect great things from God.”

In Godly matters, history builds our trust and cements our faith, but it’s the future that evokes hope and inspires action. When our memories exceed our dreams, the end is near.