Minister, redefined.

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As part of the pre-marriage ministry that my wife and I lead at our church, I occasionally perform wedding ceremonies for couples that have gone through the class. I can’t help but laugh thinking about meeting the father-of-the-groom before the first wedding I performed. I can’t remember the conversation verbatim, but it went something like this,

“So you led our son’s marriage preparation?”

“Yes, I did.”

“But you don’t work at the church?”

“No, I don’t.”

“What do you do?”

“I work in brand strategy for one of the big companies in town.”

“Oh… I see.”

He didn’t see. He thought it was very odd that some branding guy was standing with a Bible in-hand ready to perform his son’s wedding. But I can’t really blame him – most people seem a little confused by the notion of a minister that doesn’t work for a church, and to be honest, there was at time in my life when it confused me too. 

Thankfully my perspective was shaped during my seminary years by a great guy who owned his own merger & acquisition consultancy with his daughter, while occasionally serving as an interim pastor at churches. He reminded me that the word “minister” has grown quite narrow and that it’s as much a verb – to attend to the needs of others – as it is a noun. As Christians, we are called to minister: to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God (Micah 6).  Even the Apostle Paul, arguably the greatest minister in history, had a day job as a tent maker (Acts 18).

As a result I returned to the secular workplace.  If there weren’t Christians trying to live Godly lives in the secular workplace then we’d all work at churches, hoping that someone might walk in the door on Sunday morning (don’t get me wrong – I thank the Lord that there are great folks working at our churches!).  Today, I truly relish being back in there, trying to serve God by serving those around me. It isn’t about obnoxiously evangelizing or holding prayer meetings by the water cooler – it’s about treating people in a manner that honors God and letting them experience a taste of the grace that we’ve received . 

In a nutshell, I learned that regardless of whether or not I had a seminary education, worked at a church, or performed weddings, I could be a minister – and so can you. 

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God’s Number Four

This week we’ll be looking at some of the most basic Biblical instruction – the Ten Commandments -and their relevance in today’s corporate workplace.

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I recently recalled a conversation that I had a few years back when I lived in Chicago with a gentleman who was being considered as our new church pastor. It was immediately clear to me that he was more than capable (and has turned out to be a fantastic pastor) and so I really only had one question for him – “How are you at keeping the Sabbath?” He paused, chuckled and said, “Did someone from my current church tell you to ask me that?”

No one had to tell me to ask that. I had spent a couple of years in seminary and while I was there I learned that keeping the Sabbath holy is the one commandment that is kept just as poorly by many in ministry as those in other professions. Today, the demands of increased global competition in the corporate sector and the prevelence of mobile technology has made it even more difficult for all of us to take a break for a day. In fact, if you missed it there was recently a study from the UK about the harmful impacts of those that are addicted (literally) to mobile technologies. It was a sobering article.

Now before my wife has a chance to comment about my own Blackberry addiction (I’ll give it a check if I get up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night), I should note that I’ve had to become purposeful about keeping the Sabbath holy. I need to spend some time thinking on Friday or Saturday morning to how I’ll get my personal and work tasks done before Sunday in order to keep it free from work. But I can vouch for this -it’s worth it.

The reason I asked our new pastor that question is that I’ve seen in my own life the effects of not resting – stress, being crabby with family and co-workers, eating poorly, and decreased resistance to all kinds of other temptations. We forget sometimes that God’s commandments not only honor him but they benefit us. The Sabbath is a really simple concept – don’t work on one day of the week (which ever day works for you – it doesn’t have to be Sunday). We’re not meant to make this a legalistic thing (per Jesus in Mark 2), but as author Lynn Babb put it, “It’s a day where you focus on being, rather than being productive.” It’s a time to consider our blessings, take stock of our lives, and to let the Lord replenish us.

It can be easy to ignore God’s fourth commandment, but he saw fit to put it up there with not cheating on our spouses or worshiping false gods. It isn’t just a commandment; it’s a glimpse into the nature of how God made us. We need a Sabbath. Without it, we risk moving through life too quickly without a chance to make the most of it or fully experience it. If you find yourself dragging a little this morning because you didn’t get much of a break yesterday, it’s not too early to begin considering this coming Sunday.

If you’d like some practical tips on how to get started, here’s a great article from Crosswalk.

Is This Where God Wants Me?

Have you ever been sitting in your cube at work, or been in the middle of a boring meeting and wondered, “Is this really where God wants me spending my days?” Or perhaps you’ve been looking for a new job and thought, “Does God really care about which of these companies I work for?”

God’s will is a difficult thing for us to get our heads around. I’ve met people who think that God only cares about the condition of our hearts, not whom we marry or where we work. I’ve met others who think that God is trying to lead them in almost every daily decision. So what does the Bible have to say about God’s will for our jobs? Here’s a few of the big ideas:

God wants us to work. God had Adam and Eve working before “the fall” in the Garden of Eden, so we know it’s in his original plans for us. Revelation 21 tells us that we’ll work in heaven as well, and as I mentioned in our first post, the Bible tells us to work as though we are working for the Lord… because we are!

God will lead us. In Proverbs 3, we find this,

Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will direct your paths.”

It says seek his will in all we do. Ask God for counsel and he’ll give it. If you’re looking for a new job, ask him to direct you to it. If you’re feeling discontented at work, ask him for guidance (I do this often and I usually sense him telling me to stay put and get my priorities right). God tells us that he’s our heavenly father, and as a father I can tell you that if one of my kids asked me for some job advice, I’d certainly give it freely. 

Put your trust in God’s leading, not yours. James, who led the first Christian church in Jerusalem told his followers in the book of James, 

Look here, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.’ How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, ‘If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.’ Otherwise you are boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil.”

So James doesn’t say that going off and trying to earn a buck somewher is evil. Rather, he says that we shouldn’t assume that our plans take priority. Implicit in what James wrote is that sometimes we won’t be able to feel a strong conviction about God’s will for our work plans, but it does confirm that he has a will.  The key is in being willing to follow him where we believe he’s directing us, and time will tell if that choice bears fruit.

Are you bearing fruit in your current job? Have you been able to invest in the lives of others, to be productive, and feel satisfied? If not, pray for guidance, and consider reading the book of James in the New Testament. It’s first chapter tells us that if we seek wisdom from God, he won’t withold it.

Happy Monday

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Ever start the week and feel like you’re acting out a scene in the movie Groundhog Day? Some Mondays just seem like the beginning of another monotonous week – the same office, the same “to do” list, and the same challenges. Not every Monday is like this, but sometimes it’s easy to feel a bit uninspired.

When I feel like this, I try and remind myself that I’m missing the point. It’s the people that make work special, and our lives and theirs rarely stay the same. Marriages, auto repairs, graduations, relationships, deaths, hockey games, pregnancies, vacations, and haircuts – life is always moving and the more of those rote, predictable weeks we experience, the more opportuntities we get to better know our coworkers. As time passes, we become not just spectators of their lives, but important parts of them.

When asked by a religious leader of his day what the most important command in the ancient Hebrew scriptures was, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:5 (later known as the Shema Yisrael – to love God with all of your heart) and then he added something else,

“The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31 NLT)

Love your neighbor as yourself. I’m not sure about you, but the neighbors I see the most of aren’t the people across the street, they are the ones across the aisle. This week there may be those moments when work is really work, and as I posted a few days ago, we can’t shirk our responsibilty to be productive. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that we have opportunities to stop and listen – really listen – to our workplace neighbors who want to share a little about their lives with a friendly, encouraging coworker.

Tune in tomorrow for more thoughts on how to invest in the lives of our workplace neighbors.

Introducing: The Cubicle Congregation

Welcome to the first post of the Cubicle Congregation, which refers to the millions of Christians across the globe that spend their weekdays in offices. This blog is meant to serve as an encouragement to those who would like to behave as Christians – loving others, making choices of integrity, and working hard with a sound work ethic – in the corporate world.

Let’s start with a really simple concept – pleasing your boss. In this case, I’m not referring to the man or woman who does your yearly review, but to God. When the apostle Paul wrote to the people at the church in Ephesus in modern-day Turkey, he wrote that we should, “Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” (Ephesians 6:7, NLT)  I don’t know about you, but I’ve had great bosses and not-so-great bosses, and it certainly effects my motivation and performance at work. But Paul is saying here that our performance standard must be higher – it needs to be based on serving the ultimate Supervisor, who is wiser, more loving and faithful than any human boss we’ll ever encounter. Let’s meditate on that thought and let it motivate us as we head into the work week.