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.

 

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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.”

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.

A ready explanation

One of the most important pieces of scripture for any Christian in the workplace is found in 1Peter 3:15, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” In fact, 1 Peter 3 is worth a read if you’ve not yet read it. Peter tells us earlier in this chapter that we should be live in harmony with those around us, being “compassionate and humble”, and when people ask us why we are hopeful people, we should be prepared to tell them about our faith in a manner that is gentle and respectful.

And how should we prepare our explanation? Personally, I’m not big into academic explanations – I’d prefer something sincere. I once heard a pastor say that coming to faith in Christ is the realization that we are far more sinful than we’d ever imagined, but far more loved (because of our redemption through Christ) than we’d ever dare dreamed. I liked that.

As far as learning resources, the book of Romans (particularly chapter 5) is a great explanation of the Christian faith, although it should be noted that it was directed towards a first-century Jewish audience so some of the references might not make immediate sense without a study bible. For me, beyond reading the Bible itself, I’ve really enjoyed a couple of “apologetics” resources, including the book Case for Christ by Lee Stroebel. I know that the book A Ready Defense by Josh McDowell is another popular resource. Also, if you’ve not yet checked it out, go to www.gotquestions.org. In particular, I like their question of the week which can be found at: http://www.gotquestions.org/questweek.html. Anyone else have any favorite resources?

Whether we rely on Biblical references or apologetics resources, the key is that our explanation of our faith is genuine and in our own words, because just when you least expect it… someone will ask.

And that’s a good thing.

 

Wronged at work

One of the best parts of working in corporate America is that it gives us the chance to be involved with people that we’d probably never spend time with outside of work. However, one of the downsides of working in corporate America is… that we work with people we’d probably never spend time with outside of work.

Although work is “work” – that seemingly distinct world where we make money to afford our real lives – it actually constitutes a large portion of our real lives whether we like it our not. It isn’t just somewhere we go to use a computer and sit through project meetings, it’s a place where we spend large portions of our time with people who might not always live their lives as we live ours.

As such, most of us at some point or another will be wronged by a boss or a co-worker. Sometimes issues arise out of misunderstandings or genuine differences in opinion, but every once in a while we encounter someone who is simply selfish and malicious. Most people aren’t primarily motivated by selfish ambition and most aren’t emotionally reckless, but there are unfortunately a small number of people whom are, and this has been a problem since the beginning of time. David wrote Psalm 55 after he was betrayed by someone he felt was a close friend. We wrote in verses 20-21,

“As for this friend of mine, he betrayed me; he broke his promises. His words are as smooth as cream, but in his heart is war. His words are as soothing as lotion, but underneath are daggers!”

When this happens, we should remember that God loves justice and loves it when his people act justly (Micah 6:8). Jesus told us that blessed are those “who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matt 5:6), and that those who are persecuted and insulted will also be blessed, for they will rewarded in heaven (Matt 5:10-12).

What he asks of us in these situations is to not give into revenge, but to forgive as we’ve been forgiven (which does not mean subjecting ourselves to repeated abuse), and to work under God’s direction. David advises us to hold on to God when the ground is falling out from under us. He says, “Give your burdens to the LORD, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.” (Ps 55:22)

Age and advice

 

I recently got reading yet another article about the generational dynamics happening within today’s workplace. It seems that this is the topic-du-jour right now, and on one hand I’m sick of reading about it, but on the other hand I’m fascinated by it. With millions of Baby Boomers exiting the workforce and only about half as many Gen X’ers to take their place, companies are facing both a knowlege-management crisis and a talent crunch. Well, at least they will until the mammoth number of Gen Y’ers flood the workplace. If those Baby Boomers would have only had their kids before their mid-thirties, we’d have a little smoother transition here.

This particular articlefrom Businessweek made an interesting observation – that younger workers (Gen Y or Millenials) are ignoring traditional hierarchical protocols and shooting off e-mails and phone calls to senior Baby Boomer leaders in order to tap into their expertise on various subjects.  Good for them. I’m all for them breaking down the boundaries and asking some VP for a little bit of knowledge if they need it.  I hope that this trend continues. Among the Baby Boomers in leadership that I know, I’ve witnessed a strong desire from them to pass on their wisdom to others before they reach retirement. I also got in a chat with our Western Canada sales manager recently and he told me about how “mentorship contracts” are becoming all the rage at the energy companies in Calgary. Baby Boomers are put on contract immediately after retirement to spend time in the office doing nothing but mentoring younger employees who need their help. Brilliant!

King David (who as King of Israel and father of wise Solomon should know something about providing counsel), wrote in Psalm 37:30-1,

“The godly offer good counsel; they know what is right from wrong. They fill their hearts wtih God’s law, so they will never slip from his path.”

What a good observation for all of us, young or old. I’ve been very blessed over the years to not only have older co-workers that were willing to teach me a thing or two, but a few Christian ones whose advice and wise counsel have made a real difference in my life. I hope that as I grow in my career that I can share a little something with some younger folks that are willing to ask. That is, if any of them are willing to bother with an ancient Gen X’er…