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.

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Hypocricy in the church

We’ve all seen them – people claiming to be Christians, or churchgoers, or “religious” (a term that I’ve always shied away from) but don’t have a clue what it means to live lives in obedience to Christ. They show up to church and are willing to judge others for not doing so, yet can’t seem to forgive others, show mercy or act sacrificially.

My friends, in marketplace terms, these folks are our competition. As we pray for our coworkers and try our best to represent (re-present) the grace of Jesus to those around us, we are sometimes overshadowed by those who mis-represent what it means to be a Christian. Unfortunately, even in a world of Mother Theresas, it would be the lone, coiffed, money-grubbing televangelist that would garner the most attention.

Jesus didn’t exactly appreciate the hypocrites of his day either, most of whom were religious leaders (Pharisees).  The entire 23rd chapter of Matthew is about hypocritical church leaders, and one of his choice comments is found in Matt 23:25-26,

“How terrible it will be for you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! You are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy – full of greed and self-indulgence! Blind Pharisees! First wash the inside of the cup, and then the outside will become clean, too.”

Many have turned from God because of the actions of hypocrites in the church, and we should be on guard at work. We should first be on guard not to be chumming around the workplace with those that behave this way or else our own integrity could be marred. Additionally, and even more importantly, we should guard against the “yeast of the Pharisees” (Matt 16) in our own hearts. Sometimes our own behaviors betray us, and little is more impactful to our workplace ministry than rooting them out.  Jesus said that when the inside of the cup becomes clean, the outside becomes clean too. We can lean on that bold prayer that King David prayed in Psalm 139:23-24, lest we become the competitor among us.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”

Fireproof bridges

Did you ever have that girlfriend or boyfriend that you just couldn’t seem to stay broken up with when you were younger? Well, I’m beginning to see a parallel in the workplace.

I got talking with a friend who leads some of our new-hire training today and he mentioned to me that when we lose new-hires to other jobs, its almost always to their old employer. As I pondered that, I bumped into another old friend who had just returned to the company after working elsewhere!

You know the drill. A company offers you a job, and you think you’ve won the lottery. You take your job on romantic carriage rides and take closeup pictures of the two of you with your digital camera. After a while, the romance wanes but you’re happy not being on the market, searching Monster for available hotties. Pretty soon, you can’t figure out how this slouch of a job ever earned your affection in the first place and you are just certain that there’s truckloads of hot prospects waiting for you to become free. Ah, romance.

But who am I to talk? I was an intern at our company in college and then left after the summer. I came back the next summer and left again. Then I came back as a contractor, finally got hired, only to leave the company five years later to go back to school. Then, you guessed it, I came back to the company less than a year after getting my MBA. The lessons in all of this?

I learned two. First, our capacity for taking our employers for granted is pretty darned high. The cliche is often true – it’s not always sunnier on the other side of the street.  Second, it’s best not to burn your bridge because you might find yourself doing an about-face as you take that last step off of it.

James tells us in James 3 that, “the tongue is a flame of fire” that can set those bridges ablaze. Being thankful and keeping our tongue in check is key.  Paul tells his friends in the Colossian church in Col 3:16-17,

“Let the words of Christ, in all their richness, live in your hearts and make you wise… And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father.”

Yep, that should pretty much keep us out of trouble.

“So what will He do?”

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I remember when I first moved to Chicago and started meeting new people, it seemed that everyone immediately asked me the same question – “So, what do you do?” In a transient city where people move primarily for career advancement, what you “do” is of significant conversational interest. Personally, I usually found the question off-putting.

Admittedly, I didn’t have an impressive job title to offer in response (nor do I today, for that matter). Job titles can be consuming. Since they are printed on our business cards, they are meant to be publicly shared with individuals whom we deem to be important. Instead of being a reminder of our role within our organization, they can represent a  convenient, but shallow, summary of our career accomplishments. There are good reasons why some banks are known to have hundreds of Vice Presidents calling on influential clientele.

To conclude this week’s series of posts inspired by Christian songs, I’d like to share with you the song, Meant For So Much More by Switchfoot. The lyrics of this song remind me that God’s plans for us are infinitely more important than our current job situation.

King David wrote in Psalm 40:4-5,

 Blessed is the man 
 who makes the LORD his trust, 
 who does not look to the proud, 
 to those who turn aside to false gods.

Many, O LORD my God, 
are the wonders you have done. 
The things you planned for us 
no one can recount to you; 
were I to speak and tell of them, 
they would be too many to declare.”

Defining our significance by our job titles or our career accomplishments is a tempting but dangerously misleading practice.  However, when we consider how much more God has in store for us, we can stand in awe of our incredible worth to the Author of our Universe.

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…

The here-and-now

The other day I was driving down the street when a sign in front of a church caught my eye. It said, “Slow down. Your time will come.” It stuck with me. I’ve wondered what led someone to put that on their church’s sign. Was it a pun meaning that we should literally slow down as we drove by? Was it someone’s reaction to a bothersome parishioner who was impatient with how their life was progressing? Or was it a rather prescient insight into our lack of ability to enjoy the moment? Either way, I thought that there was some wisdom buried in that simple message.

When I first moved to Chicago I had a job hosting a lot of clients on behalf of our company there. It wasn’t the highest job on the local org chart, but it paid the rent, involved meeting thousands of new people each year, and it was a job that I could “turn off” at 5pm each evening that didn’t keep me up at night. It was a perfect job for someone new to the big city who wanted to meet people but not be worked to death. Yet for whatever reason, I spent most of my time in that job trying to get promoted out of it. Years later, I regretted not enjoying that job while I had it.

The same is sometimes true of our spiritual lives. We either live in the past or yearn for the future, taking today’s many blessings for granted.  Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 7:8 that,”patience is better than pride.” Pride leads us to believe that we should deserve something bigger; patience allows us to enjoy the present. To enjoy today requires we be present, mentally and emotionally, in the here-and-now.

How about this for a different spiritual challenge?  Today, let’s have fun and enjoy our jobs. 

Oh, and while this has nothing to do with the post, I thought it was pretty funny.

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