Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Keller's Every Good Endeavor - Chapter 7 - Work Becomes Selfish

I'll be facilitating a discussion on chapter seven (pages 113-128) of Keller's Work Thursday evening. Here are some questions I've pulled together for discussion.

One of the reasons work is both fruitless and pointless is the powerful inclination of the human heart to make work, and its attendant benefits, the main basis of one's meaning and identity. [113]

  1. Keller opens the chapter with a focus on Genesis 11 (Tower of Babel), stating that we "make a name for ourselves" with our work both individually and as groups. When it comes to making a name for yourself, where do you turn? Individually or a group? What role(s) or group(s)?
  2. Keller then moves to Esther, talking about the "power of the palace" and the compromises that often come with palace residence [118]. Did any of those stories resonate? Are there examples you can share in which you need to navigate "gray areas"?
  3. How do you get a new name based on something other than the palace? [123]

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Keller's Every Good Endeavor - Chapter 6 - Work Becomes Pointless

I'll be facilitating a discussion on chapter six (pages 98-112) of Keller's Work Thursday evening. Here are some questions I've pulled together for discussion.

  1. The chapter is largely based on the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes, starting with a reference to Ecclesiastes 2:17, "So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind." When do you find your work most meaningless? When do you find your work most meaningful?
  2. Keller says, "One of the reasons so many people find work to be unsatisfying is, ironically, that people today have more power to choose their line of work than did people in the past." Do you agree, disagree, why? What are important lessons learned from your choices?
  3. Keller closes the chapter with another reference to Ecclesiastes (4:5,6):

    "Fools fold their hands
        and ruin themselves.
     Better one handful with tranquility
        than two handfuls with toil
        and chasing after the wind."

    What are some useful strategies to attain what many people today refer to as work/life balance?


Monday, August 26, 2013

Redefining Work Panel Discussion

This panel discussion on redefining work is a lot like the discussions several of us have been having around the book Every Good Endeavor... except in our groups I'm the "theologian" and in this one Tim Keller is the theologian. So... I guess this discussion might be a bit more rich :-)

Monday, August 5, 2013

Not Just Wheat and Grapes

I was talking with my friend Merlin a few weeks ago when he said something along the lines of, “I think it is significant that when Jesus instituted Communion, he used bread and wine; it requires a great deal of skillful work to make bread and wine.” I’ve been thinking about that ever since, and I think Merlin is right; there is something really significant there.

I suppose Jesus could have chosen wheat and grapes, or maybe even something found in the wild. He could have made his point without any objects at all, or He could have miraculously produced the bread and wine Himself, like He had with other miracles in other circumstances before. But Jesus picked up the bread and the wine from the table that was prepared before Him, the work of the hands of others.

While this certainly isn’t the main point of Communion, I’m glad that Jesus ordained this rich practice of the Gospel with these objects produced by human hands. In doing so, Jesus made a profound statement about the dignity of our work. 

Apart from the miraculous, I doubt Jesus could make bread or wine. He could probably apply the skills of a carpenter when needed, but the skills of a winemaker or baker were outside of His experience. In order for this Holy moment to take place, Jesus had to rely on the skill and labor of others. Skilled farmers had to produce the wheat and the grapes. Others had to prepare the raw ingredients, skillfully storing them and perhaps transporting them. And yet others had to apply the crafts they had learned, likely passed down through generations and practiced for years before perfected. Countless skilled hands, and hours of labor, were represented as Jesus took the bread and the cup in His hands. The work of hands like ours, then in the hands of Jesus, all present as Jesus taught His Disciples, as well as us followers through the ages, the glorious Gospel.  

And so it continues today. While I believe there is still room for the spectacularly miraculous, Jesus usually operates the same way, picking up the result of our work from the table prepared before Him. He takes it into His hands, and puts it into the work of the Gospel. We ought to consider all of our work like this. Whatever it is we work at, we should think of it as something that will ultimately be placed in the hands of Jesus for His good purpose.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Keller on Redefining Work

Tim Keller recently led a post conference that followed The Gospel Coalition conference. Here is his opening talk that wonderfully summarizes his work in Every Good Endeavor.

Other media from both the conference and the post conference is available here.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Keller's Every Good Endeavor - Chapter 5 - Work Becomes Fruitless

I'll be facilitating a discussion on chapter five (pages 83-97) of Keller's work Monday evening. Here are some questions I've pulled together for discussion.
  1. Keller begins with a look of Genesis 3 and the impact of sin (under the subhead "Things Fall Apart"). Share some specific, recent examples from work about how things fall apart.
  2. On page 95, Keller begins to sum up the chapter with this: "That is why so many people inhabit the extremes of idealism and cynicism -- or even ricochet back and forth between those poles." Do you sense the same extremes in those around you? Do you occupy one of those poles? Or ricochet between those poles?
  3. How do we respond when work appears to be fruitless?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Keller's Every Good Endeavor - Chapter 4 - Work as Service

I'll be facilitating a discussion on chapter four (pages 64-80) of Keller's work Monday evening. Here are some questions I've pulled together for discussion.
  1. The Apostle Paul wrote: "Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches." (1 Cor 7:17)  Have you ever felt like a new or renewed commitment to faith required a vocational change? What instigated the urge to change and how did it turn out?
  2. Keller quotes Martin Luther [69]: "It is pure invention that Pope, bishops, priests, and monks are called the "spiritual estate" while princes, lords, artisans, and farmers are called the "temporal estate." This is indeed a piece of deceit and hypocrisy. Yet no one need be intimidated by it, and that for this reason: All Christians are truly of the spiritual estate, and there is no difference among them except that of office..." Do you believe that there is no difference in calling, no difference between ordained and laity, sacred and secular, etc.? How have your views changed over the years?
  3. How does your understanding of God's grace shape your understanding of your work? How about the work of others?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Keller's Every Good Endeavor - Chapter 3 - Work as Cultivation

I'll be facilitating a discussion on chapter three (pages 54-63) of Keller's work Monday evening. Here are some questions I've pulled together for discussion.
  1. Genesis 1:28 says:  God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.What does it mean to "fill the earth and subdue it?"
  2. Keller writes, "God's world is not hostile, so that it needs to be beaten down like an enemy. Rather, its potential is undeveloped, so it needs to be cultivated like a garden." He goes on to say that the pattern for all work is that it is both "creative and assertive." How do you view your work as cultivation?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Family Inc.

I recently listened to the HBR Ideacast titled: Can You Manage Your Family. Author Bruce Feiler was promoting his new book: The Secrets of Happy Families. The focus of the interview was on using current business theories and practices at home. It is interesting, and worth a listen or read (available here).

The interview seemed less about actually using business theories and practices at home, but more about using business jargon to help us think about our active participation in families. I'm in favor of that! I think jargon gets a bad wrap; it can be a very good thing when it helps clarify our thinking and communicate in our contexts. When we bring our jargon home, it often results in powerful metaphors. Whatever our field (musician, nurse, mechanic... ) it is a potent communication tool when we go to the trouble to say "It is like..."

When we bring our jargon home and work out the metaphors, it helps us connect the various parts of our own life... and it helps others get connect to the various parts of our life. It forces us to think creatively and be proactive. And that is a great thing, especially at home where we might too easily fall into the rut of passivity, taking the easy road without a boss to please or metrics to meet.     

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Keller's Every Good Endeavor - Chapter Two

I'll be facilitating a discussion on chapter two (pages 44-53) of Keller's work Monday evening. Here are some questions I've pulled together for discussion.

  1. It has been said that we (humans) were created for worship, or even fellowship, but Keller says that we are created for work (48).

    Which is it? Or are there even better answers?
  2. Keller states that "the material world matters" (51).

    How do we know that the material world matters?  

  3. Keller asserts that manual labor has no less dignity than knowledge work, and he goes on to say "that secular work has no less dignity and nobility than the sacred work of ministry.

    Do we believe that? Do we act like we believe that? What in our behavior might betray such a belief?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Congrats Dr. Taylor - New President at Evangel U

“Let your career pursue you,” Taylor said in a 2012 Evangel press release. “As women, our paths are diverse and unique. If you had told me when I was a student at Evangel that I was going to be president of a university someday, I could not have even imagined it. I am convinced that if we live each day of our lives in obedience to Him, everything else takes care of itself.” 

It is truly significant that the next president of Evangel will be a woman... but what is even more extraordinary (at least from my limited perspective) is that the next president of AGTS and CBC will be a woman. With consolidation, AGTS and CBC aren't disappearing; they are uniting the AG schools in the headquarters city under a new structure. It is great news that the Assemblies of God elected a woman to lead our national liberal arts college... but it is even bigger news that the AG elected a woman to lead our graduate seminary and undergraduate seminary. Great move; I'm proud to be an AG guy today!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Helping Students Connect Their Work With God's Work

Teresa Gillespie made some time for me today in her busy schedule. It was great to get caught up with her as we chatted in her office. 

Teresa serves as Dean of the School of Business and Management at Northwest University. She began her career as a school teacher on her home turf in the public schools of Los Angeles. Her pursuits then led her to the University of Washington to study law, and then to a 17-year career as a corporate attorney for US West.  She began to teach as an adjunct at Northwest in 2000 and then joined the faculty as a full-time professor in 2006. In 2008 she was promoted to serve as Dean, leading the business faculty, administering the University’s business curricula, and building new programs. 

In reflecting on her career she said, “I never expected to serve as Dean of a business school, but I can see that the Lord used my experience to thoroughly prepare me.” Her background and experience in teaching provides valuable tools she shares with her colleagues on the faculty. Her career at US West occurred during a time of constant, rapid change as the communications industry was being rebuilt and redefined as the Internet was taking hold. And her solid grounding in faith gave her the skills to integrate faith with life and work; the kind of integration that is unique to a place like Northwest. 

I asked her about what works when teaching students about work and calling. What seems to land with students as she and her colleagues endeavor to help students connect their work with God’s work?  

One of her teaching and research interests lies in the field of business ethics. She explained how she recently reworked her whole approach to the topic (an approach she’ll be presenting to peers at an academic conference in the coming months).  

She had been teaching courses in the tried and true ways, reviewing philosophies and evaluating case studies. There was one specific episode that stood out to her as a turning point. A graduate student turned in a paper that was part of a capstone course focused on business ethics in which the student needed to evaluate an ethical dilemma according to the philosophies and processes presented in the course. Teresa said, “The paper was an accomplished example of thorough analysis. But the problem was that the student arrived at the wrong conclusion… disappointingly justifying a self-serving decision.”  In this case, the professor took this as an opportunity to not merely assess the student’s performance, but courageously asses her own performance.

Now her approach includes leading her students to
  • Establish and adhere to codes and creeds,
  • Identify and emulate heroes (role models), and 
  • Anticipate and prepare for tough decisions and ethical crisis (practice).
She acquainted me with the MBA Oath, a movement that binds MBA graduates and students to each other and to higher ethical standards. Codes and creeds like this serve as a basis for students and professors to call one another to high standards; it is a new call to integrity and accountability that results in greater good.  

This approach is landing well with students, resulting in productive conversations and work. Teresa is seeing evidence that this new approach is making a difference.  

From my perspective as an MBA graduate, I’m impressed. It seems that such an approach steers students away from the selfish ambition that has been common among business students to a focus on stewardship.    

Way to go Teresa for your efforts to help students connect their work with God’s work!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

By the Numbers

I occasionally listen to the Freakonomics podcast; I find it interesting and entertaining... and appreciate the data-based analysis.

Following up on yesterday's post about Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In, I noticed a Freakonomics episode from last month entitled Women Are Not Men. It is a good 37-minute spin on gender equality from a uniquely Freakonomics point of view.

I think the most interesting segment of the podcast is their answer to the nature -v- nurture question.

And, as usual, they have some fun with numbers. For example, they pointed out that gender equality may not be all it is cracked up to be since men suffer a disproportionate amount of lightening-related fatalities (85%). Divine judgment?

If you are thinking about issues of gender and work and calling with me, take a few minutes and listen to the podcast, available by clicking here.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Lean In

Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, is in the news these days on the occasion of the release of her book: Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. I haven’t read the book yet… but I have listened to a few interviews (check out the HBR IdeaCast interview by clicking here). Her December 2010 TED talk put her on the map regarding this topic, available by clicking here

One of the main points, if not the main point, of the interviews isn’t a technique or philosophy or new discovery; the point is that we need to talk about gender and work. Talking about gender and work in all the various contexts of our work, from all our various perspectives, makes a real difference. We need to continue to talk and study and think about gender and work. 

It isn’t just a matter of talk, of course, but no real change will continue to occur unless we continue to talk (and listen and discuss and even argue). This appears to be universally true; I know that it is especially true in my networks of influence (church, higher ed, nonprofits and such).

The topic of this blog, work and calling, won’t be complete unless we consider gender and work. 

Just this week I was talking to a friend, pointing out one of the deficiencies of this blog. Specifically, the work and calling stories I’ve written so far have been mostly about men. I explained, “While I have made some efforts to connect with women for project, so far I’ve taken the easy road and merely picked the low hanging fruit.” It is easier for me to meet male friends for lunch or coffee, easier for me to have a free-flowing conversation, and I have taken the easy way (I tell myself that it has been the efficient way… efficient sounds less lazy than easy).

But it is just that kind of attitude that consistently excludes women from full and meaningful engagement in work. I’ve never had any problems dealing with women in formal contexts. Working for and with women at the office and in meetings is a non-issue; serving with women on committees and boards has always been natural for me. But not all work is accomplished in formal contexts. Informal contexts (like recreation, or casual conversations, or road trips, or coffee) are important places where real work gets done; that doesn’t come so easily for me. 

I’m not sure what the entire answer is, but I know that it involves (1) not settling for the easiest ways and (2) continuing to include gender in the conversation about work and calling. 

Listen to Sheryl Sandberg’s important views and let’s keep talking.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Do Your Best

I met my friend Aaron for lunch a few days ago. It was really more of a dim sum feast… one of Aaron’s superpowers is ordering dim sum

We have a habit of getting together for lunch a couple of times each month. We generally solve all the world’s problems in the sixty minutes or so that we spend together. 

It seems that we have so much in common. Aaron was born and raised in Singapore, in a pastor’s home. After serving in the Republic of Singapore Navy, he has had a hi-tech career that has had him based in several countries around the Pacific Rim over the years. He speaks several languages. 

I guess we don’t have all that much in common… except we were born in the same year, we each have a couple of great kids, and we love the Lord. It appears that we have plenty in common for a great friendship. 

These days Aaron serves as a program manager at Microsoft. His expertise is generally tapped to help executives maximize the impact of their workforce. Among his projects is one that plays a vital role in successfully ramping up employees on new policies, commitments and tools for the company, worldwide. 

Aaron has been reading Keller’s Every Good Endeavor with me. I asked him how he was applying the concepts to his work, and how he was thinking theologically about his work and responsibilities. He said, “For me it starts with the basics; it starts with doing your best.” Aaron works hard, and he works smart. What he said resonated with one of my favorite verses of Scripture:

Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus… (Colossians 3:17)
When we start from the basis that our lives are God’s, and that our work is connected to God’s work, a simple statement like “do your best” is packed with meaning… profound, eternal meaning. It means working hard, and working smart; it means doing the right thing, and doing things right. 
For Aaron, a big part of it is keeping commitments. It is never enough to just talk about delivering or even planning to deliver; it is about actually delivering. It is about having a record and reputation of meeting expectations… not merely the high expectations demanded by the job, but the high expectations demanded of one’s self when endeavoring to do the work and be the kind of person that brings credit to the God who calls and enables us.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Sales and Calling

One day last week I set up camp at a local coffee shop (thanks for the wifi and refills Starbucks). While there I had a chance to get caught up with my friends John Griffith and Dennis Kessner

John has been a realtor for years ( I enjoyed getting reacquainted with his story. He’s been in sales since college; in addition to real estate he’s sold for companies like Nabisco and his own specialty foods distribution company (apparently there are still people who refer to Big John as “the Cookie Man”). I also learned something I never knew about John: he’s in the Washington State Slow Pitch Softball Hall of Fame! 

I asked John what kept him going in real estate. He explained, “I’ve been at this for a long time and have become a pretty good problem solver.” There isn’t an obstacle that John hasn’t seen before when it comes to helping people get into the home they want.  

Dennis is in sales too. These days he serves at Purdy & Walters at Floral Hills helping families with pre-planning funerals. Dennis is a world-class helper, serving in various ways at Pleasant Bay Church and leading the Divorce Care ministry with Cindy at Cedar Park. 

Dennis told me a story about how he’s always on the lookout to help people. Recently while at a local store, he could tell that the clerk helping him check out was having a hard time keeping it together; it appeared she was crying. Dennis carefully and politely asked if he could help. He explained to me, “when I see someone stressed out like that, I figure the odds are pretty good that it may have to do with divorce or death… and I have tools to help with either.” He also said, “and if they need a lawyer, I can help them there too” (Dennis has a business helping people obtain legal services). 

In addition to their history in sales, there were other things in common with Dennis’ and John’s stories. They were both motivated by helping people solve problems and meet important needs. Also, they both seemed to do a great job of fitting their work into their calling within the context of their entire lives. Their work in sales is not the sole focus of their lives, but it is aligned well with their gifts and callings. Both characterized their work in sales as part of the mix, but their calling encompassed their entire lives including family, church, friends, volunteer work, and even recreation. These friends are great examples of connecting their work with God’s work, especially when work is considered in the most broad and integrated ways.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Called to Do or Called to Be?

This was the week for former youth pastors to buy me lunch. At the beginning of the week it was my friend John near his office in Bellevue; at the end of the week it was my friend Steve Sankey near his office in Renton.

One from the archives; Steve and I on the HSC site at NU
Steve and I worked together at Northwest University; he preceded me by a number of years and then joined my team after I was on board for a few years. During our time together at Northwest, Steve and I built, acquired, and renovated several buildings on the campus. 

It was eight years ago when I asked Steve if he was ready for people to call him “Pastor Steve” again. Since then, Steve and his family have been partners in ministry as we’ve served the congregation at Pleasant Bay Church. For most of the past decade, Steve and I worked together both at the University and the Church.

These days Steve’s day job is at Boeing’s facility in Renton where they make 737s. He serves as a project manager, doing similar work to what he did at Northwest… but rather than creating space for students and professors, he’s creating space for manufacturing airplanes. He manages aspects of projects that keep things on time, on budget, and according to spec. 

While I was there for lunch he showed me one of the projects that he was wrapping up. As production of the 737 increases, they needed additional bays adjacent to the Renton Airport. Think of them as full-hookup spots… but rather than parking an RV, they park a 737 there for a week for final testing before it takes the first flight. They plug it in and test every system, including a full load of fuel and firing up the engines. Steve showed me the three bays that will be in use next month and the two additional bays that will be available in coming months. 

This is good news for our region. All the 737s in the world are made right there in Renton. Increased production of that airplane is a healthy economic sign for our entire region, and even severs as a marker for the economic vitality of the world. 

We talked about work and calling, and the paths that the Lord leads us along. It seems that for some people, the vocational path is a pretty straight line. Education leads to employment and advancement through a career; it could be that the path aligns pretty closely that one might have mapped out as a young person. For others (like Steve and me), the path seems to make the most sense when viewed through life’s rearview mirror. While on the path (the curious path, as Steve likes to say), it doesn’t always make perfect sense. But when we look back, we can see that the Lord was in control and making things work together. 

Steve put it this way, “my calling, and fulfillment of that calling, makes most sense when I think in terms of what I’m called to be, rather than what I am called to do.” Right now, Steve does project management at Boeing. He doesn’t concern himself with the question of whether that is what he is called to do, because it aligns well with what he is called to be. Steve will tell you that he is called to be an implementer and helper; he’s called to be someone who helps people succeed and attain their goals. 

With that calling to be that kind of person, bringing his skills and experience and hard work to the task, it is easy for Steve to connect his work with God’s work.

Friday, March 1, 2013


My friend Aaron passed along an article from the Harvard Business Review's site titled Embrace Work-Life Imbalance. This short post is worth a read when considering the topic of work... especially hard work.

It seems to Me that the term workaholic is often less than helpful. Hard work is not a disease.

While there are certainly excesses when family and health is set aside for work pursuits... but in most cases hard work is a great thing... not something to be characterized as a disease.

Take a minute and read the article; let me know what you think.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Mission And Provision

I met my friend John Baker at his office this week. It was a special treat since we had lunch at a favorite restaurant in his building in Bellevue (and he bought).

I always enjoy talking with John. He’s been a friend for a long time, being among those who were with us when we launched the congregation that is now Pleasant Bay Church over ten years ago. He’s always been willing to help, serving in leadership and singing in the choir. He has a background in ministry, serving on a church staff and leading in para-church organizations.

These days John serves as Senior Vice President, running the Greater Seattle office for an international consulting firm that specializes in talent and career management for Fortune 500 companies. For example, John’s firm might work with a company to help align their workforce with their changing goals. If the new strategy results in needing to move some employees around, or even out, John's firm provides services to help transition people into new opportunities, and they work with the reorganized groups to help them navigate successfully through change and on to success toward the new goals. In addition to leading the office, John ‘s hands-on work includes strategizing with corporate leaders, leading workshops, and one-on-one counseling with people in transition.

During our conversation, John talked about work and calling, and the way experience and training and passion and interests coalesce into meaningful work. He said, “I’ve always believed that this work is right on the same trajectory that began with my volunteer work in campus ministry, that led to youth ministry in a local church, that led to work in Christian higher education, and on into my current responsibilities.” He identified the common thread in these expressions of his calling and vocation as “helping people make decisions at critical times in their lives that impact their entire lives and futures.” When John is working with people, it is often at a critical (and often times stressful) point of transition. He brings his education and experience to the table, helping folks make decisions and take steps that will set them up for a successful future.

In light of what I’ve been working on these days, it is hard to deny that John’s work is directly connected to God’s work.  Keller is right when he says things like “work – and lots of it – is an indispensable component in a meaningful human life. It is a supreme gift from God and one of the main things that gives our lives purpose.” So it is no stretch at all to determine that John’s work is at the center of God’s design for us humans.

Given John’s expertise in the topic, I was interested to hear what he is currently reading; these days it is So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. The subtitle helps us capture what is inside: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love. The publisher’s description says, “In this eye-opening account, Cal Newport debunks the long-held belief that follow your passion is good advice.”

I like the way John put it when he said, “It is not just about pursuing mission; it is also about provision.” Provision… it is both a matter of providing for yourself and your family, and a matter of assessing the gifts and talents provided by God.  More than merely chasing after one’s dreams and desires, it is about determining how to be most productive with what one can do.

I really appreciate John’s practical approach. And I’m glad I have a friend like John with whom to continue this conversation.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Keller's Every Good Endeavor - Chapter One

I’ll be facilitating a discussion on chapter one (pages 33-43) of Keller’s work this evening. Here are some questions I’ve pulled together for discussion.

1.       Keller opens chapter one with Genesis2:1-3;15 and then says “ this  view of work – connected with divine, orderly creation and human purpose – is distinct among the great faiths and belief systems of the world" [33].

Have you encountered or considered how other faith and belief systems are different? How so?
2.       Keller writes “The fact that God put work in paradise is startling to us because we so often think of work as necessary evil or even punishment” [36]. He goes on to say “work is as much a basic human need as food” [37].

How have you observed this to be true?  
3.       Have you ever thought of work as one of the Ten Commandments? (Exodus 20:9)
4.       Keller writes, “In short, work – and lots of it – is an indispensable component in a meaningful human life. It is a supreme gift from God and one of the main things that gives our lives purpose. But it must play its proper role, subservient to God. It must regularly give way not just to work stoppage for bodily repair but also to joyful reception of the world and of ordinary life” [42].  

How do you define, experience, and enjoy the limits of work?

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Full Toolbox

Today I met my friend Glenn Campbell at his office at the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center, located on the Federal facility once occupied by the Sand Point Naval Air Station. Once through a few checkpoints, I met Glenn and got a quick tour of the building, including a stop in a pretty smelly lab where I learned a bit about how they identified the species of fish and how the age of fish is determined by counting the rings in their ear bones. I was fascinated that there are fish (species that I’ve eaten like rock fish) that have lifespans that are beyond the human life span (who knew?).

Glenn started working for NOAA while he was finishing his bachelor’s degree in fisheries at the UW (he had already earned an associate’s degree in fisheries); he’s now served NOAA for over twenty years.
These days he builds and runs data systems that manage fish populations in federally managed waters off the Alaska coasts.

Listening to his story, I was struck by the utility of his broad base of experience and training. He knows fish, fishermen, and the people who run fisheries. He knows computers, databases, and the satellite systems that help them all talk to each other (whether they are systems here in Seattle or a system on a fishing vessel in the Bering Sea). Glenn is obviously a motivated life-long learner, which has made him invaluable to NOAA as Glenn is eager to tackle new challenges and learn what he needs to know to solve the problems at hand.
Not all that long ago he earned another degree, this one in business at Northwest University. I asked him why, since it wasn’t the sort of thing required by his work, and wouldn’t necessarily position him for advancement in his position. My summary of his response: he wanted more tools in his toolbox.

His answer made me think of a favorite Bible verse (Ecclesiastes 10:10):
     If the ax is dull
         and its edge unsharpened,
     more strength is needed,
         but skill will bring success.

Glenn determined to sharpen the ol’ ax… and it has paid off. He said he appreciated the Bible and theology classes that were part of the program. The opportunity to study his faith with college-level courses taught by highly qualified Christian professors provided a sharper ax that could be applied to every area of his life.
It was fun to hear him talk about how he is applying the skills developed in his business studies. Even though much of his day is spent dealing with in databases and statistical analysis, it is often the interface with people that brings the most success. With the rapid pace of change he manages, he is continually rolling out new programs that need to be embraced by the people on the field… whether that is NOAA personnel, people in the fisheries, or fisherman at sea. He said that his fisheries background and education is vitally important, but it may be the marketing, project management, presentation, and leadership skills that are the most useful to him these days.
I’m really proud of Glenn and his work. His efforts translate directly to the care of God’s creation as his work supports important decisions about how populations of fish are sustained for the future. He also plays important roles in commerce (creation of wealth) as well as feeding people in the US and around the world as he partners with fisherman and fisheries.
Pretty impressive stuff Glenn… thanks for taking time with me today!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Doing Good is Good Business

I stopped by my friend Cindy’s office today. I enjoy talking to Cindy about her work because she always has a few interesting stories to tell. She knows good stories because she knows her people.
Cindy manages a 118-unit apartment complex in Everett.
I visited to congratulate her on winning the Emerald Award last week (the highest honor given by the Washington Multi-Family Housing Association). At a banquet of 800 people, Cindy was singled out for the Social Awareness Award.
Cindy has distinguished herself as being among the top managers in the industry, with high occupancy rates, profitable operations, and very high results on customer satisfaction surveys. She has done all this while making herself and the property she manages available to people with real disadvantages.
There are properties that get certain subsidies and tax breaks that are mandated to help the helpless… but there are no such mandates for Cindy since her property doesn’t fit such categories (most of her residents are of the run-of-the-mill variety, while around a third are receiving aid due to disabilities). While other landlords might tolerate hurdles that keep folks out, Cindy has been in the business of knocking down hurdles. Sure… it takes a little more time, and paperwork, and patience. It often requires that she builds alliances with various agencies and caregivers, but it has resulted in a healthy community for her residents, as well as a healthy bottom line for her company.
In making the award, her industry took notice of her special efforts last year. Cindy saw that proposed changes in state law could hurt her most disadvantaged residents. So she made her way to Olympia to make her voice heard, and to give a voice to those who otherwise would not have been heard. She did it for the welfare of her residents, but also for the good of the community. The proposed changes would have put many out on the streets, clogging shelters, hospitals, and even jails. With her voice in the mix, legislators opened their eyes and ears, and reconsidered their proposals; the programs that would have jeopardized so many remained intact.
Cindy will tell you that she views her work as a significant part of her calling. She is a capable steward for her company, and also cares for the needs of her residents, including one of the most primal needs: shelter.
If you walk the complex with Cindy, you’ll soon realize that she is providing more than mere shelter; she is providing community. Her people look to her for advice, encouragement, direction, and friendship. She is not just manager; she’s also neighbor, sister, counselor, pastor, teacher, and sometimes even cop.  In all of these roles, she considers it worship… she is caring for God’s creation and creatures with excellence. Cindy embodies what the Apostle encourages in Colossians 3:17, “…whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus…”
I’m really proud of Cindy and glad to call her my friend!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Inspired by Whiteboards

I met my friend Peter at the coffee shop nearest his office. I wanted to reacquaint myself with his story. I heard about how he came to the US as a student from the Middle East with the intention of earning his education and then returning home, but the revolution that erupted during his studies changed everything. We talked about life and school and family… and then we got to the subject of work.

Peter is an author, teacher, and consultant, but his main focus is on his work as Director for Informatics at UW Medicine. He applies his leadership to IT solutions (applications) that help treat patients. I began to get it when he told me about an electronic whiteboard application he developed and implemented with his team. Seeing my interest (and at least some ability to keep up with what he was talking about) we were quickly in hospital units that were using the systems and I could see how revolutionary Peter’s invention was.

There wasn’t all that much in common with the old whiteboards; these giant monitors that hang throughout the hospital are a big data solution that is now a vital tool for everyone who serves patients… from surgeons, to nurses, to housekeepers. There is even a customer-facing version that helps the families of patients have instant access to information, making the waiting room experience far easier (pictured in the background above).
Basically, what Peter and his team invented is a user-focused and user-customizable system of dashboards (think heads-up displays in fighter jets) that are at all the right places in the hospital, and can even be accessed remotely on a variety of devices. Rather than whiteboards filled with outdated and illegible code words, these displays gather up-to-the-moment information that is sorted, processed, and delivered to the users who need it. The system isn’t just a high-tech gimmick; it translates directly into better service, immediate efficiencies, patient and practitioner safety... and, of course, saved lives.
I was blown away by how Peter has connected God’s work with his work. Here are just a few ways that come to mind:
·         Healing: God is using Peter to heal people. His skills are in systems, strategies, and leadership (not scalpels and bandages like his colleagues). He is Dr. Ghavami because of his PhD in Industrial and Systems Engineering, not medicine. But he is healing through his invention. People are getting the care they need, efficiently and effectively, in part because of Peter’s work.

·         Creativity: We may be most like our Creator when we are creating. When Peter and his team pulled together resources and data from all sorts of sources, the end result was a tool that was so much more than merely the sum of the parts. Peter created something vitally important that didn’t exist before, solving a long list of nagging problems and adding value that wasn’t even conceived of until after the tool went online. 

·         Efficiency: The system saves money and time, and helps deploy scarce resources. This is no small thing in a University Hospital and regional medical center. Having the right practitioner in the right place with the right equipment in the right room is vital when lives are at stake.

·         Dignity: This system allows more people to own and find dignity in their roles. Those charged with cleaning and preparing rooms use the system to prioritize their work. People who schedule scarce equipment and other resources use the system, giving them a view of the pipeline of work. Doctors use it constantly (even from devices like an iPad), allowing them to be more engaged with their work of healing, rather than getting bogged down in administrivia. And patient’s families and other caregivers use the system to both ease their anxiety and plan their role in bringing their cherished one back to health.

Thanks, Peter, for letting me burn up your coffee break. You’ve inspired me!

Thursday, January 31, 2013


I have the Bible Gateway app on my iPad; I’m using the reading plan feature that gives me an OT and NT passage in daily chunks that will guide me through the Bible in a year.  So these days I’m nearing the end of Exodus and the end of Matthew. The Exodus passages have included directives about keeping a Sabbath… which reminds me how sloppy I’ve been when it comes to Sabbath.

For most of the past dozen years, I’ve served as pastor of Pleasant Bay Church while holding full-time responsibility elsewhere. With Sundays busy at church, and my other responsibilities that were really more than full-time, I would rationalize my sloppy approach to Sabbath along the following lines:

·         We were pretty good at taking vacations. A week, or so, in the summer, plus a few other breaks throughout the year… our vacations were a key to our strategy in pursuit of some Sabbath.

·         I would take it easy on some Saturdays, unless I was preaching the next day (then about half of the Sundays), and unless there was something else scheduled. Generally, it was about one Saturday a month that would really qualify as a Sabbath.

·         I didn’t think of my pastoral responsibilities as work. I would tell people that I found my pastoral work as mostly energy-giving rather than energy-draining.

I’m just now wrapping up my first month of my pastoral responsibilities being my main thing since we’ve taken the step to allow me to serve as full-time pastor. With this change in priorities and change in schedule, I have been purposeful about making Monday a Sabbath day. While I don’t completely unplug and am not religious about it, I do purposely let things wind down (usually Sunday evening through Monday afternoon). I haven’t been scheduling meetings or making agendas for Mondays. I relax, and let myself get distracted… letting the day take me wherever it goes.

It is remarkable what these days are meaning to me. Taking a weekly break, a real break, has a restoring impact that I’ve clearly missed.

Looking back, my rationalizations for the past dozen years about Sabbath were boloney.

As I continue to think and work through ideas about work and calling, Sabbath must be part of the mix… a vitally important part of the mix. If we are going to be successful connecting our work to God’s work, we must also be sure to connect our rest with God’s rest.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Keller’s Every Good Endeavor – Introduction

I’ll be facilitating a discussion on the introduction (pages 18-30) of Keller’s work this evening. Here are some questions I’ve pulled together for discussion.

1.       Keller, quoting Bellah, writes (18), “Americans had created a culture that elevated individual choice and expression to such a level that there was no longer any shared life, no commanding truths or values that tied us together…

To make a real difference… [there would have to be] a reappropriation of the idea of vocation or calling, a return in a new way to the idea of work as a contribution to the good of all and not merely as a means to one’s own advancement.

Is Bellah right? Have Americans erroneously elevated individual choice at the expense of any shared life? Can you think of examples? Is the trend getting better or worse?

Is this a uniquely American condition?

Is the idea of calling or vocation a common and popular idea? What about “contribution to the good of all?"

2.       Keller lists these examples of “Christian sentiments” when it comes to integrating faith and work (22):

a.       The way to serve God at work is to further social justice in the world.

b.      The way to serve God at work is to be personally honest and evangelize your colleagues.

c.       The way to serve God at work is just to do skillful, excellent work.

d.      The way to serve God at work is to create beauty.

e.      The way to serve God at work is to work from a Christian motivation to glorify God, seeking to engage and influence culture to that end.

f.        The way to serve God at work is to work with a grateful, joyful, gospel-changed heart through all the ups and downs.

g.       The way to serve God at work is to do whatever gives you the greatest joy and passion.

h.      The way to serve God at work is to make as much money as you can, so that you can be as generous as you can.

Are there items missing from the list? Anything that should be stricken from the list?

If you had to limit the list to 2 or 3 of the most important, what would they be?

3.       Keller, reflecting on Tolkien’s Leaf by Niggle, writes (29): “But really—everyone is Niggle. Everyone imagines things, and everyone finds him- or herself largely incapable of producing them. Everyone wants to be successful rather than forgotten, and everyone wants to make a difference in life.”

Does this resonate with you? Do you think of your life and work in these terms?

How do you put your “leaf” in perspective with the “branch” and the “trunk” and the “tree” and the Creation?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Start With Why

My friend Aaron mentioned how he was thinking of work and calling in terms expressed in Simon Sinek's book Start With Why. He saw significant overlaps in Sinek's work with Keller's work in Every Good Endeavor. I think Aaron is on to something... if we align the why of our work with God's work, then we're on the right track.

I haven't yet read Sinek's book, but I found this TED talk in which he lays out the basis for his work. Take a few minutes and check it out.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Blessing of the Businesses

I appreciate the disciplined way Pastor Joe Fuiten (Cedar Park Church, Bothell, Washington) uses the calendar. Far more than merely paying attention to Christmas and Easter, Joe routinely acknowledges special days. Some are ancient observances (like Jewish feast days), while others are largely of his own making (like Presentation Sunday).

Last Sunday was what he calls the annual Blessing of the Businesses, a day when he emphasises God's rule over every aspect of our lives, nations, and end economies and he leads his congregation in praying for businesses.

Joe's short sermon aligns really well with the topic of this blog. Take a few minutes and listen to his presentation by clicking here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

I Love Hard Work… I Could Watch it All Day

I come from a long line of hard working people. Raised in the shadow of steel-mill smokestacks that line the shores of Lake Michigan in Northwest Indiana, I grew up around people who had the leathered hands that built our country. As a school kid, my favorite field trips weren’t to the great museums an hour away in Chicago, they were to the places where work was done. I saw them make steel, and cars, and nuclear energy, and even hamburger. As soon as I was old enough to contribute (before it was exactly legal) I went to work with my dad… which led to some of the hardest and dirtiest work I’ve ever done.

To this day, I love it when I get invited to someone’s workplace, whether that is an office, or a plant, or a jobsite. I have always found it easiest to get to know someone when I could get to know them in the context of their work. Invite me to work; I’ll be there!
When I was coming to faith while in college, and as a new believer, I remember being attracted to the work portrayed in my church. It seemed like a church that respected the work of the people, and it called people to join the good work of the church. It wasn’t a piety that merely separated sacred work from secular work; it was a faith that integrated work life, family life, and spiritual life.

Now as one who has been at this for a while, I’ve found that my respect for work fits well in Christianity. We don’t work to somehow earn God’s favor (of course); we worship with our work. We fulfill our designed and divine purpose by doing good work, whatever that may be, for the glory of our Creator.
In the work that I do as a pastor, I want to do a better job of helping people connect their work to God’s work; I can do a better job of helping people see their work as a demonstration of God’s grace and as part of God’s plan.  

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Accumulate, Preserve, or Create

Most of us know little about economics. We don’t usually teach it in schools. I had some econ in my undergrad (before transferring to BibleCollege), as well as in grad school to earn my MBA… but even that was mostly about supply and demand curves (mostly demand curves). The focus was almost exclusively on consumer behavior, only a small part of the field of economics.

It seems that most people learned what they know about economics from playing Monopoly. We can learn some good lessons by playing Monopoly, but there’s certainly more to capitalism and economics.
For example, we can consider this simple question: Where does wealth come from?

The Monopoly answer is 
  1. The game allots us money, and then 
  2. To win you have to accumulate the wealth by taking it from everyone else. In Monopoly, there is a fixed amount of wealth and the only way for there to be a winner is for everyone else to be a loser.
We know that the Monopoly answer isn’t reality, mostly because we know that there is no allotment that leads to wealth; there is no “Go.” There is no corner on the board that, when we pass, refills our empty wallets.

But that may not be our most significant misconception, since #2 isn’t true either. Wealth is never realized primarily because it is accumulated or preserved; wealth is created. Sure, there are always a few wealthy winners who made it by making others losers. But most wealth is created.
So, where does most wealth come from? In one sense it comes from nowhere. At least it doesn’t come from some finite box of cash like it does in Monopoly. It comes from ingenuity, and risk taking, and effort, and creativity. It isn’t exactly creatio ex nihilo, but there is a part of wealth, a significant part of wealth, that is that portion that is more than the sum of the parts.

We create wealth. Our work builds economies, societies, and cultures.
This is one of the most significant distinctions of God’s most prized creation. This distinguishes us creatures that were created in the image of God. This is a key to understanding how our work, human work, is special… work that is like God’s work in creation. Our work is not merely creative; our work creates.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Fantasy of Future Significance

I’ve learned a lot over the past sixteen months being out in the local workforce. I’ve worked with small and big businesses, the most profitable as well as nonprofits, and unknown and well-known brands (including one of the world’s most recognized brands). While working to best serve these organizations, I’ve also endeavored to learn. Of course I was learning the business, but I was as focused on learning the people; I wanted to better understand the people who are leading and working in these organizations.

One of my surprise findings was a common story; I call it the Fantasy of Future Significance. It commonly goes something like this: This is a good job and all, but after I’ve made enough money I’ll retire early and then have a really significant career. Then they would talk about working for a nonprofit or otherwise having some sort of second career focused on doing good.

After they have done well, then they would do good.

I found it to be a sad story for a couple of reasons:
1.       It wasn’t likely to happen, and

2.       They weren’t finding their work to be significant now.
It seems to be that most people either let that aspiration wear off, or they take that aspiration to their grave. While that sort of life change is possible, it remains rare. It is hard to find a place to restart after a successful career, and if that starting point is found it is hard to take that step. Then, for those who do find a place and take the step… it is my observation that they still remain as disappointed. In lots of cases they seem even more miserable because they thought they found the pot o’ gold at the end of the rainbow, only to find that they still face the same level of frustration at work.
I was surprised to find so many people, successful people, so dissatisfied because they found their current work insignificant (even though they had a great deal of responsibility in jobs that lots of people would be thrilled to have). They were making money, both for the company and for themselves, but they didn’t seem to feel like they were making a significant difference.
When they got to know my story (coming from a career in Christian Higher Ed), I think they found me to be an enigma… since I was on their turf, but coming from the sort of place they fantasized about someday landing. Furthermore, I was finding my work on their turf to be truly significant.

As a pastor serving a congregation in the midst of a sea of people like these, I’m convinced that our ministry must include a focus on helping people connect their work to God’s work. I’m convinced that the only way to truly find significance in our work (our lives) is to find that significance in God. Our church must do a better job helping people arrive at that significance.
So… one of ways I hope to make that connection is with what I write here. I’m hoping to explore this topic and use this blog as a space that invites an open conversation. Stay tuned in the days and weeks ahead!