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!