Saturday, February 28, 2015

Who's the Boss?

For we are God's fellow workers: you are God's field, God's building.
-- 1 Corinthians 3:9

The old saying goes that if you love what you do for a living, you'll never work another day in your life. That's when an ordinary position becomes an extraordinary passion. So are you one of the fortunate few who are thrilled with their job--or do you tend to keep one eye on the time clock and live for the weekend? TGIF indeed!

Whether you love your career or you're just hanging in there for the paycheck, the Bible has something important to say about it:

"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart,"
advises the Apostle Paul, "as working for the Lord, not for men..."

In other words, whether you're the BuildingsCEO of a multinational corporation or a 9-to-5 ditch-digger, you should do your job for the glory of God. That means you should consider the office as much a place of worship on weekdays as church is on Sundays.

That's often easier said than done. After all, churches are filled with Christ-followers--or at least people checking out the faith. And they've come from miles around to hear the pastor's message. On the other hand, the workplace is where spiritual discussions are usually avoided to prevent offending and alienating fellow employees. Who wants to be known as the office Bible-thumper or so-called Jesus Freak?

But revealing your faith in the workplace doesn't have to mean distributing Scripture tracts in the break room. You can instead show God's Spirit at work by consistently doing your job with excellence and enthusiasm, demonstrating honesty and integrity, and by going out of your way to serve your coworkers. They'll notice the difference. And if someone asks you for your secret, be prepared to tell them!

As Christ-followers, God wants us to be the light of the world--and that world includes our places of employment. Whatever you do for a living, the workday is an ongoing opportunity to show Him in action through you.

Yes, it's OK to thank God it's Friday. Just don't forget to do the same on the other six.   

Saturday, February 21, 2015

With Friends Like These

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

-- Proverbs 18:24

Who is your BFF (Best Friend Forever)? And for that matter, what's the mark of a true friend?

Writer Elbert Hubbard defined a friend as "...someone who knows all about you and still loves you." Actress Marlene Dietrich remarked that the friends who matter are the ones you can call at 4:00 a.m. But President Harry S. Truman was less sentimental about friendship. "If you want a friend in Washington," he said, "get a dog."

Maybe President Truman was onto Friendsomething. After all, dogs have a reputation for loyalty and commitment. And it just happens that those are rare qualities that God values in His people. Joshua--one of the great servant leaders of the Old Testament--displayed this trait when he challenged the tribes of Israel to choose who they would serve: the false gods of their ancestors or the one True God.

"But for me and my household," declared Joshua, "we will serve the Lord."

Jesus also seeks this same level of total commitment from His modern-day followers. Rather than would-be believers who might help build his kingdom it it's not too inconvenient for them, Christ demands an all-or-nothing relationship from those willing to give the little they have to eventually gain everything.

Does this sound unrealistic? Jesus' closest friends once thought so. One day a rich young man asked Christ what he had to do to gain eternal life. Knowing what was in the man's heart, Jesus reminded him about following God's commandments about theft, adultery, murder, lying and honoring one's parents. When the man replied that he had kept these laws since childhood, the Savior told him that he lacked just one thing: the need to sell all his possessions.

Jesus knew that rather than loving God with all of his heart, soul and mind (the first of the Ten Commandments), the rich young man was really more devoted to money. The would-be follower was crushed by Jesus' harsh revelation and turned away.

How about you? As Christ-followers, we demonstrate our commitment and loyalty--as well as our friendship with Him--by showing kindness to those Jesus calls "the least of these." They might be famine victims in Africa, tsunami survivors in Asia or people who are literally picking up the pieces after a tornado in the American Midwest. But then again, those who need our kindness the most are often as close as down the street, next door or even across the living room. They might be total strangers. Or they could be your family members, your coworkers...or even your BFFs.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Family Feud

Jesus asked, "Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?" Then he pointed to his disciples and said, "Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!"

-- Matthew 12:48-50

We probably don't need the American Psychological Association (APA) to remind us, but the stress we tend to experience at home, in the workplace--and even on vacation or Christmas--can test our job performance, health and Arguerelationships. In fact, whenever families gather--for just about any reason at all--tensions can peak. Sometimes it's because of intrusions into precious personal space, like when the in-laws spend the night (or week) in a house that's already too close for comfort. There's also that outcast teenager who perceives their older relatives as judgmental, critical or demanding. And let's not forget those pleasant Thanksgiving dinner table conversations about relationships, politics and religion.

As stress expert Elizabeth Scott, M.S., rightly observes, "Many a happy holiday has been found by groups of people who have decided to celebrate with friends instead of family."
If this hits close to home, you're in very good company. Jesus--the Son of God--was also often misunderstood by those closest to him. Even his own brothers didn't believe in him at first. It's in Mark's Gospel that we read this familiar observation from the Savior:

"A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family."
Jesus understood this stress-filled facet of the human experience long before the APA released its survey. "In this world you will have trouble," He assures us. So with this in mind, maybe we should approach the issue differently. How much better would things be if every Christ-follower adopted a humble servant's attitude and put the interests of others--even their family members--before their own?

Jesus answered this question through his own example. First, he willingly surrendered the royal privileges of being God's only Son. He entered the world in the most modest of circumstances--a birth among farm animals in a filthy stable. When he grew older, he learned to make a modest living with his hands as a carpenter. And finally, his ultimate act of humility was to suffer the death of a common criminal to personally pay the price for the misguided ways we've lived our lives and mistreated others. It was a selfless mission that our Creator had planned for him at the foundation of the world.

"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve," Jesus explains, "and to
 give his life as a ransom for many."

As Christ-followers, we're not exempt from conflict. But Jesus assures us that through God, all things are possible--even pleasant family get-togethers during vacations and the holidays. So with Thanksgiving and Christmas still months away, let's now consider the words of Psalm 122:8 with fresh eyes and a humble heart:

"For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, 'Peace be within you."

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Lawn & Garden

It didn't take long.

Boxes of unsold bows, ribbons, lights and ornaments were marked down 50%. And within hours of selling their remaining artificial Christmas trees and wreathes, the Lawn & Garden Department in Walmarts across the nation began filling their shelves with seed, fertilizer, tools and hoses.

Their timing was perfect. With blizzards wracking New England and frigid temperatures gripping most Gardenstates, the warmth of springtime can't arrive soon enough. It's now when many survey their dreary backyards and dream about working in their gardens. And this time, they want their flowers and vegetables to do more than just grow. They want them to thrive.

Recorded during a time when the livelihoods of many were linked to agriculture, the Bible is full of references to planting, harvesting and storing crops. The crowds that followed Jesus from village to village were certainly familiar with the imagery in His parables about the Wheat and the Tares and The Sower. They knew a thing or two about cultivation. After all, their ability to grow a thriving crop each year could mean the difference between starvation and having plenty.

A related biblical theme is mankind's need for a thriving relationship with its Creator. Without Him, nothing--spiritual or physical--can grow.

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener," Jesus tells us through John's Gospel. "He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful."

Christ then added this thought-provoking admonition:

"I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."

Springtime and warm weather are just weeks away, and folks will soon begin flocking to lawn and garden centers to buy the tools, fertilizers and other supplies for making their gardens thrive. They know that with enough time and effort, the results can be both satisfying and remarkable.   
The same goes for cultivating our spiritual lives. It also takes time and effort. But unlike a plot of vegetables that eventually withers and dies with the first frosts of autumn, spirit-filled lives rooted in a solid relationship with God will thrive and produce much fruit--and all with eternal benefits to ourselves and others. The Apostle Paul puts it this way in Galatians 5:22-23:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Are you cultivating a personal relationship with your Creator? He wants it to thrive.