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Friday, September 26, 2014

What On Earth Was God Thinking When He Created Human Beings?

In the Bible we read of God's acts, but we don't often read of His thought process and rationale behind the acts. Being privy to the "why" behind God's "what" is rare. Yet in Genesis 1, we see God's deliberative thought process behind the creation of human beings, and it's mind-boggling!

What on earth was God thinking when He created human beings? What purpose did God have in mind for us? What role did He intend for us to play?

In Genesis 1:26-28, the Trinity confers: "Let us make man...and let them rule...," followed by this human-targeted directive: "Fill the earth, and subdue it." 

Wow! We were created for the role of governing over God's stuff on Planet Earth! Not only governing over fish and fowl, but over electricity, wind, minerals, trees and waterways. Sound waves, laser beams, silicon and Teflon. This is our God-given responsibility and mission!

Can this really be God's intention for us? Can it really be this practical? This concrete? This...well...down-to-earth?

Sometimes we're oblivious to the obvious. The Bible tells us God has a wonderful plan for our lives, and His plan is that we govern rightly over the planet! Some over animals, some over vegetables. Some over water, some over air. Some over wood beams, some over gold.

Chuck Colson summed it up this way: "On the sixth day, God created human beings and commanded them to pick up where He left off." 

Who rules Planet Earth? News flash! God gave us the job:"...let them rule..." And this requires all sorts of work! Some may think God gave the job to Satan at the Fall, but the First Commission was not rescinded when sin entered the world. While the Fall makes our assignment more difficult, Earth-Tending remains our purpose, privilege and "glory." See Psalm 8.

Governance over God's stuff in God's way
 is the first principle of theology of work. This embeds the First Commission into the Great. When we "observe all that Christ commanded" [see the Great Commission of Matthew 28], this "observation" surely takes place at work, where we spend the bulk of our waking hours, right?

We are here to occupy, and this requires occupations: from fish farming to politics, plumbing to neurology, longshoreman's labor to agronomy. In a fallen world it requires pastors, missionaries and social workers, too. But the former occupations are as much "God's work" as the later.


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Friday, September 19, 2014

Carrying Beams Off A Ship All Day

I took this photo while in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 2007, on board a wind-powered sailing vessel [no engine--just sails] loaded with wooden beams that were hand carried down a narrow plank to the dock below by men working from 6am to 6pm for $9 a day. 

Last week I quoted a Coca-Cola executive who said, "we don't find meaning in our work, we bring meaning to our work." Bonnie Wurzbacher went on to say that until we understand "there is no secular and sacred split," and we "see how our work truly fulfills and advances God's purposes for the world," we cannot bring meaning to our work.

So how does a man carrying beams off a ship all day bring meaning to his work?

Watching those men do their back-breaking work in Jakarta tested my theology of work. In Indonesia, where the average wage is $100-$200 per month, these workers were at the upper end of the scale. But putting money aside, I had to ask myself: could I even do this kind of work? And for how long?

I wasn't asking this question in light of the physical challenge. That was easy to answer! I figured I could last about 45 minutes. I was asking in light of the mental challenge. Could I really bring meaning to this kind of work? Month after month? Year after year? If so, how?

Over the next few weeks I'll be discussing the matter of bringing extraordinary meaning to "ordinary" work. Even the so-called "mundane." But before I get into this, let me say that if you really feel like you're "carrying beams off a ship all day," and you have the means to do so, I suggest you meet with a trained job coach who can assess your situation and provide counsel regarding a better job fit. I once advised a young man to see a Christian "calling coach," who later told me it was the best $200 he ever spent.

But most people in developing nations don't have the luxury of a job change, and many in the "first world" don't either. Furthermore, all jobs have "chores." Perhaps the "chores" are not as dramatic as that shown in the photo above, all jobs have difficult, unpleasant, and sometimes loathsome aspects.

If your work "energizes" you 60% of the time, consider yourself blessed! But would you like to bring more meaning to the remaining 40% of your time? And if you are "energized" by only 10% of the work you do each day, would you like to bump that percentage up?

You don't have to change your job to bring extraordinary meaning to "ordinary" work. It's a matter of thinking differently about the work you're already doing.

Stay tuned.

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Friday, September 12, 2014

What The Whole World Wants

On the basis of Gallup's World Poll, Jim Clifton, CEO of the company, concluded that what the whole world wants is a "good job."

But what makes a job "good?"

Pay is not the most important factor. Having a job that doesn't provide for the basics is a problem, of course, but pay alone does not determine whether a person feels his or her job is a "good" one.

Matching one's strengths with one's work is an important factor. George Washington Carver's boss, Booker T. Washington, remarked that Carver was a poor administrator. It would have been a mistake for Carver to have been "promoted" to an administrative role. His best fit was in the lab.

But matching one's strengths with one's work is not the only factor in a "good" job. Making progress is important, too. Yet making progress alone is not enough. Making progress in work that lacks meaning won't cut it over the long haul. 

Making progress in work with meaning, while using one's gifts and strengths to go somewhere worth going, is quite another matter! For most people, personal meaning is essential for a truly "good" job. That's because personal meaning addresses the why behind one's work, and this provides staying power.

The big question for many people, then, becomes, "How can my work have personal meaning, if it really doesn't?"

Bonnie Wurzbacher, while serving as Vice-President of Global Accounts for The Coca-Cola Company, once told me, "we don't find meaning in our work, we bring meaning to our work." This is a profound idea.

She went on to say that until we understand the theology of our work, and truly embrace a biblical worldview that allows no "secular and sacred split," seeing how our work truly fulfills and advances God's purposes for the world, we cannot bring meaning to our work.

This is important: work has meaning when we bring meaning to it.

A biblical worldview allows us to see how all work fits into the larger context of God's purpose for the world and our work. The key lies in our ability to "contextualize" the work we do. That is, putting it in the context of the "larger frame of reference" which a biblically-shaped view of the world and our work provides. This is how to bring meaning to work.

We'll explore this in detail over the next few posts.

The amazing thing is, the biblical context provides as much meaning for retail clerks and taxi cab drivers as it does for CEOs and college professors.

To hear part of my interview with Bonnie Wurzbacher, play the video below:

If the video does not play, click here: http://youtu.be/PRdpT-KZv_4

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Friday, September 5, 2014

"The Single Most Searing, Clarifying, Helpful, World-Altering Fact"

There is a lot of data out there showing what people around the world are doing, but what the Gallup organization wanted to find out is what people are thinking. With this in mind, they created a unique World Poll and collected data from over 100 countries. Gallup is committed to conducting the World Poll for 100 years.

After the first round in 2007, Chairman and CEO of Gallup, Jim Clifton, wrote: "...we may have already found the single most searing, clarifying, helpful, world-altering fact." He went on to call it "one of the single biggest discoveries Gallup has ever made."

What was Gallup's great discovery? Clifton summarized it this way: "What the whole world wants is a good job."

How interesting! This says something about people, throughout all cultures, whether Muslim, Christian, atheist, black, white, communist and capitalist. We share a common desire and hope. That desire and hope has to do with work!

No surprise. In the beginning, human beings were created in the likeness of a working God, and when we work, we exercise that God-given drive. But note Clifton's words carefully. He didn't say the world "wants to work." He said the whole world wants "a good job."

Here is where things get interesting. In the most recent World Poll findings, published in October, 2013, Gallup found only 13% of employed people across 142 countries are engaged in their work, that is, "emotionally invested in and focused on creating value for their organizations every day."

Furthermore, Gallup found that the number of employees who are "negative and potentially hostile to their organizations" outnumber engaged employees by nearly 2 to 1!

Remarkably, an astounding 63% of workers "lack motivation and are less likely to invest discretionary effort in organizational goals or outcomes."

Could this be because they don't feel their job is a "good" one?

What makes a particular job “good?” Is it the pay? The people we work with? The compatibility of our work with our particular gifts and talents? These are important factors, but it is possible to have excellent pay, great people to work with, a fitting job compatibility, and yet still lack that "something" which makes a particular job “good.”

What is that "something?"

We'll explore this next week.

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