Monday, April 16, 2018

On God at Work

There is no secular-sacred distinction. 

Here’s how Paul sets that out:
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. Romans 12:1-2, The Message
This weekend, I had the opportunity to lead a men’s retreat in Texas with St. Andrew’s
Presbyterian Church on the topic of faith and work. (And by the way, retreats in Texas are a bit different than in, say, Berkeley. The Saturday afternoon “free time” activity consisted of listening to country music, drinking beer, and shooting skeet. I can show you a video sometime. And a second by-the-way: In this blog, I usually address faith and science issues. Everything in this post can be easily translated into that mode since science after all is a form of work.)

As I prepared for to address how we bring together our faith in Christ with the reality of life in the marketplace, I realized that I had no reason not to trust business—growing up in what is now Silicon Valley—if anything, I learned commerce was god. It wasn’t until my first year at Cal that I decided to follow Jesus Christ and follow a different Deity. After college, I did the only respectable thing a comparative literature major could do (besides going to graduate school): I started a small business with my wife Laura, which we managed for four years. And since it was an extension of work I had done with my family since age 16, it really meant something like 9 years. In some ways, we felt like we completed a mini-MBA there: we learned learned profit and loss, balance sheets, customer service, and the need to suit up and show up. As my brother (also a part of the family business) taught me: in retail, you learn the essence of capitalism because there offering goods meets the buyer directly. The supply and demand curves find their intersection point directly and personally. During that time I also became involved, and took classes at, New College Berkeley, a Christian graduate school specifically designed for ministry in the marketplace. How do you interpret the New Testament in light of the realities of retail sales? What does theology mean to a realtor, a banker, and a teacher? Those were the questions I asked as I pored through George Eldon Ladd's A Theology of the New Testament and Bill Dyrness's Themes in Old Testament Theology.

My first pastoral job posted me in midtown Manhattan “at the crossroads of the world,” as our head of staff, Tom Tewell, described it. (Notably Fifth Avenue Presbyterian was directly across the street from the Disney Store and diagonal to Trump Tower. I’ll let you make any connections you’d like between those two.) The interns at Fifth Avenue were truly outstanding. One from Princeton Seminary, David Miller, had just finished a couple of decades in international investment banking. After his internship at Fifth Avenue and his Master of Divinity degree, David finished a Ph. D. in theology and ultimately to headed up the Princeton University Faith and Work Institute. During the time at the church, namely in 1999, he founded the Avodah Institute
Avodah is a Hebrew word used in the Bible whose root has three distinct yet intertwined meanings: work, worship, and service. The meanings of this ancient word offer powerful wisdom for modern times. The Avodah Institute was founded in 1999 with the mission to ‘help leaders integrate the claims of their faith with the demands of their work.’”
Oh, there’s so much more to say… the Roaring Lambs conference with Bob Briner on faith and work, where we had Bob speak, Mako Fujimura, Charlie Peacock, and the public lectures with speakers like George Gallup, Jr., Stephen Carter, and Tommy Hilfiger. And simply the ongoing interaction with business leaders and twenty-somethings in the marketplace in this mecca of commerce.

Several years later, I was working on my book Say Yes to Noand since it intersected with business literature (like Stephen Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People), I began to study business literature and had a profound experience: “Hey, so much of this isn’t about raw profit and cutthroat competition, but about teams and values and serving your customer. It even sounds in spots strikingly like Christian ethics."

All this returned me to my roots. I could go on, but these memories came back as I led these men in seeing the connection between their lives in the office, or on the sales call, or in the law firm, and how all those places become posts where we live as ambassadors for God’s Kingdom. As I had heard—and therefore passed on—ambassadors, wherever they are, represent their home countries. And as Paul says, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20) so each of our posts are embassies. It brought me to the Scripture in our final time together where we worshiped, listened for God’s Word, and sought to be God’s men for this world… to make, as it were, the Sunday-Monday connection.
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 1 Corinthians 5:18-21, NRSV

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