Category Archives: Work

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Learning to find contentment when change seems to be taking a long time

Part of spiritual growth is learning to be OK with unfinished business. That can be a tough lesson for a guy who use to work in a newsroom. I prided myself on digging up a story, getting the interviews done, and the story written by our noon deadline. I was Mr. Deadline. I thrived on that. From start to finish in a couple hours. My editor liked it too. He even made a business card for me that said, “Chief Writer.” He knew I was the go-to guy when he needed to turn a story around fast.

As I’ve gone on in life and in Christ, the more I’ve discovered that very little runs like that. Hours turn into days, days into weeks . . . you know it. Whether its work projects, home projects, character growth, a friend coming to know Jesus personally, spiritual maturity, marriage communication — things seem to take time.

Not that I’m advocating passivity, but I continue to press on with what Jesus shows me today about my faith, my family, my friends, my marriage, knowing that whatever I do, I may not turn any big corners today. Or this week, month or year. Thanks to God for the times where I do see progress. That’s a blessing and a source of motivation.

I’ve gotten better at letting things sit in incomplete mode and I see that as a type of progress in my character. I had a client whose book went through 3 iterations before we got around to finally getting it into print. Stop and go, stop and go. Hurry up and wait. Get some input, wait. Get some interest, wait. Scrap the whole thing, wait. Start all over again, wait. Finally, in the spring of 2013 the book came out. I met my client in 2008 and we started work on it then.

With people and church work it’s the same. Lots of waiting while God moves in people to change them, call on them, using circumstances and human beings, including me, to love, share truth and hang in there with them. And of course it’s like that for God in my life too. Movement forward. Wait. Movement backward. Wait. Movement side to side. Wait.

I’ve learned to shake hands with unfinished business. I won’t say embrace, because that means somehow I’ve become buddies with it. No, I won’t go that far. Shaking hands is growth for me. It’s my way of saying to work-in-progress — whether it’s a character issue in my life, a book project, or what God is doing in someone around me — “Hey, I get it, this process has a life all its own and I need to be ready to go when the Lord is ready to go. I just need to keep alert to what He’s doing, because He’s the one who really runs this show.”

God is all about the undone. 2 Peter 3:9 affirms it — a thousand years is like a day with him and a day like a thousand years. While Christians may look at the world and say, “God, when are you going to wrap this up?” God looks and says, “I’m patient with the world because I don’t want anyone to perish. So I’m waiting just a bit longer.”

Now, on the flip side, I’m mighty grateful that God doesn’t rush to judge. “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7a). He is slow to anger and quick to forgive. “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). Well, this isn’t a blog about anger, but I just find that impatience and anger are close relatives in my life.

So God has been trying to teach me it’s OK to have things in a state of incompleteness. I suppose if he’s trying to make me like Jesus, this is one of those things that is very much like Jesus. Hanging with those twelve guys for 3 years. Plenty of unfinished business there. “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6). We’re all unfinished business, aren’t we?

A friend of mine worked on his house for years. It always seemed to be “getting done,” but not quite done. His wife had at least made peace with that situation, having confidence I suppose that her husband would finish someday. She knew he had the drive, but not always the time or resources. She was confident in the builder.

I suppose that’s what God is trying to teach me. And I wonder sometimes if my desire to just “get things done” is an expression of unbelief in my Builder. I suppose the construction of my faith is a bit of unfinished business too. Thank God for that.

 

Narrow way or awkward way?

A1c“For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (NASB, Matthew 7:14)

I suppose I’ve always sensed, at least since I really got into my faith about 1985 or so, that I needed to be there as much as possible for my wife, children, parents, friends and anyone else Jesus wanted me to hang with.

Because that’s been the big factor of my life, I’m a work-at-home dad and ministry guy. I wish I could say I’m always quick to tell people that. But I don’t usually say this. Am I ashamed of the life I’m confident Jesus has led me to? I don’t think so, but then sometimes I’m sucked into the manly game of “I am what I do” and I’m not sure my way of life will go down real well with certain people.

At a recent conference my default setting was “I’m a writer and editor.” That’s why I was there; a client of mine was rolling out a book I had helped her write. So it made sense. Plus I was networking, hoping to plant seeds that might bloom into future business. “I’m a work-at-home dad and ministry guy” just didn’t seem like the best intro for a let-me-help-you-write-your-next-book pitch.

Just the other day, as I was shopping for carpet shampoo (OK, all respect you may have had is out the window now), the shop owner asked me what I did. I said I was an English teacher at a local community college. This is also true. So sometimes my answer is just a function of who I’m with and what the goal of the conversation is.

I get funny looks from people sometimes when I do share about working part-time, or working at home. People won’t say it out loud, but I pick up from the furrowed forehead or the slightly raised eyebrow that they’re suspicious. Now, what they’re suspicious of I’m not sure. Maybe they think I play Mafia Wars or FarmVille all day.

B21d1I have to tell you, the hardest part about this odd arrangement of working, ministry and family life is the feeling that I’m a slacker. Wouldn’t a real man have a full time job and devote the majority of his productive hours at an office? I know that being a “real man” has nothing to do with holding a full-time job, but more with being a hard worker whatever I do, leading my family to know and follow the Lord, and loving those who can’t love back or won’t love back. Even still, it gets me sometimes.

And now’s the time for the “but I’m loved by Jesus” spiel. Which is absolutely true. And I’ll toss in Psalm 139 while I’m at it: yes, I am fearfully and wonderfully made; all God’s works are wonderful. That means me. And you too. All accurate and very proper to ponder. But the fact is, trying to live a life where you’re mainly available for God and the people He brings in your life can be weird. You’re constantly shaking out your work life, family life, hobbies and free time through the sifter question, “Is this a direction that will make me more available to follow Jesus or not?”

Not that I have any doubts about running major and minor life matters through the grid of that question. I’m just saying it can be odd. Other times, and really most of the time, it’s awesome because I have to dig more deeply into what God’s Word says, rather than what my feelings say or society thinks. It’s amazing that I’m a work-at-home dad and ministry guy.

The Holy Spirit will lift me too, and remind me this life is not what it’s about. This existence is prelude to the life that is really life, as Paul notes in 1 Timothy 6:19. So if I’m orienting myself today around the priorities of the next life — which has to do with Jesus and relating to other people— that will be awkward at times. It should be. And that’s OK. Better awkward now than awkward later.

 

Vischer Gets Visceral

Phil and Bob pictureSo I got to hear Phil Vischer last week in Chicago. Phil created VeggieTales, the smash hit Christian animated series featuring armless, legless talking vegetables. Further proof that with God all things are possible.  

I’d heard rumors of Phil’s story and read a few headlines which indicated things had not gone so well for Bob, Larry and the gang. But it was a whole other matter to have the Visch stand in front of a banquet room full of communication pros and lay out the whole rotten tomato (no offense to Bob). It was one more example of how one man had been brought back to the big question, “What does God want me to do?”

In 1993, Vischer, along with business partner Mike Nawrocki, had produced the first VeggieTales show, Where’s God When I’m S-scared?” Sales were mainly word of mouth at first but word spread quickly. By 2000, their production company, Big Idea Inc., had blossomed from 3 to 200 employees. People were touting Phil as the next Walt – Walt Disney that is. The PBS newsmagazine Religions & Ethics NewsWeekly named Phil one of its “Top 10 People to Watch” on the American spiritual landscape, along with the likes of Bishop T.D. Jakes.

Then the roof caved in. Big Idea’s massive personnel ramp-up occurred at the same time as a gigantic sales slump. Even the VeggieTales’ first full-length motion picture, Jonah, could not right the ship. Big Idea was dragging anchor. Then Vischer and company were hit with a lawsuit from a distributor claiming breach of contract. “God could have saved the company,” Vischer reported. “He could have but he didn’t; the distributor got all they wanted and more.”

Bankruptcy was next. And in one last prayer meeting at Big Idea, attended by only 13 of 65 remaining employees, Vischer sounded the call to battle once more, assuring the baker’s dozen that God could still act. Then one lady, a true prayer warrior, came up to him and delivered the prophetic blow: “This isn’t about God and Big Idea; this is about God and Phil.”

Phil found himself on the outside looking in as another company took over his creation. He made what he viewed as a magnanimous offer to serve as creative director for the new owners. “No thanks, we’ve hired another guy for that job,” was the reply. That was the last straw. But then he was confronted with Jeremiah 29, where the Israelites were commanded by God to pray for the prosperity of Babylon, not wish for its sudden destruction.

Finally he approached the new owners about serving in whatever role that would help – making editorial notes on scripts for instance. In exchange he would get a couple pennies for every dollar earned off his veggie pals. That money has now funded new ventures, such as Vischer’s What’s In the Bible puppetry-based DVD series or his online program, Jelly Telly (www.jellytelly.com).

“Seven years ago my dream died,” Phil related. “But I learned that impact doesn’t occur when you’re pursuing impact but when you’re pursuing God.” I think Bob and Larry would be proud.