Workplace Devotionals

April 2, 2012

Lessons from Nehemiah

Filed under: Uncategorized — ejwcpa @ 4:53 pm

Nehemiah is one of my favorite books of the Bible, and a great book to learn about being a leader and conducting business.  While there are dozens of lessons to be learned from Nehemiah, I’d like to share a few that stood out to me as I studied.

  1. Before doing anything, you must have a vision from God (Nehemiah 1:4).  When Nehemiah heard the news that the people were in great trouble and disgrace, the walls were broken down, and the gates burned; he sat and wept then mourned and fasted for days.  This is a strong reaction.  Even more remarkable is that the fall of Jerusalem was in 586, the exiles with Ezra returned in 458 (128 years later) and Nehemiah has this reaction in 444, 142 years after the fall of Jerusalem, and 14 years after the exiles had returned.  This is a powerful reaction to news that is 142 years old.  This is like someone giving you the news that Lincoln has been assassinated and you mourning for days because of it.  Nehemiah’s reaction toward the news of Jerusalem’s current state can only be attributed to a vision from God to compel Nehemiah to react is such a way.  God gave Nehemiah the vision and mission to go back and rebuild the walls in Jerusalem.
  2. Action starts with prayer (1:5-11a, 2:4, 4:4-5, 4:9, 5:19, 6:9, 6:14, 13:14, 22b, 29, 31b).  Nehemiah prays early and often and throughout the book of Nehemiah.  He prays for little things, small things, wisdom, strength, protection, thanksgiving.  Nehemiah is a “prayer warrior.”  It is also interesting that most of the prayers recorded in Nehemiah are short, one sentence prayers, sometimes quickly added in the midst of conversation.  Too often I think we feel the need to have lengthy drawn out prayers, as if praying longer will make us more spiritual, or at least, make us look more spiritual in the eyes of others.  We forget that prayer is our conversations with God, and not meant for others.  Jesus takes this further in his teachings, when he explains prayer as recorded in Matthew 6:5-8.
  3. Join with others by communicating the vision effectively and appropriately (2:3-5).  Nehemiah’s ability to communicate his vision effectively at the appropriate time to the appropriate person allowed for God’s vision to be carried out.  Nehemiah boldly approached the king looking sad (at that time a good way to be killed, servants were expected to have a cheerful disposition around the king at all times) and then spoke to the king about what was bothering him, tactfully explaining the problem in a way that would appeal to the king (i.e. starting out the conversation by referring to the city as being the place where his fathers were buried, something that would resonate with the king).  Carrying out a vision of any kind always requires the help of others.  Getting others on board requires the vision to be clearly articulated.  People don’t like follow a poor vision, or a vision that they do not buy into.
  4. You will need contributions from those around you of time, work, funding, and supplies (Priests 3:1, goldsmith and perfume makers 3:8, rulers 3:9, daughters 3:12, Nehemiah himself 4:23, 7:70-72, 10:32-39).  Big visions need large amounts of people to carry out.  You can’t do it alone.  In tasks to change or uplift an entire church or business, it requires everyone to help out, not just a few, not just the leaders, but the whole body.  Rarely, if ever is there a successful person who did everything working on his own.  Because of the great help from all the people, the wall was rebuilt in just 52 days.
  5. Be bold (2:6-8).  Nehemiah displayed great boldness, first by approaching the king with a sad countenance, risking death, then by speaking his desire directly to the most powerful person in the land, and challenging the king to take part in the mission and challenging him with the queen sitting there.  One must be bold to challenge a man in front of his woman.  Nehemiah knew his calling and his mission, and was not afraid to step out and take the risks to accomplish that mission.
  6. Deal with critics appropriately and stay focused on the task at hand (2:10, 19-20, 4:1-5, 4:7-8, 3:5, 5:1-13, 6:1-8, 6:16, 6:17-19).  If you are doing something big, and are being successful, other people aren’t going to like it.  When doing God’s will there is almost assuredly going to be someone in your life that doesn’t like it or doesn’t understand it, or just wants to be an annoyance to you.  The case was no different with Nehemiah.  Throughout the book he is plagued with critics, most notably, Tobiah and Sanballat.  The critics responded with anger toward Nehemiah, mockery, trickery, gossip, and even tried to incite surrounding people to attacks.  Nehemiah responded with calm, with focus on his task, with the Word of God, and as necessary responded with physical defense.  But Nehemiah never sinned in his responses and never wavered from the task at hand.
  7. Know God’s Word (6:10-13, 8:1-9).  In Chapter 6, a false prophet tries to incite Nehemiah into disobeying God’s word and hiding in the temple, that he might be turned over to his enemies. Nehemiah, knowing the word and knowing that he was forbidden from entering the temple, refused and thwarted the plan.  Later, in chapter 8, in what might be the most amazing scripture in the Bible, the people all stand for several hours, listen to the reading of the word.  At one point in the narrative, verses 4:17-18, Nehemiah mentions that the people worked with a sword in hand on on their belt.  They worked with their tools in one hand and a sword in the other.  Later in the New Testament, the sword is compared to the Bible, the word of God.  We, likewise, should work with the tools of our trade in one had, and God’s word in the other.
  8. Success is not a one-time goal, its an ongoing project.  Throughout Nehemiah, the job is never really done, it’s a continuing process.  First the wall are built, then the gates.  After that the law is read and the people repent.  With the wall built the city is repopulated.  With new leadership in place, Nehemiah later returns to offer correction.  Success is ongoing, and work is required after the initial project is completed.
  9. Build good leaders to carry on the work (Chapter 13).  Starting the work requires a strong leader as we see in Nehemiah.  At some point that work will be carried on by someone other than the pioneer.  Some of the original leaders fail from in their original role and require correction.  One person, even Nehemiah, can’t do it all himself and requires leaders under him.  The ongoing success depends on these leaders, and thus the necessity for always building up new and better leaders.

Nehemiah has a lot to teach us, the list could continue for a long time.  These are a few points that stood out to me.


June 27, 2011

Becoming Dad

Filed under: Uncategorized — ejwcpa @ 10:14 pm
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On May 27th, a month ago today, I became a father.  My daughter came into the world right on time, just after noon on her due date.  She lays next to me now as a write, alternating between crying and sleeping; a nightly, late evening ritual for us.  I try my best to stay up with her and keep her calm until her next time to feed, so that mom can get some rest.

With becoming a new father comes a flurry of joys, responsibilities, and fears; some rational, some not.  Bringing a new life into the world is an unforgettable experience of overwhelming joy and a deep unconditional love I didn’t know my heart had room for.  New levels of responsibility face me:  I will be the sole provider for my family, and not a family of just me, or even just me and my wife, but also consisting now of a helpless child, dependent upon us during her every waking and sleeping moment.  With becoming a father also came fears: will she be healthy, will she be smart, will she be athletic, will she love Jesus, will she love her father as much as I love her, or will she be overwhelmed by the pressures of a lost world that encourages debauchery, will I always be able to provide for her?

The birth of my child was the most amazing day of my life; with all due respect to my wife and our wedding day.  I know most people say that their wedding day is the greatest day of their lives, followed closely by the birth of their children, but I think that is said more out of love for their spouse than an honest comparison of the days.  I love my wife very much, so much so that I didn’t think I had room left to love another person; and I loved our wedding day.  But, I’ll tell the truth, wedding days and births of first childs are much different.

Your wedding day is marrying a former stranger who you’ve grown to know and love over the course of several months or several years, culminating in a beautiful day that begins a lifelong journey together.  Proverbs 18:22 says, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.”

The birth of my child was indescribable. Likewise, a beautiful day beginning a lifelong journey together, but this time not with a stranger… but with my own blood.  Instead of having gotten to know this person over the preceding couple of years, I was meeting her for the first time…yet, I already knew her, because she is me, and I am in her.  I truly loved her before I met her, and continue to love her more each day.

In the hours leading up to the birth, I watched my wife labor in pain, likely the most helpless I’ll ever feel in life.  Seeing someone you love that much, in that much pain, is unbearable.  I’d rather go through it myself then watch her do it.  Through one day, through the night, and halfway into the next day.  Perhaps the preceding trauma made the moment of birth that much more remarkable.  Perfection and joy the result of trial and pain.  My child was born, a little bit me, a little bit my wife, perfect in every way.

It amazing to see myself so clearly in another person.  To see little fingers shaped exactly like mine.  I almost felt as if I created her… in my image.  This seems to remind of of something…

Becoming a father has led me to learn a little bit more about how God, our heavenly father, sees us.  God did actually create us, in his image.  God does love us and look down at us like a father.

In order to be a good father, I must first acknowledge that God is my father.  Jesus prayed to God as his father and instructed us to pray to to him as our father.  I must also be a good Christian.  Following God in all my ways, looking to Jesus as my savior, loving my wife as Christ loved the church.  Proverbs 14:26 says, “In the fear of the LORD one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.”  By following God and acknowledging him, I am a blessing to my children.

I have the burden and opportunity of being the first example of a father that my daughter will ever know.  How my daughter forever views fathers, and therefore God, will depend on me.  I want to leave a legacy for my children, a legacy where they too follow God for all their lives, and follow God as a father.  The example that I set as a father should lead them to God.  Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

I understand that my children and especially my daughter will search to find a male role model and father figure in their lives.  I prefer that man be me.  In a sermon, Mark Driscoll says, “Fathers are supposed to teach their children. Dad, you are a pastor. You are a pastor. And those children and that wife, that’s your church, and you’re supposed to love them and read the Bible with them and pray with them and instruct them… Every man in the church is supposed to conduct himself as a pastor in his home… They manage their households well. Their children honor and respect them.”

The journey is only beginning for me being a father.  I know almost nothing now, and we are trying hard just to make sure to keep our daughter fed and to not break her.  I have a lot of work ahead, leading her, guiding her, teaching her.  I pray that I and all other fathers will continue to be a positive presence in their kids lives.

My daughter is now sleeping peacefully next to me.  I watch her tiny chest rise and fall, as I check to see that all is well.  My prayers will stay with her the rest of her life, and I pray that I can be that father that leads her in the way of the Lord.

June 24, 2011


I recently gave my 10th and final speech of the Toastmasters Competent Communicator manual – the speech definitely has a devotional feel to it, so I thought I would inaugurate my participation on workplacedevotionals by sharing the speech here.  Enjoy!


When I was thinking about how I might inspire you today, I decided to share something that has deeply impacted my life and that of my family.  It is a joy that has enriched our lives and increased the love in our family.  This afternoon, I will share with you about adoption.  I hope what I share will inspire you to respond through investigating adoption for your family, through supporting financially and prayerfully those who are trying to adopt, and through reaching out to widows and orphans in your neighborhood.

My Experience with Adoption

First, I would like to share what my experience with adoption has been like.  I have a photo of my family, minus my Dad, stepmom, youngest brother, and youngest sister who is now two years old.  The photo was taken at my sister Sydney’s graduation a couple of weeks ago.  The family members in this photograph include my Mom Jody, my brothers David and Alex, and my sisters Sydney and Madison.  In this picture you would  probably notice that my two sisters look a little different than the rest of the family members – that is because they were both adopted from South Korea when they were a couple of months old.  But don’t let the looks fool you – these girls are Menenbergs through and through.

I consider the adoption of both of my sisters to be a joy and great benefit to my family for two main reasons.  The first reason is that adoption has been a blessing to my sisters.  We don’t know the exact circumstances they faced before being brought into our family, but we know that had they not been adopted, their parents would not have been able to care for them and they likely would have spent time in orphanages and without a family.  They might not have had a Mom and a Dad, and they likely wouldn’t have grown up with 3 older brothers.  My family certainly isn’t perfect, but I know that being part of our family has been a great blessing for them.  Their physical needs have been met, they have been educated, and they have been part of a loving immediate and extended family.

Secondly, I consider the adoption to be a huge success because it has been a blessing to myself and the rest of my family members.  Sydneyis now 22 years old and graduated from the Universityof Washingtonthis month.  This Saturday, she left for Washington DC for a year-long consulting job.  She is thoughtful, intelligent, loving, and honest, and it has been a real joy to get to know her over the last 22 years.  Madison is 13 years old, and she just finished 7th grade. Madison is sophisticated, observant, thoughtful, and caring, and she is a tremendous addition in our family.  She is a great badminton player, and playing with her is one of my favorite things to do.  We have been enriched by their sense of humor, by their sensitivity, and by their beauty.  These two girls have made our family immeasurably richer, and I am thankful that God brought both of them into our family.

Biblical Mandate for Adoption.

My family has certainly been blessed by adoption, and it is nice to reminisce about the joy we have experienced.  However, as a Christian, this is more than just a nice story.  Adoption is a central teaching of the Bible and is essential to a proper understanding of our relationship to God.

Romans 8:14-17 says: “14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.”

As Christians, we must never forget the great truth that at one time, we too were “children of wrath”.  We were separated from God because of our sin, and we were destined for judgment because of our rebellion.  However, God, in His mercy, while we were yet sinners, sent His Son Jesus Christ to die the death that we deserve and forgive our sin so that we might be reconciled to Him.  And then what did He do?  He adopted us into His family.  Now, for those of us in Christ, we are not orphans, but we have a heavenly Father who loves us.  We have brothers and sisters who are part of our family.  We have our inheritance in God Himself.  This is the doctrine of adoption, and this doctrine is central to the Gospel.

For those of us who are in Christ and who have been adopted – what does it mean that we have been adopted?  How do we respond to this Gospel of free grace and adoption into sonship?  How do we return the generous love of our God who gave Himself for us?  John chapter 21 offers some insight into the proper response when Jesus asks Peter if he loves him.  Three times Jesus asks the question, “Peter, do you love me?”, 3 times Peter responds, “Lord, you know that I love you”, and 3 times Jesus responds to him: “Tend my lambs”.  Jesus, in no uncertain language, tells Peter that genuine love for Jesus is more than a verbal affirmation of love.  True love for Jesus will result in a Christian loving Jesus’ sheep.  And I ask you today: which of Jesus’ sheep are more in need of love than orphans without a family?

For those of us who are in Christ and have faith in His atoning work – what will the natural result of this faith be?  James 1:26 states the following: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”  James later goes on to state that faith without works is dead.  Therefore, we must conclude that true faith in God’s love and adoption to sonship will result in Christians responding to the needs of widows and orphans.  It will result in Christians opening up their homes and welcoming orphans, trusting in God even when there is uncertainty about how things will go.  Real faith will result in other Christians giving generously to support others who are adopting.

The Need
Now that I have shared my story and the Biblical mandate to practice adoption, you may ask: what is the need?  There are a variety of statistics that I saw in my research, but the picture i saw is clearly staggering.  Most statistics suggest that there are over 100,000 foster children in the US and millions of orphans worldwide. This is an overwhelming number and we may wonder if it is possible for one person to make a difference.  To this I simply say: ask my sisters if adoption has made a difference in their lives.  Ask another adopted child you know what it meant to them.  Even if we as individuals cannot adopt every orphan, we can make a difference in one life at a time. And if the church together rises to this challenge, we can fulfill the great commission through opening our homes to orphans and adopting them into our families.  If we fail to respond and do nothing, these orphans may not be adopted into any family, and they may end up as victims of human trafficking, in jail, or dead.  The stakes could not be higher for each of these children.

The Response
How will you respond to this need?  For my wife and I, we have increasingly felt a burden to respond to this need.  I am being seconded to Zambia by my organization later this summer for a year-long assignment.  We are thrilled for the opportunity to live in Zambia and serve the Zambian people.  However, we believe that God may have something more in store for us than simply working for World Vision.  We have talked about adoption since we first got married, and we planned to adopt at some point.  However, for more than a year, we have experienced infertility, and as a result, we are prayerfully seeking the Lord to see whether or not this is the right time for us to adopt.  We are also in the process of preparation and have initiated a home study in order to be prepared for the potential adoption.

There are other ways to respond besides adopting a child yourself.  There are many adoption agencies and organizations which can use your financial support and prayers.  If you personally know a couple that is trying to adopt, you can support them directly.  Adoption can be an expensive proposition as parents-to-be must complete home studies, get background checks, pay for travel, and many other costs.  Additionally, you can get involved as a foster parent, with commitments ranging from full-time foster care to respite care where you watch a child for short periods of time.  Finally, you can impact the lives of orphans or vulnerable children by volunteering for organizations such as Big Brother Big Sister.

So I ask you again: how will you respond?  Will you investigate adoption for yourself and your family?  Will you consider supporting another family that is trying to adopt, whether through prayer or finances?  Will you reach out to orphans or foster children in your neighborhood?  The need is tremendous, but we serve a God who can do the impossible.  He is a Father to the fatherless – are we?

April 5, 2011


What is Vision?

One of my favorite books is the book “Walden“, by Henry David Thoreau.  For those that are not familiar, Thoreau over the course of two years, built a house by the small Walden Pond, and for the most part lived alone, occasionally taking visitors or going to town for supplies.  He then wrote his thoughts and experiences in the book “Walden” as if they had occurred over the course of a year.

In the second chapter Thoreau writes, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”

I focus mostly on what Thoreau says of wanting to live “deliberately.”  To be deliberate in what you do is to intentionally follow a certain course, to make your way based upon a certain decision or series of decisions.  Generally speaking, it is difficult to follow a deliberate path without knowing where that path leads; otherwise you’re deliberately walking, but not deliberately living.

How do we as Christians live deliberately, intentionally?  Following our own path might be deliberate, but it also might mean walking deliberately away from God.  Walking deliberately, in and of itself, is not enough.  Being Christian, we are called to walk not only deliberately, but deliberately in the path outlined for us by God.

Have you ever been walking alone in a path that wasn’t God’s?  It’s not a good feeling; you know it’s not right; you long to be with God.  Have you ever been in a place where you knew it was exactly where God wanted you to be?  It’s great!  Any trials or difficulties that come during that time, don’t seem so bad, because you know it is all for a purpose, and a vision that God has for you.

This path that we take or this end goal is what we like to refer to in the workplace as “vision.”  Without vision, your next step may keep you moving, but you’re not going anywhere in particular.  Having a vision for where you are going, or where God has for you, gives purpose, and intentionality to your actions.  Vision is important in business, just as it is in our Christian walk.

Where is “vision” in the Bible?

The Bible gives many examples of God showing vision to his people.  Sometimes it is a clear vision spoken directly to that person, sometimes it is indirect.  Sometimes it is a path to follow; sometimes it is a path for someone else.

In Genesis 15, we see an example of God giving a clear vision to someone and a path for them to follow.  God appears to Abraham in a vision, to give him a vision.  “He took him outside and said, ‘Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’”  God showed Abraham what the future of his family would be and gave him a course to move in that direction, a very direct vision for Abraham.

In Deuteronomy 34, God takes Moses and allows him to view the Promised Land, “Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the LORD showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the LORD said to him, ‘This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.'”  God gave Moses a vision, but a vision for someone else to follow, a vision that Moses played a central role in, but would not see to fruition.

In both these cases, a vision was given, but the two men were not able to see the completion of it, they were only able to play their role.

In Nehemiah, the vision given is implied, “They said to me, ‘Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.’  When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.'”  At this time, the walls of Jerusalem had been broken down the gates burned for decades.  This was not news.  Perhaps at this time, Nehemiah saw Jerusalem in a new way, and the reminder of the walls struck him.  Oh perhaps, as I believe, God gave him a vision.

How do we know God’s plan/vision for us?

God does have a plan for each of us.  We see several scriptures in the Bible of God giving specific visions to people.  If God has this vision for us, how do we know his will?  It’s a difficult question and one that I struggle with.  I haven’t discovered any particular magic formula for discovering the future.  My tea leaves never tell me anything.

There is one teaching by the pastor Andy Stanley, which stands out to me.  In his series “Discovery God’s Will” Stanley describes God’s will into three parts:  the providential, moral, and personal will of God.

The providential will of God refers to those things God is going to do, regardless.  God has a plan.  God’s plan will be carried out.  We see this throughout the Bible.  God uses men and women to accomplish his providential will, but God’s will is done.  God’s will for Abraham came through: a powerful nation was created.  God’s vision Moses came through: the Israelites conquered the Promised Land, albeit, without Moses.  And, God’s will came through Nehemiah: the wall was restored and a city was built in Jerusalem once again.  God’s will is done, and will continue to be done, all the way through Revelation.  We know God’s providential will through the studying and knowing of God’s word.

The moral will of God refers to the dos and don’ts God has commanded.  There are many commands by God in the Bible.  The Old Testament is full of laws and commands.  Commands are not reserved to the Old Testament, however.  In nearly all of Paul’s letters he includes a list of behaviors to focus on and behaviors to avoid.  One such example is in Galatians 5, “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Of all the moral commands in the Bible, there is one that stands above all. In Mark 12 Jesus points out the greatest commandment: “‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’”  What God is most interested in is us discovering Him, not His will.  He wants us to seek Him, and seek Him first above all else.  Knowing God is knowing God’s will.

Think of a family member, or a coworker that you have worked with a lot.  When you are doing a project, writing a memo, creating a reconciliation; you do certain things as you are doing that thing, because you know it’s what your manager wants.  Because you have spent time with them, because have worked closely with them, you know their will.  It is not entirely different with God.  Spend time with him, spend time in his Word, and you will being discovering God’s will.

Stanley explains the connection between the three parts of God’s will by saying, the more familiar we are with the providential will of God, and the more obedient we are to the moral will of God, the easier it will be to discover the personal will of God for our lives.

Stanley illustrates it like this:  The providential will of God is a road, it’s the path that is going somewhere, with or without you, because God’s will, will be done.  The moral will of God is like the guardrails.  They protect you and keep you on the path.

The personal will of God refers to personal decisions and plans for our lives.  The path you travel is on that road.  How exactly God will show his personal will for you, I can’t say.  Perhaps he will speak directly to you, speak to you through a friend, or you will discover it through scripture.  When God called me the first time to go on a mission trip in college, I heard his voice speak to me.  I don’t know how I knew, but I knew.  When he called me back to go again, I heard no voice, only the overwhelming presence of God and the confirmation of others.

While I don’t know the plan God has for each of you, or the way he will communicate that plan to you, there are a lot of tools that God gives us.  (1) God gives us his scripture.  We have the opportunity to read about his providential and moral will every day. (2) Through prayer we can speak to God, and petition God.  (3) God gives us other people in our lives.  Very often in the Bible, God calls through other people.  God appoints Saul as king through the prophet Samuel.  God called David to repentance through the prophet Nathan.   God called Rebekah to be Isaac’s wife through a servant.

I believe God has a plan for each of us.  Seek Him, His commands, and His morals, and he will reveal His vision for your life.

October 10, 2010

First things First

We know that it is our mission as Christians to serve and worship God.  When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  One way that we love God is through giving God from our time, talent and treasure.

I think that it is important to give not just of our time, talent and treasure, but to give the first and the best.  It is easy to find examples in the Bible the importance of the giving the first of our treasure.  Genesis Chapter 4 tells the story of Cain and Able.  Verse 3 says that Cain brought some of this fruits, but that Able brought the fat portions of firstborn of his flocks, the best and the first.  God’s displeasure with Cain’s offering was that he was not giving the best portion of the first as Able was.

Later, in the giving of the law we learn about first fruits offerings and tithing.  In the various feasts and sacrifices that the Israelites are commanded to make, they are told to “Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the LORD your God.” Exodus 23:19.

Giving the first and best of our time may be harder to distinguish.  We see a story in Luke 10:38-42 of two women and the example of how they are spending their time.  While Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to him teach, Martha works to make preparations for Jesus and the others that are visiting.

Martha often gets the bad rap in this story, but lets think about her situation more. As we see in other passages in the gospels, there is often very large crowds following Jesus as he travels the countryside, and often the people are not well prepared for the journey, as there are a couple miracles recorded of Jesus feeding thousands.  Mary, Martha and their family were good friends of Jesus, so it is natural in that culture, that Jesus would come stay with them.  So with Jesus, and also staying at Martha’s house, would be the twelve disciples and perhaps dozens of others, all without food.  Martha saw this great need of all these people, and in her way of reaching out to them, began working hard to make preparations for their visit.  It’s not wise for us to condemn Martha for the work she was doing, as we often make a similar mistake of not seeing where we are failing to put God first in our lives.

Martha, then tries to tell Jesus to tell Mary to get up and help.  Again, I don’t think Jesus condemns Martha here, but lovingly tells here, that Mary has sought what is best, first.  What Martha was doing was good and necessary, but she did not put first things first.  Mary saw what was best, and saw that the most important thing to be doing was sitting with Jesus, listening to his teaching.  Mary put Jesus first, before the other “necessary” activities.

We also have this opportunity to put God first in our lives.  The Jews celebrated the Sabbath on Saturday, the last day in their week.  Christians observe Sabbath on Sunday, the first day of the week.  The Sabbath gives us the opportunity to start our week focused on God, to rest and reflect and remember that it is God who is first in our lives.  We can also remember to pray and take time for God each morning, to know that we work by His grace, for His glory.

Third, we can give God the first and best of our talent.  Our talent is often observed in the jobs that we do.  Most people are working in a job that uses one or many talents that they have.  We are able to exercise our talents in the work that we do.  When spending time at church on Sundays, or starting the day at home, or during the commute to work, it is good to remember that even in the work that we do, we are serving God with our talents.  We can give ourselves to our jobs, working hard, because it is for God that we work.  The best example of this is the verse in Colossians: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.”

So today, I encourage you, in the way that you use your time, talent, and treasure, give your first and your best to God, for everything we have comes from God, and we can show our love for God by giving our first and best to Him.

June 8, 2010

Why the Gospel is so Important

Acts 2:1-12

A couple weeks ago was Pentecost, which reminds us of the miraculous event of the disciples receiving the filling of the Holy Spirit.  The sound of the coming of the Holy Spirit was apparently loud enough for the people to hear and come running to see what was happening.  While the filling of the Holy Spirit was a significant event, also very significant was Jews that were in Jerusalem from every nation were able to hear the gospel preached in their language, and hear the good news of Jesus Christ, the beginning of Christianity and the spread of the gospel.  It was a great opportunity for the people to hear the gospel message that we see in verse 38.

The day of Pentecost and the miraculous conversion of 3,000 people as depicted in Acts chapter 2 remind us of the mission that God instilled in us all (Matthew 28:19-20).

The disciples were able to reach many that day, in their own tongues, people of all nations, just as Jesus had described.

In the finance department of the international NGO that I work for, being an internally focused department, we do not have the pleasure of seeing the day to day work at the ground level that the Organization is doing to reach out to the nations.  But it is good to be reminded occasionally and reflect on the fact that the Organization is carrying out the “great commission,” the calling that God has given to all of us as Christians.  The work we do to meet the physical and wholistic needs of people is important and very much a part of being a Christian and fulfilling God’s mission here on earth (see Matthew 25:31-46).  In thinking about the work that our Organization does, sometimes I think that perhaps it would be better to only focus on the physical needs of people, to focus on the food, clothing, shelter, health care, that evangelism is performed well by so many other organizations that we would be most efficient to focus on what we do well, and let others do what they do well.  Maybe focusing on people’s needs is the way to have the highest level of impact of people’s lives, and then people will be able to see Christ simply through our actions.

However, I always come back to the fact, that real, long term change can only be complete when the person’s mind changes well, when their mentality is changed.  And it is here that I again realize the importance of the great commission and why it is great.  Jesus calls us to make disciples, to baptize, to teach them the commands that Jesus has passed down.  Giving food alone, or clothes alone will not change people’s lives they must have a mind change and true change of the mind and heart can be brought by God alone.

Without bringing the message of God, any work that we do would never result in actual sustained change in people lives.  An article by a reporter that had spent significant time in Africa illustrates this point, though the author is not a Christian, he realized that in the places that Christianity had the most influence, were also the places where people’s lives had experienced the most change and were often the safest places to be.

As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God

So, the day of Pentecost and remembering the disciples beginning their mission to bring the gospel to the nations, is a good reminder of why we find it so important to include and protect the right to evangelize in our mission here at our Organization, especially in a time when there is much opposition to the hiring practices of Christian organizations and the relationship to the US government.  Giving out aid alone will never ensure change.  Even if our projects are run perfectly, there are always unstoppable factors such as natural disasters and corrupt governments.  Bringing the gospel is our mission and the only way to ensure real change.

April 5, 2010

Taking the fall…of man

Filed under: Uncategorized — ejwcpa @ 5:33 pm
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You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:6-8

Paul talks about how in his society, a man would scarcely give his life for a righteous or even good man, people have little interest in giving up their life.  Perhaps a man would give up his life for his own child, but in few other circumstances.  Jesus not only gave up his life, but gave up his life for the wicked, the sinners.  While man would scarcely give up his life for the best of man, Jesus meanwhile gave up his life for the worst of man.  We would not even take the fall for even the most minute, trivial thing, in fact, when anything small bad happens in our lives, it is the American way to immediately sue everyone, nothing can be our fault, of course, so we’ll find someone else to fault.  But Jesus, blameless, without fault, took the fall of man, took the sin of the world and died on the cross for us – something against all comprehension.  What an amazing sacrifice that Jesus made.

Remembering this sacrifice in our daily lives is central to being Christian.  Some comparisons came to mind as I heard this passage read.  It reminded me of what life was like in a CPA firm.  There’s a popular blog called “Stuff Accountants Like,” maybe you’ve read some of it maybe not.  It might only be funny (or sad) if you’ve worked in a large CPA firm.  It takes a sarcastic and humorous look at the little things that are popular in a CPA firm.  Number nine on this list is “Throwing People Under the Bus.”  It reads like this:

For accountants, getting thrown under the bus ranks somewhere on the scale between daily and weekly. If an accountant is not currently being thrown under the bus, you can rest assured that: (1) they will soon be under the bus or (2) they are actively throwing other people under a bus. This is easy for you to remember since there are no exceptions.

Throwing someone under the bus means to blame somebody else and have them take the fall. It is important to note that this does not mean the person being blamed actually did anything wrong. Also, people generally throw the people working for them under the bus, and not the other way around (though it does happen).

Many problems that accountants have (work is incomplete, budget is catastrophically blown, hatred towards fellow officemates, etc.) are addressed by throwing people under the bus. It is important to note here that this doesn’t mean the problem is solved. Some managers have a reputation for throwing people under the bus, which they’ve earned for good reason.

What can you take away from this lesson about accountants? When working with accountants, you will get thrown under the bus for no good reason and probably often. So if you can’t avoid working with accountants, you should make sure that you are the person in-charge, and that way you can opt to throw or not throw your team under the bus.”

I read this blog entry right about the time that I was currently being thrown under the bus, so it really rang home.  I would imagine that this scenario is probably prevalent in most people’s workplaces, though probably not to the extent that it takes place in a CPA firm.  In our workplaces, and in our country, taking responsibility has become so foreign, that making others take the fall, regardless of blame, is now the norm, and this blog entry is a good illustration of that norm.

We can demonstrate the behavior that Paul talks about in this passage, not necessarily by dying, but by first taking responsibility for our actions, and taking the fall for our own mistakes, rather than passing the blame to others.  This can be a hard thing to do, considering that taking the fall can often mean missing a promotion or hurting our reputation.  But we have faith in knowing that our rewards do not come from men but come from God.  Jesus has already taken the ultimate fall for us.  When we are in the kingdom, God’s measure of success is not the same as man’s measure of success.  Jesus points this out in the beatitudes, saying that the attitudes and types of people that are often shunned or looked down upon in the world are praised by God.

Taking the fall and the responsibility for mistakes may often result in short term delays in worldly success.  But Paul implores us in Philippians 2:3-4 to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Our mission on earth, as Christians may be different than the goals of many of those around us, and our success is measured differently than our workplaces may dictate.  But this does not mean that we will not achieve reward.  We have the greatest father in the universe, and father who loves us and wants to give us good things (Matthew 7:9-12).  Be patient, run the good race, and while worldly success may not come to you in the way you’d expect, success will come in God’s kingdom.

March 29, 2010

7 Habits, Part II

Filed under: Uncategorized — ejwcpa @ 3:09 pm
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(continued from last week)

The fourth habit is “Seek win/win.”  At first this may not seem like a biblical principal and perhaps it is not.  After all, not everything that people write in self-help books is from God.  Jesus teaches to turn and other cheek and consider others better than yourself.  He also says that there is no greater love than laying down our lives for a friend.  So maybe there’s no Biblical message in this one after all, and I’ll admit, I didn’t look very hard for a Biblical message.  But we could relate this to areas of the Bible which encourage us to live in harmony with one another, as described in Romans 12:16.  I think what could be practiced in relation to this habit, is to seek ways that benefit multiple people, rather than only looking out for ourselves.  As Christian workers we should not be working in such a manner to demean other people, through unnecessarily criticism, sabotaging others work, or through gossip.  We should be good workers but follow a Christ-like attitude as well.

Habit #5 is to “Seek first to understand, then be understood.”  The benefits to this are endless, if faced with a problem the first step to actually solving the problem, is understanding what the problem is.  If someone comes to you as a friend looking for advice, it’s usually good to listen to what they have to say first before spouting off.  This principle is demonstrated every day in our courts and judicial systems.  The various parties present their sides, the judge and jury listen, and when the parties are done, the judge then makes his decision.  We see evidence of Solomon doing just that in 1 Kings 3:16-28.

Solomon listens and understands first, and with God’s wisdom makes a wise decision on the case. In Psalm 32:9 warns us, “Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.”  Understanding the situation allows us to be able to lead, to be able to make wise decisions, and to offer valuable help to our teammates.  Furthermore, the ability to understand and reason is what largely sets us apart from the rest of God’s creation.

Habit #6 is to “Synergize.”  This is a great business catch phrase.  I think it’s a made up word for business books for times when you need a word to mean something to give your book more credibility.  So I’m going to say that this word means teamwork and each person operating on their strengths.  With everyone doing their parts and utilizing their strengths, tasks can be completed in a more timely manner and we can have a healthier and more friendly work place.  We see this laid out clearly in 1 Corinthians 12:12-28, the body of Christ.  

We all have gifts to share and to contribute to the team.  This is true in the immediate team that you work with, as well as in the whole of your company or organization.  We need good marketers taking risks to raise more funds and sell more products, and we need good accountants to account for it all.

Habit #7 is to “Sharpen the saw.”  The point of this habit is to continually build on your personal capacity.  We practice this by taking time for devotions and church services each week or each day, building our spiritual capacity, taking a couple times each week to focus on the ultimate reason why we do the work we do.  We take continued professional education, building our professional capacity and keeping up on changes in our profession.  Hopefully we all also take time for relaxing and spending time with our families outside of work, building our personal and relationship capacity.  By neglecting any one facet of our lives, it leaves a hole, and will quickly effect our productivity and focus in another facet.  The Bible speaks often of growth and continual improvement.  James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”  Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”  Philippians 2:12 says, “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Titus 2:2-10 is a great passage on learning and teaching,

Continual improvement is central to the Bible, not because we believe that improving ourselves will earn us salvation, but because we love God enough to treat the body and life that he gave us with respect so we can use it for the good of others.  These habits are good principles to follow in being good workers and benefiting our employers with our work, and setting Christ-like examples in the work place.

March 22, 2010

7 Habits, Part I

Filed under: Uncategorized — ejwcpa @ 5:24 pm
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I thought it would be interesting to see if I could take a popular business/self-help book and see if the principles taught in the book are supported by the Bible, as most truths in the world are in the Bible, since the Bible is God’s word and God created the world.  I looked at the book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” and though I haven’t read it, I skimmed through a summary online.  It’s funny, because the main premise of the book is that “change starts from within” which couldn’t be more Biblical principal.  Jesus teaches us to love God with our heart soul and mind, Paul writes that we should be transformed by the renewing of our mind.

The first habit described in the book is “Be Proactive.”  This is a Biblical principal in a number of different ways.  For one, simply stay informed and study your word to be prepared for temptation.  Learn the word of God before the trials start.  Imagine Jesus going into the desert without knowing his word: “You’re right devil, those rocks do look tasty, I wonder if there’s a verse for that?”  Jesus tells a great parable in Matthew 25 of being prepared.

The wise virgins, who were proactive, in bringing oil with them, were invited in, whereas the virgins who were reactive – waiting until they were out of oil to buy more – missed out on the banquet.  In our workplace, being proactive allows us to catch small issues before they become large problems and allow us to properly train and set up systems before busy times arrive.

The second habit is “To begin with the end in mind.”  Goals must not just be on a day to day basis but goals must be long term.  You may practice this at work through annual goal setting or development plans.  You may practice this at home with setting a budget and saving for education and retirement.  In Matthew 4, we see the first time that Jesus begins preaching, after a quotation from scripture, verse 17 states:  “From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’”  At least according to Matthew, Jesus’ preaching began with the end in mind, the coming of the kingdom of heaven.  Many of Jesus’ parables also teach about what the “kingdom of heaven” is like.  Jesus’ ministry was focused on the end.  Conversely, there are times in the Bible with people trying to start out who have no long term goal.  John 21 tells the story of the disciples following Jesus’ death.  Though they had seen Jesus resurrected, they still did not get what to do, they didn’t yet understand the calling that God had for them to be the leaders, so they just went back to fishing.  What I assume to be later, at the ascension, Jesus gives them the great commission, laying out the goal to them, bringing the gospel to all nations.  Obviously the end goal was a goal bigger than they could accomplish in their lifetimes, but through their work, the gospel was brought to all nations.  Which brings me to another point, which is that sometimes the goals God gives us may be beyond our lifetimes.  Take the end goal given to Abraham, a great nation, the Promised Land, and descendants that outnumbered the stars.  As Hebrews 11:13 points out Abraham and others “were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.

The third habit is to “Put first things first” or “to prioritize.”  Our priority as Christians is obvious.  “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” in Matthew 6:33.  When Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is, the command is quite simple, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:5, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”  And for a second priority, Jesus gives us Leviticus 19:18, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Jesus asks us to put these two things — love God, love your neighbor – first because he knows that with your priorities rightly focused, all other things will fall into place.  You won’t murder or steal if you love your neighbor.  You won’t worship false idols if you love God.

March 18, 2010

Boaz the Negotiator

Filed under: Uncategorized — ejwcpa @ 10:16 pm
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I often think about how to be strong and aggressive in the workplace while continuing to maintain a Christian attitude.  When I look at people who have had success; have become presidents, CEO’s or partners; I see that their lives are often riddled with debris: divorces, kids they don’t know, and sometimes enemies.  Along the way, some have found that the only way to get to the top is to step on heads or live a life that sacrifices their families.
I’ve never wanted to become like that but I don’t want to be pushed around in the workplace either.  So how do Christians maintain a Christian character while also being successful business men and women?  Can we negotiate advantageous transactions while also being Christian?
I like to find Bible examples of good businessmen, and such a story is found in the book of Ruth.  You know the story, Naomi and Ruth go back to Judah, Ruth being a Moabite widow and both women childless with no men in their lives for social or economic protection (gender roles were much different during this time than in our modern America).
Ruth meets Boaz, a man in good standing who looks favorably upon her.  Naomi also recognizes the opportunity in Boaz, a close relative of some kind, who can redeem the land owned by Ruth’s late husband as well as Ruth.  In order for Ruth to properly own the land and carry on the name of her husband’s family, she and the land needed to be redeemed by the closest available relative.  While Boaz was close, he was not the closest.  That takes us to the story in Ruth 4:1-12.
Notice in verses 3-4.  Boaz craftily asks the man if he would like to buy this land that is available.  It’s good land, it’s for sale, he has the first rights to buy, he’s helping out a relative, and I would guess it’s at a good price.  But Boaz doesn’t give the whole story outright, just that it’s for sale, baiting the would-be kinsman-redeemer into accepting the offer.  Then, just like an infomercial – “Wait! There’s more!”  If you buy this land you also get to take Ruth as your wife.
With the way Boaz crafted his offer to the other kinsman-redeemer he was able to secure the transaction in his favor.  But throughout the transaction, he maintains his honesty and integrity.  He never lies; he conducts himself in public, at the city gate, and in front of the elders.  It is not a back alley deal, he doesn’t try to pay off the other party; he’s just a good negotiator and businessman.
In conclusion, I think this story is a great example from the Bible in which someone successfully negotiates a transaction while also maintaining their Christian character and integrity, and is an example we can follow in the workplace.

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