CORPORATE MAKEOVER SERMON SERIES
Discovering the Wonderful World of Work
AUGUST 2, 1998
It was just a pair of sunglasses. Several weeks ago, I saw my father wearing a pair of those extra large aviator, Roger Moore-type specials that went out in the early ‘80s. I said, “Dad, you need to lose those glasses, man. Maybe use them as ski goggles but, come on, this is the 90s, I need to update you.” So I took it upon myself to purchase him some 21st Century eyewear. I walked into a store and found a couple of sales clerks leaning against a display counter in deep dialog. The closer I got, the more I knew that they, a man and a woman, had no idea I was even in the store. I cleared my throat. “Excuse me.” They looked at me with a blank kind of expression. “I am looking for a pair of sunglasses.” I named the type and model I wanted but I could tell that my words weren’t registering. They seemed nice and bright but they obviously had a skewed view of human labor. You could see it all over them. One replied, “Well, you know, dude, the glasses you are talking about I think we used to carry them. But I really can’t help you, man.” I asked if I should call another store or, perhaps, speak to their manager. The words weren’t even sinking in. They were pretty much in the prison cell of human labor just punching a clock, picking up a check and going through the motions.
As I walked out of that establishment, I became more convinced than ever that I needed to do a series on human labor for our church. Most of us work but the truth is, we don’t know why we work. The majority of us endure a work-laden workweek to enjoy the work-less weekend. Can you imagine spending about 40 hours a week, over 2,000 hours a year, and over 90,000 during a lifetime doing something you don’t understand and doing something you really don’t like? Can you imagine doing that? Statistics show that most of the workforce has that view, that mentality, of human labor. Yet, in these postmodern days, we kind of fantasize and dream and say things like this to ourselves. “I want to make the big hit and rake in the big bucks and buy a big place on the water or in the mountains, do the autopilot thing and never work again for the rest of my life.” There is a problem with that line of thinking. God blows that mentality out of the water and off of the side of the mountain.
God has given us human labor as a gift, as a purpose-driven task, not as a punishment, an albatross or a curse. Yet some of us have the image of God as a mean, stern individual looking down from the clouds of heaven saying, “Hey, you messed up. You blew it. You sinned. You fumbled. You fouled out. Your curse and punishment is human labor. To the salt mines you go. Work. Work. Work. And more work.” That is not true, though. That’s not God’s take nor His agenda.
Author John Beckett in his book, LOVING MONDAY, writes, “The whole idea of work has gotten a bum rap in our western culture. As with so many distortions from the Biblical norm, we have come to associate work with drudgery and futility, not dignity and fulfillment.” But an esteemed place for work was actually initiated by God Himself, the one who from the first verse of the Bible was committed to work. Right off the bat, in the book of Genesis, God is described as a diligent laborer. Let me highlight eight verbs of action which describe God’s work ethic. God created. God moved. God separated. God called. God made. God gathered. God placed. God blessed. I don’t know about you but that sounds like work to me. The Bible goes on to say that we are made in the image of God. Thus God, the worker, fashioned you and He fashioned me with a great capacity and a great yearning for labor. When we work, we are simply mirroring the image and the personality of God.
In fact, to delve a little deeper, God, after He made Adam and Eve, gave them a job. He gave them this job before sin ever entered the program. God simply said to the first man and the first woman, “I want you to take care of my garden. I want you to manage it and to till it.” This should settle the argument once and for all concerning what is the oldest profession known to man. Landscaping! It is right there in the Bible.
Work is a gift. It is not a punishment. We are going to find out in this series that we ultimately work for God Himself. You don’t really work for that president or that CEO or that manager or that foreman. Ultimately, you and I work for the Lord. And when we see this and understand this, suddenly the scales fall off and we discover what work is all about. So for the next 10 to 12 weeks, I am doing a series called CORPORATE MAKEOVER: CHANGING THE WAY YOU LOOK AT WORK. Now don’t let this title fool you. If you are a Mom at home with preschoolers, this series is for you. Let me tell you something, you really work. If you are a construction worker in the suburbs working on a project, this series is for you, because you really work. If you are an executive in some dark paneled boardroom, this series is for you, because you really work. I am going to promise you something. If you make every weekend, it will change the way you look at work. And I am so thrilled to do this series.
One of the most frequently asked questions during job interviews has to do with employee benefits. People want to know about the benefits. And the benefits can range from stock options to 401Ks, from club memberships to insurance policies. What are the employee benefits, we ask. Well, today, I want to discuss with you God’s employee benefits. Remember, we work for Him. And God designed human labor as something that’s rewarding and beneficial. He wants His children to be involved and to understand and to have the right view, not a skewed view, of this labor. Let’s jump in and talk about employee benefits.
The first benefit I want to discuss is something that is evident on a person’s face. You can check it out on their countenance, by the way they walk and the way they talk. You can tell when someone has it. It is the benefit of fulfillment. We will receive a heightened sense of fulfillment when we roll up our sleeves and tackle tasks tenaciously, when we really work. God, being God, could have invented work as some benign, boring activity that has no productivity whatsoever. He could have made it that way. But He didn’t. God made work in such a remarkable way that when we get involved in it, we can receive the benefit of fulfillment. He has given us time and time is a gift. And He has said He wants us to fill most of our time with this thing called labor. And you can tell when someone is fulfilled, filled up with work, filled up with doing things that really matter to the company or the organization or the school or the church.
I have run into a number of people over the years who have made a lot of money at a young age. And a lot of these people have kind of checked out of life. They have pressed the pause button and pursued recreational activity for a long, long time. Or they have hung out with their friends and the family for a long, long time, not doing any work. You would think that they are really living, having a wonderful time, enjoying what life is supposed to be. Yet when I bump into them six or eight months later, something is missing. They are not fulfilled. They seem empty. What is the problem? They are not working. We are wired for work. We are made to do this activity. We are made to do something specific. God has fashioned you, fashioned me like that. We will spend an entire session next week on the subject of how to find the right job, how to have true job satisfaction and true job fulfillment. Once we get in on that, we have fulfillment.
Now after we have fulfillment, the second benefit is ushered in; confidence. When I am fulfilled, suddenly on the heels of fulfillment, a sense of confidence will be ushered in. Confidence is built in the marketplace. It is built when we work. And it starts at a very young age.
This Monday I was driving three of our four children home from church after our Vacation Bible School. It was late and the kids were fussy and whining. We drove into the driveway and the four-year-old twins got out of the truck kind of dragging. EJ, my six-year-old, was kind of dragging. Suddenly, when I opened the front door and they stepped into the house, it is like they were hit with an infusion of excitement. “Dad, come, come to the porch. Look at the porch. Look at the porch. There are no bugs on the ceiling fan any more. See the floor. The floor is clean. We cleaned the porch with Mommy while you were at work.” And I could see a little confidence there. I could see them standing a little bit taller, walking a little bit more assuredly because they were involved in this confidence thing. Confidence is huge.
When I think about confidence, I think about David. The Old Testament tells us that David was a statesman, a soldier and a true patriarch. Why was he so confident? Let’s remember the time David lived. Before David took on the WCW champion Goliath, what was going through his brain? What was he thinking about? I will tell you what he was thinking about. Listen to this text from I Samuel 17. David is talking to King Saul before he does battle with Goliath. “David said to Saul, ‘Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them.’” What was going on here? David was simply saying, “Hey, Saul, my first job as a little boy was working out in the country with a herd of sheep. When the bear and lion came after me, I attacked them. I killed them and it gave me confidence. I have confidence in the abilities that God has given me and I can take on this overgrown, uncircumcised, ugly Philistine. I can take him out.” Confidence.
You know, confidence never shuts up. You can’t say to confidence, “Confidence, shut up. Quit talking.” It never, ever is quiet. Confidence is a conversationalist. It says, “You matter. You can do something special. You have gifts and ability that no one else has. You are doing something. You are fulfilled.” Confidence is like that.
Now don’t get the wrong idea. Confidence is not just automatically downloaded from heaven. We are not just walking around one day and discover that we have confidence. It is reserved for those of us who roll up our sleeves and tackle tasks tenaciously, those of us who really work. And when that happens we will have fulfillment. And after fulfillment, a strange and unusual sense of confidence will follow.
Let we tell you what some people are thinking. You see in a crowd this size there are some people who are thinking out in Mars, orbiting. Mars thinkers would say, “Ed, true fulfillment and true confidence is only available to those power brokers in the corner office cutting the big deal. Are you saying that construction workers, school teachers, firemen and sales persons can have fulfillment like the big time people? No way. Come on.” Let me tell you something. God’s word says from cover to cover that any person who pursues a legitimate, worthwhile occupation has available to them huge amounts of fulfillment and confidence. It does not matter what you do as long as it is honoring God, is worthwhile. You can have fulfillment and confidence. I don’t care who you are, what you look like, whether black collar, white collar, green collar, polka dot collar, it is available to you. When was the last time you stopped and thanked God for designing work as something that you could get rewards from? When was the last time you did that?
Now the third benefit is something that I am just going to touch on. I will do a little bank shot on this third one. It is something that is basic, yet oftentimes overlooked. I call it the provisional benefit of work. Remember we said that we are made in the image of God. We have a great capacity and a great yearning for work. God provided for us. He has given us life. He has given us creation. He has given us clothes and a roof over our heads. He has provided eternal life for us. So this provisional aspect was going on as God was working. So when we work, we have the opportunity to mirror and mimic the image of God by providing for others, for ourselves, for our families, for friends and loved ones. The provisional aspect of work is great.
I remember the first time I got in touch with this provisional aspect. It was during my first job. My first job was working at a formal wear store in Columbia, SC. After I had been there for a couple of weeks, I picked up my first paycheck. I was so excited. I put it in my wallet. I jumped in my Delta 88 lime green car with big old snow tires on the back. I put in a BeeGee’s tape. And I was thinking to the music, “I am providing. I am providing.” I was providing for myself. I could do some stuff. I’ll tell you what I did with the money. I saved most of it. But with the rest of it, I bought a ring for my girlfriend, who is now my wife. You see the provision started way back then when I was sixteen and it is continuing now as I am 37. And this provisional aspect is something from the mind and the hand of God.
There is a fourth benefit and it is one of my favorites. It is reserved for those of us who tackle tasks tenaciously and really roll up our sleeves and work. It is the benefit of character development. Endurance. Commitment. Vision. Discipline. Where are these played out? I’ll tell you where we learn these. We learn them while we work. Some may think that we put these into practice at church. Well, we talk about them at church. Church is kind of the lecture hall. The laboratory is when we work. I thank God for the many character lessons I have learned over my life. And they have not been easy. The best ones have been difficult. But I have learned them. And I thank God for putting people in my life to develop character in me.
I want to stop before I share a story with you and ask you something. Think about that person that you work with. Think about that person that you really don’t like. Maybe it could be that unfair boss or that president who is too demanding or that person who really gets you. Have you ever thought about this? God probably put them in your life to develop some character. If you are struggling with impatience, if that is your problem, He might put someone right beside you who is very slow, like molasses. And you want to just grab them and choke them. God has put that person into your life so that you can develop patience. Or maybe you are having trouble accepting others and loving all types of people. He might put an irregular person in your life. What do you do with jerks in your life? God could have put that jerk right there so that you will love them and accept them and honor them and remember that you have never locked eyes with a person who does not matter to God. God does that.
So instead of getting upset at people, cursing them, why not thank God for them? He is using them, for the most part, to develop some character in your life and mine.
As I look back at my past, I see that three people have developed character in my life. The first is my Dad. When I was a kid, we lived out in the country. We had a bed in our front yard that Dad called a flowerbed but was really a weedbed. No lie, the bed was the size of this stage. On Saturday morning when most of my friends would be out doing whatever, my Dad would say, “Hey, Ed, I want you to go out and pull all the weeks in the flowerbed.” The weedbed was infested with stuff called nut grass. Do you know what nut grass is? It is some demonic grass, that is what it is. You can’t pull it up. I remember being on my hands and knees trying to pull up that nut grass. “I cannot believe my father….” After awhile I would get tired and I would go in a watch some fishing shows. Dad would hear Roland Martin on the television. “Hey, son. Finish the task. Then you can have time for fun. Do the hard things first.” And I would go back and pull the nut grass. And that has helped me over the years.
My mind rushes from my father to one of the coaches I had in high school. He was a former Marine named Lee Cody. After a three hour practice, we would be running sprints. He would say, “Come on, Ed, you have got to move your feet more than that. Pick up those slow eleventh grade feet. Come on, Ed, come on.” I remember that. I didn’t like that but I had to do it.
Then my mind rushes to my seminary professor, Dr. Wardis Gideon. I had to learn konei Greek from Dr. Gideon. It is a dead language. Most of the New Testament was written in konei Greek. And every time, before class, he would say, “Class, God has not called us to an easy task but to a demanding responsibility.” And man, Greek was demanding for me. I thank God for these people because God used them to mold character in my life.
How are you viewing where you work? How are you viewing human labor? How has you character developed over the last several years?
There is another benefit I want to hit. This benefit is probably my most favorite. It is the benefit of the finish. That’s right. Human labor provides me and provides you the benefit of the finish. Doesn’t that sound a little bit strange? Turn in your Bibles to Genesis 1:31. God, after He had done all this work; created, called, brought into being; looked back over everything He had done and said, “It is very good.” God experienced the feeling of the finish, the feeling of accomplishment. God experienced this benefit of human labor. Isn’t that fascinating? Again, for those of us who roll up our sleeves and tackle tasks tenaciously, we can have fulfillment, confidence, the provisional aspect going on, character development and the feeling of the finish. And you can’t put a price tag on the feeling of the finish. It is the employee who finally finishes his work for the day and walks out of the office. It is the athlete who leaves the stadium after a well-played game. It is the pastor who says, “Let’s stand for closing prayer.” It is the teacher who grades the last test. It is the doctor who sews the final stitch. It is the worker who hangs the last fixture. It is the feeling of “the finish”. I have accomplished something. I have started something. I stuck with it. And now it is done. That is a reward, a benefit of work. And this benefit is so huge that it motivates you and motivates me to tackle the next task, the next opportunity, the next project, the next house, the next deal, the next whatever it is. The finish. There is nothing like the feel of the finish.
A couple of days ago I walked into our worship center. Things have been moving so fast since we moved here in April. It was almost like the whole thing just hit me. As I looked around, I began to have the feeling of the finish. I said to myself, “We, as a church, did this by the grace of God. We prayed. We sacrificed. We gave a lot of finances to make this happen.” I was just flooded with feelings of accomplishment. I said, “Yea, God. Look what our church has done because of Your power and Your blessing.” And this feeling of the finish will motivate this church to do the next project, the next program.
You know Jesus had this feeling at the end of His life, didn’t He. Jesus Christ knew that we could not bridge the gap between ourselves and a holy God. He knew that if we were left to our own, we would live in eternal estrangement from God. So here is what Jesus did. Jesus went to work. He performed the ultimate labor of love. He sacrificed His life. He spilled His blood on the cross for your sins and mine thereby securing a way to get to God through Him. What if Jesus had said that He would just do a halfway job? What if He stopped right before the cross? Once He was nailed up, He could have chosen to get down supernaturally. But He didn’t. He finished the task and right before He breathed His final breath, what did He say? It is finished. The work has been done. Salvation has been secured. His heart and mind were flooded with feelings of accomplishment. His work has changed my life and it can change yours. Isn’t it about time that you got in touch with His employee benefit?