Category Archives: Christian Productivity

What is victory in Jesus for?

Paul tells us to be joyful and thank the Lord in everything.

One possible inference from this is that our lives are supposed to be perpetually exciting and always wonderful.

Just to state the obvious; this is not true.

To be more specific, God restores us and works through us as we faithfully continue in our labors.

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 ESV).

This passage on work reminds us of what the Apostle has already written in this letter:

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power (1.11)

And,

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word (2:13-17).

So the very tradition to which we must hold, and for which Paul prays that we may be established in every good work, is also a tradition that tells us to reject idleness and embrace work.

Our tendency to separate “good works” from “working for a living” is not helpful in most cases. Working for a living is one aspect of our good work in the Lord.

And it thus requires Gospel encouragement, which the Lord supplies in his word. For example:

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:54-58 ESV).

The point that may need emphasis, is that God does not redeem us from ordinary life to escape into a realm of supernatural power. He redeems us to be the powerful agents of change he created us to be in our ordinary work.

And God promises to give us rest.

Working hard: there is no substitute

The first rule for improving personal efficiency is:

Act on an item the first time you read or touch it.

I’m not talking about those things that you can’t do now or even those things you shouldn’t do now. I’m talking about all the things that you could and should do, but you don’t. I’m talking about routine paperwork and e-mail of the sort you encounter every day. Take care of these things the first time you touch or read them, and you’ll save yourself a lot of time in the long run.

Call Mary. Respond to that e-mail message immediately. Answer the customer’s letter of complaint. Act on that voice mail as you listen. Talk to the boss about the problem. Do It Now. You’ll be amazed at how little time it actually takes and amazed at how good you feel when it’s done.

If you’re not going to act on your paperwork, don’t waste time looking at it. If you’re not going to return your voice mail messages, don’t waste time listening to them. If you’re not going to respond to your e-mail messages, don’t waste time looking at them. Don’t clog up your day with things you aren’t going to do. Instead, move on to what you are going to do, and Do It Now.

via The Personal Efficiency Program: How to Get Organized to Do More Work in Less Time.

Before there was Getting Things Done there was The Personal Efficiency Program. What I like about that book is that, at the center of all to the promises of new techniques and knowledge sat a fundamental point–a point about virtue.

Don’t wast time; work!

It seems to me that the value of working as a virtue is slighted all the time. I hear companies criticized because “they don’t do anything that no one else could do.” It seems the key to prosperity is having a lock (intellectual “property” monopoly perhaps) on some kind of supply. Actually managing to do something everyone else can do better than they do it doesn’t seem to be an option.

Likewise, we keep hearing about how people succeed by being “brilliant” or “innovative.” But as far as I can tell, mostly they are lucky. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs could have been just as brilliant in many times and places in human history and they would have been no more well known than the many other brilliant people that we have never heard of.

(Let that last point sink in. Every time you hear about how x leads to success, ask yourself how the researcher has found a wide sample of failures and managed to determine that x was not present in those endeavors. Finding what all success stories have in common might tell you something about making sure that you don’t frustrate the success you might otherwise achieve, but it doesn’t give you any reason to claim that x creates success because, for all you know, many failures have shared the same trait. In the world, and even in the United States, I think it is possible to find one or more examples of just about anything bringing about success. [This is something aspiring church planters might do well to meditate upon]).

A slack hand causes poverty; but the hand of the diligent makes rich.

I realize there there are plenty of visible multi-millionaires who think they found a shortcut. But people win the lottery too. Doesn’t make it a strategy. In the meantime, how is dumping money into lawyers and courts a productive allocation of resources? For example, from the summer of 2007, NYT:

The video rental chain Blockbuster said on Wednesday that it had settled a patent dispute with its rival Netflixthat challenged Blockbuster’s entry into online DVD rental. Blockbuster also signaled that the new business was taking a toll on its finances.

Although terms of the settlement were not disclosed, shares in Netflix jumped $1.26, almost 6.5 percent, to $20.78, while Blockbuster slipped 2 cents, to $4.20.

Blockbuster also disclosed in a securities filing on Wednesday that it planned to seek an amendment to its Aug. 20, 2004, credit agreement that would lower earnings requirements.

The company said in the filing that it planned to modify its popular Total Access plan before the end of the year to “strike the appropriate balance between continued subscriber growth and enhanced profitability.”

Now, I confess to having a weird preference to Netflix, but the idea that selling dvds online through mail via monthly subscription (this was about actual dvds, not online streaming) can be patented is a really stupid idea.

There was a time when the past was a gift and people were invited to do their best with it. Now, this form of stewardship is otiose; we’re supposed to go into debt to buy access to exclusive secrets in the trust that they will make us effortlessly rich. (It is God’s joke on the modern world that, when future historians analyze how we economically strangled ourselves to death, they will realize the fingers around our throat belonged to the gloved hands of a cartoon mouse).

Anyway, I think Solomon would tell you to worry far less about access to a monopoly and simply work hard. He would also tell you to read David Allen for lots of good advice but don’t believe the subtitle. There is no such thing as “stress-free productivity.”

The problem with sleepwalking through a bad life is that it makes it worse

From chapter 6 of the Proverbs of Solomon:

My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor,
have given your pledge for a stranger,
if you are snared in the words of your mouth,
caught in the words of your mouth,
then do this, my son, and save yourself,
for you have come into the hand of your neighbor:
go, hasten, and plead urgently with your neighbor.
Give your eyes no sleep
and your eyelids no slumber;
save yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter,
like a bird from the hand of the fowler.

Go to the ant, O sluggard;
consider her ways, and be wise.
Without having any chief,
officer, or ruler,
she prepares her bread in summer
and gathers her food in harvest.
How long will you lie there, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man.

And then this from Proverbs 10.5:

He who gathers in summer is a prudent son,
but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame.

Proverbs 19.15:

Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger.

20.13:

Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty;
open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread.

and then full circle in Proverbs 24:

I passed by the field of a sluggard,
by the vineyard of a man lacking sense,
and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns;
the ground was covered with nettles,
and its stone wall was broken down.
Then I saw and considered it;
I looked and received instruction.
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man.

So far so clear, but I wonder…

In the Bible, sleep as rest is not a bad thing. In the same chapter 6 we read:

My son, keep your father’s commandment,
and forsake not your mother’s teaching.
Bind them on your heart always;
tie them around your neck.
When you walk, they will lead you;
when you lie down, they will watch over you;
and when you awake, they will talk with you.

Likewise Proverbs 3.21-24:

My son, do not lose sight of these—
keep sound wisdom and discretion,
and they will be life for your soul
and adornment for your neck.
Then you will walk on your way securely,
and your foot will not stumble.
If you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.

So, let me make an intuitive leap. Maybe there are ways of sleeping while one is upright, walking, or sitting on the couch. Maybe loving “sleep” isn’t just sleeping in too late. Maybe it refers to the escapist witless stuff we all do rather than deal with reality. Remember what it is that destroys fools: “the complacency of fools destroys them” (Proverbs 1.32).

People don’t want to face up to their situation. They don’t want to believe that they are headed for poverty. They feel powerless to stop it. They would rather just forget and watch some TV.

The only way to stay awake is to live by faith.

Do not be afraid of sudden terror
or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes,
for the LORD will be your confidence
and will keep your foot from being caught.
Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
when it is in your power to do it.

Keeping track of your situation and working hard doesn’t automatically or obviously lead away from poverty. Your situation can appear entirely hopeless. But you have to trust God and show the diligence in stewardship that he wants from you.

Consumer Christians in An Age of Plastic: The College Years

Before the blogosphere brought debate-p07n to your lap, you had to go to a church or college to get in ideological fights to affirm your superiority over others. Back in the 80s, the Religious Right was something of a phenomenon, which meant it was an object of general scorn on Christian college campuses–not always for imaginary reasons, but one got the impression that real facts were only collected by happy accident.

Back then Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger was a Bible for the cool socially conscious Christian college student who wasn’t smart enough to get a computer or business degree but wanted to feel like he was making the right choice.  And then came out David Chilton’s Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt-Manipulators which allowed students like me to feel the same. The blogosphere was still stuck in book publishing back then.

So there were sides drawn on some Christian college campuses: Evangelicals for Socialist Action versus Ugly Americans for Christ or something like that. And the debates and arguments provided great entertainment over minimum wage law, welfare, and the legitimacy of the profit motive, etc.

And we discussed this stuff not just in class, or on bulletin boards (literal real space bulletin boards where we posted notes made of real paper), or in the school student newspaper–but often while eating Pizza in a dorm room, or while eating chicken wings at the campus fast food joint. Or we would discuss it in the car while we were going out to a rock concert or a restaurant (even that was a mini-road trip where I went to college).

We paid for food on many an evening, even though we were all on the meal plan.

None of us had plastic yet, then in the second half of the eighties. I remembered being amazed at all the direct mail we were sent right before graduation telling us to buy a new car on credit.

But our behavior was rather interesting.

I have good authority that Ron Sider lived what he preached. He wanted everyone to live on $38k in 80s dollars, if I recall correctly, so that they gave everything else away. This feat required low-budget living and careful planning. It meant living on a severe budget and thus tracking expenses.

And I opposed this ESA agenda with a message about persistence in labor, patience, saving, risk-taking, and responsibility for one’s life and the lives of one’s dependents.

And we argued about this over pizza.

It never occurred to me to point out that none of my leftist student friends seemed to be even slightly prepared for a life of austerity and budgeting so that they could give away the excess. And it never occurred to me that the money I earned in college was for any other purpose other than to spend on immediate wants–my needs were taken care of along with tuition.

Saving and all the rest were for other people in another life. As long as I worked at graduating with a decent GPA, nothing else mattered. I was free to spend and consume. Real economic initiative and responsibility beyond that one duty would wait for when I was in the real world with a real job.

I lived in a bubble–to use a pregnant financial term.

I and my ESA friends lived exactly the same sort of economic life.

And Dave Ramsey and Ron Sider have more in common with each other than they did with either group of students.

Or perish

Book publishing is a tough market because not many people read.

This is true of Christians like it is of the general populace.

So, for decades now, publishers have relied on people with TV and radio outlets to “author” books.

Well, even this doesn’t always work.

Note the blogged confession:

I think book publishers have a difficult task, and so do Christian book publishers.  But I think they need to face up to the fact that they are salesmen, whether they want to be or not.

I just talked to a guy who got his start selling paint.  There are no secret formulas in paint.  Everyone who makes paint knows how to make paint the same way.  It was a frustrating job trying to get anyone to buy.  Until someone told him that he had to go find new customers in the neighborhood for the stores.  He would find a school or some other company that needed to think about repainting, and he would work to get them together with the store.  Generating new business for the store gave him a chance to get the store to stock new paint.

My point here is that book publishers are supposed to try to find ways to get people to read.  The “celebrity” circuit is just about tapped out for many (not all) and it is causing stress.  Well, maybe it is time to reconsider whether that hasn’t always been an easy fix for a more fundamental problem.  While there is nothing wrong with generating readers (or at least book buyers) in that way, the primary calling of Christian booksellers lies in a different direction: to create passionate readers.

And if anyone dares to think this is not possible, let me remind you of “the wealthiest women in show business,” who never had a radio show or a television ministry or any other platform or following–just the ability to write really good books.

So, my back seat driver suggestion, lets focus on finding really good writers who make people want to read.  And lets try every other way we can.  I think the internet opens up all sorts of possibilities.  We shouldn’t be surprised that the celebrity giganto-advance system isn’t working well as a primary support system for publishing.

A CEO writes on six steps you should take when tempted to write an angry email

  1. Cool down
  2. Talk it out
  3. Write a[n unsent] response
  4. Do your homework
  5. Schedule a meeting
  6. Admit your mistakes

My favorite quotation from the post was attributed to John Eldredge as a paraphrase:

It’s easy to be brave when you are sitting in the safety of your own office. You can hurl digital spears at your adversaries without without the risk of a real, live encounter.

The post goes into a great deal of detail and explains each of the six steps. It was written by Michael Hyatt of Thomas Nelson Publishers under the title, “Stop: Don’t Send That Angry Email!

I’d like to think I’ve learned the lesson, but then I think a similar one could be posted as “Stop: Don’t Post That Angry Comment!” The main differences are that comments are public and they usually involve situations you don’t even need to face. We actually surf looking for provocation.

Web Widget Wednesday: 30 boxes

I’ve mentioned 30boxes before. Google’s calendar is quite functional, I’m sure, but 30boxes has some unique features and, besides, I can’t allow the secret agents of Google to know everything about me that easily.

What you get with 30boxes is

  • a text-entry feature that allows you to quickly set a date and reminder without using your mouse to click and point.
  • A great many social networking features (though I don’t use these)
  • A reminder system that can use email or text messaging on your phone.
  • a virtual desktop with your important links.
  • Automatic weather forecasts for your days.
  • Automatic google map links to your destinations.
  • a task list.

The task list is what kept me from making 30boxes my homepage was the rather mediocre tasklist (or so I thought). But I’ve figured out that the tag system can make it much better. The task list I used had contexts (“work,” “home,” “yard” etc) and projects. All I had to do was start using tags for these to classifications.

30boxes You really ought to give it a spin.

Oops.  I just realized I’m fifteen minutes late.

On family economy

We all need to avoid “recreational purchasing.” It makes sense to address that issue.

And debt is a monster. Anyone with a brain should fear it as far as consumer spending is concerned.

Having said that, I don’t think much of the focus on reducing spending to get one’s finances in order makes much sense. To name just one problem, any consistent use of this advice would mean telling couples not to have children. I just don’t see that as compatible with Christian stewardship.

I’d like to see more responsible, non-exploitative, Christian counseling aimed at helping people make a lot more money. I just don’t see any other way to do it.