Thursday, September 01, 2005

A Secular Workplace – Part Two

It’s Monday morning and, congratulations, you are starting a new job!  The question is, how do you conduct yourself, as a Christian?

“Let Them Know”

In a new job you always meet new people.  You don’t know them and they don’t know you.  There is something very important about you that they need to learn right up front.  One way or another, subtle or overt,  I think it is important that you let people know that you are a Christian.

“It Affects Their Conduct”

Why is there an urgency to let your new coworkers know about your faith?  First of all, it should set a standard of conduct for those around you.  Hopefully they will clean up their language and their jokes out of respect.  Hopefully they will refrain from taking the Lord’s name in vain.  They will know not to ask you to join them if they are making plans unfit for a Christian.  You won’t have to hear such things as, “You want to go to the bar after work?” or “Check out this racy website” or “We’re leaving early, can you clock us out at quitting time?”  I know it’s not always that simple, but at least your more civilized coworkers will respect where you stand.

“It Affects Your Conduct”

When you let people know you are a Christian, it forces you to live like one.  Immediately you have a higher standard of morality to live by.  They will expect you (and put pressure on you) to be honest and truthful.  You will have to keep your own language and jokes clean.  You can’t join in on certain office high jinx.  You will be forced to pass on various after-hours activities. Anything less than good Christian behavior and you will be labeled a hypocrite.  

“It Affects Their Lives”

When your coworkers want to live in the darkness, you (the Christian) will be an annoying light that ruins the atmosphere.  But the darkness is a terrible place to live.  Situations will arise in your coworkers’ lives, and they will seek you out for help.  They knew from day one that you were a Christian – a source of wisdom, love and mercy – and they will come to you when the time is right.  On that day you will be glad that you began your new job with the label “Christian.”

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Follow the Bishop's Example

The crime? Stealing bread. That's what sent Jean Valjean to prison, where he stayed for 19 years in France two centuries ago. Even after his release he was marked as an ex-convict and found life very difficult. 

What Jean Valjean needed was a break. What he needed was mercy, but no one was offering him any. Desperate, he turned thief once again and stole. And once again he was caught. His chance of ever living a full life was over, if it were not for mercy.

In his famous “Sermon on the Mount” Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful…” (Matt. 5:7) In Matthew 9:13 he is quoted as saying, “But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'” 

What if we don't feel like being merciful? James 2:13 says, “…judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful…”

In Matthew 18 we read an excellent illustration of mercy in action, as well as the “judgment without mercy” that will be shown to us if we are not merciful:

“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 

The servant fell on his knees before him. `Be patient with me,' he begged, `and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. `Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. 

His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, `Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. 

Then the master called the servant in. `You wicked servant,' he said, `I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” 

It is wise to show mercy. In fact, James 3:17 describes the “wisdom that comes from heaven” as being “full of mercy”. A truly wise person is a person truly full of mercy. Of course the Pharisees of Jesus' day fell short of that great wisdom. In Matthew 23:23 Jesus charged them with failing to be merciful. He considered showing mercy to be one of the “more important matters of the law”.

Another great example of mercy in the Bible is Jesus' story of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan sees a man in need, and gives of his own money to take care of him. The Samaritan is described in Luke 10:37 as “…the one who had mercy…” 

Who are we to have mercy on? Like the Good Samaritan, we are to have mercy on whomever we come across who needs mercy. We are to be merciful, even when the person may not deserve it. God is merciful to the undeserving (like, you and me, for instance). He is our example, like it says in Luke 6:36, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” 

I began with the story of Jean Valjean. He is a fictional character from Victor Hugo's classic “Les Miserables.” His last crime was committed against an old Bishop with whom he had just spent the night and enjoyed a meal. Jean Valjean stole the Bishop's silverware, was caught and hauled back to the Bishop's residence. Read now the Bishop's wonderful example of mercy: 

"Ah! here you are!" he exclaimed, looking at Jean Valjean. "I am glad to see you. Well, but how is this? I gave you the candlesticks too, which are of silver like the rest, and for which you can certainly get two hundred francs. Why did you not carry them away with your forks and spoons?" 

Jean Valjean opened his eyes wide, and stared at the venerable Bishop. "Monseigneur," said the brigadier of gendarmes, "so what this man said is true, then? We came across him. He was walking like a man who is running away. We stopped him to look into the matter. He had this silver -- " 

"And he told you," interposed the Bishop with a smile, "that it had been given to him by a kind old fellow of a priest with whom he had passed the night? I see how the matter stands. And you have brought him back here? It is a mistake." The gendarmes released Jean Valjean, who recoiled. "Is it true that I am to be released?” 

"My friend," resumed the Bishop, "before you go, here are your candlesticks. Take them." Jean Valjean was trembling in every limb. He took the two candlesticks mechanically, and with a bewildered air. He was like a man on the point of fainting. 

The Bishop drew near to him, and said in a low voice: "Do not forget, never forget, that you have promised to use this money in becoming an honest man. Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God." 

As we begin a new year, may we all follow the Bishop's example. May we all follow the example of the Good Samaritan and even the example of our Father Himself. May we all be more merciful to our fellowman.