My worst and best jobs

In our Counseling Class yesterday some students got talking about their worst ever jobs. It got me thinking back over the years to some of the worst jobs I had in my life; five in particular stand out.

1. Morning Milk Delivery
This was my first job, I was 14, and I only lasted a week. It involved getting up Mon-Sat at 3.30am for a 4-8am shift delivering pints of milk (in glass bottles) to households in the suburbs of Glasgow. And yes, I was still in High School, meaning that I went straight to school from the milk run. Needless to say, I slept through most of my afternoon classes that week, and by the end of the week I think my parents realized this was probably not the best career move. It was also not a little dangerous; we had to jump off the back of a moving van with up to three pints of milk in each hand. My worst moment was when two of my “colleagues” tried to throw me off the back of the milk van that we were hanging on to as the driver careened around the dark streets of Glasgow at  50mph. My week’s work earned me the princely sum of 12 British pounds (@ $17 dollars).

2. Morning Bread Delivery
What was it about early morning jobs that attracted me? Anyway, at least this one was my own business. A friend and I (we were about 15 years old) went round our neighborhood asking if people wanted fresh, hot bread delivered to them on a Saturday morning. To our amazement we very quickly received over 100 orders. We contacted a bakery and managed to make a 100% profit on what we sold, earning us about $40-$50 each for about three hours work. It still involved getting up about 4am on a Saturday morning to take delivery of the bread and rolls, package them into the orders, and then go out into the often cold, dark, wet night to deliver them. And how did we deliver them? Well, as you can’t drive in Scotland until you are 17, we struck upon the idea of a shopping cart each. We “borrowed” them  from a local grocery store and piled the carts so high that we actually could not see where we were going. What a racket as we rattled along with our cargo of sweet smelling bread and rolls. And I think I still have the scars of one snowy morning and an uncontrollable cart.

3. Potato Peeler
Yes, aged 16, I spent five summer weeks in a Scottish Hotel peeling potatoes. I think I did a few more things as well – like wash the huge porridge pots and dinner trays – but what I mainly remember is the huge pile of freshly dug, mud-caked potatoes that met me every morning begging to be washed, peeled, and sliced. I think we were catering for about 70 guests and – what is it about us Brits – they had boiled potatoes with every evening meal! I worked about a 60 hour week and earned about $50 per week – it was a Christian hotel, which apparently meant you could employ slaves.

4. Goods Lift Operator
You may have seen in the dark recesses of J C Penney or Sears, some rather scary looking elevators (we call them “lifts”) which sort of look like prisons. These are the lifts that move the clothes from storage to the floor and back again. Well, I got a summer job working one of these for $4.40 an hour. I thought it would be a breeze, but by end of the first day, in which I must have slid these heavy metal doors backwards and forwards about nine million times, I felt like I’d gone 15 rounds with Muhammed Ali. And then there were all these sweet little old store assistants with their “aching backs” who needed help to move their boxes in and out, in and out. “And maybe you could just carry them over to the far side as well, son…” I felt as if I spent the summer in a dungeon on a rack.

5. Hopper Popper Toy Salesman
A what?! Yes, true story. But that’s one I’ll save for another time.

Two words came to mind as I reminisced about my early “career”: preparation and privilege. God uses everything in our lives to prepare us for the next stage of our lives and, ultimately, for eternal life. I know it’s hard to see any possible connection between Hopper Poppers and heaven, but as James Dobson said, “Nothing is wasted in God’s economy.” Part of heaven’s joyful surprise will be when God helps us to connect all the dots of our lives. So, though I can’t put it all together right now, I strongly believe that each of these hard and rather humiliating jobs played some part in my preparation for the ministry.

Which brings me to my second word, privilege, the immense privilege God has now given me of being a preacher of the Gospel. Pastors, I know the “job” can be so difficult and so discouraging, but please don’t ever lose sight of the grace involved in being allowed to preach even one sermon or pastor even one precious soul. Let us ever say with Paul: “To me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” What a grace, a gift, an undeserved favor!

I could (and should) still be delivering milk or bread, peeling potatoes, operating an elevator, or (worst of all) selling Hopper Poppers. That’s what I deserve to be doing; if I deserve to be doing anything (and I don’t). But instead, God has graciously called me to preach Christ and even to train others to do the same. What amazing, amazing, amazing grace! May I never cease to wonder at the astonishing mercy of God.

Why does he pick the worst of people to do the best of jobs?

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Debt, Ethics and a Seminary Education
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Dispatches from Blighty: The Don and Driscoll
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How sitting all day is damaging your body and what you can do to counteract it
The stats will make you jump out of your chair: “Do you sit in an office chair or on your couch for more than six hours a day? Then here are some disturbing facts: Your risk of heart disease has increased by up to 64 percent. You’re shaving off seven years of quality life. You’re also more at risk for certain types of cancer. Simply put, sitting is killing you. That’s the bad news. The good news: It’s easy to counteract no matter how lazy you are.”

Here’s a video to get you started!

CK Short: Crushed!

Season 3 of The Connected Kingdom gets underway with a new format. While we’ll continue to do the usual CK stuff from time to time – interviews, Q&A’s, debates, etc., – we’re going to be releasing a weekly “CK Short” every Tuesday. These will be 10-15 minute episodes in which Tim or I will deliver a short monologue on a subject followed by a few minutes of comment and discussion. This week, I challenged Tim to speak on the subject “Crushed.”

Listen to the first few minutes of this episode to hear about more changes including how you can suggest monologue topics for us, and even star in a “CK Short” of your own!

Oh, yes, and as you’ll see below, we’ll be posting a [partial] transcript of the monologue with the podcast. Of course, if you don’t listen, you’ll miss out on the highly intelligent and entertaining interaction, but I suppose reading is better than missing out completely!

Download here

Crushed: by Tim Challies.

Horatio Spafford was a man who knew pain and a man whose pain has left a powerful and lasting legacy to the church. A wealthy Chicago businessman, Spafford invested heavily in real estate and saw almost his entire fortune consumed in the Great Chicago Fire that swept the city in 1871. Far greater pain awaited him. In 1873 he decided that he and his family should enjoy a vacation. They decided to go to England since their dear friend D.L. Moody would be preaching there in the fall. Though business delayed his own departure, he sent his family on ahead. His wife Anna and their four daughters boarded the steamship Ville du Havre and set out for England. On November 22 another ship collided with that one and two hundred and twenty six people lost their lives, including all four of the Spafford girls. Upon arriving in England, Anna sent her husband a tragic telegram: “Saved alone.”

Spafford set out to England to be with his wife and during that crossing penned the hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul,” a powerful declaration of trust in the midst of tragedy.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

“When sorrows like sea billows roll.” It is a poignant metaphor, a simile really, that speaks of sorrow coming upon us like waves on a storm-tossed sea. The same sea billows that poured over the heads of his daughters, the waves that stole their lives, are now pressing hard against him, threatening to drown him in despair, to steal his soul. They are rising up above him, they are cresting and crashing down upon him, they are pulling him under and tossing him in the undertow. Yet he has more hope for his soul than his girls did for their lives. The Lord has taught him that all will be well. Whatever his lot, whatever the Lord decrees for him, he is able to say, “It is well with my soul.” What was the source of such comfort in trial? It was this: “Christ hath regarded my helpless estate / And hath shed His own blood for my soul.”

I am a stranger to this kind of sorrow. Though my life has not been completely free from pain and disappointment and sad farewells, I have never known sorrow to come against me like the waves of the ocean; I have never known it to threaten to drown me in despair. But discouragement, now there is something that too often crashes upon me like waves crash against the hull of a ship. There is something that often threatens to crush me.

Discouragement comes in different forms. There is discouragement that comes when I am left grappling with failure, when I have not succeeded at the things I’ve attempted to do well. There are the sermons that never take shape the way I had wanted them to, the ones that never seemed to yield to time and patience and brute force. There are the dreams that never grow into anything more than a rough and untenable plan, the relationships that never lead to friendship, the chapters that have to be left out of books, the opportunities wasted, the holiness lost and neglected. This life is one of so much failure and there in failure’s wake is discouragement, towed along behind it.

Discouragement can come in a very different form—the form of other people’s success. Here is the excruciating pain of seeing others do well in those areas where I have failed, of hearing of the sermons that went in all the directions my own never did or the books that sold a hundred copies for every one of mine. There is the discouragement of coming up to the edge of my own talent and seeing others with greater talent and greater gifts excel all the more. And there is the discouragement of seeing people with equal talents and equal gifts be offered all kinds of opportunity not open to me. Mixed up with sin and pride and envy, this kind brings with it a peculiar and poignant kind of agony.

And then there’s the form of discouragement that comes with trying to do too much and be too much and exceed and excel at too much. Pride can push me here, to make me want to do more so I can be noticed by more people, and so I work too many hours and go in too many directions. I get away from the few things I’ve been called to, ignoring the gifts I’ve been given and trying to convince myself that I need to be someone I’m not. Instead of being me I try to be that guy or that guy or that one. I take my eyes off the great prize of bringing glory to God and instead put so much effort into bringing glory to myself.

And then there is the despair that seems to just come without reason and without source. It is the despair that feels almost physical, the despair that must have some kind of spiritual or supernatural source, the kind that offers no explanation, just the sense of being crushed under foot.

And there is discouragement, washing over me, and I am sinking under it, fighting desperately to manufacture some kind of joy to keep me from drowning in despair.

This is what it is to be crushed. Or nearly crushed. But there’s hope when discouragement is pressing down. The Apostle Paul could say, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed. Perplexed but not driven to despair. Persecuted but not abandoned. Struck down but not destroyed.” Where do you find that kind of hope when discouragement is thick, when it is tangible, when it surrounds you like water surrounds a man drowning in the ocean? You go where Spafford went when sorrow threatened to destroy him. You go to the day that all purposes will be revealed, that all sorrow will cease, that all discouragement will be destroyed.

And Lord haste the day, when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

Tim Challies


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Being faithful in the small things is a big thing
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Why appreciation matters so much

Last week the Harvard Business Review reported that although the single highest driver of employee engagement is whether or not workers feel their managers are genuinely interested in their wellbeing, less than 40 percent of workers felt so engaged.

It’s obvious why an employer’s interest in and gratitude to an employee elevates performance – the feeling that we matter, that we are valuable, and the energizing sense of security. Why then is appreciation such a rare experience for employees? Tony Schwartz answers:

The obvious answer is that we’re not fluent in the language of positive emotions in the workplace. We’re so unaccustomed to sharing them that we don’t feel comfortable doing so. Heartfelt appreciation is a muscle we’ve not spent much time building, or felt encouraged to build. Oddly, we’re often more experienced at expressing negative emotions — reactively and defensively, and often without recognizing their corrosive impact on others until much later, if we do at all.

One study showed that workers who felt unfairly criticized by a boss or felt they had a boss who didn’t listen to their concerns had a 30 percent higher rate of coronary disease than those who felt treated fairly and with care!

In high-performing teams, the expression of positive feedback outweighs that of negative feedback by a ratio of 5.6 to 1. By contrast, low-performing teams have a ratio of 0.36 to 1. And the stats are not much better in everyday life outside the workplace. On Saturday, while reading Digital Leader by Eric Qualman, two stats hit me hard between the eyes (and in the heart):

  • As a baseline, the average person complains 15-30 times per day.
  • Across all conversations there is a ratio of 6 to 1 in terms of criticism to encouragement.

Does that sound like your workplace? Or maybe your family? Or even your church? Schwartz’ proposes a four part prescription to remedy this ingratituditis (you can read the exposition of his points here).

  1. “Above all else, do no (or much less) harm.” The costs of devaluing others are so great that we need to spend far more time thinking than we do now about how to hold people’s value
  2. Practice appreciation by starting with yourself.
  3. Make it a priority to notice what others are doing right.
  4. The more specific you can be about what you value — and the more you notice what’s most meaningful to that person — the more positive your impact on that person is likely to be.

Qualman’s plan involves elastic bands on your wrist (you’ll need to read the book!).  I’d add:

  1. Get some sleep and exercise. There’s nothing more energizing to a critical spirit than a lack of sleep and exercise.
  2. Start building the muscle of heartfelt appreciation by exercising it as often as possible – may hurt a bit at first.
  3. Learn the language of positive emotions – again, like all new languages, it may initially feel very awkward, embarrassing, and uncomfortable.
  4. Raise awareness of this problem in your team, church, family. Why not explain the stats to your family next time you sit down for a meal and then everyone keep a count of positive to negative comments during the meal. It might surprise you.
  5. Apologize for past failures, ask for forgiveness, and start over.
  6. Love your neighbor as yourself. How would you like to be treated in this situation?
  7. Remember he/she is handcrafted by God in the image of God.
  8. Remember he/she is a sinner with a corrupt human nature (and so are you).
  9. Ask yourself: “What will their impression of God be if you are the only representative of God they know?” Loving, appreciative, generous, kind? Or hard, legalistic, critical, unforgiving, etc?
  10. Try energizing your family, church, and workplace with grace rather than law.

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