Let’s Talk about Compensation

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In the spring of 2006, I was preparing to retire from the Army.  For two years, I had been planning to go back to teaching.  I was taking graduate school classes to help me get my Missouri State Teaching Certificate, since the one I got from Colorado in 1980 was long expired.

I had applied for a middle-school math teacher position a mile from my house.  I got an interview and was offered the job.  However, the starting salary was less than half what I had been making as a Master Sergeant with 20 years active duty.  With my Army retirement check and the teacher’s salary combined, I was going to be taking home about $400 less each month than what I had been receiving.  We could not afford a cut that big.  Since I knew God was going to meet my family’s needs, I knew this job was not the answer to my prayers.  I had to turn it down.  Thankfully, I got another job offer three months later, which did meet our needs.

Tom Nelson in Work Matters provides some succinct observations on how money fits in to how God shapes us for work. He mentions the unpredictability of the global economy that affects employment, such as job change or elimination due to emerging technologies, which may require job training.  He states, “We often find that God uses our economic circumstances to guide us vocationally. . . economic realities are a part of God’s providential arrangement for our lives and the times in which we live. . . We do not need to see these as vocational detours, but rather what God has for us to do in this particular stage of our life journeys.”   These are encouraging words.

This brings to mind my own situation in 1985, where I sensed that God was closing the door on ministry and leading me into the military.  Money definitely entered into the decision-making process, as the Army provided medical benefits, promotions, a good paycheck, and job security.

Let’s think about some of the tough choices you may have to make regarding your salary and the total compensation package that comes with the job you have or will be offered.

How much salary do you truly need?  What do you do if you are not paid as much as you are worth?  When a baby unexpectedly comes along, can you afford to live off just one income?  Which one should it be, mom’s or dad’s?  When a promotion opportunity is offered, do you take it, even if it means longer hours or a transfer far from your family of origin?  Should you go back to school to learn a new skill or finish that college degree that you put off to raise your family?

Biblical guidance

What does Scripture say about these things? Let’s look at what Jesus and Paul taught.

Jesus preached in Matt. 6:19-21 that we should store up treasures in heaven, not just on earth.  He warned us to be on guard against greed; life is more than possessions (Luke 12:15).  In Luke 12:48, Jesus proclaimed that to those who have been given much, much is required.  In some of His strongest language, Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and money” (Luke 16:13).  Jesus said to not work for temporal things only; the most important work is to believe in God’s Son (John 6:26-29).  Jesus taught there is more to work and life than just making money.

Paul also had some things to say to the churches regarding money, and then lived by example.  He knew that he could have been supported financially by the churches, as he taught that full-time pastor-teachers are worthy of their wages, just like everyone else (1 Tim. 5:17-18; Luke 10:7).  In 1 Cor. 9:7-14, Paul applies the same OT principle from Deut. 25:4 to all who serve Christ full-time.  However, he was reluctant to take these gifts as his sole means of support; he did not want to hinder the spread of the gospel (1 Cor. 9:12).  Paul’s reward was to be able to preach the gospel free of charge in order to win as many as possible (1 Cor. 9:18).

Paul and Barnabas had sacrificially worked to support themselves to avoid being a burden to those whom they preached (1 Cor. 9:6).  Paul worked hard day and night in his secular tent-making job so that he could be financially independent (1 Thes. 2:9).  (See also Acts 18:3 and 1 Cor. 4:12.)  Paul chose to follow his calling and was basically willing to work two full-time jobs to see that his financial needs were met, living by faith in total dependence on the Lord.  Finally, Paul had learned to be content in whatever circumstances he found himself, in rich times as well as lean (Phil. 4:11-12).  He knew that God would always meet his needs (Phil. 4:19).

To summarize, although a decent salary is necessary, it should not be the most important factor when deciding on a job offer or when choosing between multiple offers.  We are not to be greedy in any way.  We cannot take it all with us after we die.  Money cannot be our primary motivation.  We are to do whatever it takes to be financially independent.  When times are tough, we need to trust in the Lord to supply our needs in His time, and lead where He wants us to go.

Let me close with a cool story about how God provided for my family’s needs at a critical time.

Shortly after we found out my wife was pregnant in the summer of 1985, I was on a weekend senior high beach retreat.  I had some time to take a stroll by myself along the beautiful Oregon coast.  I was thinking about our finances; we did not have any health insurance.  How was I going to pay all the medical expenses for my wife and the baby?

Up ahead, I saw something large and white on the shoreline.  When I got there, I found a huge, flat pile of twenty or more nearly perfect sand dollars.  I took this unusual event to be a clear, personal message from my faithful Father.  I knew that He would provide all the dollars we would need for this baby.  Immediately, I felt His peace that passed all understanding (see Phil. 4:7.)

The Lord did indeed provide for the three of us in an amazing way.  Within a couple of weeks, I had found another job, teaching math and science in the mornings at a Christian junior/senior high school.  Somehow, I was able to fit it into my already busy school and ministry schedule.  I taught there for the entire school year, and the salary I received just covered the medical expenses for our daughter’s birth.  What a blessing!

God has always been faithful to meet the needs of His children. He has been faithful to us.  He still is faithful to us.  He will be to you also.  Trust Him.  Watch and see!

 

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The Secular View of Work

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In previous articles over the past two years, I have laid a fairly firm foundation of what a broad biblical theology of work looks like from Genesis to Revelation.  I want to address some common misconceptions about work that are in contradiction to the views we have discussed.  I am hoping that my readers will be able to see more clearly just how much these unbiblical views miss the mark completely.

The movie, City Slickers, is one of my family’s favorite movies. In one scene early in the movie, Billy Crystal’s character Mitch has just gotten back from a disastrous Career Day presentation at his son’s elementary school, where he had to talk about his job.

He is not proud of what he does for a living.  He sells advertising for a radio station.  Going through a mid-life crisis, he realizes that he has lost the drive he had when he was starting out.  He laments the fact that he has little to show for what he does all day.  At least an upholsterer can point to his work and say, “This is what I did.”  To sum up Mitch’s view, he frustratingly exclaims, “I sell air!”

This perfectly illustrates a purely secular view of work, when you take God out of the picture.  It is the view that work has no lasting value in and of itself, and where the purpose of work to just to feed the family and pay the bills.  Unfortunately, some Christians also have this view.

Sherman and Hendricks in Your Work Matters to God present several ideas or broad themes that are representative of the secular view of work. This is a view that says that “God is irrelevant at work” (p. 25).  It exalts work or says it is meaningless.  Either it is all about you, or it’s all about nothing.

Here is a summary of the secular view:

  • The purpose of work is to fulfill yourself, find success; be the master of your own fate.
  • Success in life means success at work (careerism is idolatry; life out of balance).
  • You’ve got to do whatever it takes to get the job done.
  • I just go to work to earn a living (your job has no ultimate meaning or purpose).

This view says God is irrelevant at work.  Well, God is irrelevant all the time, if you have a secular view, right?  It either exalts work, or says it’s meaningless.  So, if it exalts work, the purpose of work is to further yourself, find success, and be the master of your own fate, the captain of your ship.  Success in life means success in work.  When they put career on a pedestal they are worshipping it.  It is idolatry.  They’re trying to find meaning in life through their work.

And that same attitude says you gotta do whatever it takes to get the job done, no matter how many marriages you have to burn through, no matter how many friends you have to cheat, no matter how much you have to steal, kill, destroy, whatever – you are going to do whatever it takes.  Or, like Billy Crystal, you just work to earn a living; it has no meaning, value, or purpose at all.  “I sell air!”

This view is evident all around us.  It is shallow, worldly, contrary to God’s Word, and is not what we should believe or practice.  God is very much relevant at work!

Here is another facet of the secular view of work.  It is all about competition and achievement.  He who dies with the most toys wins.  It is about money, success, prestige.  Everywhere you look you can see symbols of success in various fields: Grammy and Academy awards, military rank, and the coveted Super Bowl championship ring, among other things.

Corbett and Fikkert, in When Helping Hurts, indicate, “When work is done to glorify oneself or merely to achieve more wealth, it becomes worship of false gods. How we work and for whom we work really matters” (p. 75).  Jesus’ teaching in Mark 8:34-36 certainly applies here.  He asks, “What good is it for a man to gain the world, yet lose his soul?”

In contrast to this empty view of work that only leads to meaninglessness, frustration, and despair, the Bible gives us a much more hopeful and helpful perspective.

To discover what I am talking about, please check out previous articles I have written and posted here about the intrinsic and instrumental value of work.

 

Still Considering New Directions

A little over a year ago, I was seriously considering changing jobs.  I was made aware of a ministry position at a Christian university, and it looked like a great fit.  I applied for it, but was not interviewed.  However, I was grateful for the things I learned in the process.  You can read about it here.

The first week of May, I had a couple of days off because the highway between home and Fort “Lost in the Woods” (Leonard Wood) was closed due to flooding.  I put the time to good use and worked diligently on the book I am writing.  When I returned to work Wednesday I had 170 unread emails.  Thursday afternoon, I felt compelled to stay late to try to get it down from 20-ish to single-digits.  And there it was.  I almost missed it.  A weekly alert listing government jobs in Colorado.  One was at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs.  The closing date was the very next day.

This one was at Fort Carson, Colorado, in lovely Colorado Springs, less than an hour from my wife’s family, which is why I set up my weekly job alert in the first place.  It is the same pay grade I hold now.  It would be quite a bit different from what I am doing now, but I am confident I could do it well.  I would still be serving the Army.  My background and skill set makes me a pretty good fit.  Most importantly, they would pay to relocate us.

You have to understand, I really do love the job I have now.  (See article.)  After nine years of doing the same thing, I am definitely in my comfort zone.  It is challenging and stressful, but it is a good fit for me.  I am uniquely qualified for this job.  I have said many times that I could stay there until I retire at age 67 or 68, which is in about nine more years.  I have no desire to move up, get promoted, or get transferred elsewhere on post.  There is no better job on post for me.

And yet, the needs of my wife, who has been married to me for over 36 years, outweigh my need to remain in my comfort zone.  For some time, she has expressed her unfulfilled longing to move closer to her family of origin.  I promised I would keep an eye out for jobs in Colorado and in the Kansas City area and in Wisconsin as well.  I had been made aware of a couple of other job openings in Colorado off and on over the last few years, but none were as good a fit as this one.  This is a deliberate act of “mutual submission” in the context of marriage, as is clearly taught by the Apostle Paul in Eph. 5:12.  I love my job, but I love my wife more.  Plain and simple.

It is noteworthy that the timing on this job is different than it was this time last year.  Then, our youngest son was living in his old college town three hours from here, but last June he moved to L.A.  His brother, who lives four hours the other direction, is changing jobs this summer and may have to relocate at some point also.  So, there is really nothing tying us down here, other than my job.

So, on Thursday night after work, Linda and I discussed this faith-building job opportunity.  We made a hasty pro and con list, just to see if I should go ahead and apply for the job in the morning.  There were seven items in the plus column and four in the minus.  The deciding factor was if I did not apply now, there might not be another job like this in a while.  If I do apply, and it is offered, I do not have to take it, but it seemed prudent to step out once again in faith and let the Lord lead.

Friday morning, I went in a little earlier than usual to beat the traffic, and took back the half-hour that I had given up the previous afternoon.  I updated my resume, answered a bunch of questions about my relevant experiences, and hit the submit button.  I got a confirmation email that it was received.

We prayed and waited for a couple of weeks.  We prayed that God would give wisdom to those making the decisions and to us to know whether or not to take the job if it was offered.

One late afternoon I got an email stating that I was found eligible for the position, but “not among the best qualified candidates.”  I have to admit that we were both a little disappointed, but totally rested in God’s timing.  My wife said, “God knows what He’s doing.”