Mentoring in Five Words or Less

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“Wax on; wax off.”

This well-known phrase was spoken by Mr. Miyagi in the movie The Karate Kid.  He was teaching his young pupil how to defend himself by giving him tools to work with in the form of disciplined movements that would become muscle memory and pay off later when needed.

I still hear this brief expression used in a similar context at my workplace occasionally.  Translated, I think it means something like this: “Don’t worry about the size of the project.  Stay focused on the basics.  Keep on doing the simple things right, and you will be able to accomplish the mission.”

A few positive words at the right time can go a long way to encourage someone.

As a civilian supervisor in the military setting where I work, I am constantly coaching, teaching, and mentoring.  Here are several other examples of short phrases I use often to get my point across, without having to launch into a lengthy lecture.  Approximate translations are in parentheses.

  • “Good job!”  (Keep on doing what you are doing.  You made a difference today.  I appreciate your efforts and positive attitude.)
  • “Next slide.”  (Used by me to signal that it is time to rapidly move on to another topic of discussion, usually away from something that could be perceived as borderline offensive. Originally used by my Sergeant Major in Korea when he was done chewing me out and it was time to move on.)
  • “We have a great team!”  (I am grateful for the folks I get to work with every day.  We work well together and get the job done.)
  • “Army strong!”  (It’s time to be mentally tough in the face of stressful situations.  My former NCO in charge said this one to me often.)
  • “Backbone!”  (I say this one word to young and old NCOs alike, to remind them that they are the backbone of the Army.)
  • “You got this.”  (I completely trust you.  I am here to help if needed, but I know you will be able to make this happen to standard.)
  • “Thanks for what you do.”  (You may not see it, but your efforts have supported and defended the Constitution today.)

This last one is from my wife, in the context of interacting with exasperated fellow preschool teachers.

  • “That’s life with kids!”  (Lighten up! Give them a break.  They are only children.  Lower your expectations and be patient.)

I encourage you to try to mentor others on your team, those above you, below you, and next to you, with a few positive words.  Sometimes less is more.

Russ Gehrlein

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015.  He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor.  Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Ruth – a Woman Out Standing in her Field

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(Note: This article was published on the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog and the Acton Institute blog.)

I have wanted to address this subject for six months.  Forgive me for being so ruthless.

Last October, my wife and I attended the 2018 Faith@Work Summit in Chicago. (You can read my reflections on that event here.)  One of my favorite parts was a workshop led by Mark Greene, Executive Director of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.  His topic was “Connecting How We Read the Bible to Faith at Work in Practice”.  Mark gave the table groups an exercise to identify what is relevant to being a disciple at work from the story of Ruth.

The book of Ruth is normally taught as pointing to our future “kinsman-redeemer” Jesus, which it is.  However, I was amazed at the number of theological insights we were able to pull out of this great story, much of which is set in the context of working in an agricultural business.

Let me share a few observations from Ruth that support several key concepts from my own theology of work as described in my book Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession.  Here we see that work is an important part of our spiritual journey, that God provides for our needs through our work and the work of others, that godly employers treat their employees with integrity, and that God sovereignly places us at the right time and place for His eternal purposes.

Work is a part of our spiritual journey

As we look at this story about someone who at first glance appears to be a relatively obscure Moabite woman, we cannot help but see how God uses this one sacred workplace in her life.  God was present with Ruth every step of the way.  This season of her life built her faith.  I imagine that Ruth saw this job as an illustration of God’s faithfulness from this point forward.

We see in verse 1 of chapter 1 of the book of Ruth that there was a famine in the land. This was a fairly common occurrence in this region of the world.  Famines have played an important part of other OT narratives such as Joseph and Moses.  Perpetual dry seasons have had devastating consequences on the economy, causing God’s people to look to Him to lead them to other places where they could fulfill their family responsibilities.  God will sometimes get our attention in a time of need to get us where He needs us to be for a mission that we do not know about.

My point is that the need to find work put Ruth in a position of dependence on the Lord and His people, which brought her to an employer who was going to change not only her life, but would impact the lives of generations to come.  I will discuss this element in more depth later on.

As I look back over my own forty-year spiritual journey working as a junior/senior high school math teacher, church youth minister, U.S. Army chemical operations specialist, and federal government worker, I see clearly how God’s hand guided me every step of the way to build my own faith make me more like Christ.  He used my family responsibilities and current economic circumstances to lead me to just the right job at the right time and place for His glory.

God provides for our needs through work

In chapter 2, we see Ruth’s willingness to work to provide for her and her mother-in-law.  Ruth told Naomi, “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain, behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor” (verse 2).  The practice of leaving some of the grain or other crops for the poor to pick up was called gleaning, and was regulated in the Mosaic Law.  (See Lev. 19:9-10.)  There is genius in this provision, as it gives dignity to those who have to work for the food made available to them, and not just get a handout.  Not only did God provide an opportunity for Ruth to work in meeting her own needs, God provided workers who assisted in meeting Ruth’s needs as well.

Godly employers treat their employees with integrity

Boaz, as the owner of his own business, cared for his employees well.  He exemplified what we read in the NT, where Paul told employers the church in Colossae, “Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven” (Col. 4:1).

Our table group noticed that this was a diverse workplace.  There were males and females and foreigners among the Hebrew workers.  Boaz ensured his employees were treated with integrity.  He gave them a godly greeting, “The Lord be with you!” (v. 4), and they responded in kind.  Boaz knew there was someone new in his midst (v. 5).  He asked Ruth to make herself at home with the other girls (v. 8).

In addition, Boaz warned the men that worked for him to leave her alone; he would not put up with any sexual harassment (v. 9).  Boaz showed hospitality to Ruth; at mealtime, he invited her to sit with him (v. 14).  I would say that Ruth had a pretty good first day of work!  No wonder she decided to come back another day to see what God had in store.

God places us in a job for His purposes

The last chapter of this narrative (Ruth 4:17 and 22) indicates the main reason that this story is a critical part of the canon.  We discover that this love story between Ruth and Boaz, which is set in the context of working in a grain field, put Ruth in the lineage of both David and Jesus.

I love the way that this narrative was crafted.  The writer indicates that God’s hand was directly involved in bringing Ruth and Boaz together at Boaz’ field.  When Ruth decides to go out to the fields to find grain, we read these words: “As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelich” (Ruth 2:3).

No one reading this from the lens of faith would miss the obvious nod to the sovereignty of God.  It did not merely turn out that way.  God designed it to be this way.  He orchestrated this divine appointment.

What about us?  Does God place us at just the right time and place so that we will meet the people He wants us to meet to perhaps shape future generations?  I maintain that He does.

In closing, I want to emphasize that there are a number of narratives in both the OT and NT that occur in workplace settings.  When we spend time meditating on how God’s people worked, what is being taught about work, and what truths we can apply at our own work, we will find that the God who was present with workers then is still very much present with us in our jobs now.

Russ Gehrlein

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015.  He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor.  Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

A Tale of Two Kingdoms

Two KingdomsA couple of weeks ago, the U.S. Army chaplain who leads a Thursday lunch Bible study I have been attending had just begun a series on Daniel.  In reviewing the context of the book, he emphasized that the Israelites had gone into exile in Babylon, which was the first time that they as a nation were separated from the land God had promised them.   Men and women who wanted to be faithful to Yahweh had to learn how to serve in two kingdoms, God’s and the world’s.  The chaplain reminded us that the church is in the same situation as the Israelites in exile.  Christians are members of the Kingdom of God, yet live in the kingdom of this world, run by Satan himself.

Last week, the chaplain was going to be on leave, so he asked me to lead the study.  He wanted me to tie in what he had taught about Daniel with what the NT teaches about how we can serve God in our secular jobs.

As I reflected on the idea, I came up with a way to graphically describe how the environments where God’s people were progressed from Genesis through Revelation over several distinct phases and to discuss the impacts on work.  At the very least, this study reinforced my observation that the theology of work is influenced by and influences all of the various elements of a systematic theology, such as the attributes of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, the Fall, the church, salvation, sanctification, and eschatology.

Let me summarize some of the patterns I identified in my study.  I focused on answering the following questions for each of the five major time-periods that the people of God found themselves: Who is in charge?  Where are God’s people?  Who else is there?  Who is missing or coming?  What are the implications on work?

Phase 1 – OT Prior to/After the Exile

In this phase prior to and after the exile, God is sovereign over all.  He has been from the creation of the world.  (The white throne at the top of the circle which looks like a large letter “L” indicates that God is on it.)

Psalm 24:1 states, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”  We also know from a number of places in Scripture that Satan has been given temporary rule over the world (as indicated by the black throne).  (See Job 1:6-7; John 15:18-23; 1 John 2:15-17.)  However, his time is short (Rev. 20:10).

God’s people were in one place, either heading towards or living in the Promised Land.  Gentiles were also there, but were seen as God’s enemies.

The work of God the Father is evident, and there are hints of work then and more so in the future by His Son and the Holy Spirit.  The foundation for a theology of work is based on the creation or cultural mandate where we read that God created us to be His co-workers (Gen. 1:26-28, 2:15).

Phase 2 – OT During the Exile

During this time-frame, God’s people are being disciplined for their rebellion.  God is still sovereign, despite the fact that foreign kings rule God’s people.  Satan continues to reign.

The majority of God’s people are captive in a foreign land.  The Gentiles are still seen as enemies.  The prophets speak of a coming Messiah and the work of God’s Holy Spirit.

God’s people find themselves working for Gentile bosses, but like Daniel, they can continue to glorify God.

Phase 3 – Jesus on Earth

Things are radically different in this first NT phase.  God the Father is sovereign over all, but there is more.  He is physically present in His Son Jesus, who is called Immanuel, God with us.  John the Baptist stated at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry that “the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matt. 4:17).  Satan still reigns over the world, and makes his evil presence known.

God’s people are identified as those who believe in Jesus, both Jew and Gentile, who are mostly in Jerusalem.  Jews and others who do not believe Jesus is Messiah are not His sheep (John 10).  Jesus teaches that the Holy Spirit will come upon and dwell in those who are His sheep (John 14:16-17; Acts 1:8).

Jesus taught His disciples to render to Caesar and to God the things that belong to them (Matt. 22:15-21).  This implies that they can live and work under two kingdoms, serving both God and man.

Phase 4 – The Church Age

In Acts 1, Jesus ascends to heaven, where He sits at the right hand of the Father. Thus begins the church age, where we are now.  God is sovereign.  Jesus is no longer here physically, but He is Lord and is very much present through the Holy Spirit who indwells each Christ-follower.  Satan still roars about as a lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).

God’s people, exclusively followers of Jesus, both Jew and Gentile, are now scattered around the world.  Non-believers are all around us; the fields white unto harvest.  We know that Jesus will come again to judge and to reign.

As the church living in two kingdoms, whatever we do, we are told to submit to our human bosses, working as unto the Lord, not merely for men.  We serve the Lord Christ (Col. 3:22-24).

One KingdomPhase 5 – Consummation (Heaven Comes to Earth)

Without getting into any debates about the sequence of possible eschatological events such as the tribulation, rapture, or millennial kingdom, let me present a simplified version of how this age ends (an amillennial view): Jesus returns to earth, the dead are raised, unbelievers are judged and sent to Hell, and Christians are ushered into a physical heaven on earth.  The Gospels seem to paint such a picture.  (See Matt. 16:27, 24:30-31, 25:31-46; Mark 13:26-27; Luke 21:27; John 5:28-29.)

In this final phase, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are on the throne.  Satan and his worldly kingdom are nowhere to be found.  (Hallelujah!)  Jesus has returned, seated at God’s right hand.

All of God’s people are in heaven, which is now on earth for eternity (Rev. 21).  No one else is there besides Christ-followers.  Satan and all unredeemed sinners are out of the picture for eternity.

What are the implications on work?  Well, there may be work to do.  If so, it will be painless, fruitful, and free from interpersonal conflict since there is no more curse (Rev. 22:3).

Closing thoughts

Although this may have been a little deeper than most of my studies, I hope that it was helpful to see how the idea of serving in two kingdoms has been with us since the exile, but is only temporary.  The Kingdom of God is very much at hand.  Let us represent it well in the world.

(For more on this topic, see my article on the eternal value of work that I posted on my blog three years ago, or read chapter 8 of my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession.)

Russ Gehrlein

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015.  He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor.  Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.