Work: Life and Death *

Reader’s Note: The character (asterisk) * used in writing as a reference mark, as an indication of the omission of letters or words, to denote a hypothetical or unattested linguistic form, or for various arbitrary meanings. For instance a headline that reads: “Free flash drive when you order today.”*

AsteriskYou see the asterisk in the headline? Well down at the bottom of this ad you would find the following qualification. * Free flash drive when you order $49 or more with your first order. In other words, the asterisk pretends to qualify a lie or misrepresentation.

Living our lives under an asterisk is the worst way to live because it is disingenuous.

I have no way of calculating how many people ever consider their work to be linked with the seriousness of life and death. This isn’t stated to be overly dramatic.

  • Anytime a police officer places an asterisk over his work the law is jeopardized.
  • Any fire fighter who works under an asterisk can risk people’s lives.
  • Every teacher who works under an asterisk shortchanges the future of the student.
  • Every tradesman who works under an asterisk costs customers time and money.
  • Every Politician who works under an asterisk destroys another piece of the Constitution.
  • Every father who works under an asterisk debilitates his family.

Many years ago I heard someone making a point about professionals who do lousy work. The saying went something like this: An attorney’s mistakes are rotting in a jail cell and a doctor’s mistakes are found in cemeteries. You get the point. Over the years I’ve had opportunities to develop marketing plans for some leading manufacturing companies and learned about something called “acceptable tolerance.” When cutting metal parts they work by an acceptable tolerance. For a manufactured part intended to fit into a subassembly one must account for expansion, wear and so on. The part must fit well enough within a given tolerance. However, in actuality, tolerance is not exact. Engineering tolerance, when handled without excellence is simply an industrial version of an asterisk. What’s more, sloppy or shoddy work in this area can and has killed people. When I with a worldwide machine manufacturing company I learned that their line of lathes, although among the finest, could only cut to certain tolerances. High precision tolerances were obtained through additional work finishing operations. If greater accuracy was required, another step such as grinding or jig boring was applied.

Manufacturing tolerances are life and death important so there is no room for shoddy, less than best precision. This is precisely why many of the parts being outsourced to other countries often come back unacceptable in tolerance and quality. Any company or machinist who cuts corners for any reason can ultimately be a contributor to many deaths. On January 28, 1986 many of us watched our TVs in unbelief and horror as a trail of smoke plumed across the blue sky after the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart on reentry. The cause? An O-ring failed which in turn caused a breach in the joint it sealed. From that breach a flare of pressurized hot gas from within the rocket motor reached out to the adjacent external fuel tank. A series of actions took place and a massive explosion was ignited. It all took about 73 seconds. Seven astronauts died.

The Rogers Commission was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to investigate the accident. Among their findings; NASA’s organizational culture and decision-making processes were key factors to the accident. It turned out that NASA managers had known that Morton Thiokol, the contractor for designing the solid rocket boosters contained a flaw in the O-rings which was potentially catastrophic. Nothing was done to address that problem. The Commission also found disregarded warnings from engineers about the dangers of launching on such a cold day and had failed to adequately report these technical concerns to their superiors. The Rogers Commission offered NASA nine recommendations that were to be implemented before shuttle flights resumed service.

How many asterisks were present in this tragedy? Although not as acutely severe, the teacher, the salesperson, the house painter, the firefighter, the priest, the store owner, all directly and indirectly affect the well being of others in some way. As far as I can tell from the Bible record, work is serious. Deadly serious. Consider: “Every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom 14:2), and, “It is required in stewards that a man (a person) be found faithful” (1 Cor 4:2). If God were uninterested in the quality and the outcome of our work why would such verses be in the Scriptures? Why would God imprint unfathomably unique gifted abilities in each of us? These are, without doubt, chilling verses to read and contemplate as they completely rule out any acceptance of the asterisk-driven life on any level whatsoever.

Consider how many bridges have collapsed in the past few years around the country due to shoddy construction and/or lack of maintenance. Often these tragedies occur because someone in one way or another is paid off to accept the lowest bid or the “favored” bid. These individuals walk around with pancake-sized asterisks over their profession, personal identity and reputation. One hand washes the other but in such scenarios, the water is dirty. St. Francis dealt with these very similar issues in his day which is why he formulated his Rule for the friars of his order. The ideal Francis set down can be interpreted as harsh but measured against some of the asterisk-driven ills that befall human beings, he understood the need for diligence and commitment to sanctity. He is a basic portion of the Rule:
Let the Friars appropriate nothing for themselves, neither house nor place, nor any thing. And as pilgrims and exiles in this age let them go about for alms confidently, as ones serving the Lord in poverty and humility, nor is it proper that they be ashamed [to do so], since the Lord made Himself poor in this world for us. This is that loftiness of most high poverty, which has established you, my most dear Friars, as heirs and kings of the Kingdom of Heaven, making you poor in things, it has raised you high in virtues. Let this be your “portion”, which leads you “into the land of the living” . Cleaving totally to this, most beloved Friars, may you want to have nothing other under heaven in perpetuity, for the sake of the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

And, wherever the friars are and find themselves, let them mutually show themselves to be among their family members. And let them without fear manifest to one another their own need, since, if a mother nourishes and loves her own son according to the flesh, how much more diligently should he love and nourish his own spiritual brother?

And, if any of them should fall into infirmity, the other friars should care for him, as they would want to be cared for themselves. Note: The Rule of 1223, Chapter VI
That the brothers should not enter the convents of nuns. I strictly order all the brothers to avoid suspicious meetings or conversations with women and to stay out of the convents of nuns except in cases where special permission has been granted by the Holy See. Nor should they be godfathers of men or women, lest it lead to scandal among or concerning the brothers. Note: The Rule of 1223, Chapter XI

No doubt he demanded an ascetic life and with good reason.
What are the root causes of this asterisk-driven lifestyle which seems so relevant in our country today? Scriptures reveal: greed, fear and the need to be perceived as successful or valuable in the eyes of others through status, position, power or wealth. In fact these concepts were used exclusively by the devil when he went to Jesus in the wilderness event. He tempted Jesus with the lusts of life. The lust of the flesh, the pride of life and the lust of the eyes, are all strategically applied in the attempt to sway Jesus from His divine mission and subtlety attach an asterisk to His work (Mt 4).

We have become beneficiaries of Jesus’ understanding of living a asterisk-driven life and therefore rejected it against a pressure we can only imagine, if that’s even possible. Jesus’ decision was in every way, on every level of life and death consequence. His work came face to face with the literal asterisk-maker, the devil. Every temptation he proposed was nothing more than an asterisk, a yoke to failure and unimaginable destruction for every human life through all time. Jesus came to work the “works” of His Father…life and death work “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (Jn 14: 10-12). The life and death significance is emphasized by Jesus and further, it is passed on to us, his followers. To do “greater things” absolutely requires removal of an asterisk over one’s work life.1 DO NOT let your hearts be troubled (distressed, agitated). You believe in and adhere to and trust in and rely on God; believe in and adhere to and trust in and rely also on Me. 2 In My Father’s house there are many dwelling places (homes). If it were not so, I would have told you; for I am going away to prepare a place for you. 3 And when (if) I go and make ready a place for you, I will come back again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And [to the place] where I am going, you know the way. 5 Thomas said to Him, Lord, we do not know where You are going, so how can we know the way? 6 Jesus said to him, I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except by (through) Me. 7 If you had known Me [had learned to recognize Me], you would also have known My Father. From now on, you know Him and have seen Him. 8 Philip said to Him, Lord, show us the Father [cause us to see the Father–that is all we ask]; then we shall be satisfied. 9 Jesus replied, Have I been with all of you for so long a time, and do you not recognize and know Me yet, Philip? Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say then, Show us the Father? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in Me? What I am telling you I do not say on My own authority and of My own accord; but the Father Who lives continually in Me does the (His) works (His own miracles, deeds of power). 11 Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me; or else believe Me for the sake of the [very] works themselves. [If you cannot trust Me, at least let these works that I do in My Father’s name convince you.] 12 I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, if anyone steadfastly believes in Me, he will himself be able to do the things that I do; and he will do even greater things than these, because I go to the Father. 13 And I will do [I Myself will grant] whatever you ask in My Name [as presenting all that I AM], so that the Father may be glorified and extolled in (through) the Son. [Exod. 3:14.] 14 [Yes] I will grant [I Myself will do for you] whatever you shall ask in My Name [as presenting all that I AM]. 15 If you [really] love Me, you will keep (obey) My commands. (AMP)

How can asterisk-driven work be in any way useful to God, the Master Worker, the Vinedresser, the purifier of dross, the ultimate shepherd, the King of Ideas, the Author of Innovation? The Scriptures tell us something unique about Jesus, “He did all things well” (Mk 7:37). We cannot do all things well. We were appointed to be specially gifted workers in God’s cosmic operations. Just to make my point a bit sharper. Think about a time you had to undergo surgery. What if the surgeon was actually gifted and called by God (remember Psalm 139 here), to be an accountant but he decided he could make more money and hold more status by becoming a surgeon. Likely he made it through medical school by the skin of his teeth. He struggled to pass the exams, he worked hard at cramming in the data by his heart was never really there. Assume that was the case for a moment (and this actually does happen). This is the man to whom you and many others entrusted their very lives. Extrapolate this out to the Anesthesiologist, arguably the single most important person in the operating room. Whatever the vocation, it is a matter of divine stewardship. Functioning in the role which was written for us compels us to be exceptional in our gifted work.

When you observe someone doing something very difficult, and making it look effortless you are witnessing God’s imprinted giftedness in that person. And that is what qualifies you to walk into difficult and uncertain scenarios, and life and death challenges with an uncommon confidence. And therein lays the key; confidence in one’s giftedness is what causes it to function externally in the given situation; solving, overcoming, correcting and meeting the need.
There is a tradition telling of St. Francis, who loved people and all of nature, and held a unique relationship to animals, confronting a wolf that had been terrorizing a small town, and speaking softly, with God’s confidence ushered it away never to return. Stepping into your God given destiny absolutely requires the giftedness you’ve been given. Those source tools are what give you the guts to take on the uncertainties of life.

Andrew Klavan, a Jewish convert to Christianity and a novelist commented on his journey, but it also relates well to the above observation. “I suspect anyone who sets sails on the sea of faith is a little bit like Christopher Columbus. There are all these people on the shore saying, ‘Are you crazy? You’re going to fall off the edge of reality!’ And instead, you discover a new world.”
You do, like no one else ever can, what you are called to do. “A man’s gift will make a way for him, and bring him before great men” (Prov 18:16). Your gifts, applied without the asterisk are then submitted to God and remain under His guidance. This may well place you in positions where you bear authority and responsibility, finding “new worlds” of opportunity. In such scenarios you will find a relevance to the title of this section as you will in many ways be responsible for the well-being or the demise of other people’s lives. Success is much more than getting what we want, feeling better than others and enjoying it all for ourselves alone. St. Francis viewed it as follows:
“Those are killed by the letter who merely wish to know the words alone, so that they may be esteemed as wiser than others and be able to acquire great riches to give to their relatives and friends. In a similar way, those religious are killed by the letter who do not wish to follow the spirit of Sacred Scripture, but only wish to know what the words are and how to interpret them to others. And those are given life by the spirit of Sacred Scripture who do not refer to themselves any text which they know or seek to know, but, by word and example, return everything to the most high Lord God to Whom every good belongs. (Note: The Admonitions: Chapter VII, Good Works Must Follow Knowledge: 2-7. p. 30

You see we can say the words but that doesn’t mean we own the words. To claim I am a carpenter, even if I have the talent, but willingly perform work that’s “good enough” or “just get by” is a testament against my claim. It’s not the words; it’s the words and the actions. Those you serve hear the words but they experience the actions. Therefore the old saw, “actions speak louder than words.” Holding responsibility for others is, in actuality, is far different than just talking about it. I came to understand this first hand while working in a publicly held conglomerate. The corporation operated numerous divisions, several of which were selected by the Chairman to present strategies on how they would take their respective divisions to number one or two in their industries. I was working for the CEO of one such division. I was invited on to his seven-person strategy team. We had three months time to develop and present our strategy to become one or two in our industry. This project of course was conducted in addition to our other daily responsibilities. I will share some of the highlights to make what I believe is a vital point about how our work and its related decisions affect others. We met early in the evenings to work out the strategy. We had access to several significant consultants and data was flowing in from our branch offices across the country. The project was intellectually challenging, exciting and stimulating. As we approached the deadline, we continued to reevaluate and validate what we developed. We knew full well it would be scrutinized by the Chairman of the Board and his advisory team. But it wasn’t the Chairman who concerned us. It was the well being of the company. A few thousand people were employed in this division alone. They would be directly impacted by the strategy we developed.

Once all seven of us, and the CEO, were satisfied with our solution, something life-changing happened to me. It was around 6:00PM on a Friday. The CEO had dinner brought in for us as we met in the boardroom to discuss the finished work. He stood up and began to pace around. He then posed this challenge to us. I will never forget it. “It appears we have an excellent and well thought out strategy here. You’ve worked hard at it. The data is good… thinking is clear. Are you satisfied that it’s the best for our company?” We all responded positively. He continued, “Well let me go deeper. Do you believe in this strategy so completely that if you had the $50 million to launch it, would you be willing to write the check personally…do you believe in it that much? There was a long pause. I want you all to go home now and sit with your wives. I want you to tell them what we’ve done here. Look her in the eye and tell her that if you did have that kind of money, you would be more than willing to write the check. See what she says. I also want you to mention the other side of this strategy. What if it doesn’t work? What if we bomb? We will not only lose the investment corporate provides but we will be directly responsible for the loss of jobs. Lots of jobs.

“We’re sitting in this beautiful boardroom making a decision for people who work for us. People with families. Some of you haven’t even met them. If we are wrong it’s likely our division will be sold off and the plant in New England will shut down. That means over 500 workers will go home to their families without a job…and you all know that one town survives almost solely on our manufacturing plant. You and me gentlemen…will have to live with that. So go home and think about this over the weekend. Discuss it and wrestle with it. On Monday I want to know if we are ready or if we need to make changes…or start over. Have a nice weekend.” And he left the room. Well it was really, really quiet in that room for several minutes.

We all left without saying much. On the drive home, I will admit I was scared. To think I could bear a rather direct responsibility for kids not going to college or for people losing their benefits, livelihoods and maybe their homes. This was no longer a strategy on paper. Until now, although hard work and long hours, working the strategy was exciting. We had the best resources and consultants. It was dynamic. It was prestigious. There was lots of excitement. But suddenly it was a real life situation that would directly impact many other people, many of whom I had never met, across the country and here in New England. I carried a substantial weight of concern. I wasn’t feeling that good. When the strategy project began I had no idea I would hold that level responsibility, but I was part of it like it or not. I shared all of this with my wife Kathleen who was very helpful to me. I did think about it deeply. I did pray about it. On Monday we met again and voted confidently to present the strategy. The Chairman and advisory board did accept the strategy and gave us the highest review of all the divisions participating. But it may not have turned out that way.

The experience made a definitive change in the way I would serve others through my work, from that day on. I’m not quite certain how to express this properly but in the days afterward I also realized how close a brush I’d had in experiencing Jesus’ own relational involvement in his work. He did the will of the Father because he loved him and he loved people. “…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2). What was that joy anyway? It was you and me. It was people. His work on the cross would benefit people, all the people who lived in the past, those alive in the present, and all those yet be born into the future. Astounding! Commitment to the divinely appointed work is what held Jesus from succumbing to the devil’s temptations in the wilderness and allowed Him to finish the course to our blessed benefit. In The Genius of Willie MacMichael, a children’s book written by George MacDonald, little Willie poses an age-old question to his father, “Does God work?”

“Yes, Willie, it seems that God works more than anybody—for he works all night and all day and, if I remember rightly, Jesus tells us somewhere that he works all Sunday too. If he were to stop working, everything would stop being. The sun would stop shining, and the moon and stars; the corn would stop growing; there would be no apples and gooseberries; your eyes would stop seeing; your ears would stop hearing; your fingers couldn’t move an inch; and worst of all, your little heart would stop loving.”

The question becomes, do you and I want to make a difference? Most people, especially those who love the Lord ­feel a compelling need to pursue their given purpose. They want to live lives that will hold lasting impact on others as far as that can reach. This compelling drive to contribute; to have significance, once combined with a desire to make a difference in the Father’s kingdom leads us to think about legacy. What kind of legacy will you leave; one of limited, asterisk-driven decisions or one of liberty to give yourself away just as Jesus, his apostles, the great saints, and the ordinary saints all around? Would we not have done well to follow the notion we read above by Andrew Klavan. If we focus on the possible fear of falling off the edge of the world, we will never experience driving our flag into the wet shoreline sand and claiming a new world. We cannot discover the new world unless we are willing to let go of old landmarks and follow God through the dense fog, when we cannot see what is ahead, when we, like the mythical Jason and the Argonauts resist the Siren’s song that draws men into the rocks, wrecking their ships. Whatever it takes, hold on until God brings us to the place where we belonged all along. But in the new world, we might believe the grass is greener, and it may well be. But the consequence of greener grass is more focused and intensified maintenance. Nothing comes easy if it’s worth anything. The divine work we are here to produce is linked forever to the life and death situations, either eminently or longer term, to others. The requirement for our life’s work is all we are, all our energies, all we believe, all our passion, and all our labors. Strangely, the more of our gifted talent that is drawn out, the more is replenished. The Apostles and many other followers of Christ learned this very divine mystery. St. Paul expressed it this way: “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come” (2 Tim 4:6). Have you been poured out lately?

About the Author

Al Pirozzoli’s career has served on two fronts. In the business world, where he serves as a Creative Director and Marketing Consultant, his writing has garnered many awards including the International John Caples Award, and he has won 7 International Telly Awards. His work has covered many business and product categories from chocolate chips to computer chips. On the ministry side, he has been involved as a licensed and ordained, Marketplace Chaplain and has served in volunteer capacity as a minister. Al’s creativity rarely rests, he authors numerous blog posts on He is also the co-founder of where you can find ebooks written by Al Pirozzoli.