Reflections on Mary and Martha

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I am currently reading through the book of John.  A few days ago, I read the familiar story of Mary, her sister Martha, and their brother Lazarus.  In John, chapter 11, the initial focus is on Lazarus.  This gives the Apostle John a perfect opportunity to present another of his many “I AM” statements.  Here, Jesus boldly proclaims, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).

However, what caught my attention in this morning as I began to read chapter 12, was some details about Lazarus’ sisters that I had not been aware of before.  It was one of those “Aha!” moments that I want to capture on paper and share with others who may not have seen these things before either.

The same one who poured perfume on the Lord

When we are first introduced to these siblings from Bethany in John 11:1, we quickly get a bit of foreshadowing.  John writes, “This Mary . . . was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair” (v. 2).  I asked myself, “Who?  “What?  “When?”  “Where?”

Now, there are several Marys in the New Testament.  Obviously, Mary, Jesus’ mother was not this Mary.  I always thought that it was Mary Magdalene who did that.  Perhaps I was wrong.

We do not have to look far to find the story.  In John 12, we read that six days before the Passover, Jesus went back to Bethany for a dinner given in His honor (Jn. 12:2).  Martha is mentioned first, then Lazarus, and last, Mary.  John briefly describes the scene for his readers: “Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (John 12:3).

Thankfully, in my margin notes, two parallel passages were listed.  This event is also recorded in Matt. 26:6-7 and Mark 14:3.  These two Synoptic Gospel writers (notice who is missing) give us one detail that John does not.  They both report the name of the host, Simon the Leper.  However, the name of the woman in this story (who we know is Mary from John’s Gospel), is not given.

So, nothing earth-shattering here.  I offer just a simple observation that John’s perspective and the slightly different one of Matthew and Mark collectively served the author’s purposes.  John did not need to tell us who hosted the dinner party, but he did need to mention Mary’s role in it.  Matthew and Mark chose to tell us that Simon the Leper gave the party for Jesus, but did not feel the need to mention the siblings that Jesus loved in John’s Gospel.  All accounts are equally reliable and true.

Martha serving and Mary seeking

Next, let me share some interesting observations about the sisters found in John and elsewhere.

When we read John’s account of these close siblings in John 11, we do see some small distinctions in how they greeted Jesus when He arrived after their brother had died.  Martha greeted Jesus first in John 11:20-27.  She expressed what initially appears to be disappointment, exclaiming that “if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (Jn. 11:21).  But then, she expresses her faith in Jesus, declaring, “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask” (Jn. 11:22).  They exchanged a few more words and she departs to tell her sister Jesus wanted to see her (v. 28).

Mary goes out to meet Jesus in Jn. 11:29-32.  She says virtually the same thing as Martha had first said to Jesus.  She was obviously very emotional, as John mentions that Jesus saw her weeping (v. 33).  Jesus asks where Lazarus was laid, and the crowd that followed her led Jesus to the tomb.

This is interesting to me; it seems to put Martha in a better light than another passage that does not.

Where have we seen Martha and Mary before?  It is not in John’s account in chapters 11 and 12.  It is not in Matthew’s or Mark’s Gospel either, which may be why they did not mention her name in their account of the woman pouring perfume on Jesus’ feet.  It is in Luke’s Gospel we need to go.

In Luke 10:39-42, we read the only account in the four Gospels where Martha’s and Mary’s priorities seem to be contrasted.  This supposed rivalry has been the subject of many sermons.  We notice that the village of Bethany is not even mentioned by Luke, and neither is Lazarus.  We learn that Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to what He said.  Martha, on the other hand, was taking care of all the details that needed to be done in order to be hospitable to her important guests.

When I compared the actions of each of the sisters with Jesus near Lazarus’ tomb in John 11, at the dinner party in John 12, and at this occasion in Luke 10, I observed some similarities worth noting.

Based on her actions, perhaps Martha might have the spiritual gift of serving (Rom. 12:7), helping, or administration (1 Cor. 12:28).  She was busy making a meal for her Lord in Luke 10.  She had a detailed conversation with Jesus in John 11.  She was seen serving dinner again in John 12.  Mary, on the other hand, did not have these same spiritual gifts.  Her acts of reverential worship that were motivated by deep emotions lead me to speculate that her spiritual gifts were more along the lines of encouragement or mercy (Rom. 12:8).  Mary expectantly sat at Jesus’ feet in Luke 10.  She was too overcome with emotion to carry on a deep conversation with Jesus in John 11, and she expressed her adoration of Jesus most beautifully in John 12.

I love finding patterns scattered throughout Scripture and tying the details together. It makes me want to be like Mary and sit, learn, and worship at Jesus’ feet, which He said was a good thing.  It also makes me want to be like Martha, serving meals for His glory, and blessing those who visit.  It is a good thing to serve the Lord with our spiritual gifts, whichever ones we have been given.

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 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.

Being Open to New Possibilities (Part 2)

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(Note: I wrote this article below in September of last year.  It was a follow-up to a reflection on my spiritual journey as I applied for a new job at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, which is 30 miles from where our son lives.  I encourage you to read my first article before you read this one.)

Remember the old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books?  They were unique, creative, and fun.  At the end of the chapter, you came to a decision point.  You had to make a choice for the main character.  Did he take the left fork or the right?  Did he steal the car or not?  Did he punch that jerk in the face or walk away?  Depending on which choice you made, you skipped ahead to the page where the story continued from there.  I am going to attempt to use a similar format here.

Allow me to begin with my first possible scenario where I announce I was offered the job that I had applied for in August.  At this point, I will let the reader choose – Do I accept the job or not?

In the second possible scenario, I will announce that I did not get the job.  I will lay out two choices for the reader to decide – Do I acknowledge the closed door and stay at my current job until retirement, or do I continue to apply for other jobs at the same location?  In both scenarios, I will offer a biblical perspective to flesh out the ramifications of each of those decisions.

Are you ready? Buckle your seatbelt!  It may be a bumpy ride!

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Possible Scenario 1: I was offered the job

I got the phone call I was hoping for.  It was from the Civilian Personnel Assistance Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  They congratulated me and said that they were offering me the job.  I was overjoyed!  They asked me what date I could start, and I told them.

What should my response be?  I am going to let the reader decide.

If you think I should accept the job for all the reasons I articulated in my previous article, continue reading the next section below.  However, if you think I should not take the position because it is a huge risk moving into something new when I already have a job I am perfectly comfortable with, then skip over the next section and go to the one immediately following.

Choice #1 – Take the job

Once again, this was a no brainer!  I had been praying about this job from the minute I first learned of the position.  I was prayerful as I updated my resume, answered the questionnaire online, and submitted my application.  I was prayerful as I waited to hear from them for two weeks.  When I was called on a Friday morning to set a time for the phone interview, I continued to pray.  I asked family members to pray.  I wisely prepared for the interview.  I conducted it with confidence as I sat in my car in the post exchange parking lot.  While waiting, I prayed for them to make a good decision.  When I was offered the job, I knew what I had to do.  I took it!

My biblically-informed mind knew several things long before this process started.  I knew that God was in control.  I knew that He was good.  I knew that He had called, led, and equipped me to every job I had ever held.  I knew He would open and close doors in His time.  I knew that God would provide the wisdom and courage needed to make the right decision.  Even if this decision led to a difficult situation down the road, I did not have to have any regrets, because I knew that all things work together for good for those who are called according to His purpose.

Choice #2 – Turn down the job

This ended up being one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make.  Part of me wanted to jump in with both feet, but something said to not be hasty.  I remembered when I spontaneously pushed to get my Army recruiting assignment changed from Kansas City, Missouri to Fort Collins, Colorado.  It was a disaster.  “Be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it.”  Although there were some really solid reasons for accepting the job, I just could not do it.  I was going to lose too much by leaving my comfort zone.  It was a risk I was not willing to take.

The biblical perspective that I would offer here is that the Bible tells God’s people in many times and situations, “Fear not!” Frankly, fear seems to be the driving force in any decision to stick with what is comfortable and not take this new job.  Perhaps I should have respected my spouse more and followed-through on the decision we had made together to seek out opportunities to be closer to family.  However, even though it may not have been the wisest decision, it does not mean that I would have to settle for “Plan B” the rest of my life.  God would continue to use me at my current location.  It might be a while, but perhaps I would see another job open up.

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Possible Scenario 2: I was not selected for the job

I did not get the phone call that I was hoping for.  Instead, I got the dreaded email from USA Jobs coldly informing me that I was not selected for the job I had interviewed for in late August.

What should my response be?  If you think I should choose to remain where I am until retirement, go to the next section.  If you think I should keep applying for other positions at Fort Leavenworth, skip the next section and go to the one beyond that.

Choice #1 – Choose to remain

I was devastated.  The whole process was a roller coaster of emotions.  I did not want to put myself out there again and get rejected over and over.  I took the hint and decided to figure out a way to bloom where I was planted and consider an early retirement in a few years when ready.

Making a decision to apply for a job is not a moral decision (like deciding to rob a bank).  We have freedom in Christ to seek other opportunities to serve Christ elsewhere, as the Lord wills.  Paul made all kinds of decisions in the book of Acts as to where he wanted to go next to bring the gospel to the Gentiles.  Remain or look; it is not going to change your eternal destiny.

Choice #2 – Continue to apply

I have to admit, I truly thought I had the job.  My wife and I felt like the timing was right.  The job description seemed like it was going to be a good fit.  I was disappointed I did not get it, but I did find peace and rest in the Lord.  I knew that He was present with me in my search for a new job closer to my son, daughter-in-law, and grandson.  We both had a sense of hope that if this was not the right job, then another better opportunity would open up for me in the near future.

The story of the persistent widow comes to mind.  Jesus clearly commends persistent prayer.  Just because we get a “No” from the Lord does not mean that we should stop pursuing our dream.  Joseph did not forget his dreams.  They just took some time.  If we keep knocking and the door does not open, perhaps we pray that God will adjust our desires.  If they remain, then we keep on sowing, knowing that we shall reap if we do not grow weary.  As I shared throughout my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession, seeking a job is always going to be a spiritual journey.  It will be a faith-building season from start to finish.  Don’t give up!

What actually happened?

I am not going to tell you. (You’re kidding, right?)  Yes, I am kidding.  Sorry.  (And?)

The Friday after Labor Day, I got an email indicating that I was not selected for the job. My wife and I were both disappointed, but knew that God is still in control.  It was not His time.  I will apply for others I qualify for until I get an offer or I hit age 65, whichever comes first.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention something.  Two weeks after I applied for the second job there was another position that opened up at Fort Leavenworth for a Plans Officer!  I applied for it right away.  I was also referred for this job.   I am still waiting to be contacted for an interview.

Epilogue

I was given an interview on 9/11, but was notified two days later that I was not selected.

Job, after a serious of major losses much bigger than my disappointment, responded in faith: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).

To be continued.

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 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.

Being Open to New Possibilities (Part 1)

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(Note: I wrote the article below, as well as Part 2, back in September of last year.  However, I did not feel that the time was right to post it.  Now that nearly a year has passed, I thought I would post it to my blog.)

I am continually amazed at what God brings to me after I have prayed sincerely for Him to help me put into practice my theology of work that I have written about.  I am always looking for opportunities to practice His presence at work, to better submit to my employer, to be an answer to someone’s prayers by meeting their needs through my work, or to see a trial through eyes of faith.  Just as I find myself in a place of sweet contentment and satisfaction in the Lord at my current job, God made me aware of a job possibility elsewhere that caught my attention.

This is not the first time this has happened.  I reflected on two similar occasions in my blog.  In an article posted in July 2016, I shared my experiences in considering a radically new direction career-wise for the first time.  A little over a year later, I posted another article after I was faced with a job opportunity in Colorado.  I found it fascinating that I was able to go through this process twice while I was writing my book.  This allowed me to add a personal dimension of putting biblical principles of seeking God when searching for work into practice in my own life.

It is two years later.  This time it is different.  This new job I was made aware of is located at the Army post where my wife and I had recently decided we would like to go “someday”.  On the flip side of this blessing, it wrecks me to consider the things that must take place if offered this position.  It could mark the end of a thirty-three year chapter with the US Army Chemical Corps.

Biblical perspective

When faced with a major decision on whether or not to pursue a new job opportunity, Christians must have a biblical perspective.  Let me present a couple of ideas about changing jobs from Part II of my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession.  In this section, I help my readers apply the foundational concepts I carefully unpacked in Part I.  In chapter 9, I shared some general principles with respect to seeking first the kingdom of God and in finding a calling or vocation.  In chapter 10, I presented several additional biblical principles as well as some of my own experiences in pursuing and finding a job or career that leads to flourishing.

One of the most powerful things we need to remember in making career decisions is this: God is in control.  In His covenant lovingkindness (hesed, in Hebrew), God wisely places His children where they need to be at the right place and time for His glory.  Knowing this should take our anxiety about the whole process of “how to find our calling” away, replacing it with His peace.

I also shared this kernel of truth with respect to considering a new job: God may be preparing you to begin another chapter in your life.  If you decide to go, God will be with you wherever it is.  He will give you wisdom to make the best decision in His time.  He will provide for you and your family.  Finding a new job in your same field or making a radical change into something new is always a spiritual journey.  You may need to boldly step out in faith.  God may change the circumstances, or He may change you.  Either way, He is working on your behalf because He is a worker, He is present in your work, and He has called you to be a coworker with Him.

How the journey progressed

Let me give you a brief snapshot on how this came about, what I did, and how it was resolved.

This new job popped in my work email in early June as a result of weekly job alerts through the USA Jobs website.  There was a vacancy for a GS-13 position with the Army University in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  The job title was the same as the one I had held for the past eleven years at the US Army Chemical School: Operations Officer.  I knew very little about the organization, but it fell under the same umbrella of the Army Training and Doctrine Command.  One thing caught my attention – this job would qualify for reimbursement of relocation expenses.

Over the next couple of days, I updated my resume to highlight my skills and experiences that matched the new position.  I also filled out a questionnaire to indicate whether or not I had done some of the things that I would be responsible to do in the new position.  I then took an online assessment of my reading comprehension, problem solving skills, and intellectual abilities.

Two weeks later, I was notified that I was eligible for the position and was referred to the hiring manager!  I was on actually on a list of candidates for the job.  I was truly shocked!  Ironically, this was on the 101st anniversary of the U.S. Army Chemical Corps, on the very last day of our week-long celebration that I was intimately involved in planning, preparing, and executing.

My wife and I discussed the pros and cons of taking this job. Here were some of the advantages:

  • My wife and I deeply desire to be closer to our children and see our grandchildren grow up; this post is about 30 minutes from where our eldest son and his family live
  • If something were to happen to us, it makes it easier if we were closer to family
  • I will eventually have to leave this job; it will happen in one of three ways: on my own, by the will of someone else, or by death; the first choice sounds better than the others

Here were some of the obvious disadvantages:

  • I am very competent, confident, and yet still growing in my skills at my current job; I love what I do, enjoy the people I work with, and am making a difference
  • I provide necessary continuity to the school headquarters, which is much-needed during this summer of high transition in the school’s leadership
  • I would have to completely start over with a new organization, leaving my place in the Chemical Corps where I have served continuously for the last 33 years

The results

Over the next several weeks, I waited patiently for a phone call to set up an interview or notification that the job had closed.  I heard nothing.

Then, on 1 August, I received an email about a GS-12 position at Fort Leavenworth.  This job was for a Planning Specialist.  Been there; done that.  It was a no-brainer.  I applied that day.

Eventually, I found out I did not get the first job.  Now, we are waiting on God to see how this plays out with the second one.  We rest in this: “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:15).

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 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.

Who Protects Those Who Protect Us?

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As we celebrate Memorial Day in a couple of weeks, I am proud to have served in the U.S. Army, especially now.

Lately, I have been impressed by the actions of our military leaders on Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.  This installation where I work is in the business of training and educating Soldiers.  I want to share how God has used military leaders as they have responded aggressively to the COVID-19 pandemic in order to protect the force.

Rising to the challenge

Our commanding general has stated often that her number one mission now is to protect the force, which includes thousands of Soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines (both permanent party and trainees), family members, civilians, and retirees.  Under her compassionate and decisive leadership, her main focus has been on the health, welfare, safety, and readiness of everyone who lives and works on this installation.  By establishing and enforcing protective measures designed to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus on post, Army readiness has been sustained, which is enabling our units to continue their mission to train Soldiers.

What have our military leaders done over the last two months?  Here is a sample:

They eliminated large public gathering (i.e., graduations, chapel services, social events, ceremonies), cancelled courses, enforced social distancing and wearing masks, mandated telework for most of the civilian workforce, restricted personnel to a sixty mile radius, tested 100% of those who arrive from outside this area, declared a public health emergency, enforced quarantine and isolation procedures, used distance learning for courses, cancelled unnecessary travel, put on weekly Facebook livestream Town Hall meetings, incorporated virtual online platforms to conduct meetings, provided curbside pharmacy services, and have worked closely with the local community, state government, and federal agencies.

The Army doing what it does best

In my 34 years serving in and with the U.S. Army, I know that it is uniquely prepared to handle emergencies, counter threats, and carry out very difficult missions effectively.

Specifically, what has been working well here?  We are led by experienced senior leaders who listen to the advice of subject matter experts and rapidly adapt as conditions change.  Engaged junior leaders are taking care of Soldiers and their families.  There is a unified focus on the mission.  I see professionalism and discipline.  Drill sergeants train new Soldiers while enforcing social distancing standards.  I see everyone being flexible and positive.  I see teams of teams working together to find creative solutions to problems.  I see communication being passed down to the lowest level.  I see God at work through them all.

What are the results of these efforts?  The curve is flattening and we are still in business.

God protects the wall-builders

At this point, I must share one of the best examples in Scripture of how God worked in and through the leaders He called and equipped to protect His people during an all-out assault.  It ties in directly with what I have described above, as God has been protecting those who are building a wall of trained and ready Soldiers who are equipped to defend this Nation.

The book of Nehemiah illustrates how the Israelites relied on God for protection as they rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem when they returned from exile. This is a great example of Immanuel labor – the biblical connection between God’s presence and human work.  Yahweh provided protection directly and indirectly through the work of His people.  (I invite you to read more about this story in an article I wrote and posted on my blog.)

If you read the narrative, you will see that God put a burden on Nehemiah’s heart to lead the effort to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. Nehemiah recalls that God’s gracious hand of protection was already upon him (18, 18).  He relied on Yahweh to give him success (Neh. 2:20).

When they encountered opposition, they prayed for God’s protection and posted guards day and night (Neh. 4:9).  This is another illustration of how God’s presence is connected to human work.  After God supernaturally frustrated the plot of their enemies, the Israelites continued to work diligently.  Half the men did the work while the others defended the team with weapons, shields, and armor (Neh. 4:16).  As each one did their part by working and protecting the force, they acknowledged that their God was fighting for them (Neh. 4:20).

Elsewhere, we see this connection between God’s partnership with human coworkers in protecting His chosen people.  King Solomon writes, “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord” (Proverbs 21:31).  The point is fairly obvious.  Soldiers (and their horses) definitely needed to be trained and ready in order to win the battle.  (Drill sergeants do this faithfully every single day at Fort Leonard Wood.)  However, without the Lord’s blessing and protection, there would be no victory.

Let me leave you with a final word of encouragement.  I have clearly seen God’s protection, manifested in and through the dedicated work of leaders and those who turn civilians into Soldiers.  These men and women will go forth from here, assigned to units around the world, so that they will be ready to defend this country against all enemies, foreign and domestic.  I thank God for their work.

May we remember those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom this Memorial Day.

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 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.

How are we to Love the Incompetent Colleague?

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William Morris, in his delightful book, Love thy Colleague observes, “There is nothing quite like incompetence at work.”

Throughout this book, Morris explores the topic (quite competently) of “what it means to be a Christian colleague in the workplace.”  In each chapter, he focuses on a different neighbor who may be hard for us to love.  He exhorts us to be like the Good Samaritan to each of them.  In chapter three, he provides a biblical perspective on how to deal with the incompetent worker.

Incompetence at work is a topic that I have never addressed in this blog or in my own book, so I am excited to explore it further.  In what follows, I will share some of Morris’ thoughts then add a few of my own.  More importantly, I will share some biblical principles to help us to love our neighbors who may be struggling with this.  I hope to be a competent writer; I do not want to waste your time.

What does it look like?

Morris paints a bleak picture of what incompetence eventually produces. He states,

Like ripple in a pond – or, perhaps, a bad odour – the effects of incompetence seem to spread out in every direction.  Fellow workers have to do the work not done, or clear up the mess by redoing the work done badly the first time.  The client or customer often suffers through shoddy goods or services – and a reduced trust and confidence in that business.

We have all seen it from every angle.  As a customer, we’ve seen it in those who are supposed to take care of us, but are not.  We have seen it in our bosses, in our co-workers, and in our employees.  If we are totally honest, we have seen it in ourselves.  How is a Christian supposed to respond?

How do workers become incompetent?

Before we get to the answer, Morris helps us to understand the causes of incompetence.  He deftly explains that not all incompetence is the same.  He lists three major causes, and I quote:

  • Incompetence can be caused by simple inexperience.
  • Incompetence can also arise in situations where those skills or rules have been incorrectly or imperfectly learned.
  • Finally, incompetence can sometimes arise because of circumstances unrelated to our level of knowledge, skill and application (or lack thereof).  It can arise, for example, from simple overload.

In my many years of serving in and with the Army, I have seen each of these causes illustrated.

A newly commissioned second lieutenant or a private that has just graduated from basic training will certainly start out as incompetent, due to their lack of experience.  I have also seen many Soldiers who for whatever reason were never trained properly.  They may have several years of experience, but they are rough around the edges, unjustifiably overconfident in their abilities because previous leaders did not mentor them well.  Lastly, there have been many positions where I have been barely keeping my head above water and may have appeared to be failing due to too many unrealistic expectations.  I knew what I was doing; I just could not do it all fast enough.

Responding to incompetence with mercy and grace

The best response to how we are to deal with others is that we need to extend the same mercy and grace God extended to us.  Paul exhorts the church, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:13).

Jesus led by example in response to an incompetent employee he had.  How did Jesus deal with Peter’s one-time, yet incredible moment of incompetence after he denied Jesus three times?

In John 21:15-19, we read of Jesus’ private conversation with Peter on the beach by the Sea of Galilee.  Jesus asks Peter three times if he truly loved him.  Each time, Jesus responded, “Feed my sheep.”  In so doing, Jesus reinstated Peter.  This was confirmed on the Day of Pentecost where Peter, now filled with the Holy Spirit preached a sermon where three thousand came to Christ.

Loving our incompetent neighbors by giving them tools

Certainly, whether we are supervisors or peers, we can make every effort to provide tools to help our weak and inexperienced neighbors at work by intentionally coaching, teaching, and mentoring them.  We can share with them some of the valuable lessons we have learned along the way.

If they continue to struggle with developing critical skills to be successful on the job, we need to commit to speaking the truth in love. (See Eph. 4:15.)  Worst case, if you assess that the job just is not a good fit for them (i.e., they are a square peg in a round hole or it goes against their design), this may involve making the hard decision to give them a chance to succeed somewhere else.

Hear these compassionate words of Morris: “Doing a job where you always seem to be messing up is incredibly stressful. You feel you are hanging on by your fingertips. . . The mercy in this case would be to get the colleague out of that job and into one which they can handle, or even excel at.”

I trust this reflection will cause you to see your incompetent colleague in a new light.

I envisioned this as a two-part series.  My next reflection on this topic will be on dealing with our own incompetence.  That aspect may be more important than the one we have just considered.

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 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.

Where were the Soldiers at Jesus’ Crucifixion?

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Ernest Borgnine as the Centurion in the movie “Jesus of Nazareth”

“The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head” (John 19:2).

“So the soldiers took charge of Jesus” (John 19:16).

“Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear” (John 19:34).

As I was reading the four Gospel accounts of the crucifixion last Saturday (between Good Friday and Easter Sunday), I was intrigued to see that soldiers were mentioned in several places.  They had a key role in the events leading up to and during Jesus’ death on the cross.  Some soldiers were not so kind.  One of them was a believer.  As a retired U.S. Army Master Sergeant who served on active duty for twenty years, I felt compelled to study a bit more and share what I learn.

A few days later, before I had started writing this article, I was struck by another moment of divine inspiration, or what I like to call “sanctified imagination”.  What if I did a series of articles, starting with this one, and called it “Soldiers in Scripture – Warriors in the Word”?

I currently serve as a civilian staff member at the U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear School located at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.  I work with soldiers every day.  My wife and I attend chapel services on Sundays.  I know several Army chaplains.  I thought that this might be a good series to share with the Christian military community here and around the world.  Perhaps it might bring soldiers, young and old, some much needed encouragement as they learn from God’s word what it says about those who served in the profession of arms.

Rather than starting in Matthew, and working my way through Mark, Luke, and John in order, I will break it down by major event.  It is interesting that Matthew and Mark only refer to soldiers in their respective accounts one time, Luke mentions them three times, and John does so eight times.

The Soldiers’ actions when Jesus was arrested

The first time I see soldiers involved in the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion is in the Garden of Gethsemane.  John is the only one of the four Gospel writers who specifically mentions that a detachment of soldiers was among those with Judas as he led a group of Jewish officials to arrest Jesus (John 18:3).  The other writers only mention that Judas brought a crowd of people with him.

We do not see much of anything specifically mentioned about these soldiers.  It appears that they were a security force.  We read in Matt. 26:47 that this crowd of people was “armed with swords and clubs”.  It makes sense that Judas would have brought (or rather the Jewish officials would have arranged for) a show of force in case Jesus’ disciples showed any resistance, which Peter did do.

Keener writes in The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament that although this group of soldiers might have been Roman soldiers, many scholars have come to the conclusion that “this unit was undoubtedly Jewish – the temple guard.  (Roman troops would not be used for a routine police action like this one, and Romans would not have taken Jesus to the house of Annas.)”

The Soldiers’ actions while Jesus was questioned and tried

After Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss, John mentions in 18:12 that soldiers arrested Jesus, bound him, and led Him away to a series of prideful leaders who believe they will determine His fate.

These soldiers (or perhaps temple guards), first escorted Jesus to the house of the former high priest, Annas, who was the first one to question Jesus.  Then they took him to his son-in-law, Caiaphas, the current high priest.  (See John 18:12-13.)  After Caiaphas pronounced judgement on Jesus for blasphemy, those who were guarding Jesus cruelly mocked and beat Him (Luke 22:63).  Elsewhere, we read that they were spitting in His face and striking Him.  (See Matt. 26:67 and Mark 14:65.)

Unfortunately, this would not be the last time we see soldiers violating laws regarding treatment of prisoners.  Next, Jesus went on trial before Herod.  Luke alone tells us that “Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him” (23:11)  Later, Pontius Pilate questioned Jesus a while and reluctantly pronounced His death sentence.  After this, Pilate’s Roman soldiers took him to the palace, where a company of soldiers gathered to mistreat Jesus.  They stripped Him, beat Him, and put a scarlet robe on Him.  Then they made a crown of thorns and put it on Jesus’ head.  Then the soldiers mocked Him, spit on Him, and beat Him repeatedly.  (See Matt. 27:27-31; Mark 15:16-20; John 19:1-3.)

The Soldiers’ actions when Jesus on the cross

There are several critical events at Jesus’ crucifixion that involved soldiers.  As a matter of fact, in many of these scenes, the soldiers’ actions were in direct fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy!  (I invite you to check out an article that I wrote on this very subject a short time ago.)

First, soldiers mocked Jesus on the way to Golgotha, where they gave Him vinegar mixed with gall (Luke 23:36).  This fulfilled Ps. 69:21.  (See also Matt. 27:34, 48; Mark 15:23; John 19:28-30.)

Next, after Jesus was hung on the cross, there were four soldiers who divided Jesus’ clothes among them and cast lots for his seamless undergarment.  All three of John’s fellow Gospel writers briefly include this story in their accounts.  (See Matt. 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34.)  However, John gives us much more detail.  His version in John 19:23-24 includes a brief conversation that explains why they cast lots, which was in direct fulfillment of Ps. 22:18.

Also worth mentioning is the astounding scene at the cross where the Roman soldiers do not break Jesus’ legs, which was fulfilled Ex. 12:46.  They did not have to do so because they knew Jesus was already dead when they pierced His side, once again in direct fulfillment of Scripture (Zech. 12:10).

There is one more event that involved a brave soldier.  Right after Jesus died, we see a centurion, a leader of a company of soldiers, responding to the miraculous signs that accompanied Jesus’ death (i.e., the curtain of the temple was split in two, an earthquake, dead coming back to life).  This soldier exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”  (See Matt. 27:51-54; Mark 15:38-39; Luke 23:44-47.)

How should Christian Soldiers act now?

I think that there are several things that soldiers can do today from seeing soldiers at the cross:

  • Submit to authority – accept your humble position and carry out the orders given to you, even if you disagree with them; make an effort to show respect for and trust your leaders
  • When in charge, take charge – take your responsibility seriously; do your duty, whether it be escorting prisoners, maintaining a vehicle, or training other Soldiers
  • Follow the Geneva convention that prohibits cruelty towards prisoners – there is a time and place to be violent; there is also a time to treat all with dignity and respect, even our enemies
  • Sometimes God will use a soldier to accomplish His purposes, sometimes unknowingly; be that soldier who makes himself or herself available for God to be used for His mission
  • Be a like the centurion who boldly declared his faith in Jesus Christ – have the confidence to express your faith at the appropriate moments; live it out every day for all to see

Next time, I will explore what Roman Soldiers were doing at Jesus’ tomb.

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 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.

The Theology of Work on Display During our Darkest Days

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It occurred to me yesterday that in the midst of this awful pandemic, it has been an extraordinary time to clearly see some of the basic tenets of the theology of work on display for all to see.  The subject of human work (and God’s very real connection to it) has been front page news for several weeks.  Let me explain what I mean.

Heroic work

At his daily press conferences, the President deliberately praises the great Americans (and companies) who are doing “heroic” work every day: healthcare workers, first responders, the military, researchers, pharmaceutical companies, manufacturers, governors, etc.  I have not seen such a public outpouring of love and support for these workers since 9/11.  Their work really matters to all of us now.

One might wonder, “Why is there is such a profound demonstration of courage, hard work, dedication, compassion, and creativity among these workers in such as time as this?”  I believe that a strong biblical and practical theology of work has relevant answers to this question.

We know from Gen. 1:26-18 that humans were created by God in His image.  God is a worker, and we were created to work also.  Men and women were given both the responsibility and the blessing to be coworkers with God to care for, sustain, and expand His creation.  (See Gen 2:15.)  Furthermore, God equipped humans with a variety of skills and talents.  As we use those talents in the communities in which we find ourselves, we can be part of the solution to meet others’ needs.

Never forget that God is always present in human work.  I call this concept Immanuel labor.  It is everywhere, especially now.

The loss of work

In contrast to the focused attention on all those multitudes of faithful workers who are doing amazing things every day to save lives and bring about restoration, millions more have lost jobs.

Tens of millions (amounting to about 10%) of American workers who are now unemployed is a major concern.  It is taking its toll on families, communities, and the nation’s economy.  Many others have had their jobs altered in significant ways due to teleworking.  Why is this such a strain on everyone?  Again, based on our divine design, humans need meaningful work to thrive.  We need what work brings us – a sense of purpose, satisfaction, and to be part of a team.

How should we respond?

  • Continue to encourage essential workers; they need courage to keep going back to work
  • Go out of your way to encourage all the other workers who are not considered essential (but truly are); they also need to know that their contributions matter
  • Remember to praise God for His provision in meeting our needs; it is He who provides for us only by His grace through the work of humans as His coworkers

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 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.