Further Reflections on Psalm 139

On a recent Sunday morning, I went to one of my favorite psalms to remind myself of some truths about God’s presence.  I discovered some valuable insights that I had not previously addressed.

This topic is an important one for me personally.  I have been striving to experience God’s presence as a normal part of my Christian walk for the past 45 years.  As a freshman in college, I read Brother Lawrence’s classic, The Practice of the Presence of God.  This book opened my eyes to the concept that I could remain close to God by His grace every day – not just in church, but everywhere I went.

Some previous reflections

In my book, Immanuel Labor: God’s Presence in our Profession, I laid a biblical and theological foundation of what God’s word teaches about work and presented how to apply these eternal truths.  My focus throughout the book was to highlight the link between God’s presence and human work. 

As I unpacked the idea of God’s presence in general, this is what I stated:

The Bible passage that most believers think of with respect to this concept is Psalm 139:7-10, which says: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”

Although these verses highlight God’s supernatural ability to be everywhere and anywhere, David wants us to see this aspect of God’s personality as not merely an objective reality but as something he personally feels. He says things like “you are there” (twice in verse 8), “your hand will guide me,” and “your right hand will hold me fast.” These words describe that God is there in David’s midst, which gives him (and us) peace, security, and hope. Not only that, but God has been, is now, and will continue to actively lead him every step of the way.

Later, in a section on regaining a sense of God’s presence when we have fallen from it, I wrote: “The most important thing I can say to a Christian is that God will never leave us, condemn us, or give up on us.  This is crystal clear in Scripture.  Psalm 139:7–10 says that He is always present with us.”

New observations about this passage

David, the author of this psalm, begins by declaring that God has “searched” him and knows him (v. 1).  I have often begun my own confessions of sin with the same words David uses, “You know me.”  David right away acknowledges that there is nothing that God does not know about us (about Russ).

He continues.  God perceives David’s thoughts (v. 2).  Yahweh knows his whereabouts (v. 3) and is familiar with all his ways.  God even knows what David is about to say before he utters a word (v. 4).

David concludes that knowing all this is completely overwhelming to him.  It is too wonderful (v. 6).

I find it interesting that there is no admission of guilt and shame by David, despite the fact that God knows everything about David’s thoughts and activities, both good and bad.  He is focused on God’s marvelous attributes.  It seems to give him peace to know that God has revealed Himself in this way.

David then shifts his focus to describing the length, breadth, and depth of God’s presence.  He knows that the Spirit of God is anywhere that David could possibly imagine he could go (v. 7).  He mentions the heavens and the depths (v. 8).  God is at both ends of the vertical dimension, both high and low.  In verse 9, he writes of rising on “the wings of the dawn” and settling on the “far side of the sea” – the horizontal dimension, in all directions.  Even there, God’s hand will guide him and hold him (v. 10).

Due to time and space constraints, I am going to stop there with my summary.  However, I do want to highlight one thing.  This psalm is about God’s presence.  It is also about God’s grace.  Despite David’s often sinful thoughts, words, and deeds, he can speak from the depths of his faith and his own personal experiences that God has continued to lay His hand of protection, guidance, and protection on him.  He concludes in verse 17, “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!”  This is a man after God’s own heart whose heart has been changed by the grace of Yahweh, even in Old Testament times.

New Testament implications

This OT passage helps us understand how David personally understood and experienced the attribute of God’s omnipresence.  This divine characteristic is something that is always true about God the Father.  It gives Christ-followers great comfort as they focus on this aspect of God’s being.  However, we need to be reminded that the other two members of the Trinity also possess this same attribute.

The last thing that Jesus said to His disciples was this: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20b).  This is a promise that every disciple of Jesus Christ holds dear.

However, He had already given His disciples an idea of how His presence would be manifested.  As Jesus was preparing to go to the cross, He taught them about the ministry of the Holy Spirit and how He would counsel, teach, and remind them of His words.  He would bring the power of God’s presence to them and in them after Jesus departed to the right hand of the Father.  (See John 14:16-17, and 26.)

How can we apply these truths?

My own conclusion about this passage is two-fold.  First, God’s presence gives us much-needed comfort when we find ourselves in an uncomfortable place.  Second, it also gives us much-need discomfort when we find ourselves in a comfortable place that we know is outside of God’s will.

I encourage you to experience for yourself a life of consistently practicing the presence of God.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, 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 is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. 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 a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 60 articles posted on this blog have been published 120 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

What Were the Soldiers Doing at Jesus’ Tomb?

“Take a guard,” Pilate answered.  “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” (Matt. 27:65).

“So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed.  And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day” (Matt. 28:15).

In my first article in this series that I initiated last year, “Soldiers in Scripture – Warriors in the Word”, I unpacked what soldiers were doing on Good Friday.  It was fascinating to discover that soldiers were stationed at every critical juncture on the way.  They were directly involved in Jesus’ crucifixion and even fulfilled Old Testament Scriptures.  I invite you to read the article here.

In the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection in Matthew and Mark, soldiers were mentioned several times.  They were there in the events leading right up to and after Jesus rose from the dead.  One leader of Soldiers verified that Jesus had actually died.  Other soldiers were scared to death by the angel at the tomb.  Later, these same soldiers were ordered to lie about what happened to Jesus and took a bribe. 

Mark observes one Soldier’s involvement

To start our discussion, there is a scene which included one special soldier who had been present at the cross.  This scene is also mentioned by Luke and John, but they chose to not mention the soldier.

A brief conversation took place between Joseph of Arimathea and Pilate right after Jesus died (Mark 15:43-45).  Joseph boldly asked Pilate for Jesus’s body so that he could bury him.  Pilate asked the centurion (a leader of 100 soldiers) to confirm that Jesus was actually dead.  This was the same one who had witnessed Jesus’ death and had proclaimed that He was the Son of God (see Mark 15:39).  He sent a message to Pilate that Jesus had in fact died.  Pilate then released his body to Joseph.

Matthew reports soldiers were ordered to guard Jesus’ tomb

Matthew’s perspective includes two other instances where soldiers guarded Jesus’ tomb.  However, before we dive in, it is important to learn why there was a need for a guard force in the first place.

We read in Matt. 27:62-66 that the chief priests and Pharisees were more than a little concerned.  They asked Pilate to give an order to secure Jesus’ tomb for three days.  The Jewish leaders did this out of fear that His disciples would steal His body and claim that He rose from the dead as He said He would.  Jesus’ prediction of His death and resurrection that He taught to His disciples was recorded in all three Synoptic Gospels; see Matt. 20:18-19; Mark 10:33-34; and Luke 18:31-33.  Pilate granted their request.  They put a seal on the stone that covered the entrance and posted guards. 

David Turner, in his Baker Exegetical Commentary on Matthew explains that “these soldiers and the sealed stone constitute imperial authority over the tomb.  The seal would be clay or wax pressed into the crack between the rolling stone and the tomb’s entrance.  The imperial seal stamped on the clay or wax signified Rome’s authority . . . but a higher power would arrive on the scene when dawn came.”

At dawn on Easter Sunday, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary visited Jesus’ tomb (see Matt. 28:1).  Matthew reports that there had been a violent earthquake, that an angel had come down from heaven, had rolled the stone away, and then sat on it (v. 2).  The angel’s appearance was like lightning.  His clothes were as white as snow (v. 3).  This caused quite a reaction amongst the soldiers who were guarding the tomb.  They were so afraid that they went into shock; they were “like dead men” (v. 4). 

Turner observes, “How much the guards saw and comprehended is not clear.  The angel’s appearance caused them to faint (28:4), and they regained consciousness to discover the empty tomb.”

These soldiers were mentioned again in Matt. 28:11-15 after the women ran to tell Jesus’ disciples.  This time, they were tempted to violate their integrity and took a bribe.  Let’s take a closer look.

Matthew reports soldiers were ordered to lie about what happened

Some, but not all, of the guards went to the city to report what they had seen at Jesus’ tomb to the chief priests.  Turner indicates that the soldiers were “unintentional evangelists”, proclaiming that Jesus had risen.  They met with the elders and concocted a hoax.  (Ironically, this is exactly what they were trying to prevent Jesus’ disciples from doing and why they put guards in place.) 

These soldiers were instructed to tell people that Jesus’ disciples stole his body at night while they were sleeping.  To motivate these soldiers to tell this lie, they gave them a large sum of money.  The chief priests promised to keep them out of trouble.  The soldiers took the money and did as they were told to do.  

How should Christian soldiers act now?

There are several applications that Christian soldiers can learn from the soldiers at Jesus’ tomb:

  • Fulfill your duties as a soldier, even when no one is looking, whether it be guarding your post, cleaning your rifle, filing routine paperwork, or leading soldiers into harm’s way
  • If you have encountered the risen Christ, tell someone about it
  • Do the right thing, even if those in authority encourage you to violate your integrity; if you are given an unlawful order, get some outside advice before you blindly obey them
  • Don’t take a bribe; the price you pay later will cause you to regret your short-term gain

I trust that this devotional helped you understand the role that soldiers played in the events around Jesus’ resurrection.  I hope that you will also experience God’s presence during this Easter season.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of four, 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 is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. 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 a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 50 articles posted on this blog have been published 110 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

Servant Leadership and Reputation

“It’s not about Russ; it’s about us.”

I say this every once in a while to my Operations team.  One context where I say this is when I am sharing a personal story from my own experience.  I want to emphasize that the purpose of the story is not to put the spotlight on me.  My intent is to provide mentorship and to develop these future leaders for the greater good of our team, our customers, our superiors, and the organization we serve.

It is well-known that the one word that epitomizes a distinctly Christlike approach to managing others is “servant” leadership.  I lead in order to serve.  I have been entrusted with this huge responsibility to manage a small team, to care for and train individuals on my team, to provide all the resources they need to be successful, and to ensure that the team works well together so that we can function well.

I have found over the past thirteen years in this great job that I hold now, that as I have served my team, my customers, and my superiors well, I have built and maintained a solid reputation of trust.  This not only reflects on me, but more importantly, it reflects well on my organization and its leaders.

Before I dive in to my practical focus and share some wisdom regarding the benefits of building a solid reputation, I would be remiss if I did not touch on a few relevant Scriptures to this topic.

What does Scripture have to say?

In Prov. 3:3-4, Solomon exhorts his son to not forget the teachings of Yahweh, and to be a loving and faithful man.  If he does this, he will win the respect of others and will develop a good reputation.

The verse I most often think of when I think of the word reputation is Prov. 22:1, which states, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”  The Theology of Work Bible Commentary (vol. 2) summarizes this key verse in this way: “In particular, the wise care more about their honest reputations than about their bank accounts.”  Well said. 

The writer of Ecclesiastes, which may have been Solomon also, expresses in Eccl. 7:1 a similar concept about the lasting value of a solid reputation.  He states that it is better than fine perfume. 

Serving my team

I have heard it said that all leaders bring joy to their workplace.  Some leaders do it when they step into the office.  Other leaders do it when they leave the office.  I know which one I want to strive to be.  I do want people to feel good about working on my team.  It is not about winning a popularity contest.  It is about creating a positive work environment where every one of my employees are treated with dignity and respect.  (I invite you to read an article I wrote on this critical topic here.)

With all my faults, I know that I do some things right.  I genuinely care for my people.  I take an interest in their personal lives, their families, their health, and their careers.  I take time to ask how people are doing; I really want to know.  I make an honest attempt to listen and care when needed.

When they leave the unit, I want to ensure each member of my team remembers how they were cared for so they know what right looks like.   When they go to their next unit, they can go and do likewise.

Serving my customers

I am not quite sure why I get all these calls, but I often receive phone calls requesting information (i.e., a publication, a point of contact, a phone number, etc.).  I do what I can to assist; it does not matter who it is.  I treat a phone call or email request for information from a Sergeant in the Army National Guard with the same dignity and respect as a full-bird Colonel working at the Pentagon.

Here’s why this is so important.  If I fail to assist them in a timely and professional manner, they will not necessarily remember my name when they complain to someone.  They will attribute the lack of support to the organization.  However, if I do assist them well, the organization will get all the credit.

Ultimately, what I do or fail to do will directly impact people’s impression of my organization.  As I perform my duties and responsibilities, my personal reputation will directly impact the reputation of my organization.  If I am trustworthy, they will trust my unit.  If I fail to earn that trust, they won’t trust the organization.  Once again, it has come full circle.  It’s really not about Russ; it’s about us.

Serving my superiors

I have shared a little of why and how I have showed a servant spirit to my team and to my customers.  Lastly, I need to discuss how I serve my bosses.  For me, this is probably the most difficult of the three groups of people to focus on.  (I have reflected on this in a previous article on my blog here.)

Let me share some of my challenges.  In the Army school headquarters where I serve, the officers and NCOs rotate in and out of positions every year or two.  Just when I get them trained, it’s time for them to go.  I say that facetiously, but there is some truth to it.  My role is to provide continuity. 

Every time I get a new supervisor, it usually takes several months to earn their trust and to develop a good working relationship with them.  Sometimes, it happens sooner than that.  Sometimes, it just does not happen.  Unfortunately, it is not always possible to be at peace with all.  (See Rom. 12:18.)

However, I found that when I work as unto the Lord, humbly submit to their authority, anticipate what they (and their bosses) might need, and go the extra mile to try to meet their high standards and expectations, they begin to learn to trust me, knowing that I am there to set them up for success.

My challenge

I do not know what your situation is like at work.  I do not know what kind of reputation you have with your team, your customers, or your superiors.  However, I do know that if needed, you can begin today by serving them all in a Christ-like manner with humility, diligence, and grace by meeting their needs on a consistent basis.  As you do this good work, not to be seen by others, but to serve God wholeheartedly, your excellent reputation will increase, and will bring glory your Father in heaven.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of four, 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 is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. 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 a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 50 articles posted on this blog have been published 110 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

A Few Thoughts on the Trinity

This is a tricky topic for Christians to discuss.  It is a tough topic for me to write about.  I have been developing this article off and on for quite some time.  I started it nearly three years ago.  There is something I need to say.  I feel compelled to help my brothers and sisters to better understand the idea of the Trinity, and more importantly, to be able to apply this understanding in their walk.

I am hoping that you will trust me enough to dive a little bit deeper into this challenging topic.  I want to address just a couple of ideas which may radically alter the way you think, feel, and relate to those who are the subject of the hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy”: God in three persons; blessed Trinity.

An observation about contemporary Christian music

I listen to a lot of contemporary Christian music on the radio and I have sung modern praise songs in local churches or Army chapels.  I have seen a somewhat disturbing trend over the last decade or two.  At times, it seems that emotion has overshadowed Christian doctrine.  Let me explain.

Many well-meaning songwriters have not been careful to distinguish between God the Father and God the Son.  In our attempts to express our understanding of the doctrine of Jesus, or Christology (which asserts correctly that Jesus is fully man and fully divine), we often say, “Jesus is God”.  This statement, if used out of context, might cause a songwriter to use God and Jesus interchangeably in their lyrics.  I believe this is inherently confusing and is a major misunderstanding of the Trinity.

For example, notice the line from this popular worship song shown above.  This song is about the beautiful name of Jesus.  Then, without warning, this line pops up on the screen: “Now and forever God you reign.”  The first time we sang it in church I could not sing it.  It just did not seem right.

There is another popular song by a group I truly enjoy listening to.  It is about two of the names of Jesus.  It brings together the biblical imagery from the book of Revelation, where Jesus is depicted as the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world and also the Lion of Judah.  However, when we get to the chorus, I cringe every time the words come up: “Our God is the Lion . . . Our God is the Lamb . . . For who can stop the Lord Almighty.”  The Lord Almighty is a special name of God that is found in the Old Testament.  As such, I am not sure it is accurate to call Jesus by that name.

Now that I have ruined a couple of perfectly good worship songs, I had better jump to the Scriptures for a little help.

Jesus came to reveal the Father, not replace Him

I have to admit.  I do struggle a bit myself to fully understand and apply this mysterious doctrine where One is Three and the Three are One; distinct in persons, and yet unified in substance. 

However, I know that Jesus did not come to replace God the Father.  He came to reveal Him.  The reason Jesus came to us so that we could come to God the Father.  A believer who only relates to Jesus but not to the Father has an incomplete understanding of faith and the doctrine of God.

In John 14:6, after Jesus tells His disciples that He was the way, the truth, and the life, He states, “no one comes to the Father except through me.”  What Jesus meant was that believing in Him is the only way that anyone can come to the Father.  All who approach God must come by faith in Jesus alone. However, Jesus never intended for His followers to merely come to Him and then stop there.

Moreover, Paul points out in Rom. 5:1 that we have been justified through faith in Christ, which results in “peace with God”.  This is not the peace that passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7).  This refers to a radical change in status from being God’s enemy to becoming His child.  The writer of Hebrews exhorts Christians to “draw near to God” because we have “confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus” (Heb. 10:19-22).  We have been given a rare gift that the OT believers did not have – direct access to God.  Drawing near to God was why Jesus died for you and me.  His clear intent that we would enjoy a living, loving relationship with His Father, just as He did.

One in essence, three in Persons

The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology articulates the doctrine of the Trinity quite simply: “God is one in being or essence who exists eternally in three distinct co-equal ‘persons’.”

The Apostle Paul, who is consistently Christ-centered in his theology, often refers to both Father and Son.  In 1 Cor. 8:6, he offers this balanced view of the Trinity for our consideration: “Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.”  This statement emphasizes Paul’s understanding of the distinct roles between God the Father and Jesus the Son. 

Jesus stated in John 10:30 that He and the Father are one, meaning that they are unified and of the same essence.  He clearly could not have meant they are one and the same person.  The Father is not the Son; the Son is not the Father.  This was evident at the Lord’s baptism.  When Jesus is getting baptized, the voice of the Father is heard, and the Holy Spirit descends as a dove (Matt. 3:16-17).

John 5:17-23 helps us understand how Jesus saw his relationship with His Father.  Jesus stated that His Father always works, and so does He (v. 17).  The Jewish leaders understood the ramifications of this powerful statement.  They were angry to the point of wanting to kill Jesus, not only for breaking the Sabbath, but because He was “calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (v. 18).  Note the term John uses.  They said that Jesus was making Himself equal with God.  Not identical to, interchangeable with, or one and the same, but equal in terms of their divine essence.

In the next verse, Jesus describes His motivation to “do only what he sees his Father doing” (v. 19).  The Father raises people from the dead and so does the Son (v. 21).  When Jesus was declared as God’s representative on earth as the Son of God and Son of Man, God the Father assigned Jesus to be the judge of all (v. 22).  On Judgment Day, all people will honor Jesus as Lord of Lords and King of Kings, just as they have honored the Father (v. 23).  The Apostle Paul confirms this, stating that on that Day, “every knee shall bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord” (Phil. 2:9-10).

How to speak of the Trinity with precision

Yes, I believe that Jesus is 100% man and 100% divine.  But I am careful not to say “Jesus is God” without qualifying my statement.  I prefer to say that He is the Word of God, the image of God the Father, or that He is the Son of God.  (See also John 1:1-3, Col. 1:15, and Heb. 1:3).  Let me explain.

It is my simple observation, with several notable exceptions of course, that most of the time that the New Testament writers use the word “God”, they are almost always referring to God the Father.

It is true that an orthodox understanding of the Trinity, based on the Scriptures and the historic creeds of the Christian faith teaches us to believe that “The Father is God; the Son is God; the Holy Spirit is God”.  I do believe that myself.  However, when we import this understanding into a Bible passage whenever we read the word “God”, thinking that “God” means any or all three of the members of the Godhead, we are not interpreting Scripture correctly.  This seems to be bad hermeneutics.

In closing, let me share one of several benedictions that the Apostle Paul gives at the end of his epistles, which again demonstrates his balanced understanding and careful identification of the Trinity as three distinct persons:

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Cor. 13:14).

You see, I think Paul understood the distinctions and the roles of the three divine and equal persons of the Trinity.  He had a personal relationship with each one of the members of the Godhead in the way the Bible describes.  We would be wise to do the same.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of four, 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 is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. 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 a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 50 articles posted on this blog have been published 110 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

Where is the Water Cooler in a Virtual Work Environment?

(Note: This article was posted on the Coram Deo blog.)

Saturday, I got a phone call out of the blue from an old friend that I hadn’t seen for 20 years.  Matt was one of the high school ministry volunteers when I was a church youth director in the mid-80s.

The radio station where he works as a producer had recently undergone some restructuring.  He was given an exciting new role, to work virtually with a group of people he has not met from around the country.  He was no longer going to be around the folks he has worked with for over thirty years. 

My good friend had a theology of work related question for me.  He wanted to know, “How do I glorify God and make Christ known when I only have contact with people via phone and video?”

Interpersonal communication around the water cooler

Back in the day, there was a water cooler in a central location in an office space.  There was a big clear jug full of purified water that sat upside down on a stand that had a blue lever used to fill a paper cup that was provided in a silver tube attached to the side.  This was before everyone started bringing their own water bottles to work.  It was a place of social interaction as workers took a short break from their duties.  It was where we caught up with what was going on in people’s lives.

Those in other career fields who do not work in an office environment have often found similar places to take a break such as the back of a pickup truck, at the lunch room, or sitting under a tree.

For the Christian, this place of informal communication provides an opportunity to get a glimpse into a coworker’s struggles at home.  It is there, when the boss isn’t around and we can just freely chat for a bit, that we learn about their marriage difficulties, their child’s cancer, or financial woes.  This then becomes a chance to love our neighbor by listening to them and offering to pray for them.

Loving our neighbor virtually

How do we do this when we work from home, and our co-workers are across the country?

I have to admit.  As I have teleworked myself off and on for seven of the past twelve months, it is much harder for me to find a moment to ask people how they are doing and to give them the time needed to listen as they open up, showing genuine compassion and concern as we are called to do.

Jesus said that what He wants from us is just two things: love God, and love our neighbor.  And so, we have to be intentional to pursue relationships with those that God has placed in our midst, even if they are 1,000 miles away, and our interactions are limited to phone calls, emails, or video chats.

My friend provided a great illustration of recent video chat with a client who was a young mother.  When he contacted her to answer some technical questions about a project she was working on, he found her with a restless two-year old on her lap.  She desperately tried to focus on the issues at hand, but it was too difficult.  At that point, all my friend could do was to offer some understanding as a father himself about the needs of toddlers and speak compassionate words to her as a Christian.

Even without the proverbial water cooler, there will always be opportunities to minister to our co-workers, customers, and supervisors in a virtual environment.  We just have to open our eyes.

Tackling projects as unto the Lord

In most jobs, you can place responsibilities into two bins: people and projects.  Some workers deal with one more than the other, but most of us do a little of both.  In the same way that our ministry with people is still a priority, although the way we do it is different in a virtual environment, the projects we are given are also top priorities, although the way that we do them may be different.

In Matt’s case, I emphasized that even though his responsibilities were going to change in many ways in his isolated virtual office space, I believe there are still just as many opportunities to “work as unto the Lord” on behind-the-scenes projects as there was in an actual office.  In his case, his client base has been expanded exponentially.  He was producing radio advertisements for his local station.  In his new job, he will be coordinating creative production efforts on a national scale.

Doing projects from a home office has its own rewards and challenges.  On the one hand, you are away from the distractions of people popping in to your office occasionally.  On the other hand, it can be more difficult to get the guidance you need from superiors and help from subordinates.

The apostles as virtual workers

In previous articles I have written on teleworking (click here and here), it never occurred to me to highlight the work of the Apostle Paul.  He spent much of his ministry as a New Testament epistle writer in a virtual work environment.  He was not physically with those churches.  He wrote his letters to church leaders while he was in prison, teaching his clients and coworkers via snail mail. 

The Apostle John, another writer of NT epistles, expresses some of his internal conflict with being limited to virtual means of communication.  He wrote, “I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink.  Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 12).  I totally get it.  There is just no substitute for physically being there.

Closing challenge

So, how can we glorify God in a purely virtual environment?  We do it in the same manner we have always done it.  We keep looking for ways to love our neighbor and work heartily as unto the Lord.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of four, 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 is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. 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 a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 50 articles posted on this blog have been published 110 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

A Message of Hope in the Midst of the Daily Grind

I am a Christian writer.  In the articles that I write and post regularly on my blog, I mostly focus on teaching Christians how to integrate their faith at work, and how God is present in every aspect of it.

It occurred to me recently that this message of encouragement and hope that is founded on eternal biblical truths that have helped believers for thousands of years might also be helpful for those who have not yet come to fully accepting the truths of Christianity.  Perhaps, if I could share a bit of what I have learned about God’s presence in every aspect of my work, it might help someone who may be seeking for something more to find the God who loves them in the midst of the daily grind at work.

There are three simple, yet relevant messages that I want to address here that I invite you to consider:

  • The way the world normally looks at work misses the mark by leaving God out of the picture
  • The God who created the universe created you to be a coworker with Him in this world
  • Experiencing God’s presence at work provides a sense of purpose the world cannot provide

Most people fail to recognize that work is a gift of God

I have found that there are two prevalent views on work from when God is taken out of the picture.

One view states that work has no lasting value in and of itself.  The purpose of work to just to feed the family and pay the bills.  It is a pretty depressing view.  No wonder most people live for the weekend and are so thankful for Fridays.  (Unfortunately, some Christians also have this view.) 

The second view exalts work.  The purpose of work is merely 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.  This is the attitude says you gotta do whatever it takes to get the job done, no matter how many marriages you have to burn through or no matter how many friends you have to cheat.  When you try to find ultimate meaning and purpose in life through your work alone, it will always leave you disappointed.

What I have discovered from studying the Bible is that work is a valuable gift from God Himself. 

God created humans to be coworkers with Him to sustain His creation

The first thing I see in the creation story is that God is a worker.  Since God is a worker, then all workers have value.  All legitimate work (defined as jobs that make life better for others) is of value.  

I also see that God created humans as His coworkers to sustain His creation.  The world was perfect, yet it was incomplete.  There were gardens that needed tending.  Eventually, cities needed to be built, children needed to be taught, inventions needed to be developed, and books needed to be written.

And so, work has meaning, but not absolute meaning.  Success at work will not completely satisfy. 

God’s presence at work provides meaning and purpose you will not find elsewhere

What I have personally experienced over many years of living out these truths is that God is present with His children all the time.  I can truly sense God’s presence in the everyday moments, not just in church or on a mountaintop watching the sun go down.  I have come to understand that there is a very real connection between God’s presence and human work.  God works with us, in us, and through us in order to meet the needs of people everywhere; people He loved enough to send His Son to die for.

How do I experience God’s presence at work?  As I head from the parking lot to my building, I pray that God will lead me and give me wisdom.  Sometimes I pray audibly when I am alone in my office or I shoot up a quick silent prayer in a meeting when my temper starts to rise.  I confess my sins as soon as I notice them.  I recall a favorite Bible verse when needed.  I pray that God will change the way I see challenges at work and I praise Him when He enables me to accomplish a difficult task.  

A closing challenge

I realize that I did not present any kind of clear message about how you can enter in to a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ.  My intent was not to lay out convincing proofs of God’s existence, discuss how the claims of Jesus uniquely stand out above all other religions, or take any of the usual approaches that evangelists or preachers use to move people to make a decision.

My intent, as an ordinary worker myself, was simply to engage other ordinary men and women who spend the majority of their waking hours at work just trying to make it through the day for 40 to 50 years to consider that there might be something more to life that would give them a little bit of hope. 

Jesus made this amazing statement that is found in the New Testament book of John, chapter 8, verses 31-32.  Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  I share this quote often, because it sheds light on the fact that faith in Christ transforms our minds, which significantly improves the quality of our lives. 

Isn’t that what we all want; to be set free from the things that hold us back, drag us down, and enslave us?  Knowing these truths about God’s purposes for work make the burdens in my life a lot lighter.

I know that I have a greater purpose in my work, to be a coworker with God to sustain His creation.  In the midst of the daily grind and all the struggles that I face due to my own sins and the sins of my bosses, coworkers, and customers, there are new abilities to change, overcome, and grow through them.  I also know full well that when I experience God’s presence at work, there is an unexplainable joy, a peace that passes all understanding, and full confidence that what I do all day really matters.

I trust that you will give these concepts some thoughtful consideration.  If you are interested, I invite you to reach out to a Christian you know to discuss these eternal truths on a more personal level.  God has graciously scattered believers in every field of work to be able to share what they know.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of four, 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 is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. 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 a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 50 articles posted on this blog have been published 110 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

Our Identity in Christ (Lesson 8)

This was the last Sunday School lesson of an eight-week series that I taught a few years ago in our former church.  (See previous session here.)  Inexplicably, I neglected to finish my notes and post it.  In this session, we discussed the age-old battle between flesh and spirit.  I invite you to explore with me who we are in Christ.  For a deeper dive into this critical topic, see the article I wrote and posted on my blog here

Summary:

What have we been studying and discussing, as we looked at a theology of our identity in Christ?:

  • With few exceptions, the Bible does not refer to believers as sinners; although we do sin
  • To fully understand who we are as believers, it is good to know who we were before Christ
  • To know who we are in Christ, we must understand the blessings of the new covenant
  • By faith in Jesus, certain things became true of us “positionally”: justified, forgiven, and righteous
  • There is an irreversible radical transformation that happens to every believer; it begins at the very moment of salvation when one is born again, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ
  • Those radical changes affect everything about us: our minds, thoughts, feelings, attitudes, desires, abilities, and relationships

Introduction:

All along, we have been talking about who we are now as believers.  We are not the people we used to be, either in God’s eyes (He sees us through Christ’s finished work on the cross), or in our own experience (we are becoming Christ-like).  However, there are many times that our old sinful nature attempts to influence us and impede our progress in becoming the new creatures we already are in Christ.  What happens when old meets new?  Is there hope?  What are some of the keys to success?

Book:

1) Read Romans 7:14 – 8:17.  (Break it down by sections.) 

    a) What describes those who live in “the flesh” (the sinful nature) vs. those who live in the Spirit? 

    b) What is the answer to the problem of this constant internal spiritual battle?

    c) Discuss the penalty, the power, and the presence of sin.  When are we set free from each?

(Teacher notes: Paul is describing the internal battle between his flesh and his new nature in Christ.  All of us can identify with his frustration: “I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (v. 15).  He has this sinful flesh that he cannot totally escape in this life: “nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature” (v. 18).  The fact that he want to do what is good (vv. 18 and 21), does not want to do evil (v. 19), and delights in God’s Word (v. 22) tells me that he is indeed a new creature in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).  He describes this internal battle between flesh and spirit as “waging war” (v. 23).  He exclaims, “What a wretched man I am!” (v. 24).  Paul asks, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (v. 24).  The answer, of course, is Jesus Christ.  I love how he starts chapter 8, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).  Despite our constant struggles with the flesh, if we are in Christ, we have been set free from the penalty of sin, we have victory over the power of sin, and when Jesus returns and we receive our new resurrection body like His, we will finally be set free from the presence of sin forever.  Hallelujah!)

2) Read Gal. 5:13-26; 6:7-10.

    a) What actions/attitudes characterize the sinful nature vs. the actions/attitudes of those in the Spirit?

    b) What is the secret to spiritual growth?

(Teacher notes: I see this section as an expansion of what Paul described in Romans 7.  In the NIV, we read the term “sinful nature”, where other translations use the word, “flesh” (Gal. 5:13, 16, 17, and 19).  Paul exhorts the church to “live by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16 and 25), which is in direct contrast with living in the flesh.  Those who are in Christ should be led by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:18).  Jesus said to His disciples that the Holy Spirit would be with us and in us (John 14:17).  We have been indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:11).  We can be consistently filled with (or controlled by) the Spirit (Eph. 5:18).) 

3) Read 1 John 1:5 – 2:2.

    a) Paul contrasts the flesh versus the Holy Spirit.  John, however, chooses to use the analogy of darkness vs. light.  What is true of those who live (walk) in the light? 

    b) Why would those who walk in the light need to be purified from sin?

   c) What is the purpose of confession?  What is actually involved?  Are we asking, or are we accepting?

(Teacher notes: Those who humbly submit to God’s authority, are followers of Jesus, and live in the power of the Holy Spirit will live godly lives – in the light, not in darkness.  When we walk with God in holiness and truth, we not only have fellowship with Him, but with fellow believers in Jesus Christ.  His blood, which cleanses us from past sins, also cleanses us from present sin (v. 7).  When we confess our sins, it does not earn our forgiveness; it is already ours.  It does restore our fellowship with God.

Look

Where and when do we struggle most with sin?  Are you quick to confess these sins and submit yourself under the control of the Holy Spirit?  If so, over time, the supernatural becomes natural.

Took

Make an effort to remember who you are in Christ.  Focus less on what you are doing (or not doing) and more on what He has already done AND is doing in your life to make you more like Him.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of four, 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 is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. 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 a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 50 articles posted on this blog have been published 100 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

God Works Through You

(Note: This article was posted on the Coram Deo blog.)

If I ever have the opportunity to speak to a large audience about the theology of work, there is one thing I might try to do to impress upon Christians how valuable their ordinary work is.

Before I describe my proposed application exercise that I think will drive my point home straight to people’s hearts, let me revisit a critical topic that I wrote about in chapter 3 my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession and in an article I posted about four years ago here.

In this chapter entitled “God is a Worker”, I laid a solid biblical and theological foundation that the triune God reveals Himself to be a worker, starting in Gen. 1:1.  In six days, God created.  After that, He rested on the seventh day.  From that point forward, God continued the work of sustaining His creation.  By His amazing grace, He created men and women to be His coworkers in this endeavor, which gives all kinds of legitimate work dignity, giving all humans a divine calling.

I asked my readers two important rhetorical questions, “What kinds of work does God do today?  More importantly, by what means does He get it done?”

The answer, in part, comes from Amy Sherman’s book, Kingdom Calling.  She shares a concept to describe the different kinds of work God does and how our human vocations fit into this model:

  • Redemptive work: God’s saving and reconciling actions
  • Creative work: God’s fashioning of the physical and human world
  • Providential work: God’s provision for and sustaining of humans and the creation
  • Justice work: God’s maintenance of justice
  • Compassionate work: God’s involvement in comforting, healing, guiding, and shepherding
  • Revelatory work: God’s work to enlighten with truth

Later on, I added one more that appeared to be missing:

  • Restoration work: God’s power to repair, clean, reset, and make new.

I think with a little explanation, you take any job worth doing and place it neatly into one of these categories above.  Those who perform these jobs are participating in God’s work in this world.

Now, let us return to my presentation that I would like to give to a room full of ordinary Christians who have probably spent most of their working lives feeling like what they were doing from 9-5 may not have had much if any eternal value.  I know; I used to feel that way myself.

So, after I present some clear biblical, theological, and practical teaching from this chapter, I want to ask each of them to identify which category their work best fits.  This is a critical step in the process in order to participate in two activities which I believe will bring this teaching home.

First, I want each audience member to reflect back to God in a unified prayer of thanksgiving and supplication that directly addresses the value of the work they have been doing.  This prayer that I would lead would read something like this:

Our Father, we acknowledge that you are a worker.  You created us and invited us to be your coworkers to sustain and expand the kingdom of your son, Jesus.  You have gifted each of us with skills, experiences, passions, and abilities that no one else has.  You have given us a purpose.  You have divinely called, equipped, and empowered us to serve and love our neighbor by using the unique talents you have entrusted to us.  Help us to see that you are present with us in this labor, that you are meeting our neighbor’s needs through our jobs, and that when we serve you in this way it brings Shalom in this world.  Help us to work for your glory, for Christ’s kingdom, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Second, I am going to ask the men and women who work in each of these seven categories to stand up as a group so that I can recognize them and give them a blessing.  It would go like this:

I want everyone whose job falls into the vocational category of Justice Work to stand.  All who participate in God’s maintenance of justice, we want to recognize you.  If you serve in any capacity of law enforcement, the legal profession, corrections, or in the military, God is working in, with, and through you to bring order out of chaos keep the peace.  You are loving your neighbor by what you do.  This is a better world because of your work.  Your work matters to the Kingdom of God!  Your work has eternal value!  I thank God for you!

I think you get the idea.  What an impact this exercise would have on everyone in the room.

Lastly, I want to emphasize as I close that God will work through people, whether they believe in Him or not.  We all know the stories of how God used Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, King Herod, and many other ungodly leaders as He was protecting, delivering, and providing for His people.  Without a doubt, I know that God will use a non-Christian doctor to heal, an unbelieving Soldier to fight for a good cause, and an atheist firefighter to save a family and their home, for example. 

Those of us who follow Jesus Christ can experience God’s presence at work while He is working in us, with us, and through us to meet the legitimate needs of everyone whom we meet on our journey.  Wouldn’t you want to experience His presence at work every day?  I know that I do!

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of four, 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 is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. 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 a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Sixty articles posted on this blog have been published over 100 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

Reflections on King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

As we celebrate the birthday, life, and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today, I have seen several references to his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”.  I had never taken the time to read it.  Today, I did.

It is important to note that the context of this letter was to address harsh criticism from eight white local clergymen for his leadership in non-violent protests against segregation and police brutality. 

Here are some quotes that got my attention and my heart and some brief reflections in parentheses:

“I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.” (Ministry of presence. I need to be intentional to be with those who are suffering.)

“I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” (Unlike many other Christians that I know, my heart mind is not wired that way. Out of sight; out of mind. I don’t know why, but I rarely am emotionally impacted by suffering that is happening far away. Perhaps that needs to change.)

“You deplore the demonstrations that are presently taking place in Birmingham. But I am sorry that your statement did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being.” (This is relevant to today, but I struggle with this.  The extreme violence of last summer’s riots were counterproductive in addressing legitimate issues of police brutality and racial injustice. Dr. King’s non-violent direct action seemed to get more results.)

“I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging facts of segregation to say, ‘Wait.'” (I believe this country has come a long way since this letter was written, but there is still much work to be done. I truly want to understand the pain of my fellow citizens of color. I do want to be part of the solution. I want to see Dr. King’s dream become a reality in my lifetime.)

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice. . . Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.  Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” (Ouch!  Lord, help me be more committed to justice than things remaining the same where there needs to be change.)

“Like a boil that can never be cured as long as it is covered up but must opened with all its pus-lowing ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must likewise be exposed, with all of the tension its exposing creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.” (I want to understand the real concerns of racial injustice that exist today. It is not obvious to me. It know that racism is not as systemic as it was in the 1960’s, but I also know there are still things that need to be addressed today.)

“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.  We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability.  It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.”  (I have not been silent on these issues, but I have not said nearly enough.)

“I had the strange feeling when I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery several years ago that we would have the support of the white church.  I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be some of our strongest allies.  Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many other have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.”  (This was painful to read.  The church universal should have been the church united on the issue of racial injustice from the start.  Shame on any church today that opposes or is silent on this issue.  The church should be a model of racial reconciliation.)

“Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all of their scintillating beauty.” (Amen!)

This was a powerfully written letter.  My brother, Dr. King was God’s chosen instrument to speak out and take action to oppose segregation and racial injustice.  May God raise up others who can speak out in such an articulate manner today. 

May I be part of this critical and righteous cause for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ, who died for every man and woman of every race and color, and who brings us hope, healing, and restoration.

(Note: I invite you to read other articles I wrote on this topic: an article from February 2019 on diversity in the workplace inspired by the film, “Hidden Figures”, my review of Benjamin Watson’s book, Under My Skin from November 2019, and an article from November 2020 on building your team by showing dignity and respect.)

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of four, 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 is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. 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 a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 50 articles posted on this blog have been published 100 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

How Have I Followed my Calling to Write This Year?

images

“Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me.” (Ps. 66:16)

On New Year’s Day 2020, I reflected on my own calling as a writer in an article that was the first of 43 articles I wrote and posted on my blog in 2020.  This article below is a reflection on how I have followed my calling as a writer this year.  It was easily my most productive one in many ways.  I saw God multiply my efforts and extended my outreach beyond what I could ask or expect.  (See Eph. 3:20.) 

Let me share some of the topics I was able to reflect on, some of the results of my efforts to see my work published outside of this blog, some surprises along the way, and what I learned in the process. 

What did I write about?

I am not going to list all 43 articles I wrote and posted on my blog this year.  If you are interested, you can scan through the list of recent posts or look at each month in the archives.  If you are reading this, you have probably read many of them already.  I just want to highlight some of the important topics.

Many of my articles touched on my time as an active duty Soldier and in my civilian capacity.  I was able to reflect deeply on how I experienced God’s presence during my military service.  I wrote about fellowship at work, how the pandemic affected work, teleworking, the seven Army values, how God was present in the service of all veterans, and on team-building by showing dignity and respect. 

I was also able to reflect on various home construction (and deconstruction) projects that took place this summer.  I wrote about landscaping, painting and carpentry work from a biblical perspective.

Articles I wrote on other topics included the following: how the book of Proverbs alludes to the Ten Commandments, the purpose of the Old Testament, how Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecy on the cross, forgiveness, the flesh versus the spirit, how to use our sanctified imagination, and my testimony.

By the way, I posted my 200th article on this blog last week!  (I started actively blogging in 2015.)

How many articles were published and where?

I was able to write 32 articles on faith and work this year (not counting this one).  Nineteen of these articles (nearly 60%) were published or posted on other blogs a total of 30 times.  In addition, ten articles from previous years were published or posted, making a grand total of 40 articles this year.  Here is how it breaks down:

(Note: One of the articles I wrote that was published by the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics in March made the list of their Top Ten Blogs of 2020.)

Since September 2015, I have posted 132 articles on faith and work topics on my blog.  Fifty six of these articles (42%) have been published or posted elsewhere a total of 105 times.  I am truly amazed.

What were God’s gracious surprises?

This was a year of surprises for most of us, mostly negative due to the pandemic.  However, I was surprised at first by how much I could write about relevant faith and work issues during this season, as the impact on all workers (both essential and “nonessential”) was in the news on a constant basis. I was also surprised by God opening up so many doors, some of which I did not know existed. 

In mid-May, I stumbled on an amazing, unsolicited book review on Twitter by someone with the Black Country Urban Industrial Mission.  I had had no idea that one of their leaders had read my book.  He posted his review in several places and on their website.  I was moved by his comments regarding my focus on blue-collar work, which I addressed in chapter 13 and illustrated on the book cover.

On the way back from a visit to our daughter and her family last October, my wife and I were able to stop in Bloomington/Normal, Illinois to meet a friend of mine for the first time.  Bill Pence, along with his wife Tammy, maintains a very helpful blog, Coram Deo, where he posts links to faith and work articles and other theological topics.  Since November 2016, he has posted 42 links to articles that I have written, wrote and posted a wonderful review of my book, and has quoted my book in his own, exposing my work to a large number of readers.  It was a joy to have a real face-to-face conversation with him and his wife, get to know him better, enjoy some fellowship, and thank him for his support.

I think my biggest surprise this year was the email I received from my point of contact at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics.  She was contacted by someone from Family Radio, a Christian network of stations around the country.  They wanted to interview me to discuss the topic of an article I wrote that was published three years ago on how to seek God first in navigating career decisions. (Note: the interview is scheduled to air on Saturday, January 2, 2021.  Here is the link to the recording.)

What did I learn during the process?

After Faith Storytellers posted an article earlier this month about how I experienced God’s presence during my active duty, the gal who runs this blog so well challenged me to reflect on the rigorous editing process that she took me through over a couple of weeks.  I have to say that the three rounds of editing via Google Docs on this one article were far more intense and time-consuming than I expected.  However, the finished product turned out really well, and I actually enjoyed the experience.

At the same time, I had also received emails from two major organizations I have been working with.  They asked me to do some major revisions on articles I had submitted to them.  I have to admit that it was quite humbling to read their comments on what I needed to change in order for them to publish these articles sometime after the New Year.  I had to put them on the back burner for a couple of weeks to do a few other projects such as preparing for my Christian Family Radio Network interview, finish an article reflecting on my 40th wedding anniversary, and enjoy the Christmas holiday with my family.

As a result of these recent collaborations, I better appreciate the professional work of the editors who have polished up my articles for publication on their websites, for which I am extremely grateful.  I have also learned to pare down the size of my paragraphs and to share my feelings a bit more.

Where do I go from here?

Looking back, it is clear that God was present with me in my work as I shared with others about God’s presence at work.

I plan to keep on writing, using my spreadsheet listing three dozen unfinished articles or ideas I have captured.  I am trusting that God may eventually open up some doors to share my unique ideas on the theology of faith and work with a wider audience, virtually through podcasts or web presentations, and eventually through speaking to a live group of Christians who are eager to learn more about this topic.

In conclusion, I wish to express my gratitude to the Lord for blessing my socks off this year.  He has been steadily making my vision in October 2016 to be actively involved in the theology of faith and work movement a reality.  I am humbled that He is using me, not because of, but despite my best efforts.  It is not about Russ; it’s about us.  I want to see my brothers and sisters in Christ experience God’s presence at work every day.

About the author:

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Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of four, 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 is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. 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 a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 50 articles posted on this blog have been published 100 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.