How Does Proverbs Allude to the Ten Commandments? (Part 2)

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(Note:  This is the second article in a series.  Click here to read the first article.)

As I read through several chapters from Proverbs this week, it became obvious that Solomon purposefully addresses two other commandments from the Decalogue: do not commit adultery (Ex. 20:14) and do not covet (Ex. 20:17).  Let me describe how and why he does this.

Adultery is addressed in depth in large portions of chapters 5, 6, and 7.  However, this is not the first time we see it.   In the context of teaching on the moral benefits of wisdom to keep us from the ways of the wicked, we read this admonition: “It will save you also from the adulteress, from the wayward wife with her seductive words, who has left the partner of her youth and ignored the covenant she made before God” (2:16-17).

Solomon continues his warning, stating that “her house leads down to death” and “none who go to her return or attain the paths of life.”  Again, we see the contrast between the path of the wicked leading to death vs. the path of the righteous leading to life, which corresponds with our discussion on the commandment to honor our parents.  This is more parental advice that sons (and daughters) do well to pay attention to.

Later, near the end of chapter four, right before Solomon hits this topic head-on, we read this command, “Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips” (4:24).  Those who are wise, as Solomon will say numerous times throughout this book, watch what they say, avoiding evil, deceptive, and selfish speech patterns.  The adulteress knows nothing of this, as we read in 5:3, “For the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil.”

Solomon begins his warnings about the adulteress here in 5:3-14.  His admonitions include the following: “her steps lead straight to the grave” (v. 5) and “keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house” (v. 8).  Taking what is not yours will lead to financial consequences.  He also paints a dismal picture of how it will end, with pain, loss, ruined reputation, and regret.

Solomon’s advice to his son takes a surprising turn in 6:20-35.  He provides what I have held for many decades as the ultimate protection against adultery.  For most of my marriage, I have stated this sure-fire biblical solution this way: “Have an affair with your spouse.”  This implies priority, intentionality, anticipation, commitment, passion, and just plain fun, which is right and good.

Yahweh, through this very flawed king who certainly knew nothing about having only one wife for life (perhaps inheriting his own father’s adulterous tendencies), gives us some solid reasons as to why husbands should find their sexual satisfaction at home rather than abroad (pun intended).

Solomon directs his son’s focus to his wife, the one who should be the source of marital joy, and not some strange woman. He uses the metaphor of water to describe his wife, instructing him to “drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well” (5:15).  It is not difficult to grasp this picture of God’s provision to every husband of a wife who is life-giving refreshment in a dry land.  The Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary explains, “The images of a cistern, well, or fountain are used of a wife (see SS 4:15) because she, like water, satisfies desires.”  Amen!

We read a graphic description of the physical union that is appropriate between man and wife.  The husband is to find blessing, rejoicing, satisfaction, and captivation as he becomes one with his wife’s body.  This powerful activity is essential in marriage, intended by God to be a glue to keep the family intact and increasing the number of God’s people to fill the earth.  Marriage, as designed by the Creator of the universe, was meant to be one man and one woman for life.

What I see here in Scripture and reflected in my own life is that God provides our spouses as a gift to be received, protected, sacrificed for, cherished, and enjoyed.  Adam saw Eve that way when God brought her to him and he exclaimed, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23).  I translate the next verse loosely, “She shall be called woman because she makes me say, ‘Whoa, man!’”  This warm, intelligent, and beautiful partner that God gave Adam, made in the very image of God, was going to be his primary coworker to accomplish the job that God gave them both in the creation mandate to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Gen. 1:26-28).

Solomon continues his teaching against committing adultery and coveting one’s neighbor’s wife in extended sections in 6:20-35 and again in 7:6-27.  He directly addresses not only the activity of adultery, but the lust in one’s heart that precedes it in 6:25 and 7:25, alluding to the tenth of Ten Commandments.  (Jesus addressed this in His Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:27-28).  Solomon paints a vivid picture of the destruction which usually comes as a result of pursuing this sin.

This major topic that is a focus of nearly one tenth of the chapters in the book of Proverbs is something that Solomon’s sons, our own sons, and all men need to pay close attention to.  It is too common of a tale.  It has been so from the beginning, as it is boldly stated in 7:26, “Many are the victims she has brought down; her slain are a mighty throng.”  If we determine ahead of time to do all we can in the power of the Holy Spirit to flee from lustful thoughts and evil actions that could eventually lead to selfish and foolish adulterous behavior, and choose to rejoice in the wife that God gave to us, we will see God’s blessings on our own lives, our families, and our society.

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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 Does Proverbs Allude to the Ten Commandments?

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Since this is the beginning of a New Year and a new decade, I decided to read through the book of Proverbs again, one chapter every day.  It is a great book to help me focus on living wisely.

One recurring theme in this book that I never noticed before are the allusions to the Ten Commandments, specifically the fifth one that Moses gave to Israel in Exodus 20.  Once you see this often used literary device where one writer deliberately connects us to earlier truths, you cannot unsee it.  (Check out this link for the first of a series of 12 articles that highlight how the Psalms uses the Old Testament.)

These words are from Solomon to his son.  We are reminded that Solomon is the son of David (Prov. 1:1).  After laying out the purpose of this book in the first seven verses, he starts his very personal exhortation, “listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching” (Prov. 1:8).  When I read this I recalled God’s command to honor our parents.

Solomon implores his son to listen to his and his mother’s instruction and abide by the godly advice that they gave him when he was a child because it is the best way a child can apply the command to honor his or her parents.  (Note:  It is important to distinguish that the command to obey one’s parents (Eph. 6:1) is a command for actual childrenAdult children no longer have to obey their parents, but they do have to honor them.  See article in my blog.)

This commandment is the only one of ten where Moses provides Israel incentive to obey.  Those who do “may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Ex. 20:12).  This divine cause and effect (honoring one’s parents leads to life) is echoed several times in Proverbs.

We see it first in Prov. 1:8-9, where listening to parental guidance results in “a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck.”  It makes us look good.  People will notice us.  That sounds like an incentive to obey, corresponding with Moses’ words, to “live long in the land”.

Solomon uses the term “my son” again in verses 10 and 15 in his warnings about not giving in to negative peer pressure.  Those who do go along with fools will suffer the consequences.  They clearly will not live long in the land.  He concludes chapter 1 with a contrast.  He reminds his son that “the waywardness of the simple will kill them”, but those who choose to fear the Lord “will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm” (Prov. 1:29, 32-33.)

We see this allusion to the command to honor parents again in chapter 2, where Solomon addresses his son in verse 1, “my son”, and then lays out the benefits to paying attention to the wisdom that God freely provides those who humbly seek it.  God gives us wisdom, so that those who seek for it, find it, and follow it will see God provide victory and protection (Prov. 2:4-8).  This is indeed the life “in the land” that was promised to the Israelites who honored their parents.

Next, we see that Solomon begins his wise reminders with the personal invitation, “my son” in Prov. 3:1, 11, and 21.  Interestingly, in Prov. 4:1, he begs his “sons” to listen, pay attention, and do not forsake his teaching by reminding them of the godly teaching he received as David’s son.

Finally, we see another direct link to the value of honoring one’s parents by heeding their advice which results in a long life in Prov. 4:10: “Listen, my son, accept what I say, and the years of your life will be many.”  This appears to be another clear allusion to the Decalogue that Solomon’s sons would have understood, but all of God’s people who hear or read this should be able to see.

It is refreshing to see some new insights in this study after reading this book countless times.  God’s Holy Spirit does indeed teach us and speaks to us what we need to hear in His time.

Russ Gehrlein

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.

Called to Write – Helping Others Walk in God’s Presence

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It occurred to me last week that I needed to address my own calling as a writer as the New Year begins.  This career field of writing is really no different from the many career fields I have already addressed from a biblical perspective in my book, Immanuel Labor, and in several articles I have written and posted on my blog.  (See article on how God uses senior executives for an example.)

Last fall, I began to see myself called to be a writer of practical theology.  People may wonder about this hobby that has taken up so much of my time.  They may be asking themselves several questions:  How did this sense of calling develop?  Why do I feel so compelled to write?  Who is my audience?

How did my calling as a writer develop?

I did not do much of any writing until I was a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army over twenty years ago when I submitted my first article to be published in the NCO Journal.  I had several articles published in army publications in the early 2000s, long before I got serious about writing on theological topics.

Three years before I began writing and publishing articles on various aspects of the theology of work, I started this blog.  My purpose at the time was to reflect on my seminary experience as I was going through.  I had a hard enough time keeping up with my classwork as I pursued my master of arts in biblical studies from 2012-2015.  When I graduated, I went back to my blog and started posting some of my research papers and other writing assignments, as well as some of my better adult Sunday School lessons.

Then, in the fall of 2015, I began to take portions of my final project for my independent study on the theology of work, and turned them into short articles I posted on my blog.  After a while, I had the idea to submit some of them for consideration to be published to various faith at work organizations’ blogs.  Surprisingly, several of them posted my articles on their blogs.  God was really blessing this process!  I have had a total of 37 articles published on several popular faith at work organizations’ blogs.

My collection of articles grew over the next four years.  I have now written and posted 160 articles on various topics on my blog.  In 2019 wanted to write 30 articles on faith and work, which would bring me to a total of 100 articles on various aspects of this subject by the end of the year.  By the grace of God, I was able to write and post two or three articles every month to meet my goal.

Of course, I would be remiss if I did not mention my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work that I wrote over a two-year period and was self-published by WestBow Press in February 2018.  A huge answer to prayer!  (No, I never wanted to be a paperback writer!)

There was another milestone I noticed as I updated my LinkedIn profile last fall. When I added the 37 articles on faith at work topics, the eleven articles published by the Army, the one I wrote for Campus Life magazine, plus my book, I had a total of 50 publications to my name.  When I saw that number on the screen, the results of years of work, I concluded that God had indeed called me to be a writer.

Why do I feel compelled to write?

There is power in words to change lives.  This is obviously true when we consider God’s words.  (See Ps. 119 and Luke 21:33, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”)

This is also true when we use human words.  Sometimes they inspire us.  We still quote from the U.S. Constitution, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  Sometimes they make us buy things: “Have it your way”, “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there”, and “Just do it”, to name a few slogans.  Words from the heart that combine biblical thoughts with doctrinal soundness and practical teaching have helped Christians grow spiritually from day one.

On a deeper level, I have felt compelled to write because God changed my life, especially in light of my career.  He also gave me spiritual gifts of encouragement and teaching to help build up the body of Christ.  God has given me an original perspective due to my unique career path of math, ministry, and military over the past 40 years to prepare me for such a time as this.  I absolutely must share these biblical truths with others because they need them as much as I do.  God’s truth sets us free.

Who is my audience?

The obvious answer is that I am writing for my brothers and sisters in Christ who work ordinary jobs, extraordinary jobs, rather boring jobs, or something in-between.  But there is more to consider.

As I write, I am mindful that what I am saying may reach someone who needs to hear these practical truths now.  I am also mindful that there are a great many others who will read my words down the road.  I am praying that my unique viewpoint about the biblical connection between God’s presence and human work that I refer to as “Immanuel labor” will change the lives of thousands of ordinary Christian workers and be discussed hundreds of years from now, should the Lord’s return be delayed.  As I press towards this last season of my life, I am at peace that I have left behind a body of work that God can use to encourage those who need it.  God’s truths accomplish what He intends for them to do.

I never know who is reading what I have written.  Sometimes it feels like the old saying: “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, did it make a sound?”  Although I have had some minor disappointments, there have been so many more surprising blessings where God in His grace has used my work.  I have seen articles and my book quoted or referred to by writers in other publications a few times.  I have gotten positive feedback from several faith at work leaders and authors.  My wife often reminds me that my writing is changing lives, sometimes just one at a time.  This keeps me humble.

The best answer I can give is that I write for God’s glory.  As I write about how to experience God’s presence at work, I am working in God’s presence.  Paul asks the first-century workers in Colossae and those of us who have just begun our third decade in the 21st century to consider, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col. 3:23-24).

One final thought

Recently, I providentially stumbled on a conversation between the Lord and Jeremiah where I read this statement, “If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman” (Jer. 15:19).  In the margin, I indicated that this is another example of Immanuel labor – a clear connection between God’s presence and human work.  If Jeremiah’s heart was right, God would speak through him to a rebellious nation who needed to hear his message.

These words have personal meaning for a Christian writer like me.  The only way that the words I write and post to encourage the body of Christ can be worthy and not worthless is if I remain in right relationship with the Lord.  When I remain in His presence by grace through faith in Christ, depending on the Holy Spirit, He will enable me to be His spokesman.  God will speak truth through my words.

And that, my brothers and sisters in Christ, is why I write.

I hope that this helped some of my friends to better understand my God-given passion to write.  Perhaps it may also encourage others to boldly pursue their own.

Russ Gehrlein

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.

 

Reflections on Christmas 2019

78251957_10216296722073941_469246656219447296_oChristmas is over.  There are no cars in the driveway.  The toys, high chair, booster seats, and the pack-n-play are all packed up and put away.  It is way too quiet here.  The time with these loved ones went way too fast.  I miss them all terribly.

But what a Christmas it was!  Our daughter, son-in-law, and three grandchildren came home for several days and are now at their other grandparents’ house.  Our son, his wife, and grandson also celebrated with us and went home few days ago.  We spoke with our youngest child on a video chat, as he could not make it home this year.  Our nest may be empty, but our hearts are full and our heads are full of wonderful new memories.

The past week I had to temporarily put aside my calling as a writer and focus on my higher callings as a Christian, husband, father, and grandfather.  I had to find time to seek the Holy Infant Jesus in my own way.  I had to work together with my wife to prepare for a houseful of visitors and celebrate our 39th wedding anniversary.  I had to serve my children and grandchildren in numerous ways, showing them love through cooking, gift-giving, playing, talking, wiping noses, and picking up toys.  In so doing, we experienced a completely unique Christmas this year, worthy of some reflection.

While the hole in my heart is still fresh, let me share a few things.  Having just watched our family favorite movie, “The Muppet Christmas Carol” a few nights ago when it was “one more sleep ‘til Christmas”, there is really only one way to organize my random thoughts.

Christmases past

So many thoughts of previous holidays popped in my head during this season.  On more than one occasion, I recalled Christmases with my siblings growing up.  I remembered our very first Christmas as a newlywed, one day after we returned from our honeymoon.  I remembered the one four years later when my wife was pregnant with our daughter and the next year with a cute nine-month-old.

I also often thought about the wonderful Christmases we had with our kids over the past three and a half decades.  Particularly memorable were the three beautiful Christmases we celebrated in Germany with the giant snowflakes, fancy ornaments, and fun times.  Since most of our holidays were spent far away from extended family, we developed our own traditions.  Even as fiancés and significant others began to show up, and later on bringing our grandchildren home, we continued those traditions.

More recently, I am grateful for the Christmas we celebrated two years ago, which was the last time all three kids, spouses/significant others, and our two grandsons were home. Last year, for the first time, none of our children were home on Christmas Day.  Our daughter and family were visiting her husband’s folks (the other grandparents), so they came home later.  Our oldest son and his wife could not travel, as they were about to deliver their first son, who was born on the 26th.  Our youngest was unable to come home, which was another first.  So, this year, we were grateful for all who came.

Christmas present

How do I begin to describe our fortieth Christmas as a family?  Our son and his family came home for two days; our daughter and her family stayed four days.  They overlapped for two days.  It had its challenges.  With all four of our grandkids under the age of five here for the first time together, it was a bit chaotic here and there.  My wife and I were not always on the same page.  There were a few squabbles and meltdowns.  And yet, it had so many more blessings.  Having all of our grandchildren here was the best present ever!

Highlights of the last six days included playing a board game that we had not played in a long time, enjoying one-on-one time with each grandchild, watching a handful of holiday movies (some old, some new), playing outside and writing my grandchildren’s names in the snow, decorating cookies, attending a Christmas Eve service, and going to two parks to play in the unseasonably warm weather.

I will probably never forget how I wept with joy when I received a coffee mug with pictures of our new granddaughter on it, how I was moved to tears when I said goodnight to our eldest grandson their last night here, and how I got choked up when the two-year-old sat on my lap so that I could read him a story that I used to read to his mother when she was a little girl not that long ago.

Christmases yet to come

We were so grateful that our daughter and her young family (who lives the farthest away) made the trip once again this year, as they have done every year in the nearly ten years they have been married.

However, I have said for the past few years, to prepare myself for this dreaded day, that there will come a time when our adult children will stop coming “over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go”.  I know that packing everything up, spending three long days on the road, and living out of suitcases for over a week does not make for a restful Christmas vacation.  It is a sacrifice.  I would not blame them if they decided to stay home for Christmas starting next year.

They may choose, like her brother did this year, to develop their own family Christmas traditions and wake up in their own house with their new son on Christmas morning.  My son and daughter-in-law chose to come early and leave early.  It was a bit of an adjustment, but they just applied the biblical truths I had emphasized when they first got married – the responsibility of leaving and cleaving.

Finally, I have a little bit of theology to share.  (See previous article on parenting adult children, entitled, “Come when you can, and stay as long as you like”.)

This essential biblical truth comes out of Gen. 2:20-25, where God created Eve to be a suitable helper for and co-regent with Adam.  Jesus Himself quoted this Old Testament text in Matt. 19:3-6 to underscore the permanence of marriage.  As it was from the beginning, and is equally true today, a husband’s first priority is to his wife, not his family of origin.  My son left, which was right.  They cleft (producing a son), which was also right.  His new family comes first.  I totally respect that.

It may be that this was our last family Christmas celebration at this house with the sound of little children’s feet waking up grandma and grandpa.  That would be sad for us, but we would be okay.

Who knows?  We might just have a quiet Christmas morning like we did last year.  We may have to choose which family to visit.  We may have to be more flexible and have a combined Thanksgiving-Christmas get-together somewhere with whomever can come.  Either way, we will find a way to connect with all of our kids virtually if not physically, as challenging as that can be sometimes.  Either way, God’s presence will be with each one of us as we celebrate the birth of His Son.

Russ Gehrlein

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.

What does Ecclesiastes Teach us About Work?

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In our Tuesday lunch Bible Study, our school chaplain has been taking us through an OT survey.  Two weeks ago, we were about to discuss Ecclesiastes.  Recalling that I had quoted it numerous times throughout my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession, I prepared a one-page handout for the group containing a series of quotes I pulled from several chapters of my book.  I thought it might be valuable to others.

Regarding the doctrine of the Fall of mankind and our response to it

The book of Ecclesiastes often paints a bleak picture of work, highlighting what we know from Gen. 3:16-19 as the curse.  The preacher, possibly Solomon, emphasized in Eccl. 1:2 his theme, which he boiled down to one word—meaningless (NIV).  Other versions use the word vanity.  He says that everything is meaningless, especially work.  He asks, “What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?” (Eccl. 1:3).

Ecclesiastes 1:2–9 shows us that our work environment remains uncooperative and will be marked by futility.

Ecclesiastes 2:17–23 paints a vivid description of the effects of the curse on our work and how empty it can be.  “So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me.  All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (v. 17).  He continues, “What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun?  All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest.  This too is meaningless” (vv. 22–23).  Stevens offers this concise summary: “Work ‘under the sun’ is impermanent, unappreciated, without results, unfair and seductive.”

Ecclesiastes 7:20 indicates that people are always going to be sinful (including you).

Regarding finding a job that fits our purpose and leads to flourishing

In Eccl. 2:4–11, he (Solomon) outlines the kind of work that he pursued.  He “built houses,” “planted vineyards,” “made gardens,” and “made reservoirs.”  He also bought slaves, owned herds and flocks, accumulated silver and gold, and managed entertainers.  In Eccl. 2:11 and in later in Eccl. 2:17-23, he concludes that work is “grievous to me” and is a “chasing after the wind.”  He grew to hate the results of his labors.  He did not know what was going to happen to the investment of his time and energy after he was gone.  He was frustrated, and asked, “What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun?” (Eccl. 2:22).

Yet in Eccl. 3:11, we find a curious admonition.  The writer asks us to consider that God is in control and has “made everything beautiful in its time.”  He then states that man should “be happy and do good while they live … eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God . . . there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot” (Eccl. 3:12–13, 22).  We learn here that it is indeed possible in the Lord to find satisfaction in our work.  It is a gift!

Regarding how Christians should work

Ecclesiastes 5:12 says that hard workers sleep well and that riches keep you up at night with worry.  We are reminded in Eccl. 5:15–19 that we cannot take anything that we earn with us when we die, which has implications on our priorities and how we view our compensation.  We are exhorted in Eccl. 9:10 to put our hearts into our work because there will come a day when our work on earth will cease.  I appreciate what is said in Eccl. 10:10, which tells us to keep our tools sharp or else we will work harder than is necessary.

Regarding the doctrine of eschatology (last things)

When Jesus returns, the wicked are judged, and the redeemed enter into the New Jerusalem (see Revelation 21 and 22), the hopeless message of vanity of Ecclesiastes will vanish.  There will be no more meaninglessness in life and work under the sun because we will all be under the Son.

I highly recommend that you read this interesting OT book of wisdom literature for yourself.  You may be surprised at what you find.  God will always speak to us when we seek Him.

Russ Gehrlein

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

Those Whom God Uses to Heal

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Over the past two months, I have been teaching a class on Wednesday nights on the topic of God’s presence at work. I have had only student. He is a U.S. Army orthopedic surgeon, working at the hospital on post. When we got to chapter eight in my book, regarding the kinds of work that we may be doing in the New Jerusalem at the end of the ages, I was concerned about how he would react. I had written that doctors (among many other professions) would no longer be needed because all residents will be healed. This is based on Rev. 21:4, where it states in part, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” (For further discussion on the eternal value of work, read my article here.)

As I have gotten to know my brother in Christ better during this time, I have come to a deeper understanding and appreciation for those who work in the healing profession. I will address this topic from a biblical and theological perspective to encourage those whom God uses to heal, as well as those who are on the receiving end of their valuable work.

Healing in Scripture

A good place to start this discussion would be to provide a brief biblical overview of Jesus’ healing ministry and His purposes for it. I see a few obvious ones: 1) His ability to heal pointed to His divinity. 2) Jesus clearly wanted to relieve suffering when He had the opportunity to do so, even on a Sabbath. 3) His healing also pointed towards the day when God’s Kingdom would come in all its fullness, and there would be no more sickness, pain, disability, or death.

Throughout the Gospels, we see that Jesus worked as a healer. We see in Matt 4:23 and 9:35 that Jesus healed “every disease and sickness” among the people. In Matt. 11:2-5, when Jesus was asked by John the Baptist’s disciples whether He was the Messiah, Jesus replied, “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those whMark 5:25-26o have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”

The list of the kinds of people that Jesus healed is impressive: a woman with internal bleeding (Mark 5:25-26), a crippled man (John 5:2-9), a man born blind (Acts 10:38), and many others. Note that Jesus’ healing ministry is another example in Scripture of the concept of Immanuel labor, God’s divine presence that is clearly linked to human work. Peter states in his gospel presentation to Cornelius’ family that Jesus healed because “God was with him” (Acts 10:38).

What do healers bring to the table?

I know and love many kinds of dedicated healthcare workers. My eldest sister is a medical laboratory technologist; my youngest sister is a physical therapist. My daughter is a speech therapist. I have over twenty friends who are doctors, physician’s assistants, nurses, pharmacists, or dental hygienists. God uses each of them to bring healing and restoration to thousands of people every day. If we were to consider the kind of work that God models today, as described in Amy Sherman’s book, Kingdom Calling, you might categorize what they do as compassionate work, God’s involvement in comforting, healing, guiding, and shepherding. (See previous article written two years ago.)

Like most professions, this is not a single-player game. In my discussions with the surgeon attending my class, he has emphasized on many occasions the importance of teamwork in this field. In a rather complicated and potentially serious procedure he did recently, he painted a clear picture of the absolute necessity of relying on a variety of workers at the hospital who were responsible to handle critical pieces of the joint operation. He mentioned fellow surgeons, radiologists, nurses, and anesthesiologists, to name a few. Every link in the chain was needed.

If we were to expand that list a bit more, we would have to include the wide range of healthcare workers that God uses to meet the medical needs of our families, friends, and us. I know that when I have been hospitalized on several occasions for various procedures, I have personally benefitted from all who maintained the equipment, cleaned the floors, delivered the meals, scheduled the appointments, issued my medications, and handled insurance claims, plus the hospital administrators who kept everything running smoothly. As we see the value of each worker who contributes to the healing process, the natural thing for us to do is to express appreciation to those we come into contact with. It may also give us opportunities to mention that when we pray for healing, God is using each of them to bring restoration of health to us.

What are their thorns & thistles?

Like any other profession, there are unique challenges in this field. Things that make our jobs more difficult than necessary are referred to as thorns and thistles. (See Gen. 3:17-19.) One struggle is the long or irregular hours, especially when these professionals go through their rigorous training. Another is the mountains of paperwork that accompany each patient or client they encounter. My daughter works as the speech therapist at an elementary school mentioned this specifically a while ago. It never ends. Additionally, there are often unexpected delays in insurance approvals for expensive procedures, which can negatively impact the health of patients in their care. And occasionally, you lose a patient you thought you could save.

Those who serve in professions like these are often perceived as workaholics. In their defense, I asked this question in my book: Can Christians be doctors, young mothers, or farmers? Of course they can! I would not accuse any of them of being workaholics merely because of the hours they have to put in to meet their God-given responsibilities that come with those callings. However, I would counsel them to find a way to keep the Sabbath in some manner—not as a legalistic requirement but as a pattern for living a balanced, healthy lifestyle, enabling them to rest, worship, and recreate so they can pace themselves to survive and thrive over the long haul.

Final thoughts

As I wrap up this discussion, let me return briefly to the discussion with my surgeon, re: his possible vocation in the New Jerusalem. He totally surprised me with his reaction that I was so concerned about. He said that since the majority of his surgical skills involved reinforcing various joints with screws, he could see himself performing carpentry work for all eternity.

What a great perspective! I appreciate my brother’s humble servant’s heart so much. This is the power of a transformed life in Christ.

I have one final word for Christians who serve in this field. God has placed you right where you are to best glorify Him. You know the Great Physician and you are His healing hands. His power to heal can flow through you to others in very practical ways. You know the limitations of medicine that often fail to bring healing to many of these finite bodies. You know that when medicine fails, death is not the end. You can bring comfort to those who mourn. You also know that complete healing of the mind, body, and soul is ultimately found in Christ alone.

Those whom God uses to heal, keep doing this great work, in His strength and for His glory.

Russ Gehrlein

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

How Can We Be Agents of Racial Reconciliation?

untitled(Note: This article was written for the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics and was published in July 2018.  Somehow, I neglected to post it on my own blog.)

On a Focus on the Family radio program last fall, I heard Benjamin Watson, an African-American pro football player and Christian speak intelligently, compassionately, and frankly about racial issues.  His balanced and biblical perspective opened my eyes.  Right away, I ordered his book, Under Our Skin: Getting Real About Race – And Getting Free From the Fears and Frustrations That Divide Us.  I finally finished it a few months ago.  This excellent book helped me to understand the challenges that my co-workers of another race face every day.  I would like to offer a brief review.

Watson begins his introduction by taking us to the tragic events that took place in August 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri, two hours from where I live.  Three months later, in November, a grand jury concluded there was no probable cause to indict the white police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, a black teenager.

Initially, Watson articulated his gut reaction to this decision in a lengthy Facebook post.  He shared that he was angry, fearful, embarrassed, sad, sympathetic, offended, confused, introspective, hopeless, hopeful, and encouraged.  He rearranged and expanded on these feelings, which then became the framework for the chapters in his book.

Injustice should make us angry

In chapter 1 he recounts, “I’m angry because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes.”  This is disheartening to me.  He continues. “I’m angry because white people don’t get it.  I’m angry because black people don’t get it, either.”  At least he has confronted us equally.

He indicates that it has been over 150 years since slavery was abolished.  He painfully points out: “You’d think that after all this time we’d have reached real parity between the races, that there would be truly equal opportunity, and that we’d be seeing and experiencing fairness in society between blacks and whites.”  Sadly, he reports, “A lot of white people believe that’s actually where we are.  A lot of black people know we aren’t.” I have to agree with him here.

These thoughts may seem controversial.  They may make us uncomfortable.  For me, I was grateful to see these issues through Watson’s eyes and experiences.  I cannot be part of the solution if I do not understand what the real problems are.

My own reflections on race

I was brought up by my parents to respect people of all races.  In my early elementary school days in Long Island, New York, I thought that kids of various skin colors were no different from kids that wore a red, blue, or yellow shirt.  It just did not matter.  This background made for an easy transition to active duty military life, where we served and lived with many Soldiers of diverse races who all got along with each other due to our shared Army values and unity of purpose.

A spiritual dimension to this issue was introduced at a Promise Keepers conference in the mid-1990’s, where I was challenged to be active in racial reconciliation.  This conviction influenced my thinking and shaped men’s ministry events I led over the next several years.  This concept was reemphasized during the 2016 Faith@Work Summit, as one more than one speaker pointed out that the movement had become too male and too pale.  Since then, I have been seeking more opportunities at work to bring racial harmony when I can by ensuring that I, and those who work for me, treat everyone with dignity and respect.  This radio interview and book came at the right time, pushing me further towards what the Lord had laid on my heart a long time ago.

The gospel should bring us encouragement and hope

The passion and honesty that Watson expressed throughout the book was refreshing and on target.  Every once in a while, Watson gently taught me something that I truly needed to hear.  He writes, “The problem of racism is not in ‘that guy over there.’  It’s right here.”  He confessed that racism is inside himself and suggests that it is inside all of us as well.  He believes that the solution is for each of us to look inside ourselves, honestly confront the biases we have, and begin to change the evil that is in our hearts.

In the middle section of the book, I read with great interest his exposition of the fears that he and other men and women of color experience.  My heart was deeply grieved to read statements like this: “Black people have little expectation of being treated fairly by police in any situation.  We have a high expectation of being demeaned, abused, and possibly treated violently in any encounter with law enforcement. . . This is a reality that white people simply don’t know.”  I only had a glimpse of how bad this problem really is, only because I have asked Soldiers of color that have worked for me in the past to help me to see what I have never experienced firsthand.

At the end, Watson expresses a sense of encouragement, despite the fact that “we still have race issues in America”.  He asserts, “ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem.”  He is encouraged “because God has provided a solution for sin through his son, Jesus, and with it a transformed heart and mind.”  He concludes that the cure for these front-page racist tragedies is not education or exposure, but the gospel.  The gospel, he reminds us, “gives mankind hope.”

I highly recommend this book if you want to better understand the complex issues of race in order to be agents of reconciliation.  Isn’t that why we are here, to tell people that Jesus’ free offer of salvation is available to all?  Ultimately, there will be a vast number of men and women “from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9).

Russ Gehrlein

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