Thoughts from Fruitfulness on the Frontline

I have a bad habit.  Maybe others have it, too. 

I often will buy books that look really great, but then they sit on my shelf in a queue.  Some sit for a little while; some I have never got around to reading yet.  One of those books that sat in a small pile on my desk for about a year is called Fruitfulness on the Frontline.  I finally picked it up last month.  I was so glad I did.  Let me share some profound excerpts from the first three chapters.

The author, Mark Greene, is the Executive Director of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.  I had the privilege of meeting him at the 2018 Faith@Work Summit.  I attended a seminar he taught entitled, “Connecting How We Read the Bible to Faith at Work in Practice”.   It was a great session on the implications in the book of Ruth, which inspired me to write an article.

Chapter 1 – Overture to the girl with no name

Early in the first chapter, he quotes 1 Cor. 1:26-29, where the Apostle Paul reminds the church in Corinth that God chose ordinary people to follow Jesus.  People, just like most of the folks that you and I know who were not particularly wise in the eyes of the world; they were not influential, nor were they of noble birth.  But God in Christ chose people who were seen by the world as foolish, weak, lowly, and despised.  He did this so that none of us could boast about why God chose us.

Greene’s main point here is that ordinary people, redeemed by Jesus Christ, can be used by God to influence for eternity those whom God has placed right where we live and work.  This place he calls our frontline.  He asks, “Do we really need to have a high position, or a university degree, or lots of money to have a significant impact for God?”  The answer, of course, is a resounding no.

Greene states that he will share lots of stories about “followers of Jesus who have come to see the places and the people they encounter on their frontlines with hearts shaped by God’s redemptive priorities.”  He states that his purpose is to encourage his readers “to grow more alert to the ways that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has been working, is working, and might work in and through you right where you are, whatever your frontline.”  He issues his readers a bold challenge:  “We have yet to see what extraordinary things might happen in the offices and factories, cafes and clubs, fields and forests of our land when God’s people really work together to support the daily mission of their brothers and sisters where God has placed them.”  These are inspiring words!

Chapter 2 – Bananas are not the only fruit

Greene starts the chapter with brief stories of three people: one a university student, one who works in a factory, and another one with chronic arthritis who volunteered in her local church.  They had one thing in common: they did not see how they could be fruitful for God right where there were.  Later on, the student came to discover that “God could work in and through her at university in a rich variety of ways.”  One day, the factory worker realized that God “must have something he wanted him to do right where he was . . . and he began to see what that was.”  And the disabled church volunteer “realized that she had a frontline, a place of ministry and mission . . . her illness no longer made her a victim; it gave her a ministry.”  I loved how these and other stories are presented.

Greene defines how he will use frontline: he means “a place or a time where we meet fairly regularly with people who don’t know Jesus.”  He makes us think, emphasizing, “In different ways and in different seasons, all of us have a context where we meet people who don’t know Jesus.”

For the remainder of this chapter, he explains what “fruitfulness” looks like.  I liked his approach as he clarifies that it is not all about evangelism.  (Note: I invite you to read an article I wrote about this topic.)  Greene articulates a concern that I have also sensed for quite some time:

Vast numbers of Christians don’t believe that they are being fruitful for God, because fruitfulness has been narrowly defined as evangelism.  Now, if you don’t think anything other than evangelism matters to God, then at the end of an average day or an average week at work or at the school gate, it’s pretty easy to feel that you aren’t doing anything significant for God, that your day, your week has been a bit of a waste. . . And so, it’s quite likely that you will feel discouraged or perhaps detached from God’s real work in the world.

Right away, Greene anticipates that there will be some who will object to his viewpoint.  He clarifies, “Now evangelism really does matter. . . . But evangelism, as we shall see, is not the only expression of fruitful living, any more than bananas are the only fruit. . . Bananas are not the only fruit, any more than new converts are the only fruit that God is concerned about.”  He concludes, “What we need is a richer picture of what fruitfulness in Christ looks like.”  Such refreshing words!

Greene carefully explains that in the Bible, fruit is used as “an overall metaphor for the consequences of the obedient, godly life.”  For example, he quotes Ps. 1:1-3.  He continues, “Godly living shaped by godly obedience leads to a life that fulfills the purposes God has for it – fruit at the right time. . . Good fruit is any attitude, any word, any action that pleases God.  Fruit is any consequence that is in line with his will – an animal properly cared for, a local pond cleaned up, a person saved, healed, fed, given a cup of water, taught, corrected, trained in righteousness, defended, rescued from injustice, or loved in any godly way.  Fruit is anything done with authentic love.”  He concludes, “Ultimately, then, fruit is anything that brings glory to God.”  I appreciate his illustrations of ordinary work.

Chapter 3 – A life more fruitful: his invitation

There were just a handful of inspirational quotes in this chapter that I wish to share.

Greene reminds us of a pivotal passage in Col. 1:16, where the Apostle Paul states that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, the Creator of all things: ‘For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities’”  Greene asks rhetorically, “If all creation, visible and invisible, is his, wouldn’t he be interested in the impact that our activities in the kitchen, at school, in factories, fields and offices, in government and radio stations and art galleries and hospitals and science labs have on his creation and on people created in his image?”  He then answers, “And he is.”  Well said!

At the conclusion of this chapter Greene asks his readers to be prayerful as they explore his ideas.  He reminds us of the constant presence of God as we are growing in our understanding.  He counsels, “He is at work in you, but he does not need you to be perfect in order to work through you.”  Amen!

I appreciated Greene’s well-thought out and practical perspective on the theology of work.  I look forward to reading the rest of this book. It lines up quite well with my own emphasis on the connection between God’s presence and human work.  God called us to work right where we are for such a time as this.  He is with us in it.

About the author:

Russell E. Gehrlein is a Christian, husband of 39 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 received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.  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.  Fifty articles posted on this blog have been published on numerous Christian organization’s blogs or 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.

Controlled Not by the Flesh, but by the Spirit

what-is-the-holy-spirit2-720x420I read through the book of Romans earlier this summer.  In chapter 8, I was struck by the contrasts that the Apostle Paul highlights between living in the flesh versus living in the Spirit.  In context, this expands on what Paul introduced back in Rom. 7:5-6.  This also connects with Paul’s contrast between the death that Adam brought to all and the life that Jesus Christ brings in Rom. 5:12-19

In this book, more than any other New Testament epistle, Paul indicates that when a person comes to faith in Jesus, there are irreversible changes, both external and internal, that God brings about, which gives them a new identity in Christ.  At the very moment of salvation, they are made right with God through Christ (justified) and begin to be transformed into Christlikeness (sanctified).  Justification is a one-time event; sanctification is a life-long process.  Both are gifts of His grace.  (For an original summary that traces Paul’s argument in the book of Romans, I invite you to read what I wrote while going to seminary that I posted on my blog in two parts several years ago.)

Let me unpack what Paul informs us in the first half of Romans 8 about those who live the flesh and those who are living by the Spirit.  Understanding the contrasts the Apostle Paul makes in Romans 8 will help to give us assurance that although we as Christians will always wrestle with our sinful nature in the course of this life, we are no longer merely in the flesh.  We have been changed.

What is the flesh?

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (vol. 2) highlights the theological significance of the flesh.  Flesh, by itself “represents the natural, created human aspect”, which only means that it is “weak, limited, and temporal.”  On the sixth day, God created humans in His own image; it was described as being “very good” (Gen. 1:31).  (See also Gen. 2:7.)  Human flesh by itself is not evil.  This is demonstrated by Jesus, who was fully human, with the very same limitations we have. 

However, we do see the flesh, with all of its weaknesses and limitations drifting naturally into sinful behavior.  Galatians 5:17 indicates that our fallen nature (residing more in the mind than the body) has inherently evil desires that are in opposition to God’s will for us.  These actions are described in more detail in Gal. 5:19-21.  I think we can all identify with at least one of these items on this list. 

What is true of those who are “in the flesh”?

Let me summarize the truths that Paul outlines in Romans 8, about those who are in the flesh.

  • Those who live according to the sinful nature (flesh) have set their minds on natural desires (8:5)
  • The mind of sinful man results in death (physical death/separation from God) (8:6)
  • The sinful mind is hostile to God; it does not and cannot submit to God’s law (8:7)
  • Those who are controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God (8:8)
  • Those who live according to the sinful nature will die (8:12)

Christians could easily pull any of these verses out of context and apply these generic truths to their own lives.  However, in context, that Paul seems to be contrasting the identities of two groups of people.  What he states here is true of those who are not in Christ.  These are true of those who are not Jesus’ sheep.  All these things were true of every believer before coming to faith.  This sad description of what was true back then has been replaced by all of the things I will describe below.

The role of the Holy Spirit

In John 14:16-17, Jesus taught His disciples that the Father would send a Counselor who would always be with them and would also be in them.  Jesus explained that the Spirit would teach His followers and would remind them of what He said (John 14:26).  He would guide them into all truth (John 16:13).  Paul also clearly states that the Holy Spirit indwells every Christian.  (See Rom. 8:9). 

In the NIV Application Commentary on Romans, Douglas Moo reminds us of the critical role of the Holy Spirit in the Christian’s life.  Moo states, “Possessing the spirit is the mark of being a new covenant believer, and his ministry must be basic to any description of what it means to be a Christian. . . Paul gives the Spirit the key role in mediating to us the blessings of our new life.” 

What does it mean to be “in Christ”?

Earlier in this epistle, the Apostle Paul laid out many of the gifts of God’s amazing grace that were true of both Jew and Gentile who came to faith in Jesus Christ.  For example, in Rom. 3:22, we read that those who believe in Christ are justified.  This changes their legal standing before God.  They are seen as righteous; they have a new identity in Christ.  They are no longer under Adam’s curse, but have become members of a new kingdom where what is true of Jesus is now true of them. 

In Rom. 6:3-7, Paul writes that all believers who were baptized into Christ (by faith and through the ritual of baptism) were symbolically baptized into (immersed in and identified with) Jesus’ death.  Paul explains that being identified with Jesus’ crucifixion and death results in being dead to sin’s power and that being identified with His resurrection gives them the power to live a holy life.

What is true of those who are in Christ?

Let me summarize the truths that Paul teaches in Romans 8 about those who are in Christ:

  • There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (8:1)
  • They have been set free from the law of sin and death (8:2)
  • God’s righteous requirements of the law are fully met because of Jesus’ death (8:3-4)
  • They do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit (8:4)
  • They have their minds set on what the Spirit desires (8:5)
  • The mind controlled by the Spirit results in life (abundant and eternal) and peace (8:6)
  • They are not controlled by the flesh but by God’s Spirit who indwells them (8:9)
  • Their body (flesh) may be sinful and is dead, but their spirit is alive (8:10)
  • God’s Spirit, who raised Jesus from the dead lives in them and gives them life (8:11)
  • They have an obligation, not to live according to the flesh, but to put to death the misdeeds of the flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit (8:12-13)
  • They will be led by the Spirit of God because they are children of God (8:14)
  • They received the Holy Spirit who does not make them a slave to fear; rather, it makes them a beloved child of God, who can call their heavenly Father “Daddy” (8:15)
  • As children of God, they are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (8:17)

What Paul states above is true of those who are in Christ.  These are true of those who are Jesus’ sheep.  All these things are true of every believer.  Some of them are one-time changes by grace through faith when they became a Christian.  Other things Paul lists are ongoing things to pursue.

Identity is the key to victory over the flesh

Lest you think that I have mastered the application of these wonderful truths in my own life, let me be clear.  I have not.  I still struggle with my own fleshly tendencies.  Some of them were passed down from my father.  Some sinful habits I have no one else to blame but myself.  Some sins are relatively new.  Some of them have been a challenge to me off and on for my entire Christian life.

What helps me, and I think will be of help to my brothers and sisters in Christ, is for me to always keep in mind whose I am and who I am in Him.  I am not just a mere human.  I have been set free from sin.  I have been delivered.  God declares me righteous in His sight because Jesus has paid the penalty for my sin.  I am a new creature in Christ.  He is making me new every day.  If I focus on Jesus waiting for me at the finish line, and run the race in the power of the Holy Spirit, I run well.

About the author:

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Russell E. Gehrlein is a Christian, husband of 39 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 received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.  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.  Fifty articles posted on this blog have been published on numerous Christian organization’s blogs or 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.

Remembering the Brave Workers on 9-11

Picture1On this Patriot’s Day, I want to share something personal that my son wrote several years ago.  It is a moving reflection on 9-11 as he experienced it as a 13 year old Army brat living on an Air Force Base.  It reminds me of the heroic actions of a variety of ordinary American workers who risked their own lives to save others on that fateful day: firefighters, policemen, first responders, and military personnel.  Their work truly made a difference back then.  Their work still makes a difference today.

My 911

By Brian Gehrlein

I’m thirteen. It’s the eighth grade. The towering Wasatch front protects me like a great stone wall to my east as it runs north to south, the entire length of the horizon. I’m safe. The sun creeps over the mountain peaks each morning and then melts into a perfect pool of pink within the crystal, saline waters of the Great Salt Lake to the west. When snow blankets the front, the whole range glows the reflected colors of the sunset. Dad’s in the Army but the Air Force lets us live on base. The jets roar day and night but that’s part of life here. I learn quickly to identify which planes are taking off. Mostly F-16 fighter jets. They’re louder and fly lower but disappear into the desert faster. C-130s shake the earth and take longer to quiet. It’s constant. Waking up behind barbed wire fences and guarded gates and deafening military might reminds me once again in strange way…I’m safe.

First few weeks of school pass and it’s just normal thirteen-year-old stuff. Girls. Friends. Girls. Figuring out my skin. Girls. Figuring out how to make my teachers laugh. Girls. Figuring out how to fix my hair (for girls) and who I am and who I want to be. Today is Tuesday, September 11, 2001 and I leave for school on a normal bus. It’s warm. Peaceful. As we leave, I don’t have to look but know the sign at the gate says: THREATCON ALPHA. It always does. Because this means business as usual. Still gotta have your military ID on you at all times but they don’t check too much on the bus. Maybe have to hold it up but they don’t look close.

We get to school and the TV is on in the band room. I don’t pay much attention but the news isn’t usually on when I’m putting my drum-sticks and bells away for later. I hear a concerned reporter talking about something happening on my way out with my friends. I say something stupid ‘cause I have no idea what’s going on yet.

School starts and we get the news. It’s hard to comprehend what’s happening a few thousand miles east of us. The teachers are really worried and don’t teach that much. All they can do is listen to the radio or watch TV or answer our questions and try and give us as much normalcy as possible without giving away the fact that they are more afraid than we are because they understand what it all means. They can’t pretend very well and it sets all of us on edge. The rest of the day is a blur. A lot of my friends who have parents in the service like me are extra worried. We know what they’re saying. “Act of war” sticks in my head. War. My dad. I need to get home.

We finally pile onto the bus and we’re talking like normal except all we can talk about are those planes and those buildings and all those people. We talk about our parents and how we need to get home. We talk about war. Something’s wrong on the street. There’s never traffic like this after school. I stand up to get a better look and all three sides turning into the base are gridlocked. A car turns and I see the sign outside the main gate. As I read I realize this isn’t just about New York and DC and Pennsylvania. This is about right here…THREATCON DELTA. The highest threat condition used in the military reserved only for times of actual war. Other kids see the sign and the bus goes quiet because we know—but we can’t. The bus driver is nervous but tells us to have our IDs ready. I pull mine out.

Then the slow crawl to the gate. There’s airmen everywhere. It’s swarming with Military Police in full gear that I’ve only seen on soldiers training when visiting my dad on post, or in war movies. Every Army kid has worn their parent’s stuff before. Tried on a helmet, a rucksack, worn a jacket, or put on boots and eaten dozens of MREs. But that’s all pretend. This isn’t the movies. This is real. Full combat ready camo flak jackets, helmets and loaded M16s and 9mm side-arms. They have mirrors on big sticks looking under every car and big MP dogs patrolling, and sniffing around everywhere. I’m anxious and can’t sit down anymore. It’s almost our turn.

As we approach the guards my heart stops. Not fifteen feet ahead of me, set up on the median that divides the road, is a sandbag pillbox with a 50-caliber machine gun pointed at my bus. There’s an MP manning the gun. Just waiting. We stop as my heart starts pounding in my chest again. The doors open and two armed guards get on, M16s drawn—not over the shoulder. Assault rifles in hand, ready to search this bus. I can tell it’s anything but a joke by how serious everyone is. I’ve never seen them act like this. They check IDs and look through bags. I’m in the middle of the bus waiting for my turn. A lot of kids are crying. They give out orders but I don’t remember what they say. He’s next to me now. He’s drenched in sweat and terrifying. I hand him my ID and open my bag. He looks at it for a long time then moves on to the back of the bus. I can’t breathe. I look outside and I see the guys with mirrors and the German Shepherds going around our bus. We get the clear and move along to our “normal route” and begin dropping people off, stop by stop.

When we eventually get to my street, and I walk the hill to the cul-de-sac, I start to cry as soon as I see my house. Before I walk in, I take a look at the mountains to the east. I see a subtle peppering of reds as the beginning of autumn rolls up from the foothills to the top. Giant. Still.  And yet somehow…different. Because they’re no longer keeping me safe. Neither is the tall, grey razor wire fence that surrounds the base where I live. And the sound of the jets taking off just down the road seems to mean something else now. Where are they going? What do F-16 fighter jets do when it’s Threat Con Delta and our nation is under attack? My head is spinning but seems to return to the same word again and again. Dad. What will this mean for him? My family? Will he be sent somewhere I cannot follow? Will he be killed? There are too many questions and not enough answers. The one thing I do know is that everything has changed. My country has changed. This place has changed. And I’ve changed. Forever.

This isn’t a story I like to tell because I don’t like thinking about it. But I wanted to share because this day reminds me that fear never has the final word… love does. I remember how close it brought us together and how many answered the call, and how in the face of the worst of what we are capable of, we also saw acts of the best of what we are capable of—not just as Americans, but as human beings. This day reminds me that we can’t truly appreciate the sweetness of spring until we feel the bitter bite of winter’s icy chill and that the morning after our darkest day…the sun glows just a little brighter.

About the author:

Russell E. Gehrlein is a Christian, husband of 39 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 received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.  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.  Nearly 50 articles posted on this blog have been published on several Christian organization’s blogs or 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.

My Biggest Challenge During the Pandemic

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Recently, I was asked to reflect on how the pandemic has affected integrating my Christian faith at work over the past six months.  What has been my biggest challenge?  Is there a word of encouragement that I could offer to offer a light of hope in this darkness?   I think I can.

New environments bring new temptations

Every one of us has been touched in some way by COVID-19.   Millions faced unemployment.  Many were forced to telework from home while supervising children trying to learn virtually.  Those who continued to work at the shop, factory, or office or have recently returned were given strict social distancing, sanitizing, and mask-wearing protocols that have made everything more difficult than expected.  

From a theological perspective, it seems likely that these kinds of challenges have brought new temptations our way.  If we are fortunate to have a job, Christian workers are struggling in their new environments with unique time pressures and stresses that have frankly made it harder to do their work “as unto the Lord”.  Many of us are isolated at home.  We cannot randomly bump into our Christian coworker who we can ask to pray for us.  To make matters worse, most of us have not been able to maintain our normal Christian lives via our local church, to worship, pray, fellowship, and listen to messages of truth through the regular teaching of God’s Word.

Remaining in God’s presence brings victory over temptation

Whether we have been feeling lonely, anxious, dealing with anger, or any number of things that may cause us to drift away from God during this time, perhaps we need to be reminded of some basic ways that we can regain a very real sense of God’s presence with us at work or at home. 

I have observed from my own experience that when I have drifted away from God even for a short time, the first thing I notice is that the joy of the Lord diminishes until I repent of and confess my sin.  This lack of joy will negatively impact my relationships with co-workers, subordinates, and superiors, and significantly reduces my creativity and productivity on the job.

In Ps. 32:3-5, David describes a time when he was faced with the depths of his own sin.  David felt guilty about his sins, and rightfully so.  Before he dealt with it through confession, he said that his bones were wasting away.  He groaned all day long.  He felt God’s hand was heavy upon him.  This was not God’s mighty hand of protection that David often spoke of, but God’s Spirit laying conviction on his heart.  When he could take it no more, David acknowledged his sin to the LORD.  He confessed it and received God’s forgiveness.  His guilty conscience was at peace.  This is similar to what the Apostle John taught Christ-followers to do in 1 John 1:9 when we sin.

A man of God from the 17th century named Brother Lawrence truly understood this concept of consistently remaining in God’s presence.  If you have not read The Practice of the Presence of God, I highly recommend it.  In the preface of the book, he is described as having “a heart that had learned the most essential ingredient of the Christian life: how to remain in the presence of God daily.”  He experienced the joy of the Lord and divine strength for every task as he went about his daily mundane work washing dishes at the monastery.  He recognized the eternal value of the temporal tasks he did “as unto the Lord”.  He did this out of submission to the Father. 

As needed, Brother Lawrence confessed his sins right after he noticed them.  He rested in God’s forgiveness, grace, and mercy based on Jesus’ atoning work on the cross.  Then, he continued to work in God’s holy presence.  Listen to how his friend describes this process:  “When he sinned, he confessed it to God with these words: ‘I can do nothing better without You.  Please keep me from falling and correct the mistakes I make.’  After that he did not feel guilty about the sin.” 

We too can keep short accounts with God.  We can do what I learned as a college student with Campus Crusade.  It was called spiritual breathing.  Exhaling is confessing my sin.  Inhaling is asking God’s Holy Spirit to fill me again so that I can enjoy His presence.  When we can do that consistently, we find renewed strength in Jesus Christ to overcome every temptation we face. 

When we walk in the power and the presence of God at work or home on a daily basis, we will see over time how His purposes unfold in our life.  That is what I so desperately want to experience, especially now, during this most challenging pandemic season.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-EditRussell E. Gehrlein is a Christian, husband of 39 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 received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.  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.  Nearly 50 articles posted on this blog have been published on several Christian organization’s blogs or 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.

Returning to the Office after Months of Telework

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At 0630 last Monday morning, I was feeling a bit sad.  It was time to dismantle and depart my home office so that I could arrive at my regular office at 0730 to begin hooking my computer back up.  Let me reflect a bit on my experience as I returned to the office after four-and-a-half months of telework.  (I invite you to read my previous article where I shared my initial reflections on teleworking.)

A look backwards

Here what I had enjoyed (or learned to enjoy) while on telework from mid-March to the end of July:

  • I enjoyed sleeping in an extra half-hour in the morning; I did not miss my 45-minute commute to work each way, and I was way less fatigued at the end of the day
  • I loved making the quick switch on my desk from dedicated government work station to personal computer in about 30 seconds at the end of the work day, being able to step into the living room, and say to my wife, “Hi, honey, I’m home!”
  • I enjoyed seeing my wife often throughout the day; I appreciated her always giving me space during work hours and for praying for me when I was experiencing thorns and thistles
  • I grew professionally as I adapted to using a variety of platforms for personal and group communication and collaboration, such as video teleconferences and Microsoft Teams
  • I continued to experience God’s presence at work during this often stressful and ever-changing environment
  • I had the freedom to decide how to execute my responsibilities throughout the day

Here is what I found challenging or frustrating while teleworking:

  • I had too much freedom to decide how to execute my responsibilities throughout the day; there were many  days I did not get much direct guidance from my boss
  • There was little opportunity to be able to speak face-to-face when that means of communication was the most appropriate one to use
  • Although some of my normal work responsibilities were no longer necessary during the pandemic (i.e., managing VIP visits and tours), there were many new and difficult tasks to replace them

Here is what I had missed and truly appreciated when I came back to the office last week:

  • Seeing people’s faces and sharing a workspace with a team
  • An opportunity to listen to Focus on the Family on the way in to work every day from 0700-0730 and catching up on podcasts on the way home
  • The opportunity to fellowship spontaneously with a brother or sister in Christ (as I did on Wednesday afternoon) through accidentally bumping into folks down the hall, also known more biblically as divine appointments.

Looking forward

Here is what I find challenging about the “new normal” at the U.S. Army post where I serve:

  • Wearing a mask every time I leave my office
  • Walking by a water fountain while wearing a mask and not getting a drink
  • Trying to figure out the right mix of actual meetings versus virtual meetings
  • The uncertainty when chapel services and programs will return to what they once were; i.e., with child care so that young families can attend, not having to wear masks

Despite my somewhat light-hearted observations about my own experiences during my season of teleworking, I am sensitive to and aware of the fact that there are millions of workers whose lives were severely upended due to the pandemic.  There has not been any change to their routines yet.  Many of them are still looking for work, waiting for their businesses to reopen, or will continue to work from home indefinitely.  Many parents of school-age children are still wondering what the school year will look like and their kids’ teachers are anxious about what their local school boards are going to decide.  Those of us who have faith in a loving, merciful, faithful, and unchanging God need to pray for healing and safety as we all attempt to move cautiously forward into this new normal.

Looking upward

It is my belief that much of the turmoil from this extended pandemic season is a clear manifestation of God’s curse on the labor of both men and women that we find in Gen. 3:16-19 due to Adam’s sin.  Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, in their book, When Helping Hurts shed some light on the full extent of the curse on work.  They explain, “The curse is cosmic in scope, bringing decay, brokenness, and death to every speck of the universe.”  They also remind us that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection makes everything right in creation, which is what we sing at Christmastime in the carol “Joy to the World” – “He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.”  Although the work environment itself may be cursed for now, we know that we are not cursed.

Finally, let me add a personal word of encouragement.  I think that these uncertain times have given us a chance to learn to be content in all circumstances.  As Christ-following employees who are in-but-not-of-the-world, we need to be adaptable as we discern how we can best serve our bosses, coworkers, subordinates, and customers in whatever environments we have been placed.  We know without a doubt in our renewed minds that we can do all things we are called to do through the resurrection power of Jesus Christ who strengthens you and I every day.  (See Phil. 4:11-13.)

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-EditRussell E. Gehrlein is a Christian, husband of 39 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 received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.  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.  Nearly 50 articles posted on this blog have been published on several Christian organization’s blogs or 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 Continues to use Carpenters

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This past week, my wife and I had some construction done to the exterior of our house.  We had our back patio rail and our entire second story balcony and railing replaced.  The two-man crew was friendly, experienced, and competent.  They seemed to enjoy what the work they did for us.  I was grateful for their expertise, as I absolutely could not have done what they did myself.

I was reminded that I had addressed the value of blue-collar workers in a couple of places in my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession.  In chapter 6, I unpacked the biblical connection between God’s presence and human work and shared the story of the Spirit-filled tabernacle construction workers starting in Exodus 31.  In chapter 14, I shared my biblical perspective on several career fields of personal interest to me, including the blue-collar worker.

I am thankful that I felt led to address this important topic, as it was specifically mentioned in my latest book review from a leader in the Black Country Urban Industrial Mission, a faith at work organization in the United Kingdom.  He stated, “The inclusion of the section of blue collar work is important.  Many books on this subject scarcely mention people who make things or provide essential services, but throughout this book (including the cartoon on the cover), it is clear that that these jobs are equally places for Christians to work.”

Let me share some excerpts from chapter 14 to highlight the value that these manual laborers bring into each of our lives, as God uses them to meet the needs of our homes and businesses.

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When I read Beckett’s observations in his book Mastering Monday about Jesus’s work as a carpenter, it grabbed me.  This is literally a great example of Immanuel labor.  He observes:

For over a decade, Jesus ran a small woodworking shop.  Just as we do in our larger business, he had to plan ahead, purchase materials, maintain his tools and inventory, manage the work of others, tend to product quality, please his customers, and pay taxes.  He was making real products—tables and chairs, cabinets, oxen yokes for farming.  He was meeting real needs. . . Can you imagine the immense satisfaction Jesus found in his work, laboring not just to please himself but his Father in heaven? . . . He was actively modeling and extending the kingdom of God right where he was, amid wood chips and sawdust, rising to the challenges and receiving the rewards of his daily activities.

Wow! I had never thought much about Jesus’s work as a carpenter.  What a colorful description of Jesus’s ordinary blue-collar career!

There are many jobs in this category that I have never had (i.e., any kind of farm work, construction, auto mechanics, landscaping, assembly line, fast food, etc.).  However, I have worked full-time or part-time as a young man in high school, in college, in graduate school, and afterward on a painting crew, as a janitor, bus/van driver for a nursing home, and bus boy.

Believe it or not, I had a lot of fun doing all those jobs.  I learned a great deal, and met some interesting people along the way.  It was a character-building time.  It actually felt good to do manual labor for a season.  I was glad that God sovereignly allowed me to get this priceless hands-on experience.  I gained a completely new respect for those who had to do this kind of work for a living.  However, I am extremely grateful, especially as I have gotten older, that my current job requires me to use my mind and my keyboard much more than my body.

I worked all of these jobs before I joined the army.  Here is a list of some of the various types of work I had to do occasionally during my army career: digging fighting positions (foxholes), vehicle maintenance, inspecting and repairing weapons and protective masks, simulated decontamination of military vehicles, filling sandbags, picking up brass after shooting on a rifle range, loading and unloading heavy equipment and supplies from vehicles, putting up huge camouflage nets, pitching tents, erecting communication antennas, and driving around the desert.

A few years ago, Timothy Keller posted a quote on his Facebook page that caught my attention.  He said, “Mission includes our secular vocations, not just church ministry.”  I do not know if it was from a sermon or from his book, Every Good Endeavor, which I have quoted often.  It generated a good discussion.  One reader named Thomas Hoover, who graciously gave me permission to use his passionate response, posted this profound statement:

Secularly speaking, I am “just” a factory worker.  Is God not the God of factory workers as well?  Yes, factory workers as well.  When Jesus walks through the turnstile with me and the other Christians who work there the Kingdom is as much “at hand” as anywhere Jesus goes.  Wherever the soles of our feet tread is where His kingdom advances.  Whenever the Holy Spirit moves within us to speak and act as sons and daughters of God, there, on the factory floor, is holy ground.

This is powerful!

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As I look back on what I had written a few years ago, I feel I need to add something more.

During my studies over the past thirty years, I have come to a much better understanding of what the Bible says about God’s purposes for work, how work is intrinsically and instrumentally of value, and how God works through a variety of workers to meet the whole spectrum of human needs.  All work is of value because God is a worker, and therefore all workers are to be valued.

I have also become grateful for the multitude of people that have God-given talents that enable them to do those things that I could never do for myself.  I know that God still works today, largely through the work of humans that He has equipped with a variety of talents and gifts.  We need to encourage those who do work for us and with us that their work truly matters to God.

About the author:

91045809_10217299091332546_4886064790042050560_oRussell E. Gehrlein is a Christian, husband of 39 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 received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.  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.  Over 40 articles posted on this blog have been published on several Christian organization’s blogs or 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, The Gospel Coalition, and Midwestern Seminary.

God Covers our Sin with Paint that Matches

69925409_10215556925499489_3976346959622438912_o(This article was posted on The Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog.)

I had to do some touch up painting on the exterior siding of our house since we had some planks replaced recently.  In my first attempt yesterday, I used a color my wife and I picked out called Grey Sanctuary.  We thought it was going to be a good match.  Not so much.  It was too light.  We went back to Lowe’s, and they did a digitized color match using a small piece of the old siding that Linda found lying around.  This morning, I painted over the light places and it blended in perfectly.  You can’t easily tell what was painted and what was not.

The dramatic results of the two different paint colors I had used was a great illustration of the contrast between what it looks like when we try to cover our sin versus how it looks when God covers our sin.  I realize that human illustrations fall apart if we try to take them too far.  Maybe there isn’t any direct mention of the word “paint” in the Bible (at least not in the NIV that I use).  However, the concept of covering is actually a predominant theme, so the function of paint as a covering might be helpful.  I know the power of a good illustration to help God’s people see an abstract concept more clearly and how this greater understanding can be applied in their own life.

This got me to thinking more about what I reflected on a couple of weeks ago that I posted on my blog here.  In my previous article, I looked at Ps. 32:1-5.  What stood out is the contrast between what God does and what man does with respect to sin.  In verse 1, David boldly stated: “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.”  God had indeed covered over David’s sins, which was a blessing David did not take for granted.  God covered the sins of His people so that He no longer saw them.  Only God has the authority to do that.  However, before David confessed and repented of his sins, he had tried (and failed) in many ways to cover up his own sins.  The story of Bathsheba immediately comes to mind.  He had no authority to do that. 

As I thought about the contrast between my first and second coats of paint, I could not help but notice the stark differences between the results.  The first coat represented my own limited human attempt at putting on a fresh coat of righteousness and repairing my own mistakes from the past so that I would look better to others.  There were dozens of drips of many colors that needed to be hidden from view.  There was a major gouge from a flying umbrella a few years ago that I was embarrassed about.  There were rotten planks that brought me shame and regret from neglect.  No matter how much time we took to find just the right color to match, our attempts fell short.

The next day, when I applied the professionally produced color match paint on with a new brush, I saw how right the color was.  My drips were erased.  The big scratch was no more to be seen.  All the scars and imperfections in the old siding were covered in a shade that blended perfectly. 

Isn’t that just how God’s covering of our sins turns out for those who have faith in Jesus Christ?  Our attempts will always fail.  There are no works we can do to add to what He has already done on the cross to pay for our sins.  His covering is perfect, since He is the Master Painter.  “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).

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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.

As High as the Heavens are above the Earth and as far as the East is from the West

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I have been reading in Romans this month.  It is one of my favorite books.  (I invite you to read a series on the book of Romans that I posted on my blog a while back.)

I started in Romans 4 . . .

I began to read the first verses of Romans 4.  But that is not where I ended up.  I took a journey back to the Psalms to find some great reminders of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

In context, Paul is writing of “the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works.”  This is what God did for Abram in Gen. 15:6, which Paul mentioned in Rom. 4:1-6.  It is indeed a precious gift that is freely given to those who trust in Jesus Christ for their salvation.  I believe this change in status is irreversible.  This is often referred to as the great exchange: Jesus took the penalty for our sins and gave us His righteous standing before Almighty God.  This righteousness that is ours by faith in Jesus Christ leads the Apostle Paul to conclude later in Rom. 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

As you may already know, the Apostle Paul quotes the Old Testament quite frequently, which is a topic I enjoy greatly.  When I read Rom. 4:7-8, I saw that Ps. 32:1-2 was quoted:

Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.

I flipped back to Psalm 32 . . .

I had to stop.  I felt led to take a look at Psalm 32 a little closer.  I made a few observations.

King David uses several terms in verses 1 and 2 to describe how amazing it is when one fully understands that he or she is completely forgiven by God: “transgressions are forgiven . . . sins are covered . . . sin the Lord does not count against him.”

This status of being forgiven of ones sins was short-lived by the Old Testament believers in Yahweh, in accordance with the system of blood sacrifices which had to be done repeatedly and did not truly take away their sins.  (See Heb. 10:4).  These sacrifices provided temporary covering of sins.  It fell far short of the full atonement that followers of Jesus would experience when they were born again.  This state of forgiveness was enough to maintain a relationship with Yahweh, but it was incomplete by design, to point to Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice for us on the cross.

David then moves forward in Ps. 32:3-5 to describe a personal experience he had when he was faced with the depths of his own sin in light of God’s forgiveness.  I believe he mentioned this so that no believer, including himself, would ever take God’s grace and mercy for granted.

In verses 3-4, prior to David’s repentance (which brought him great rejoicing in v. 5), he felt guilty about his sin, and rightfully so.  Perhaps this was what he sensed after committing adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband sent to the front lines of battle to be killed.  Whatever his sin was, before he dealt with it through confession, he said that his bones were wasting away.  He groaned all day long.  He felt God’s hand was heavy upon him.  This was not God’s mighty hand of protection that David often spoke of, but God’s Spirit laying conviction on his heart.

When he could take it no more, David acknowledged his sin to the LORD.  He did not cover it up.  He confessed it and received God’s forgiveness.  His guilty conscience was at peace.  This is reminiscent of what the Apostle John taught Christ-followers to do in 1 John 1:9 when we sin.

What stuck out to me in this passage was the contrast between what God does and what man does.  In verse 1, David mentions that God covered his sins.  This is what atonement means.  God covered their sins so that He no longer saw them.  Only God has the authority to do that.  But before confessing, David tried in many ways to cover his own sin.  He had no authority to do that.

I jumped over to Psalm 103 . . .

Meditating on Psalm 32:1-5 helped me to better understand what the Apostle Paul was arguing in Romans 4 about the righteousness that is freely given to all who have faith in Jesus Christ.  I went back to Romans 4.  Before I continued, I noticed that I had written another passage in the margin next to verses 7-8.  It was a parallel passage about the blessedness of God’s forgiveness.

Psalm 103 was also written by King David.  Like the previous one, Ps. 103:11-12 also describes the full extent of God’s forgiveness.  However, David does not focus on his personal experience in this blessed state.  In contrast, he uses a little bit of math and science to get his point across.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

This picture of God’s love for those who fear Him going in a vertical direction farther than the eye can see, combined with the idea of our sins being removed in a horizontal direction as far as you can possibly go on this planet reveals the greatest demonstration of God’s love and forgiveness.

When you put the vertical and horizontal lines together, what do you get?  A cross.  Hallelujah!

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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.

168 Soldiers of Integrity (Part 2)

IMG_2548soldoutarenaweb_1(Note: This is the second of a two part series.  I invite you to read the first article here.)

In part 1, I used the words I had written as a Staff Sergeant in the fall of 1995 to describe how God worked in me and in the hearts, heads, and hands of a faithful team of men and women to bring fifty soldiers from Fort Hood, Texas to the Promise Keepers (PK) Conference in Houston in June 1995.  In the article that follows, I will continue this story where I left off, highlighting how God brought 118 more soldiers to attend the PK Conference in Dallas in October.

Provision

I was looking forward to a little rest between the June Houston PK Conference and the October Dallas PK Conference, but it was short-lived.  After Father’s Day weekend (where I attended the Denver PK Conference), I began to contact some of my fellow Fort Hood Promise Keepers.  I was pleased to learn that shortly after we returned from Houston, Chaplain Hayes (our chaplain that had organized the previous event) had already initiated the process of getting scholarships for Dallas.  She realized that it was probably going to be attended by greater numbers than the Houston Conference, and wisely proposed that $4,000 be approved at the Fund Council Meeting in mid-June.

However, in discussing the proposal, many of the chaplains there (some of which had gone to the previous PK conferences) thought that $4,000 was too small a figure.  In a short time, it was bumped up to $6,500, and approved.  The amount was amazing in itself.  What was even more incredible, though, was the timing.  Had she delayed her request until July’s meeting, we would have lost our chance completely.  Most likely, not even one soldier would have been able to go.

When Chaplain Hayes gave me an update on the plans for Dallas, she mentioned that she had heard that the conference was expected to sell out early.  I decided to call the Texas PK office on my own to see exactly how much time we had.  I remember the day well; it was June 29th, a Thursday afternoon.  The gal who answered the phone said that because the Dallas Conference was the last one of the year, and all the other conferences were sold out, thousands of men were registering daily.  They anticipated that the Dallas conference could possibly sell out by the Fourth of July weekend!  I got off the phone feeling a little bit sick inside.  I got right back on the phone and asked several godly men I knew to fervently pray that somehow we would be able to get a check in the mail in time.

The next morning (Friday, June 30th), I called Chaplain Hayes, and explained the situation.  We both came to the same conclusion.  We did not have the time to get the names of who was going to Dallas, and then send in the money, as we did for Houston.  The only way we could send anyone at all was to go ahead and get a check cut now for the total approved amount.  The $6,500 gave us 118 registrations.  We were both confident that over the next few months we would be able to find the men to go.

[At this point, I will skip over some of the minute details that happened the rest of that day that I painstakingly wrote down at the time. What is important to note is that this particular Friday was the last work day prior to the 4th of July holiday weekend.  Independence Day fell on a Tuesday, and so Monday became a training holiday.  Without a doubt, God pulled together a series of miracles for the Soldiers at Fort Hood so that we could keep our promises to bring them to Dallas.]

Planning

Now, we really had our work cut out for us.  Chaplain Hayes and a few others began the awesome privilege of planning for the upcoming Dallas PK Conference.  What we had in our possession was pure gold.  We could send me to this event, and most churches in the area could not.  We had the wristbands; we just needed to find the wrists to go with them!

Over the next three months of prayer and planning, the Lord honored our desire to have a spirit of unity.  He blessed our team’s efforts.  Our first immediate concern was how we were going to find the right men to go.  Fairness was key; we had to divide the registrations up so that each of the major units on post had a proportional amount, based on their assigned personnel.  We were given a breakdown of how the 45,000 soldiers on Fort Hood were distributed on post, and came up with some general figures.  The largest unit on post would get over 40 wristbands; others would get only one or two.

The team decided to proceed with one big group to begin a movement to demonstrate the power of biblical unity.  We then began to tackle the large logistical concerns for transportation and lodging.  One chaplain found a local church that would hold us all for one night.  Bus requests were approved, thanks to much hard work by another chaplain.  We planned a pre-conference meeting to begin learning the music for the conference and to pray for one another.  Someone ordered baseball caps that said, “Soldiers of Integrity” so that the group could stick together from the buses to the stadium.

Without much publicity, each of the units met their quotas, and all had waiting lists. In addition, about half-dozen men who had also gone to Houston signed up to work as volunteers for the Dallas event.  By the grace of God, there was not one wristband left over!

Praise

What we saw the day we left was unprecedented – four busloads of men from every major unit on post, representing all ranks, races, ethnic backgrounds, and denominations, deploying to Dallas to worship the Lord Jesus Christ and learn to become men of integrity.  We anticipated that Promise Keepers would have an eternal impact on much more than just these one hundred and six-eight soldiers.  There was no telling what the Lord was going to do in the families and the Fort Hood community as a result of the 1995 Houston and Dallas PK Conferences.  (I invite you to listen to this song from these conferences: “Rise up, O Men of God!”)

I hope you enjoyed reading this story of God’s faithfulness from start to finish as He worked in me, with me, and through me (and a whole host of others) at my place of employment to influence men for Christ.  This is another good illustration of Immanuel labor – God’s presence at work.

More importantly, I hope that this account might encourage you to listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit when He whispers that He wants you to get involved in a project that is way too big for you to handle alone.  When God exceeds your wildest expectations, then God will get all the glory.

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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.

168 Soldiers of Integrity (Part 1)

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The following is an excerpt from my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession:

One small but exciting chapter in my life illustrates that God can use us at the right time and place in our workplaces to build His eternal kingdom.  In the spring of 1995 at Fort Hood, Texas, I worked behind the scenes to try to get a small group from my own chapel to attend a Promise Keepers men’s conference.  This simple act later developed into a major effort that involved several army chaplains from other chapels on post.  We were able to bring a total of 168 soldiers from all ranks, races, and backgrounds to the Houston and Dallas Promise Keepers men’s conferences that year.  These events were life-changing for many of these soldiers and their families.  It was a real faith-builder for me.  Only God could have pulled this off.

It has now been a quarter of a century since these events took place.  I would like to provide some more details about how it all came together by the grace of God.  I wrote what you are about to read below in the fall of 1995.  This story still gives me goose bumps.  I do not desire to bring attention to myself.  My purpose is to put the spotlight on God’s faithfulness.  He supernaturally intervened in numerous ways and worked through ordinary people to make it all come together for His glory.

Background

In 1992, I was a Staff Sergeant, stationed as an Army Recruiter in Fort Collins, Colorado.  I attended the Promise Keepers (PK) conference in Boulder with my brother-in-law.  The next spring, I was transferred to Fort Hood, so I was unable to attend the ’93 PK Conference in Boulder.  When the ’94 schedule was announced, there was going to be six regional PK events, and one of them would be in Denton, Texas in June.  Six men from my church, including my pastor, attended with me.

When the Promise Keepers registration brochure came out in late February 1995 announcing thirteen conferences, I was thrilled.  I could not get the Houston and Dallas PK Conferences out of my mind, since Fort Hood was located strategically about halfway in-between.  I felt called by God to be directly involved in getting some men from my chapel to go.  Initially, I envisioned about 20-25 men going to Houston in June and the same number going to Dallas in October.  I spent much time in prayer, more than I had ever prayed before.  I think that this foundation of prayer was key to what began to unfold.

God began to open doors

God began to bring together a number of individuals and organizations that He would use to make this dream a reality.  One of the first things I did was to get in touch with the Texas State PK Office.  They gave me the name of someone who was working with churches in the area.  I called him, and found out that he was planning to come to Killeen (just outside Fort Hood) that Friday.  He wanted to meet me and give me some brochures plus a “bootleg” copy of the PK Conference promotional video.

This was great timing.  Earlier in the week, I had stopped in to see the chaplain who was the senior pastor of the Main Post Chapel.  I told him about the upcoming conferences.  He encouraged me to make an announcement at the monthly men’s breakfast on Saturday.  Although my wife and I had only been attending the chapel for two weeks and I didn’t know anyone yet, I sensed that this was a perfect opportunity to be bold and seize the moment (which was the theme of the ’94 PK Conference).

After getting acquainted over coffee and doughnuts, with fear and trembling, I shared my experiences from the previous PK Conferences I had attended in ’92 and ’94 with the 15-20 men who came to the breakfast.  Right away, I saw the tremendous potential of this group.  I stated that I was willing to help organize a group from the chapel to attend both of the Texas PK Conferences.  The chaplain then put the men on the spot and asked them if they were interested in going to Houston or Dallas.  Almost everyone said that they were willing to go to one or the other.  I was very hopeful that we could get a fairly large group to go to Houston in a few months.

I began to pray consistently and fervently for “the right men, at the right time”.  Within a few days, I sensed that my initial vision for 25 men from Fort Hood was too small.  With a little effort, and a prayerful strategy to publicize the events, I imagined that 50 men was more reasonable a number to pray for.  It was well beyond what I could expect from my chapel alone; I knew I would have to coordinate with the other fourteen chapels on post also.  The more I thought about it, the more I because convicted that I needed to wholeheartedly pursue this as my number one ministry.  I knew I couldn’t do it on my own.  God was going to have to work through a lot of other people as well.

The team develops

Over the next month and a half, I was busy making announcements and showing the video at various places, and trying to get information packets sent to all the chapels.  I was not seeing many results beyond the Main Post Chapel, but help was on the way.  In mid-April, I began to discover the first of many whom the Lord was going to use to bring men to Promise Keepers.

One of the key men that the Lord used was an older gentleman named Paul.  He saw the PK Conference promotional video that I showed at the men’s breakfast in February.  Paul expressed interest in the conference, but had not said much beyond this when I saw him in Sunday School or chapel.  However, this many of few words was a godly man of action.

What I did not know was that Paul was a Colonel, commander of the 2d Armored Division’s Engineer Brigade.  He was so impressed with the PK video that he informed his chaplain about it.  He directed her to get buses, scholarships, publicity, etc., so that as many men as possible from his brigade, the division, and even men from other units post-wide could take advantage of this opportunity!  This good work played a vital role in doubling the number of participants for the Houston PK Conference, and was solely responsible for opening the door for over one hundred men to go to Dallas.

Colonel Dunn’s chaplain got $2,000 approved from the chaplain’s fund for scholarships for Houston.  She got the word out, arranged transportation, found lodging in a local church, and paved the way for many men to go.  A total of 38 scholarships were used from two from the 2d Armored Division Memorial Chapel and the Main Post Chapel and a few other Soldiers from a local church.

Later, we learned of several other small groups of men who went in addition to the big groups from the Main Post and 2nd Armored Division Memorial Chapel.  Altogether, there were fifty men that went to Houston, a direct answer to my prayers.  I do not know all the effects that this conference had on each of my brothers.  I do know that it had a Major impact (as well as a Sergeant impact, Captain impact, Colonel impact . . .) on our families, our chapels, and the units in which we are assigned.

God placed you right where you are for a purpose

This story reminds me of the story of Esther.  She was another ordinary worker whom God used at a critical moment in time to influence those around her.  God had a purpose for her life and work.  “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).

I challenge you to recognize that God in Christ has placed you right where you are are, the right man or woman at the right time to use you to influence your coworkers in small or big ways for eternity.

In part two, I will tell the story of how God brought 118 Soldiers to the Dallas PK Conference.  (I invite you to read it here.)

(I also invite you to read another article I wrote and posted on my blog that describes how God brought me to Fort Hood in His perfect timing, illustrating His sovereignty to bring good out of failure.)

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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.