Work is Transformational

Here is another aspect of work that came out of a seminar I put together in the spring of 2015.  I hope that these biblical principles will encourage others as much as they have me.

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Transformed through trials

Because of the fall, work is harder than it is supposed to be. But as we learn to respond biblically during these trials, God uses them to transform us so we can better serve Him.  Trials build our faith (Rom. 5:3-5); they provide an opportunity to trust God, apply His word, and walk in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Here are a few quotes from Nelson’s book Work Matters (104, 114-116):

  • “Martin Luther understood vocation to be the primary pathway God uses to transform our lives.”
  • “Detours, difficulties, and delays are some of the most transformative times in our journey of faith.”
  • “Your work is not an obstacle to your spiritual growth, it is where you can have a significant influence.”

Nelson agrees with Luther: “The greatest opportunity our vocation affords us is not the reward it brings or the important contribution we can make to the common good, as significant as these are, but rather the glorious conduit it becomes in conforming us to greater Christlikeness” (182).

Transformed through failures

Sometimes, our work takes us to places we don’t wish to go. Veith, in God at Work, provides good advice, “Failures in vocation happen all the time. Wise statesmen find themselves voted out of office. Noble generals lose the war. Workers lose their jobs, maybe because they are not good at what they do, despite what they thought” (146).

This reminds me of when I was let go from a church youth ministry position over 30 years ago, in July 1985. I felt like Joseph in Gen. 50:20: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”  Those who tossed me into the pit of unemployment may have meant to harm me, but God had another purpose. This detour set in motion an unexpected vocational journey that I discussed earlier.  In seeking counsel from my new pastor, he shared this gem, “When your dream dies, find a new dream.”

For a more detailed account of this key chapter in our family’s life, check out this short clip from when I gave this presentation to a small group of college students last year: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AokPXISq3UQ.

You know the rest of the story. God met all of our needs, He built my faith greatly as a result of this trial, and redirected my life’s work. Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing. My failures did not stop here. I experienced quite a few in the Army, but I always grew in humility as a result.

So, what does this transformation look like?  That will be a discussion for next time.

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Confession on the Doctrine of God

This is the second of eight confessions I had to write as a student in the three systematic theology classes I took with Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.  This was a challenge.  We had to hit the highlights of what we believed in 500 words or less, and it had to fit on one page.

I already posted one on Revelation and Scripture.  Every few weeks I will post confessions summarizing what I believe regarding the following essential topics: humanity, the fall, Christ, salvation, the church, and last things.  Oddly, we had to write one on angels, which I probably won’t post, and we did not have to do one on the Holy Spirit.  I may have to write one down the road.  My desire is to build up fellow Christians in their understanding of basic doctrines of the faith and to encourage believers to wrestle with these themselves.

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I believe that God is triune.  The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one essence and yet three distinct, simultaneously functioning persons (the Father gave the Son, who sent the Holy Spirit).  They are equal in position, and there is complete unity amongst them in perfect fellowship.  Each is of the same divine essence, has existed from eternity, and possesses all of the divine perfect attributes.  (Gen. 1:26; Dt. 6:4; Mt. 3:16-17, 28:19; Jn. 1:1-3, 10:30, 14:16, 26; 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:2.)

I believe that God is eternal.  He has no beginning and will never cease to exist; he always is.  He interacts with us within time, moment by moment.  He is constantly aware of what is occurring now.  (Gen. 1:1; Ex. 3:14; Job 36:26; Ps. 90:2, 93:2; Rev. 4:8-9, 22:13.)

I believe that God is immutable.  He can never change his essence, his perfections, his will, and his purposes, as he is already perfect.  (Ps. 33:1, 103:17; Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8; James 1:17.)

I believe that God is omniscient.  He knows all that can be known, including people’s thoughts and future events that will (or may) take place.  (Ps. 33:13-15, 139:1-4; Jer. 1:5; Mt. 10:30; Heb. 4:13.)

I believe that God is omnipotent.  He alone possesses unlimited power to do what his moral nature allows him to do.  (Job 42:2; Ps. 89:13; Jer. 32:17; Luke 1:37; Rom. 1:20; Heb. 1:3; Rev. 1:8.)

I believe that God is sovereign.  He completely rules the universe; he is in control of every detail.  What he decides to do, he does.  Man’s decisions or actions do not interfere with God’s plan; he works out all things in accordance with his will.  (Ps. 115:3; Prov. 21:1; Isa. 46: 9-11; Mt. 28:18.)

I believe that God is omnipresent.  His whole being is able to be everywhere.  He is not limited by space.  God’s presence, comfort, and joy are with those who have faith in Jesus Christ, no matter where they are.  (Ex. 33:14; 1 Ki. 8:27; Ps. 16:11, 139:7-10; Jer. 23:23-24; Mt. 1:22-23; Jn. 14:23.)

I believe that God is holy, righteous, and just.  He is set apart above all others; he is the absolute standard of moral purity.  He cannot be in the presence of sin; he will impartially judge all those who are unrighteous in his sight.  (1 Sam. 2:2; Ps. 119:137, 145:17; Isa. 6:3; Rom. 2:5-11, 3:25-26.)

I believe that God allows evil in the world.  Evil, pain, suffering, death, disease, and natural disasters are a mystery.  Much of it is due to people freely choosing to sin, resulting in a world that is fallen.  God will ultimately overcome evil; he works all things out for his glory in spite of it and because of it.  (Gen. 3:2-3, 17-19; Gen. 50:20; Acts 2:23-24; Rom. 8:18-22, 28; 2 Cor. 4:16-18.)

I believe that God loves.  He is full of infinite compassion, goodness, and patience for his people.  He provides for our needs.  He proved his love by sacrificing his Son, Jesus Christ, to pay for our sins.  (Ex. 34:6; Dt. 10:15; Ps. 145:9; Isa. 43:4; Jer. 31:3; Jn. 3:16; Rom. 5:8, 8:35, 38-39; 1 Jn. 4:8.)

I believe that God is merciful and gracious.  In his abundant mercy, he withholds his wrath; in his amazing grace, he gives much more than we deserve.  (Ps. 86:15-16, 145:8; Jer. 3:12; Eph. 2:4, 8.)

I believe that God is faithful and true.  He is completely worthy of our trust.  His Word is truth; he always keeps the promises he made to his covenant people.  (Ps. 119:160; Lam. 3:23; Heb. 10:23.)

Reflections on Blueberry Picking

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I had a great time picking blueberries Saturday morning at a U-pick farm south of town that opens for a few weeks in June.  It was opening day.  My wife wasn’t feeling well, so I went by myself.  It wasn’t too crowded, and in one hour I picked 3.2 pounds of lovely blueberries for $8.00, so it was well worth the time and effort.

My plan was to mindlessly gather berries into my bucket, but it was far more valuable than that.  During the time I had to myself, I reflected on the many blessings of being a co-worker with God, as I worked in His presence to harvest what others had cultivated from what He had created.

Picking blueberries has become an annual tradition for my wife and I over the past four or five years.  A few years ago we had all of our kids here for the weekend.  It might have been Father’s Day or the 4th of July, so we took them to the farm to pick with us.  It was so much fun.  Now we have a grandson who is a little over a year old.  I am eagerly looking forward to picking with him in the next year or two.

As vivid images of him running around “helping” us came to my mind, I began to dream about how I would patiently teach my grandson some techniques to pick efficiently.  Perhaps I would add some spiritual and grandfatherly wisdom about work in general that I have learned.

I would teach him to be gentle and precise.  You can’t just grab a handful of berries.  You have to be focused, using discernment and diligence to carefully pick only the ripe waxy silver-blue or purple ones and leave the green and red ones alone for next time.  You have to be self-controlled, forgiving, and full of grace towards yourself  when you make a mistake or fail by picking a green one, dropping a good one, or missing the bucket.  Sometimes you can recover from your mistakes by finding the ones you drop.  What I would tell him is to leave them on the ground for the bugs and the birds.  Later on in life, when you have a job, you will make many mistakes when you work.  They will come far sooner than expected and will occur far too often.  You just have to learn from them and let them go, being gracious to others who make mistakes and fail as well.

Being on a farm is also a great opportunity to teach him the principles found in Genesis 1:26-28 in the Garden of Eden.  This is called the creation mandate or cultural mandate, where God blesses Adam and Eve, who were made in His image, and tells them to be fruitful and multiply, and to rule over, care for and expand His kingdom.  This teaches us that work is good.  It is a blessing and a gift.  We get the privilege of being co-workers with God.

Work was designed to be challenging.  Some berries will be out of reach.  Some bushes will be barren.  It is certainly harder than it needs to be because of Adam’s sin in Genesis 3.  We will experience frustration and get weary as we work in this world.  In response, we need to continue to trust God to give us the strength to work hard for His glory and to remember that there will be a Day when there will be no more curse (Rev. 22:3).

Another thing I would probably discuss with my little guy is the value and joy of manual labor, or “Immanuel Labor”, as I like to call it.  This original phrase I came up with reminds me that God’s presence is indeed with us in our work.  Working with our hands, whether picking blueberries, tearing up a tile floor, building something, cleaning a bathroom, or helping someone move furniture, is important work.  Work of this nature gives us opportunities to work as a team.  We do our work better as individuals with others working beside us.

I also observed that I occasionally had to step back, take a little break, and evaluate the quality of my work.  Were there any unripe berries, leaves, sticks, or bugs in my bucket?  Did I miss any spots on the bush I was working on?  This is true of any job we have.  At my current job, after responding to an email or making a PowerPoint slide, I have to edit what I have written before I hit the send button or print to avoid embarrassment or miscommunication later.  When we build or fix something, change a diaper, or paint a wall, we have to take a quick look to see if we have missed a spot or if there are any parts leftover.  The quality of our work speaks volumes about our character, and will either point people towards or away from our Lord Jesus Christ.  As Dorothy Sayers, in her classic essay, Why Work?, said regarding a Christian carpenter: “he should make good tables”.

Finally, as I was picking fruit, I could not help but think about what Jesus and Paul said in John 15:1-8 and Galatians 5:22-23.  Jesus taught that He was the vine (divine), that we were the branches, and that His Father was the gardener.  All we had to do was to remain in Him.  Paul elaborates, teaching Jesus’ disciples that the result of that abiding in Christ would yield fruit of many varieties: love, joy, peace, patience, etc.  We must abide not only on Sunday mornings, but must integrate our faith for 40-60 hours a week at our place of work.  There, as we exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, we naturally point people to the Master Gardener.

So, these are some things I would share with my grandson, as a co-worker with him, while we become co-workers with God.  What a joy it is to be able to work!

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Reforming The Workplace

A year ago, as I spent a semester reading over a dozen books to help me develop a biblical theology of work, I was constantly surprised by how much I had never considered.  This was one of those topics.

Based on implications found in 1 Cor. 7:17 and 20, I knew well that work was a place where I could serve others and grow in grace, that God had a purpose for putting me there, where He would provide for the needs of my family,  where He had a unique plan for my life journey, that He would bring me people to serve, that my job would be a platform for me to live out and share the gospel, and that each job I was given would prepare me for the next one.

What I did not know was that work would give me as a Christ-follower an opportunity to influence the environment around me.  Because God through faith in Jesus Christ redeems workers, He uses them to be agents of reformation in the workplace.  Here is what I discovered:

  • Jesus prays that His disciples will be protected from the evil one, and then sends them out into the world (John 17:14-19)
  • We are to seek the peace and prosperity of the place where God has sent us, and pray for our community; if it prospers, we will prosper (Jer. 29:7)
  • Part of our redemptive purpose is to oppose evil and the perversion of God’s good order for human life
  • As God’s representatives on earth, we are to seek to extend God’s sovereignty in every area of life

These concepts come out of several basic ideas I learned along my faith journey: 1) We are saved to serve; 2) We are blessed to be a blessing.  Let me explain further.

Jesus prays for His disciples in John 17:14-19, asking God to protect, teach, and lead His disciples.  He acknowledged that they (and we) are not of this world, but they (and we) are being sent out into the world.  Why?  So that the world can see Jesus.

Jer. 29:7 gives us a similar insight.  Yahweh tells the Israelites who are now exiled in Babylon something unexpected.  He says to seek the peace and prosperity of the city or land where He has sent them, and to pray for their community.  If it prospers, they too will prosper.  Like the Israelites in captivity, God sends each of us to an organization as an employee to be His agents of redemption to shine the light of Christ in dark places and become part of His work to bring “common grace” to all who are made in His image.

Hardy, in The Fabric of This World, says participating in Christ’s redemptive purposes should involve opposing “evil, sin, and the perversion of God’s good order for human life.” Hardy boldly calls us to “unrelenting reform” and states, “While harboring no illusions of establishing a Christian society by our own efforts prior to the complete realization of God’s reign on earth, we must nonetheless labor to heal and restore a broken world where we can, in anticipation of what God will accomplish in the future” (106-107).

Plantinga in his book, Engaging God’s World, adds, “When we open our eyes, we’ll find faithful Christians seeking to extend God’s sovereignty in every country, in every precinct of life, including such tough precincts as advertising, journalism, university education, and the military . . . Christians hope to increase the net amount of shalom in the world” (110, 129).

Although every career field has its own challenges and temptations, each will also have unique opportunities for men and women of God to be and to share the good news, the gospel of Jesus.  Let’s see how this pans out in various careers:

  • In business: You know the Owner of all; serve and love your customers and employees with grace; focus on excellence, product quality, and ethics
  • In the classroom: You know the Teacher and the worth of the individual; education of the mind alone does not change a change a heart, but your unconditional love will reach them
  • In the arts: You know the Creator; you bring the good news with a balance of insights on darkness and hope
  • In medicine: You know the great Physician, and that healing of the mind, body, and soul is found in Christ
  • In engineering: You know the Designer; you can bring creative solutions to sustain life and bring hope to many

You can see the unique perspectives that Christian subject matter experts in each specialized field can bring to their careers.

I like this quote from Amy Sherman’s book, Kingdom Calling, which she got from the Christian Engineering Society: “Engineers fulfill a special place within God’s Creation Mandate.  There are few professions whose purpose is more directly involved in subduing creation for the benefit of mankind than engineering.  The engineering profession is everywhere concerned with making the world a little better for mankind while extracting and making use of its resources to produce great benefits for people everywhere” (98).  Amen!

Nelson, in Work Matters, observes: “As God’s redeemed people, we are called to live ordinary lives in ordinary places as bold and credible witnesses of the transforming power of the gospel” (193).

I trust these concepts will encourage you to get a vision of how God can use you in your secular professions, which, as I have been trying to emphasize, are indeed sacred, if your work is done for God’s glory.  God’s presence in our work will make a difference in the people and the institutions where He sends us.

(I broke this portion of my presentation into two short videos.  Here are the links: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AP0ndt2cPs4; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VU8O_8kNkSI.)