Is Our Work at Work Enough? (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of an article I posted on July 20th.  It is near and dear to my heart.

It is commonly believed by the majority of Christians that our life is divided into “sacred” and “secular” categories.  Sherman and Hendricks in Your Work Matters to God warn us that this view is unbiblical.  They call it the Two-Story” View of Work.  It is a belief that “the only part of life that ‘really counts’ to God is the part committed to religious activities” (45). They give us some valuable insights into this issue.  This view is based on four assumptions:

  • God is more interested in the soul than in the body (But, God created man as a soul-body unity)
  • The things of eternity are more important than the things of time (But, both are important to God)
  • Life divides into two categories, the sacred and the secular (But, all of life is sacred to God)
  • Because of the nature of their work, ministers and other clergy are more important to God’s program than the laity (But, all who work are necessary)

Let us explore this a little further.

Darrell Cosden, in The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work, paints a very clear picture of the spiritual dilemma where most Christians struggle.  We are faced with the appearance that we who are not doing the work of “eternal things” directly on a full-time basis are second-class Christians.  I have often felt that way.  He states, “It appears that we are called to serve God, and serve him in our ordinary work, but that somehow we also need to accept that, unlike the work of full-time ministers, what we do does not ultimately have eternal or lasting value” (21).  He goes on to explain that what follows is that we are then categorized into a “hierarchy of callings”, where professions are judged based on their “perceived spiritual significance”.  Helping professions are at the top, obviously, and other “selfish” occupations (lawyers, politicians, businessmen) are at the bottom.

So, the question is – Do we need more full-time Christian workers (missionaries, pastors, college professors and such)?  Absolutely, we do!  We fully acknowledge that Jesus did say in Matt. 9:37 that “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”  However, this does not mean that we would expect that all “truly spiritual” Christians will answer the call to full-time ministry.  That would imply that the vast majority of us, who incidentally will be providing their financial support, to be less than spiritual, which is not the case.

We also need to ask ourselves a similar question – Do we need more workers who are full-time Christians?  That is an equally valid question.  It can also be answered with a resounding “Yes.”  If we fully integrate our faith at work, specifically by submitting to our employers, loving our neighbor by meeting his or her needs by what we do every day, working with integrity, and serving in accordance with our gifts and calling, then our work at work will have eternal value.  And, it will be enough.

Sherman and Hendricks make this conclusion regarding what is eternally valuable:

“What ‘really matters’ to God is that the various needs of His creation be met.  One of those needs is the salvation of people, and for that He sent Christ to die and He sends the Church to tell the world about what Christ did.  But in addition to salvation – obviously a need with eternal implications – mankind has many other needs.  Just because many of them are temporal needs does not diminish their importance to God, nor does it diminish the value of the work done to meet those needs.  In fact, God thinks they are important enough to equip a variety of people with various abilities to meet those needs” (p. 53).

In a classic essay written by Dorothy Sayers in the 1940s entitled, “Why Work?” she recognized that secular vocations are sacred.  She made this profound statement: “The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays.  What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.”  She continues this thought, which I had not seen before, “No crooked table legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare swear, came out of the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth.”

I think what she is implying is that because Jesus did it, it was not only excellent, but was sacred.  In like manner, as Jesus’  disciples, indwelt with His Holy Spirit, what we do in a spirit of excellence for His glory at work is also sacred.

I invite you to check out this YouTube clip of this same message that I presented to a small group of college students in the spring of 2015.

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Confession on the Fall

Here is the fourth of eight confessions I wrote for the three Systematic Theology classes I took while earning my Master’s degree.  This one, written in December 2013, goes hand in hand with the one I posted two weeks ago on Humanity.  What I appreciated about this seminary program was the exposure to the historic confessions of the faith to help us wrestle with these essential doctrines.  This statement still resonates with me today.

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I  believe that sin is a failure to obey, submit to, or conform to God’s requirements. It can either be an outward act or internal motive.  It is a violation of God’s holiness, is totally contrary to His original perfect design and divine purposes for us in the world.  It is always rebellion against God’s rule, even if it just appears to only hurt self or others.  It is putting someone or something in place of God.

I believe that Adam’s sin against God in the Garden of Eden began an unbreakable pattern of sin and guilt that has been passed on to every human being since then, except for Jesus. God gave Adam free will, the serpent tempted, but Adam made the fateful choice to reject God’s authority and disobey.  This one act of disobedience resulted in death and eternal condemnation for all human beings.

I believe Adam’s sin forever distorted God’s image in us. We no longer reflect His holiness, but have become slaves to sin.  Our relationships with others are characterized by competition, selfishness, blame, distrust, deceit, ingratitude, disharmony, criticism, and hatred.  We cannot fully accomplish our divine purposes to fill the world and subdue it; there are unnecessary difficulties in our work and extra pain in childbirth.  All the abilities God gave to enable us to serve Him are now impaired, weakened, and infused with evil in every way.  Our tendency now is to think, say, decide, feel, imagine, create, and do things that are the complete opposite of and contrary to God’s ways.  Male and female rebel against the roles that God designed to be complementary, which bring conflicts to future generations . The creation itself is subject to chaos because we are not able to faithfully subdue and care for it.  We can no longer adequately rule on His behalf and under His authority, since we rebelled against it.

I believe that Adam’s sin has infected the human race with a disease that only Jesus Christ can cure. This total corruption of our nature begins at conception and manifests itself from birth.  We have become creatures who can no longer understand, submit to, or do God’s will; we do not even want to.  As a result, we are broken, but we look everywhere else but to God in order to get fixed.  We feel guilty before God because it separates us . We hide from God, knowing that our sin angers and grieves Him.  It keeps us from fulfilling our divine purposes with one another and with creation.  Because we failed to fulfill our role as stewards of God’s creation, Satan now has free reign to rule the world.

I believe that all aspects of life are drastically impacted by sin; the world is now out of control. Humans steal from and kill one another; even babies in the womb are not safe.  We distance ourselves from those who are a different color, disabled, uneducated, or less fortunate.  We value things that are evil and worthless, and disrespect those things that are good and pure.  We abuse ourselves, our loved ones, strangers, and the environment.  Mental illness, gang violence, drug addiction, war, injustice, crime, unemployment, poverty, political corruption, babies having babies, divorce, racism, suicide, famine, and such as these are evidence of how far we have strayed from our original design.

Scripture listing:

Gen. 2:16-17, 3:1ff, 6:5, 11-12, 8:21; Ex. 20:3; Josh. 23:16; 1 Kin. 8:46; Ps. 5:4, 14:1, 3, 51:4-5, 53:1-3, 130:3, 143:2; Prov. 20:9; Eccl. 7:20, 29; Isa. 53:6, 59:2-8; Eze. 18:20; John 8:34; Rom. 1:18-32, 3:9-18, 23, 5:12-19, 8:7-8, 20-22; 1 Cor. 2:14; Gal. 3:22, 5:19-21; Eph. 2:1-3; James 1:13-15; 1 Jn. 3:4.

Confessional sources:

Hendrickson Topical Bible (pp. 367-446); The Second Synod/Council of Orange, 529 (Canons 1 and 2); Our World Belongs to God: A Contemporary Affirmation, 1986 (Sections 13-17); The Westminster Confession, 1646 (Chapter VI); The Belgic Confession, 1561 (Articles 14, 15); Spurgeon’s Baptist Catechism (Questions 12-18); The New Hampshire Confession (Section 3); The Second Helvetic Confession, 1566 (Chapter VIII, IX).

Is Our Work at Work Enough? (Part 1)

Picture1I was thinking a couple of weeks ago while mowing the lawn how some of the basic concepts of a biblical theology of work are so contrary to what many Christians really believe.  I have observed that most Christians would say that our jobs are mainly a platform for evangelism.  (Not that most believers are consistently sharing their faith at work, but they believe they should be.)

It certainly sounds a whole lot more spiritual, doesn’t it?  The concept that God uses His children in our “secular” occupations to expand His kingdom’s reign on earth and that we are His co-workers to meet the needs of humans through what we do our job sounds like something we should probably take more seriously, but it seems to miss the mark.  After all, isn’t our main calling to be evangelists, to fulfill the Great Commission found in Matt. 28:18-20?

Doug Sherman and William Hendricks, in Your Work Matters to God, call this the “Strategic Soapbox View”.  I have to confront what they label as a sub-biblical view.  I fear that many Christians will continue to feel guilty for just doing their jobs and not fulfilling their real calling.  Let me try to biblically and logically dismantle this incomplete yet popular view.  I want to highlight what Christians misunderstand about evangelism in general, and at work in particular.

Sherman and Hendricks indicate the following:

  • The Great Commission is broader than evangelism; it is about making disciples
  • Life is broader than evangelism; God cares about our physical, mental, and social needs, not just the spiritual
  • Work is more than just a platform; it is much broader than that

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that we are not supposed to evangelize our co-workers. The workplace may be the only place where they can see Jesus and hear the good news about Him. I think all Christians understand the importance of the Great Commission. We are all Jesus’ witnesses; the church exists to make disciples of all nations. What we are saying is that this mandate is not the only reason God calls us to work in a secular job.

Sherman and Hendricks broaden our understanding of the purposes of work: “Man is much more than a soul in need of salvation. He is that. But he is also a body in need of food, clothing, shelter, and health; a mind in need of education, discovery, and creativity; a psyche in need of love, worth, esteem, and affection; and so forth. God desires to see that all of mankind’s needs are met, and He provides workers who produce products and services designed to meet those needs.  Furthermore, regardless of whether those needs are temporal or eternal, people themselves are certainly eternal” (p. 72)

Moreover, the Bible clearly spells out that how we work is of primary importance: God expects every employee to serve his employer as if that employer were Christ Himself and He is interested in the quality of our work (Eph. 6:5-8; Col. 3:22 – 4:1).  Developing a good reputation of trustworthiness will make the gospel message attractive (Titus 2:9-10). Michael Wittmer, in Becoming Worldly Saints, states: “A flourishing human life is the best advertisement for the gospel” (14).

Another idea to consider is in regards to spiritual gifts.  Evangelism is one of the many gifts that Paul lists in Eph. 4:11-13 and in 1 Cor. 12:4-11, 28.  In context of the entire chapter, Paul is emphasizing that all members of the body of Christ have value, function, and purpose.  Each one needs to use their gifts, not look down on others who do not have those gifts, and to appreciate the contributions of all.  Thus, I can conclude, against popular opinion and teaching, that not all are evangelists.  Those that do not have that gift need not feel guilty if they do not have the passionate desire to share the gospel with everyone they see all of the time, just like those with the gift of evangelism do not have the same drive and motivation as others in the Body of Christ to be administrators, serve, have mercy, teach, etc.

I also think that most Christians still hold to the “sacred-secular divide”, and feel deep down that the good work we do in our secular occupations in itself is not nearly enough for the Kingdom of God, even if done for His glory and in His strength.  Next time, I will pick apart this common but sub-biblical view, which elevates “full-time” Christian service and consequently diminishes all other occupations where most Christians are called to serve.

Here is a video clip of this message.

Confession on Humanity

Here is the third of eight confessions I had to write for my three Systematic Theology classes I took while earning my Master’s degree with Cornerstone University/Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.  I hope it will encourage believers to reflect on this essential doctrine of the orthodox Christian faith.

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I  believe God created the world from nothing and designed it to meet humanity’s every need. He provided food and water to sustain life; He made light and darkness for work and rest.  God said that His creation was very good; however, it was incomplete.  By design, it required humans to work together to subdue, rule, multiply, and fill it in order for it to reach its fullest potential.

I believe humans were created out of the dust of the ground and made in God’s image. They were given innate qualities to reflect God’s holiness, designed to be in covenant relationship with Him and live in harmony with other humans.  They were created male and female to complement one another and bring to life future generations.  God gave them abilities to think, speak, feel, imagine, create, procreate, and work with their hands in order to accomplish His divine purposes: to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it.  Humans had great potential, yet needed to mature.  They were made to be good, but also had the capacity to freely choose to disobey God.

I believe that humans were made a little lower than the angels, were biologically similar to other living creatures on earth, but far superior to all of them. Humans were given all of the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical attributes needed to faithfully subdue, rule, and fill the earth God made.  They were put in authority to do this well, on His behalf, and under His authority.

I believe that the relationship between humans and God established at creation was characterized by freedom, dependence, trust, worship, obedience, fellowship, rest, and love. Adam and Eve’s relationship was comprised of gratitude, openness, harmony, cooperation, acceptance, and love.

I believe that humans had several mandatory activities they were called to do. They were to procreate and populate the world with humans who would seek and submit to God and cooperate with one another.  They were to subdue the wild earth, bring order out of chaos in their sphere of influence, and fill up that which was empty, as God Himself had done.  They were to take care of the other living creatures.  They were to work, worship, and rest.  They were to do it willingly; using the capable minds, emotions, wills, and bodies that God gave them, all for His glory.

I believe the ultimate goal of man’s caring for and filling up creation is the glory of God. In this pursuit, humanity finds their own fulfillment, joy, peace, meaning, harmony with one another, and fellowship with God as they fulfill His purposes. As man faithfully subdues and cares for the earth the creation itself increases in beauty; it flourishes, is under control, becomes orderly, and fulfills its own purpose to continuously sustain human life.  This also brings God more glory.

I believe these truths are important for the church to understand because in order to fully comprehend and appreciate our lostness in sin, our need for salvation, and the blessings of redemption through Jesus Christ, they need to know what God had given humans before the Fall. It is also vitally important to understand the inherent value in all humankind, no matter what race, nationality, gender, age, economic status, or disability – all are made in the image of God.

Scripture listing: Gen. 1:26-31, 2:7-25, 5:1-2, 9:6; Dt. 4:32; Neh. 9:6; Ps. 8:3-8; Ps. 104:14-15; 139:13-16; Prov. 22:2; Eccl. 7:29; Isa. 43:7, 45:18, 64:8; Mt. 19:4; Acts 17:24-28; Col. 1:15-17.

Confessional sources: Hendrickson Topical Bible (pp. 184-187, 303-321); Our World Belongs to God: A Contemporary Affirmation, 1986 (Sections 7-12); The Westminster Confession (1646) (Chapter IV); The Belgic Confession (Article 14); Spurgeon’s Baptist Catechism (Questions 10, 12); Baptist Faith and Message, 1963 (Article 4).

What Righteousness Looks Like at Work

Righteousness

This is another portion of a presentation I have given to several small groups.  This concept was eye-opening to me.  I wrestled in my heart and my mind as I tried to evaluate how my own life lines up with how Scripture describes what a righteous life really looks like.  I came up a bit short, which humbled me.  I am still growing.

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Amy Sherman, in Kingdom Calling, sees righteousness as three dimensions: Upward, Inward, and Outward.  She explains, “By up I mean that ‘vertical’ dimension of righteousness that involves our reverent worship of and humble dependence on God.  By in I mean the state of our hearts: the internal characteristics of righteousness captured by the phrase ‘purity in heart’ and expressed through personal righteousness (what the wisdom literature calls ‘clean hands’).  By out I mean the social dimensions of righteousness, that part of righteousness involving our inter-actions with our neighbors near and far” (pp. 46, 47).

I discovered that Job illustrates these qualities well.  He is described as being “blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8).  Later, we get this more detailed portrait of this godly man:  “. . . I rescued the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to assist them.  The one who was dying blessed me; I made the widow’s heart sing.  I put on righteousness as my clothing; justice was my robe and my turban.  I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame.  I was a father to the needy; I took up the case of the stranger.  I broke the fangs of the wicked and snatched the victims from their teeth.”  (Job 29:12-17).

It is interesting to note that many of us who call ourselves evangelical Christians seem to be mostly concerned with the “In” and ”Up” aspects of righteousness.  We have failed to focus on and take part in activities that reach “Out” to those in need in practical ways.  I am reminded of what Isa. 1:16-17 says about not only stopping the doing of wrong but learning to do right: seeking justice, encouraging the oppressed, defending the cause of the fatherless, and pleading the case of the widow.

I read in Ezek. 34:16 that God the Father is a Shepherd of His people, who would search for the lost, bring back the strays, bind up the injured, and strengthen the weak. I recall the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), which illustrates well what it means to actually love our neighbor: the sacrificial meeting of someone’s immediate needs, risking our own reputation, safety, time, talent, and treasure.  Jesus Himself was always looking for the last, the least, and the lost.  I think about James 1:27, which states that the kind of religion that God accepts as pure is looking after orphans and widows in their distress, as well as keeping ourselves unstained by the world.  There are a lot more verses that say the same thing.

I know I have a lot of growing to do in this area.  These are things we can do at work.  We can show concern for the needs of people and we can fight the sinful systems in our workplace that allow gender discrimination and racism, for example.   These are things we can also do through our church and in our communities, using the vocational skills God has given us to be a blessing to others.

Considering New Directions

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If things had turned out differently, I could have started a new job today.

My wife and I have said often, “You never know what a day will bring.  The last week of March brought some radical thoughts in my head, coming from several circumstances simultaneously.  After saying over and over again at work that there was an imaginary sign above my desk that said “I’m going nowhere”, I found myself, for the first time ever since I retired from the Army nearly ten years ago, thinking seriously about moving somewhere sooner than later.  Over the course of two days, I was knee-deep in the process of actually applying for a new job!

Why was I considering this major life change at this particular moment in time?  Here are seven reasons:

  1. Since I completed my M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in May 2015, many people have asked me, “What do you plan to do next?” It was a logical assumption that someone who graduates from seminary might be interested in pursuing ministry opportunities.  I honestly wasn’t thinking along those lines.  I just wanted to fulfill a dream that I had 30 years ago, and I wanted to be a better Sunday School teacher.  However, I have to admit that I did briefly consider some options, but had decided to let it go at this late stage in my life.
  2. Over the past few months, I had an increased desire to pursue opportunities to get more involved in teaching on the theology of work.  I did get to give my two-hour PowerPoint presentation entitled “Immanuel Labor” to another adult Sunday School class last fall, but did not receive any other invitations, which was fine.  As a New Year’s resolution this year, I decided to be more disciplined about writing.  I have shared the content of some of the slides from my presentation and have written a few original posts on the subject of work.  I also created a Facebook group page under the same title, and have posted over 70 articles, videos, book reviews, plus links to the blog posts I just mentioned.  However, I have been somewhat disappointed in the response, or lack thereof, from readers.  I do not crave affirmation, but I do like confirmation that my work has not been in vain.  (If I am not ministering to people with my writing, why am I doing it?)  And thus, I have been experiencing a “holy restlessness” and a desire for God to somehow expand my audience.
  3. The week prior, I was thinking very specifically about the LeTourneau Center for Faith and Work.  I have been following them on Facebook, was planning to attend a conference they are sponsoring on faith and work in Dallas this October, and have been corresponding with them off and on since November about them sharing some of my blog posts on their website.  (They finally did post one of them in late April.)  I was not even sure where LeTourneau University was, but for some reason, I thought it was in Kansas.  I imagined it wouldn’t be too difficult to swing by on the way to Colorado this summer, and that it would be fun to plan a visit.
  4. In mentioning this to my wife, she immediately went to the internet to find out more about the school; I did the same on my phone.  And then, I stumbled on a link on their website for staff and faculty job openings.  I discovered a job, tailor-made to order for me, as Director of Outreach for Passage (their theology institute for high school students) and Teaching Fellow in the School of Theology and Vocation.  Holy cow!  As I read the position description, it appeared to be a great fit for me.  I could not let it go, and spent the next few hours (way past my bedtime) filling out the application and putting together a resume and cover letter.
  5. On the same day, things at work were more than a little crazy.  I cannot go into any of the details without violating security procedures, but it became clear to me that my future in the job I currently have held for the last eight years could be in jeopardy.  I was not going to get fired or anything like that, and I certainly did not want to leave my job at that point.  However, there were extremely unusual things going on at work that were completely out of my control.  I do know that if the Lord was going to close this door, He would have to open up another one.  I needed to be willing to move when it is time to go.
  6. Also, that same morning, I hastily read my wife’s response to a Facebook post that one of our friends shared, and it got me to thinking about something she had not meant to say.  It was about saying goodbye to dreams.   It made me reflect on the fact that she has followed me since 1982 as I pursued my dreams; I wondered what her dreams were.  I do know that she eventually wants to move closer to our kids.  I would be perfectly content to stay here until I quit working in 10-12 years, or beyond that, and never move again.  I don’t think she ants to stay here that long.  Consequently, I felt the need to be open to other jobs outside of Ft. Leonard Wood.
  7. Finally, two weeks prior, I hit a major milestone – 30 years with the Army.  It occurred to me that perhaps I had done enough for Uncle Sam.  I pursued education and ministry the first ten years of my adult life; maybe it was time to go back to education and ministry for the last ten years of my working life.

And so, with all of this rattling around in my brain over a few days, I began to actively take steps to apply for this job, which would start in about 90 days, on 1 July.  Not ideal, but doable.

There was no major decisions to make right away, only whether or not I should fax my paperwork on Monday.  I decided to, and then would just see what happened.  The next day, they asked for my transcripts.  I sent them.

Here’s how it played out.  I prayed.  I waited.  I prayed some more.  I planned a detailed exit strategy, by faith.  I knew that I had to make a decision by a certain date.  That day came and went.  I never got an interview.  Then I got the email thanking me for applying.

As I have analyzed this small adventure, I am glad it turned out this way.  Had I got an interview and an offer, I would have had a hard decision to make.  I anticipate that they never could have offered a compensation package close to what I am making now.  It is also clear that I am still very much “added value” to my organization.  I am also certain that it is not the Lord’s timing to leave now.  God is faithful!  We will continue to trust and obey.