The 2016 Faith@Work Summit (Part 2)

A couple of weeks ago, I posted my initial impressions from attending the 2016 Faith@Work Summit in Dallas at the end of October.  Here’s the link.

Since it has been a full month since it ended, I want to share a bit from the notes I took from what various speakers shared over a Thursday evening, Friday, and a half-day on Saturday.

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The first of six general sessions focused on the idea of taking the faith at work movement “broader, deeper, and stronger”.  The first speaker addressed the “sacred-secular” divide, exhorting us to an integrated worldview where our faith is a natural part of everyday life.

Even though I thought I understood this concept for a long time, I still struggle with it.  I found myself inexplicably introducing myself as “just a layman” on Friday when I met the executive director of the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Hugh Whelchel, whose book I had just finished days before the conference.  Deep down inside, I must have felt that I could contribute more to the kingdom of God if I were able to minister full-time, even though I know that I am far more effective right where have been serving for the past 30 years.

The next speaker gave some specifics to the challenge to move deeper and broader. He said that we need to expound more on how we can apply our faith in particular jobs/fields, such as legal, agricultural, culinary, etc.  (Note to self: Good idea for future blog articles.)  With respect to the broader aspect, he said simply that the current leaders of this movement are “too pale; too male”, meaning that we need to include more people of color and women in our collaboration.  He added that we needed to address those who have bad work or no work.  I can add to that those who are underemployed as well.  He mentioned ministering to the whole life-span of work: from the young finding work, to the middle-aged struggling with their work, and those who are done with their careers.

They kept us busy Friday morning and afternoon with back-to-back large group meetings.  These were  packed with several well-chosen speakers who passionately shared biblical insights and moving personal  experiences of how they integrated their faith at work. We were mentally and emotionally worn out by dinnertime.  I will hit some highlights here.

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One of our favorite speakers was a millennial who spoke about millenials. I like how he described his generation: “They don’t just want go to church; they want to be the church.” Another speaker who moved me was The Honorable Edmund C. Moy, former director of the U.S. Mint.  He gave several examples of public servants like himself from the pages of the Old Testament: Daniel, Joseph, and Esther.  These individuals were placed in a “divinely-ordained vocation” for God’s purposes, as His representatives in high places.  He asked us to imagine the impact if the church supported those who are called to public service as much as they support those who are called to other full-time ministry careers.

During each of the general sessions except the first one, they took a few minutes to highlight and honor some of the pioneers of the faith at work movement, such as social activist and Bible teacher John Perkins and author Dorothy Sayers.  On Saturday morning, they honored Dick Halverson, who served as a United States Senate Chaplain from 1981-1994.  Among other things, he was well-known for a benediction he often gave, which was meaningful to me: “Wherever you go, God is sending you, wherever you are, God has put you there; He has a purpose in your being there.  Christ who indwells you has something He wants to do through you where you are.  Believe this and go in His grace and love and power.”  These are powerful words of encouragement!

The devotional leader on the last day of the conference was especially gifted.  He reminded us that work was part of our original design as we were made in the image of God; work allows us to imitate God, our Creator; work provides a daily context to live out the greatest commandment; work gives us s greater space of influence.  He mentioned the topic of racial reconciliation, which caused me to reflect on what God has enabled me to do at work in this regard.  It motivated me to keep on doing whatever I can do to bring the peace of Christ and ensure harmony among my many co-workers who are men and women of color.

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I have to say something about John Perkins, who was our final speaker.  What a privilege it was to learn from him in his latter days.  He spoke firmly about the topic of race, which God had already hit me with earlier.  He said that reconciliation was not a side issue, but it is the heart of the gospel.  He brilliantly stated that leadership is being able to see the pain of others (that God also sees), enter in, and turn it into passion for redemptive change.

We closed the conference Saturday morning by singing an old hymn by Charles Wesley, “Forth in Thy Name I Go”.  I had never heard this one before, but it was a fitting way to end the conference.  When we sang the first two verses I got pretty choked up.  Note the connection between the work God has wisely called me to and His presence in verse 2:

Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go, my daily labour to pursue;
Thee, only thee, resolved to know, in all I think or speak or do.

The task thy wisdom hath assigned, O let me cheerfully fulfill;
In all my works thy presence find, and prove thy good and perfect will.

Here is a link to a video (with lyrics) of this great hymn that beautifully and biblically ties together faith and work.

It is obvious this event was a great opportunity for me.  I was able to connect briefly with a few leaders in this faith at work movement.  More importantly, I was able to hear, see, and know that this central theological topic of integrating our faith at work is more about “whole life discipleship” which was emphasized in many ways throughout the conference.  This is a cause that I can continue to participate in.

So, where do I go from here?  What am I going to do with all of this inspiration?  That is something I have already given some thought to but I have not shared yet.  I will sit on it a bit as we move through this Christmas season, and plan to boldly publish my thoughts after the new year.

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The 2016 Faith@Work Summit

I looked forward to this major event for about eight months, and now it’s over.

Two weeks ago, Linda and I were among 400 people who attended the Faith@Work Summit in Dallas, TX, sponsored by the LeTourneau Center for Faith and Work.

In many ways, it was a typical conference.  We’ve probably all been to at least one.  I have attended a variety of conferences and retreats, both large and small: Campus Crusade, youth ministry, Army recruiter, Promise Keepers, European Protestant Men of the Chapel, and Worldwide Chemical Conferences.  They are usually mountaintop experiences.  They make you feel glad to be part of their organization, provide opportunities to connect with others, help you to understand the big picture of why they do what they do and your special role in it.  When it ends, you leave with a deeper commitment to invest more of yourself in their cause.  This Faith@Work Summit was all of the above.

I had extremely high expectations for this conference.  I looked forward to meeting many others from different backgrounds who are as passionate about this doctrine of work as I am.  I had hoped for some good teaching to confirm what I believe and expand my knowledge even further.  I had hoped to network with some so that I could collaborate with them in future endeavors.  More importantly, I wanted to see what God had in store for me.  I needed a sense of direction to know where I should be focusing my own efforts in this movement.

I was able to connect with some people.  I had noticed that several authors of some of my favorite books I had read on the subject were either attending or speaking at the event.  Dr. Darrell Cosden, who wrote The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work, was going to be there, as was Tom Nelson, who wrote Work Matters.  I had also hoped to get the chance to see Bill Hendricks, who wrote the book that changed my life in 1989, Your Work Matters to God.  God used this book to help me understand that being a Soldier was a valid career option for me, that my work had value in what God was doing in the world, and that I was not a second-class citizen because I was not in “full-time ministry”.  I have taught these biblical principles of work from this book for over 25 years.  I was able to meet each of these godly men and they each graciously signed their books for me.  I also met Hugh Whelchel, who directs the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics.  (I had just finished his book, How Then Should We Work, two days before the conference. However, I had no idea he would be there, so I did not bring it for him to sign.)  Oh, I almost forgot to mention, I also met Dr. John Perkins as I exited the elevator on the way to dinner Friday night.

One of the things I was concerned about before the conference was that I did not know if I would fit in to this group of professionals.  I anticipated being intimidated by the leaders of this movement.  I did not know if I belonged there or if I had anything to contribute to the discussion.  Time and time again, the many people that I had the chance to interact with were humble servants of God.  They seemed genuinely interested in hearing my story and my perspective.  I met many other Christians who are doing exactly what I am doing: living out an integrated faith in the workplace where God has placed me, taking advantage of opportunities to minister with co-workers as they present themselves, and teaching others to do the same.  I left the conference dedicated to continuing these efforts.

This is the first of three reflections on this event.  Next time, I will summarize some of the specific things I heard and learned, which reinforced what I knew about the theology of work and took my understanding to the next level.  Shortly after that, in part three, I will share a bit of my 5-10 year vision on what I hope to be able to and what my ministry role will be.

God’s Double Deliverance

ten_commandments_668_330_80_int_s_c1On the way home from work yesterday afternoon, I reflected on a passage I taught in Sunday School a few weeks ago. I had a blinding flash of the obvious. It makes sense to me now, but I am not sure I had ever articulated it this way before.

Let me give a little background on this passage first, some of which is taken from a paper I wrote a couple of years ago for an independent study I did on the New Testament (NT) use of the Old Testament (OT).

Paul, in 1 Cor. 10:1-13, alludes to and quotes the OT. He deliberately takes his readers back to the Exodus to show that the church identifies in several key points with the Israelites. He says in verses 6 and 11 that the things the Israelites went through during and after God’s miraculous deliverance from Egypt were recorded for the church’s benefit, as examples for us.  It is what Bible scholars call a type. Basically, the way God acted in the past is how He will continue to act in the future.  Among other things, it shows the church that they share a similar spiritual heritage and have the same human nature as those stiff-necked people did.

Paul clearly demonstrates that the Israelites had been identified with Moses, had personally seen and experienced God’s deliverance and provision as they were brought out of bondage in Egypt by God’s mighty hand as they crossed the Red Sea, and were led by His presence through the desert. And yet, despite these many blessings, they still fell into idolatry and God’s judgment.  So too, the church in Corinth, who had been blessed even more through their identification with Jesus, being delivered from bondage to sin through the cross, could also just as easily fall into idolatry and experience eternal consequences.

It is interesting to note that Carson and Moo (An Introduction to the New Testament, p. 417) point out that “the theme of God’s deliverance bookends this section. Paul starts by alluding to God’s physical deliverance of the Israelites in and after the exodus and ends with practical suggestions for the church to deal with temptation by drawing upon the resources of God’s spiritual deliverance in order to stand.”  The God who delivered His people back then is the same God who is faithful to deliver His people now during times of temptation.

However, it is not these two types of deliverances (past and present) that I want to highlight.  I want to explore the idea that God first specifically delivered His people out of Egypt, and then delivered them a second time, in a broader sense, all through their trek through the desert over 40 years on the way to the Promised Land.  I call this a “one-time” deliverance and a “continuous” deliverance.  Scripture clearly backs this up, not only in the 1 Cor. passage, but often throughout the OT.

Certainly, this one-time only major event is something that all of God’s chosen people constantly looked upon as a foundation for their Jewish faith. The central focus of the Exodus as THE sign of God’s faithful and gracious deliverance of the Israelites from bondage is echoed repeatedly in the remainder of the Pentateuch, the Psalms, and the Prophets as well.  In a similar fashion, Christians have always pointed back to the cross as the one-time major event which is foundational to our faith.  The cross, where God the Father, through Christ’s sacrifice, demonstrated His faithfulness and grace to deliver His chosen people from slavery to sin, is the focal point of the entire NT.

I cannot honestly say I have seen any of the NT writers make a direct comparison between the Exodus and the cross, but it has always been so obvious to me.  I cannot be the only one who can see the similarities as I attempted to plainly outline above.

The second sense of God’s continuous deliverance through the desert is not that hard to see.  The Israelites found themselves in need of water, food, and shelter.  They needed His presence and His forgiveness.  They needed protection from their enemies.  And so, God provided, He led, He was with them, He forgave, and He delivered them at every point along the way.  Surely He does the same kinds of things for NT saints along the way to our final destination.

At the end of this passage in 1 Cor. 10:13, which is often quoted out of context, Paul offers some encouragement to a church that was so plagued with various sins, just as the Israelites in their desert wanderings were tempted over four decades. He points to God’s faithfulness as was demonstrated by the Exodus he alluded to so loudly in verse 1.  And without even saying it, he knows that the church he is writing to has experienced a greater exodus through the cross of Jesus Christ.  He states boldly that when they face temptation to sin, just as the Israelites did, God, in that same faithfulness, “will also provide a way out“.

Just as He delivered the Israelites not only once at the Red Sea, but twice, God would do the same for the church.  Not only once at the cross, but twice.  He would continually deliver them, and will continually deliver us at the moment we need rescuing. I think that Jesus taught His disciples about this second deliverance when He taught them to pray: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”.

He has delivered us. He will continue to deliver us still, whenever we call on Him in faith.