God’s Presence with Moses

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(Note: Most of this article is an excerpt from chapter 5 of my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession.  I have added some additional material and support from Scripture.  This article was also posted on the Coram Deo blog.)

What do you picture in your mind when you think about Moses?  For most people, images of Moses holding the Ten Commandments or leading the Israelites out of Egypt would pop up.

What if I told you that there is something very different that goes through my mind?  There is one aspect of Moses’ personal relationship with Yahweh that is very relevant to us today.

Moses illustrates God’s presence at work

Without looking too hard, I could not help but notice a repeated connection in Scripture between God’s presence and our work.  I do not think it’s a coincidence.  I believe work was designed to be that way.  This concept of Immanuel labor is indeed a biblical one.  God’s presence in the midst of our human labors is well-grounded in God’s Word in a vast number of places.  (For more discussion on this foundational concept to my theology of work, I invite you to read two articles I wrote and posted on my blog: here and here.)

In addition to Adam, Jacob, Joseph, David, Gideon, Solomon, and Jeremiah, Moses illustrates well this connection that we often see in the Old Testament.  There are two instances in the life of Moses where we see God’s presence enabling Moses to do the work that He had called him to do: at the burning bush and after the golden calf incident.

The Theology of Work Bible Commentary reminds us that God’s call to Moses came while Moses was at work.”  Furthermore, it alerts us to the fact that this account is comprised of “six elements that form a pattern evident in the lives of other leaders and prophets in the Bible.”

At the burning bush, we see a very unconfident Moses, who doubts that he is up to the task that Yahweh has just given him, to lead the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt.  He asked God, “Who am I that I should go?” (See Ex. 3:10–12.)  But God did not answer his question!  He said, “I will be with you.”  He did not say, “Don’t worry.  You’ll be able to do it.  I believe in you.”  That is what we would have said.

The implication is clear to me. God meant, “My presence is enough for you.  You will be able to perform the great work I have called you to do only because I am with you to do it.”  The application is equally clear.  It does not matter who I am.  What truly matters is that the great I AM is present with me.

I am reminded that Jesus told His disciples in John 15:5, “apart from me you can do nothing”.  Conversely, Jesus implies that when we abide in Him, we will bear fruit as He enables us to do what He has called us to do.  Paul emphasized the same truth in Phil. 4:13, where he stated, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Another man of faith learns about the presence of God

As mentioned earlier, the Theology of Work Bible Commentary indicates that the calling of Moses is similar to the callings of others, including Gideon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.

I shared my thoughts about Gideon in an article I wrote two years ago.  An angel of LORD told Gideon that he was going to be a mighty warrior to fight the Midianites (See Judges 6:12-14.)  He questions God.  He knows he does not have the strength to save Israel, as his clan is the weakest and he is the least one.  How can he be a mighty warrior?  The answer is simple.  “The LORD answered, ‘I will be with you’” (Judges 6:16).  That is all that matters.

Here’s a simple math equation that comes straight out of this passage: Zero plus God equals more than enough.  Through God’s presence, the work would be done through Gideon in spite of his weakness.

Moses as God’s co-deliverer

This basic connection between God’s presence and our work is closely related to the concept of being a coworker with God from chapter 3 in my book.  There, I laid a strong foundation that God is a worker.  By His love, wisdom, and grace, He created us to be His coworkers to continue His work to expand and to care for His creation project.  (See Gen. 1:26-28.)

In Ex. 32:7, after the golden calf incident, we read a thought-provoking verse that links these two concepts together.  “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt.’”  I find what God said somewhat humorous.

Clearly, they were not Moses’s people.  They were God’s people whom He delivered from Egypt.  And yet, because God said it, both perspectives were true.

The Israelites did belong to Yahweh.  They also belonged to Moses.  The Lord did in fact deliver them, but He chose to use Moses to do it.  This indicates that God saw Moses as His coworker.  God’s presence with Moses at the burning bush, on Mount Sinai, and through the desert as He led the people day and night enabled Moses to take responsibility for the mission and play a critical role in their deliverance.

The Psalms often remind God’s chosen people that Yahweh delivered them in the past in order to cause them to trust Him in the present.  This concept of a joint divine-human cooperative effort and ownership of the mission to deliver God’s people out of bondage is confirmed in Ps. 77:20: “You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.”  It was God who led His people out of Egypt.  But He graciously did it using Moses and Aaron as His coworkers.

Having a good understanding of what it means to be a coworker with God as He works through us to meet the needs of our customers, fellow employees, subordinates, and supervisors makes all the difference in how we approach our own jobs every day, no matter what job we have.

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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.

The Hard Work of Being a Good Father

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Thank you for the music, and your stories of the road.  Thank you for the freedom when it came my time to go.  Thank you for the kindness, and the times when you got tough.  And, Papa, I don’t think I’ve said, “I love you” near enough.

These lyrics from Dan Fogelberg from his poignant song, “The Leader of the Band” have always grabbed my heart.  Other than stories of the road, it pretty much describes my dad and me.  When he passed suddenly in October 2001, I could definitely identify with the part about not having said “I love you” to my dad nearly enough.

Since I had previously addressed God’s presence in the work of mothers in my book and had posted excerpts from it in an article on my blog, I thought it was a good time to share some thoughts about the hard work of fathers.  I hope it brings some encouragement to dads.

A little about my own father

Let me share some highlights of a tribute I wrote for my family just after he passed:

I believe that Ed Gehrlein was a successful man.  Not because he was famous or well known (although he did have friends and acquaintances from all over the world).  Not because he was rich or powerful (even though he once was a Vice President of a major airline).  He was a success because he left behind a legacy of his beloved wife, children, and grandchildren who are all blessings to the world because of his lasting contributions to their lives.  Dad taught his four children about life, money, doing your homework, working hard, and being responsible.  He cared about his kids’ interests, and he always looked for ways to help when it was needed, and to give advice (but only when asked for).  He was proud of their accomplishments and he wasn’t afraid to tell them so, say that he loved them, and show his affection.  Ed’s grandchildren were his pride and joy.  He was a great Grandpa, tender-hearted and very generous.  He really liked to have them sit on his lap, and was eager to tell them how much he loved each of them, too.

I wrote something else worth sharing.  In September 2000, I flew home to be with him for a few days before he was having major surgery.  I did not know it would be our last visit.  I made a list of 20 things about him that I was thankful for.  Here are several: he married my mother; he gave up his dream of a college education to take care of his young family (me); he played baseball with me; he took our family to church; he helped me build things; he took us to visit interesting places; he came on a great Boy Scout canoe trip in Minnesota and Canada; he paid for my out of state college tuition; he came to visit my family in most of the places we were stationed, even Germany.

My dad set an example in the forty years I knew him of diligence, dedication, and determination.  He left this world a better place than when he found it.  I am proud to be his son.  I miss him dearly.

What do the Scripture say about the role of fathers?

God gave fathers the responsibility to teach his children about who He is and what He has done.  We read this in Deut. 6:6-9.  In this account of the giving of the Law of Yahweh to the second generation Israelites, Moses instructs fathers to teach their children at every opportunity: when sitting, walking, lying down, and getting up.  That about covers the entire day.

We see it echoed later in Ps. 78:3-6, where multiple generations are affected by the sound teaching of fathers.  We know about God’s mighty works now because fathers taught their children well, who taught theirs, and so on.  This corresponds to the New Testament teaching that fathers must bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  (See Eph. 6:4 and Col 3:21.)

This duty for fathers to teach their children about the ways of the Lord is closely related to the responsibility to discipline their children so that they will know right from wrong and choose the path of wisdom over foolishness.  The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about this, as Solomon was writing this in part to coach his own sons to walk wisely.  Prov. 22:6 is quoted quite often: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”  This verse was never intended to be absolute guarantee that our children will live godly lives every step of the way.  However, it does encourage me that my work in this regard will not be in vain.

Lastly, I want to emphasize that the biblical responsibility of fathers in their role as husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church – sacrificially, humbly, gently, and unselfishly.  (See Eph. 5:25-28.)  A husband who does that will make it easy for the wife to fulfill her role as a godly woman (see Proverbs chapter 31) and will raise children who know what right looks like.

Final thoughts

In Gustav Wingren’s book, Luther on Vocation, Martin Luther taught: “God creates the babes in the mother’s body – man being only an instrument in God’s hand – and then he sustains them with his gifts, brought to the children through the labors of father and mother in their parental office.”  Parents are indeed coworkers with God.  Their work is a divine-human partnership.

I know that this is a difficult holiday for many who have also lost their dads, who do not have good memories of their dads, or who never even had a father figure in their lives.  Remember this: “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling” (Ps. 68:5).

I am grateful that by the grace of God through the blood of Jesus Christ that I can come into a personal relationship with God every minute of every day.  He is a good, good Father!

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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.

A Biblical Perspective on the Value of Law Enforcement

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It is time I spoke up, and offered a biblical and theological perspective to the conversation.

What I intend is to add this career field to a list of ten other fields I have addressed from a biblical perspective to highlight their intrinsic and instrumental value.  I wrote about several of them in previous articles (i.e., teachers, artists, and healthcare workers) and in chapter 14 of my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession.  I hope to show that those who work in law enforcement are truly God’s coworkers.

Let me share what a few theologians have said, plus what God’s Word has to say that I might shed some much-needed light on this critical career field that God has clearly ordained for our good.

Wisdom from theologians

Gene Veith, in God at Work reinforces this point.  He writes, “For Luther, vocation, as with everything else in his theology, is not so much a matter of what we do; rather, it is a matter of what God does in and through us.”  Veith spells out the obvious: “When God blesses us, He almost always does it through other people. . . God protects us through the cop on the beat and the whole panoply of the legal system. . . They all have high callings, used by God to bless and serve His people and his creation.”

Amy Sherman, in Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good addresses the various kinds of work God does in this world now, mostly through human beings.  Sherman states, “In all these various ways, God the Father continues his creative, sustaining, and redeeming work through our human labor.  This gives our work great dignity and purpose.”  One of her six categories is Justice work: God’s maintenance of justice in this world.  This is necessary for human flourishing.

William Placher, editor of Callings: Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation, includes a sermon from Martin Luther, regarding the value of soldiers, which clearly applies to law enforcement workers also.  Luther wrote,

When I think of a soldier fulfilling his office by punishing the wicked, killing the wicked, and creating so much misery, it seems an un-Christian work completely contrary to Christian love.  But when I think of how it protects the good and keeps and preserves wife and child, house and farm, property, and honor and peace, then I see how precious and godly this work is; and I observe that it amputates a leg or a hand, so that the whole body may not perish.  For if the sword were not on guard to preserve peace, everything in the world would be ruined because of lack of peace.

What does Scripture say about law enforcement?

Quotes from theologians with a Christian worldview carry some weight, but not as much as Scripture.  The challenge we have when we try to see what God’s word has to say about contemporary issues is that we may not be able to find the subject addressed directly.  We have to look for implications.

Without going into great detail, we do see several consistent themes and relevant principles about law enforcement clearly articulated throughout the Bible that we can apply to our present day:

To summarize, we know that God gives good laws to protect His people.  Stealing, killing, and lying are things that destroy community.  There are dire consequences for those who make poor choices.  We need men and women whose job it is to enforce laws so that lawlessness does not prevail.

Closing thoughts

Let me circle back to Amy Sherman’s relevant observations about the kind of work that God does in this world today.  I invite you to look at the various workers that God uses to meet the wide range of our physical, mental, educational, social, and spiritual needs through a biblical and theological lens.

When we wake up and prepare our breakfast, God has provided a host of people to bring groceries to the table.  (Read the pallet story story in my blog.)  When we go to work or school, God provided people who built cars for us and roads to drive on.  If we have a car accident, God provides insurance agents and adjusters who He will use to provide funds to get the car fixed, plus mechanics to do the job right.

Along this same line of thinking, if someone were to threaten to harm our family, or has committed a crime against us, we pray for God’s protection and justice.  In an emergency, God sends help to us in the form of police, men and women who will confront evildoers and bring peace to our homes. God provides His protection, rescue, deliverance, and help through those first-responders who are prepared to do just that.

Think about the implications.  Without trained and caring law enforcement workers who serve and protect the rest of us, evil is unrestrained.  God uses these brave men and women to keep civilization civil during this season in-between Jesus’s first and second coming.  When our Lord returns for His church, evildoers will face the final judgment they deserve, and crime will no longer be a threat.  (See Rev. 20:11-15.)

I thank God for our men and women in blue.  Theirs is a noble profession.  They are God’s agents to counter the forces of evil.  They bring order out of chaos.  Like Jesus, they serve broken people: the least, the last, and the lost.  Humans need the work that they do.  God is very present in their work.

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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.

I Don’t Know Mulch

103642417_10217915518982852_158381061256903903_oEvery muscle in my body hurt.  After working on this major landscaping project for parts of four long days, I was physically and mentally exhausted.  I do not think I have ever done this much yard work before.  A small crew and I removed three big trees in front of our house and trimmed several others.

No, it wasn’t just manual labor that we did.  It was Immanuel labor.  God was present in this work.

What I hope to do with this article is much more than merely summarize what was done and how it all turned out.  I want to use this opportunity to tie this project to other projects I have reflected upon in previous articles I have written and posted on my blog.   More importantly, I want to tell the story through a biblical lens.  What did God teach me in this work project?  I invite you to come with me.

Previous neglect; present need

I have to preface my remarks with a little bit of background.  I was late to the homeowner party.  I did not buy a house until 2004, when we arrived at what would be our last duty station, Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri.  After living for over 23 years in married student housing, apartments, rental houses and military quarters, it was time to settle down.  We bought a nice house thirty miles away from post.

I did my share of helping with several interior renovation projects.  I helped paint every room in the house.  My wife and I wallpapered two rooms.  I installed chair rail in the dining room.  (I was pretty proud of that.)  My biggest effort was removing 132 ceramic tiles from our kitchen floor in 2012 in preparation for laminate flooring (see article here).  And then there was the big dining room switch, where our tiny dining room was turned into the cozy wee den and our family room became a huge dining room.

However, other than mowing the lawn (see article here), I have not done much outside.  I sealed our fence (see article here).  I also painted the shutters.  Truth be told, I would have to say that I have neglected the outside, especially since we got our neighbor’s 19 year-old son to mow the lawn a few years ago.

I learned in a Spiritual Life class taken in my first year at Western Seminary (my first attempt) that what becomes a priority now is either present need or previous neglect.  In this case, it was both.  Because of my current vocational desires and goals (see recent article here), it became fairly obvious there were things I needed to do to step out in faith.  I clearly needed to improve the curb appeal of the house.

Projected timeline

We were planning on doing this project over Memorial Day weekend with our son and his family to provide some much-needed help.  However, I got sick with a case of the flu a week before and had to get tested for COVID-19.  I was quarantined until I got results, which I did not get until the actual holiday.  Even though I was negative, it was going to be two weeks before they could come down.

There were four baby birds living in the tree next to our front door that were thankful for the delay.  They were not ready to leave the nest that they had called home for several weeks (going back to when they were little blue eggs) until last Monday.

Off to a good start

I got started Wednesday night.  I thought I would begin by trimming the biggest evergreen tree.  It wasn’t coming down like the other three behemoths.  I would wait until my son came so that he could get the glory for slaying those dragons.  I just wanted to make it easier for our neighbor’s son to mow underneath this tree.  I had a hand saw and a wimpy lopper, but they were enough to trim several low-hanging branches.  I dragged them across the lawn and put them inside the fence to be picked up later.

The best part of starting this project here at that time was that our neighbors went out for a walk and stopped by. It turned out that they had an electric lopper that we could borrow.  We also discussed the possibility of their son helping us out.  Both of those things were lifesavers for us.  If we did not have their son, his friend, his PICKUP TRUCK, and their electric lopper, we would never have finished it.

I did a little more trimming on Thursday night by myself.  Progress was increased exponentially when my son arrived Friday afternoon.

After my grandson went to bed, we spent the next two sweaty hours working together.  We got way much more done than we expected.  We finished trimming the big tree, and then went after the giant bush that was actually made up of three trees close together.  We could not start the chainsaw I had rented for the weekend, but that didn’t stop my energetic, determined, and courageous son.  He made short order of the bush one bite at time while I finished gathering the large limbs we had trimmed earlier. 

Next, he tackled the mostly dead cedar tree next to the bush.  Some of it was rotten, so it came down pretty quick.  I didn’t think we would do any more as it was getting dark, but he wanted to get the bush next to the front door cut down, so he got that done too.  We left the slain branches all over the front lawn.  It looked like a war zone, but it would all get picked up at 7 a.m.

The big day

As promised, the two young men arrived bright and early with a pickup truck.  The day was a blur.

In just two hours, with the help of my son who focused on cutting up the longer branches, they took away all of the branches in the front yard and the huge pile behind the fence.  They made six trips to the city compost dump.  My son sawed or lopped off the trees closer to the ground, as we had not taken time to do that the night before.  He raked the entire yard, especially where the trees used to be.

While we had the truck, we did some trimming of three healthy trees on the right side of the yard.  My son also had a brilliant idea to go to Lowe’s to buy twenty bags of mulch, some fill dirt, and a grass repair kit, which we did before dinner.  We went out afterwards and put the mulch where it needed to go around the good trees and to cover up the bare spots where the old trees used to be.  It looked absolutely amazing!

20200919_174059Lessons learned from the project

The biggest thing that went through my mind during the work was that I could not have done a project of this magnitude without major contributions from others.  It was a team effort.  My son and his wife drove four hours each way just to help us out.  They freely gave up most of their weekend to honor and serve mom and dad.  The two young men clearly brought order out of the chaos that was our front yard.  They earned their pay with their hard work and positive attitude.  This was definitely a labor of love (See 1 Thes. 1:3.)

I should also mention my wife’s contributions to the project.  Let it be known that she is the heart of our home and the brains behind every renovation project, including this one.

Although she was not physically able to lop off thick branches or chop down unsightly trees, she did spend her day serving as she felt led: helping take care of an active toddler, cleaning up the kitchen, bringing us water, grabbing the first aid kit and bandaging up my finger that founds its way for a second a little too close to the blade of the hedge trimmer, making our dinner, sweeping up the front step, raking mulch, and spreading grass seed on bare spots.  She also reminded me at the beginning that what we were doing was “subduing the earth” (Gen. 1:28).

The second thing that was significant to me was importance of having the right resources available.  I think this is part of counting the cost, which I somewhat failed to do well.  Thankfully I already had a hand saw that worked great.  It was God’s grace to provide neighbors who lent us their electric loppers, and it was an absolute miracle that their son had a friend whose family had a pickup truck they were willing to donate to the project.  My plan to chop up the wood into five foot segments that would fit into our SUV would not have worked out.   We would still be making multiple trips to the dump.

Finally, beyond God providing good workers and sharp tools at just the right time, I saw God’s work throughout this project in small as well as big ways.  It was an answer to prayer to see the baby birds leaving the nest the week we needed it to be vacant so that we could cut down the tree.  God also gave us good weather.  And God gave me a wife and son who had some wisdom on how to tackle this job.

I am hoping that I can recall these things when I tackle my next big project.  I think we can always bring these things to the throne of grace, praying for God to provide us the strength and help we need.

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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.