How Have I Followed my Calling to Write This Year?

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“Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me.” (Ps. 66:16)

On New Year’s Day 2020, I reflected on my own calling as a writer in an article that was the first of 43 articles I wrote and posted on my blog in 2020.  This article below is a reflection on how I have followed my calling as a writer this year.  It was easily my most productive one in many ways.  I saw God multiply my efforts and extended my outreach beyond what I could ask or expect.  (See Eph. 3:20.) 

Let me share some of the topics I was able to reflect on, some of the results of my efforts to see my work published outside of this blog, some surprises along the way, and what I learned in the process. 

What did I write about?

I am not going to list all 43 articles I wrote and posted on my blog this year.  If you are interested, you can scan through the list of recent posts or look at each month in the archives.  If you are reading this, you have probably read many of them already.  I just want to highlight some of the important topics.

Many of my articles touched on my time as an active duty Soldier and in my civilian capacity.  I was able to reflect deeply on how I experienced God’s presence during my military service.  I wrote about fellowship at work, how the pandemic affected work, teleworking, the seven Army values, how God was present in the service of all veterans, and on team-building by showing dignity and respect. 

I was also able to reflect on various home construction (and deconstruction) projects that took place this summer.  I wrote about landscaping, painting and carpentry work from a biblical perspective.

Articles I wrote on other topics included the following: how the book of Proverbs alludes to the Ten Commandments, the purpose of the Old Testament, how Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecy on the cross, forgiveness, the flesh versus the spirit, how to use our sanctified imagination, and my testimony.

By the way, I posted my 200th article on this blog last week!  (I started actively blogging in 2015.)

How many articles were published and where?

I was able to write 32 articles on faith and work this year (not counting this one).  Nineteen of these articles (nearly 60%) were published or posted on other blogs a total of 30 times.  In addition, ten articles from previous years were published or posted, making a grand total of 40 articles this year.  Here is how it breaks down:

(Note: One of the articles I wrote that was published by the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics in March made the list of their Top Ten Blogs of 2020.)

Since September 2015, I have posted 132 articles on faith and work topics on my blog.  Fifty six of these articles (42%) have been published or posted elsewhere a total of 105 times.  I am truly amazed.

What were God’s gracious surprises?

This was a year of surprises for most of us, mostly negative due to the pandemic.  However, I was surprised at first by how much I could write about relevant faith and work issues during this season, as the impact on all workers (both essential and “nonessential”) was in the news on a constant basis. I was also surprised by God opening up so many doors, some of which I did not know existed. 

In mid-May, I stumbled on an amazing, unsolicited book review on Twitter by someone with the Black Country Urban Industrial Mission.  I had had no idea that one of their leaders had read my book.  He posted his review in several places and on their website.  I was moved by his comments regarding my focus on blue-collar work, which I addressed in chapter 13 and illustrated on the book cover.

On the way back from a visit to our daughter and her family last October, my wife and I were able to stop in Bloomington/Normal, Illinois to meet a friend of mine for the first time.  Bill Pence, along with his wife Tammy, maintains a very helpful blog, Coram Deo, where he posts links to faith and work articles and other theological topics.  Since November 2016, he has posted 42 links to articles that I have written, wrote and posted a wonderful review of my book, and has quoted my book in his own, exposing my work to a large number of readers.  It was a joy to have a real face-to-face conversation with him and his wife, get to know him better, enjoy some fellowship, and thank him for his support.

I think my biggest surprise this year was the email I received from my point of contact at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics.  She was contacted by someone from Family Radio, a Christian network of stations around the country.  They wanted to interview me to discuss the topic of an article I wrote that was published three years ago on how to seek God first in navigating career decisions. (Note: the interview is scheduled to air on Saturday, January 2, 2021.  Here is the link to the recording.)

What did I learn during the process?

After Faith Storytellers posted an article earlier this month about how I experienced God’s presence during my active duty, the gal who runs this blog so well challenged me to reflect on the rigorous editing process that she took me through over a couple of weeks.  I have to say that the three rounds of editing via Google Docs on this one article were far more intense and time-consuming than I expected.  However, the finished product turned out really well, and I actually enjoyed the experience.

At the same time, I had also received emails from two major organizations I have been working with.  They asked me to do some major revisions on articles I had submitted to them.  I have to admit that it was quite humbling to read their comments on what I needed to change in order for them to publish these articles sometime after the New Year.  I had to put them on the back burner for a couple of weeks to do a few other projects such as preparing for my Christian Family Radio Network interview, finish an article reflecting on my 40th wedding anniversary, and enjoy the Christmas holiday with my family.

As a result of these recent collaborations, I better appreciate the professional work of the editors who have polished up my articles for publication on their websites, for which I am extremely grateful.  I have also learned to pare down the size of my paragraphs and to share my feelings a bit more.

Where do I go from here?

Looking back, it is clear that God was present with me in my work as I shared with others about God’s presence at work.

I plan to keep on writing, using my spreadsheet listing three dozen unfinished articles or ideas I have captured.  I am trusting that God may eventually open up some doors to share my unique ideas on the theology of faith and work with a wider audience, virtually through podcasts or web presentations, and eventually through speaking to a live group of Christians who are eager to learn more about this topic.

In conclusion, I wish to express my gratitude to the Lord for blessing my socks off this year.  He has been steadily making my vision in October 2016 to be actively involved in the theology of faith and work movement a reality.  I am humbled that He is using me, not because of, but despite my best efforts.  It is not about Russ; it’s about us.  I want to see my brothers and sisters in Christ experience God’s presence at work every day.

About the author:

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Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 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 is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. 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 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. More than 50 articles posted on this blog have been published 100 times on numerous Christian organization’s 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.

Working in God’s Presence as a Husband for Forty Years

540088_10154831402005989_4211476311500640539_nForty years!  Holy cow!  How did we get here?

Forty years ago last Sunday, on December 20, 1980, my lovely bride, Linda, and I exchanged vows in our church in Fort Collins, Colorado.  Our pastor prayed that we would become one.  We did, indeed!

Let me clarify that this is not an accomplishment that I should be proud of, as if I did it all by myself.  It takes two to make a marriage work.  Actually, three.  A Christian marriage is a divine partnership.  Linda and I knew could not do this without putting God at the very center of our marriage.  This was expressed in my wedding vows to her, as I quoted Ecclesiastes 4:12, which states that “a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

I am truly grateful that God, in His mercy, has provided for, protected, and preserved this sacred union.  As the Apostle Paul put it, “Not that we are adequate in ourselves so as to consider anything as having come from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5).

This is another example in my own life of Immanuel labor, the biblical connection between God’s presence and human work.  God was present with me to enable me to do the work He called me to do.

In this article, will share some things I learned about being a husband as I applied what the Scriptures teach about marriage and through many failures and successes of my own along the way.  Four action verbs describe what I did as a husband over four decades: commit, cherish, choose, and celebrate.

Committing to the covenant

Coming from divorced families, my bride and I began with a solid foundation of mutual commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and a commitment to a lifelong marriage.   With 50% of marriages in this country ending in divorce and the other 50% ending in death, we have decided on the latter option.

A Christian marriage is more than a social and legal agreement.  It is a holy covenant, established by God to serve the purposes for which He designed it.  You don’t have to look too far to read how God created the first man and the first woman, and what He had in mind for them and all others who follow.

In Gen. 2:24, a verse that Jesus quoted in Matt. 19:4-6 and that Paul quoted in Eph. 5:31, we see God’s permanent design for marriage, that the husband and wife would be one flesh.  This of course ties in with what God said about His greatest creation in Gen. 1:27-28: God created man and woman in His image, as equal partners; their mission was to be fruitful and multiply.

Adam and Eve did not have parents to leave, but every married couple from that point forward would have to leave their family of origin in order to cleave together in order to make a new family in God’s image and their own image.  Jesus stated in Matt. 19:6 that it is God and not man who joins couples together in marriage.

So, as a young man who had asked an important question of this young lady a year and a half prior, “Would you marry me?”, I was committed to her for life.  I wanted to grow old with her, and we have.

Choosing to serve

This next action verb describes how I tried to live out my commitment to my wife on a daily basis.

The deep theological teaching beginning in Eph. 5:25 that the Apostle Paul gives on how marriage between a man and a woman is a picture of Christ and the church contains one simple command to husbands.  Love your wife.  That’s it.  I believe Paul singled out this responsibility because it is the most important thing that our wives need from us.  Also, it is the hardest thing for husbands to do.

The love that Paul talks about here is far from just a romantic feeling I have for my wife, which I do.  It is an unconditional, selfless, constant, and proactive giving of one’s self to meet the needs of the other.  Just as Jesus sacrificially gave of Himself for the church, husbands are to sacrifice for their wives.

Paul also states that we ought to love our wife as we love ourselves, which should remind us of what Jesus said regarding loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.  (See Mark 12:30-31.)  It is not a narcissistic kind of love, but a practical one that we demonstrate every day.  Do we not feed ourselves?  Do we not take care of our own body when it needs something like rest, shade, healing, or cleaning?

So, over the years, it is my best interest to intentionally choose to care for the one that is one with me.

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Cherishing the gift God gave

I cannot remember when it hit me, but the phrase “cherish the gift” has stuck with me for a long time.  In response to God’s abundant provision of His goodness to me in the form of my beautiful, blue-eyed bride, I aim to be a good steward of this undeserved and absolutely amazing gift that keeps on giving.

This cherishing aspect certainly involves serving, which I just discussed above.  However, the way I see it, it involves so much more.  There is an emotional aspect to it.  It is not merely doing practical things for her.  When my heart is involved, I am attentive, not just to her needs but to her.  I pursue my wife in every way I can.  I am eager to spend time together.  I work hard to improve our relationship.

Celebrating our love

Along with my commitment to the marriage and to her, I choose to serve her and cherish God’s gift.  But it is not all work and no play.  There must be times set aside to celebrate this blessed union.

We found many ways to celebrate over the years.  We mark the anniversaries.  Not just the wedding on December 20th, but our dating anniversary on April 1st and our engagement anniversary on June 24th.  We try to do something special on those milestones like the one we just had, where we spent three nights in a cabin in Branson, Missouri, reminiscent of our honeymoon cabin in Estes Park, Colorado.

I am not a perfect husband.  I still have a lot to learn.  But I remain committed to this woman God gave me.  Here’s hoping that in the next decade, we can continue to bring joy to others and glory to God.

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-EditRussell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 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 is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. 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 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. More than 50 articles posted on this blog have been published 100 times on numerous Christian organization’s 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 Testimony – How I Came to Faith in Jesus

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Forty-five years ago this week, at a high school Youth for Christ club Christmas party, I heard the gospel clearly for the first time.   It was December 9, 1975.  I was 17 years old.  I realized that I was hopelessly lost, spiritually.  When I responded by putting my faith in Jesus Christ, I was born again.

In Eph. 2:1-5, the Apostle Paul describes our lost status without Christ.  Let me summarize:

I was dead.  I had no spiritual life due to my sinful condition.  I was living in sin because I followed the crowd, which is to say that I followed the devil.  I was just like everyone else.  I could not obey God even if I wanted to.  I always gave in to my fleshly thoughts.  Like all those who disobeyed God, I was destined to be the target of God’s wrath.  But since God loved me personally and showed me the richness of His mercy, He made me come alive to faith in Jesus, despite my spiritual separation from Him.  It was His grace that saved me. 

Unlike many testimonies you have probably heard, I was not saved out of a life of sex, drugs, and rock and roll.  I realized years later that God had protected me from making life-altering choices.

So, what was taking place in my life that brought me to that decisive moment?  Let me explain.

Good, but not good enough

I have to back up a few years before I describe what happened to me that day I became a Christian.  I do not think many of my friends have heard me share this story in detail, so it is long overdue.

I grew up in a church-going family.  I always thought I believed in God.  However, I had never heard the gospel preached in such a way that I could understand how to begin this relationship with Jesus Christ.  And yet, God was working on me, and was paving the way towards faith in Him.

In the mid-70’s, my dad took my sister and I to see the musical productions Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell.  I was struck mostly by the second one, especially in the song, “Day by Day”.  I made these lyrics my own prayer: “Lord, dear Lord, three things I pray – to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly, day by day.”  I still pray those words occasionally today.

The summer before my senior year in high school, in June of 1975, I went on a Boy Scout canoe trip in northern Minnesota and Canada.  I remember praying a lot during that week-long, 100-mile journey.  I prayed that I would catch fish, and I did.  I prayed that I would get to see some wildlife, and I did.  I was seeking after God.  I believe He was revealing Himself to me through nature.

As I started my senior year, I had several goals.  All of them were basically good, but ultimately unfulfilling.  My most important goal was to take the right girl to prom.  I had a list of half a dozen or more names.  One by one, I scratched them off.  When I ran out of options, I asked my best friend’s girl, who had just broken up with him.  (One date with me, though, and they got back together!)  I also wanted to become an Eagle Scout and get selected for the National Honor Society.  If it sounds like I wanted to be like Richie Cunningham from “Happy Days”, you are exactly right.

This same best friend, who I met at the beginning of 8th grade when we moved to Kansas City, had invited me to come with him to the Youth for Christ club off and on for a long time.  The group met in a church across the street from the high school on Tuesday nights.  I finally decided to give in on that pre-ordained December evening, as it was their Christmas party.  I am not sure why.  Maybe I thought I could meet some pretty girls or put another wholesome activity on my NHS application.

I can’t remember much about what we did or what the speaker said.  I do recall that he explained to me for the very first time that Jesus wanted to come in and change me from the inside out.  This was exactly what I needed to hear.  I was doing my best to be a good boy, just like Richie Cunningham.  However, I was only focusing on my exterior: what I did, how I looked, and what I said.  I tried to be that funny, smart, popular, handsome guy everybody liked, but I always seemed to fall short.

The message I heard loud and clear was that if I invited Jesus to come in and change my heart, then His goodness would last.  The speaker asked us to imagine what would happen if a professional basketball player could somehow enter into a high school player’s body.  He could coach him on what to do and actually enable him to make the shots.  It made sense to me.  When the speaker asked for us to bow our heads, close our eyes, and raise our hands if we wanted to follow Jesus, I did.  I eagerly accepted Jesus as my Savior and Lord.  I have not been the same since that day.

How did I change?

I saw little things change in me at first.  I wasn’t nearly as frustrated when I didn’t measure up to my own high expectations, or others’.  I prayed often.  I started reading and truly understanding the Bible.  I had a peace and newfound joy that defied explanation and was not based on circumstances.  I was less concerned about myself and  I became much more interested in helping other people.

My Christian faith has impacted every single area of my life: my family, career, what I do, what I think, what I say, where I’ve been, and where I am going.  Christianity was not just a religion I had joined.  It was a new relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that definitely has gotten richer over time.  I began to truly know God.  In knowing Him, He continued to transform me into the image of His Son, Jesus.  Even after four and a half decades, I am still growing in my faith.

Oh, by the way, I did earn my Eagle Scout badge and I was selected for the NHS.  I also did not need to worry so much about finding the right girl.  The Lord brought Linda into my life in the fall of my sophomore year at college.  We will celebrate 40 years of wedded bliss in just two weeks!

I have had quite the spiritual journey over the past 45 years.  I have much to learn before I am done!

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) 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 is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. 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 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.  More than 50 articles posted on this blog have been published 100 times on numerous Christian organization’s 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.