Graduating into a New Work Environment

(Note this article was written for and published on The Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog.)

It’s graduation time again.  After a long four- or five-year struggle (or longer), much of which was unexpectedly accomplished virtually, college students will finally come to the end of their academic journey and receive those coveted bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degrees.  Now what?

I was asked to consider writing an article from a biblical viewpoint that is addressed to new college graduates who are entering a radically changed work environment, one that has been altered due to the COVID-19 pandemic that we have experienced for the past 15 months.  I have a positive message that is grounded in biblical truth and orthodox theology, and will offer some practical suggestions.

What is new?

This COVID-19 environment in which we find ourselves has brought drastic changes to the workplace.  College seniors have traditionally counted on large face-to-face job fairs.  However, most of these have been cancelled.  This has caused an almost exclusive use of technology-based job searches followed by video-teleconference job interviews.  Job offers often include 100% teleworking or hybrid schedules. 

To illustrate one of the radical changes that may be here for a while is “Zoom towns”.  I just read that some employees who work virtually are choosing to live where they want to, instead of having to live close to their job.  Some workers are even taking their families to resort towns or vacation spots.

When I graduated from college a number of decades ago and entered into my chosen field of math education, I did not need to learn how to teach high school students over Zoom.  Now, college graduates from nearly every field of study from art, business, architecture, engineering, research, medicine, advertising, marketing, finance, among many others, may not have the luxury of working on a daily basis in a physical workplace alongside their boss, their coworkers, or their subordinates.  

What new skills do I need to succeed?

In response to the many changes to the work environment that I listed above, you will need to develop some essential skills to survive and thrive.  Let me offer three practical suggestions:

  • Be flexible.  Don’t be surprised by job offers where you will work in a virtual or hybrid situation; you may not have to relocate, so you will have to decide where to live.
  • Be independent.  You may be required to engage supervisors, coworkers, and clients in a virtual-only environment much of the time, and get still get projects done on time.
  • Be fluent.  Develop competency in seamlessly using a variety of different forms of communication as required of your employer: written, verbal, face-to-face, and virtual.

What has not changed?

Even though there are many aspects of the work environment that have changed since COVID-19, some permanently, I would be remiss if I did not remind new graduates of what has not changed. 

God has not changed.  (See Ps. 55:19.)  His eternal attributes as revealed throughout Scripture, such as His presence, mercy, grace, and sovereignty, when properly understood, will greatly impact our view of work.  We read in Heb. 13:8, “Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever.”  When we keep in mind how God is always present and in control of our circumstances, we can get through any trial.

Throughout Ps. 107, we see God’s people stressed out by changes to the work environment.  Some were looking for work.  They wandered in the desert (vv. 4-5).  God delivered them by providing for their needs in His unfailing love (vv. 6-9).  Others made their living on the water.  Storms at sea brought fears of losing personnel, boats, and goods (vv. 23-27).  God delivered them by stilling the storm and bringing them to shore (vv. 28-32).  In spite of these difficult situations that were beyond their control, God’s never-changing covenant love, faithfulness, and protection got them through.

How can I work as unto the Lord in this environment?

Here are three appropriate biblical/theological responses to God’s unchanging attributes:

  • Learn to rest in God’s presence as you work as unto Him.  Know that He will place you where He needs you to be at just the right time, in order to glorify Himself and meet your needs.
  • Develop a vision for how God can use the skills He gave you in the workplace.  As you work in His presence, He will work with, in, and through you to meet the full spectrum of human needs.
  • Resolve to pursue relationships with other Christians and nonbelievers on your team, even if they are far away.  Your boss, coworkers, and customers all have needs that you can meet.

The last bullet is an important point.  Building a virtual network of coworkers will be a challenge without having the opportunity to grab a bite to eat at lunch or after work.  Even the Apostle John was frustrated by the limitations of working virtually as he taught the church.  (See 3 John 13-14.)  You will have to be intentional to get to know people better as opportunities are available.  As you do so, God will open doors for you be able to love your neighbor in a number of practical ways.

I also strongly encourage you to be intentional to develop close relationships with more mature Christians in a local church wherever you settle, who can help keep you grounded in your faith.

I trust that some of these biblical and practical ideas will be an encouragement to those who need it.  Looking for and finding a rewarding career after graduation will always be a spiritual journey for the Christian.  It is in times like these, even in a pandemic, that we learn for ourselves that God is faithful.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, 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 60 articles posted on this blog have been published 120 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.

Insights on Work and Rest from Hebrews 4

I have to admit.  I had a stressful week at work.  When I came in on Monday, I had over 240 emails from being out of the office for three days last week to attend to a family milestone event (the birth of our fifth grandchild along with taking care of his two-year old big brother for a couple of days).  My team and I are also in an incredibly busy season of planning annual events and preparing for senior leader transitions.  Every day was a non-stop blur of meetings, challenges, and pressing forward.

In the midst of this stressful time, I took a few minutes one morning in the middle of the week to read from the book of Hebrews.  I noticed several things that I had not seen in a while about work and rest. 

A lot is written in Heb. 4:1-11 about “rest”.  However, it is not what you would normally think.  The writer of Hebrews is not exhorting first-century Christians to take time out on Sundays after church service to reflect on spiritual things and do some recreation with their families.  He is not addressing the need for them to keep the Sabbath at all.  He is writing about a completely different kind of rest. 

Let me provide a few observations from my own study, and share what one commentator wrote.

Contextual background

In context, the writer of Hebrews introduces the subject of rest in Heb. 3:7-11, which is a warning to the church against unbelief.  Throughout this theologically deep, yet positive letter to Hebrew (formerly Jewish) Christ-followers, we find several warning passages.  Here, the writer uses several OT quotes (Ps. 95) and allusions to various settings as recorded in the books of Exodus and Numbers where early followers of Yahweh fell away and rebelled in their desert wanderings for forty years.

We are reminded in this section that OT believers were inconsistent in their faith and obedience.  (Later, the writer will explain in detail how the Old Covenant was inadequate to internally transform the hearts of God’s people.)  Despite the advantages that the New Covenant in Jesus Christ provides, such as the indwelling Holy Spirit, even mature Christians can and do fall short.  (See Rom. 7:7-25.)

And so, in Heb. 3:11, the writer points out that the Israelites who went astray would not be able to enter into God’s rest.  In verses 12-13, he then exhorts the church to keep themselves and others from turning away from God by individually turning from sin and collectively encouraging one another.

There is a Sabbath rest for God’s people

The writer reminds his readers in Heb. 4:1 that there remains an enduring promise to Christians, that those who faithfully follow Him can find rest.  He concludes in verse 3 that those who have put our faith in Jesus enter God’s rest, unlike those OT believers who could not enter because of unbelief. 

If you are like me, you may have also heard an echo here alluding to Jesus’s words in Matt. 11:28-30.  He lovingly invites His disciples and invites us also, “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  The rest we find in union with Jesus Christ is a deep rest, which goes way beyond just taking a day off from our labors.

In Heb. 4:9-10, the writer emphasizes the opportunity for all New Covenant believers to enter God’s restful state of peace.  This is a dual peace.  There is peace with God, meaning that there is no longer any strife between us and God since Jesus removed God’s wrath from us.  There is also the peace of God, which is truly incomprehensible, which allows us to trust in Him to work all things for good.

In the Theology of Work Commentary, we read this helpful insight, “The Sabbath rest in Hebrews 4:9-10 is not simply a cessation of activity (Heb. 4:10) but also a Sabbath celebration (Heb. 12:22).”

I observe that this NT Sabbath rest provides so much more than resting from work; we can rest from our working.  We can rest from our work because His work is finished.  We know that we cannot earn our salvation by working.  He already did the work necessary to achieve atonement through His blood. 

With just a little bit of irony, we are told in Heb. 4:11 to work hard (make every effort) to find the rest that God gives to His children.  We can only find true rest when we submit to His authority, by faith in Jesus Christ alone, which is clearly demonstrated by doing good works.  (See the book of James.)

The result of resting in Jesus’s finished work

Because His work matters far more than our own work, we are told in Heb. 4:16 to boldly approach the throne of grace to “receive mercy and find grace”.  Let me contrast the meaning of these two terms.

In Christ, God gives us mercy.  He does not give us what we deserve, which is eternal punishment due to our sinful actions, thoughts, and natures.  Once we receive His mercy, we can then and only then find grace in Jesus Christ.  Then, we discover that He gives us way more that we deserve in terms of peace with Him, complete forgiveness, and eternal life.  We need His mercy to experience His grace.

This passage in Hebrews chapter 4 was eye-opening to me.  It was much more than merely a reminder that God rested after six days of creation and therefore, we should also observe the Sabbath.  This is emphasized throughout the OT, although Jesus certainly had something to say about it in the NT. 

What I find here gives me motivation to do the work necessary to pursue my faith in Jesus Christ and live a life of demonstrating that faith through good works.  Not as a legal requirement, but in response to the work that Jesus did on the cross to obtain my redemption.  In Him, and Him alone, I find rest.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, 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 60 articles posted on this blog have been published 120 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.

Further Reflections on Psalm 139

On a recent Sunday morning, I went to one of my favorite psalms to remind myself of some truths about God’s presence.  I discovered some valuable insights that I had not previously addressed.

This topic is an important one for me personally.  I have been striving to experience God’s presence as a normal part of my Christian walk for the past 45 years.  As a freshman in college, I read Brother Lawrence’s classic, The Practice of the Presence of God.  This book opened my eyes to the concept that I could remain close to God by His grace every day – not just in church, but everywhere I went.

Some previous reflections

In my book, Immanuel Labor: God’s Presence in our Profession, I laid a biblical and theological foundation of what God’s word teaches about work and presented how to apply these eternal truths.  My focus throughout the book was to highlight the link between God’s presence and human work. 

As I unpacked the idea of God’s presence in general, this is what I stated:

The Bible passage that most believers think of with respect to this concept is Psalm 139:7-10, which says: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”

Although these verses highlight God’s supernatural ability to be everywhere and anywhere, David wants us to see this aspect of God’s personality as not merely an objective reality but as something he personally feels. He says things like “you are there” (twice in verse 8), “your hand will guide me,” and “your right hand will hold me fast.” These words describe that God is there in David’s midst, which gives him (and us) peace, security, and hope. Not only that, but God has been, is now, and will continue to actively lead him every step of the way.

Later, in a section on regaining a sense of God’s presence when we have fallen from it, I wrote: “The most important thing I can say to a Christian is that God will never leave us, condemn us, or give up on us.  This is crystal clear in Scripture.  Psalm 139:7–10 says that He is always present with us.”

New observations about this passage

David, the author of this psalm, begins by declaring that God has “searched” him and knows him (v. 1).  I have often begun my own confessions of sin with the same words David uses, “You know me.”  David right away acknowledges that there is nothing that God does not know about us (about Russ).

He continues.  God perceives David’s thoughts (v. 2).  Yahweh knows his whereabouts (v. 3) and is familiar with all his ways.  God even knows what David is about to say before he utters a word (v. 4).

David concludes that knowing all this is completely overwhelming to him.  It is too wonderful (v. 6).

I find it interesting that there is no admission of guilt and shame by David, despite the fact that God knows everything about David’s thoughts and activities, both good and bad.  He is focused on God’s marvelous attributes.  It seems to give him peace to know that God has revealed Himself in this way.

David then shifts his focus to describing the length, breadth, and depth of God’s presence.  He knows that the Spirit of God is anywhere that David could possibly imagine he could go (v. 7).  He mentions the heavens and the depths (v. 8).  God is at both ends of the vertical dimension, both high and low.  In verse 9, he writes of rising on “the wings of the dawn” and settling on the “far side of the sea” – the horizontal dimension, in all directions.  Even there, God’s hand will guide him and hold him (v. 10).

Due to time and space constraints, I am going to stop there with my summary.  However, I do want to highlight one thing.  This psalm is about God’s presence.  It is also about God’s grace.  Despite David’s often sinful thoughts, words, and deeds, he can speak from the depths of his faith and his own personal experiences that God has continued to lay His hand of protection, guidance, and protection on him.  He concludes in verse 17, “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!”  This is a man after God’s own heart whose heart has been changed by the grace of Yahweh, even in Old Testament times.

New Testament implications

This OT passage helps us understand how David personally understood and experienced the attribute of God’s omnipresence.  This divine characteristic is something that is always true about God the Father.  It gives Christ-followers great comfort as they focus on this aspect of God’s being.  However, we need to be reminded that the other two members of the Trinity also possess this same attribute.

The last thing that Jesus said to His disciples was this: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20b).  This is a promise that every disciple of Jesus Christ holds dear.

However, He had already given His disciples an idea of how His presence would be manifested.  As Jesus was preparing to go to the cross, He taught them about the ministry of the Holy Spirit and how He would counsel, teach, and remind them of His words.  He would bring the power of God’s presence to them and in them after Jesus departed to the right hand of the Father.  (See John 14:16-17, and 26.)

How can we apply these truths?

My own conclusion about this passage is two-fold.  First, God’s presence gives us much-needed comfort when we find ourselves in an uncomfortable place.  Second, it also gives us much-need discomfort when we find ourselves in a comfortable place that we know is outside of God’s will.

I encourage you to experience for yourself a life of consistently practicing the presence of God.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, 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 60 articles posted on this blog have been published 120 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.

What Were the Soldiers Doing at Jesus’ Tomb?

“Take a guard,” Pilate answered.  “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” (Matt. 27:65).

“So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed.  And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day” (Matt. 28:15).

In my first article in this series that I initiated last year, “Soldiers in Scripture – Warriors in the Word”, I unpacked what soldiers were doing on Good Friday.  It was fascinating to discover that soldiers were stationed at every critical juncture on the way.  They were directly involved in Jesus’ crucifixion and even fulfilled Old Testament Scriptures.  I invite you to read the article here.

In the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection in Matthew and Mark, soldiers were mentioned several times.  They were there in the events leading right up to and after Jesus rose from the dead.  One leader of Soldiers verified that Jesus had actually died.  Other soldiers were scared to death by the angel at the tomb.  Later, these same soldiers were ordered to lie about what happened to Jesus and took a bribe. 

Mark observes one Soldier’s involvement

To start our discussion, there is a scene which included one special soldier who had been present at the cross.  This scene is also mentioned by Luke and John, but they chose to not mention the soldier.

A brief conversation took place between Joseph of Arimathea and Pilate right after Jesus died (Mark 15:43-45).  Joseph boldly asked Pilate for Jesus’s body so that he could bury him.  Pilate asked the centurion (a leader of 100 soldiers) to confirm that Jesus was actually dead.  This was the same one who had witnessed Jesus’ death and had proclaimed that He was the Son of God (see Mark 15:39).  He sent a message to Pilate that Jesus had in fact died.  Pilate then released his body to Joseph.

Matthew reports soldiers were ordered to guard Jesus’ tomb

Matthew’s perspective includes two other instances where soldiers guarded Jesus’ tomb.  However, before we dive in, it is important to learn why there was a need for a guard force in the first place.

We read in Matt. 27:62-66 that the chief priests and Pharisees were more than a little concerned.  They asked Pilate to give an order to secure Jesus’ tomb for three days.  The Jewish leaders did this out of fear that His disciples would steal His body and claim that He rose from the dead as He said He would.  Jesus’ prediction of His death and resurrection that He taught to His disciples was recorded in all three Synoptic Gospels; see Matt. 20:18-19; Mark 10:33-34; and Luke 18:31-33.  Pilate granted their request.  They put a seal on the stone that covered the entrance and posted guards. 

David Turner, in his Baker Exegetical Commentary on Matthew explains that “these soldiers and the sealed stone constitute imperial authority over the tomb.  The seal would be clay or wax pressed into the crack between the rolling stone and the tomb’s entrance.  The imperial seal stamped on the clay or wax signified Rome’s authority . . . but a higher power would arrive on the scene when dawn came.”

At dawn on Easter Sunday, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary visited Jesus’ tomb (see Matt. 28:1).  Matthew reports that there had been a violent earthquake, that an angel had come down from heaven, had rolled the stone away, and then sat on it (v. 2).  The angel’s appearance was like lightning.  His clothes were as white as snow (v. 3).  This caused quite a reaction amongst the soldiers who were guarding the tomb.  They were so afraid that they went into shock; they were “like dead men” (v. 4). 

Turner observes, “How much the guards saw and comprehended is not clear.  The angel’s appearance caused them to faint (28:4), and they regained consciousness to discover the empty tomb.”

These soldiers were mentioned again in Matt. 28:11-15 after the women ran to tell Jesus’ disciples.  This time, they were tempted to violate their integrity and took a bribe.  Let’s take a closer look.

Matthew reports soldiers were ordered to lie about what happened

Some, but not all, of the guards went to the city to report what they had seen at Jesus’ tomb to the chief priests.  Turner indicates that the soldiers were “unintentional evangelists”, proclaiming that Jesus had risen.  They met with the elders and concocted a hoax.  (Ironically, this is exactly what they were trying to prevent Jesus’ disciples from doing and why they put guards in place.) 

These soldiers were instructed to tell people that Jesus’ disciples stole his body at night while they were sleeping.  To motivate these soldiers to tell this lie, they gave them a large sum of money.  The chief priests promised to keep them out of trouble.  The soldiers took the money and did as they were told to do.  

How should Christian soldiers act now?

There are several applications that Christian soldiers can learn from the soldiers at Jesus’ tomb:

  • Fulfill your duties as a soldier, even when no one is looking, whether it be guarding your post, cleaning your rifle, filing routine paperwork, or leading soldiers into harm’s way
  • If you have encountered the risen Christ, tell someone about it
  • Do the right thing, even if those in authority encourage you to violate your integrity; if you are given an unlawful order, get some outside advice before you blindly obey them
  • Don’t take a bribe; the price you pay later will cause you to regret your short-term gain

I trust that this devotional helped you understand the role that soldiers played in the events around Jesus’ resurrection.  I hope that you will also experience God’s presence during this Easter season.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

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 110 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.

Servant Leadership and Reputation

(This article was posted on the Coram Deo blog.)

“It’s not about Russ; it’s about us.”

I say this every once in a while to my Operations team.  One context where I say this is when I am sharing a personal story from my own experience.  I want to emphasize that the purpose of the story is not to put the spotlight on me.  My intent is to provide mentorship and to develop these future leaders for the greater good of our team, our customers, our superiors, and the organization we serve.

It is well-known that the one word that epitomizes a distinctly Christlike approach to managing others is “servant” leadership.  I lead in order to serve.  I have been entrusted with this huge responsibility to manage a small team, to care for and train individuals on my team, to provide all the resources they need to be successful, and to ensure that the team works well together so that we can function well.

I have found over the past thirteen years in this great job that I hold now, that as I have served my team, my customers, and my superiors well, I have built and maintained a solid reputation of trust.  This not only reflects on me, but more importantly, it reflects well on my organization and its leaders.

Before I dive in to my practical focus and share some wisdom regarding the benefits of building a solid reputation, I would be remiss if I did not touch on a few relevant Scriptures to this topic.

What does Scripture have to say?

In Prov. 3:3-4, Solomon exhorts his son to not forget the teachings of Yahweh, and to be a loving and faithful man.  If he does this, he will win the respect of others and will develop a good reputation.

The verse I most often think of when I think of the word reputation is Prov. 22:1, which states, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”  The Theology of Work Bible Commentary (vol. 2) summarizes this key verse in this way: “In particular, the wise care more about their honest reputations than about their bank accounts.”  Well said. 

The writer of Ecclesiastes, which may have been Solomon also, expresses in Eccl. 7:1 a similar concept about the lasting value of a solid reputation.  He states that it is better than fine perfume. 

Serving my team

I have heard it said that all leaders bring joy to their workplace.  Some leaders do it when they step into the office.  Other leaders do it when they leave the office.  I know which one I want to strive to be.  I do want people to feel good about working on my team.  It is not about winning a popularity contest.  It is about creating a positive work environment where every one of my employees are treated with dignity and respect.  (I invite you to read an article I wrote on this critical topic here.)

With all my faults, I know that I do some things right.  I genuinely care for my people.  I take an interest in their personal lives, their families, their health, and their careers.  I take time to ask how people are doing; I really want to know.  I make an honest attempt to listen and care when needed.

When they leave the unit, I want to ensure each member of my team remembers how they were cared for so they know what right looks like.   When they go to their next unit, they can go and do likewise.

Serving my customers

I am not quite sure why I get all these calls, but I often receive phone calls requesting information (i.e., a publication, a point of contact, a phone number, etc.).  I do what I can to assist; it does not matter who it is.  I treat a phone call or email request for information from a Sergeant in the Army National Guard with the same dignity and respect as a full-bird Colonel working at the Pentagon.

Here’s why this is so important.  If I fail to assist them in a timely and professional manner, they will not necessarily remember my name when they complain to someone.  They will attribute the lack of support to the organization.  However, if I do assist them well, the organization will get all the credit.

Ultimately, what I do or fail to do will directly impact people’s impression of my organization.  As I perform my duties and responsibilities, my personal reputation will directly impact the reputation of my organization.  If I am trustworthy, they will trust my unit.  If I fail to earn that trust, they won’t trust the organization.  Once again, it has come full circle.  It’s really not about Russ; it’s about us.

Serving my superiors

I have shared a little of why and how I have showed a servant spirit to my team and to my customers.  Lastly, I need to discuss how I serve my bosses.  For me, this is probably the most difficult of the three groups of people to focus on.  (I have reflected on this in a previous article on my blog here.)

Let me share some of my challenges.  In the Army school headquarters where I serve, the officers and NCOs rotate in and out of positions every year or two.  Just when I get them trained, it’s time for them to go.  I say that facetiously, but there is some truth to it.  My role is to provide continuity. 

Every time I get a new supervisor, it usually takes several months to earn their trust and to develop a good working relationship with them.  Sometimes, it happens sooner than that.  Sometimes, it just does not happen.  Unfortunately, it is not always possible to be at peace with all.  (See Rom. 12:18.)

However, I found that when I work as unto the Lord, humbly submit to their authority, anticipate what they (and their bosses) might need, and go the extra mile to try to meet their high standards and expectations, they begin to learn to trust me, knowing that I am there to set them up for success.

My challenge

I do not know what your situation is like at work.  I do not know what kind of reputation you have with your team, your customers, or your superiors.  However, I do know that if needed, you can begin today by serving them all in a Christ-like manner with humility, diligence, and grace by meeting their needs on a consistent basis.  As you do this good work, not to be seen by others, but to serve God wholeheartedly, your excellent reputation will increase, and will bring glory your Father in heaven.

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 110 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.

A Few Thoughts on the Trinity

This is a tricky topic for Christians to discuss.  It is a tough topic for me to write about.  I have been developing this article off and on for quite some time.  I started it nearly three years ago.  There is something I need to say.  I feel compelled to help my brothers and sisters to better understand the idea of the Trinity, and more importantly, to be able to apply this understanding in their walk.

I am hoping that you will trust me enough to dive a little bit deeper into this challenging topic.  I want to address just a couple of ideas which may radically alter the way you think, feel, and relate to those who are the subject of the hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy”: God in three persons; blessed Trinity.

An observation about contemporary Christian music

I listen to a lot of contemporary Christian music on the radio and I have sung modern praise songs in local churches or Army chapels.  I have seen a somewhat disturbing trend over the last decade or two.  At times, it seems that emotion has overshadowed Christian doctrine.  Let me explain.

Many well-meaning songwriters have not been careful to distinguish between God the Father and God the Son.  In our attempts to express our understanding of the doctrine of Jesus, or Christology (which asserts correctly that Jesus is fully man and fully divine), we often say, “Jesus is God”.  This statement, if used out of context, might cause a songwriter to use God and Jesus interchangeably in their lyrics.  I believe this is inherently confusing and is a major misunderstanding of the Trinity.

For example, notice the line from this popular worship song shown above.  This song is about the beautiful name of Jesus.  Then, without warning, this line pops up on the screen: “Now and forever God you reign.”  The first time we sang it in church I could not sing it.  It just did not seem right.

There is another popular song by a group I truly enjoy listening to.  It is about two of the names of Jesus.  It brings together the biblical imagery from the book of Revelation, where Jesus is depicted as the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world and also the Lion of Judah.  However, when we get to the chorus, I cringe every time the words come up: “Our God is the Lion . . . Our God is the Lamb . . . For who can stop the Lord Almighty.”  The Lord Almighty is a special name of God that is found in the Old Testament.  As such, I am not sure it is accurate to call Jesus by that name.

Now that I have ruined a couple of perfectly good worship songs, I had better jump to the Scriptures for a little help.

Jesus came to reveal the Father, not replace Him

I have to admit.  I do struggle a bit myself to fully understand and apply this mysterious doctrine where One is Three and the Three are One; distinct in persons, and yet unified in substance. 

However, I know that Jesus did not come to replace God the Father.  He came to reveal Him.  The reason Jesus came to us so that we could come to God the Father.  A believer who only relates to Jesus but not to the Father has an incomplete understanding of faith and the doctrine of God.

In John 14:6, after Jesus tells His disciples that He was the way, the truth, and the life, He states, “no one comes to the Father except through me.”  What Jesus meant was that believing in Him is the only way that anyone can come to the Father.  All who approach God must come by faith in Jesus alone. However, Jesus never intended for His followers to merely come to Him and then stop there.

Moreover, Paul points out in Rom. 5:1 that we have been justified through faith in Christ, which results in “peace with God”.  This is not the peace that passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7).  This refers to a radical change in status from being God’s enemy to becoming His child.  The writer of Hebrews exhorts Christians to “draw near to God” because we have “confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus” (Heb. 10:19-22).  We have been given a rare gift that the OT believers did not have – direct access to God.  Drawing near to God was why Jesus died for you and me.  His clear intent that we would enjoy a living, loving relationship with His Father, just as He did.

One in essence, three in Persons

The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology articulates the doctrine of the Trinity quite simply: “God is one in being or essence who exists eternally in three distinct co-equal ‘persons’.”

The Apostle Paul, who is consistently Christ-centered in his theology, often refers to both Father and Son.  In 1 Cor. 8:6, he offers this balanced view of the Trinity for our consideration: “Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.”  This statement emphasizes Paul’s understanding of the distinct roles between God the Father and Jesus the Son. 

Jesus stated in John 10:30 that He and the Father are one, meaning that they are unified and of the same essence.  He clearly could not have meant they are one and the same person.  The Father is not the Son; the Son is not the Father.  This was evident at the Lord’s baptism.  When Jesus is getting baptized, the voice of the Father is heard, and the Holy Spirit descends as a dove (Matt. 3:16-17).

John 5:17-23 helps us understand how Jesus saw his relationship with His Father.  Jesus stated that His Father always works, and so does He (v. 17).  The Jewish leaders understood the ramifications of this powerful statement.  They were angry to the point of wanting to kill Jesus, not only for breaking the Sabbath, but because He was “calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (v. 18).  Note the term John uses.  They said that Jesus was making Himself equal with God.  Not identical to, interchangeable with, or one and the same, but equal in terms of their divine essence.

In the next verse, Jesus describes His motivation to “do only what he sees his Father doing” (v. 19).  The Father raises people from the dead and so does the Son (v. 21).  When Jesus was declared as God’s representative on earth as the Son of God and Son of Man, God the Father assigned Jesus to be the judge of all (v. 22).  On Judgment Day, all people will honor Jesus as Lord of Lords and King of Kings, just as they have honored the Father (v. 23).  The Apostle Paul confirms this, stating that on that Day, “every knee shall bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord” (Phil. 2:9-10).

How to speak of the Trinity with precision

Yes, I believe that Jesus is 100% man and 100% divine.  But I am careful not to say “Jesus is God” without qualifying my statement.  I prefer to say that He is the Word of God, the image of God the Father, or that He is the Son of God.  (See also John 1:1-3, Col. 1:15, and Heb. 1:3).  Let me explain.

It is my simple observation, with several notable exceptions of course, that most of the time that the New Testament writers use the word “God”, they are almost always referring to God the Father.

It is true that an orthodox understanding of the Trinity, based on the Scriptures and the historic creeds of the Christian faith teaches us to believe that “The Father is God; the Son is God; the Holy Spirit is God”.  I do believe that myself.  However, when we import this understanding into a Bible passage whenever we read the word “God”, thinking that “God” means any or all three of the members of the Godhead, we are not interpreting Scripture correctly.  This seems to be bad hermeneutics.

In closing, let me share one of several benedictions that the Apostle Paul gives at the end of his epistles, which again demonstrates his balanced understanding and careful identification of the Trinity as three distinct persons:

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Cor. 13:14).

You see, I think Paul understood the distinctions and the roles of the three divine and equal persons of the Trinity.  He had a personal relationship with each one of the members of the Godhead in the way the Bible describes.  We would be wise to do the same.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

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 110 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.

Where is the Water Cooler in a Virtual Work Environment?

(Note: This article was posted on the Coram Deo blog and the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog.)

Saturday, I got a phone call out of the blue from an old friend that I hadn’t seen for 20 years.  Matt was one of the high school ministry volunteers when I was a church youth director in the mid-80s.

The radio station where he works as a producer had recently undergone some restructuring.  He was given an exciting new role, to work virtually with a group of people he has not met from around the country.  He was no longer going to be around the folks he has worked with for over thirty years. 

My good friend had a theology of work related question for me.  He wanted to know, “How do I glorify God and make Christ known when I only have contact with people via phone and video?”

Interpersonal communication around the water cooler

Back in the day, there was a water cooler in a central location in an office space.  There was a big clear jug full of purified water that sat upside down on a stand that had a blue lever used to fill a paper cup that was provided in a silver tube attached to the side.  This was before everyone started bringing their own water bottles to work.  It was a place of social interaction as workers took a short break from their duties.  It was where we caught up with what was going on in people’s lives.

Those in other career fields who do not work in an office environment have often found similar places to take a break such as the back of a pickup truck, at the lunch room, or sitting under a tree.

For the Christian, this place of informal communication provides an opportunity to get a glimpse into a coworker’s struggles at home.  It is there, when the boss isn’t around and we can just freely chat for a bit, that we learn about their marriage difficulties, their child’s cancer, or financial woes.  This then becomes a chance to love our neighbor by listening to them and offering to pray for them.

Loving our neighbor virtually

How do we do this when we work from home, and our co-workers are across the country?

I have to admit.  As I have teleworked myself off and on for seven of the past twelve months, it is much harder for me to find a moment to ask people how they are doing and to give them the time needed to listen as they open up, showing genuine compassion and concern as we are called to do.

Jesus said that what He wants from us is just two things: love God, and love our neighbor.  And so, we have to be intentional to pursue relationships with those that God has placed in our midst, even if they are 1,000 miles away, and our interactions are limited to phone calls, emails, or video chats.

My friend provided a great illustration of recent video chat with a client who was a young mother.  When he contacted her to answer some technical questions about a project she was working on, he found her with a restless two-year old on her lap.  She desperately tried to focus on the issues at hand, but it was too difficult.  At that point, all my friend could do was to offer some understanding as a father himself about the needs of toddlers and speak compassionate words to her as a Christian.

Even without the proverbial water cooler, there will always be opportunities to minister to our co-workers, customers, and supervisors in a virtual environment.  We just have to open our eyes.

Tackling projects as unto the Lord

In most jobs, you can place responsibilities into two bins: people and projects.  Some workers deal with one more than the other, but most of us do a little of both.  In the same way that our ministry with people is still a priority, although the way we do it is different in a virtual environment, the projects we are given are also top priorities, although the way that we do them may be different.

In Matt’s case, I emphasized that even though his responsibilities were going to change in many ways in his isolated virtual office space, I believe there are still just as many opportunities to “work as unto the Lord” on behind-the-scenes projects as there was in an actual office.  In his case, his client base has been expanded exponentially.  He was producing radio advertisements for his local station.  In his new job, he will be coordinating creative production efforts on a national scale.

Doing projects from a home office has its own rewards and challenges.  On the one hand, you are away from the distractions of people popping in to your office occasionally.  On the other hand, it can be more difficult to get the guidance you need from superiors and help from subordinates.

The apostles as virtual workers

In previous articles I have written on teleworking (click here and here), it never occurred to me to highlight the work of the Apostle Paul.  He spent much of his ministry as a New Testament epistle writer in a virtual work environment.  He was not physically with those churches.  He wrote his letters to church leaders while he was in prison, teaching his clients and coworkers via snail mail. 

The Apostle John, another writer of NT epistles, expresses some of his internal conflict with being limited to virtual means of communication.  He wrote, “I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink.  Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 12).  I totally get it.  There is just no substitute for physically being there.

Closing challenge

So, how can we glorify God in a purely virtual environment?  We do it in the same manner we have always done it.  We keep looking for ways to love our neighbor and work heartily as unto the Lord.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

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 110 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.

A Message of Hope in the Midst of the Daily Grind

I am a Christian writer.  In the articles that I write and post regularly on my blog, I mostly focus on teaching Christians how to integrate their faith at work, and how God is present in every aspect of it.

It occurred to me recently that this message of encouragement and hope that is founded on eternal biblical truths that have helped believers for thousands of years might also be helpful for those who have not yet come to fully accepting the truths of Christianity.  Perhaps, if I could share a bit of what I have learned about God’s presence in every aspect of my work, it might help someone who may be seeking for something more to find the God who loves them in the midst of the daily grind at work.

There are three simple, yet relevant messages that I want to address here that I invite you to consider:

  • The way the world normally looks at work misses the mark by leaving God out of the picture
  • The God who created the universe created you to be a coworker with Him in this world
  • Experiencing God’s presence at work provides a sense of purpose the world cannot provide

Most people fail to recognize that work is a gift of God

I have found that there are two prevalent views on work from when God is taken out of the picture.

One view states that work has no lasting value in and of itself.  The purpose of work to just to feed the family and pay the bills.  It is a pretty depressing view.  No wonder most people live for the weekend and are so thankful for Fridays.  (Unfortunately, some Christians also have this view.) 

The second view exalts work.  The purpose of work is merely to further yourself, find success, and be the master of your own fate; the captain of your ship.  Success in life means success in work.  This is the attitude says you gotta do whatever it takes to get the job done, no matter how many marriages you have to burn through or no matter how many friends you have to cheat.  When you try to find ultimate meaning and purpose in life through your work alone, it will always leave you disappointed.

What I have discovered from studying the Bible is that work is a valuable gift from God Himself. 

God created humans to be coworkers with Him to sustain His creation

The first thing I see in the creation story is that God is a worker.  Since God is a worker, then all workers have value.  All legitimate work (defined as jobs that make life better for others) is of value.  

I also see that God created humans as His coworkers to sustain His creation.  The world was perfect, yet it was incomplete.  There were gardens that needed tending.  Eventually, cities needed to be built, children needed to be taught, inventions needed to be developed, and books needed to be written.

And so, work has meaning, but not absolute meaning.  Success at work will not completely satisfy. 

God’s presence at work provides meaning and purpose you will not find elsewhere

What I have personally experienced over many years of living out these truths is that God is present with His children all the time.  I can truly sense God’s presence in the everyday moments, not just in church or on a mountaintop watching the sun go down.  I have come to understand that there is a very real connection between God’s presence and human work.  God works with us, in us, and through us in order to meet the needs of people everywhere; people He loved enough to send His Son to die for.

How do I experience God’s presence at work?  As I head from the parking lot to my building, I pray that God will lead me and give me wisdom.  Sometimes I pray audibly when I am alone in my office or I shoot up a quick silent prayer in a meeting when my temper starts to rise.  I confess my sins as soon as I notice them.  I recall a favorite Bible verse when needed.  I pray that God will change the way I see challenges at work and I praise Him when He enables me to accomplish a difficult task.  

A closing challenge

I realize that I did not present any kind of clear message about how you can enter in to a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ.  My intent was not to lay out convincing proofs of God’s existence, discuss how the claims of Jesus uniquely stand out above all other religions, or take any of the usual approaches that evangelists or preachers use to move people to make a decision.

My intent, as an ordinary worker myself, was simply to engage other ordinary men and women who spend the majority of their waking hours at work just trying to make it through the day for 40 to 50 years to consider that there might be something more to life that would give them a little bit of hope. 

Jesus made this amazing statement that is found in the New Testament book of John, chapter 8, verses 31-32.  Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  I share this quote often, because it sheds light on the fact that faith in Christ transforms our minds, which significantly improves the quality of our lives. 

Isn’t that what we all want; to be set free from the things that hold us back, drag us down, and enslave us?  Knowing these truths about God’s purposes for work make the burdens in my life a lot lighter.

I know that I have a greater purpose in my work, to be a coworker with God to sustain His creation.  In the midst of the daily grind and all the struggles that I face due to my own sins and the sins of my bosses, coworkers, and customers, there are new abilities to change, overcome, and grow through them.  I also know full well that when I experience God’s presence at work, there is an unexplainable joy, a peace that passes all understanding, and full confidence that what I do all day really matters.

I trust that you will give these concepts some thoughtful consideration.  If you are interested, I invite you to reach out to a Christian you know to discuss these eternal truths on a more personal level.  God has graciously scattered believers in every field of work to be able to share what they know.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

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 110 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.

Our Identity in Christ (Lesson 8)

This was the last Sunday School lesson of an eight-week series that I taught a few years ago in our former church.  (See previous session here.)  Inexplicably, I neglected to finish my notes and post it.  In this session, we discussed the age-old battle between flesh and spirit.  I invite you to explore with me who we are in Christ.  For a deeper dive into this critical topic, see the article I wrote and posted on my blog here

Summary:

What have we been studying and discussing, as we looked at a theology of our identity in Christ?:

  • With few exceptions, the Bible does not refer to believers as sinners; although we do sin
  • To fully understand who we are as believers, it is good to know who we were before Christ
  • To know who we are in Christ, we must understand the blessings of the new covenant
  • By faith in Jesus, certain things became true of us “positionally”: justified, forgiven, and righteous
  • There is an irreversible radical transformation that happens to every believer; it begins at the very moment of salvation when one is born again, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ
  • Those radical changes affect everything about us: our minds, thoughts, feelings, attitudes, desires, abilities, and relationships

Introduction:

All along, we have been talking about who we are now as believers.  We are not the people we used to be, either in God’s eyes (He sees us through Christ’s finished work on the cross), or in our own experience (we are becoming Christ-like).  However, there are many times that our old sinful nature attempts to influence us and impede our progress in becoming the new creatures we already are in Christ.  What happens when old meets new?  Is there hope?  What are some of the keys to success?

Book:

1) Read Romans 7:14 – 8:17.  (Break it down by sections.) 

    a) What describes those who live in “the flesh” (the sinful nature) vs. those who live in the Spirit? 

    b) What is the answer to the problem of this constant internal spiritual battle?

    c) Discuss the penalty, the power, and the presence of sin.  When are we set free from each?

(Teacher notes: Paul is describing the internal battle between his flesh and his new nature in Christ.  All of us can identify with his frustration: “I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (v. 15).  He has this sinful flesh that he cannot totally escape in this life: “nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature” (v. 18).  The fact that he want to do what is good (vv. 18 and 21), does not want to do evil (v. 19), and delights in God’s Word (v. 22) tells me that he is indeed a new creature in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).  He describes this internal battle between flesh and spirit as “waging war” (v. 23).  He exclaims, “What a wretched man I am!” (v. 24).  Paul asks, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (v. 24).  The answer, of course, is Jesus Christ.  I love how he starts chapter 8, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).  Despite our constant struggles with the flesh, if we are in Christ, we have been set free from the penalty of sin, we have victory over the power of sin, and when Jesus returns and we receive our new resurrection body like His, we will finally be set free from the presence of sin forever.  Hallelujah!)

2) Read Gal. 5:13-26; 6:7-10.

    a) What actions/attitudes characterize the sinful nature vs. the actions/attitudes of those in the Spirit?

    b) What is the secret to spiritual growth?

(Teacher notes: I see this section as an expansion of what Paul described in Romans 7.  In the NIV, we read the term “sinful nature”, where other translations use the word, “flesh” (Gal. 5:13, 16, 17, and 19).  Paul exhorts the church to “live by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16 and 25), which is in direct contrast with living in the flesh.  Those who are in Christ should be led by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:18).  Jesus said to His disciples that the Holy Spirit would be with us and in us (John 14:17).  We have been indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:11).  We can be consistently filled with (or controlled by) the Spirit (Eph. 5:18).) 

3) Read 1 John 1:5 – 2:2.

    a) Paul contrasts the flesh versus the Holy Spirit.  John, however, chooses to use the analogy of darkness vs. light.  What is true of those who live (walk) in the light? 

    b) Why would those who walk in the light need to be purified from sin?

   c) What is the purpose of confession?  What is actually involved?  Are we asking, or are we accepting?

(Teacher notes: Those who humbly submit to God’s authority, are followers of Jesus, and live in the power of the Holy Spirit will live godly lives – in the light, not in darkness.  When we walk with God in holiness and truth, we not only have fellowship with Him, but with fellow believers in Jesus Christ.  His blood, which cleanses us from past sins, also cleanses us from present sin (v. 7).  When we confess our sins, it does not earn our forgiveness; it is already ours.  It does restore our fellowship with God.

Look

Where and when do we struggle most with sin?  Are you quick to confess these sins and submit yourself under the control of the Holy Spirit?  If so, over time, the supernatural becomes natural.

Took

Make an effort to remember who you are in Christ.  Focus less on what you are doing (or not doing) and more on what He has already done AND is doing in your life to make you more like Him.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

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.

God Works Through You

(Note: This article was posted on the Coram Deo blog.)

If I ever have the opportunity to speak to a large audience about the theology of work, there is one thing I might try to do to impress upon Christians how valuable their ordinary work is.

Before I describe my proposed application exercise that I think will drive my point home straight to people’s hearts, let me revisit a critical topic that I wrote about in chapter 3 my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession and in an article I posted about four years ago here.

In this chapter entitled “God is a Worker”, I laid a solid biblical and theological foundation that the triune God reveals Himself to be a worker, starting in Gen. 1:1.  In six days, God created.  After that, He rested on the seventh day.  From that point forward, God continued the work of sustaining His creation.  By His amazing grace, He created men and women to be His coworkers in this endeavor, which gives all kinds of legitimate work dignity, giving all humans a divine calling.

I asked my readers two important rhetorical questions, “What kinds of work does God do today?  More importantly, by what means does He get it done?”

The answer, in part, comes from Amy Sherman’s book, Kingdom Calling.  She shares a concept to describe the different kinds of work God does and how our human vocations fit into this model:

  • Redemptive work: God’s saving and reconciling actions
  • Creative work: God’s fashioning of the physical and human world
  • Providential work: God’s provision for and sustaining of humans and the creation
  • Justice work: God’s maintenance of justice
  • Compassionate work: God’s involvement in comforting, healing, guiding, and shepherding
  • Revelatory work: God’s work to enlighten with truth

Later on, I added one more that appeared to be missing:

  • Restoration work: God’s power to repair, clean, reset, and make new.

I think with a little explanation, you take any job worth doing and place it neatly into one of these categories above.  Those who perform these jobs are participating in God’s work in this world.

Now, let us return to my presentation that I would like to give to a room full of ordinary Christians who have probably spent most of their working lives feeling like what they were doing from 9-5 may not have had much if any eternal value.  I know; I used to feel that way myself.

So, after I present some clear biblical, theological, and practical teaching from this chapter, I want to ask each of them to identify which category their work best fits.  This is a critical step in the process in order to participate in two activities which I believe will bring this teaching home.

First, I want each audience member to reflect back to God in a unified prayer of thanksgiving and supplication that directly addresses the value of the work they have been doing.  This prayer that I would lead would read something like this:

Our Father, we acknowledge that you are a worker.  You created us and invited us to be your coworkers to sustain and expand the kingdom of your son, Jesus.  You have gifted each of us with skills, experiences, passions, and abilities that no one else has.  You have given us a purpose.  You have divinely called, equipped, and empowered us to serve and love our neighbor by using the unique talents you have entrusted to us.  Help us to see that you are present with us in this labor, that you are meeting our neighbor’s needs through our jobs, and that when we serve you in this way it brings Shalom in this world.  Help us to work for your glory, for Christ’s kingdom, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Second, I am going to ask the men and women who work in each of these seven categories to stand up as a group so that I can recognize them and give them a blessing.  It would go like this:

I want everyone whose job falls into the vocational category of Justice Work to stand.  All who participate in God’s maintenance of justice, we want to recognize you.  If you serve in any capacity of law enforcement, the legal profession, corrections, or in the military, God is working in, with, and through you to bring order out of chaos keep the peace.  You are loving your neighbor by what you do.  This is a better world because of your work.  Your work matters to the Kingdom of God!  Your work has eternal value!  I thank God for you!

I think you get the idea.  What an impact this exercise would have on everyone in the room.

Lastly, I want to emphasize as I close that God will work through people, whether they believe in Him or not.  We all know the stories of how God used Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, King Herod, and many other ungodly leaders as He was protecting, delivering, and providing for His people.  Without a doubt, I know that God will use a non-Christian doctor to heal, an unbelieving Soldier to fight for a good cause, and an atheist firefighter to save a family and their home, for example. 

Those of us who follow Jesus Christ can experience God’s presence at work while He is working in us, with us, and through us to meet the legitimate needs of everyone whom we meet on our journey.  Wouldn’t you want to experience His presence at work every day?  I know that I do!

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. Sixty articles posted on this blog have been published over 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.