Reflections on King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

As we celebrate the birthday, life, and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today, I have seen several references to his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”.  I had never taken the time to read it.  Today, I did.

It is important to note that the context of this letter was to address harsh criticism from eight white local clergymen for his leadership in non-violent protests against segregation and police brutality. 

Here are some quotes that got my attention and my heart and some brief reflections in parentheses:

“I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.” (Ministry of presence. I need to be intentional to be with those who are suffering.)

“I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” (Unlike many other Christians that I know, my heart mind is not wired that way. Out of sight; out of mind. I don’t know why, but I rarely am emotionally impacted by suffering that is happening far away. Perhaps that needs to change.)

“You deplore the demonstrations that are presently taking place in Birmingham. But I am sorry that your statement did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being.” (This is relevant to today, but I struggle with this.  The extreme violence of last summer’s riots were counterproductive in addressing legitimate issues of police brutality and racial injustice. Dr. King’s non-violent direct action seemed to get more results.)

“I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging facts of segregation to say, ‘Wait.'” (I believe this country has come a long way since this letter was written, but there is still much work to be done. I truly want to understand the pain of my fellow citizens of color. I do want to be part of the solution. I want to see Dr. King’s dream become a reality in my lifetime.)

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice. . . Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.  Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” (Ouch!  Lord, help me be more committed to justice than things remaining the same where there needs to be change.)

“Like a boil that can never be cured as long as it is covered up but must opened with all its pus-lowing ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must likewise be exposed, with all of the tension its exposing creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.” (I want to understand the real concerns of racial injustice that exist today. It is not obvious to me. It know that racism is not as systemic as it was in the 1960’s, but I also know there are still things that need to be addressed today.)

“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.  We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability.  It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.”  (I have not been silent on these issues, but I have not said nearly enough.)

“I had the strange feeling when I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery several years ago that we would have the support of the white church.  I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be some of our strongest allies.  Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many other have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.”  (This was painful to read.  The church universal should have been the church united on the issue of racial injustice from the start.  Shame on any church today that opposes or is silent on this issue.  The church should be a model of racial reconciliation.)

“Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all of their scintillating beauty.” (Amen!)

This was a powerfully written letter.  My brother, Dr. King was God’s chosen instrument to speak out and take action to oppose segregation and racial injustice.  May God raise up others who can speak out in such an articulate manner today. 

May I be part of this critical and righteous cause for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ, who died for every man and woman of every race and color, and who brings us hope, healing, and restoration.

(Note: I invite you to read other articles I wrote on this topic: an article from February 2019 on diversity in the workplace inspired by the film, “Hidden Figures”, my review of Benjamin Watson’s book, Under My Skin from November 2019, and an article from November 2020 on building your team by showing dignity and respect.)

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.

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.

How Can I Best Manage my Teleworking Team?

(Note: This article was written for and published by The Gospel Coalition. It was later posted on the Coram Deo blog.) 

I’m used to managing my team face-to-face. But now we all work from home. I know some of my employees are putting in less time, since they have a lot of family pressure (like homeschooling kids and taking care of babies) they didn’t have before.  Others are alone, and seem to be working a lot more hours than they probably should.  I am praying for each one of them.  I want to be generous but also fair.  How can I figure out how each team member is doing without being too intrusive?  How can I figure out reasonable expectations for them?  And how can I balance the employee that’s putting in too much time and the one putting in too little?

I totally get it!  Teleworking is not as easy as it sounds.  I recently went back to the office after teleworking from home for four and a half months, and it was way different than I expected.

I do want to commend you as a manager for desiring to treat everyone on the team fairly and deal with them as individuals with different needs and challenges. A good manager knows his or her team members well.  Prov. 27:23 teaches, “Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds.”   I also applaud your commitment to pray for your team members.

Let me share a few of my own experiences, some successes and some failures, in managing my own employees from 30 miles away from the office.  I also want to highlight several biblical principles that may be applicable to situations like this.  Perhaps I can also share some wisdom as you move forward and attempt to navigate through these rough waters.  God’s grace is always sufficient!

My teleworking experience

Despite the many ways to communicate, including email, text, phone calls, and video chat, it was sometimes difficult to keep in touch with my employees on a daily basis.  “Out of sight, out of mind” was something we all struggled with.  I seem to recall hearing or reading somewhere that it was the employee’s responsibility to check in, but I felt like it was my lane to be intentional to check on them to ensure they were okay.  I am not sure we laid out expectations clearly from the start.  I missed the daily face-to-face informal interactions with my team that we had in the office. 

I also learned that teleworking took more discipline to stay focused on projects and to manage my time well as I worked from home.  This was my daily struggle, so I knew it was difficult for my employees as well.  This was especially hard for those who had children or spouses at home.  In our empty next, my wife worked hard to not be a distraction to my work, which I truly appreciated. 

Biblical principles regarding work

There are some biblical principles that apply to your situation as a manager of employees who are working remotely, some who work diligently and others who may truly want to work hard but are distracted with family responsibilities.  Let me highlight a few passages that might be helpful.

Proverbs is full of wisdom for the workplace, as its purpose is to give wisdom for life.  Proverbs 22:29 instructs us that a man or woman who is skilled in his or her work will eventually go far in life.  Proverbs 27:18 highlights the general principle of sowing and reaping: “He who tends a fig tree will eat its fruit, and he who looks after his master will be honored.”  These verses should reinforce your goal as a manager to develop character qualities such as consistency, diligence, faithfulness, and loyalty in all your employees, which will be a benefit to all concerned.

For your employees who were forced to work and attend children at the same time by the sudden quarantine, school kids sent home, or loss of childcare facilities and sitters, I am afraid there are no easy solutions.  Biblically, we know that a parent bringing up children is a blessing and is a huge responsibility.  (See Prov. 22:6; Eph. 6:4.)  Many of these workers have no choice but to work both full-time jobs simultaneously.  You are correct that these workers need some consideration. 

With these biblical principles in mind, I encourage you to continue to motivate your dedicated employees to work hard, but to not overdo it.  They should not feel like they need to work more hours than is normally required because the lines between work and home are blurred.  I encourage you to guide all workers to strive to maintain balance between work and family responsibilities. 

Practical wisdom to guide you

So, what do I recommend to creatively address your valid concerns above?

Spend some time with those employees who are struggling to take care of children while also trying to work.  Help them to assess what they are doing to balance their work and family responsibilities.  They need to figure out how to put in an honest day’s work for a full day’s pay. 

If what they have been doing is not giving them eight hours of focused work time every day, you might suggest that they design a schedule that allows them some flexibility in their work hours.  Maybe they are more productive when the kids are in bed.  If their spouse is teleworking also, they could take turns with  the children to carve out a couple of hours of uninterrupted time throughout the day.  If they are single parents, they might need to consider some part-time child care in their home during the day.

It is a challenge to confront employees when they are not right in front of you. However, asking for occasional updates on projects is a reasonable expectation for a manager.  Discuss their priorities at the beginning of the week and then evaluate their progress at the end of the week. 

You need some feedback to be able to hold them accountable, to ensure they are producing on schedule, and remain value-added to your organization.  You might have them write weekly progress reports, if that seems less intrusive.  If you had not already done so, set clear standards for hours worked and when employees need to check in.  Enforce them consistently, and be prepared to modify them as needed. 

Your compassionate yet firm guidance as a manager who is managing “as unto the Lord” will set them up for success and will increase the probability of productivity in your own organization.

About the author:

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.

How Should a Christian Respond to Bad Language?

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(Note: This article was written for and published by The Gospel Coalition. It was later posted on the Coram Deo blog.)

I’ve worked a number of “blue collar” jobs over the years (landscaping, construction, security, to be specific). On each jobsite, I found that my coworkers frequently used profane, sexist, and racist language in their humor and everyday conversation. Should a Christian respond negatively to every instance of this kind of behavior? How can a Christian balance between camouflaging their faith and just being a prude?

I can identify with what you are going through.  I have worked in some of these manual labor jobs myself over the years and served in the Army for over 20 years.  You are right, there does tend to be a number of folks who use the kind of language that might make some of us squirm.

There are a number of practical suggestions based on some of my own life experiences that I could offer as a way that we as Christ-followers can deal with these situations when they come up.  However, I do want to begin with seeing what Scripture might have to say about dealing with the sins we see so frequently demonstrated around us every day.  We want to look at these situations through a biblical lens so that we can respond to these thorns and thistles in the work environment in a way that might bring glory to God, who placed us in our jobs for His purposes.

Sinners sin

The place to start might be to review what God’s Word has to say about sin in general.  Men and women were made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27).  However, Adam and Eve rebelled (Gen. 3).  This has impacts on our daily work (Gen. 3:16-19).  From that point forward, children were still born with God’s image, but they also had the image of their human parents.  (See Gen. 5:3).

These are basic theological truths that most Christians understand well.  But how can we apply this knowledge in trying to properly respond to those who blatantly sin at work and elsewhere?

When I was in my last year of college, my father was about to get married to a woman he had had an affair with.  I went to my pastor for some counseling regarding how to treat my new stepmother.  He gave me some wise advice on how to love others in spite of their sinfulness.  He said something like, “Dogs bark, trees shed their leaves in the fall, and sinners sin.  It’s just what they do.  It shouldn’t surprise us when we see it”.  He then reminded me that she was one more person I had the opportunity to show God’s love. 

So, how should I respond when we hear sinful words in the workplace? We should not be surprised by it. Plus, it just may give us an opportunity to to show God’s love to those who need it.

Choose your battles

So, in answer to your question, no, I do not think a Christian should respond negatively to every instance of this kind of behavior.  Perhaps knowing what we just discussed might help us when others sin verbally in our presence.  We should not be surprised when we hear words that take the Lord’s name in vain or disrespect others.  However, that does not mean that we stay silent and allow it to continue indefinitely.  Jesus took us out of the world to send us right back into the world as salt and light, to make a difference right where we are.  (See John 17:14-19.)

I think we have to have some practical wisdom here when we consider how to confront someone over their choice of language.  There are two major questions we need to ask to determine our approach: 1) How damaging are the words that are used? 2) Is this coworker a Christian?

I remember basic training.  I had a drill sergeant who constantly used F-bombs and other colorful language in every sentence.  I became numb to it.  Although I actively discourage the use of it in my current position with the soldiers that work directly for me, there is not much I can do to diminish its use in others.  Sadly, it has become part of the military culture.  When I weigh the actual damage that occurs when those kinds of words are said, the effects truly are minimal.

However, when co-workers use words that are disrespectful to other people of different cultures or are denigrating to women, I have to draw the line.  A workplace that allows that kind of talk that takes away the dignity of other human beings and creates a hostile environment for all needs to change.  Perhaps God has placed you in this place for such a time as this.  (See Esther 4:14.)  We do need to take a stand.  The conversation must start with a loving and private conversation with the offender.  If they refuse to listen, perhaps you take it higher, or wait to see if it changes.

Not only do we need to pause and think before we try to wrestle inappropriate speech to the ground, but we also need to take a step back to assess whether or not the offensive speaker is a believer or not.  If they are not a Christian, telling them to “clean up their act” will not bring them closer to faith in Christ.  If they are a brother or sister in Christ, then we have a leg to stand on when we approach them to try to get them to be mindful of the impact of their words.  When we do care enough to confront someone, we always need to remember to look at ourselves first.

I hope that this snapshot of biblical truth and practical wisdom will give you a firmer foundation to stand on the next time you hear something negative coming out of coworkers mouths.

About the author:

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.

Building Your Team by Showing Dignity and Respect

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

On the way in to work one morning two weeks ago, I heard Dave Willis, a speaker on the “Focus on the Family” radio broadcast, talk about bringing up his sons with Christian values.  He shared a memorable incident where his own son had said something negative to the only girl on his Little League baseball team.  As a good coach, he made his son apologize to her, and then addressed his players.  He said, “We never want to make anybody on this team feel that they don’t belong.”

This reminded me of one of the things I love about serving in the U.S. Army for over 30 years, its emphasis on treating all personnel with dignity and respect.  Equal opportunity for all workers, regardless of their demographic, is constantly reinforced at every level: for military centralized promotion and command select boards as well as for civilian hiring actions and promotions.  I believe that our strength lies in our unity of purpose amidst great diversity.  Every member on the team brings something positive to the table based on who they are and where they come from.

Let me address this topic from a biblical perspective.  I will share a few personal observations and suggestions from what I have seen in my own workplace, unpack an important passage from one of Paul’s epistles that is applicable for us at work, and share some wisdom from another writer.

Personal observations and suggestions

I recall living in a racially diverse neighborhood in Long Island, New York for several years.  I attended Kindergarten through 2nd grade there.  Classmates with a different skin colors were the same as those who wore blue or red shirts.  It didn’t matter.  I am glad I grew up that way.  When I joined the Army twenty years later, I truly appreciated the diversity of my teammates.  It was so great to see my kids making friends with those of a different race in our neighborhood or at school.  

When I give my orientation brief to new members of our team, I make certain that they understand that this office will be a safe place to work for all concerned.  There will be no tolerance for sexual harassment or racial discrimination.  Every single member of the team will be treated with basic human dignity and respect.  Period. 

I then carefully point out the diverse groups within our office and within the larger organization.  We have military and civilian, male and female, officers and noncommissioned officers, old and young, black, brown, yellow, and white, active duty, reserve and National Guard.  And even though everyone used to joke around about the competencies of the other two branch schools where we work side-by-side (military police and engineers), we can no longer do that.  We even get along with the Sailors, Airmen, and Marines who are stationed here.

How do we treat those who are different than us with dignity and respect?  We notice them.  We smile and greet everyone in the morning and say goodbye when we head home in the afternoon.  We praise publically, and correct in private.  We engage with all.  We ask questions to get to know our teammates and listen to their answers. 

We never tolerate any kind of negative talk about “those people” (whether they be of other races, ranks, ages, genders, or members of the other armed forces; it doesn’t matter).  If someone were to say something carelessly about blondes, millennials, or boomers, we stop it.  We let all know on a daily basis that they are appreciated and are valued members of the team.

Building up the church through mutual respect

Let us look a little closer at what the Apostle Paul wrote in his first letter to the church in Corinth. 

In 1 Cor. 12:-12-26, we read a brilliant analogy concerning various parts of the human body.  In context, Paul had just been teaching about spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:1-11).  He writes that there are a variety of spiritual abilities that every Christian has that the Holy Spirit gives to each one as He wishes.  In the same way, the human body is made up of many parts and forms one complete body. 

These individual body parts failed to understand that they each had a divine purpose and were connected to one another and to the head, just like this local body of believers, whose members forgot their unity in Christ.  The foot should not think that it does not belong to the body just because it is not a hand.  If the foot was missing, how would the body walk around? 

Additionally, the eye can’t say to the hand that it is not needed.  Every part contributes to the whole.  What Paul is saying to them (and us) is this: every member of the team is essential, has a unique purpose, performs a necessary function, and is to be valued by the other members.  We need each other.

Here is what it would look like at my work.  One of my sergeants could say, “Well, I am not an officer.  Officers are really important.  What I do doesn’t matter.”  One of the male employees could say, “Why do we have females on our team?  They are different.  We don’t need them.”

What would it look like at your place of employment?  Do your custodians or administrative assistants feel like valued members of your organization?  Are there leaders at or near the top of the chain who do not recognize or value the contributions that everyone on the team brings? 

In William Morris’ great book, Love Thy Colleague, we find a biblical perspective on one aspect found in the passage above.  He addresses how to minister to the loners who have forgotten that they are part of the team. 

Morris shares this valuable insight: “Allowing each person as an individual to fully develop their talents and build and deepen relationships within the framework of a team, is what best promotes the human flourishing that God desires in the workplace (and everywhere).  And the loner can severely disrupt that dynamic  just like Paul’s unruly limbs.”

Later, Morris exhorts his readers on how to show God’s love to these workers who prefer to go solo. “Mercy lay in showing the colleague that they didn’t have to change from being a foot to being a hand, or try to be the whole body . . . Paul was actually arguing against conformity inside the church.  There was, he said, room for different talents, different characters, different types of people.  And it was from diversity inside the one body that real strength, and richness, and fruitful possibility truly lay.”

I know from my own experience in building teams over the past twelve years that seem to change every few months or so that I have to be intentional to ensure that every member of the team is treated like family.  I have to monitor my own relationship to each one, and also the relationships that each one has with the others on the team.  We cannot accomplish our mission without them.

About the author:

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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.

God’s Presence With Those Who Have Served in the Military

(Note this article was written for and published on The Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog.  It was also posted on the Coram Deo blog.)

There are 17 million veterans in this country.  Some of them made a career out of it like I did, having served over 20 years active duty, and are among our retired ranks.  Many more of these great American Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines served for three or four years.  Some served for decades in the reserves or National Guard.  Many served well in combat.  Each and every one of them, in addition to the ones now serving, should be very proud of their service to this Nation.  For those veterans who are also Christ-followers, you need to know that your work while serving in the military matters to God.

As I reflect on my military experience over 33 years of active federal service in and with the U.S. Army as a Soldier and Department of the Army civilian, I know beyond a doubt in my military mind that God has been and is present with me in this work.  Let me share a word of encouragement about how God has been present with our veterans and those who are serving in our armed forces now.  Perhaps our pastors can use these ideas below to provide a biblical perspective for the veterans in their own congregations.

God led you to serve in the military

I was in a tough spot in early 1986.  I had started seminary in the fall of 1982.  After struggling for over three years, due to a number of doors that God closed, I had exhausted all options to continue pursuing my master’s degree.  I had to let go of my dream.  The pastor of the church that we attended at the time gave me some wise advice.  He said, “When your dream dies, find a new dream.”  I had to humbly pray and seek God’s direction.  Little did I know He was going to answer my prayer in a most unique way.

Be all that you can be!” was the Army’s slogan as I was looking at my options.  Perhaps I needed to be willing to consider joining the military to get some financial stability for my young family.  The medical benefits were a plus, as was the G.I. Bill and Army College Fund which would help me get my seminary degree later on if I still felt led to pursue furthering my education.  After much prayer, I decided to enlist for just three years.   After I served on active duty for 20 years, 6 months, and 17 days, I have continued working with Soldiers for the past twelve years as a Department of the Army civilian employee.

I do not know what your story is, but I am willing to bet that it is as good as (or better than) mine.  Whether you were drafted, enlisted, or were commissioned in your branch (or branches) of service, I can tell you that based on what I know about the attributes of God: His faithfulness, mercy, and presence, He led you to serve.  He needed you to be all that you could be and to represent Him wherever you went.

God brought you through every challenge you faced

I may not know you personally, but am sure that your initial experiences being in the military were not much different than mine.  There were a lot of challenges when I first joined the army.  In basic training, there were the physical challenges of long days, running for miles and miles, and doing hundreds of pushups.  In my next phase of training, there were mental challenges to learn many new technical skills. 

When I got to my first duty station, I had to learn how to submit to my younger squad leader’s authority.  There was so much I had to learn about the way things were supposed to be done to meet established procedures.  Quite often my pride got in the way.  During these humbling times, I had to trust God and depend on His grace, mercy, and wisdom to strengthen me and get me through on a daily basis.  It was years later before I knew what I was doing and had developed confidence in my abilities as a Soldier.

One verse from the Old Testament that was written by an experienced military leader tells me that God was directly involved during this training and learning process.  King David wrote, “He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze” (Ps. 18:34).  God clearly provided just what you needed to be an effective Soldier.  He may have used drill sergeants, instructors, squad leaders, platoon sergeants, and first sergeants to train you.  But as s Christian, the God of the universe also trained you directly by His Holy Spirit.  His primary mission is to comfort, remind, and empower us in our daily walk of faith.

God developed your character and caused you to grow in spiritual maturity

Among the many successes I had in my military career, I also had several failures, which humbled me, and made me more Christ-like.  As a recruiter for sixteen months, I failed miserably, despite the fact that I had gotten myself sent to my old college town.  Years later, as a platoon sergeant in Germany, it became obvious after about eight months that I was ill-prepared for that job also.  This was mostly due to conflicts with my platoon leader, but it also had to do with my lack of leadership experience.  I truly struggled.

It was during these difficult assignments, God caused me to depend on Him as my source of confidence and identity.  The fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-25) supernaturally grew in me by leaps and bounds as I increased in compassion, patience, kindness, and peace that passed all understanding.  I also came to appreciate those times when God truly had blessed my efforts way beyond what could ask or expect. 

I imagine that you have had your share of failures during your years of service as well.  You have also had plenty of trials along the way.  Some of these were unique to the military, such as combat deployments or training exercises that took you away from home.  Other trials were just part of the thorns and thistles we all face at work, like trying to balance work and family, health issues, or working for unreasonable bosses.  In these trials, I know that you leaned on the Lord for strength to get through.  And during this process of walking by faith through each and every trial, you developed perseverance and became more Christlike.

God used you to build a strong defense that brings peace in this world

As I have studied the theology of work over many years, God helped me to understand the many valuable contributions our military personnel make.  Amy Sherman, in her book Kingdom Calling, shares a helpful concept of God as our vocational model.  She describes the different kinds of work God does in our midst now and how our human vocations can fit into this model. 

One of the six categories she lists is “Justice Work”, which is defined as God’s maintenance of justice.  The OT prophets indicate that there will come a day when our Messiah Jesus returns and wars will be no more.  (See Isa. 2:4 and Micah 4:3.)  But until that time, a strong offensive capability is one of the ways in which God keeps peace in this world. 

As a result, I can say without reservation that God is very much present in the work of our brave men and women in uniform.  He needs them to be trained and ready, individually and as a team, prepared to fight and defeat the enemy when called upon.  He is very much present on the military installation where I work, through the drill sergeants, instructors, leaders, and civilian staff members who work to develop, coordinate, support, and execute the training that God provides to thousands of new Soldiers annually. 

Closing thoughts

With few exceptions, I think most men and women who have served in the military inherently know the value of the work they have done, as a lot of people have thanked them for their service.  I trust that our Christian veterans have also come to understand a little better that God values their service also.  He has worked in you, with you, and through you as part of His work to bring justice and peace to the world.

Let me close with a special word of encouragement to our many combat veterans who have experienced great losses as a direct result of serving this country in places that were far from home.  Many of you have lost battle buddies, your comrades in arms.  Many of you have lost limbs or had traumatic brain injuries.  Many of you have lost your families.  Many of you may feel like you may have lost your souls. 

I want you to know that your work was not in vain.  More importantly, I want you to know that there is comfort, healing, and rest to be found in God alone.  He is your rock, your shelter, and your deliverer.  And when you receive His comfort, you can in turn pass it on to others who need it.  (See 2 Cor. 1:3-4.)

About the author:

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.

How Does the Fruit of the Spirit Bring What is Lacking at my Workplace?

This is a follow-up to an article I recently wrote on how the Seven Army Values align with Christian values.  My intent in the previous article was to show that a Christian Soldier can wholeheartedly serve in the military, since the Army’s values are not in contradiction with biblical values. 

In this article, I want to demonstrate that a Christian worker will not merely fit in, but will be able to significantly improve the quality of the work environment by intentionally living out the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). 

Let me focus on just three of these nine positive character traits called the fruit of the Spirit.  I believe I can illustrate how exhibiting these spiritual fruit as a Christian employee working in an ordinary job will have an eternal impact on those we work for, those who work for us, our peers, and our customers.

Love

I have worked for the U.S. Army for 34 years now.  In my experience, they do not teach soldiers how to love, per se.  In fact, when it comes to how to respond to enemies both foreign and domestic, love is the furthest topic of discussion.  Soldiers are well-trained to destroy the enemy, not to love them.  (However, we know that God can use a military force to protect His people from those who do evil.)

I will maintain that a Christian soldier, even while marching off to war, can bring his or her biblical understanding and capacity to unconditionally love to their fellow soldiers.  They do this by acting properly to meet people’s legitimate needs, demonstrating the sacrificial love Jesus displayed on the cross. 

A Christian who has learned over time to abide in Christ (John 15:5) and let the power of the Holy Spirit flow through them every day can display genuine care and concern for those they serve with who do not look like them, are from different backgrounds, etc.   Moreover, the love we have for our brothers and sisters in Christ that we work with will be noticed by those who are not Christians.  You may recall the song, “They will know we are Christians by our love.”  (See John 13:34-35.)

Joy

This is another character trait that the Army does not seem to emphasize much, if at all.  For example, a Drill Sergeant may be less effective in training soldiers with a constant smile on his or her face. 

Mark Greene, in his excellent book, Fruitfulness on the Frontline, shares this keen observation: “Here, joy doesn’t mean that we have to be highly carbonated, effervescent people gamboling into every encounter like exuberant puppies.  There are plenty of joyous Christian people who aren’t extroverts but who have something about them, something luminous, something that makes you pleased to see them walk into a room – even if you never get to talk to them.”

Perhaps joy is not appreciated much at your place of employment, either.  However, who does not want joy in their life?  Those Christians who can display this fruit of the Spirit consistently will be able to bring something unique and positive to the workplace that the world cannot possibly provide.  Perhaps we need to figure out a more appropriate way to express the joy of the Lord that we all have based on the total forgiveness that we have in Christ and God’s mercy and grace that we experience.

When we go through a trial at work, and have total confidence in God’s ability to work out all things for good, we have a sense of joy and peace that those who do not know Him cannot understand.  In the context of suffering, the Apostle Peter describes it in this way: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8). 

People will eventually notice this radical and illogical attitude, and may ask where this unexplainable joy comes from.  At that moment, we have earned the right to explain to our co-workers the reason for the hope that we have in Christ.  (See 1 Peter 3:15.)

Self-control

This quality, last but not least in the list, is of much value to any employer.  Who doesn’t want an employee who can keep his or her temper, hold their tongue, or say no to abuse harmful substances?

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia sheds some light on this key quality.  “Clearly self-control does not come naturally or by hard effort but is the gift of God through His Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:23) . . . There is no ultimate power over self here but only a control granted and sustained by God.”

What sets ordinary Christian workers apart from the crowd is a sharp focus on the fact that one’s actions, if not aligned with Scripture, will reflect on not only other Christians, but on Jesus Himself.

Closing thoughts

Greene shares some great insights from Ps. 92:12-15 as he describes the fruitfulness that God develops in those who consistently abide in Christ.  He says, “We live to glorify God.  And God is glorified as his character, his priorities, his goodness and indeed his power are expressed through our everyday lives.  The goal of fruitfulness is to bring glory to God.”

I trust that you have been challenged to consider some practical ways to fully integrate your Christian faith at work on a daily basis.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, we need to show that we are new creatures in Christ by how we interact with people in a Christlike manner. 

We bring increased value to our workplaces by demonstrating that Christ lives in us.  As we supernaturally, yet quite naturally display each of the qualities listed as the fruit of the Spirit, we will be a blessing to everyone we work with, which will bring glory to God the Father and will point others to Him.

About the author:

Russell E. Gehrlein 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 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.  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.  Fifty articles posted on this blog have been published on numerous Christian organization’s blogs or 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 is a Sanctified Imagination, and How do I use it?

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Each day through my window I watch her as she passes by.  I say to myself, “You’re such a lucky guy!  To have a girl like her is truly a dream come true.  Out of all the fellas in the world, she belongs to you.”  But it was just my imagination, running away with me.

Many readers of my generation will recognize these lyrics from the 1971 song by the Temptations, “Just my Imagination (Running Away With Me).”  (See video here.)  It comes across as a bittersweet tale about a lonely man.  We feel sorry for him.  He fantasizes about a woman he likes, dreaming about getting married and raising two or three children with her in a cozy little home out in the country, but none of it is real.  Near the end of the song, he confesses, “She doesn’t even know me.”  Wow!  So sad.

I think that many of us are discouraged from using our imaginations, especially as Christians.  Verses such as Prov. 12:11, which states plainly that “those who chase fantasies have no sense”, and Jer. 17:9, which warns, “The heart is deceitful above all things” have been used by some to discourage those of us with active imaginations to stop wasting time chasing dreams or following our hearts. 

However, I think these well-meaning teachers forgot one critical point.  Those of us who have accepted God’s free gift of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ received a transformed mind and a new heart as part of the deal.  Yes, we absolutely need to grow and mature, but we are not merely fleshly beings.

I am not sure where I got this term sanctified imagination.  I may have picked it up from someone, but I can’t remember who.  It is more or less synonymous with divine inspiration, but not in the way that the writers of the Bible were divinely inspired.  The idea is that we see things through a new lens when we become Christians.

I invite you to explore this topic further with me, as I provide a biblical basis for the concept, show how we can be spiritually prepared to use it, and what it is we should be thinking about.  Let’s go!

Biblical basis for a transformed mind

Let me highlight several verses that support the somewhat radical idea that Christians have access to a powerful tool as a part of their new nature that can be used to glorify God – a sanctified imagination.

  • Jer. 31:33 – “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.”
  • Eze. 36:26 – “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
  • Joel 2:28 – “Your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.”
  • John 14:26 – Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, “will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
  • Rom. 12:2 – “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
  • 1 Cor. 2:16 – “We have the mind of Christ.”
  • 2 Cor. 5:17 – “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.”
  • 2 Cor. 10:5 – “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Let me summarize.  Part of the New Covenant, as described in Jer. 31:33 and Eze. 36:26 is a spiritual transformation from within that irreversibly alters the hearts and minds of believers from the moment of salvation.  God works in us by grace, and then we pursue Him by grace to grow in Christlikeness.  Jesus taught that our main teacher would be the indwelling Holy Spirit, who would bring God’s Word to the forefront of our minds.  When we meditate on the Scriptures, He teaches us, and we become more transformed into His likeness in our thinking.  We actually have full access to the mind of Christ.  We are new creatures in Christ; we are not the same.  We must actively pursue this sanctification process by faith.

Imagination preparation

Now that we have seen that every Christian has been given a renewed mind as part of being new creatures in Christ, how can we prepare to put this new spiritual capability into gear?  There are two things that we must do: flee from sin and be filled with the Spirit

Paul taught extensively in Romans 6-8 that we have been set free from sin through faith in Jesus.  However, but we will still struggle as believers with desiring to do sinful actions.  Jesus taught this same idea in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7).  Sinful actions come out of the sinful thoughts in our hearts.  We still need to participate in fleeing from sin by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Paul gives a simple illustration which I believe will help prepare our hearts and minds for a dedicated time to use our sanctified imaginations.  In Col. 3:5-14, we read that we are to put off certain sinful behaviors, and put on more righteous activities.  Paul also commands us to be filled with the Holy Spirit in Eph. 5:18, which means that we allow Him to control our thoughts, feelings, and actions. 

Free to dream about God’s purposes

So, what are those activities where we could be using our Christ-centered imagination? 

Here are some examples:

  • Prayer – When we pray, we imagine by faith that God is here and is listening to us
  • Meditating on Scripture – Exploring what it means to us and how we can apply it in our lives
  • Evangelism – Thinking through how to share our faith with a co-worker
  • Reconciliation – Figuring out how to apologize to your spouse or an extended family member
  • Preparing to teach – Rehearsing how to teach a child or a class a biblical principle or passage
  • Mission – Dreaming about how God can use your gifts to make a difference in the Kingdom
  • Creating – Making something special; Michelangelo, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used their sanctified imaginations to create art, literature, and speeches to glorify God

Let me illustrate this last bullet with a fun story from my own life. 

I worked at an amusement park in Kansas City in the mid ‘70s as teenager.  One summer night, when the park was about to close and no one else was around,  I gave a sermon out loud in the children’s petting zoo.  I preached on Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats to actual sheep and goats. 

My wife used her transformed mind two years ago to transform our home.  She had a brilliant idea to switch our large family room with our small dining room.  I was a little reluctant to consider this major project at first because I knew how much work and expense it would take.  However, I also knew I could trust her and that God had been leading her to pursue this to accommodate our growing family gatherings in our dining room.  After a few months, the project was completed, and I rejoiced.  I now enjoy our cozy, wee den, which used to be the dining room.

A new spin on this old record

Let me return to our opening song, and see it from a different angle, using just my imagination. 

What if we explored the possibility that this man is a Christian.  Perhaps he is considering the idea (in pure thoughts) that God brought this woman into his life for a purpose.  He has been praying for a wife for a very long time.  He knows she is a single Christian.  Rather than giving up this dream too soon because it is not based on reality yet, what if he continued to think about how he can turn this vision into something real.  Maybe God has laid this special woman on his heart to pursue a relationship with her based on a 1 Cor. 13 kind of sacrificial unconditional love, centered on Jesus Christ.  He then humbly prays for wisdom, asking God to give him the courage to meet her and the opportunity to get to know her better.  Now, there is some power and purpose in his pondering. 

I hope this devotional was helpful to you and will encourage you to develop your own sanctified imagination as you pray, meditate on Scripture, or daydream.  When we actively walk with the Father, abide in Christ, and are filled with the Spirit, our thoughts may very well be holy thoughts.  These inspirational ideas that we come up with can be God’s way of leading us down the paths He has called us to walk.  Over time, we will be able to distinguish between sanctified imaginations that bring glory to God and fleshly thoughts that only bring glory to ourselves and lead to inappropriate actions. 

Dream on!

About the author:

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Russell E. Gehrlein 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 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.  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.  Fifty articles posted on this blog have been published on numerous Christian organization’s blogs or 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.