Reflection on Rocket Scientists

You have probably heard it said many times, “It’s not rocket science!”

This common phrase which can be used on many occasions comes with the understanding that rocket science is a technologically complicated field. It is something that only true rocket scientists can fully understand and master. They must have a superior intellect and years of higher education to do it.

I have had an interesting take on this phrase that I have said quite often.  Here it is: Rocket science is not rocket science to a rocket scientist. 

The term “rocket science” as it is used in this context, refers to complicated projects or ideas that are extremely difficult to execute or comprehend. For those who have formal training and advanced degrees in the field of astrophysics, engineering, or some related field, doing what they do is not something extremely difficult for them to think about or do. They have all the tools they need.

However, I imagine that there are a host of other things, like sports, auto mechanics, teaching, or construction that might be a major challenge for them. These skills are “rocket science” to them.

I would like to explore this topic from a biblical and theological perspective. I am hoping that what I share in this brief article may be of some help to the vast majority of us who are not rocket scientists, as well as those who are.

God’s brilliant plan to create humans in His image to function as His coworkers

To begin this discussion, we must start at the beginning. “In the beginning, God created” (Gen. 1:1).

What God made was absolutely perfect. However, it was incomplete. God’s creation needed help. In Gen. 1:26-28, we read what is commonly known as the creation or cultural mandate. It is both a command and a blessing. God created human beings who were gifted with His own creativity. He called them to be His coworkers so that they could maintain, sustain, and expand what He had made.

In Gen. 2:5, we learn that God made the rain but needed man to work the ground. This illustrates that God’s original intent was for humans to be His coworkers. I call this connection Immanuel labor.

God equipped men and women will the skills necessary to sustain His creation

God created male and female so that they could “be fruitful and multiply.” Humans were not clueless. Their bodies and minds were designed to know what to do in order for that to happen. I believe that when their babies were born, they inherently knew how to care for them, as do most parents today.

After God created the Garden of Eden. Adam was charged “to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). He and Eve suddenly became gardeners. Since God created trees, there would be a need at some point for lumberjacks and carpenters. There was gold and precious stones in the ground (Gen. 2:11-12), so there would be a need for goldsmiths and jewelers, some of whom would later build a tabernacle in the wilderness. Later, in Gen. 4:17, we see that Cain built a city. In Gen. 4:20-22, we read that Cain’s descendants became those who took care of livestock, played music, and forged instruments of bronze and iron.

Daniel Doriani, in his book Work: Its Purpose, Dignity, and Transformation, shares this insight: “In this description of the very earliest stages of human history, we find God’s creativity and expanding blessings being expressed in the diverse professions and vocations of his people. . . All these different professions are being established as the means by which society is advancing under God’s plan – a plan honoring every vocation that furthers God’s purposes.”

How did these unique individuals develop the skills and talents needed to do this work? Likely, it was a process, similar to how young people today figure out what they want to do when they grow up.

It may have begun with interest. “What is that shiny rock in the ground?” This led to involvement. “I wonder if I can make something useful with this pliable piece of metal.” As involvement continued, it became experience. Perhaps they received some training and education from others who were also involved. Eventually, they developed marketable skills that God could use to accomplish His work.

Over time, God sovereignly equipped a wide variety of ordinary workers to do what He needed done in the world. Economies and civilizations were built at the hands of these talented men and women. God equipped those who were made in His image with innate abilities to learn, grow, develop, create, and become everything that He needed them to be in order to meet the wide range of human needs.

How do you see your own intellect, talents, and strengths?

Let me attempt to tie it all together now.

I have observed that many people see all jobs on some kind of continuum. Some jobs are simply beneath them; others, like rocket science, are too hard or out of reach. Their job falls somewhere in there.

Recall that God initially made people in His image who developed the interests, skills, and expertise needed to sustain and expand His creation. I believe He still does that today. Therefore, all jobs have value and contribute to what God wants done in this world to meet the needs of those He loves. It is not biblical or helpful to look down on some jobs and hold other jobs in high esteem. All are of value.

I believe God created some people with the ability to do rocket science. (I will address that shortly.) He created many others for different kinds of work.

Take a quick inventory of the many talents, aptitudes, gifts, skills, and abilities that God has entrusted to you to use in your sphere of influence, among your family, church, and community to glorify Him. I believe you are smarter than you realize. You might even do things that rocket scientists can’t do.

In 2017, I saw a movie that moved me deeply. Hidden Figures tells the story of a team of Black female mathematicians in the early 1960’s who worked brilliantly and diligently behind the scenes at NASA, amidst a hostile environment. In spite of many challenges, their work contributed significantly to the success of the first manned space flight. This film demonstrated how God put the right people with the right skill sets at the right time and place to do a good work that had an enduring impact on society for the common good.

I invite you to take a minute or two to praise God for leading you on your career journey, even if you did not realize it at the time. He has graciously provided all of the talents and skills you needed to do the work that He called you to do over a lifetime. Thank Him for what He has given and also for what He has not given you. You were designed for a purpose. Go out and fulfill it with excellence and joy.

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 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of the bookImmanuel 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 ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ 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 minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 175 articles on faith and work topics. Eighty of these have been published over 160 times on several 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, and The Gospel Coalition. (See published articles on Linktree.)

Summary of Writing Activities in 2021

As we begin a new year, I want to recap what the Lord brought about as I followed my calling to write.  I praise God for His presence as I worked diligently to write about His presence at work

Like one of Job’s friends said, I, too can say, “For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me; inside I am like bottled up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst” (Job 32:18-19).

This past year of writing was full of many blessings, beyond what I ever could have imagined.  Below, you will see the many ways God demonstrated His faithfulness to me.  He opened up doors to expand my audience so that I could teach and encourage Christians in many places. 

Articles written and published

By the grace of God, this was my most productive year in the past six years of keeping a blog.  In 2021, I wrote 49 articles.  Of these, 37 of them were on a variety of faith and work topics, yielding 170 articles I have written in this category.  I also wrote 12 articles on other topics, yielding a total of 81 articles.  Over the past six years, I have written a total of 251 articles. 

The number of articles that were posted or published elsewhere blew me away: 24 out of the 37 articles on faith and work (65%) were published 45 times.  [Compare this to 2020, where 19 out of 33 articles on faith and work (58%) were posted or published 34 times.]  There were also nine articles I wrote in previous years that were published this year, yielding a total of 54 articles.  I now have 82 out of 170 articles (48%) that were posted or published a grand total of 159 times.

These articles were published in various organization’s blogs, websites, and other places, including the Coram Deo blog, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics (IFWE) blog, The Gospel Coalition, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work blog, and Christian Grandfather Magazine.  (You can find all these articles on my relatively new Linktree site: https://linktr.ee/Russ_Gehrlein.)

I was amazed to see that two of my articles that were published on the IFWE blog made their top ten list for 2021.  (I also had articles on their top ten lists in 2017, 2019, and 2020.)  I am grateful and astounded by their support.  They have published 44 of my articles since November 2016.

In addition to these articles on faith and work, I had one other that was published in the Lost Pen Magazine in February, entitled Jesus Fulfilled Old Testament Prophecy on the Cross.

Podcasts and interviews

In addition to the doors that God opened with numerous articles being published, I was given an amazing opportunity to appear on a podcast with the Theology of Work Project last January. 

I also appeared on two radio programs in January last year.  The first interview was with Family Radio, on their Community Bridge program.  The topic was “Letting God Help You Find a Rewarding Career”.  The host had contacted the IFWE to see if they could interview me based on an article I had written a couple of years prior.  The IFWE then took the transcript of this interview and posted it on their blog in three parts, which ended up #6 on their top ten list.

The second radio interview that I also did in early January last year was with WORD FM, a radio station in Pittsburgh, PA, on their “The Ride Home with John and Kathy” show.  This one also was generated from an article I wrote for The Gospel Coalition that had just been published.

Things I learned this year

  • God continues to give me new ideas for articles, often during sleepless nights
  • Once I start typing, the articles seem to just write themselves
  • Shorter paragraphs are better than longer ones
  • There is a place for shorter articles on occasion (one page vs. two)

Upcoming projects and goals

Here are some of the things I want to work on in 2022:

  • Whittle down my list of 20+ topics and unfinished articles on faith and work
  • Write articles on other theological topics; i.e., the use of the OT in the NT
  • Put myself out there: send out requests to do podcast, radio, and blog interviews
  • Improve my writing skills
  • Be more consistent with social media posts

Prayer requests

I sincerely solicit the prayers of my brothers and sisters in Christ, regarding my writing:

  • That I would press on, despite occasional doubts that I am making a difference
  • Podcasts/interviews (Laymen’s Lounge coming up in March)
  • Opportunities to publish articles with new organizations that need guest writers
  • Opportunities to partner on a deeper level with faith at work leaders/organizations
  • Opportunities to speak to Soldiers on post at prayer breakfasts or other events

Let me elaborate on the first bullet above.  Once in a while, I wonder if I am wasting my time with all this writing.  I only get feedback from a handful of friends when I post an article.  I want to reach more people.  Then, I am reminded of who it is that brings doubts to our minds.  It isn’t God; it’s Satan.  I know deep down in my heart that I am called to write on faith and work issues.  God has given me a unique life message.  Since close to half of my articles have been published, God is clearly working to bring about my desire to be part of this faith and work conversation.

Closing thoughts

When Nehemiah’s huge renovation project was completed, and the walls around Jerusalem were restored, it was obvious to all who observed, that “this work had been done with the help of our God” (Neh. 6:16).  It would not have been possible without God’s presence from start to finish. 

In the same manner, I am hoping that those who read the articles I write about God’s presence at work will also be able to see that God was present in my work.  Moreover, I truly want people to experience God’s presence for themselves as they do the work that God has called them to do.

I am extremely grateful for a growing number of family, friends, colleagues, and organizations around the world who have responded to my posts, read my articles, shared them with others, connected with me via social media, listened to my podcasts and radio programs, purchased or reviewed my book, and encouraged me occasionally over the year.  You know who you are! 

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 41 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 ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ 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 minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 170 articles on faith and work topics. Eighty of these have been published over 150 times on several 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, and The Gospel Coalition. (See published articles on Linktree.)

Being Open to New Possibilities (Part 2)

decision-fork-in-the-road-100722105-large

(Note: I wrote this article below in September of last year.  It was a follow-up to a reflection on my spiritual journey as I applied for a new job at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, which is 30 miles from where our son lives.  I encourage you to read my first article before you read this one.)

Remember the old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books?  They were unique, creative, and fun.  At the end of the chapter, you came to a decision point.  You had to make a choice for the main character.  Did he take the left fork or the right?  Did he steal the car or not?  Did he punch that jerk in the face or walk away?  Depending on which choice you made, you skipped ahead to the page where the story continued from there.  I am going to attempt to use a similar format here.

Allow me to begin with my first possible scenario where I announce I was offered the job that I had applied for in August.  At this point, I will let the reader choose – Do I accept the job or not?

In the second possible scenario, I will announce that I did not get the job.  I will lay out two choices for the reader to decide – Do I acknowledge the closed door and stay at my current job until retirement, or do I continue to apply for other jobs at the same location?  In both scenarios, I will offer a biblical perspective to flesh out the ramifications of each of those decisions.

Are you ready? Buckle your seat belt!  It may be a bumpy ride!

*******************************

Possible Scenario 1: I was offered the job

I got the phone call I was hoping for.  It was from the Civilian Personnel Assistance Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  They congratulated me and said that they were offering me the job.  I was overjoyed!  They asked me what date I could start, and I told them.

What should my response be?  I am going to let the reader decide.

If you think I should accept the job for all the reasons I articulated in my previous article, continue reading the next section below.  However, if you think I should not take the position because it is a huge risk moving into something new when I already have a job I am perfectly comfortable with, then skip over the next section and go to the one immediately following.

Choice #1 – Take the job

Once again, this was a no brainer!  I had been praying about this job from the minute I first learned of the position.  I was prayerful as I updated my resume, answered the questionnaire online, and submitted my application.  I was prayerful as I waited to hear from them for two weeks.  When I was called on a Friday morning to set a time for the phone interview, I continued to pray.  I asked family members to pray.  I wisely prepared for the interview.  I conducted it with confidence as I sat in my car in the post exchange parking lot.  While waiting, I prayed for them to make a good decision.  When I was offered the job, I knew what I had to do.  I took it!

My biblically informed mind knew several things long before this process started.  I knew that God was in control.  I knew that He was good.  I knew that He had called, led, and equipped me to every job I had ever held.  I knew He would open and close doors in His time.  I knew that God would provide the wisdom and courage needed to make the right decision.  Even if this decision led to a difficult situation down the road, I did not have to have any regrets, because I knew that all things work together for good for those who are called according to His purpose.

Choice #2 – Turn down the job

This ended up being one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make.  Part of me wanted to jump in with both feet, but something said to not be hasty.  I remembered when I spontaneously pushed to get my Army recruiting assignment changed from Kansas City, Missouri to Fort Collins, Colorado.  It was a disaster.  “Be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it.”  Although there were some really solid reasons for accepting the job, I just could not do it.  I was going to lose too much by leaving my comfort zone.  It was a risk I was not willing to take.

The biblical perspective that I would offer here is that the Bible tells God’s people in many times and situations, “Fear not!” Frankly, fear seems to be the driving force in any decision to stick with what is comfortable and not take this new job.  Perhaps I should have respected my spouse more and followed-through on the decision we had made together to seek out opportunities to be closer to family.  However, even though it may not have been the wisest decision, it does not mean that I would have to settle for “Plan B” the rest of my life.  God would continue to use me at my current location.  It might be a while, but perhaps I would see another job open up.

*******************************

Possible Scenario 2: I was not selected for the job

I did not get the phone call that I was hoping for.  Instead, I got the dreaded email from USA Jobs coldly informing me that I was not selected for the job I had interviewed for in late August.

What should my response be?  If you think I should choose to remain where I am until retirement, go to the next section.  If you think I should keep applying for other positions at Fort Leavenworth, skip the next section and go to the one beyond that.

Choice #1 – Choose to remain

I was devastated.  The whole process was a roller coaster of emotions.  I did not want to put myself out there again and get rejected over and over.  I took the hint and decided to figure out a way to bloom where I was planted and consider an early retirement in a few years when ready.

Making a decision to apply for a job is not a moral decision (like deciding to rob a bank).  We have freedom in Christ to seek other opportunities to serve Christ elsewhere, as the Lord wills.  Paul made all kinds of decisions in the book of Acts as to where he wanted to go next to bring the gospel to the Gentiles.  Remain or look; it is not going to change your eternal destiny.

Choice #2 – Continue to apply

I have to admit, I truly thought I had the job.  My wife and I felt like the timing was right.  The job description seemed like it was going to be a good fit.  I was disappointed I did not get it, but I did find peace and rest in the Lord.  I knew that He was present with me in my search for a new job closer to my son, daughter-in-law, and grandson.  We both had a sense of hope that if this was not the right job, then another better opportunity would open up for me in the near future.

The story of the persistent widow comes to mind.  Jesus clearly commends persistent prayer.  Just because we get a “No” from the Lord does not mean that we should stop pursuing our dream.  Joseph did not forget his dreams.  They just took some time.  If we keep knocking and the door does not open, perhaps we pray that God will adjust our desires.  If they remain, then we keep on sowing, knowing that we shall reap if we do not grow weary.  As I shared throughout my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession, seeking a job is always going to be a spiritual journey.  It will be a faith-building season from start to finish.  Don’t give up!

What actually happened?

I am not going to tell you. (You’re kidding, right?)  Yes, I am kidding.  Sorry.  (And?)

The Friday after Labor Day, I got an email indicating that I was not selected for the job. My wife and I were both disappointed but knew that God is still in control.  It was not His time.  I will apply for others I qualify for until I get an offer, or I hit age 65, whichever comes first.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention something.  Two weeks after I applied for the second job there was another position that opened up at Fort Leavenworth for a Plans Officer!  I applied for it right away.  I was also referred for this job.   I am still waiting to be contacted for an interview.

Epilogue

I was given an interview on 9/11 but was notified two days later that I was not selected.

Job, after a serious of major losses much bigger than my disappointment, responded in faith: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).

To be continued . . .

91045809_10217299091332546_4886064790042050560_o

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Being Open to New Possibilities (Part 1)

43-Best-Job-Search-Websites-2016-2-@careersherpa

(Note: I wrote the article below, as well as Part 2 in September of 2019. However, I did not feel that the time was right to post it. Now that nearly a year has passed, I believe the timing is better.)

I am continually amazed at what God brings to me after I have prayed sincerely for Him to help me put into practice my theology of work that I have written about. I am always looking for opportunities to practice His presence at work, to better submit to my employer, to be an answer to someone’s prayers by meeting their needs through my work, or to see a trial through eyes of faith. Just as I find myself in a place of sweet contentment and satisfaction in the Lord at my current job, God made me aware of a job possibility elsewhere that caught my attention.

This is not the first time this has happened. I reflected on two similar occasions in my blog. In an article posted in July 2016, I shared my experiences in considering a radically new direction career-wise for the very first time.

More than a year later, in August 2017, I wrote and posted another article after I was made aware of a job opportunity in Colorado. I found it fascinating that I was able to go through this process twice while I was writing my book. This allowed me to add a personal dimension of putting biblical principles of seeking God when searching for work into practice in my own life.

It is two years later. This time it is different. This new job I was made aware of is located at the Army post where my wife and I had recently decided we would like to go “someday”. On the flip side of this blessing, it wrecks me to consider the things that must take place if offered this position. It could mark the end of a thirty-three year chapter with the U.S. Army Chemical Corps.

Biblical perspective

When faced with a major decision on whether or not to pursue a new job opportunity, Christians must have a biblical perspective. Let me present a couple of ideas about changing jobs from my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession.

In Part II, I help my readers apply the foundational concepts I carefully unpacked in Part I. In chapter 9, I shared some general principles with respect to seeking first the kingdom of God and in finding a calling or vocation. In chapter 10, I presented several additional biblical principles as well as some of my own experiences in pursuing and finding a job or career that leads to flourishing.

One of the most powerful things we need to remember in making career decisions is this: God is in control. In His covenant lovingkindness (hesed, in Hebrew), God wisely places His children where they need to be at the right place and time for His glory. Knowing this should take our anxiety about the whole process of “how to find our calling” away, replacing it with His peace.

I also shared this kernel of truth with respect to considering a new job: God may be preparing you to begin another chapter in your life. If you decide to go, God will be with you wherever it is. He will give you wisdom to make the best decision in His time. He will provide for you and your family.

Finding a new job in your same field or making a radical change into something new is always a spiritual journey. You may need to boldly step out in faith. God may change the circumstances, or He may change you. Either way, He is working on your behalf because He is a worker, He is present in your work, and He has called you to be a coworker with Him.

How the journey progressed

Let me give you a brief snapshot on how this came about, what I did, and how it was resolved.

This new job popped in my work email in early June as a result of weekly job alerts through the USA Jobs website. There was a vacancy for a GS-13 position with the Army University in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The job title was the same as the one I had held for the past eleven years at the US Army Chemical School: Operations Officer. I knew very little about the organization, but it fell under the same umbrella of the Army Training and Doctrine Command. One thing caught my attention – this job would qualify for reimbursement of relocation expenses.

Over the next couple of days, I updated my resume to highlight my skills and experiences that matched the new position. I also filled out a questionnaire to indicate whether or not I had done some of the things that I would be responsible to do in the new position. I then took an online assessment of my reading comprehension, problem solving skills, and intellectual abilities.

Two weeks later, I was notified that I was eligible for the position and was referred to the hiring manager! I was on actually on a list of candidates for the job. I was truly shocked! Ironically, this was on the 101st anniversary of the U.S. Army Chemical Corps, on the very last day of our week-long celebration that I was intimately involved in planning, preparing, and executing.

My wife and I discussed the pros and cons of taking this job. Here were some of the advantages:

  • My wife and I deeply desire to be closer to our children and see our grandchildren grow up; this post is about 30 minutes from where our eldest son and his family live
  • If something were to happen to us, it makes it easier if we were closer to family
  • I will eventually have to leave this job; it will happen in one of three ways: on my own, by the will of someone else, or by death; the first choice sounds better than the others

Here were some of the obvious disadvantages:

  • I am very competent, confident, and yet still growing in my skills at my current job; I love what I do, enjoy the people I work with, and am making a difference
  • I provide necessary continuity to the school headquarters, which is much-needed during this summer of high transition in the school’s leadership
  • I would have to completely start over with a new organization, leaving my place in the Chemical Corps where I have served continuously for the last 33 years

The results

Over the next several weeks, I waited patiently for a phone call to set up an interview or notification that the job had closed. I heard nothing.

On 1 August, I received an email about another position at Fort Leavenworth. This job was for a Planning Specialist. Been there; done that. It was a no-brainer. I applied that day.

Eventually, I found out I did not get the first job. Now, we are waiting on God to see how this plays out with the second one. We rest in this: “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:15).

(Click here if you want to read Part 2.)

91045809_10217299091332546_4886064790042050560_o

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Experiencing God’s Presence in my Military Service (Part 2)

10400644_1029810588768_3833_n

(Note: This is the second article of a two-part series on this topic.  In part 1, I reflected on five aspects of how I experienced God’s presence as I served in and with the U.S. Army over the past 34 years.  Here, I will expand my thoughts by covering my next five observations.  This article was also posted on the Coram Deo blog.)

In preparation for an upcoming podcast interview later this month where I will have the opportunity to share my unique career journey, I have been reflecting on my military experience over 34 years of serving in and with the U.S. Army.  There is abundant evidence that God has been and is present with me in this work.  Let me share observations six through ten.

God used me to love my neighbors

Let me give you a couple of examples where my work was an act of loving my neighbor.  I did not see this at the time, but looking back now, I realize that God was using me in practical ways to increase the readiness of Soldiers, which directly met their needs and the needs of their families.

In my first assignment at Fort Stewart, Georgia, I was selected to be the commander’s driver and unit armorer, responsible for the maintenance of every weapon in our company arms room.  I had no idea that I could learn to set up and maintain systems to schedule and perform quarterly inspections, order parts, and repair several types of weapons.  God empowered me with the necessary aptitudes and skills to do this job well for one year.

Two and a half years later, Iraq invaded Kuwait, and the Soldiers in this unit deployed to Southwest Asia in support of Operation Desert Storm with these very same weapons I had fixed.  This reinforced the absolute importance of my work when I was there.

Flash forward to 9/11, when America came under attack.  In response, a number of Army Reserve and National Guard units were deployed overseas.  In God’s timing, I was assigned to a training support battalion in Salt Lake City, Utah, whose mission was to assist these units.  I provided technical training and logistical support to hundreds of Soldiers that were going into harm’s way.  I knew that my job provided an opportunity to love God and love my neighbors, since it directly involved taking care of Soldiers and accomplishing the mission of the units in which I served.

In addition to God using me through the work He had called me to do as a chemical NCO, my family and I had plenty of opportunities to minister and be ministered to through our local church or chapel everywhere we were stationed.  Several examples come to mind.

My wife and I started a college and career Sunday School class at our church in Tacoma, Washington.  While at Fort Hood, we directed a children’s Christmas musical at our church, and my wife served on the board of the Protestant Women of the Chapel.  In our chapel in Germany and in my second tour in Korea, I started a bi-weekly men’s breakfast, where we sang manly songs from Promise Keepers CDs and discussed men’s issues from a biblical perspective.  I also had the opportunity to lead our chapel council in Germany after several of our men got deployed to Bosnia and served on the board of the European Protestant Men of the Chapel.  I taught Sunday School in many of the places we were stationed.  We also provided hospitality in our home to many Soldiers and their Families.

God gave me understanding

Over three decades of prayerful reading and study on the theology of work, in teaching this topic with several adult Sunday school classes, during an independent study while earning my seminary degree, and in writing my book, God gave me a deep understanding of the eternal value of military service.

While on my first unaccompanied tour in Korea from 1988-1989, I read an amazing book, Your Work Matters to God, by Doug Sherman and William Hendricks.  God brought it to me at a critical time in my career. It was life changing.  The authors tore apart the myth of “sacred” vs. “secular”.  They clearly explained the intrinsic and instrumental value of everyday work.  I began to see for the first time how God could use me wherever I was, whatever I was doing, as long as I did it for His glory.  For the first time, I felt that what I did truly mattered for eternity, that I was not a second-class citizen or wasting my time as a Soldier.  My work as a chemical Soldier in the Army really did matter to God!

Additionally, God helped me understand that a strong defense brings peace in the world. God is very much present in the work of Soldiers.  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 at Fort Leonard Wood, where I work and serve, through the drill sergeants, instructors, leaders, and staff members like myself who develop, coordinate, support, and execute the training that God provides to thousands of new Soldiers annually.  The OT prophets indicate that there will come a day when our Messiah Jesus returns and wars will cease.  (See Isa. 2:4 and Micah 4:3.)  But until that time, a strong offensive capability is one of the ways that God keeps peace in the world.

God was with me as I transitioned from active duty                    

During my twenty years on active duty, my wife and I learned first-hand how to trust God as we were sent to various duty stations around a world. A Christian in the Army needs to rest in the sovereignty of God; that He is in always in control.  He is an all-powerful, loving, all-knowing, and faithful God.  We knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Lord always had us in His hands.

When it came time to move to a new assignment, God knew where we needed to go, what we needed to do, who we needed to serve with, and when it was the right time that He needed us to be there for His purposes.  (I invite you to read an article that I wrote and posted on my blog on trusting God in new assignments.)

Even before I arrived at Fort Leonard Wood in 2004, I knew that my wife and I had a decision to make.  After much prayer, we decided that this was going to be an ideal place to finish out our time of active duty service.  I began to prepare myself and my family for life after the Army over the next two years.  It was a big step of faith, but it was made with relative ease, as we looked at various opportunities to work.

At first, I thought I would go back to teaching math.  I began working on a master’s in education at a local university that would allow me to get my state teaching certificate.  I applied for a position at the middle school that about a half-mile from my house.  I was offered the position.

However, the starting salary for a new teacher was not enough to match what I was going to lose going from active duty to a retired status earning only 50% of my base pay.  I believed God had another job that would actually meet our financial needs, so I turned it down.  (See article on compensation that I posted on my blog.)

Two to three months before my retirement date of October 1, 2006, I received a job offer as a lessons learned integration analyst.  It was a contract position that paid a lot better than the teaching job.  I did this job for a year and a half until I applied for and was offered the position that I currently hold.

God provided a position that fits my unique skill set

Since March 2008, I have served as a Department of the Army civilian at the U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear School as a member of the Commandant’s primary staff.  As the Operations Officer, I provide continuity and management of the school operations section.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon says repeatedly that everything is meaningless, especially work: “What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?” (1:3).

However, in Eccl. 3:12-13, and 22, we find a curious admonition.  Despite the thorns and thistles associated with our jobs that make work seem meaningless, when he considers the fact that God is in control and has “made everything beautiful in its time” (3:11), Solomon states that men should “be happy and do good while they live . . . eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God . . . there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot.”  I have found that satisfaction.  (For more thoughts on this topic of personal job satisfaction, see article I posted on my blog here.)

It took me a while to fully appreciate the gift that God gave me, but after doing this same job for the past twelve years, I can honestly say that it is a great fit.  God had clearly prepared me for it by giving me consistently good experiences doing operations at a variety of levels while I was on active duty for thirteen of my twenty years.  Moreover, God equipped me with the right skills and aptitudes that fit well with my responsibilities.  I am uniquely qualified to do this work that daily brings me joy.

36629638_10212620333606527_8179190179240607744_n

God continues to use me

I have a great example of how God has used me in this position in the planning of a special event.

In June 2018, the U.S. Army Chemical Corps celebrated its 100th anniversary on Fort Leonard Wood.  Our week-long celebration consisted of a variety of events.  We held a seminar that brought together a select group of senior chemical leaders from around the world, a technology exhibit, an espirit-de-corps two-mile run, sunrise service honoring our fallen heroes, a ceremony to honor veterans that served from WWII to the present day, and culminated with a formal ball.

We spent over ten months planning these events in great detail.  I want to give all the glory to God, as its success.  His unseen Hand protected and provided extraordinary strength, wisdom, and peace as I worked in His presence and for His kingdom.  During the entire process, I was “leaning on the everlasting arms”.  I constantly depended on God to help me meet the unique challenges and high expectations of the leaders I was commanded to serve “as unto the Lord”.

There were many days I was overwhelmed by the thorns and thistles brought on by the curse.  At these moments, I would remember that God’s grace was greater.  His peace that passes all understanding came at the right time when I needed it most.  I clearly saw God work in and through me every step of the way.

I believe that these events had a lasting impact on the veterans, leaders, and Soldiers who attended.  After key leaders met with our commandant to discuss issues and solve problems, they went back to their assignments a more unified team, committed to support the Army as a whole.  Our veterans’ recognition ceremony inspired young Chemical Soldiers and leaders to strive to achieve great things with their own Army careers, standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before them.

Celebrating our 100-year history helped prepare the enterprise to meet the challenges of the future in defending our nations and allies against weapons of mass destruction.  Our efforts here directly increased common grace throughout the world, which is something that our Lord Jesus desires for us.  (You can read more about this event in an article I posted here.)

Closing thoughts

My main purpose in writing these two articles was to give glory to God as I reflected on more than three decades of experiencing His presence, seeing His faithfulness, and knowing He has worked through me during my Army career.  It has truly been a spiritual journey.  God will do the same for you, as you keep your eyes open to how He has led, provided for, and used you to love your neighbors at work.

43408191_10213304280504772_9065206730853449728_n

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Experiencing God’s Presence in my Military Service (Part 1)

002_2

(Note: This is the first article of a two-part series on this topic.  You can read part 2 here.  This article was also posted on the Coram Deo blog.)

In preparation for an upcoming podcast interview later this month where I will have the opportunity to share my unique career journey, I have been reflecting on my military experience over 34 years of serving in and with the U.S. Army.  There is abundant evidence that God has been and is present with me in this work:

  1. God led me to serve in the army
  2. God brought me through every challenge I faced
  3. God enabled me to perform beyond my expectations
  4. God developed my character and caused me to grow in spiritual maturity
  5. God met my family’s needs
  6. God used me to love my neighbors by meeting their needs
  7. God gave me understanding about the eternal value of military service
  8. God was with me as I transitioned from active duty to civilian government service
  9. God provided a position that fits my unique skillset and background as He designed
  10. God continues to use me in a critical role to advise senior leaders and staff

This is an appropriate day to post this article, as I enlisted on February 7, 1986.

Let me expand on each of these points and illustrate with a few stories to help my readers better understand how God has been present with me in every single assignment where I have served.  Here, I will address the first five out of the ten points listed above.  I will discuss the second set of five in a subsequent article.

It is important for me to note that my military experience was preceded by short seasons of math education and ministry.  (See article on my career journey.)  I am only able to share biblical insights about work due to God’s presence on the long and winding road on which He had gently led me.

God led me to serve

I was in a tough spot in early 1986.  I had started seminary in the fall of 1982.  Due to a number of doors that God had closed after three years of struggling, it was clear that I had exhausted all options to continue pursuing my master’s degree.  I had to let go of my dream.  My pastor of the church that we attended gave me some wise advice.  He said, “When your dream dies, find a new dream.”  Little did I know that God was going to answer my prayer in a most unique way.

Be all that you can be!” was the U.S. Army slogan at the time.  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 down the road if I still felt led to pursue furthering my education.  After much prayer, I decided to enlist for three years in early February.   I shipped out to begin my basic training five weeks later, just one week shy of my daughter’s first birthday.  I was 27 years old.

Thirty-four years later, I am still with the army.  After serving on active duty for twenty years, six months, and seventeen days (but who’s counting?), I continued my service as a Department of the Army civilian.  I had no idea how amazing this answer to prayer was going to turn out.

God brought me through every challenge

I can easily say that 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 new technical skills.

When I got to my first duty station at Fort Stewart, Georgia, I had to learn how to submit to my squad leader’s authority.  He was a year younger than me, a staff sergeant with ten years in the Army.  There were things I had to learn about the way things were done, and 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.

20160314_202456

God enabled me to perform above my expectations

There were many occasions when God blew me away by enabling me and allowing me to perform way beyond my expectations.  I found unexpected success as a Soldier throughout my twenty years on active duty.

I was promoted quickly.  I did well in the schools the army sent me to attend as I strove to compete for top honors.  I was the distinguished honor graduate at my chemical basic noncommissioned officer (NCO) course, honor graduate (#2 spot) at my chemical advanced NCO course, and made the commandant’s list at the Battle Staff NCO Course.  In Korea in the fall of 1988, I was chosen as the Eighth Army NCO of the quarter, and in February 1991 I was selected as the Fort Lewis NCO of the year.  Every time I achieved something, I sought to give all the glory to God.  It was abundantly clear that I could have done none of it on my own.

With each new assignment, I never knew how it was going to turn out, but God usually enabled me to learn and adapt fairly quickly.  Several jobs stand out in my mind.  By the grace of God, I had a positive experience working on the III Corps headquarters as operations NCO in the chemical section staff.  I also thrived as a company operations sergeant, working at division headquarters, and especially as an observer/controller trainer.  There, I conducted numerous chemical training exercises, provided mobilization support with deploying Army Reserve and National Guard units, and wrote a few articles for Army publications to share some of the lessons I had learned.

God developed my character

However, among these many successes, I also had some unexpected failures, which humbled me, and made me more Christ-like.  As an Army recruiter for sixteen months, I failed miserably, despite the fact that I had gotten myself sent to Fort Collins, Colorado, my old college town.  Several years later, as a platoon sergeant in a chemical company in Kitzingen, 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.  (See article I wrote last April, “How God Uses our Failures at Work”, published by the Nashville Institute for Faith + Work.”)

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 grew 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 had truly blessed my efforts.  I did not take them for granted.

I also saw God graciously work out all things for my good in spite of my failures.  After my assignment as a recruiter came to an abrupt end, I was sent to Fort Hood, Texas in the spring of 1993.  It was there that I saw God use me in a mighty way to be a catalyst behind the scenes, which resulted in 168 Soldiers from multiple units across post attending the Dallas and Houston Promise Keepers Conferences in 1995.  This was a huge faith-building experience for me and a life-changing event for these men and their families.

God met my family’s needs

I am ever grateful how God provided abundantly for my family while I was on active duty.  Although the starting pay wasn’t great, by the grace of God I was promoted fairly quickly, which always helped.  My wife was able to be a work-at-home mom for about fifteen years, which gave our three children immeasurable security and stability.  The medical benefits were a blessing and housing was more than adequate.  It was a good quality of life.  We lived, worshiped, and served with great Americans from all backgrounds and races, which was a beautiful gift.

Not only were our family’s financial needs met, but our physical, social, emotional, and spiritual needs always seemed to be met as well.  We literally saw God answer hundreds of prayers as we journeyed through life by faith.  Our children (known for the rest of their lives as “Army brats”) thrived as we were stationed in six states and Germany.  We had some great adventures as a family.  Our kids learned independence and resiliency as we had to move every three years or so, saying goodbye to friends and having to make new ones.  We all made some lifelong friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, some of whom we have stayed in contact for twenty or thirty years.

My experiences are not unique.  There have always been Christians serving in the military.  I hope there always will be.  God is faithful.  He will always lead His children, guiding, strengthening, comforting, and providing for us so we can be His ambassadors serving Jesus around the world.

43408191_10213304280504772_9065206730853449728_n

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Called to Write – Helping Others Walk in God’s Presence

beatlespaperback

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

As the New Year begins, it occurs to me that I need to address my own calling as a writer.  This career field is no different from many other fields I have already addressed from a biblical perspective in my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession, and in several articles I posted on my blog.  (See article on how God uses senior executives for an example.)

Last fall, I began to see myself called to be a writer of practical theology.  People may wonder about this hobby that has taken up so much of my time.  They may be asking themselves several questions: How did this sense of calling develop?  Why do I feel so compelled to write?  Who is my audience?

How did my calling as a writer develop?

I did not do much of any writing until I was a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army over twenty years ago when I submitted my first article to be published in the NCO Journal.  I had several articles published in army publications in the early 2000’s, long before I got serious about writing on theological topics.  To date, I have had a dozen articles published in a handful of military publications.

I started this blog three years before I began writing and publishing articles on various aspects of the theology of work.  My intent at the time was to reflect on my seminary experience as I was pursuing my master of arts in biblical studies from 2012-2015.  However, it was a challenge keeping up with my classwork, so I did not post any articles.  After I graduated, I went back to my blog and started posting some of my research papers and other writing assignments, as well as some of my better adult Sunday School lessons.

Then, in the fall of 2015, I began to take portions of my final project for my independent study on the theology of work, and turned them into short articles which I posted on my blog.  After a while, I had the idea to submit some of them for consideration to be published to various faith at work organizations’ blogs.  Surprisingly, several of them posted my articles on their blogs.  God was really blessing this process!  Since April 2016, I have had a total of 65 articles published or posted on several faith at work organizations’ blogs.

My collection of articles grew over the next four years.  I have now written and posted 160 articles on various topics on my blog.  In 2019, I wanted to write 30 articles on faith and work, which would bring me to a total of 100 articles on various aspects of this subject by the end of the year.  By the grace of God, I was able to write and post two or three articles every month and met my goal.

Of course, I would be remiss if I did not mention my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work that I wrote over a two-year period and was self-published by WestBow Press in February 2018.  This was a huge answer to prayer!  (No, I never wanted to be a paperback writer!)

There was another milestone I noticed as I updated my LinkedIn profile last fall.  When I added up all the articles published on faith at work topics, the ones published by the U.S. Army, the one I wrote for Campus Life magazine, plus my book, I had a total of 50 publications to my name.  When I saw these results of years of work, I concluded that God had indeed called me to be a writer.

Why do I feel compelled to write?

There is power in words to change lives.  This is obviously true when we consider God’s words.  (See Ps. 119 and Luke 21:33, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”)

This is also true when we use human words.  Sometimes they inspire us.  We still quote from the U.S. Constitution, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  Sometimes they make us buy things: “Have it your way”, “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there”, and “Just do it”, to name a few slogans.  Words from the heart that combine biblical thoughts with doctrinal soundness and practical teaching have helped Christians grow spiritually from day one.

Elihu, one of Job’s friends, said this: “For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me; inside I am like bottled up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst” (Job 32:18-19).

On a deep level, I have felt compelled to write because God changed my life, especially in light of my career.  He gave me an original perspective due to my unique career path of math, ministry, and military over the past forty years to prepare me for such a time as this.  God also gave me spiritual gifts of encouragement and teaching to help build up the body of Christ.  I absolutely must share these biblical truths with others because they need them as much as I do.  God’s truth sets us free.

Who is my audience?

The obvious answer is that I am writing for my brothers and sisters in Christ who work ordinary jobs, extraordinary jobs, rather boring jobs, or something in-between.  But there is more to consider.

As I write, I am mindful that what I am saying may reach someone who needs to hear these practical truths now.  I am also mindful that there are a great many others who will read my words down the road.  I am boldly praying that my unique viewpoint focused on the biblical connection between God’s presence and human work that I refer to as “Immanuel labor” will change the lives of thousands of ordinary Christian workers and be discussed hundreds of years from now, should the Lord’s return be delayed.  As I press towards this last season of my life, I am at peace that I have left behind a body of work that God can use to encourage those who need it.  God’s truths accomplish what He intends for them to do.

I never know who is reading what I have written.  Sometimes it feels like the old saying: “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, did it make a sound?”  Although I have had some minor disappointments, there have been so many more surprising blessings where God in His grace has used my work.  I have seen articles and my book quoted or referred to by writers in other publications a few times.  I have gotten positive feedback from several faith at work leaders and authors.  My wife often reminds me that my writing is changing lives, sometimes just one at a time.  This keeps me humble.

The best answer I can give is that I write for God’s glory.  As I write about how to experience God’s presence at work, I am working in God’s presence.  Paul asks the first-century workers in Colossae and those of us who have just begun our third decade in the 21st century to consider, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col. 3:23-24).

One final thought

Recently, I providentially stumbled on a conversation between the Lord and Jeremiah where I read this statement, “If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman” (Jer. 15:19).  In the margin, I indicated that this is another example of Immanuel labor – a clear connection between God’s presence and human work.  If Jeremiah’s heart was right, God would speak through him to a rebellious nation who needed to hear His message.

These words have personal meaning for a Christian writer like me.  The only way that the words I write and post to encourage the body of Christ can be worthy and not worthless is if I remain in right relationship with the Lord.  When I remain in His presence by grace through faith in Christ, depending on the Holy Spirit, He will enable me to be His spokesman.  God will speak His truth through my words.

And that, my brothers and sisters in Christ, is why I write.

I hope that this helped some of my friends to better understand my God-given passion to write.  Perhaps it may also encourage others to boldly pursue their own.

Russ Gehrlein

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Those Whom God Uses to Heal

jesus-doctor-healing

(Note: This article was published on the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog and made their Top Ten blogs of 2020.  It was also published by the National Christian Foundation website, and was posted on the Coram Deo blog.)

Over the past two months, I have been teaching a class on Wednesday nights on the topic of God’s presence at work.  I have had only student.  He is a U.S. Army orthopedic surgeon, working at the hospital on post.  When we got to chapter eight in my book, regarding the kinds of work that we may be doing in the New Jerusalem at the end of the ages, I was concerned about how he would react.  I had written that doctors (among many other professions) would no longer be needed because all residents will be healed.  This is based on Rev. 21:4, where it states in part, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” (For further discussion on the eternal value of work, read my article here.)

As I have gotten to know my brother in Christ better during this time, I have come to a deeper understanding and appreciation for those who work in the healing profession.  I will address this topic from a biblical and theological perspective to encourage those whom God uses to heal, as well as those who are on the receiving end of their valuable work.

Healing in Scripture

A good place to start this discussion would be to provide a brief biblical overview of Jesus’ healing ministry and His purposes for it.  I see a few obvious ones:

1) His ability to heal pointed to His divinity.

2) Jesus clearly wanted to relieve suffering when He had the opportunity to do so, even on a Sabbath.

3) His healing also pointed towards the day when God’s Kingdom would come in all its fullness, and there would be no more sickness, pain, disability, or death.

Throughout the Gospels, we see that Jesus worked as a healer.  We see in Matt 4:23 and 9:35 that Jesus healed “every disease and sickness” among the people.  In Matt. 11:2-5, when Jesus was asked by John the Baptist’s disciples whether He was the Messiah, Jesus replied, “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”

The list of the kinds of people that Jesus healed is impressive: a woman with internal bleeding (Mark 5:25-26), a crippled man (John 5:2-9), a man born blind (Acts 10:38), and many others.  Jesus’ healing ministry is another example in Scripture of the concept of Immanuel labor, God’s divine presence that is clearly linked to human work.  Peter states in his gospel presentation to Cornelius’ family that Jesus healed because “God was with him” (Acts 10:38).

What do healers bring to the table?

I know and love many kinds of dedicated healthcare workers.  My eldest sister is a medical laboratory technologist; my youngest sister is a physical therapist.  My daughter is a speech therapist.  I have over twenty friends who are doctors, physician’s assistants, nurses, pharmacists, or dental hygienists.  God uses each of them to bring healing and restoration to thousands of people every day.

If we were to consider the kind of work that God models today, as described in Amy Sherman’s book, Kingdom Calling, you might categorize what they do as compassionate work, God’s involvement in comforting, healing, guiding, and shepherding.  (See previous article written two years ago.)

Like most professions, this is not a single-player game.  In my discussions with the surgeon attending my class, he has emphasized on many occasions the importance of teamwork in this field.  In a rather complicated and potentially serious procedure he did recently, he painted a clear picture of the absolute necessity of relying on a variety of workers at the hospital who were responsible to handle critical pieces of the joint operation.  He mentioned fellow surgeons, radiologists, nurses, and anesthesiologists, to name a few.  Every link in the chain was needed.

If we were to expand that list a bit more, we would have to include the wide range of healthcare workers that God uses to meet the medical needs of our families, friends, and us.  I know that when I have been hospitalized on several occasions for various procedures, I have personally benefited from all who maintained the equipment, cleaned the floors, delivered the meals, scheduled the appointments, issued my medications, and handled insurance claims, plus the hospital administrators who kept everything running smoothly.

As we see the value of each worker who contributes to the healing process, the natural thing for us to do is to express appreciation to those we come into contact with. It may also give us opportunities to mention that when we pray for healing, God is using each of them to bring restoration of health to us.

What are their thorns & thistles?

Like any other profession, there are unique challenges in this field.  Things that make our jobs more difficult than necessary are referred to as thorns and thistles.  (See Gen. 3:17-19.)

One struggle is the long or irregular hours, especially when these professionals go through their rigorous training.  Another is the mountains of paperwork that accompany each patient or client they encounter.  My daughter works as the speech therapist at an elementary school mentioned this specifically a while ago.  It never ends.  Additionally, there are often unexpected delays in insurance approvals for expensive procedures, which can negatively impact the health of patients in their care.  And occasionally, you lose a patient you thought you could save.

Those who serve in professions like these are often perceived as workaholics.  In their defense, I asked this question in my book: Can Christians be doctors, young mothers, or farmers?  Of course they can!  I would not accuse any of them of being workaholics merely because of the extremely long hours they normally have to put in to meet their God-given responsibilities that come with those callings.

However, I would counsel them to find a way to keep the Sabbath in some manner—not as a legalistic requirement but as a pattern for living a balanced, healthy lifestyle, enabling them to rest, worship, and recreate so they can pace themselves to survive and thrive over the long haul.

Final thoughts

As I wrap up this discussion, let me return briefly to the discussion with my surgeon, re: his possible vocation in the New Jerusalem.  He totally surprised me with his reaction that I was so concerned about.  He said that since the majority of his surgical skills involved reinforcing various joints with screws, he could see himself performing carpentry work for all eternity.

What a great perspective!  I appreciate my brother’s humble servant’s heart so much.  This is the power of a transformed life in Christ.

I have one final word for Christians who serve in this field.  God has placed you right where you are to best glorify Him.  You know the Great Physician and you are His healing hands. His power to heal can flow through you to others in very practical ways.  You know the limitations of medicine that often fail to bring healing to many of these finite bodies.  You know that when medicine fails, death is not the end.  You can bring comfort to those who mourn.  You also know that complete healing of the mind, body, and soul is ultimately found in Christ alone.

Those whom God uses to heal, keep doing this great work, in His strength and for His glory.

Russ Gehrlein

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Inspiring Words for High School Students

winding-path

By the grace of God, I got to do something today that I had envisioned doing for several years.  I was given the opportunity to speak with a small group of high school students for an hour on some basic biblical principles on work and how they could integrate their Christian faith into their careers.

Here is how I got their attention, to show them why this topic is so important:

  • You are in a transition phase, moving from obeying your parents (as children) to honoring them (as adults); choosing your career paths wisely will honor your parents well
  • The Bible has a lot to say about work; it starts with God working as the creator of the heavens and the earth; it ends with God re-creating heaven on earth
  • God created Adam and Eve to be His coworkers; He gave Adam and Eve a job to do (Gen. 1:26-28), to care for and expand His creation; God calls each of us to do the same
  • God has always provided for and led His people where they needed to go; He promised His presence as they entered into the tasks He called and equipped them to do

I told them of my background, and how God led me through every step of my own personal career journey which involved math, ministry, and the military.  (I invite you to read more about it here.)

I shared a concise summary of my theology of work, which is captured by the term Immanuel labor: “God created people to be His coworkers in expanding His kingdom on earth.  He is present in the work of His children in order to meet the needs of humankind and bring glory to Himself.”

I began my overview of the theology of work by discussing the intrinsic value of work:

  • God is a worker; He created everything and continues to sustain His creation (Gen. 1:1, 2:2-3; Ps. 104:10-31)
  • He made men and women in His image and calls us to be His co-workers over creation (Gen. 1:26-28, 2:15)
  • All work is valuable in and of itself, if it does not promote evil but produces shalom (peace, well-being, flourishing) in society
  • Voluntary and other unpaid work (i.e., academic pursuits, work-at-home parents) is of value

Since God is a worker, I asked them to think about the kind of work God does now to sustain His creation.  I then presented the concept of God as our vocational model.  Amy Sherman, in her book Kingdom Calling, shares this great perspective, which she credits author Robert Banks from his book Faith Goes to Work.  He describes the different kinds of work God that does (mostly through human beings) and how our vocations can 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

For example, redemptive work is God’s saving and reconciling actions in jobs such as “evangelists, pastors, counselors, and peacemakers.”  Sherman adds to the list, “So do writers, artists, producers, songwriters, poets, and actors who incorporate redemptive elements in their stories, novels, songs, films, performances and other works.”  Sherman continues, “In all these various ways, God the Father continues his creative, sustaining, and redeeming work through our human labor.  This gives our work great dignity and purpose.”

Next, I continued my presentation by explaining the instrumental value of work:

  • Through our work, God meets the needs of people who are of eternal value to Him (Ps. 104:10-31)
  • Through our work, God meets our needs and our family’s needs (1 Thes. 4:11-12; 1 Tim. 5:8)
  • Through work, God provides extra money to be able to give some of it away to those in need (Eph. 4:28)
  • Through our work, we love God and our neighbors by serving them both (Matt. 22:37-40; Luke 10:27)

To lay a complete foundation of what the Bible teaches about work, I had to acknowledge the effects of the Fall on our work, where God cursed the ground because of Adam’s sin (Gen. 3:16-19, 23, 5:29).  From this point forward, work was going to be:

  • Painful (the process of giving birth is called labor)
  • Frustrating/stressful
  • More difficult and time-consuming than necessary
  • Unpredictable, unproductive, fruitless
  • Sweaty
  • Full of interpersonal conflict (with sinners)
  • Set in a challenging environment

The impacts of Adam’s original sin, our own sins, and others’ sins on our work will continue until Jesus returns.  (See Rom. 8:19-22 and Rev. 22:3.)

The final part of my presentation was the most practical, where I offered some important principles on how God leads us to find the jobs where we can be used to expand His creation.

The most obvious starting point for a soon to be young adult in trying to find their place in the world is to seek first the Kingdom of God.

Here’s a personal insight.  Jesus told His disciples, “Seek first his kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33; Luke 12:31).  In context, Jesus was speaking about how God meets the basic needs (i.e., food and clothing) of His creatures, including us.  How does He normally meet those needs?  Through our jobs, which provide money to purchase food and clothing for us and our families.  I see a very clear connection between seeking God first and finding the right job.

So, how do we seek first the kingdom of God with respect to our careers?  Cornelius Plantinga, in “Engaging God’s World”, states, “To strive first for the kingdom’ in choosing a career, a Christian will ask himself particular questions:

  • Where in the kingdom does God want me to work?
  • Where are the needs great and the workers few?
  • Where are the temptations manageable?
  • How honest is the work I’m thinking of doing?
  • How necessary and how healthy are the goods and services I would help provide?
  • How smoothly could I combine my proposed career with being a spouse or a parent?
  • Is my proposed career inside a system so corrupt that, even with the best intentions, I would end up absorbing a lot more evil than I conquer?
  • What would my career do for “the least of these”?

These are tough questions, but I think if we were honest, it might help narrow down the endless possibilities we see before us, so that we can make the best, most God-honoring choice.

Ben Witherington, in his book, Work: A Kingdom Perspective on Labor, states “We do not simply choose our vocations.  We are led to them, and this implies that we must be open to hearing from God what he is calling us to do in life.  Even when we have been called and gifted to do something, God does not simply leave us to our own devices.  Rather, he guides us and steers us in our work”

To continue this idea of how God will guide us in our career decisions, here are a few things I had to share with the group that I have found to be true in my experience:

  1. Finding a new job is always a spiritual journey
  2. We must examine God’s design (self-assessment)
    • What has God specifically designed you to do, based on interests, skills, accomplishments, and experiences?
    • What are you most concerned and passionate about?
    • What have others noticed in you regarding your gifts?
  3. Look at all your options and decide; accept the job offer that seems best as a step of faith
  4. Keep listening to what God is saying about your vocation; it will likely change over time

There are two quotes that are relevant here and have been meaningful to me in my own journey.

Lee Hardy, in The Fabric of This World observes, “Career paths are rarely straight.  Typically they are afflicted by detours, unmarked intersections, forced exits, blind alleys, and cul-de-sacs.”

Sherman and Hendricks, in Your Work Matters to God confirm what I have heard for some time.  They state, “The average American will change careers—not just jobs—four times or more in his life! … He has designed you with a set of skills and motivations to do His work in the world today.  But His work may take many different forms in the course of your working years.’”

I closed my session with a video that gives a clear picture of someone who found his purpose and truly understands God’s presence in his work.  This motorcycle mechanic illustrates well one who since childhood has developed the interests, skills, and attitudes necessary to do this kind of work.  He gives credit to God for designing him in this way.  As he does this job that he loves so well, and as he meets people’s needs, he sees flourishing in his own life, which glorifies God.

These basic truths about the theology of work are not only helpful for high school students as they contemplate their future.  They are also helpful to anyone along their career journey.  God is with us every step of the way.

Russ Gehrlein

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018.  He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015.  He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor.  Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. 

Can I Return to a Field I Left?

20170429_190302

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

About this time last year, my wife and I had to return a couple of sweaters.  One had a hole in it and the other was too small.  It was relatively painless to exchange them for something better.

However, when we find ourselves in a job that seems defective or is not a good fit for us, it is not nearly as easy to go back and exchange it immediately for something else of equal or better value.  Moreover, if we decide to leave a specialized career field, even for good reasons, we may find that the only jobs available to us outside this familiar field are at the entry level.  The education, skills, and experience we had in the field we left are not always transferable to other types of work.

In addition, we may miss some of the upsides of the job we walked away from because we had focused on the downsides.  As a result, we may find ourselves considering going back to what was familiar.  We wonder if it is even possible to return to what we had before and give it another chance.

What can we do?  When we can’t move forward, could we, or should we, go back?  Can our faith in Christ help us here?

Absolutely!  Navigating our careers is always a spiritual journey.  God has promised to be present with us as every step of the way, whatever our circumstances.

My eldest son found himself in this very situation a couple of years ago.  Perhaps by reflecting on what he went through and how God worked it out might bring some encouragement to others in a similar situation.  My intent here is not to put the spotlight on my son, but to give God all the glory, and focus on His faithfulness.

My son’s experience

From 2013-2017, my son had been a successful high school theatre teacher.  I enjoyed standing up and cheering for him at every performance.  When he produced “Singing in the Rain” his third year, he made it rain on stage.  I cried.  I knew that God was working through my son.  God’s love flowed through him to his students.  He was a living illustration of “Immanuel labor”.  He was using the gifts, talents, passion, training, and experience that God had graciously provided.

However, the unrelenting time and energy commitments required to teach and produce several plays every year were more than he was willing to commit to for the long haul.  It was affecting his health.  (Note: I addressed his dilemma in one of my articles, regarding issues of identity.)  There was a “holy dissatisfaction” that he just could not shake.  After many months of earnest prayer and seeking wise counsel from family and friends, he made the tough call to leave teaching.

A few weeks after the school year began without him, he posted this vulnerable revelation on social media: “I want to be a teacher again.”  It was a lot harder looking for another position than he thought it would be.  It took him three or four months to find a job that barely met his budget.

Although there were some positive things that came out of it over time, he generally felt like he was not being challenged mentally, emotionally, or spiritually.  He grew tired of the daily small talk with customers.  He yearned for the deep discussions he often had with his high school students.

We discussed his situation often.  I always tried to encourage him that he had made the right decision for his family, and that God would provide for him.  Over the past two years, God absolutely did just that.

I will come back to tell the rest of my son’s story in a bit.  At this point, I wish to address this from a biblical and theological perspective to encourage other Christians who may be in a similar situation.

There is no “Plan B”

One of the foundational ideas I was exposed to as a young Christian when I was in my 20’s came from the book, Decision Making and the Will of God, by Garry Friesen.  It was somewhat controversial when it came out.  The thesis of this book is that Christians do not need to be concerned with finding “the center of God’s will”.

We get so concerned about “the big decisions”, such as who we should marry, where we should live, and what job should we take.  Yet, for the relatively small decisions throughout out our day, we simply make choices.  We generally do not stress about “God’s will” concerning what to wear, what to eat, etc.  We simply make the best choice available to us that seems right at the time.  We use the wisdom that God provides to those who ask Him (James 1:5).

This corresponds with the Apostle Paul’s decision-making in Acts 13-20, as he considered various options in pursuit of his mission to preach the gospel to the Gentiles in Asia Minor.  There were rare times where the Holy Spirit spoke to him or he received some direction in a dream.  Most of the time, though, he merely decided to go to this town, and to that one next, and to another after that.

We are free in Christ to seek employment and to make a wise, Spirit-led decision when a job is offered.  Even if we regret the choice we made later on, God promises to “work out all things for good, according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).  He is sovereign.  There is no “Plan B”, meaning we are stuck with less than God’s best from then on.  We cannot miss God’s will by making a non-moral choice.  This assumes, of course, that we do not choose something God has already told us to avoid.

God’s abundant provision

Without a doubt, the promises of God to provide for His own were evidenced during this two-year desert season for Brian and his young family.  In August, he was hired to work for an hourly wage as an aide with autistic kids at a local elementary school, which he had done for a year before he got his teaching job.

After a few months, God opened up a door to work full-time in a local library as their youth programs manager, which gave him multiple opportunities to use some of his skills.  He also found a part-time job at another library to supplement his income.  These jobs put him into a sphere where he gradually expanded his interest and network in the field of children’s literature.

It is worth noting that Brian’s deep desire to write children’s books had started when he worked with autistic kids the first time as he saw the magic of good children’s literature.  However, he did not have a chance to pursue it as much as he had wanted to while teaching full-time.

Now, during this two-year break with no lessons to plan or papers to grade, he was led to pursue writing again.  He was able to dive in with a renewed passion that energized his creative mind and compelled him to work hard towards his goal of getting a book published.  He wrote fresh new stories and revised some of the old ones.  He sought out critiques from writers and friends.  Brian also developed a website, Picture Book Spotlight, where he interviewed authors, illustrators, and agents who are successes in the field of children’s literature.

As his folder of good stories began to fill up, Brian relentlessly and courageously submitted numerous proposals for children’s picture books to literary agents for over a year.  He was disciplined, organized, and never gave up.  After receiving over 600 rejection letters, he finally landed an agent who said that she would be happy to represent him and his work to publishers.

(Update on November 17, 2021: Brian’s first children’s picture book, The Book of Rules, was just released in hardcover this week!)

During this desert experience, my son always kept an eye out for teaching opportunities.  During his first year out, he became certified to teach English as well as theatre.  In God’s perfect timing, just two weeks before school began a few months ago, he was hired as a high school English teacher in the town where he lives.  He is so glad to be teaching again.  He is grateful for the personal and professional growth he had during his productive sabbatical.

Can you return to a field you left?  I think the answer is yes.

You might be able to return to a field you felt led to leave, but it may take more time than you anticipate.  I trust that those have made career choices that they later regret will keep in mind that God is the God of redemption and second chances.  He can bring what was dead back to life.  We can trust Him to provide.

Russ Gehrlein

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015.  He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor.  Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.