Where do I Find God When I Start a New Job?

A couple of months ago, I sat in chapel where one of our chaplains and his family was recognized as they were about to move to another Army post to begin a new assignment. It occurred to me that I have never written about the many challenges a worker and his or her family face when they start a new job.

In the dozen jobs I had over my active-duty career, my wife and I understood that each time I was up for reassignment, there was what we called an “angel in uniform” who watched over the process. God needed us to be His representatives and do His work at just the right places at just the right times as we were stationed around the country and overseas. I tried to keep in mind that God was with me and that He had a variety of purposes in mind for His glory and my good.

But what do we need to do when we arrive at that new assignment? How do we fit in? How does our family find their place in the community, in the kids’ schools, and in church? These are not easy tasks.

Since there are numerous military families that are about to begin their “permanent change of station”, thousands of college graduates who moved across the country to start their new careers, and a host of other workers who for a variety of reasons have chosen to quit their jobs and relocate elsewhere, it might be an opportune time for me to explore this topic from a biblical and theological perspective.

Dealing with the new boss

Probably the first anxiety-producing situation is meeting your new boss. Like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get. This unpredictability makes it a huge challenge for everyone.

I think what makes it challenging for all is that we have all seen, heard of, or have had bad bosses who have made their employees’ lives miserable. There are bosses who have been incompetent, uncaring, insensitive, selfish, angry, demanding, greedy, lecherous, or lazy. These all sound like sins to me.

As Christians, we know that sin has negatively affected the workplace since Adam and Eve. Adam’s sin cursed work for every human. Everyone we work for, everyone who works for us, our customers, and each one of us brings our own sins to the workplace daily, making work unnecessarily painful. And yet, God calls us to submit to our employers, knowing we are working for Jesus (Col. 3:22-24).

I can’t help but think about Joseph, and the three main positions that he fell into, starting in Gen. 39. He did not have bad bosses; to the contrary. The big take away from this narrative is that God was with Joseph, which brought him success. As a result, He blessed his employers. (See Gen. 39:5 and 23.)

I encourage those starting a new job to see your boss as someone whom God has put in your path for a variety of purposes. You can learn from them as they provide both good and bad examples on how to lead. Their sinful attitudes and actions will be part of the “thorns and thistles” we will experience at work until Jesus comes back. We must learn to see these as trials that God will help us to overcome.

Learning the new position

The next biggest challenge that workers will face is figuring out their new job responsibilities.

Ironically, this one is slightly less scary than the new boss. At least you have an idea of what you are getting into with a new position. You may have never done this particular job before, but it is possible you know someone who has or you may have been recommended by someone who used to hold it.

Sometimes, the job meets your expectations. The new projects you are assigned are doable in a reasonable amount of time. Your coworkers seem nice. The hours aren’t too bad. So far so good.

But after a while, those old thorns and thistles start showing up. You get handed more projects than you can handle; your plate is already full. You are juggling glass balls that can’t be dropped. More and more is expected of you. There is only so much you can do. You may feel like you are drowning.

You may have the opposite situation. You may feel overqualified for the job. It doesn’t challenge you mentally. You don’t have enough to do. You are underutilized. You are bored. It is not a good fit.

Either way, as a Christian, you have additional resources to handle this new job. Remember God’s promise that He will be with you wherever you go. That does not exclude this wilderness in which you find yourself. He is not only with you, but is working in you and through you to those all around you.

If the job is not a great fit, you truly have options. You can endure it, which may be what God wants. Or you can ask Him to rescue you from it, which is another avenue that glorifies God just as much.

Getting the family settled

In addition to your own struggles with the new boss and the new job, your family (if you are blessed to have one) has some different challenges of their own. You owe it to them to understand what they are going through. You also need to focus some of your time and energy over several months to assist.

My wife has often shared with young military wives that are new to our community at Fort Leonard Wood it normally took her six months or up to a year before she felt totally settled in a new duty station. She does this not to discourage them, but to give them realistic expectations. She learned, the hard way quite often, not to get overly involved in ministry activities until our kids and her were more or less unpacked in the new house, comfortable in a new church, and making friends in the new school.

Figuring out your purpose

I have had the privilege of serving in the same organization doing the same job for over 14 years now. However, during my twenty years on active duty and in various other jobs I had after I graduated from college, I can remember what it was like to go through what you may be going through right now. One of the things I have learned well is to trust God to show me some of the reasons why I have the jobs that He provided, especially in those tough jobs where I failed as a youth minister and a recruiter.

I also know from reading God’s word that He often places His people in just the right places at just the right time where He has chosen to use them for the building up of His kingdom. Many examples of ordinary workers come to mind: Moses, Nehemiah, David, Esther, the Apostle Paul, among others.

I would like to leave those who have recently started a new job with a word of encouragement.

God put you where you are for much more than just a paycheck, although that in itself is part of His blessing, too. He has a purpose for you being there. My hope is that you will see it. Maybe you will learn something critical you will need in the future. Maybe you will supervise someone who needs what you have to offer. Maybe you are there to minister to your boss. Maybe you have this job to see that God is with you and is working in and through you to love your neighbors by meeting their needs.

Whatever the reason (or multiple reasons) that you are working in this new assignment, know that God will use you as you walk with Him, abide in Christ, and are filled with the Holy Spirit. God will be present with you in your work, which I have called “Immanuel labor” for the past several years. I trust that you will be able to experience God’s presence like never before, and that you have joy when you do leave, knowing that this job was a significant part of God’s abundant life for you and your family.

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 over 180 articles on faith and work topics. One hundred of these articles have been published 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, The Gospel Coalition, and Christian Grandfather Magazine. (See list of published articles on Linktree.)

Giving Thanks for God’s Gracious Blessings

Psalm 100

A psalm. For giving grateful praise.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

(New International Version; copied from Bible Gateway.com)

I thought I would try something a little different this year.  I want to focus on the many blessings that God the Father has graciously bestowed in my life, centered around the callings He has given to me.

Christian

The first sphere where God called me was to be a child in His kingdom through faith in Jesus.  I have absolutely no room to boast in anything that I have done.  (See 1 Cor. 4:7.)  I simply want to put the spotlight where it belongs, giving glory to God who has been most merciful and gracious to me.  He has blessed me above and beyond anything I could have ever ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20).

  • I am grateful God revealed Himself in Scripture; I have learned more about Him
  • I am grateful that I have experienced the presence of Father, Son, and Spirit
  • I am grateful for the hope that has kept me pressing on through a tough year
  • I am grateful for the prayers of family and friends who have helped sustain me
  • I am grateful that I have no fear of death because of what Jesus Christ did for me

Family

The next major sphere that God put me in was my family of origin.  I have so much to be thankful for when I reflect on all the love I was surrounded with from my mom, dad, sisters, brother, and grandparents.  Once I did the “leave and cleave” thing nearly 41 years ago and started a brand-new Christian family with my beautiful wife, Linda, God has continually blessed us beyond measure.

  • I am thankful for my siblings who connected virtually on the 20th anniversary of our father’s death in October and for their words of encouragement
  • I am so thankful for an amazing wife of 40 years; her beauty, love, and wisdom have grown with the years; she is God’s greatest gift to me
  • I am grateful for visits, both virtual and physical, with each of our three children
  • I am so thankful for five amazing grandchildren, one of whom was born in April
  • I am grateful to see the fruits of our labors in our 1st generation Christian family

Work

In order to provide for my family and to fulfill my purposes in the Kingdom of God, He called me to the sphere of work.  This winding spiritual journey morphed from math education, to ministry, to the military, where I still serve today.  This should be no surprise to anyone who knows me, that I have so much to be thankful for regarding employment, as well as to my writing efforts part-time.

  • I am thankful for a great team of leaders and teammates who make me better
  • I am thankful that I get to see God use me in the lives of people that I serve with
  • I am grateful to have accomplished our missions while fighting COVID
  • I am thankful that I get to live out the theology of work in three dimensions
  • I am grateful for doors God opened up to share my work with a larger audience

I trust that whatever you find yourself doing this Thanksgiving, you will take time to reflect on the things that God gave you this past year freely out of His overwhelming mercy and amazing grace.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping 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.)

How Does Adam’s Sin Impact Work?

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

Is it possible that one person’s huge mistake could have a negative impact on the entire human race?

On my drive in to work several months ago, I had the chance to reflect on the effects of Adam’s sin.  It took me by surprise when I realized some of the implications of this doctrine on my everyday work.

I have written two articles on how the Fall has negatively affected our work.  (Click here and here.)  I wrote another article on how to respond to the Fall.  In summary, here is what I have shared:

  • Work will yield “thorns and thistles”, meaning that it will be painful, frustrating, and stressful; more difficult and time-consuming than necessary (Gen. 3:16-19)
  • It will be unpredictable, unproductive, fruitless, sweaty, full of interpersonal conflicts, set in challenging environments, and marked by futility (Eccl. 1:2-9)
  • This is the new normal until the Lord Jesus Christ returns to set us and the creation free from this bondage (see Rom. 8:19-22)

Let me try to unpack what Scripture teaches us about Adam’s sin, especially from the Apostle Paul’s epistle to the Romans, and then discuss how this affects both Christians and non-Christians at work.

Adam’s sin brought sin and death to all

In context, the Apostle Paul had already made a strong case for the sinfulness of both Jew and Gentile in Rom. 3:9-18.  He supports his view that no one is righteous by quoting the OT many times.  (In vv. 10-12, he quotes Ps. 14:1-3 and 53:1-3, and alludes to Eccl. 7:20.  In v. 13, he quotes Ps. 5:9 and 140:3.  In v. 14, he quotes Ps. 10:7.  In vv. 15-17, he quotes Isa. 59:7-8.  In v. 18, he quotes Ps. 36:1.)

Paul explains in great detail in Rom. 5:12-19 that sin entered the world through Adam.  Adam’s sin brought death and condemnation to every one of us.  We all die, which is a direct consequence of our own sin that separates us from God.  Through Adam’s disobedience, we were all made sinners.

Douglas Moo, in The NIV Application Commentary on Romans writes, “To explain the universality of sin, we must assume at least that Adam’s sin has predisposed every person to sin.”

Frank Matera, in his commentary on Romans, enlightens us further:

Paul does not try to explain how the effects of Adam’s transgression were transmitted to his descendants, but there is no doubt that he sees a connection between the trespass of Adam, whom Paul views as a historical individual, and the sins of his descendants. . . It is apparent from what Paul says in 5:18-19 that Adam’s transgression affected his progeny, bringing judgment upon them and constituting them as sinners in God’s sight. 

To me, Paul seems to imply that we inherited Adam’s natural tendency to sin (Rom. 5:19).  You recall that Adam was made in God’s image (see Gen. 1:26-28).  We read later that Adam’s son was made in Adam’s image (Gen. 5:3) as well as God’s image.  This preponderance to rebel against God is genetic. 

What are the impacts to workers?

Adam’s sin has enslaved every co-worker, supervisor, employee, or customer in our place of business.  Christians are not exempt.  Even though I might sin less, I am by no means sinless.  (See 1 John 1:8.)

Every day, I see how my sins and the sins of others make it more difficult than necessary at work.  We all get impatient when things don’t go our way.  We all struggle with submitting to authority.  We are driven by selfishness far too often.  We all would rather be somewhere else, other than at work. 

The Theology of Work Bible Commentary gives us an excellent description of the Fall on our work.  They state, “Work can be boring, degrading, humiliating, exhausting, and heartless.  We can be underpaid, endangered, and discriminated against.  We can be pressured to violate our consciences and God’s principles.  We can be fired, laid off, made redundant, downsized, terminated, unemployed or underemployed for long periods. . . We can suffer even in good jobs.” 

I see a logical progression here that I ask you to consider that flows out of these biblical principles:

  1. Adam’s sin brought thorns and thistles into his own work environment and ours
  2. Adam’s sin brought our sinfulness
  3. Our sins brought more thorns and thistles into our own work environments

The first two are certain.  They cannot be adjusted.  The only variable is the third one.  We can’t keep our non-believing coworkers from sinning.  Only Jesus can do that.  However, if Christians can modify the frequency and severity of our own sins in the workplace, perhaps work might not be so hard.

For example, things always take longer than you think they will.  That is due to Adam’s sin.  However, if I or a coworker don’t pay attention to detail, and a slide presentation has to be redone, that is due to our sin, not Adam’s sin.  My coworkers and I add unnecessary pain and frustration to our own work.

Does our faith in Christ offer any hope?

Unfortunately, Christ’s death does not change the nature of work.  It will still yield thorns and thistles for us. The good news, however, is that it does change the worker, which means that our contributions to the mess can be minimized.

In Eph. 2:1-10, Paul contrasts our old life “in Adam” (as an ordinary human being) with our new life “in Christ” (as a believer). There are radical changes that immediately take place at the moment of salvation when God transfers a believer from the domain of death/darkness to life/light.  There is not only an irreversible change in status (i.e., being declared righteous in God’s sight), but there is also an enduring change in capabilities for all who are in Christ (i.e., we can grow in holiness and become like Jesus).

Matera confirms my thoughts.  He writes, “There is something radically amiss in the human situation that can be remedied only when people are transferred from the realm of Adam to the realm of Christ.  So long as they remain ‘in Adam’, they are infected by and subject to the power of his sin.  Only when they are ‘in Christ’ are they free from the power of sin, which introduced death into the world.”

Genuine Jesus-followers have not only received forgiveness/atonement through the blood of Christ, once for all (Heb. 10:10) for all sins (past, present, and future), but have also been given several supernatural resources at conversion.  We become new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).  We are able to fight spiritual  battles (Eph. 6:10-17) and overcome our fleshly tendency to sin (Rom. 8:9-11).

In Christ, the penalty of sin has been removed (see Rom. 3).  The power of sin has also been removed (see Rom. 8).  However, we will have to deal with the presence of sin in our lives until Christ returns. Christians will always struggle with our own flesh or sin nature.  However, we have some advantages that nonbelievers do not have.

The Holy Spirit indwells and empowers every believer (1 Cor. 3:16).  He teaches and reminds us of Jesus’ words (John 14:26) so that we can experience changed hearts and minds (Rom. 12:2).  His truth will set us free (John 8:32).  We actually become more Christ-like through the sanctification process (Phil 1:6).  He also causes the fruit of the Spirit to grow (see Gal. 5:22-23).

What I am trying to emphasize here is that even though Adam’s sin brought a curse on work which still impacts the work of believers and non-believers alike, the sin that we bring to the table which directly contributes to the thorns and thistles we experience in the workplace is something that we can overcome, to a degree, by our reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit to make us more holy at work.

Where do we go from here?

I trust that this reflection on Adam’s sin will cause you to see the effects of sin in at work more clearly.  I pray that it leads to a desire to minimize your own sin which will increase your experience of God’s presence at work, so that you can participate in God’s work to redeem those who are enslaved to sin.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping 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 and now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. He has written 160 articles on faith and work topics on this blog since 2015. More than 70 articles have been posted or published 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, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

Who Are Your People?

Who are your people? 

Who are the unique individuals God has placed in your midst that He has called you to serve?

Last spring, I had one student who attended my class where I teach the principles found in my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession as part of our military installation’s Wednesday night ChristFit program at the Main Post Chapel.  He was a member of the Michigan Air National Guard, attending the Basic Engineer Course to earn his military occupational specialty.  This is the question I asked him during our virtual session on Zoom.  We had a great discussion that night.

The question came quite naturally as we looked at one interesting verse in the book of Exodus, where Yahweh had asked Moses about why the Israelites had made a golden calf.  This key verse that I mention in chapter 5 of my book is just one of many illustrations of the biblical connection between God’s divine presence and human work and that God often uses His people to be His coworkers.

Let me explore this important topic briefly.  First, let me unpack a few high points of this narrative.  Then, allow me paint a picture of the variety of individuals that God has called you to serve.  Finally, I will provide some biblical and practical ways so that you can glorify God and love your neighbors.

My people or God’s people?

Exodus 32:7 is a thought-provoking verse.  It ties the foundational biblical connection of God’s divine presence and human work (which I call “Immanuel labor”) to the concept of God choosing to use humans as His coworkers in order to expand His kingdom.  We read, “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt.” 

I find what God said somewhat humorous.  Clearly, they were not Moses’s people; they were God’s people!  God was the one who delivered the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, not Moses.  And yet, because God said it, both perspectives were true.  The Israelites did belong to Yahweh.  But they also belonged to Moses.  Truly the Lord was the one who delivered them from Pharoah.  It is also right to say that He used Moses to accomplish it.  This indicates that God saw Moses as His coworker.

God’s very real presence with Moses, which he first experienced at the burning bush, on Mount Sinai, and in the desert as He led the people day and night for forty years, enabled Moses to take responsibility for the mission he was given and play a critical role in the Israelites’ deliverance.

Who are your unique neighbors?

My Airman provided a heartfelt response to my question.  His answer was quite simple, actually: his family, church, coworkers, school, and community.  I thought that about covered it extremely well.

For Moses, I am not so sure he would have answered as quickly or with quite the same enthusiasm.  As you may recall, the Lord referred to the Israelites as “stiff-necked people” (Exo. 32:9).

Another key biblical character comes to mind.  This woman fully accepted where God had placed her, and fully embraced the people that He had sovereignly placed in her sphere.  Her name was Ruth.

In Ruth 1:16, we read this bold statement of faith in Yahweh, submission to His will, and loyalty to her family, that Ruth made to her mother-in-law, Naomi: “Your people will be my people.  (I invite you to check out an article I wrote about the book of Ruth, which has a lot to say about work.)

Let’s bring this discussion to our own place and time and explore the variety of people that are ours.

If you are a teacher, your students are your people.  But so are their parents, your co-workers, the office staff, substitute teachers, principals, custodians, administrators, and school board members.  

I could continue to describe how each field of work has its own unique set of individuals God that has entrusted to them, but I think you get the idea who your neighbors are.  It is not just the people below us, those we are directly responsible for, but it is all others who are above and around us on all sides.

How can I best serve my people at work?

Just like the main character in the well-known parable of The Good Samaritan, it was the one who showed mercy to the man in need who was obeying the biblical command to love their neighbor.  He showed mercy through words and deeds, meeting physical, emotional, mental, and financial needs.

In Matt. 25:31-46, Jesus painted a picture of the day of judgement that all will face at the end of all things when He returns.  Those who were His sheep entered into His kingdom to spend all eternity with Him.  Those who were goats were sent into eternal punishment.  What distinguished the sheep from the goats was obviously their faith (or lack of faith) in Jesus. 

One of the ways that showed whether or not a person had truly accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior was how they treated those in need.  Jesus explained that when people fed the hungry, gave a drink to the thirsty, or invited a stranger in, it was as if they were actually doing it to Him.  If they did not do any of these things, they did not do them to Him.  This corresponds well with the verse where the Apostle Paul states, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col. 3:17).

There are employees, coworkers, bosses, customers, and counterparts all around us at our places of work.  Each of them has a whole host of human needs that perhaps you and I could meet in the name of Jesus.  Some needs, like the man who was beaten, broken, and bleeding in Jesus’s parable, are obvious to all.  Some needs have to be carefully uncovered in a trusting relationship.  Perhaps God has placed you right where you are to use you just by what you do to meet the needs of your people.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping 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 for 20 years on active duty and now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. He has written 160 articles on faith and work topics on this blog since 2015. More than 70 articles that he has written have been posted or published 140 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, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

How do we Respond if we are the Incompetent Colleague?

(Note: This is the second of a two-part reflection on this topic.  I invite you to read the first part here. This article was published on the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog snd was posted on the Coram Deo blog. ) 

Do you ever feel like you just can’t keep up with all of the expectations and requirements of your job?  Does your boss or your coworkers ever give you the impression that you are the weakest link on the team?  I know I would have to honestly answer “Yes” to both of these questions.  What about you?

I have enjoyed a long season of perceived competence in my current position, only by the grace of God.  However, there have been several times throughout my military career (both as a Soldier for 20 years and as a Department of the Army civilian employee for 13 years) when I did not feel very competent.

I was inspired to consider writing another reflection on this critical topic that I was first exposed to in reading William Morris’ book, Love thy Colleague: Being Authentically Christian at Work.  In my first article, I answered the question, “How are we to love the incompetent colleague?”  In this one, I want to turn the table around and ask, “What if we are the one who is incompetent?  How do we respond?”

In this article, I want to explore several ideas.  When we are perceived as incompetent (or actually are), we may need to graciously receive help that is offered.  Also, it is during these times that we may need to develop humility.  Finally, we may also need to accept that all of us are incompetent at some level.

We may need to receive mercy

Morris refers to the parable of the Good Samaritan throughout his book.  When our coworkers are in need, he focuses on how to show mercy.  When we are lacking, he encourages us to receive mercy.

Morris indicates:

Accepting mercy means taking the training and advice that are offered to make me as good as I can be; using those opportunities to nourish my own skills and aptitudes.  And it can also mean accepting, as we’ve just seen, that we are simply not cut out to be in some jobs; that we will always be a drag on our colleagues and on the business (in addition to tormenting ourselves).  It can mean accepting from others the merciful message that we should be looking (working with the Spirit) for something to which we are better suited.

What Morris stated above, re: receiving training as needed and accepting the fact that there are certain jobs that are not a good fit, I am reminded of my own failures while assigned as an Army recruiter.

If you feel you cannot cut it, or if you get cut from the team, I believe that God will always provide another job in a field where you may naturally be more competent. However, if your life or family depends on you keeping this particular job where you are struggling, I also believe that God will enable you to be competent enough through training over time.  God will bless your sincere efforts.

We may need to develop humility

From a solid understanding of the doctrine of man, we know that each one of us are sinners, by nature.  We also know that when we happen to succeed, it is easy to be prideful about our accomplishments. 

Morris concurs with this tendency towards pride.  He calls attention to a “counter-intuitive aspect” of this challenging situation: “the benefit that lies in realizing that we actually are incompetent.”  He rightly observes, “The downside of ‘competence’ is the illusion of control.  The illusion that we, as individuals, divorced from a community, can shape the world around us.  The illusion that we as human beings, divorced from God, are the source of our own success.  Competence makes us think more highly of ourselves, and makes us forget what we owe to God, and what we owe to others.” 

When our weaknesses or blind spots are pointed out, it provides us a chance to reflect on the fact that we are no better than anyone else and that any successes we do have are only by the grace of God. 

Morris continues:

If we’re staggering about in the mud, completely unable to get our footing, to regain our balance, we quickly realize that we need help.  We realize we need someone to reach out an arm to steady us; to reach out a hand to pull us up.  We remember that we need others, and we need God.  We’re not self-sufficient, not autonomous, and not that clever.  So, recognizing that we are incompetent, and that we do need the help of others, can be mercy indeed.

Humility is a hard character trait to develop.  Even if we do master it, it is not something that we should brag about. 

Proverbs 16:18 is a well-known verse that is appropriate to highlight here: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”  What I’ve learned is that if I do not humble myself before the Lord, He may have to do something to humble me in a way that may not be so comfortable.

Morris shares some wise counsel: “The illusion of competence, of being able to do it all, of having almost limitless capability, can lead us into taking on too much and becoming ever busier. . . Acknowledging that I am incompetent can allow me the opportunity to reassess, regain perspective, and perhaps, slow down a little and give more time to what really matters – including other people.”

None of us are totally competent

Let me expand a little bit on what Morris mentioned above about our collective incompetency.

The Apostle Paul writes something relevant to this discussion in 1 Cor. 1:26-29.  He contrasts the average Christ-follower with those who were considered by the world to be successful.  They were not wise “according to worldly standards”.  Not many of them were powerful or of noble birth.  I can extend that a bit to observe that the average Christian may not be rich, popular, or beautiful, either. 

Paul goes on to say that God did not call the individual members of His Church due to their worldly value.  Instead, He “chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”

Even Paul, as competent as he was in his profession, did not consider himself to be adequate for the task. He recognized that he was weak, “a jar of clay”. It was God’s “all-surpassing power” which enabled him to preach the gospel. (See 2 Cor. 4:7)

All of us, redeemed and lost, are in fact, incompetent.  And yet, God loves us and accepts us in Christ.  He graciously invites us to join Him in His mission to continue to sustain and expand His kingdom.

Morris also reminds us of God’s amazing grace.  He points out that God always welcomes us into His kingdom based on Jesus’s sacrificial death on the cross, “not because we are worthy of it, but because He loves us, incompetent as we truly are.”  Amen!

Closing challenge

Here is my final word for those who are struggling with being the incompetent worker.

Whether you find yourself in a steep learning curve, a temporary slump, a season of unproductivity, or determine that you lack the ability to develop the skills to be adequate to perform the basic functions of your job, you need to remember this.  The God who created Adam gave him his first job.  He designed him with the potential to learn and develop the skills needed to do that job. God provided Adam an opportunity to do work that was of value and which served a purpose for His kingdom and for others. 

Will not the same creator do the same for you?  He will make you competent!

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Seventy articles that he wrote have been posted or published 130 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.

Showing Respect to Those Outside Your Organization

As a young sergeant in the U.S. Army, during my first unaccompanied tour in the Republic of Korea, I witnessed a classic example of disrespect shown to someone I did not know at our higher headquarters.  I was assigned to a military police company.  My company commander always referred to the battalion operations officer as “Major Problems”.  I was fairly certain that his rank was that of major.  However, I’m pretty sure that wasn’t his last name.

I cannot be the only one to have heard someone complain about those who work at the level above or below you.  It is a common occurrence.  The television show “The Office” contained many scenes where the regional manager said something negative about those who worked at the corporate office. 

Let me briefly dive into this critical topic that I have not explored or addressed in previous articles.

Why is disrespect in general a problem?

Disrespect is cancerous.  It starts out small, then spreads itself to others, both inside and outside your organization.  If tolerated, it becomes a new standard that is going to destroy everything in its path.  And, as one of my coworkers stated, we tend to remember negative things more than positive ones.

What is wrong with complaining about the CEO above you or the franchise managers below you?

Allowing yourself or your employees to make jokes or say negative things about leaders or staff members in other organizations that you work with indirectly will come back to bite you.  It is gossip, plain and simple, which is prohibited in Scripture.  (See Prov. 18:8.) 

Even though it may seem to be a team-building activity to unite together as you express how much you despise them, it can actually be counterproductive and destroy the kind of quality teamwork that you are trying to develop.

It would be hypocritical for me to emphasize the concept of treating others right in front of me with dignity and respect and then do the opposite with some folks who work down the street or upstairs.

Also, it would be a bad situation if you got transferred to another branch or assigned to work at the corporate office and the new team that you have to work with has heard you were bad mouthing them.

What does right look like?

I make it a point at work to treat everyone on my team with dignity and respect.  I demand the same from all.  What this means is that we do not interact with people differently based on their race, gender, religious background, age, political affiliation, etc.  We do not talk about “those people” who are different than we are.  We are a team, and our strength lies in our diversity.  Everyone contributes.

This looks like we are intentionally following Jesus’s golden rule.  We do unto others the way we want others to do unto us.  We love our neighbors, whether they are in the cubicle next to ours or work somewhere else.

I challenge you to give this some thought and maybe change how you treat those outside your own team.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Seventy articles that he wrote have been posted or published 130 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.

Maybe I’m Not so Unique After All

I have written in several forums that I have a unique perspective on the theology of work, based on my extensive studies on the topic and my own experiences living out these biblical principles over the past three decades.  Although I believe that is still a true statement, it occurs to me that what I know, believe, and think about God’s presence in my own work might not be so unique after all. 

To borrow a theme from Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol, I find myself living in the past, the present, and the future when it comes down to what I understand about the biblical connection between God’s presence and human work.  I have been referring to this concept as Immanuel labor.

Here are a few statements that will highlight what I mean.

In the past:

  • I believe that God is sovereign; He has divinely guided every single circumstance of my life, including my conception, birth, and upbringing to prepare me for His purposes
  • I believe that God has clearly led me every step of the way throughout my education and employment journey to give me the skills and experiences I would need to glorify Him
  • I believe that God has provided for me and my family through all of the jobs I have had

In the present:

  • I believe that God is present with me every day as I go to work; He works with me, in me, and through me as I work in my ordinary job to meet the various needs of people I serve with
  • I believe that God uses the thorns and thistles that constantly hinder my work and make it more painful than necessary as trials to build my faith, which grows as I learn to trust Him
  • I believe that God has placed me here for a purpose; I will be content to stay put until led to go elsewhere

In the future:

  • I believe that when I struggle at work, God will give me all of the wisdom and strength I need
  • I believe my current job may only be for a season; He may have something better for me to do
  • I believe that wherever He leads me, He will be present with me to glorify Himself

God the Father has revealed Himself through His Son, His Holy Spirit, and His word as a God who is sovereign over all, who loves His children, and who has promised to lead them every step of the way in their journey of faith.  Since He never changes, how He has always dealt with His people in the past is the way He still deals with them now.  If that is true, then all of these things I indicated above are not unique to me at all.  Every Christian should be able to say that they are also true for them.

I encourage you to go back and reread the bullet points above, and see if you believe what I believe.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Seventy articles that he wrote have been posted or published 130 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.

Why do we Celebrate Milestones in the Military?

Last month, my Operations team planned and executed a change of Commandant ceremony to commemorate the accomplishments of the outgoing Commandant and Chief of Chemical and to welcome the incoming.  As expected, the ceremony was steeped in tradition, military precision, and heartfelt messages from senior leaders. 

This past week, our team executed a similar ceremony to celebrate the change of responsibility between our 3rd and 4th Regimental Chief Warrant Officers. It was one of the best ceremonies we have done.

Over the past 13 years, I had the privilege of planning, preparing, executing, and attending dozens of awards, promotions, changes of command or responsibility, and formal retirement ceremonies for senior leaders in the U.S. Army Chemical Corps who had served over twenty years of active duty. 

Why have I spent so much time and energy on these events?  Why are milestones so important to the military and what value might they have in other organizations?

Let me paint a picture of one type of special recognition ceremony to give readers an understanding of their significance in military communities.  But first, let me unpack several biblical celebrations that marked transitions in the faith community that had a similar purpose and function.

Biblical milestone celebrations

You won’t find any promotion or retirement ceremonies in the Bible.  However, there are many examples of celebrations throughout God’s Word which mirror what we do in the Army.  There are a variety of feasts, holidays, weekly and annual remembrances that have a similar purpose – to show respect, to honor, and to unite the community.  Let me mention just a few of them to highlight their purpose and how they provided a chance for God’s people to stop and reflect on His goodness.

In the OT, the first major milestone event I can find is the erecting of stones of remembrance after the Israelites crossed the Jordan River (Josh. 4:1-7).  The annual celebration of the Passover was designed to be an opportunity to come together and remember God’s intervention and deliverance during Israel’s captivity in Egypt.  This event is referred to repeatedly throughout the rest of the OT.

In the Gospels, we have the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:14-19).  This was to be a recurring special event in the life of the church to look back to Jesus’s sacrifice for our sins and towards His return.

In Jesus’ last words to His disciples, He delivered a farewell address to them with some final instructions (Matt 28:18-20).  In Acts 1:9-11, angels gave additional guidance as Jesus departed.

In the Epistles, we have a great example of a farewell event for a leader as he was about to depart to his next assignment.  Paul, in Acts 20:18-38, gave a moving message to the elders from Ephesus. 

A formal retirement ceremony

This ceremony to mark this major transition begins with an invocation by the chaplain, followed by playing of the National Anthem, opening remarks from the senior attendee, and presentations to Soldier and their spouse which include service medals, certificates, a U.S. flag, an Army Lapel Pin, retiree remarks, benediction, and the playing of the Chemical Corps Song and the Army Song. 

The second line to the Army Song still chokes me up nearly every time I sing it, even though it has been over fifteen years since my own retirement ceremony in 2006.  “Proud of all we have done, fighting ‘till the battle’s won, and the Army goes rolling along.”  There is a tremendous sense of pride in your accomplishments and a deep satisfaction that you fought hard to the very end.  The bittersweet truth is in realizing that the Army will continue to keep rolling along without you. 

What is the impact of these ceremonies?

Let me elaborate on the some of the benefits of these formal retirement ceremonies in particular.

A retirement ceremony is about taking care of Soldiers and their Families.  It is appropriate for leaders to present awards and commend those Soldiers who have finished the race honorably and served with distinction.  It provides the retiree an opportunity to express gratitude to those who served with them and for the love, sacrifices, and support of their family throughout their career.  Also, it brings closure, allowing them to acknowledge the loss of purpose and identity and fear of the unknown, combined with the excitement they feel as they embark on their next chapter of life.

However, it is not just about retirees and their families.  It is also about leader development for the others in the audience.   These ceremonies encourage younger Soldiers to consider making the Army a career and encourage older Soldiers to press on and finish their own careers honorably. 

As I reflect on the senior leaders we have honored at their retirement, I am reminded of the parable of the talents.  Jesus tells the story of the master who rewards his servants for investing his money wisely.  The master says, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21-23).  Job well done!

I am also reminded of Paul’s word to honor those to whom it is due.  (See Rom. 13:7.)  That is what these ceremonies are all about for me.  It is a chance to honor and love those who have served well.

Closing challenge

What is it that you could do better to honor faithful employees as they depart your organization or attain a milestone event?  Could you do a video tribute?  Present a plaque or other farewell gift?  What you do for them will be a blessing they will long remember, along with your entire team.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Seventy articles that he wrote have been posted or published 130 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.

Remembering the Brave Workers on 9-11

Picture1On this Patriot’s Day, I want to share something personal that my son wrote several years ago.  It is a moving reflection on 9-11 as he experienced it as a 13 year old Army brat living on an Air Force Base. 

His account reminds me of the heroic actions of a variety of ordinary American workers who risked their own lives to save others on that fateful day: firefighters, policemen, first responders, and military personnel.  Their work truly made a difference back then.  Their work still makes a difference today.

My 911

By Brian Gehrlein

I’m thirteen. It’s the eighth grade. The towering Wasatch front protects me like a great stone wall to my east as it runs north to south, the entire length of the horizon. I’m safe. The sun creeps over the mountain peaks each morning and then melts into a perfect pool of pink within the crystal, saline waters of the Great Salt Lake to the west. When snow blankets the front, the whole range glows the reflected colors of the sunset. Dad’s in the Army but the Air Force lets us live on base. The jets roar day and night but that’s part of life here. I learn quickly to identify which planes are taking off. Mostly F-16 fighter jets. They’re louder and fly lower but disappear into the desert faster. C-130s shake the earth and take longer to quiet. It’s constant. Waking up behind barbed wire fences and guarded gates and deafening military might reminds me once again in strange way…I’m safe.

First few weeks of school pass and it’s just normal thirteen-year-old stuff. Girls. Friends. Girls. Figuring out my skin. Girls. Figuring out how to make my teachers laugh. Girls. Figuring out how to fix my hair (for girls) and who I am and who I want to be. Today is Tuesday, September 11, 2001 and I leave for school on a normal bus. It’s warm. Peaceful. As we leave, I don’t have to look but know the sign at the gate says: THREATCON ALPHA. It always does. Because this means business as usual. Still gotta have your military ID on you at all times but they don’t check too much on the bus. Maybe have to hold it up but they don’t look close.

We get to school and the TV is on in the band room. I don’t pay much attention but the news isn’t usually on when I’m putting my drum-sticks and bells away for later. I hear a concerned reporter talking about something happening on my way out with my friends. I say something stupid ‘cause I have no idea what’s going on yet.

School starts and we get the news. It’s hard to comprehend what’s happening a few thousand miles east of us. The teachers are really worried and don’t teach that much. All they can do is listen to the radio or watch TV or answer our questions and try and give us as much normalcy as possible without giving away the fact that they are more afraid than we are because they understand what it all means. They can’t pretend very well and it sets all of us on edge. The rest of the day is a blur. A lot of my friends who have parents in the service like me are extra worried. We know what they’re saying. “Act of war” sticks in my head. War. My dad. I need to get home.

We finally pile onto the bus and we’re talking like normal except all we can talk about are those planes and those buildings and all those people. We talk about our parents and how we need to get home. We talk about war. Something’s wrong on the street. There’s never traffic like this after school. I stand up to get a better look and all three sides turning into the base are gridlocked. A car turns and I see the sign outside the main gate. As I read I realize this isn’t just about New York and DC and Pennsylvania. This is about right here…THREATCON DELTA. The highest threat condition used in the military reserved only for times of actual war. Other kids see the sign and the bus goes quiet because we know—but we can’t. The bus driver is nervous but tells us to have our IDs ready. I pull mine out.

Then the slow crawl to the gate. There’s airmen everywhere. It’s swarming with Military Police in full gear that I’ve only seen on soldiers training when visiting my dad on post, or in war movies. Every Army kid has worn their parent’s stuff before. Tried on a helmet, a rucksack, worn a jacket, or put on boots and eaten dozens of MREs. But that’s all pretend. This isn’t the movies. This is real. Full combat ready camo flak jackets, helmets and loaded M16s and 9mm side-arms. They have mirrors on big sticks looking under every car and big MP dogs patrolling, and sniffing around everywhere. I’m anxious and can’t sit down anymore. It’s almost our turn.

As we approach the guards my heart stops. Not fifteen feet ahead of me, set up on the median that divides the road, is a sandbag pillbox with a 50-caliber machine gun pointed at my bus. There’s an MP manning the gun. Just waiting. We stop as my heart starts pounding in my chest again. The doors open and two armed guards get on, M16s drawn—not over the shoulder. Assault rifles in hand, ready to search this bus. I can tell it’s anything but a joke by how serious everyone is. I’ve never seen them act like this. They check IDs and look through bags. I’m in the middle of the bus waiting for my turn. A lot of kids are crying. They give out orders but I don’t remember what they say. He’s next to me now. He’s drenched in sweat and terrifying. I hand him my ID and open my bag. He looks at it for a long time then moves on to the back of the bus. I can’t breathe. I look outside and I see the guys with mirrors and the German Shepherds going around our bus. We get the clear and move along to our “normal route” and begin dropping people off, stop by stop.

When we eventually get to my street, and I walk the hill to the cul-de-sac, I start to cry as soon as I see my house. Before I walk in, I take a look at the mountains to the east. I see a subtle peppering of reds as the beginning of autumn rolls up from the foothills to the top. Giant. Still.  And yet somehow…different. Because they’re no longer keeping me safe. Neither is the tall, grey razor wire fence that surrounds the base where I live. And the sound of the jets taking off just down the road seems to mean something else now. Where are they going? What do F-16 fighter jets do when it’s Threat Con Delta and our nation is under attack? My head is spinning but seems to return to the same word again and again. Dad. What will this mean for him? My family? Will he be sent somewhere I cannot follow? Will he be killed? There are too many questions and not enough answers. The one thing I do know is that everything has changed. My country has changed. This place has changed. And I’ve changed. Forever.

This isn’t a story I like to tell because I don’t like thinking about it. But I wanted to share because this day reminds me that fear never has the final word… love does. I remember how close it brought us together and how many answered the call, and how in the face of the worst of what we are capable of, we also saw acts of the best of what we are capable of—not just as Americans, but as human beings. This day reminds me that we can’t truly appreciate the sweetness of spring until we feel the bitter bite of winter’s icy chill and that the morning after our darkest day…the sun glows just a little brighter.

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 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.

The Hard Work of Being a Good Father

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(Note: this article was published on the Christian Grandfather Magazine blog.)

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

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

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

A little about my own father

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

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

I wrote something else worth sharing.  In September 2000, I flew home to be with him for a few days before he was having major surgery.  I did not know it would be our last visit.  I made a list of 20 things about him that I was thankful for. 

Here are several: he married my mother; he gave up his dream of a college education to take care of his young family (me); he played baseball with me; he took our family to church; he helped me build things; he took us to visit interesting places; he came on a great Boy Scout canoe trip in Minnesota and Canada; he paid for my out of state college tuition; he came to visit my family in most of the places we were stationed, even Germany.

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

What do the Scripture say about the role of fathers?

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

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

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

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

Final thoughts

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

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

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

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