Announcing ‘God + Work Wednesdays’!

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Years ago, I was speaking to an old friend as he was preparing to become an architect and I was about to enter seminary.  I’ll never forget him saying: “It’s easy to serve God as a pastor, but how you do it as an architect?”  I could hear the frustration in that question.  He was really wanting to know and so far he hadn’t been given a satisfying answer.  If I had a time machine, I would go back and give him Tim Keller’s new book, Every Good Endeavour.  Christians love God but many have a hard time seeing how what they do for a living is related to that faith and devotion.  How is God related our labour?  How is our labour related our faith in God?  As a pastor (whose vocation is obviously attached to my faith), why do I care so much about this issue?

As a working pastor, I am concerned about this issue for the sake of others.  I encounter Christians who are deeply frustrated with work.  I also meet some for whom work becomes an idol.  I also know that some feel that their job is not as much a ‘calling’ as vocational ministry, or is not as important to the Kingdom.  I also know some who have been burned by not finding their purpose within the Church (they probably should have found it elsewhere).  Tim Keller addresses all of these with a fine concise theology of vocation and labour.

It seems to me a remedy to many frustrations regarding work is to embrace how we can serve God no matter what we do for a living.  In the introduction to the book (pg 22), Keller sketches out 8 possible ways to serve God through our working lives.  According to Keller, the ways to serve God at work are:

-to further social justice in the world.

-to be personally honest and evangelize your co-workers.

-to just do skillful, excellent work.

-to create beauty.

-to work from a Christian motivation to glorify God, seeking to engage and influence culture to that end.

-to work with a grateful, joyful, Gospel-changed heart through all the ups and downs.

-to do whatever gives you the greatest joy and passion.

-to make as much money as you can, so that you can be as generous as you can.

Keller sees a problem when Christians regard one way to serve God at work and disregard others.  These eight ways are in fact possibilities which do not contradict one another.  Incredibly, after listing them, Keller does not expand on these eight ways.  It is my only criticism of the book.  So for the next eight Wednesdays, I’m going to reflect on each, drawing from the wisdom of Keller and others along the way.

So…how about each one of these ways to serve God at work?  Which one resonates the most with you?

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The Real Reason Christians Can Love Our Enemies

Screen shot 2013-02-22 at 1.44.34 PMIt’s commonly thought that the reason Christians are not to take revenge on their enemies is because God is nice and wouldn’t do that sort of thing.  God’s gentle, so we must be gentle is how it goes.  It may be attractive to certain folks but in the face of true evil, it lacks the needed power.  The power is lacking because this – God is nice, you be nice – answer to evil goes against the thrust of the Scriptures.

Miroslav Volf has helped me here.  You don’t have to be a strict pacifist (I’m not) to acknowledge that no retribution upon enemies is a binding New Testament ethic for all disciples.  The real reason we must not be vengeful is not that God will also not be but that God will do it better.  And, when need be, He’ll do it for us.  He’ll do it far better than we, as sinners ourselves, could ever do.  God has appointed a day and a Man to whom He will enact justice upon evil.  That man thankfully is not me (or you) and that day is not today.  The Man is Jesus and the Day is His return.

The logic of the Scriptures goes like this:

Don’t avenge yourselves, but let another take care of the wrath.

That other is Jesus, who will judge the world with perfect justice.

So therefore, treat your enemies in profoundly loving ways.

Jesus Meek and Mild is never the basis for our peaceful love towards our enemies.  Jesus King and Judge is the reason we don’t have to become little kings and judges over others.  Volf has an answer for those who believe that the Christian should love their enemy/not retaliate since God is perfect, non-coercive love:

Soon you would discover that it takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human nonviolence corresponds to God’s refusal to judge.  In a scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent, it will invariably die.  As one watches it die, one will do well reflect about many other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind.  Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace

The Approaching Day

It’s Friday and I’m working on Sunday’s sermon.  The text:  Revelation 20:7-15.  The topic:  The Day of Judgment.

Truth be told, it’s not a very easy thing to think about or to preach.  I’d really rather speak about something else.  And so then it hits me that perhaps this is where our dissonance with the Day of the Lord comes from.  We’d really rather think about something else.  Yet there’s no denying that He would like us to think forward to it for preparation, warning, hope, promise, vindication.

Maybe I need to keep listening to another kind of preacher’s *sermon* about the Day.  Thanks for the help, Johnny!

Good News! The Cross is still an Offence and Jesus is still an Embarrassment!

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James K A Smith

Having conversed with enough young, disaffected evangelicals – many of whom treat the Faith as a teenager treats their parents at the mall – I was refreshed to hear James K A Smith’s recent evaluation of the ‘new apologetics’.  Many today act as though Christianity, if only it were known in its pristine form, could be easily adopted by those entrenched in the contemporary culture.  Some beliefs are not attractive and so they must be ‘apologized’ for.  Never mind that this is not the type of ‘apologia’ we are called to do.

“These are aspects of Christianity that are just not believable today.  But that’s OK, because it turns out that they’re also aspects that are not really biblical and not really Christian.  So don’t let those things stop you from believing.” [Then cue your favorite tale about “Hellenization” or “Constantinianism” or “fundamentalism” here.]

The basic thrust seems to be, if there is something that sticks in the craw of secularism – like creation, sex ethics, exclusivity of Christ, issues of theodicy, etc – explain it away as being some piggy backer onto some primordial, authentic Christianity.

Don’t like it that God might allow evil?  That’s okay!  Augustine made all that up.

Don’t like the idea of a binding conscience upon all people?  Don’t worry!  A dismissible Greek idea.

Don’t like a counter-cultural challenge (perhaps a passage concerning a divine plan for our private parts given that they hold to power to create life)?  Rest Easy!  The ghastly spectre of Fundamentalism can be summoned.

Let it be stated once and for all:  Retreating from controversy in the name of relevance is not the road to fruitful disciple-making.  In fact, it is a road leading in the opposite direction.  Apologetics is not apologizing for orthodox Christianity.  Could it be that perhaps a much needed apologetic may be a people who actually believe the Faith entrusted to them?  Could it be that we are not to be embarrassed of Christ and His words?  Could it be we may actually have to bear shame for such a Faith?

Does God Care About First World Problems?

I recently read a heart felt blog post from a Christian mother of young kids.  She wrote about how she was torn between schooling choices for her kids and was racked with anxiety.  Her testimony is that God met her in that anxious place and gave her peace, letting her know He had the whole thing in His sovereign hands.  Good, normal story of having faith.  In the comments, however, someone felt the need to critique her account of finding God’s peace by calling it a “First World Problem”.  Apparently calling things First World Problems is a thing now.  (S)He then proceeded to remind everyone how some kids don’t even get to go to school, yadda, yadda, yadda…  Said blogger capably answered snarky commenter with grace and so that was that.

But it did leave me thinking, what about our First World trials?  Some in the world may barely live through the day therefore are our lesser problems not worthy of mention?  I don’t know about that.  As a father of two little ones I can say that the smallest parental concerns become big tests for trusting God.  I pastor a church where children under five might be the biggest demographic.  Many of my flock are filled with deep concern for their kids.  We all live in the relative peace and prosperity of the First World so none of our kids will starve.  It leaves me wondering:

Does dismissing something as a ‘first world problem’ reduce anxiety?  

Does dismissing a ‘first world problem’ actually help anyone with greater ‘third world problems’?

My answer to both those questions is that I don’t think it does.

Of course, gaining perspective can help but it seems to me that in whatever concerns us is our testing ground of faith.  I write this in the midst of a very First World Problem.  I’m waiting to hear if an offer will be accepted to purchase our first house.  Much of the world doesn’t have adequate housing but knowing that isn’t what will help me sleep.  Believing that God cares for me and knows my needs (even before I ask) might help, though.

A woman’s concerns about her children’s schooling, my need for God to provide the right house, whatever can cause anxiety, these are testing grounds for our faith in the God Who Provides.  We are commanded to cast our cares on Him and  be anxious for nothing.  There is no virtue in this obedience unless we are in places where we meet our anxieties.  God cares about all our problems, First World Ones included.