Saturday, March 24, 2012

8 Benefits of Vulnerability

Ever feel vulnerable and weak like you don't have control over their circumstances? Here are eight blessings to such a state:

1. That sweet feeling of being a feeble child in your Daddy's arms

2. The blessings of walking by faith.

3. The blessed realization that strengths comes from God and not ourselves.

4. The liberating understanding that victory is not contingent on my outstanding preformance.

5. The hunger to seek God in prayer.

6. The deeper appreciation of simple things.

7. The comfort of knowing God is in control.

8. The sharpening of the spiritual senses.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

God Cares About Your Work (Part 2): Created for Labor (Not the Lottery)

“Now we see if I’ll go in tomorrow.” My friend said – only half jesting – as he scratched off one end of the lottery ticket. Disappointedly, he tossed aside the loosing ticket. “I guess I will have to come into work after all.”

This seems to be the pervasive attitude among people today. Work is just something you do until you win the lottery or get Washington to pay your bills. Even many Christians believe that labor is a necessary evil and the result of the Fall. However, the Scriptures would tell us something different. They tell us that work was a part of God’s original, perfect order.

In Genesis 1:28 we read, “God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’”

Adam and Eve didn’t just sit in the Garden and admire the flowers. God designed them to be productive, giving them a task to do. Likewise, we see that there seems to be a special emphasis placed on the man working in the Garden: “Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15)

Men were created to be productive and creative. Some Christians feel guilty because they want to start businesses, climb the corporate latter, fix up their car, do a home improvement project, study art or pursue political advancement. They’re gotten the idea that these things are somehow less spiritual than others. To the contrary, this is what God created you to do!
Adam was made to use his mind and his hands to gain dominion over creation. Likewise, Adam’s sons have always had similar impulses.

While God’s creation was flawless, I believe that He also left it incomplete. In other words, He wanted Adam to take what he’d been given and make it better, more orderly and more useful. Improving what God has given us is an innate part of manhood. Whether it’s our wife, our family, our church, or our broken Ford pickup (if it was a Chevy it wouldn’t be broken), we’re called to better the condition of the things around us.

Thus, if the Bible teaches that we were created to take dominion than Christian men ought to be the most ambitious men alive. We should desire to be the best at what we do, because we’re blessed by God to do exactly that.

But there’s a problem. God’s glorious design of productive manhood had a wrenched thrown into it. Man rebelled against the authority of God and so creation rebelled against the authority of Man. After the Fall, God said to Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face you will eat bread.” (Genesis 3:17-19)

Now, just like we actively fight God creation now actively fights us. So, no matter how hard you tried you can’t get that pickup to run smoothly, or the garden to grow properly, or that child to behave. Now we find ourselves sweating and laboring just to eke out on existence.

More than that, sin now taints everything that we do. Thus, work that God blessed for the good of mankind is now polluted with greed and selfishness. We’ve turned the blessed gift of God into a means of hurting others and advancing ourselves. Rather than nurturing and improving what we’ve charged with, we abuse, manipulate and use the things in our charge.

But what’s the answer to all this? Should we spot working? Should we suppress that natural desire to gain control and building our little empire? Should the impulses of apathy take control instead?

Some would say yes. They would say that believers shouldn’t try to be the best at what they do because that’s greedy. Well, it certainly can be. We all know of way too many greedy Christians. However, working hard and achieving success isn’t inherently selfish. As we’ll discuss shortly, there’s a way to succeed in a manner that is saturated in benevolence and charity. I’d argue that Christians ought to try to be the best at everything they do to the end that they might glorify God and serve others.

Remember, it wasn’t sin that made work. God made work and sin made it a burden. In the Garden, Adam had God-given power, possessions and pleasure. Thus, pursuing power, possessions and pleasure is not a wicked enterprise. Though, we must be on our guard for our depraved nature corrupts everything we do. However, we can’t refrain from doing something simply because sin might contaminate it. If we were consistent with that principle we couldn’t do anything. Even the most spiritual of activities can become sinful. But I firmly believe that if we, by God’s grace, free our work and “secular” ambitions from sin than it can be a powerful tool in our Father’s hand.

We can be creators without being tyrants; an authority without being authoritarian; a steward without being domineering. Labor is an institution ordained by God and should therefore be carried out with passion and devotion

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

God Cares About Your Work (Part 1): Martin Luther On Shoemaking

Hot, sweaty and exhausted, I stumbled out of the car. When I had left for work that morning the sun had been rising. Now, the sun had long since set. My body smelt like grim and chemicals. Every part of my body hurt from the long day of physical labor. I limped into my house to find that most of my family was already in bed. Thus, I took a shower, ate some supper and went to bed only to get up repeat the grueling routine.

At the time I was working for a carpet cleaning company. It was very hard work and it forced me to deal with some issues I hadn’t had to confront before. My parents had tried to instill a work ethic in me, but daily chores just didn’t compare to 60 hour work weeks. So I began to wonder, does this even matter? What’s the bigger picture here? Does God really care about dirty carpets?

Our culture says no, God doesn’t care about your daily work. While no one might be bold enough to make that statement, the sentiment is surely there. On the one hand, we in the Church have a false sense of spirituality that states that only pastors and missionaries are really “serving God full time”. This attitude in the church is then amplified by the general sentiment in the world which sees work as a necessary evil that should be done away with in the ideal society.

Laziness is ramped in our society partially because we don’t see work itself as anything important. Work is just something we do to pay the bills and so we’ll only work as hard as we have to in order to live comfortably. And if the government wants to help me pay the bills so I can do even less work than all the better. But this wasn’t always the attitude.

Once the great Reformer Martin Luther was approached by a man who enthusiastically announced that he’d recently received Christ. Wanting desperately to serve the Lord, he asked Luther, “What should I do now?” The implication was that he man was wondering if he should become a minister or a traveling evangelist or maybe even a monk.

Luther asked him, “What is your work now?”

“I’m a shoe maker.” The man responded.

Much to the cobbler’s surprise, Luther replied, “Then make a good shoe and sell it at a fair price.”

Luther and the other Reformers would introduce a startling dogma called the doctrine of vocation. Alongside justification by faith and the sufficiency of the Scriptures, this would become one of the central pillars of Protestantism. Sadly, somewhere along the line we forgot about it.

Theologian J.I. Packer describes the doctrine of vocation this way: “The word vocation means calling and right at the heart of vocation is, I believe, in every case, the sense that God has called one to do what one is doing. The sense of being called comes out of thinking and praying about what one has been gifted and fitted to do and which of the options for life activity is the best one. (Never let the good be the enemy of the best.) Then as one thinks about these things and prays about these things comes the sense that, yes, this is what God’s called me do. And all honest work is worth doing for the glory of God and we may find ourselves called to do any form of honest work that we are fitted for.”

That may not sound like such a big deal, but this little doctrinal point changed the world. If this idea is true than that means that the farmer in the field is just as much called of God as the pastor in the parish and the king in the palace. If that’s the case, people began to reason, then maybe we should start treating the famer with a little more respect. Thus the “Protestant work ethic” would become the basis of free society.

However, this isn’t just a matter of going back to our historic Protestant roots. I firmly believe that the Scriptures would cause us to value work. There is perhaps any number of reasons from the Bible, but in the next few weeks (or maybe months :-P) I’d like to draw your attention to three of them.