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Overcoming Fear

These are some thoughts I recently shared with a friend.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. – 1 John 4:16-18

From the time I was very young I had a fear of death and dying, and genuinely believed (feared) that I was going to die somehow at a young age – before I was 30, or definitely by the time I was 40.  So here I am at 51 and alive and kicking!  I wouldn’t have believed it as a child.  But God is our protector, and He’s been so faithful in watching over me and protecting me, even from myself, since I can be my own worst enemy sometimes.

I’ve been through numerous situations in my life in which I feared I was going to die.  Most of them were irrational, but they seemed real enough at the time, and so they were still very real fears I had to overcome, even if only in my mind and heart.  I think God used each of those situations to bring me to a point of surrender and trust, to the place in which I learn not to love my life in this world so much, but to love God more, and to trust him.  God used those times to bring me closer to the point where I’m able to say with Paul “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21) and with Job “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15).

Psalm 34:4 says

I sought the Lord, and he answered me;

he delivered me from all my fears.

I’ve taken that to mean not just that God delivered me from the things I was afraid of, but he even delivered me from the fears themselves.  This is true of my life; over the years God has delivered me from so many fears.  I still have fears that need to be overcome, but I’m confident that God is still at work delivering me from those as well.

A passage I’ve come back to over and over again when dealing with fears in my life is 1 John 4:16-18

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (emphasis added)

I can’t say I’ve fully come to understand or appropriate these verses, but I keep coming back to them when I fear.  John says the root of all our fears is a fear that God is going to punish us.  Deep down we know we deserve to be punished because of our sins.  But elsewhere John reminds us that “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous [one]. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins….” (1 John 2:1-2).  That word “propitiation” means that Jesus took all the punishment and wrath we deserved for our sins upon Himself.  So the punishment for our wrongdoing has already been completely taken care of.

That means we don’t ever have to be afraid of being punished by God anymore!  “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).  “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).  So 1 John 4:18 invites us to become more deeply rooted and grounded in the love of God.  He says this is the way we overcome fear.  *:) happy

Psalm 91 is also a good scripture passage to meditate on when dealing with fears of death or harm coming to us.  It’s all about how God invites us to dwell in “the secret place” with him, and that as we do so we enter into a place of protection with Him.  The psalm is filled with all kinds of promises of protection for the believer.

These things are true for anyone who is a follower of Christ.  Have you ever asked Christ into your heart?  If not, you can today, and then you can begin to know and experience these truths for yourself as well. 🙂

Some Things to Look For in a Church

A friend sent me an email with an article entitled “7 Things To Look For in a Good Church” and then asked what my list of things to seek in a church would look like if I made one.  After thinking about it, I came up with the following points:

1) A church that fosters loving community and is genuinely welcoming toward newcomers.
2) One in which the worship is genuine and heartfelt, and not just following the latest trends.  It is contemporary in style but also includes traditional elements from time to time, such as hymns or liturgy.  Worship is participatory by the entire congregation as much as possible, and not just those on the platform up front.  (See 1 Cor. 14: 26-33, 39-40)
3) A church in which Scripture is read, taught, explained, and lived in preaching and teaching that speaks to the spirit and not just the mind.  The goal is that faith would be “caught,” not just taught, and to teach people how to live as Christians, not just to give people more head knowledge.  The Bible is seen as infallible and the final authority for all of life.
4) A congregation in which the church and its leadership follows the Holy Spirit’s leading, even if that takes things out of the usual order or sequence of events.  The people are allowed and encouraged to move freely in all the gifts of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit leads, though order is to be maintained (See again 1 Cor. 14: 26-33, 39-40).
5) A church that is led by a group of elders who are all qualified to preach and teach and who share in these responsibilities together.  This board of elders and the church may be led by one or more elders who are pastors. (See Acts 20: 17-18, 28-32 and 1 Peter 5:1-4)
6) A congregation in which the leadership of the church recognizes that God can and often does speak not only to the leaders but to anyone in the church, and structures church life in such a way as to allow people to share with the leaders and the body what God has been saying to them.  (See again 1 Cor. 14: 26-33, 39-40)
7) A church in which when necessary the leadership administers loving discipline to those who stray (see Matthew 18:15-18, Galatians 6:1-5, and James 5:19-20; see also 1 Corinthians 5)
8) A church in which the leadership and the pastor are not lone rangers but are accountable to some higher body outside the church, whether it be a denomination or association of churches.
I’m sure there are other qualities that are important to consider when seeking a church.  What would your list look like?  What would you change about my list or add to it?

A Different Take on Gun Violence

As is typically the case with such events, the terrible shooting in Newtown, Connecticut was followed by a round of outcries in the media expressing shock and bewilderment over how something so tragically and radically evil could happen in America.  Such events are treated as an aberration, as something completely unexpected from everyday people in American society.  Over and over the question is asked, What went so terribly wrong with this man that he chose such an awful and desperate course of action?

I want to suggest, though, that events like the Newtown shooting may not be as much of an aberration as we might think.

I don’t know what your workplace is like, but in most places I’ve ever worked there are petty little hatreds and intrigues perpetrated all day long every day.  Think about how people who work side by side day in and day out secretly plot against each other, stab each other in the back, and talk about each other behind closed doors.  Think how mercilessly people judge strangers and people they don’t know every day.  Think about all the mean things people say about customers when they aren’t listening.  I’ve worked in customer service before, and I know what people say about the customers.  Ever talked with a customer service person who sounds like they couldn’t care less about your problem?  Well, the truth is, they probably couldn’t care less.  But the sad state of customer relations today is a topic for another post.

Maybe your work place is better than that.  I hope so.  But most every place I’ve ever worked has had these petty little intrigues going on constantly.  And isn’t the basis of these intrigues really hatred and anger?  Sure, we don’t want to call it that, because no one likes to think they’re hateful.  We justify it and tell ourselves that it’s okay – we love the people that really matter to us; it’s only the people we don’t know, or the people who really deserve it, who we treat poorly.  But of course, the people who really deserve that kind of treatment are never us.  It’s always someone else.

Yet Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that.   And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:32-36, NIV).  The standard Christ calls for puts us to shame, and reveals our love to be less than it’s cracked up to be.

I used to think I never hated anyone.  I would get angry sometimes, sure, but never hateful – or so I thought.  But then I encountered a person and a situation which seemed so evil to me, and so frustrating, that one day I discovered hatred in my heart for this person and the others involved in perpetrating this evil.  I thought I was above hatred.  But I eventually learned otherwise.

And the worst thing about hatred is that it breeds itself against the unsuspecting.  Hatred can start as what seems like righteous indignation against evil.  But be careful, because that seemingly righteous anger against evil can slowly turn to hatred of those we feel are evil, and before you know it, the evil you were fighting has found a home in your own heart.  Like Ghandi said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”  We can feel justified in fighting evil, only to discover that our anger has turned dark, and suddenly we are mired in evil ourselves.  Our distaste for evil becomes vengeful, and then we’re just perpetuating the cycle.

I want to submit that there’s an undercurrent of anger and hatred constantly brewing just below the surface of American society, and it expresses itself in these petty intrigues that are expressed daily in the workplace, and in the rancor of our politics.  Think how quick we are to demonize the people on the other side of our political disagreements.  We’re certain the enemy is the President and the liberals, or else it’s the “vast right-wing conspiracy,” depending on your point of view.  YetScripture teaches that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12-13, NIV).  Our real enemies aren’t human at all, but spiritual.

I want to suggest that these tragic shootings like the one in Newtown are not an aberration, but rather an expression, or a “flair-up,” if you will, of the anger and hatred that is never very far below the surface in American society.  Consider again the petty back-biting so common in many work places, or even in many school-yards.  Most of us, if we’re blessed enough to grow up in a home where we were shown love through words and actions, then we’ll have the personal resources to let mean acts or unkind words just roll off our backs.  But consider the child who grows up in a home where no love is shown, or who maybe was shuffled about from home to home due to family instability; and this child never learns to see himself as loved.  In this often cruel world, the person who doesn’t learn how to ignore all the teasing and petty criticisms and meanness, the person who never learns to develop a thick skin, is at a grave disadvantage indeed.  If he can’t fend off criticisms and meanness and hatred, but is only able to accept every evil thing that’s every said and done about him in his life, then at some point the pot is going to boil over so to speak.  At some point the pressure is going to explode.  And explode it does in these tragic acts of violence.

Now, I’m not trying to justify the people that do these things.  What I am trying to say is that these radical acts of violence may not be so aberrant after all.  Rather, they’re a physical and violent expression of an anger and rage that is constantly below the surface of American life.  Rather than being a fluke, these outbursts of violence implicate us all, and demand that we search our own hearts in order to see what anger, what hatred, what meanness, what thoughtlessness we may have committed against others.

I want to suggest that the only way to stop gun violence and these tragic shootings in America is by examining our own hearts and our own actions, our own little petty intrigues and hatreds.  How do we treat our families and our loved ones?  What attitudes to we harbor and display toward our coworkers?  Our neighbors?  The strangers we meet on the street?  The people who hold the opposite political view from our own?

We can’t pretend that gun violence is just a problem “out there” for lawmakers and gun owners to deal with.  We can’t assume the problem is just gun owners, and that if we can just get rid of all the guns then our kids will be safe.  No.  When rancor and incivility are the air we breathe, we can’t assume that just taking away guns is going to solve the problem.  As long as our society has a problem with anger and hatred, we will be subject to violence.  So the only real solution is to start by examining our own hearts, our own actions, our attitudes.

And also consider this: In a nation that murders millions of its own young every year through abortion, should we really be surprised that there is other violence against children?  The Bible says we reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7).  Our violence against the unborn has come home to roost.  We can’t turn a blind eye to the murder of millions of innocents and then think our own children are going to be safe.  If you want to help stop the murder of innocent children in American, then take a stand against the murder of innocent children through abortion.

And consider, too: When children and adults see so much violence portrayed daily on TV, in movies, and in video games, should it really surprise us that from time to time people act out this stuff?  Really, I think the fascination with onscreen and virtual violence is another expression of the deep rage in our culture.  Watching violence, and participating in it through video games provides a temporary outlet for the anger, but not one that is ultimately satisfying; it just creates a hunger for more.

Even here, I think the answer still lies inside.  What are we engaged in ourselves?  What motivates us to enjoy watching killing on the screen?  What’s the motive of our hearts?  What are we teaching our kids and allowing them to participate in?  I think the answers to all these questions are part of the solution to gun violence in our nation.

If we look in our hearts and we discover anger, hatred, rage, or just petty little backbiting against others, what do we do?  Only God can change the heart.  The first thing we need to do is take all these things to Him.  The Bible says “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-10, RSV).  When we take our sins and failure to God he not only forgives them, but he cleanses us them, too, and of any ill effects.  We can’t change our own hearts, but God’s Spirit can change us from the inside out, if we will ask Him to come and work in our hearts.

God calls us to let of our anger, and to put it behind us.  Colossians 3:8-17 says:

8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Verse 8 says that we should rid ourselves of anger, rage, malice, and the like.  The wording of some other translations is that we are to “put away” or “put off” these qualities or traits.  This brings to mind the idea of taking off old clothes that don’t fit anymore, or that are too tattered to be worn any longer.

2 Corinthians 5:17 says that those who are in Christ are a new creation.  Colossians 3: 9-10 above alludes to this when it talks about those who have taken off the old self and put on a new self in Christ.  This is the key to overcoming the “dark side” of our nature if you will.  When we give our heart to Christ and ask Him to come live in us, he gives us a new nature.  The apostle Paul is saying that if we are in Christ then we have this new nature, and that anger, rage, malice and the other bad traits he mentions are no longer befitting one who is new in Christ.  Rather, the attitudes and actions which are fitting for one who is made new by Christ are compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, love, and peace.  These Paul instructs us to put on like new clothes.  Elsewhere we’re told that these traits are not something we manufacture ourselves, but are the fruit of the Holy Spirit whom God gives to live in the hearts of those who receive Christ as their Lord and savior (see Galatians 5: 16-26 for more about the fruit of the Spirit).

These attitudes, and especially forgiveness, are the antidote to anger and hatred.  Forgiving those who have wronged us, rather than retaliating, breaks the cycle of hate, and opens the doorway to love, which can heal all wounds and restore all hearts.

To end today’s post, here’s a video of the song “Rest In Peace” by the band Extreme.  I think it makes the point really well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odz3c68JE1c

Who’s Really On the Front Lines of Ministry?

Many of you may know that in a previous life (lol) I served as a pastor for 9 years.  However, for the last 12 years I’ve worked “regular jobs” just like many of you.

The other day as I was driving home after a hard day at work, a thought struck me in the form of a question: Who’s really on the front lines of spiritual warfare?

Often we think it’s pastors or other church leaders.  They’re the ones who are so visible with respect to spiritual things – they talk about it and demonstrate it through prayers, sermons, and other aspects of spiritual leadership.

But it occurred to me the other day that the people who are really on the front lines of ministry are those who don’t have a “spiritual calling” or work in “full-time ministry” (though IMHO every Christian is called to full-time ministry; but that’s a topic for another blog post, lol).  The people in the spiritual trenches are regular, everyday folk like you and me who work 8 to 5 and face the trials, challenges, and joys of daily life in the so-called “real world” (though the church is part of the real world, too; but that’s also fodder for another post 😉 ).

Those of us who work a regular day job (or night job as the case may be), and are active in the church, may be tempted to think of the challenges of a typical workday as irritants we’d rather avoid.  We might be tempted to wish for some sort of position in ‘full-time ministry’ so we can “really serve God.”  We may struggle not to feel our day job is just a colossal waste of time, while we could be doing something “really worthwhile,” something “really important for God.”
(This can also be true for stay-at-home or work-at-home moms and dads, too.)

But if we find ourselves pining away like this, then we may be missing the point.  We may miss the fact that the problems and difficult people we face in our work are themselves actually opportunities for ministry.  In the marketplace is where we’re most likely to meet lost and hurting souls, and where we’re most likely to encounter the enemy’s schemes to bind and enslave people and to combat the work of God.

In the marketplace we’re on the front lines of the battle for people’s souls, and the battle against God’s work in the world.  Our workplace may be the very place in which we have the opportunity (and challenge) of confronting the very powers and principalities that enslave people and oppose the purposes of God.

So the everyday worker – what we sometimes call “the laity” or “layperson” (though I hate those terms, because I don’t believe God sees a difference between “clergy” and “laity”) – is in the trenches of spiritual warfare.  If we think in terms of a military analogy then pastors and others who work in the church full-time are more like the majors, colonels, and generals who remain behind the front lines, rather than fighting in the trenches.  Pastors and other full-time workers lead, guide, direct, strategize, and equip; but in some ways they aren’t on the front lines in the same way you are if you work in the “secular” marketplace.

Do you see your importance?  So often we think of those in full-time ministry as the ones who are doing the important spiritual work. And what they do is important, I don’t dispute that.  But in the marketplace, where you work and carry out day-to-day business, you have access to people and situations that pastors will usually never see, unless they’re what we call “bi-vocational.”

There are many things I enjoyed about being a pastor, and there are some things about it I miss.  But one aspect of it that I rued was the fact that I couldn’t be on the front lines of daily life and ministry like people can who work in the marketplace.

So the next time you face a really hard day at work, remind yourself that you are on the front lines of the spiritual battle, and that you have opportunities and a sphere of influence that many pastors will never have.  Remind yourself that you may very well be exactly where you’re supposed to be.  Take comfort in the unique role you have the opportunity to play in God’s kingdom.

P.S. Welcome to my new blog.  Here I intend to continue the type of blogging I began on my Blogger blog entitled “Morgan’s Musings” – various reflections on life and faith.  If you’d like to subscribe, look for the “Follow” button to the right.

Note: This blog is still under construction so please bear with me as things about the layout may change (and hopefully improve) in the days to come.

A very relevant prayer

Today I was thinking about everything going on in the world, and I was struck by how much the world needs prayer – specifically intercession, which is praying for others, as opposed to praying for ourselves. As I reflected on this, the Lord’s Prayer came to mind, and I thought, “Duh! A couple millenia ago Jesus gave us a prayer that’s tailor made for the problems we face today!” As I prayed the prayer, I put it in my own words. I thought I’d share my version with you:

Matt 6:9-13 (my paraphrase, based on the NIV)

9 ‘Our Father in heaven,

may your holy name be revered;

10 let your kingdom come,

let your will be done

on earth as it is in heaven.

11 Give us everything we need for this day.

12 Forgive our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.

13 And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil and from the evil one;

for the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever.

Amen.’

I invite you to pray the Lord’s Prayer with me for our world.

A brief comment on the Quran burning pastor

Let me begin by affirming that it was wrong of Terry Jones to advocate the burning of the Quran. We who profess the name of Christ do not show our love to Muslims by blaspheming their holy book, nor do we honor our God by doing so. And it is absolutely horrible that Muslims in Afghanistan rose up in an angry response to Jones and killed Americans; it’s tragic that Americans died in the wake of Jones’ action.

However, there’s a distinction I think we need to recognize. Jones did not make the Muslims kill the Americans. As horrible as it is that Jones’ action led to the deaths of Americans, it was not really his burning of the Quran (or intention to do so) that caused their deaths. The Muslims who killed the Americans are adult human beings and responsible for their own actions. They, and they alone, killed innocent Americans, of their own choice. No one held a gun to their heads to make them do it. (That’s a very ironic statement, if you think about it, which contrasts the two actions.) There’s no reason those Muslims had to respond to the Quran burning with the murder of innocent people.

This is what we need to be careful about. Muslim extremists play a mind game with us. They blame *us* for their violent acts. They choose to injure and murder people, and then say it’s our fault. But it’s not. And if we allow them to convince us that we’re somehow responsible for their choices, then they’ve got us just where they want us, right by the balls (pardon the expression, but it’s apt). We need to remember that ultimately they and they alone are responsible for their acts of terrorism.

My Story – the tale of my life in verse

October 28, 2006

When I was a little boy

the big people in my life

handed me a white piece of paper

with pretty pictures on it

and some crayons, and said,

“Here, you can color this in,

but be sure you color between the lines.”

And though I wasn’t very good at coloring

between the lines

I willingly complied

because the big people in my life

smiled and said how good it was that I was trying so hard.

And I always liked it when the big people

smiled, because it made me smile, too.

When I got old enough for school

I went, and the big people there said

“Here is the way to do your lessons.

Do them well and you will get a bright, shiny star!”

So I worked very hard at learning how to do my lessons

just the way the big people told me to do them.

And mostly they were very pleased.

And they smiled, and gave me that bright, shiny star

just like they said, and I wore it proudly.

And I smiled, because it made me happy

when the big people smiled.

Some of the other little people made fun of my star.

They said, “You don’t have to do your lessons

and color in the lines

the way the big people tell you to.

They don’t know anything anyway.

The way they tell you to do them—

that’s not how it works in the real world.”

I didn’t know about this real world.

But in my little world the people that mattered to me most were all big people,

and it sure seemed to me like they knew what they were talking about.

There weren’t any other little people in my family,

and the big people liked it when I colored in the lines,

and when I worked hard on my lessons,

and brought home my bright, shiny stars.

For many years, I worked very hard at my lessons

and I always kept my colors inside the lines.

And the big people gave me lots of happy smiles

and bright, shiny stars.

The other little people sometimes made fun

of my carefully colored pictures

and my bright shiny stars,

but I didn’t pay much attention to them

because the big people seemed happy with

what I was doing, and that was the most

important thing to me.

One day I went to church

and at the church they also handed out crayons

and paper and told us to color between the lines.

They said, “If you color your pictures real nice

that will make God smile

and he’ll be pleased with you.”

And I very much wanted to make God happy

and put a smile on his face,

so I worked very hard to make sure my little

pictures were just so.

And I told the other children to make sure

they stayed inside the lines, too,

so they could make God happy.

In church they gave us a book

and they said

“If you really want to make God happy

be sure and do everything just like this

book tells you. If you don’t,

God will be sad and God will be mad!”

I didn’t want to make God mad or sad,

so I learned everything the book said

and tried real hard to do it just the way it said.

Then one day I was almost all grown up.

I wasn’t a little person anymore;

now I was a big person.

I was so excited!

Now I could be just like all the big people

I had admired so much all my life!

So when the time came,

I went out into the world

and the other big people said

“Here, we need you to draw us a picture.”

But I said, “I don’t know how to draw a picture.

They only taught me how to color the pictures inside the lines.

No one ever said I could make my own picture.

I’m sorry; I don’t know how to do that!”

And I was very sad, and very afraid,

because they wanted me to make my own pictures,

and I didn’t know how to do that!

I never knew you could do that!

I never knew it was OK to make your own!

No one had ever taught me.

I was too afraid to try.

So I went away very sad.

Then I went to another place.

And they said to me,

“We need you to make something for us.

And we have a bunch of problems that need to be solved.

Your job is to solve the problems.”

But when I saw what the problems were,

it was nothing they had ever taught me

in my lessons in school

or at home with the big people.

So I said, “I’ll be happy to

solve your problems if you’ll give me the book

that tells me how to do it.”

They looked at me kind of funny and said,

“What? There’s no book.

We want you to solve the problems.

That’s your job.

That’s why we hired you.”

But no one had ever told me I could

make anything or solve problems myself,

and they never taught me how to solve problems or to make anything.

All they taught me was

how to do my lessons

and how to color inside the lines

and how to repeat what I’d been told.

So I was very sad and very afraid,

and so I went away from there, too.

I wondered what I was going to do—

I had worked so hard to learn my lessons

and color the pictures

but now I was realizing that

The World had no use for the things I had worked so hard to learn.

They wanted me to do things, make things.

No one had ever told me I could make things.

No one had ever taught me how.

I was very sad and afraid and didn’t know what to do.

Then I had an idea.

I said, “The church taught me to color in the lines

and follow the book.

Maybe they will have something I can do

where I can use all the things I’ve been taught!”

So I went to the church.

And they were very happy!

They said, “Oh, we’re so glad to have a young person

here with us. All our little people went away when

they grew up and got big.

So come on in.

Yes, we have work for you to do!!”

So the church people handed me another book

that was almost as big as the first one they had given me.

And they said,

“Learn everything in this book and follow it.

and if you do, everything will be wonderful for you!”

So I worked very hard and learned everything in the new book

the church gave me.

I was so happy! Now I knew what both books said.

And I was very happy that I had found a place

that followed so many of the things I had been taught.

I worked very hard to live by both of the books,

and the older big people were very pleased.

And I was happy again.

I felt safe and secure,

And I worked very hard to teach all the other people

In the church all the rules in the books they had taught me.

After a while, though, something strange happened.

Even though I was doing everything the books said to do

I wasn’t happy.

Neither were the other people in the church

I was trying to teach the rules in the books to,

though they worked hard to act as if they were happy.

Not only that,

but somehow inside I knew that God was not happy either.

In fact, I felt He was sad.

But I was doing everything the people in the church

told me to do! And I was doing it well!

It was supposed to be working!

But deep inside I knew it wasn’t working.

I grew more and more sad.

I started asking the older big people

in the church about this,

but they said,

“You’re just imagining things.

God is happy with you following all the rules in the books,

and if you do it right, the people will be happy too.

You just need to work harder!”

I believed them for a while

but it didn’t work.

I wasn’t happy,

the people weren’t happy,

and God wasn’t happy.

So finally, with a very sad face,

I left there and went back out into the world.

I didn’t know what I was going to do.

The World expected me to make things and solve problems,

but I had never been taught to do these things

and I was afraid.

I wandered around for a long time

with a very sad face.

People tried to cheer me up,

but no one knew what to say to make me smile again.

Finally, one day God spoke to me and said,

“My little one,

Do not be sad, and do not be afraid.

I say to you this day

that it’s alright for you to

make new things, even though

no one ever told you that you could.

I give you permission.

Go ahead and try to draw pictures,

even though no one has ever shown you how.

Try and solve problems.

It’s okay. I gave you a heart and a mind and a will.

I meant for you to use them.

Don’t be afraid.

I won’t judge you or be angry with you

if you fail, only if you don’t try.

And remember, I am right here with you,

always, to help you and guide you.

I will teach you. Listen to me.

Learn from me.

And I will send helpers into your life,

others who can assist you and teach you and show you the way

Only do not be so proud as to refuse their help when they come.

Listen, learn, and try. I only ask that you try.

Trust in me. Look to me. And above all, don’t be too proud

to admit when you need help, and to ask for it.

I love you.”

So now at last

I am beginning to learn the joy

of tiny freedoms:

Of coloring outside the lines

and even venturing to draw my own pictures.

All my life I have depended on boxes,

the safety and security of boxes.

But the boxes have kept me from

being all I was meant to be.

So I’m finding the courage to leave the boxes behind,

because most of them are only in my mind anyway…

And I’m learning to venture off the path on occasion

in order to look at the scenery up close

and discover the beauty and wonder

of this incredible world God made;

or to make new paths when needed

as God leads.

Overcoming the Accuser

Rev 12:10-11

10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:

“Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Christ.
For the accuser of our brothers,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.
11 They overcame him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death….”

(NIV)

Lately I’ve been thinking about that phrase “the accuser of our brothers”–actually “the accuser of our brethren” as it’s more commonly quoted from the King James version.

Many evangelicals seem to love the King James. I didn’t grow up in the evangelical church, so the whole King James thing passed me by. But this phrase is one of many that have stuck with me as I’ve often heard them quoted in evangelical circles. Of course “accuser of the brethren” refers to the adversary of God and of his people, most commonly known as Satan or the devil.

This idea has been on my mind lately because I’ve been seeing evidence of Satan’s accusing activity in my own life. Of course, I’m most keenly aware of it when I feel wrongly accused. But then I have to stop and ask myself, when have I accused others unfairly?

In this blog I want to consider what it means to say that Satan–or as a friend likes to call him, “ol’ what’s-his-name”–is the accuser of the brethren.

Notice first he is the accuser “of the brothers.” In Bible-speak that means the Christian community. It’s significant to realize that the enemy is the accuser primarily of Christians, of believers in Christ. I’m fairly certain the devil accuses everyone when he gets the chance, but this verse indicates his primary target is believers.

In this world of ours you don’t have to look far to see evidence of the devil’s accusing activity. Daily Christians are being accused in the media, in books, in movies, on the news, at work, in songs on the radio. Pretty much anywhere you go you can hear Christians being accused of being hypocritical or judgmental or stupid. Certain atheists and other unbelievers accuse Christians of being a threat to society and to the well-being of the world. Some evolutionists have accused Christian proponents of creationism or intelligent design as threats to “truth” and our educational system. In countries such as North Korea, China, and various Muslim nations, Christians are accused of all kinds of illegal activities (including proselyting, which many of these countries have outlawed) and are persecuted, even arrested or killed, as a result.

Have you ever wondered why so many see Christians in this way? Could it be because our enemy is accusing us to the world?

Let me point out that in the context of the passage from Revelation, I’m not sure it matters whether Christians are guilty or innocent of the things they’re being accused of. In fact, at times some of the accusations leveled against believers might be justified. Let me give a simple personal example: If someone were to accuse me of lust, envy, pride, anger, or selfishness (just to name a few), the accusations would likely be true. I’ve been guilty of all those things at one time or another. Likewise, some of the accusations that certain Christians are hypocritical or judgmental are true (to name another example).

But in the Revelation passage, the issue is not whether believers are guilty or not, the issue is that the enemy is accusing them. Constantly, it says–day and night. And, in fact, the implication is that Satan is accusing us of things of which we are guilty, for the passage describes him as accusing us “before God” day and night.

But notice also that it says how the believers overcame him:

by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.

These Christians overcame the accuser and his accusations “by the blood of the Lamb.” Of course, this is a reference to Christ and his atoning death on the cross. As believers we don’t depend on good works to save us or to make us right with God. We depend solely on Jesus’ blood, which, as 1 John 1:7 says, “purifies us from all sin.”

So in Revelation 12, the issue is not necessarily that the accusations of the devil against believers are not true, it’s that Christians rely on the blood of Christ to cleanse us of any and all accusations which might or might not be true, so that the accusations have no power.

The image evoked by this passage is one of a courtroom. In a court of law, the prosecuting attorney is constantly accusing the defendant of whatever crimes it is he or she is being tried for. In this passage, Satan is the prosecuting attorney accusing us of our sins. However, Jesus’ blood renders the accusations of the devil against us null and void. It’s not necessarily that we didn’t do what we were accused of, it’s that Jesus’ blood washes us clean of our guilt and causes the enemy’s accusations to become meaningless. There is no longer any basis on which to accuse us, because Christ’s blood has made us clean and whole.

In light of the courtroom image, the language in the passage about the “the word of their testimony” is seen in a new light as well. Of course, this refers first and foremost to our testimony about the mighty works of our victorious God on our behalf. It also refers to our personal testimony of what God has done in our lives.

But I wonder if there’s not another dimension to it, too. Thinking about the ideas of accusation and testimony from the perspective of a courtroom, could “the word of their testimony” also refer to testimony like that of a witness who is sharing evidence in defense of another person? Could “the word of…testimony” by which believers overcome the accusations of the devil also be our testimonies on behalf of one another–testimonies that serve as reminders of what Christ has done on our behalf? I’m still pondering this, but in light of the courtroom image the terminology in this passage has caused me to consider it in a new light.

Now as I ponder this, I’m struck by the fact that many of us have this matter of accusation all backwards. We see God as the accuser. Many people imagine God sitting up in heaven waiting for us to screw up so he can have something new of which to accuse us. Some think God is just aching for a reason to send someone, anyone to hell. We see God as looking for an opportunity to punish us.

But that’s not the picture of God presented in the Bible. Scripture says “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them” (2 Cor 5:19, NIV). In another place it tells us that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world” (John 3:17, NIV). Salvation was God’s idea. His purpose was not to accuse us or to condemn us, but to rescue us. His intention was to reconcile us to himself, to not count our sins against us. That’s why he sent Jesus: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16-17, NIV).

Not only that, but God’s purpose of rescuing us goes all the way back to the beginning of time. Consider the following verses:

Matt 25:34-35
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
NIV

Eph 1:3-4
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.
NIV

1 Peter 1:18-21
18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.
NIV

God’s purpose from the beginning was to save us, not to condemn us.

So why has God gotten such a bad rap? Why is God so often seen as the one who accuses us?

I think this also is the result of Satan’s accusing work. Not only does the enemy accuse the children of God, but he also accuses God himself. This is one of the devil’s most clever ploys: to turn the tables and accuse God of being the accuser of humanity, while in fact Satan himself is the one who actually fits that description. The enemy’s scheme has been to try and make God look as bad as possible, accusing him of all sorts of horrible things. The enemy’s reason for doing this is in order to prevent people from believing in God and turning to him to be saved.

And Satan’s work of accusing God has been very successful. Listen to all the terrible things people accuse God of daily. I’ve heard and read more than one interview in which atheists have accused the God of the Bible of being petty and hateful and vengeful and violent and cruel. (By the way, I’m convinced that atheists don’t really believe there is no God; in reality they are very angry with God and so the way they get back at him is by pretending he doesn’t exist. But deep in their hearts, even the most committed atheists know there is a God. They just don’t like him. But that’s a topic for another blog.)

So anyway, my point is that we need to realize it’s Satan who’s the real accuser, and not God. God’s purpose is to save. It is God’s enemy whose goal is to hurt people.

As I pointed out earlier, evidence of the devil’s accusing work is all around us in the world. The enemy accuses us to the unbelieving world and they do not recognize where these thoughts are coming from. Unbelievers daily accuse Christians of all manner of evil. And unfortunately, some of it is true, which just adds fuel to Satan’s fire.

But it’s not just to the unbelieving world that the devil accuses Christians. He also accuses us to one another. Indeed, some of the most sharp accusations against believers come from other Christians.

I believe Satan is having a field day using accusation in the church today. I can’t remember a period in my own lifetime when Christians were so accusing in their statements about other believers as we often hear today. Could it be that the enemy is whispering accusations in our ears against other Christians, and we are not discerning it?

Now let me quickly admit that I’ve been guilty myself. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve allowed accusing thoughts against other believers to dominate my thinking for years at a time. I’ve spoken many a critical word of individuals and groups in the church. I’ve accused some groups of being too liberal, and others of being pharisaical. I’ve accused some believers of not treating me the way I think I should be treated, and others of excluding me because I felt like I didn’t belong. And I could go on. So I’m not meaning to just point the finger at others.

But I’m coming to believe that the effects of accusation within the body of Christ are devastating, and we’re seeing the results today. Accusation manifests itself when denominations criticize and exclude each other because of differing beliefs. We see accusation at work when people who prefer contemporary worship can’t abide with those who worship best in a more traditional setting, and vice versa. When Christians divide along racial lines or doctrinal lines, often accusation comes into play.

A lot of times, though, I think the accusations Christians level against each other are actually just petty. It’s not uncommon to hear Christians accuse other Christians of being boring, or of fitting some negative stereotype. Believers accuse other believers of not dressing up enough for church, or of dressing up too much for church; of looking too evangelical or of not looking evangelical enough; of being too predictable or of not being predictable enough; of being too contemporary or too traditional; of going to a church that’s too big or one that’s too small; of being too conservative or too liberal, and on and on and on. Could it be that the source of all these accusations is Satan himself?

The church in our day is incredibly fragmented, and I believe it’s because the accuser of the brethren has largely had his way with the us, and for the most part we’ve played right along without ever questioning it. The accuser has been accusing Christians to one another, and we have not discerned it. The devil has whispered “That church is too boring, you don’t want to go there anymore” and Christians have been happy to comply. Or the whisper was “Those people don’t really love you. They don’t really care anything about you. Why hang around there anymore?” Or “That new hip church across town is where it’s at. No need to stay at this one any longer.” Or “The people in that church over there don’t know Jesus like you do.”

Sometimes the whispers are about individuals. “Don’t you wish she didn’t wear her hair in such an unattractive way…?” the enemy whispers into our unsuspecting ears. “He talks too much.” “She’s a colossal bore.” “He’s conceited.” “She’s too fat. If she really knew God she would take better care of herself.” “He uses too much Christian lingo. That seems fake. You’re more sincere than that.” “Don’t you wish she would get her act together?” “He’s judgmental.” “She’s unspiritual.” And the examples go on an on an on.

My observation is that some of Christians’ harshest critics are other Christians. A common example is that some believers almost seem to scrutinize Christian art as if they expect it to be of very poor quality. Christians are accused most vehemently by other Christians of being the least talented group of people on the planet.

I have come to wonder how much shame plays a role in all this. I wonder if one reason Christians are so quick to criticize each other is that we’ve internalized a lot of the secular world’s accusations against us, and this has tapped into our shame, which everyone on the planet has a healthy dose of due to the fall. Deep down we believe many of the accusations of the world against us, and so we join with the world in criticizing one another. But I think if we could strip away the veil we very well might see the accuser of the brethren at work behind all that shame and accusation.

I believe the church is so divided today in part because we haven’t discerned the accuser when he’s been whispering in our ears. As a result we’ve been unwitting victims of his plan, which is to divide us in whatever way he can, and pit us against each other. The devil’s goal is to cause us to forget that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12, NIV). If he can get us fighting each other instead of him then he’s won a major victory.

Now obviously, this doesn’t mean we don’t use discernment. This doesn’t mean we ignore genuine problems in our relationships or in the body of Christ that need to be addressed. This doesn’t mean we never call someone out when they need to be confronted. This doesn’t mean we never distinguish between right and wrong or between good and evil.

But (obviously) there’s a difference when the Spirit of God is at work versus when the devil is doing his accusing work. The conviction of the Holy Spirit brings peace, genuine repentance, and restoration. The accusations of the enemy bring strife, division, depression, and confusion. When the Holy Spirit leads us to confront someone, he always leads us to “speak the truth in love.” The devil just accuses. When the Spirit of God is at work the body’s built up and fortified. When we listen to the accuser, the body’s injured and torn asunder.

I want to call on believers, including me, to be more aware of the accuser’s work. When we start having negative thoughts towards each other, maybe that’s the time to step back and consider where they’re coming from. And I think one possible clue is, if the things about other believers that are bothering us are petty in nature, then that’s probably not God at work. More likely it’s someone else.

But perhaps the enemy’s most devastating accusations against us occur when he accuses us to ourselves. “You’re worthless,” he says. “No one could or would want to love you. Not even God.” The enemy’s attacks in this way are so subtle that often we don’t recognize them as coming from him. But he is accusing us to ourselves. It’s imperative that we discern the enemy’s assault on us in this way and declare to the enemy and to ourselves the truths of what God says about us in his Word.

A house divided against itself can’t stand. The enemy has done a pretty able job of dividing us, against one another and against ourselves. Maybe it’s time to stop listening to his accusations and to start telling “ol’ what’s-his-name” where he can go. It’s time to recall what Christ has done for us on the cross and to claim the merits of his blood to overcome the accusations of the enemy. It’s time for us to start bearing witness to the wonders of God in our lives, and to give testimony on one another’s behalf, protesting each one’s innocence before God and before a watching world. And if we love not our lives unto death, then the enemy can’t use his weapons of fear, doubt, and shame against us.

Is That Really Why They Call It Work?

(or

“Don’t Try This At Home!”)


Almost every Christian I know is unhappy in their work. I’ve had many conversations with friends in recent months who’ve made comments like “I just don’t know if I’m cut out for this job…” or “I don’t know how much longer I can do this!”

Me? I quit my job over two years ago due to severe job dissatisfaction. Those who know me know that wasn’t the first time, either. Eight years ago I left behind a 9-year career as a “church professional” (13 years if you count the schooling required beforehand). In the two years since I quit the more recent job, I’ve been pretty unhappy in the short-term jobs I’ve had since then, too.

I may be an extreme case, though. You see, the truth is, I hate work. It may sound like I’m just lazy (and in fact, maybe I am!). But I did pretty well in school. I graduated Magna cum laude from college with a GPA of 3.9. Likewise, my GPA in grad school was a 3.5. So I think I do know how to work. I do know how to strive for excellence in areas I care about. It’s not the work itself I mind. It’s the fact that I do my best and my best never seems to be “right” or enough. I think the real problem is I hate the atmosphere in the workplace and the rules governing it. I’m a contrarian. I just don’t really want to go along with a lot of the B.S. that’s required in so many jobs. (And to be honest, I felt pretty much the same way about church work, too. Hope that’s not too much of a shock for anybody….)

But even though I may be an extreme case, evidently I’m not alone. For as I said, a lot of people I know are unhappy in their jobs.

What are the sources of all this job dissatisfaction, especially among Christians? I can only share what I myself have felt, and what I’ve heard from others.

Sources of Job Dissatisfaction

The Feeling of Wasted Gifts and Time

One of the common themes that often comes up with Christians is the feeling that their job is getting in the way of their service to God. “I wish I could quit my job so I could serve God full time,” they (we) pine wistfully. Often they have a pretty good idea, too, of the way in which they’d like to do this. It’s not just a vague fantasy they’ve resorted to on really bad days. Many of the people I’ve talked to have given this a lot of thought and have come up with some kind of vision or plan.

The odd thing is, when I was a pastor, I felt the same way–I felt like my job was preventing me from really loving and serving God. That may sound strange, but the role of pastor in the average church sort of takes on a life of its own, and therefore requires you to spend your time doing certain things, no matter what. Whatever else is going on, you’ve got to spend a certain amount of time each week preparing your sermons, Sunday school lessons, and Bible studies; responding to crises in people’s lives; visiting the sick and those in the hospital; preparing for and attending an assortment of meetings; and the like. Ideally you should be doing a certain amount of visiting of the folk who are well, too. If you want to be involved in your larger denomination and your community, then those activities require additional time as well.

The old joke that pastors only work one day a week is just that–a joke, and not a very funny one really. If you add all the above together, most of your time for a given week is already committed–in fact, all of it is, and then some. Therefore, if you’re going to be a pastor, you better like doing all those things enough to have all your time taken up with them, and you better not have many other interests, because you will soon find yourself feeling frustrated about not having time to do some of the other things you love.

That was me–I didn’t fit the mold. I had other interests that didn’t fit my job description, and there were quite a few aspects of the job I didn’t enjoy enough to be forced into spending all my time doing them, particularly when it was to the exclusion of other things that were important to me personally but not to my congregation. These other interests were not sidelines or insignificant for me, either. They were integral to who I am, such as my music and songwriting.

So ironically, as a pastor I also felt inhibited by my job from being able to serve God in some of the ways I most wanted to. I attribute some of this to the fact that the very way in which most churches do church leadership is out of kilter, but that’s a topic for another blog entry.

Job and Skills Mismatch

Another common source of job dissatisfaction I’ve heard from friends is the feeling that the skills their jobs require from them don’t fit with who they are. I felt this way as a pastor, also. That, of course, can only be solved by finding a type of work more suited to one’s interests and abilities.

Crummy Corporate Cultures

Yet another source of job dissatisfaction I often hear folks talk about is the people they work with, or the corporate culture where they work. While I didn’t experience this so much in the church, I’ve certainly experienced it in the secular companies I’ve worked for. There are some real bozos out there in the business world, and they make life unpleasant for everyone around them. (Of course, someone I worked with may have felt that way about me, too!)

I think one of the roots of this problem is the moral and ethical slide of the society we live in. Greed seems to be the driving force behind a lot of corporate decisions, and individual workers pay the price. Meanwhile, the global economy has made competition a lot more fierce, adding to the “dog-eat-dog” nature of today’s workplace. It truly is “survival of the fittest” out there. This causes people to strengthen their defenses and to become more ruthless simply out of a feeling of sheer self-preservation.

A number of my friends are teachers in the public school system. Though not in the business world per se, even they feel the pressure from our society’s moral and spiritual decay. They see it in the attitudes of their fellow teachers, especially those who aren’t believers, as well as in their students’ behavior, their outlook, and their schoolwork. Cheating is prevalent and seems to be “no big thing”. Parents are more prone to side with their children when there’s a problem in the classroom. When I was a kid, if the teacher called to talk to our parents, we dreaded it, because we knew our parents were most likely going to side with the teacher. Not so anymore.

This is just one example of how our society’s moral decay makes work more unpleasant for everybody. I’m sure you could offer examples as well.

What Is The Solution?

I think all these factors–the desire to serve God more effectively, the feeling of not being a good fit for their jobs, and the decay of corporate culture–all contribute to the dissatisfaction so many Christians feel in their work. So the question is: What do we do about it?

I myself have had a chance to look at this dilemma from many sides. Since I quit my “real” job two years ago, I have all the time in the world to pursue the things that matter to me most. The problem I’ve faced (as you can imagine) has been paying my bills and putting food on the table. And quite frankly, it has been a real problem. I have no family to support, so that has kept things from being truly catastrophic. But that’s why I jokingly (or not so jokingly) tell my friends “Don’t try this at home.”

But are we always to be stuck in this dilemma of either having the time to do the things we love or putting food on table, but not being able to do both? Are we always relegated to being able either to work or to serve God, but not to do both? We know we have to work, because the Bible is clear that everyone is supposed to provide for their own needs through work, and ideally make enough money to have some extra left over to give to the poor (see 1 Thess. 4 and 2 Thess 3).

Ministry in the Marketplace

I suspect my pastor and some of the people in my church would respond that this is a false dichotomy. They would say we should focus on ministry in the workplace and see our jobs as, among other things, the very arena in which we are to carry out our ministry. And they certainly have a point. Instead of seeing our workplace as a hindrance to our ministry, why not see it as the location for our ministry? Why not see it as a mission field? If we’re called to do a certain type of work, then it seems reasonable to assume God means for us to witness to Him in that work.

So what might this approach to work and ministry look like? Well, first of all, we can pray for the people we work with and the company we work for. That could be quite a task in itself. I don’t know about you, but many of the coworkers and businesses I’ve been associated with have needed a lot of prayer! We can also look for opportunities to witness to unbelievers and to encourage fellow believers, both in words and in actions. This can be a challenge, though, because many businesses are not keen on proselytizing or faith sharing. Another matter for prayer, perhaps? We can also look for ways to care for the day-to-day needs of those around us, just in trying to be kind to them and take an interest in their problems. (Easier said than done sometimes, I know.)

But this still doesn’t address the other issues: What do we do when we feel as though our work is hindering us from fully using our gifts to serve God? And, how do we deal with a corporate culture gone awry?

The Desire to Use Talents Directly For God

To illustrate the first question, one friend I know handles media all day at work for a secular company, but what he’d really like to be doing is using his media skills full-time in the church. After all, the need he sees there is great, and it would give him the feeling of really being able to do what he loves in a way that concretely serves God. He would have the chance to use his gifts directly for God and the church, as opposed to feeling like he has to use them all day in a way in which the direct benefits for the kingdom are very hard to see, if there at all.

This is the issue for many of us–simply longing to be able to use our gifts directly for God, in a way in which we can feel like they’re having an impact of eternal significance, as opposed to using them for the business world and only secondarily ministering through our relationships in the workplace. I’m sure there are those in the Bob Briner mold (author of the book Roaring Lambs) who will be quick to respond that the world needs competent people in every secular field and that this in itself provides a very strong and needed Christian witness. That’s fine if you really do love using your gifts in the secular marketplace. If so, I say more power to you.

But there are some of us who desire to use our gifts in ways that we feel directly serve the kingdom of God. Is this merely establishing a false and unwelcome division between the sacred and the secular? Or do some have a legitimate, God-given desire to utilize their gifts in direct service to him?

One consideration which determines how we answer this question is our world-view. There are many Christians who seem to agree with our culture’s expectation that Christians should keep their faith to themselves; that religious matters are not appropriate in a public forum. These folks might argue that using your gifts in direct service to God is inappropriate or unnecessary because all ministry should be carried out quietly in the secular arena, or else carried on in a clandestine fashion that doesn’t offend anyone.

But for those of us who do want to use our gifts more directly in the service of God, how do we discern the will of the Lord? How do we tell whether the desires we have are from God? Could it be these desires are sometimes really rooted in a desire to escape a challenging work situation in which we find ourselves? (More on this question below.)

“Get Me Out of Here, Please!!”

There are those of us who’d like to change jobs or careers because we have a desire to serve God more directly, and there are others who may want to change jobs simply because their coworkers or the corporate culture is driving them bananas! If you fall in the latter category, the most obvious solution would seem to be to find a job with a different company, perhaps a company with better values, maybe even a company run by Christians?

There are two objections to this answer. The first is, if you leave where you are, how do you know you’re not jumping from the frying pan into the fire? From what I observe, the corporate culture is pretty bad everywhere. Few workplaces are unimpeded by aggravating people and Dilbert-like absurdity. So could it be we need to learn better methods for dealing with difficult people and a corporate culture with stinky values?

The second objection–to the idea of going to work in a Christian company–is: If all the Christians leave the secular marketplace to work only for other Christians, then doesn’t that rob the world of its salt and light? Perhaps, but the other side of the coin is, when Christians work together perhaps it can show the world how a business could be run utilizing Christian values. Working together, Christians can show that, contrary to worldly wisdom, businesses operating with the values of honesty and integrity can be profitable and successful.

Mixed Motives

The latter two causes of job dissatisfaction I mentioned above–the desire to use one’s gifts more directly for God, and the aggravations of an un-Christian corporate culture–can foster motives for changing jobs or careers (especially a change to “full-time ministry”) that are less than honorable, though. We can be motivated to make such a change simply because we’re unhappy where we are.

Though I’m not proud to admit it, I originally went into full-time ministry in part because I was afraid of the pressures and demands of the business world. My experience was that the secular world is unkind and unforgiving toward those who don’t measure up and, being a sensitive soul, I didn’t really want to subject myself to that kind of treatment. I thought the church would be a kinder and gentler place in which to work. I should add that my motives were mixed–in addition to these fears, at the same time I really did want to serve God, and I had a genuine desire to use my gifts in more direct service to God and the church.

In some ways I was right about the church. Overall the people I served in churches were kinder and more gracious than many I’ve encountered in secular work. The thing I didn’t count on was how trapped I would be made to feel by my job responsibilities. (I also felt out of sync with my denomination, but that’s also a topic for another day.) So my solution to my distrust of the business world really didn’t work in the way I had hoped.

For these reasons, I would caution those who are thinking about leaving a secular job for work in the church: Check your motives carefully. If you discover that your desire to serve in the church is motivated in part by a wish to avoid something else unpleasant, maybe it’s time for some real soul-searching and prayer. If I ever serve in full-time ministry again, I don’t want it to be because I’m trying to escape something else. I want it to be because I know I have been called and led by God to enter into that ministry. And I want it to be because I want to, not because I feel compelled to by other considerations.

I’ve been doing some reading lately on co-dependency, and I’ve been reminded how well that description fits me. Co-dependency is a complex dynamic, but simply put, one aspect is that co-dependents try to do a lot of seemingly “good” things for questionable motives. Co-dependents tend to have a lot of their self-esteem wrapped up in feeling like they are able to “help” others, but often they wind up being manipulative and controlling in order to try to get others around them to do what they “should” do. Co-dependents are often suckers for the helping fields in employment, too. Not that all people who work in helping fields are “suckers.” But there are positive and negative motives for going into the helping fields, and if we are drawn to that sort of work in order to bolster flagging self-esteem, we’re liable to be in for a rude awakening.

“That’s Why They Call It Work!”

At any rate, with respect to job satisfaction, maybe the bottom line is that in a fallen world we’re always going to feel dissatisfied in our work to some degree. I guess it goes back to that thing in Genesis about toiling “by the sweat of our brow,” due to Adam’s sin. One wry quote I’ve heard from people is “That’s why they call it work!”–meaning, of course, that labor is to some extent unpleasant and unsatisfying by nature, which is why it’s called “work” in the first place.

But is that really true? After all, there are those seemingly rare and fortunate people who really love their jobs. “I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this!” is their exclamation of delight. I must confess I envy those people. Referring to my pastor again, I think he would say that people who love their jobs are people who know who they are and who are doing work that’s in keeping with their true identity. That rings true with me. My challenge in working this out has been actually knowing who I am (that is, who God says I am), and knowing how that should direct my vocational choices. Ultimately it brings me back around to one of the dilemmas we started with: I think I know what I want to do. I just can’t figure out how to make a living at it.

The Importance of Attitude

I’m starting to think, though, that part of what enables people to love their work is their attitude about work and life in general. I would wager that people who love their jobs are people who are able to put a positive spin on almost anything they do and enjoy it. If that’s the case, then I need God to do some work on my heart, because I don’t enjoy work most of the time. I’m pretty sure I’m in need of an attitude adjustment. Maybe what I need is what the apostle Paul described in these words:

“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want: 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:11-13, NIV, colon added)

And also:

“6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” (1 Tim 6:6-8, NIV)

I will conclude this reflection on work and job satisfaction with a quote from the song “Great American Novel” by Larry Norman:

“Don’t ask me for the answer, I’ve only got one:
That a man leaves his darkness when he follows the Son”

Lost in Translation: Spirituality on the TV Show “Lost” and the Christian Faith – Part 5

Part 5: Did Jesus Sin, and
Does It Matter Anyway?

For a television program, Lost deals a surprising amount with the idea of sin. All the characters on the show have a past, and in many cases they’ve done things they’re not proud of, things they’re still feeling the negative impact of, actions they’re either trying to forget or else wishing to atone for.

As I’ve mentioned previously, many episodes have centered on a particular individual, taking viewers back into their past, revealing some of the regrets they’ve brought with them to the island. In many cases it has seemed like events on the island might give the characters an opportunity to somehow redeem or atone for their past actions (although, I must confess that after the Nov. 1 episode, I’ve begun to wonder how much redemption there really is on Lost.)
 
While it’s good that Lost presents themes like sin, redemption, and providence (see “Lost in Translation 2: The Concept of Providence on Lost” below), there’s a huge piece missing from the spiritual puzzle presented there. That missing piece is (a sinless) Jesus. Without Christ there can be no redemption. (For more on why Christ is crucial in finding redemption, see “Lost in Translation 3” below.) And in fact, without a sinless Christ, there is no redemption.

If you’re wondering whether Jesus sinned or not, the Bible speaks clearly on this issue. The New Testament book of Hebrews states that Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Christ faced all the same temptations we face. The difference is, He didn’t give in to those temptations as we are prone to do.
We cannot underestimate how important this fact is. Only a sinless man would have been capable of serving as an acceptable sacrifice to God offered on our behalf to cleanse us from sin. Take away Christ’s sinlessness and you take away his ability to save us.

That’s why Lost’s portrayal of Jesus as a sinner is such an egregious thing (see “Welcome to my Blog” below). For one thing, it’s a slap in the face to the holiness of Christ, to the holiness of God. Jesus was not a sinner. He was and is different from us in that way. And he deserves to receive the credit He’s due for having lived a perfect sinless life. (For more on the importance of holiness, see “Lost in Translation 3” below.)

I understand that the idea of a Christ who was a sinner just like the rest of us is appealing, because it would seem to make Him more accessible. If Jesus was a sinner then we may feel as though we can relate to him better. No longer does He seem like the angry God, out to punish us for our sins. If Jesus is a sinner, then maybe He’ll be compassionate instead of judging us.

The problem is, a Jesus who sinned cannot save us. What good is He to us then? In that case, Jesus was just another one of us. He might be able to relate to us, but He can’t help us. If Jesus was a sinner, then we’re all still in our sins, and therefore still under the wrath of God.

Yet thankfully, thought Jesus was a person like us, he wasn’t a sinner but lived the perfect, sinless life, and therefore was a suitable sacrifice capable of being substituted in our place. On the cross He received the punishment we deserved for our sins. Because of this, we’re no longer subject to the wrath of God if we place our trust in Him. And this was God’s plan and purpose all along in sending Christ, to provide a way for us to escape the wrath we deserve because of sin. As 2 Cor. 5:19 says,
“…in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” (RSV) It was God’s plan all along to redeem us and save us from punishment for our sin.

However, if Jesus was and is sinless, and righteous, and holy, then it might seem as though he cannot relate to us who are sinners. How can He possibly understand us? Won’t He be harsh with us?

The Bible addresses this issue. We find these comforting words in the book of Hebrews:

Hebrew 2:17-18 ~ 17 For this reason [Jesus] had to be made like his brothers [that is, human beings] in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

And again,

Heb 4:14-16 ~
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Jesus never sinned, but He was made just like us, which means He was subject to temptation, and the Word says He was indeed tempted, “in every way, just as we are,” and is therefore able to “sympathize with our weaknesses”. Jesus is able to relate to our weaknesses and temptations. Yet because He never succumbed to temptation, He is also capable of saving us!

This is the good news of the Christian message, that our sins can be redeemed, because of what Jesus Christ did in his death on the cross and in His resurrection. This is why the fact that Jesus was not a sinner is so important. And yet at the same time, because Jesus was a human being like us, He is able to relate to us in every way. That’s very comforting news, I think. Don’t you?

Thanks for reading today’s blog. My next topic will be: Good, Bad, or Ugly? The Eclectic Spirituality on Lost. Till then, be blessed!