Thursday, December 8, 2016

Spirituality In Work

“The works of His hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.”  (Ps 111:7)

“God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue helping him.” (Heb 6:10)

In today’s culture people have a tendency to separate work into differing levels of importance with some vocations being considered more acceptable than others.  Some even take a superior attitude and consider certain types of work to be beneath them.

These attitudes can carry over into the Christian worldview.  Some believe that a church pastor has a more spiritual vocation or is closer to God than say a missionary or a church administrative assistant.  An even wider gap can be seen between what is considered secular work verses work that is part of some type of ministry or is considered spiritual work.

A sense of higher purpose in a vocation has also been lost to most people.  This is true in both the secular world and at least to some extent in the Christian world.  Basically, the idea is that any sort of work, or at least certain types of work, have been reduced to a utilitarian function: a means of acquiring some sort of benefit from the world, whether it is material gain or a sense of self-fulfillment.  That one’s vocation no longer has any sort of transcendent purpose as a means of serving God, much less our fellow man. 

But is it true that there is no higher purpose in work?  And, is there a difference between secular work and a Christian vocation?

Here are a few things to consider:

Scripture tells us that God Himself has worked.  “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished.  And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all the work He had done” (Gen 2: 1-2).  Right from the beginning God sets an example in performing work.

After He finished the creation, one of the first things God does is put man in the Garden of Eden in order to “tend and keep it” (Gen 2:15).  We can see God places a level of importance to our work with that being one of the first things He instructs man to do.

Generally, there is not much said about this topic but, have you ever given much thought to the fact that Jesus had a vocation before His ministry?  That’s right, He was a carpenter!  In fact, when you think about it, He was a carpenter far longer than He spent in His ministry here on earth.

Let’s put this in perspective.  Formal school for Jewish boys in Jesus’ time started at about 5 years old.  This was a half day of school, usually 6 day a week.  When not in school, it was not uncommon for them to spend time learning a trade from their father.  Knowing this we can see that it is possible that Jesus started learning how to be a carpenter as early as 5 years old.

Even in today’s apprenticeships, a person will spend several months if not a few years just watching the teacher and learning basics before they are even allowed to do any work.  When they do start work they are usually closely monitored by their teacher until they show a certain level of proficiency in their work.  Allowing for a few years of this, Jesus could have started doing basic carpentry between 8 and 10 years old.  With Jesus starting His ministry at 30 years old, we can see that he was a carpenter for upwards of 20 years.  This example from the life of Jesus helps point to there being importance to the work we perform in this world.

Jesus gives us another example of work.  Specifically work that some might consider demeaning.  In John 13:1-17 we find the story of Jesus washing the disciple’s feet after the Passover Dinner.  The dusty and dirty conditions encountered while travelling necessitated the need for foot washing.  In those times the foot washing was normally performed by the lowliest of menial servants.  It was only in a very rare exception, and then as a mark of great love, that a peer would wash another’s feet.  In doing this, Jesus served as a model of Christian humility and taught us a lesson in selfless service.

We also find that the Holy Spirit has responsibilities as well.  Here are just a few examples: He teaches us and helps us remember what Jesus told us (Jn 14:26), He reveals truth to us (Jn 16: 13-14), convicts us of our sins (Jn 16:8), and He helps us when we don’t know how or what to pray, even interceding for us and praying for us (Rom 8:26-27).

There are many other examples and commands related to work in the bible but I wanted specifically mention some that are tied to each person of God.  Being as we are made in God’s image we are called to reflect His character in all we do.  This would include our work. 

Actually, the idea of a separation of work between the secular and the spiritual is nothing new.  The early church had to define a biblical view of work in contrast to the influence of the Greek culture which denigrated manual labor.  Paul also addressed the importance of work in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 and 1 Timothy 5:8.

During the Reformation, Martin Luther wrote, “When we carry out our vocation in obedience to God’s commands, then God Himself works through us to His purposes.”  In this he is referring to all legitimate work, not just spiritual vocations.  Luther specifically rejected the idea that the clergy were engaged in holier work than those not necessarily considered holy, such as tradesmen and farmers saying, “Seemingly secular works are a worship of God and an obedience well pleasing to God.”

Church pastor, corporate CEO, ditch digger, teacher, banker, theologian, farmer, administrative assistant, architect, homemaker, truck driver, missionary, auto mechanic, chef, volunteer, doctor, manager, soldier, butcher, journalist, coat room attendant, realtor, maid, dentist, social worker, engineer, flight attendant, evangelist, gardener, police officer, laboratory technician, payroll clerk, sailor, surgeon, computer programmer, tour guide, barber, used car salesman, nurse, counselor, mortician, fitness trainer, cashier, janitor, bus driver, coal miner, inspector, plumber.

I cannot say I have seen or heard anything that says God sees a difference in these various professions.  On the other hand, we see all sorts of differences between them (or the numerous others not listed).  Whether its salary, benefits, location, title, how it makes us feel, or we put some kind of label on the position, it is too easy to look at all the differences.  Not that some of these things are not important, sometimes it is even necessary to take them into consideration when we look at what we do for work, but we tend to put too much emphasis on these things.

This has recently all been brought into sharp reality for me.  A couple months ago, I lost my job due to a contract change.  As I have been looking for new work I have had to do the normal evaluations you need to do when looking for work: what I am qualified to do, what I might like to do, salary, location, position, etc., etc., etc.  Along the way, I have also found I need to put thought into how I look at jobs I may apply for.

When we break it down, whether we are answering a call in our life, or just trying to make end meet in our day-to-day struggles, it isn’t what we do that is the most important thing.  Nor is it important that the work is done in the Christian or secular arena.  It’s our attitude toward that work that is important.  Are we doing the best we can?  Are we setting a good example to those around us?  Are our actions bringing glory to God like they should? 

Examples of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit all performing work lends dignity to the work of their hands, no matter how lowly that work may seem to our eyes. 

This dignity should be reflected in the work of our hands as well.  

Monday, August 1, 2016

Splendor and Majesty

The Heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 
Psalm 19:1

The other day I was looking through some old notes and came across a question I had not thought about for some time.

‘What if the primary purpose of the universe is not to be a home for us, but to display the splendor and majesty of God?’

I like questions like this because they really make me think.

As I spent some time thinking about this question I found my thoughts drifting toward a number of online articles related to space I have stumbled across over the last several months: Near Earth Objects, Space X and Virgin Galactic, the Mars Rover, colonies on the Moon and Mars, and most recently the Juno spacecraft arriving at Jupiter.  I’ll admit I have always had some interest in space exploration.  This probably stems from my parents making me stay up to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the Moon when I was two.

I even thought about mankind’s various attempts to explore and understand the universe out there beyond our little planet.  Early astronomers probing the night sky with their telescopes; the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs; the Voyager space probes and; the International Space Station to name a few.

My thoughts also turned to the story of creation.  Genesis 1:3 tells us, “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.”  He even distinguished a difference between day and night in verse 5.  The rest follows: the firmament on day 2 (vs.6-8); dry land and plants on day 3 (vs. 9-13); Sun, Moon and, stars on day 4 (vs. 14-19); sea creatures and birds on day 5 (vs. 20-23) and; animals, insects and, man on day 6 (vs. 24-31).

But wait, there was light on day 1, but plants came on day 3 and the Sun, Moon and, stars didn’t arrive until day 4.  If He was making plants before there was a Sun and day and night had already been established on day 1, why did we need the Sun, Moon and, stars?  Couldn’t God have just left us with day and night?

I have no doubt that He could have done exactly that.  But…  One of the things I have learned about God is that He always does a little bit more, sometimes a great deal more.  (I give some examples of God’s extravagance in a post in October of 2013.)  In thinking about His extravagance I do believe that is part of why He did not just stop with day and night, but that is only part of the story.  The bible also provides some insight.

Genesis 1:14 tells us, “…and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years.”  Signs I found include Jesus referring to the weather in Matthew 16:2-3; the wise men use a star as a sign and a guide in Matthew 2:1-2; Joel 2:30-31 speaks of judgement; and Jesus refers to the passage in Joel when telling the disciple about signs of His return in Matthew 24:29.  Seasons, days, and years most likely refer to the movement of the Earth in relation to the Sun and Moon which give us seasons and a calendar.

Now I don’t want it to look like I am trying to discount scripture or why God did what He did, but I still find myself asking why so much?  Why not just the Sun, Moon, and Earth?  Or just the solar system and some lights in the night sky for reference?  Maybe a bit of perspective on how big things are out there can help here.

Earlier I mentioned the Juno space probe recently arriving at Jupiter.  According to NASA, Juno traveled approximately 1.74 billion miles on its journey, ultimately reaching a speed of a little over 150,000 miles per hour!  (At that speed it would take just under ten minutes to circle the Earth at the Equator.) Even at that speed it still took about five years to complete its journey. And that is just to reach Jupiter. 

Close up shot of Jupiter from Juno

Now this was not a direct path, it followed what is called a heliocentric trajectory. (Heliocentric is a fancy word that describes a journey around the Sun.)  Definitely a long trip but even if you just look at the straight line distance from the Sun (Jupiter 483.6 million miles, Saturn 886.7 million miles, Uranus 1.784 billion miles, Neptune 2.794 billion miles, and Pluto 3.6745 billion miles) the numbers really become hard to wrap your head around, and they are seeing evidence of another planet or some kind of other stellar body even further out beyond Pluto.

But God did not stop there.  He created the entirety of the Universe, which according to scientists is about 46 billion light years (a light year is approximately 6 trillion miles long) across, what they call the ‘observable universe,’ and is filled with over 100 billion galaxies.  Our home galaxy, the Milky Way, is only approximately 100,000 light years across with our solar system being just a small speck in our galaxy.  And that was all with the power of His spoken word! 

Not sure if that really helped much.  I don’t make any claim that I can comprehend how big it all is.  I am just trying to make the point that the universe is truly vast no matter how you look at it! 

Turning back to scripture, David tells us in Psalm 19:1, “The Heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”  Glory…  How about splendor and majesty?  “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom. One generation will commend Your works to another, they will tell of Your mighty acts. They will speak of the glorious splendor of Your majesty, and I will meditate on Your wondrous works.” (Psalm 145:3-5)  Wow!  Kind of hard to top that.  It’s like extravagance on steroids.  Could there possibly be anything else?  When I think about all that God is I sincerely believe there is something more.

Very simply, because He loves us.  Not only does God show us His glory here on Earth (Habakkuk 2:14 is a good place to start), and in the heavens (PS 19:1 above), in creating the whole of the universe God shows us His splendor and majesty and in doing so I believe He shows us how much He loves us.  Paul talks about God’s love in his prayer for the Ephesians, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have the power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know that this love surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do immeasurable more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be the glory.” (Eph. 3:17b-21a) 

The description, “wide and long and deep and high” refers to the vastness and completeness of God’s love.  Paul even tells us, “this love surpasses knowledge.”  Basically it is beyond us.  Luckily, God will reveal things to us when we truly seek Him, if for no other reason than because he loves us so much more than we can understand.  Add to that, “Him who is able to do immeasurable more than all we ask or imagine.”  This is why I believe that another reason He created the universe the way He did is because of His love for us.  And that is just another truly amazing thing about God.

So, back to the original question: ‘What if the primary purpose of the universe is not to be a home for us, but to display the splendor and majesty of God?’

Splendor and majesty?  Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes!  How can I honestly answer anything other than that? But in true Godly fashion, He takes it to another level.  He doesn’t stop there.  He goes immeasurably beyond what we can imagine and shows us how much He loves us.

We don’t have to understand it all, in fact we can’t (Psalm 145:3 and Ephesians 3:19 above), we just need to take it in and let God’s love flow over us.  So the next time you are looking at the delicate complexity of a flower in bloom, the awesome power of a thunder storm rolling across a river valley, or just gazing at the night sky, take a minute.  It’s all there.  If you look you can see it all, not just His boundless love for us but also the splendor and majesty of who He is.  Our Almighty and All Powerful God.  

Sunday, January 10, 2016


“Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ (Matthew 25: 44-45)

Recently, I came across some notes I made after returning from a trip to Sierra Leone, Africa.  After reading them I felt I needed to share a couple of excerpts.  I have made two trips there and these notes were written after my second trip.  The pictures are from my time there, the above pictures is of some of the children that attend a school we visited on my first trip.

Sierra Leone is on the west coast of Africa and is one of the poorest countries in the world with the average person trying to survive on less than $2.00 per day.  Sierra Leone is rich in diamond wealth but it only benefits a select few people in the country.  For most of the population, extreme poverty is the norm.  Though conditions are improving, very slowly, there is still so much work to do.
This was not my first trip to Sierra Leone.  My first trip was in June of 2010 as part of a team of 15.  I had no idea as to what to expect when we arrived in country, had never experienced this level of poverty.  We were in the city of Bo, the second largest city in Sierra Leone, Africa.  The population is estimated to be about 500,000 people.  Think of the population of El Paso County living in an area smaller than Colorado Springs, none of the side streets being paved; tear out most of the electrical grid and the water distribution systems.  Waste water and sewage is, at best, flowing in newly constructed gutters or older ditches next to the road, and running down the middle of the road on the side streets.  No buildings taller than about 3 stories and no basements.  This barely begins to describe the conditions that exist there. There is something that the camera misses when you try and take a picture to show people what the conditions are like over there and I still cannot find the words to describe it so that someone who has not been there can understand.

Footbridge we crossed on a hike out to a village 
outside of Bo on my first trip. (Above)

School children at the village we visited. (Below)

One of the guys on the trip (Mike) went back about a year later with his family in order to do some long term work.  I wanted to do what I could to help Mike out and so I went to Sierra Leone for a week so that I could provide some small amount of help for the short time I could be there, hoping to make a difference.

The first time I remember seeing him was while Mike was putting petrol (their version of gasoline) in his car. The young boy was carrying a tray of small plastic bundles a little bigger than a golf ball on his head.  Poor nutrition makes it a little harder to pin down his age but best guess would put him at 8-10 years old.  He approached my side of the car to see if I wanted to buy any of his peanuts (they call them soup nuts and use them to make Crushed Nut Soup) just as several other street vendors already had, hawking their various wares.  Being a Pumwee (white person) you are a magnet for anyone selling anything. After I politely declined he moved on to continue trying to sell his nuts.
After Mike had finished filling up the car we headed out, our first stop was a grocery store (more like a small country store you find in smaller Midwest towns) so we could pick up items needed in order to make lunches and dinner for a team of Mennonites from Virginia that were building a clinic.  When Mike realized that peanuts were on the list he commented that we should have bought some from the boy at the gas station (the stores don’t always carry the raw nuts needed for the soup that was going to be part of our lunch the next day). 
Knowing he couldn’t make it far on foot we headed back over to the area we had seen the boy and were able to track him down.  He was cautious but didn’t seem afraid at first.  Not until Mike picked up one of the bundles from the tray while they were discussing price.   I’m not sure if it was because he was afraid of the two Pumwee in the car or if he thought Mike was just going to take the bundle.  Mike assured him he was going to pay him and they settled on a price.
I don’t know this little boys name or any details of the circumstances of his life.  Is he an orphan?  Does he have a home or does he live on the street?  How much does he need to sell in order to afford to buy something to eat for dinner?  These are some of the questions that keep rolling through my mind as my thoughts keep returning to this little boy.
Apparently it is not uncommon for parents there to put their children to work as street vendors.  Some may even sell their children to the local chief for land or a building and the chief puts them to work to earn their keep.  You see them out there selling a wide variety of things; soda, bread, gum, nuts, and ice just to name a few.  I can’t fathom my 14 year old nephew having to spend all day in downtown Colorado Springs, regardless of the weather, selling things just to try and survive, much less either one of my 8 or 10 year old nieces.

Market in Bo during one of the trips Mike and I made into town.

Having been there before I did not expect the trip to have as much of an impact on my heart.  Much to my surprise, the time I spent there this time has touched me on a deeper level than my first trip.  The boy selling peanuts, a new clinic being built, witnessing the challenges Mike deals with on a daily basis as he is trying to make a difference, seeing how much has changed since my first trip, and how much hasn’t changed are just some of the things that keep coming to mind as I reflect on the trip.  I am very glad I took the time for the trip and wonder what I can do from here to continue helping and what my next trip will be like.

Hard to say if I will make it back to Sierra Leone, but I do know that I will be going on more trips.  My thoughts have centered around what I can do to have more of an impact for God.  If you ever get the opportunity to go on a trip like this I highly recommend it.  It will definitely change your heart.