Saturday, June 24, 2006

What the Puritans Teach Us About Work - Part 1

One of the distinguishing marks of the Puritans was their fully orbed views on work. Their passion and commitment to the supremacy of God's authority in all of life extended into their work life. I thought it might be interesting examine what they believed and how they applied their rich theology in this area.

What would the Puritans say to us who live and work in a digital age? They might begin with their conviction that all work is ordained by God. They would be eager to dispose of any false distinctions between secular and sacred work.

"This is a wonderful thing, that the Savior of the world, and the King above all kings, was not ashamed to labor; yea, and to use so simple an occupation. Here he did sanctify all manner of occupations." Hugh Latimer

This was in great part reinforced because they held to a view that God calls each person to a specific work or occupation.

"God doth call every man and serve him in some peculiar employment in this world, both for their own and the common good..." Richard Steele

Cotton Mather provides the following comment on how one should steward that calling.

"A Christian should be able to give a good account, not only what is his occupation but also what he is in his occupation"

Regardless of whether you share the Puritans views on work, their passion to see God honored in and through their work is commendable and inspiring. How might their conviction in the sanctity of all legitimate work inform us today? I offer a couple suggestions -

  • It should bring us purpose in our work. If the Puritans are right, all manner of legitimate work offers an opportunity for us to obey and honor God. In short, it provides an opportunity for worship.
  • It should inspire faithfulness. If you believe as the Puritans did that it is God who calls each man to a particular vocation, then faithful discharge of that work is vital if we are to fulfill that calling. Attention to faithfunessl in other areas of life but not in this area would be deficient.

Even though I do not consciously subscribe to a sacred-secular dichotomy of work, I nonetheless often forget these truths in practice. By obscuring them, I may be missing opportunities for faithful worship in my daily life.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Summer Reading List

Don't you love summer? Well, it's now officially here - today is the start of summer and the longest day of the year. Summer conjurs up thoughts of fun vacations, cookouts, family reunions and rest. It's also a great time to catch up on our reading.

Read a good book or plan to read one? Let's share our summer reading list with each other. I'll kick it off.

Lost in the Middle - Paul Tripp. It's an outstanding book on the challenges of mid-life. As I mentioned in a prior post, it's both gospel centered and remarkably insightful on the trials, temptations and troubles that come with mid-life. I had planned to finish this before summer but didn't quite get there. I'm 80% done with the book and when I finish it up, I plan to post a complete review of the book.

Contending for Our All - John Piper. He brings us the biographies of Anasthasius, John Owen and Gresham Machen in the fourth book of his "Swans Will Not Be Silent" series. If the prior three are anything to go by, I expect this to be wonderfully encouraging to my soul.

Above All Earthly Powers - David Wells. David Wells is Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and an astute commentator on philosophical dynamics that affect the culture. Above All Earthly Powers is about the post-modern culture we live in and its implications to the church. I listened to an interview of David Wells by Mark Dever and am looking forward to reading it.

The TippingPoint - Malcolm Gladwell. It's a fascinating book on how "little things can make a big difference", in business or cultural trends. Malcolm Gladwell is not a professing Christian (as far as I know) but he is a renown writer with interesting insights. I've borrowed this book from a friend and am committed to finishing it this summer.

These are my books for the summer. I probably won't get through them all but I'll give it a good shot.

Now it's your turn - what are your recommendations?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Celebrating Father's Day by Remembering Our Sonship

It's Father's Day and I'm once again aware of what a blessing it is to be a father - it's simply one of my greatest joys to have the privilege of raising, training and loving my children and preparing them for eternity.

Yet, Scripture reminds me that this impulse for my children originates as God's work in and through me. In my sinful nature, I am chiefly concerned for my own good and not the good of others, even my children. However, God's gracious intervention in my life - the atoning sacrifice of his son and my adoption into his family - enables me to live out this wonderful calling as a father.

Romans 8:15-16

"For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children."

Simply put, my rejoicing in being a father is rooted in my gladness in being his son.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Growing in Listening

Being a good listener is an indispensible skill in negotiating relationships of any kind, in any arena. In a world where we are encouraged to make our points by raising the volume of our discourse, it's a sad reality that listening is now a lost virtue.

Recently, I've become convinced of the need to grow in the seemingly simple practice of listening. I discovered an article from John Piper that proved particularly helpful to me as I pondered my deficiencies in this area. If you struggle as I do, please read the article in entirety but here are a couple of nuggets to whet your appetite.

"It is arrogant to answer before you hear. Humility does not presume that it knows precisely what a person is asking until the questioner has finished asking the question."

"Proverbs 8:13 says it is our “folly” to answer before we hear. That is, it will make us a fool. One reason for this is that almost all premature answers are based on thinking we know all we need to know. But that is “foolish.” Our attitude should be: What can I learn from this question? The fool thinks he knows all he needs to know. "

I'm concluding that being a good listener isn't just a matter of courtesy, it's a mark of humility.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Dreams, Ambition and the Glory of God

I'm currently reading through "Lost in the Middle", Paul Tripp's newest book on the challenges of mid-life. One of the more interesting chapters of the book is Chapter 5 - "Towers to the Sky" where he discusses the power of our dreams and imagination.

He reminds us that the ability to dream and imagine is a unique gift from God:

"A dream is imagination coupled with desire and projected into the future...Imagination and the ability to dream future dreams are vital gifts from God so that, though we cannot see, hear or touch him, we can still have a relationship with him"

However, our dreams (and ambition) can also be dangerous to our souls when they take hold of us. Here are a couple of excerpts:

"Before long the dream is not just a faint and distant hope for the future. It becomes a prized possession. I become convinced that life without the dream would be unthinkable and unlivable. My sense of identity, purpose, well-being, contentment, and satisfaction becomes directly connected to the realization of the dream."

" the pursuit of my essential dream, I have been slowly building my own personal tower to my personal heaven. It has me. It defines me. It motivates me. It guides and directs me. It gives me a reason to get up in the morning and a reason to press on."

Paul Tripps writings are always insightful and this is no exception. A couple of thoughts as I read through the chapter -

First, this is not a problem confined to mid-life...the towers of our dreams are often exposed in mid-life but they're constructed throughout our adult life. So his gracious exhortations are applicable whatever your age.

Second, it seemed to me that our dreams are actualized and often take form as ambition in our lives. Ambition is the drive to actualize our dreams - where dreams are passive, ambition is active. Yet, ambition often carries a negative connotation for a Christian. It leads me to ask -

  • Is ambition typically wrong or selfish? Or is there a right form and place for ambition in our lives?
  • In practical terms, is it right for a Christian to directly pursue a position of influence in politics, media or business?
  • It made me wonder what godly ambition looks like for a Christian in the marketplace - what are its essential attributes?

Related to the last question about the nature of godly ambition in the marketplace, here are my thoughts on what that looks like. May these only serve as a starting point for fruitful discussion.

1. Christian ambition in the marketplace should be motivated by our ultimate desire to know Christ and to make him known. Our aspirations for a specific position or area of work, should serve as an expression of our over-arching ambition as Christians to know, experience and love God more deeply.

2. Christian ambition is the marketplace should be characterized by God-centered humility, marked by a trust in God who brings about success or failure. We should look humbly to the one who raises the poor from the dust (Psalm 113) ... and brings princes to naught (Isaiah 40). We should make lots of room for the sovereign hand of God, leanin upon his Providence, recognizing the many things that only God can control and we cannot. On this point, I confess I often find myself striving when I should be resting. I often wonder if my striving at times isn't a desire for autonomy when God has designed me for dependency. Psalm 127:1 reminds us that "Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain".

3. Christian ambition is about serving those around us. This is an ethic well understood if not always practiced in the church but in the marketplace it is seldom espoused, much less practiced. Yet, this distinctive is to mark Christians even when they operate in the realm of business. For the Christian, any aspiration for leading or management - any ambition to lead projects, build companies or make sense of disorganization is motivated a desire to serve others . "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matt 20: 26-28)

What are your thoughts on the topic of dreams and ambition? How do you navigate through your ambition, yet keep God foremost on your mind and heart?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Silence & Solitude - Two Friends in a Noisy World

In his Seattle Times article "Addicted to Noise" , Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church writes about the need for silence and solitude in a noisy world enabled by BlackBerrys, mobile phones and iPods. He identifies how the "false trinity of our day - the gods known as Hurry, Worry and Noisy" are actively destroying our souls.

I love technology but I think he's on to something. Notwithstanding the unfortunate use of the word "addicted", the need to quiet our souls before God is more than simply helpful, it's vital. The daily practice of reminding ourselves in the midst of our self important lives that "He is God and we are not" is an essential discipline of the Christian life. The antidote to this problem? Self imposed silence and solitude...that means turning off theTV, tuning out the iPod, shutting down email and spending time quiet before God.

I think I'm going to try this.

Friday, June 02, 2006

How Much Does God Weigh?

In his book God in the Wasteland, David Wells describes the notion of how God is "weightless" in our postmodern society.

"...God is now weightless. I do not mean that he is ethereal but rather that he has become unimportant. He rests upon the world so inconsequentially as not to be noticeable... Those who assure pollsters of their belief in God's existence may nonetheless consider him less interesting than television, his commands less authoritative than their appetites for affluence and influence, his judgment less awe-inspiring than the evening news, and his truth less compelling than the advertisers' sweet fog of flattery and lies. That is weightlessness."

One way to respond to this is to consider how secularized our society has become, but I was more impressed to consider my daily life, especially in the marketplace. If there's any place where "God rests so inconsequentially so as not to be noticeable", it is in the arena of business. In the typical corporate workplace, the serious mention of God is so rare that it seems unusually out of place to do so. Even when spoken of, there is no gravity to the idea that God exists or that he has a claim on us. In stature, he ranks only a notch higher than a myth.

I wonder how I'm contributing this current state. I believe that this "weightlessness" of God at the workplace exists in large part because as Christians, we speak and act so as to undermine the reality of the immortal, invisible God. Much of this is inadvertant, unwitting and by ommission. Yet, when we speak of God in general, philosophical terms but never in personal terms, we contribute to the weightlessness of God. When we consistenly express enthusiasm about the football game on Sunday but no enthusiasm about the Sunday meeting at church, we contribute to the current dilemma. In times of difficulty, if we express our need for assistance from other co-workers but never openly acknowledge our need for God, we functionally ignore his providence.

I'm pausing to consider what I'm communicating about God everyday. Do I speak of God as though he truly exists? I wonder how we can better speak, work and live in such a manner that the gravity of who God is cannot be ignored. What would that look like?