Thursday, March 29, 2007

Does Your Work Matter to God?

My friend Phil was recently in a conversation with other guys his age (25-30), on the topic of how to glorify God in the workplace. It was a wonderfully honest discussion. Some men readily admitted that they viewed their jobs as mundane and didn't quite see the connection to any greater good in the kingdom of God.

I suspect that their responses aren't unique to them. In her book Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey notes the sacred/secular divide and its impact to Christians.

...modern society is characterized by a sharp split between the sacred and secular spheres - with work and business defined as strictly secular. As a consequence, Christians often live in two separate worlds, commuting between the private world of family and church (where we can express our faith freely) and the public world (where religious expression is firmly suppressed). Many of us don't even know what it means to have a Christian perspective on our work. Oh, we know that being a Christian means being ethical on the job..."no lying or cheating" But the work itself is defined in secular terms as bringing home a paycheck, climbing a career ladder, building a professional reputation. (Total Truth, p.65)

I know that there are always aspects of work that can seem monotonous and mundane. However, I don't think that it should be the normative mindset for Christians and I've blogged about how to view it redemptively. God has something better for us. Yet, I understand the struggle expressed by Phil and his friends - we've all been there and we revisit from time to time.

Does your work matter to God? How would you encourage Phil and his friends to view their jobs with more meaning, either from your own experience or more importantly, from the Bible? What advice would you offer them?

No trick questions here and these aren't rhetorical - we all really want to know.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Case for Teaching the Bible in Schools

David Van Biema, TIME's senior religion writer makes the case for teaching the Bible as a topic of study in public schools. His point is simple - the Bible is the most influential book ever written and no education would be deemed comprehensive if students were left ignorant of its teachings.

Sounds like a good idea? Bear in mind that teaching the Bible from a "secular" studies perspective probably means opening the door to teaching about other religions as well.

According to the article, some pastors like John Hagee have voiced concern about exposing students to "other origin stories [that] tell of ... gods who themselves are created." Hagee is also concerned that a student might conclude that polytheism is as valid as monotheism.

Other evangelical voices like Chuck Colson differ from Hagee's point of view and embrace the idea of improving bible literacy among public school students.

"Would I prefer a more explicitly biblical Christian teaching?" he asks. "Of course. But you can't do that in public education. What you can do is introduce the Bible so that people are aware of its impact on people and in history and then let God speak through it as he will."

I think Colson has it right. Teaching Bible in a public school setting isn't about converting every young, impressionable mind - it's about educating them on one of the major world religions and exposing them to the evident, self authenticated truth of the Bible. I would have no problems with the notion that other religions are taught as well. We live in a pluralistic, multi-cultural society and effective engagement means being willing to open two way conversations about the issues of faith, life, death and eternity.

We can enter these conversations confident that there is simply no god as holy, no god as loving, no god as wise as the God of the Bible who has made himself known in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ.

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.

Hebrews 1:1-3

Friday, March 23, 2007

March Madness - Ready for the Final Four?

No, not that Final Four. I'm talking about the Final Four of the Pan American Intercollegiate Chess Tournament.

I love cheering for the underdog so it's no surprise that this story caught my eye. Apparently, Miami Dade Community College has beaten out a number of schools to reach this point, including Ivy League schools like Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth and Northwestern.

Here's a quote from the story.

"They're formidable players," said Jim Stallings, University of Texas-Dallas' director for chess and education. "You can't just take anybody for granted in this tournament, because they are the top four U.S. teams."

They accomplished this even with setbacks like having one of their players bolt for University of Maryland, Baltimore County, lured by the promise of a scholarship. Aren't there rules against this kind of tampering?

Beating out Ivy Leaguers has to be somewhat equivalent to George Mason beating out powerhouses UConn, UNC and Michigan State in last year's NCAA tournament. (As a GMU grad, I had to find a way to work last year's Final Four run into this post).

Like I said, I love cheering for the underdog, even if the "sport" is intercollegiate chess. Do you think it'll be on ESPN?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Redemptive Leadership

I've recently had the opportunity to write a couple of short articles for The High Calling. The first of these is entitled Redemptive Leadership and it went live on their website yesterday. Here's a brief intro into the article and you can click through to the High Calling site to read the rest.

Do you ever wonder what the perfect picture of leadership would look like? The Bible makes it clear from the beginning—leadership is really God’s idea. He ordains leaders to accomplish his will in this world. In Genesis 2, God places Adam in the Garden of Eden, giving him the responsibility to care for it.

Adam was the leader of the Garden, exercising the creativity, care, and authority of God in that realm. It's a picture of God's call for every person. We lead wherever God places us, and we reflect the character of God in the process. Simply put, we're called by God to influence our world in such a manner that those around us can come to know who he is.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Christian Perspectives on War

What should Christians think about war? There are few more culturally relevant discussions for our nation today as we're faced with increasing public opposition to the war in Iraq.

It's been a topic I've wanted to address for some time now but Ted Gossard blogging at Jesus Community has beat me to it and done a fine job spurring discussion on the topic. Ted has been running a series entitled Christians and War where he considers whether it is appropriate for a Christian to participate in war. Others like Craver have picked up on his discussion and joined in with a different view.

I've been intrigued about this topic ever since listening to Dr. D.A. Carson's audio sermon on Just War. It's rather long with a separate Q&A session but very worthwhile if you're interested in learning more about the topic. In it, he outlines the basic principles of Just War Theory.

1. The only just cause for going to war is defense against violent aggression.

2. The only just intention is to restore a just peace— to friend and foe alike.

3. Military force must be the last resort after negotiations and other efforts have been tried and have failed.

4. The decision to engage in such a just war must be made by the highest governmental authority.

5. The war must be for limited ends (principally to repel aggression and redress injustice).

6. The means of a just war must be limited by proportionality to the offense.

7. There must be no intentional and direct attack on noncombatants.

8. War should not be prolonged where there is no reasonable hope of success within these limits.

Dr. Carson believes that a distinctly Christian perspective on the Just War must include the governing principle of love. He maintains that it is love that compels us to enter into military conflict. In his book, Love in Hard Places, he writes the following:

“When just, war can be a form of love. Where an enemy is perpetuating its horrible holocaust, is it not an act of love that intervenes, even militarily, to prevent that holocaust if a nation has the power to do so? And is not restraint in such cases a display, not of loving pacifism, but of lack of love— of the unwillingness to sacrifice anything for the sake of others?"

While I agree with Dr. Carson's view, the challenge in all of this is the subjective analysis of what constitutes a just war. The guiding principles of Just War theory are helpful but wars have been entered into with justice in mind that do not meet the criteria. For instance, the American Revolutionary War against the British Empire leading to the formation of the United States of America was waged on far less than what is implied in the Just War theory. Think about that for a minute.

This is a topic in which many orthodox Christians may have differing views but it's helpful to consider them all if we are to come a better understanding.

Is war ever justified from a Christian perspective?
What do you think of the criteria for a just war?

Does it offer appropriate guidance for a Christian?
Where does Christian love fit in?

Thursday, March 08, 2007

On Work and Vocation

I've come across a few quotes on vocation by notable Christian leaders (mostly old, dead guys) that I thought were interesting (HT: Washington Institute). You're probably familiar with some of them but they offer timeless wisdom and are worth revisiting:

On whether our daily work is "spiritual":

"...The work of a Beethoven, and the work of a charwoman, become spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God, of being done humbly "as to the Lord." This does not, of course, mean that it is for anyone a mere toss-up whether he should sweep rooms or compose symphonies. A mole must dig to the glory of God and a cock must crow..."

C.S Lewis, Weight of Glory

"...A cobbler, a smith, a farmer, each has the work and office of his trade, and yet they are all alike consecrated priests and bishops, and every one by means of his own work or office must benefit and serve every other, that in this way many kinds of work may be done for the bodily and spiritual welfare of the community, even as all the members of the body serve one another..."

Martin Luther
(aka the Reformation Guy)

On how we are to work:

"...We know that men were created for the express purpose of being employed in labor of various kinds, and that no sacrifice is more pleasing to God than when every man applies diligently to his own calling, and endeavors to live in such a manner as to contribute to the general advantage..."

John Calvin (aka Mr. Five Pointer)

On the quality of work we should produce:

"...No piety in the worker will compensate for work that is not true to itself…. work must be good work before it can call itself God’s work..."

Dorothy Sayers

On Christian discipleship and work

Not an old, dead guy, but ever insightful is Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in NYC. In a paper on how a church can successfully engage a city culture, he writes about the need to integrate work and faith. He also says this:

You can't just disciple people on how to be Christians in their private lives (e.g. prayer, witnessing, Bible study). Center-city people don't have much of a "private life." If you are in finance, or art, or acting or medicine, your vocation dominates your life and your time. Discipleship must include how to be distinctively Christian within your job, including how to handle the particular temptations and ethical quandaries, and how to produce work in one's own field from a distinctly Christian world-view.

How are you distinctly Christian within your job?
What does it mean to produce work in our field of work from a distinctly Christian world-view?

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Skits That Teach...Racism?

It didn't make the headlines but here's something that caught my attention when I read about it on the NextGener.Asian Church blog. Apparently, Zondervan recently published a book entitled Skits That Teach that has some rather uncharitable stereotyping of asians.

Let me offer you a sample from Zondervan's Skits That Teach by the Skit Guys (Eddie James and Tommy Woodward) published in 2006. A skit book meant to be used by youth groups all over the US features the following:

"Herro, Dis is Wok's Up Restaurant calling to confirm your order. . . . I think that, yes, you total is 14 dollar 95 cent."

"Herro? This is Wok's Up Restaurant again. We have drive and drive, and we can't find you house. We don't find you house soon, you pu pu get cold. Pu pu good when it hot."

(Hostile) "Okay, we drive for long time looking for you house. I tell you, you go outside and I look for you. I am driving a red Rincon (Lincoln) Continental. You pu pu still getting cold. Bye!

"Okay, I drive for long time and I stil not find you house. So I am eating you pu pu! Ruckiry it still warm. I was hungry, so I eat it. Mmmmm . . . this pu pu is good. (Smacks lips a few times) You on my bad rist. You don't call us anymore. Bye

I'm not sure what the skit was originally intended to teach but I shudder to think that any Christian youth group would actually run with that skit.

Perhaps some might wonder - why is this skit even a problem...what's the big deal...why not overlook this altogether?

I think I can best answer that by referring to John Piper's paper on Stereotypes, Generalizations and Racism. In it, Piper makes this point -

"Christians should not be guilty of stereotyping groups, recognizing that stereotyping is different from the just and loving use of generalizations...Christians should use generalizations justly and lovingly to form true and helpful judgments about people and life."

The essential difference between generalizations (which are morally neutral) and stereotyping lies in the intent and effect. Generalizations are nothing more than simply exercising our God given ability for pattern recognition. We notice traits about people of a particular culture or of a specific race. That's normal. Stereotyping is picking on a trait and using it to humiliate or denigrate another. It's uncharitable and as Christians we need to stand against this form of racism, whether or not it affects us personally.

It saddens me that this content found its way into a Christian book and survived the editor's cutting room. However, it's a reminder of the power of indwelling sin in all of us - we are not all racist but we all have potential to sin in the area of racism. If you don't believe that, you probably don't know your own heart.

This post isn't about judging the authors or publishers. It's about drawing attention to the opportunity we have as the church to be distinctive. We should aim to be a picture of unity - celebrating differences, rather than maliciously making fun of them. When we err, we can love the brother we've legitimately offended, by acting swiftly, sincerely and with equal concern as if we ourselves were targeted.

If we do this, we can tell the world about true racial unity by pointing them to Jesus Christ and his Church.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Spurgeon on How to Serve God in Your Daily Work

"Never is a life more ennobled than when we do all things as unto God."

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892)

CH Spurgeon tells us that true faith in God leads a person to serve God in his/her daily calling. He further maintains that this service is marked by obedience to God's commands.

"Brethren, Christian men are helped by faith to serve God in their calling by obedience to God's commands, by endeavouring to order everything according to the rules of love to God and love to man. In such a case, integrity and uprightness preserve the man, and his business becomes true worship."

When we walk in obedience, our work is transformed into worship to God. On this topic, Spurgeon goes on to exhort us to "manifest a Christian spirit" in all we do. His point is simple - God is not honored by "correct behavior" that is devoid of a gracious spirit.

Here is what he says about this -

"The spirit that actuates us may seem a small matter so long as we are outwardly right; but it is in reality the essence of the whole thing. Take away the flavor from the fruit, or the fragrance from the flower, and what is left? Such is correct living without the savor of grace."

Years before Charles Sheldon issued the now popular, WWJD call, Spurgeon asked not only "what would Jesus do" but also "how would Jesus do it". He tells us the following -

"Oh, to act in your trade and calling as Christ would have acted had he been in your place. Hang that question up in your houses, "What would Jesus do?" and then think of another, "How would Jesus do it?" for what he would do and how he would do it may always stand as the best guide for us. Thus faith puts a man upon serving God by leading him to exhibit the spirit of Christ in what he ordinarily does, showing all courtesy, gentleness, forbearance, charity and grace"

Also, take note of Spurgeon's perspective on daily work, taking one day at a time and making full use of it.

"If we really live to serve God, we shall live intensely day by day, allowing no time to waste. Live to-day and tomorrow you may do the same. Plans for the whole term of life many of you may not be able to construct, but mind that you work while it is called to-day...Thus, faith in him leads us to spend our energies in his service, and to do our ordinary work with an eye to his glory, and so our life is coloured and savored by our faith in the Son of God."

What thoughts would you add to this? What is your experience as a worker?