Thursday, July 30, 2009

Quote of the Week

"Clearly there is a direct link between the profession of faith, the practice of faith and the plausibility of faith. Practice what you preach and you commend your faith; don't and you contradict it"

Os Guinness; The Call, p.103

Sunday, July 26, 2009

God@Work - Your Multiple Vocations

God@Work is a four part series held at my church to provide a biblical understanding of work - notes from the first session are posted here.

The second session of the God@Work series is on our multiple vocations. Many of us use the word vocation to mean a job or career but in fact, vocation has implications on primary areas of our lives - family, church, society and yes, our daily worklife. The word vocation is derived from the Latin word for calling (vocare).

The Reformation promoted a view of vocation that encouraged each person to see their work as a sacred calling. Callings are not reserved simply for the priests or pastors but in fact, God creates and equips each person in His kingdom to accomplish His purposes and plans in this world. Instead of seeing vocation as what we should or could do, the Reformers' emphasized God's work in and through our vocations. God uses us in our vocations to reveal himself to the world around us.

Our vocation starts with the Greatest Commandment from Mark 12:29-31

"Jesus answered, "... 'And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' ...'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."

Vocation starts with loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength... because He first loved us. His initiating love is the foundation of our vocation.

We are also called to love our neighbor. Vocation is played out, not only in extraordinary success but also in the realm of ordinary, daily life. We don't find vocation only in the realm of our job or career but also in other areas that God has called us to work in - family, church, society. You could say that vocation should be not viewed in the singular but in the plural - vocations in the spheres of life that God has called us to.

Workplace - we are called to serve our neighbor through our labor.
Family - we are called to serve as husband/wife, father/mother, brother/sister, grandparents
Church - we are called to serve in the local church community and for the advance of the gospel.
Society - we are called to serve our neighbor through charitable work, political involvement

All of these are callings to which God has called us. Not all of them carry equal weight. As an example: our calling as a husband or mother supersedes the call to bless the broader society through charitable work or political involvement.

Scripture will guide our priorities and emphasis. The important thing to remember is that all these callings are not in conflict but rather work in concert under God's guidance to bring about good in our lives and the lives of those around us. We also need the wisdom and fellowship from our church community to understand and fulfill these multiple vocations.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Quote of the Week

"There is a keen test of character in prosperity. Everybody longs for it, but it is not every man that can bear it when it comes. True faith forbids our setting great store by worldly goods and pleasures and enjoyments, for it teaches us that our treasure is in heaven."

C.H. Spurgeon, Everyday Religion (sermon #1599)

Monday, July 20, 2009

God@Work - The Biblical Basis for Work

In July, my church is running a four part series on Sunday evenings called God@Work. These sessions are meant to equip men and women with a biblical perspective on work and vocation.

I thought it might be interesting to share highlights from each of the sessions. Session 1 (Theology of Work) covered a biblical understanding of work - God's work in creation, the effect of the Fall on work, God's work in redemption. We also discussed the purpose of work in our lives. Here are some of the notes from the session -

In Genesis 1-2, we see that creation reveals the "work" of God. God is a worker and in fact, introduces the concept of work. There are three kinds of work that God is engaged in -

Providential work - this is the work that God does in governing, sustaining and overseeing the world. God never rests from this work.

Redemptive work - this is the work that God accomplishes through His Son to redeem the world to Himself. Likewise, God does not rest from this work

Creative work - this is work that we equate to labor. This is the creative work that God accomplished in creating, bringing order and completing His creation. God rested from this work and delighted in the excellence of His creation.

Since God is the ultimate worker, the act of work itself is loaded with inherent meaning, significance and dignity.

Why do we work? First, we work because we're made in the image of God - we're image bearers. As God's image bearers we are to use our God-given creativity and responsibility to use the earth for godly purposes.

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

Genesis 1:26-28

Second, God calls us to subdue and rule over the earth. This doesn't mean we can plunder and pillage the earth. Rather, just as Adam and Eve were commanded to "work" and "keep' the Garden of Eden, we're responsible to take care of what God has entrusted to us.

The Fall has distorted God's intention for work. Instead of being enjoyable and satisfying, the "garden" we labor in is now filled with thistles and thorns - work is now hard and marked with difficulties. The other effect of the Fall is that as workers, we lose perspective on who God is and His purpose for our lives. We no longer work to the glory of God.

Thankfully, that's not where it ends. Instead, God through the work of His Son is redeeming men and women to Himself. Those who trust in Jesus Christ are transformed from "the image of the man of dust [that is, Adam] into those who will bear "the image of the man of heaven [that is, Jesus]" 1 Corinthians 15:49. In the process, He is restoring the nature and purpose of work in the lives of those who belong to Him.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Quote of the Week

The essence of eternal life is not found in having my sins forgiven, in possessing a mansion in heaven, or in having streets of gold to walk forever. Rather the essence of eternal life is intimately knowing God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. Everything else that God gives me in the gospel serves merely to bring me to Himself so that this great end may be achieved.

Milton Vincent, A Gospel Primer, p49

Friday, July 10, 2009

John Calvin on Vocation

Today - July 10th, 2009 - marks the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin, one of the greatest theologians in the history of the church.    You might recognize his unique contribution in shaping the doctrines of the church but are you also aware of how his views have helped shape our understanding of work and vocation?  

Together with Martin Luther, John Calvin shared a high view of what it means to receive and fulfill one's vocation in life.   Here's a sample of what he wrote on the topic  -

"...the Lord commands every one of us, in all actions of life to regard his vocation.... to prevent universal confusion being produced by our folly and temerity, he has appointed to all their particular duties in different spheres of life. And that no one might rashly transgress the limits prescribed, he has styled such spheres of life vocations, or callings. "

According to Calvin, every one of us is assigned vocations by the sovereign God.   These vocations are to be taken seriously and represent specific responsibilities in different areas of our lives.  He viewed them as so important as to liken a person's vocation as a post assigned by the Lord for the course of his life.   For a person to not discharge the duties of  his/her post in a responsible manner was to be unfaithful to the calling of God upon his/her life.    Further, to receive these callings from God is actually a blessing from God, to direct us and to grant us purpose.

"Every individual's line of life, therefore, is, as it were, a post assigned him by the Lord, that he may not wander about in uncertainty all his days."

Calvin also wrote about how pursuing our vocation in God will lead to a satisfying and joyful life.  When the obstacles and troubles of this life are seen in light of our vocation(s), we will be better able to cope with them.   Furthermore, no task or career will seem insignificant or irrelevant.

"It will also be no small alleviation of his cares, labours, troubles, and other burdens, when a man knows that in all these things he has God for his guide. The magistrate will execute his office with greater pleasure, the father of a family will confine himself to his duty with more satisfaction, and all, in their respective spheres of life, will bear and surmount the inconveniences, cares, disappointments, and anxieties which befall them, when they shall be persuaded that every individual has his burden laid upon him by God. Hence also will arise peculiar consolation, since there will be no employment so mean and sordid (provided we follow our vocation) as not to appear truly respectable, and be deemed h'ghly important in the sight of God"

Do you see your vocation(s) as a gift from God?   
Are you faithful in fulfilling the post assigned to you in this life?
How will seeing your work in light of a calling from God change your perspective?

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Quote of the Week

"When does our toil become vain? When we detach our work from trust in God. When we seek to wrest control from God and take our lives entirely and exclusively into our own hands... It is the Lord who must be in all our labors or they are pointless"

Anthony Selvaggio, A Proverbs Driven Life, p.59-60

Friday, July 03, 2009

Personal Accountability Cannot Save Us

Over the past few weeks, Mark Sanford has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. First, he was missing...then, his adulterous relationship was exposed. It was followed by a public apology and Sanford's assertion that his adultery is really a "love story". Mark Sanford is in a load of trouble, not least because he doesn't actually see the error of his ways. He needs to be concerned, not for his political career but for the state of his soul and the well-being of his family...but that's really not the point of this blog post.

Instead, let's discuss what has caught the attention of many - the substance of his apology where he invoked Christian "language" and compared himself to King David.

“I remain committed to rebuilding the trust that has been committed to me over the next 18 months, and it is my hope that I am able to follow the example set by David in the Bible — who after his fall from grace humbly refocused on the work at hand. By doing so, I will ultimately better serve in every area of my life, and I am committed to doing so.”

The editors of New York Times noted this in a commentary entitled God and Mark Sanford. They asked five "experts" including Chuck Colson and LaShawn Barber to comment on Mark Sanford's confession/apology. It's worth checking out the different points of view.

But I found one of the most unintentionally insightful comments to come from Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who does not subscribe to the Christian faith. Here's what he said -

"The paradox of American evangelicals is that they are Christian on the one hand and political conservatives on the other with utterly opposing views of redemption. Christians believe that no one is blameless and all must therefore ride the coattails of a perfect being into heaven. But conservatives espouse the gospel of personal accountability. The state cannot save them. Man must earn his bread by the sweat of his brow and not by welfare alone."

It's an interesting comment because I think many Christians actually subscribe to this "gospel of personal responsibility". We may erroneously believe that if we own up to our mistakes, put accountability controls in place and try harder next time, we'll be ok. In other words, when it comes to our moral state, we might think that personal accountability can save us....but it cannot. To be sure, accountability is good thing - taking responsibility for our moral failings is foundational to true repentance. And, being accountable to others is wise.

But what we really need is a Savior, not just accountability and earnest confession. Our moral failings are first and foremost against God and apart from the person of Jesus Christ, we have no means of relating to a holy God. True repentance must be directed to Him and it must rest of what Christ has done on our behalf by bearing our sins.

Our weaknesses are greater than can be addressed by personal accountability or accountability groups. We need a Savior every single day to protect and keep us. That's why I love these words from the hymn, "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing" -

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

The real gospel doesn't just feature sin and personal responsibility, it highlights a Savior who has come to save and keep us. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.