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Equipping followers of Christ to engage in their everyday work as the work of God, so workplaces are invigorated, communities flourish and culture is renewed to the honor and glory of the Lord.

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Friday, June 24, 2011

Whatever You Had For Breakfast This Morning

One way to be cured of SSD [that mental virus called the Sacred-Secular Divide] is to fully recognize God at work around us every day. I’m not just referring to Him keeping the earth spinning at 1,038 mph at the equator, but the fact that whatever you had for breakfast this morning was the result of God at work, too.

I’m not just referring to Him providing the sunshine that enabled your cornflakes to be. I’m also thinking of how He worked through so many people to get it to your bowl. You see, God could have chosen to deliver your food to your front door by Himself, fully prepared. But instead, we see a long human chain that links the farmer to the soil, the truck driver to the marketplace, and the grocery clerk to the cash register. All along the way, from one end of the chain to the other, humans are engaging in the First Commission, whether they realize it or not.

If we continue to follow the chain out the grocery store door, we find men and women who spend 40-80 hours a week at thousands of jobs that generate the dollars paid at the cash register. If we go back to the other end of the chain, where the farmer meets the soil, we discover things that only God can do (like creating sunshine, plants and water), but this doesn’t mean His work is done through photosynthesis alone. God does His work through truck drivers, grocery clerks and bankers.

As humans, we were created to co-work with God, by ruling over raw materials He alone sustains, shaping and molding them (as only image-bearers of God can do) into cornflakes, oatmeal and french toast. Milk comes from cows and grass that God alone sustains, but the process God uses to give you your breakfast is a delightful dance between Himself and human beings.

God sustains the milkman, and the truck. The butcher and the baker, too. These are all means by which God fulfills His purpose for food, His love for people, and His intention for human beings to govern over creation, using the gifts and abilities He provides. That’s what work is all about.

Secular jobs? Think again. The Hebrew word for "work" and "worship" is the same word. Click: avodah.

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Ahhhhhhh...

I don’t think we’ll know the complete answer to why God created humans until we cross through to the other side. Then I think we’ll all look back and say, “Ahhhhhh….”

Thanks to Scripture, we know how we came to be. (Yes, I do believe God formed Adam out of dirt. That doesn’t sound very flattering. The “dust of the earth” sounds better. But not by much.) Yet, this doesn’t answer the really big question: Why did God create humans?

The answer I have heard all my life is: “We were created to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” But this answer has never fully satisfied me. So, I’d like to tweak the question a bit: What role did God have in mind for humans when He created us?

This is much easier to answer, because the Bible tells us exactly what role God had in mind for us to play. His intention from the beginning was for us to govern [steward, rule, have dominion] over Earth and all it contains. Genesis 1:26-28 doesn’t tell us much about the why, but it sure does tell us the what!

This is truly mind-boggling. God created human beings to rule over His creation! I like the way Chuck Colson put it: “On the sixth day, God created human beings—and ordered them to pick up where He left off!” That’s quite a responsibility—and a great honor. Talk about purpose!

This satisfies me. It gives me purpose in mowing my lawn, and ridding it of moles (one of the greatest challenges to human governance known to man, and a sure sign of the curse). It brings meaning to taking trash to the garbage cans, and cleaning drains on the roof. It gives me joy in writing, speaking, consulting and coaching. When I do these things rightly, I feel God's pleasure, like Eric Liddell running a race.

Of course, not every moment is a pleasure. Sometimes I bump into pain that comes with a broken world. Sweating isn't fun. Nor are moles. But I always come back to the realization that I was made for a reason, and I can engage in the call of the First Commission with satisfaction, when building a backyard chicken coop with a friend, or collecting eggs the fowl produce.

Farewell SSD.


Stewarding our four faithful egg-makers.
Which came first? The chicken!
A sure sign of the curse: moles.

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Friday, June 10, 2011

The Earthiness Of The Great Commission

To be cured of SSD [the Sacred-Secular Divide], it helps to take another look at the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20. Revisiting the Great Commission is a healthy thing to do now and then, because it defines the missional identity of the Church.

The Great Commission has a very “earthy” focus. That is, its focus is more on the here-and-now than life-hereafter. Yet, as a child growing up in the church, I translated it this way: “Go everywhere to save souls, so people can go to heaven when they die.”

The Great Commission doesn’t say “make converts,” although baptism certainly implies this necessary step. What it says is: “make disciples.” It doesn’t talk about teaching people to ask Jesus into their hearts, but “teaching them to observe all that I [Jesus] have commanded you.” This observation takes place on Earth, as we are "going."  

In the Great Commission, Christ doesn’t say, “I’ll see you in heaven,” but “I’m with you on earth—‘till the end of the age.” It is the earthiness of the Great Commission that links it so powerfully with the First Commission of Genesis 1:26-28. The Great Commission of Matthew 28 focuses on what happens here, where God wants His will to be done—as it is in Heaven. Jesus is Lord of both realms at once [v. 18].

God has an earthly intention for human beings, and this intention is stated in the first chapter of the Book: to rule over all creation. This involves flying helicopters in logging operations, managing salmon, manufacturing light bulbs, designing software, cutting hair, rearing children, and making breakfast.

The Great Commission is about people everywhere [all nations] observing all He has commanded, in the context of wherever we go. For half our waking hours, this is where we work.

One of the best writings I have seen on the unity of the two commissions [the First and the Great] is in Chapter 6 of Liberating the Laity, by R. Paul Stevens: “Because man failed to keep the first mandate [Genesis 1:26-28], God gave us in Jesus the missionary mandate [Matthew 28:18-20]…But what is seldom understood is that God gave us the second mandate in order to restore the first…We are saved in order to fulfill God’s original intention.”

This leaves no room for the Sacred-Secular Divide.

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Friday, June 3, 2011

The Most Important Occupation Jesus Could Have

When it comes to ridding ourselves of SSD [the Sacred-Secular Divide], it would be helpful if the First Commission [Genesis 1:26-28] was given as much weight by Christian writers, singers, teachers and preachers as the Great Commission [Matthew 28:18-20]. Yet, making this suggestion may cause me to be viewed by some as a heretic.

I can hear it now: “Which is more important, Overman? Flying helicopters to lift trees out of forests so logs can be cut into lumber for building homes, or saving souls?”

But positing this question dichotomously as an "either-or" proposition is like asking, as Al Erisman, co-founder of the Center for Integrity in Business, does: “Which wing of an airplane is more important?”

I still hear push-back: “Which is more important, a house built of wood, or mansion in heaven?”

My response is: “More important to whom?

If I answer the question from the perspective of my own self-interests, a mansion in heaven is more important than a house on Earth. But if I consider the question from the perspective of God’s wholistic interests, I come up with a different answer.

What am I getting at? I suggest we remember Mary’s words to the servants at the wedding of Cana: “Whatever He tells you to do, do it.” Isn’t that our sacred task? As those servants filled pots with water, were they not doing the Lord’s work? 

For eighteen years, the most important occupation Jesus could have was to build furniture and plows, because this is what His Father showed Him to do. Justin Martyr, in the second century, said plows made by Jesus were still being used in Martyr's lifetime. Good workmanship!

The work God wants us to do includes earth-tending and culture-creating. For some, the work of God may be preaching, for others it may be sawing logs into lumber. That's because God wants people to be protected from the elements, and He uses humans to make the shingles. He wants lumber to be moved from point A to point B, and uses truck drivers to do the transporting.

Perhaps the most helpful thing in ridding ourselves of SSD is to view the First Commission and the Great Commission as a single unit. As Paul Stevens wrote in Liberating the Laity: “God gave us the second mandate in order to restore the first.”

We’ll pick up from here next week.

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