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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 29, 2012

Does God Care About Hardwood Floors?

We live in a fallen, broken world, yet God has not abandoned His stuff. It is His intention to restore it, as it says in Col. 1:19-20, to “reconcile all things to Himself, whether things on earth or things in heaven…”

The God of the Bible is the God of the physical as well as the spiritual. He is the God of the temporal as well as the eternal. He is fulfilling His purposes in both the perishable as well as the imperishable. To think His works are of value in the eternal realm but not in the temporal, is to fall short of appreciating His full purposes for both heaven and earth. He is out to do His will in both.

There is a tendency to value the eternal, spiritual aspects of reality so much that, even if by implication, we downgrade the temporal, physical world of the here-and-now. While this goes well with Plato, it was never a hallmark of the ancient Hebrew. [See http://youtu.be/KBd9mB2S6S0.] The First Commission of Genesis 1:26-28 is a call to engage with the material world, as co-workers with God.  

We usually think of “worship” as something we do at church on Sunday morning. But could a man also be engaged in legitimate worship by sanding a hardwood floor on Monday morning?  I’m not talking about whistling a worship song while he’s working. I mean, could a man be engaged in authentic worship through sanding wood?  Could sanding wood be “the Lord’s work?” Or is the committed Christian more likely to think, “someday I’ll quit this job and go into the ministry!”

It boils down to some simple questions, like, Does God care about hardwood floors? Does He care about building houses, or manufacturing good electric sanders? Does He really want these things done?

Jesus said He only did what the Father showed Him to do. Did that arrangement only get started at age 30? It appears the Father showed Jesus to do carpentry for about six times longer than He showed Him to do preaching and teaching.

Justin Martyr, in the second-century, reported that people in his day were still using plows made by Joseph and Jesus. It must have been quality workmanship! Yet these plows are not used today. Does that mean Christ’s carpentry had no real value, because His plows haven’t lasted 2000 years?
I think the Father really wanted the carpentry done in the day Christ did it.

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Friday, June 22, 2012

The One Big Idea With The Greatest Effect

If someone wanted to counterfeit a $20 bill that would pass the toughest test, the most convincing forgery would be the one that most closely resembles the original. Deception is best accomplished by creating something false that looks like something true. As someone aptly put it, “The most convincing lie is the one that comes as close as possible to the truth.”

If certain widely-held ideas are assumed to be true when they are actually false (similar to counterfeit twenty-dollar bills being passed around by common folk like you and me who think we’re handling the real thing when we’re not), these are particularly difficult ideas to detect and correct.  

If I had to name the one big idea with the greatest effect in keeping followers of Christ from “seeing their shop as well as their chapel as holy ground,” it would not be the atheism that arose in the 19th Century, nor the Secular Humanism that came into play in the 20th Century. These lies are too obvious.

It would be the dualism that has been around since the days of Plato, and has plagued the church, off and on, for centuries. It is a problem as common as a twenty-dollar bill. It is such a deeply ingrained part of our culture that most of us grow up taking it for granted.  

What’s dualism? It’s a way of seeing that divides reality into two separate arenas with a gap between. Dualism separates “public” life from “private” life, it divides the “material” from the “spiritual,” and the “body” from the “soul.” It separates “facts” from “values.” It disconnects the “temporal” from the “eternal,” and splits the world into “secular” and “sacred” compartments. Dualism is the opposite of wholism, and what makes it so difficult is that it is close to the truth.

Yes, it is true some things last forever while other things do not. We can distinguish between the temporal and the eternal, the physical and the spiritual, the seen and the unseen.  Yet all of God’s works, the temporal and the eternal, the spiritual and the physical, are integral parts of a one complete whole, sustained by a common Creator who upholds them all (Heb. 1:1-3). It’s all His stuff. It all has value. It all has purpose. Even the temporal stuff.
Why is this important?

To be continued…
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Friday, June 15, 2012

Sifting Through Truth And Baloney Takes Effort

Darrow Miller, in his superb book, LifeWork: A Biblical Theology for What You Do Every Day, describes the split between the spiritual and the physical that exists within evangelical Protestantism as evangelical Gnosticism. He says this dualism is especially evident when Christians emphasize "spiritual" activities like prayer and Bible study, and see "professional" ministry as the one truly satisfactory way to live out our Christian lives. Evangelical Gnosticism views the things of this physical, temporal world as unimportant, and working in fields that deal with matters like the environment, government, art, justice or public health is a less-than-Christian calling.

I can really relate to this, because my own background led me to tell my Mother, when I was about twelve years old, that there are only two professions in life worth doing: being a pastor or a missionary. I do not recall any church leader saying this outright. But I picked it up between the lines. I recall the rationale behind the statement I made to Mom: saving souls was the only work worth doing in this life. Everything else was a waste of time. Eternity is all that matters.

When I sang songs like "turn your eyes upon Jesus...and the things of earth will grow strangely dim...," I lumped Miller's list (the environment, government, art, justice and public health) into the "things of earth," along with everything else that had to do with this temporal world. One of the favorite songs of my youth group was, I'll Fly Away: "Some glad morning, when this life is o're, I'll fly away..."

Gnosticism, as Miller points out, developed prior to Christianity. It claimed that the physical world was evil. This material world was something to escape. Later, some Christians attempted to mix Gnosticism with Christianity, going so far as to deny Christ had a physical body. This false teaching was addressed by the Nicene Council of AD 325.

While such views like denying Christ's physical body are not held by evangelicals today, the broader idea that this material, temporal world is of no real value, and of no real importance to God, is widely held. The challenging part about evangelical Gnosticism is that there are some elements of truth in the mix. Sifting through truth and baloney takes effort.   

I'll attempt to do a bit of sifting over the next few posts. Bookmark and Share

Friday, June 8, 2012

Both The Spider And The Angel

I first came across the word “wholistic” (spelled with a “w”) through the work of Darrow Miller, the author I recommended last week, who wrote the exceptional book,  LifeWork: A Biblical Theology for What You Do Every Day. The “correct” way of spelling “holistic,” of course, is without the “w.” The word “wholistic” will show up as a misspelled word in your computer spellcheck. But I really like the link between the word “whole” and the word “wholistic,” because the word “whole” carries a powerful message. The word “whole” has everything to do with one’s ability to bring extraordinary meaning to ordinary, everyday work.

One of the great keys for bringing meaning to everyday work (and one of the truly great motivators behind practical Christianity in general), is the ability to “connect the dots.” By that I mean, the ability to see how the lifting of a shovel, the pressing of plastic on a keyboard, and the turning of a taxi steering wheel, all connect to something much bigger. Taking a “wholistic” approach to our everyday work involves seeing how what we do directly connects with the bigger picture of God’s purpose for creating people, and His purpose for creating things, including the material, temporal things that surround us on a daily basis. It’s all His stuff.

A wholistic view allows no unholy bifurcation between our life in this present world and our life in the world to come. A follower of Christ with a wholistic view will see both the physical and the spiritual, the temporal and the eternal, as equally part of God’s domain. Both the spider and the angel are equally His. Christ sustains it all (Col. 1:16-17), by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3), whether it’s in the here and now, or in the world to come. He does this for His purpose and His glory, whether in heaven or on earth, whether now or in the future. It is this sort of wholistic theology that allowed George Swinnock, the seventeenth century Puritan English Pastor, to say, “The pious tradesman will know that his shop as well as his chapel is holy ground.”

Yet this theology of work is rarely on the minds of Christians in the workplace today. The problem, Miller maintains, can be traced to what he calls, “Evangelical Gnosticism."

Evangelical Gnosticism? I'll share what Miller means next week. Bookmark and Share

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Christian Faith Seems To Be Unable

I'm currently re-reading Darrow Miller's excellent book, LifeWork. In it, he relates the following:

"A number of years ago, a missionary to the Philippines met with some young people who were thinking of joining the Maoist rebels. The missionary asked the leader of the group what he had found so compelling in Maoism that he could not experience in Christianity. The young man's answer proved a profound critique, not of Christ and his claims but of the reality and practice of Christianity today:

'Maoism provides us...with four essential things: (1) a unified and coherent vision of the world, history and reality; (2) a definite goal to work for, live for, and die for; (3) a call to all people for a common fraternity; and (4) a sense of commitment and a mission to spread the good news that there is hope for the hopeless. The fact is that the Christian faith in all its beauty seems to be unable to provide us with such a vision.'

"Sadly," Miller continues, "the missionary watched these young and idealistic people turn their backs on what they know of Christianity and embrace something that would lead to their destruction. But why?"

Good question!

Miller maintains: "The very things the young Filipinos and much of the rest of the world are looking for--a coherent view of reality, something to live for and die for, a sense of community, and something that would bring hope to the hopeless--are nothing less than what they were made for and what Christ gave himself for: the kingdom of God. The world is waiting to see this kingdom demonstrated through our lives and in our daily work."

Why would a young man say the Christian faith seems to be unable to provide as compelling a vision as Maoism? This is a question Miller explores in depth, and addresses straightforwardly in  LifeWork.

"Often," he says, "our lives as Christians are ineffective because we have reduced the gospel to good news for eternity and have forgotten the good news for today. Too often we understand our lives as having two distinct separate parts: the spiritual part of life and the rest of life, our time in religious activities and our time at school or work. We have reduced Christianity to the personal and private sphere, living everyday lives little different from those of others in our society."

More on Miller's book next week. Bookmark and Share