Category Archives: Worship

Created in the Image of the Creator to Create

Created in the Image of the Creator to Create.

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Working like “The Man”: Balancing God’s nearness and distance in our work.

Working like “The Man”: Balancing God’s nearness and distance in our work..


A Godly Definition of Work

A Godly Definition of Work.


A Personal Story of the Intersection of Faith and Work in My Life

Several years ago a community gathering of Baptist Campus Ministers significantly altered the direction of the ministry at Drexel University.  This particular gathering was a retreat for the ministers from the northeastern United States.  Everyone in our profession from Maine to Maryland was invited.  The intent was for us to come together and pretend we knew what we were talking about, to share stories about what was working in our ministries (or at least what we wanted to be working).  It was a time to talk about the calling of God in our lives with others who are doing the same thing.  There are people who support campus ministry but very few who actually understand it.  This gathering was a small respite available to us to encourage and learn from each other.

For those of you reading this that may identify with not understanding what campus ministry is, allow me a moment to define it.  Campus ministry is ultimately a missionary endeavor.  It is when Christians, whether they are professional clergy, volunteers or students are sent by the church to minister on a university or college campus.  It can be defined as a missionary work because the ministry is in a culture that is not controlled by the church.  The university self determines the over-arching environment on a campus and a campus ministry by necessity fits into that environment.  As the ministry engages the university it will find varying levels of access and acceptance.  As the ministry engages the university it will focus on specific populations of individuals such as faculty, professional staff, administration, and/or students.  The ministry may even focus on only specific student populations entirely like athletes or fraternity brothers, or commuters or African-Americans.  Some of the individuals who best understand what it means to live missionally within the United States are campus ministers.

But I digress; at this particular gathering a colleague of mine, Rev. Dr. David Buschman, the campus minister at Princeton University, presented his dissertation, a project to prepare graduates for their first work experience after college.  Organized around a senior year Bible study, it examined ideas such as ambition, finances, meaning and purpose, time management and other pertinent topics from a Christ-centered perspective.   Although David downplays the importance of his work, it was seminal in my trajectory toward what this blog is about and my intentions to organize these concepts into a valuable discussion on faith and work, on theology and employment, on Christ and career, on your beliefs and your job.

Everyone who ministers to college students needs to prayerfully consider how they are preparing them to for life after college.

As I place that retreat among the other stories within my life I notice three things that contributed to me hearing what David had to say.  I transitioned from youth ministry into campus ministry.  A motivating factor for that transition was the idea that many students “graduate Christianity” when the graduate high school.  There are multiple statistical research projects demonstrating the dropout rate of 16 -26 years olds from church.  I was concerned that my work with teenagers would be useless if someone wasn’t attempting to impact students on colleges and universities.  I was also vocally critical of naïve church based youth programs that never considered how to best prepare students for life after high school.  When confronted with the depth through which David considered preparing students for life after college, I was deeply convicted that I had the same blind spot that I was pointing out in others.  I was solely ministering to college students without realizing that they would only be students for a little while.  I needed to better prepare them for what was next.

A “secular” job could be the absolutely perfect place for you to glorify Christ.

The second major stream was my professional biology experience.  I have a Bachelor of Science in Biology.  I have five years experience work as a biologist in laboratories.  During the day I would do my biology job and then at night I tried to manage my marriage and establish a youth ministry at my local church.  I have a work perspective that most professional ministers do not have.  I know many clergy have to maintain bi-vocational jobs to financially support their callings. That was not what I was doing.  I was doing HIV/AIDS research at the Drexel University College of Medicine.  I was the laboratory manager for research projects that could significantly relieve some major areas of human suffering.  Then in the evenings I would volunteer with the youth ministry.  I was not divided between serving Christ in ministry and working for “the world” or for my own selfish ambition.  I was divided between completely serving Christ as a biologist or as a full-time minister.  I had two amazing opportunities through which I could have brought Christ glory.  I have personally experienced the potential joy that a “secular” job can bring to a follower of Christ.  My experience allowed me to ask questions about, how best to prepare students to give Christ glory through their primary occupation.  I knew it was possible.  I had tasted it myself.

Look for ways that your unique placement by God adds a perspective that can benefit the body of Christ.

The third piece of the puzzle is Drexel University where I serve as the Baptist Campus Minister.  Drexel is a unique system of higher education.  It is dominated by the Co-Op experience.  The Co-Operative education program is an entire system that exalts the internship into a central role of the college experience.  When a stereotypical Drexel student graduates after five years they will have had three distinct six month internships with a company in their field of study.  So this means that while they are attending Drexel they will go through (at least) three resume writing processes, three job searches, three application cycles, three series of interviews, three work experiences, three on-boarding trainings.  This is not including any other part-time or work study job they my pick up along the way or their job search for life after Drexel.  I have the privilege of ministering to students through all of this.  As a leader in my context, I can’t avoid questions about faith and work.  I need to have good answers for those questions.  As I develop good answers to those questions through doing ministry in the Drexel environment I hope to make them available to the larger Christian community as well.

Now as I look back, I see God working on me through my convictions, experiences and context to create an intersection between faith and work.  I am in a wonderful position to explore questions that will greatly benefit my ministry, but may just even bless the entire Christian church.  That is a portion of my story as it relates to faith and work.

How has God been working on you through your workplace experience?  If you have a story please feel free to add your insights in the comments below.


Once Upon a Time

Allow me to tell a story of two brothers.  (I’ve completely fabricated this story while preparing for a sermon, so if it bears any resemblance to you or anyone you know that is just a coincidence and the conviction of the Holy Spirit.  The similarities are unintentional on my part.) The first brother is John.  John works in stocks for a huge financial company in New York City.  He and his family live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania near me.  Every morning John wakes up at 4:30 AM and drives into the other city (NY) so that he can beat the traffic.  If everything goes right he can be at his desk by 7 AM.  John works long hours.  He never gets home before dark.  Dinner is usually very cold by the time he eats it.  John seems to be always working.  He has to.  That is the only way to succeed in stocks.  He loves to work because his job is extremely fulfilling.  John connects what he is doing directly to his clients.  Every time he makes a good investment he feels satisfaction knowing that his client’s future/retirement/college plans/families are little bit more secure.  Every time he makes a mistake he personally feels the loss.  John works this way and this hard because he is a Christian.  Yet, he feels like many Christians judge him because he never has time or energy for church or Bible Study or small groups or family picnics.  John frequently whispers to himself, “God must understand because doesn’t the Bible say something about working diligently.”  Why can’t these other Christians understand that God is okay with John’s schedule?  They don’t seem to mind when John’s tithe check comes in.

 

Discussion Questions:

How would you summarize John’s attitude about work?

 Is it right or is it wrong? 

What are some things from his story do you find convincing? 

What parts of his attitude toward work would you try to adjust?

 

Then there is John’s brother Jim.  Jim is probably a genius.  He can do anything and everything.  Yet he really does nothing.  Jim is working his third mediocre job in the last three years.  He keeps looking for the job that doesn’t interfere with what is really important to him.  He is looking for that job that doesn’t get in the way with his real life.  Jim’s real life is at church.  Jim is the youth leader at a small rural church in Bucks County as well.  He works just hard enough to keep his job.  He makes just enough to pay his bills and give to the church.  But when Jim is working his mind is not there, his heart is not there and you can tell.  He has so much talent but it never comes through at his job.  He doesn’t want to waste his energy on something as trivial as working.  The youth at his church are so much more important.  Sunday nights, Wednesday nights he’s with them.  Saturdays he usually tries to organize something fun.  He has even been thinking about taking a longer lunch break and seeing if he can eat in the local school cafeteria.  Jim feels like this is exactly what God has called him to do.  His brother doesn’t understand.  Jim is tired of his brother’s lectures on diligence and responsibility.  He just doesn’t get it.  If John was committed to God a little bit more he would understand why work is just not satisfying.

 

Discussion Questions:

How would you summarize Jim’s attitude about work?

Is it right or is it wrong? 

What are some things from his story do you find convincing? 

What parts of his attitude toward work would you try to adjust?

 

Which brother do you most identify with and why?

Which brother would be most accepted by your church? 

Which brother would be most accepted by your parents? 

Which brother would be most accepted by your friends?

 

Misconception:  I have never been taught theological understanding about work therefore I do not have a theological understanding about work.

 

John’s and Jim’s theologies effected how they work.  What we believe about God, creation, humanity, sin, right and wrong, etc. will deeply affect the way we think about work.  Although, you may not have a well developed theological understanding about work, you do have one.  Although, you may have never completely thought through how your beliefs affect how you work, they do.


God the Holy Spirit as a Worker

Lesson Four:  God the Holy Spirit as a Worker – We can work like God works Part 3

Quite often the Holy Spirit is the forgotten member of the Trinity.  We often do not emphasize Him.  Or sometimes we focus on what He can do for us at the expense of who He is.  That is the just in the nature of the way the Holy Spirit works.  The Holy Spirit does not function alone.  The Holy Spirit cannot function alone.  Now all the members of the Trinity work in unison. That is not what I’m talking about.  It is not who the Holy Spirit works with but whom the Holy Spirit works on.  The Father created out of nothing but when He created it existed.  The Father’s work is within creation.  We also can see Jesus’ work on the cross in the exterior world.  He died for all eyes to see.  Christ’s work is within history.  But the Holy Spirit works within the confines of others.  The Holy Spirit works in the interior life.   The Holy Spirit works on us and within us.  There is no external manifestation of the Spirit’s work there is only the internal process.  The Holy Spirit’s work is within the person.  The Holy Spirit’s sphere of influence is within the private realm.  I can only know how the Holy Spirit is working on you by how you describe it too me.  This creates confusion and even distrust.

That sounds very familiar.  Many of us have jobs that we feel are overlook, ignored or underappreciated.  How many of us have jobs that solely and entirely facilitate the success of others?  How many of us have jobs that are dependent upon the performance of others?  The entire service industry could very easily relate to the work of the Holy Spirit.

I have worked with students as either a school teacher, youth pastor or campus minister for most of my professional career.  How successful I am, is always measured by the change I produce in other individuals.  I am a good teacher if my students learn what I teach them.  I am a good minister if the students start to grasp lives as a Christian.  My success is greatly dependent upon the interior world of other people.  My father repaired jewelry and watches for his career.  At the end of the day he could tell you the exact number of watches he fixed.  His work was much more concrete than mine.

Just as we see Scripture talking about God the Father and Jesus Christ; God the Son as workers we can also examine the work of the Holy Spirit.  Although there are probably innumerable different possibilities of distinction in the work of the Holy Spirit, I have chosen to focus on two large groups for this study: The Holy Spirit as Convicter and as Enabler

The Holy Spirit the Convicter:

In John 16 we see God the Holy Spirit as the convicter of sin sometimes we look at this in solely a Spiritual way.  However; there are convicting processes in our everyday lives.

John 16:7 – 11 But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

In order for the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin He has to have certain attributes.  First He has to know the difference between right and wrong.  Then He has to be passionate/interested in what is right.  The Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin because the Holy Spirit cares about righteousness.  Finally, the Holy Spirit has to be able to accurately communicate what does not match up to what ought to be.  The Holy Spirit needs to be able to point out what is wrong and to point to what is right.

As we think about working in the image of God we can also think about working like the Holy Spirit.  Our work can be convicting along the lines of the Holy Spirit’s work.  In order for our work to be convicting there needs to be a few characteristics to it.  We need to intimately know the laws, regulations and rules that govern our interactions at work.  What should we be doing at our job?  How should we be doing it?  We not only need to know the rules but we also need to care about them.  We need to care about doing things the right way.  We need to want to follow the rules.  Then we need to communicate what those rules mean and how to follow them to others in a way that is meaningful.

Now I am of the absolutely correct opinion that Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time.  He by far exceeds any other player in the history of the game, however; my father has never understood this.  He has never seen the light.  There have been many occasions that I have tried to convict my father of the error of his ways but he refuses to listen to the truth.

This brings up some interesting kinds of questions when we think about the Spirit’s work and how we can work like the Spirit, especially when we think about our original definition of work. Work is the intentional use of a person’s energy (mental, physical, emotional and/or spiritual) to accomplish a specific change. Can we say that the Spirit is working if it is not producing a change?  Can the change God the Holy Spirit wants to produce be resisted?  Those are huge theological questions that Christians have been debating forever and beyond the scope of this study, but on a more personal level.  Can a teacher say that s/he is working when the students are not learning?  How frustrating is it when work is unsuccessful; when you are unable to accomplish the changes in people that you intended?

How do you point out things that are wrong within your work environment?  How are your actions like the Holy Spirit?  How are they different?

What types of professions would you see as being at their core convictive?

How can your convictive actions within the parameters of your work lead you to worship God?

The Holy Spirit the Enabler/Motivator/Mover/Empowerer:

This is the second description we are used to when refer to the work of the Holy Spirit.  God the Holy Spirit is busy enabling us to act in such a way that is pleasing to God.

Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

In this passage we see that the Holy Spirit gives us power, however, that power can only be known through action.  Would you know that the Holy Spirit has given power if that power was not used for some action?  The action the Holy Spirit empowers is “witnessing.”

Acts 2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Again we see the Holy Spirit fill a person and the evidence of that filling was an action by the person.  Could the action be “faked” and thus produce a false perception of the filling?  Could the filling have occurred without resulting in demonstrable evidence?’

Joel 2:28 – 29

“And afterward,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.

Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

Again we see the evidence of the work Holy Spirit as secondary action the person is doing.  How will we know the Holy Spirit is working?  We only know the Holy Spirit is working because it has empowered the person to do some sort of action.

Are there specific careers that are solely judged by the results they produce through other people’s actions?  Do athletic coaches function in ways that are very similar to the Holy Spirit?

What are some of the characteristics of Holy Spirit’s work of Empowering?  What are some of the necessary skills and attributes Holy Spirit must possess in His person to enable us to be more like God?

Do you see the work you do as requiring the same type of skills and actions that Holy Spirit used when He empowers us?

How do you empower and enable others within your work environment?  How are your actions like the Holy Spirit?  How are they different?

What types of professions would you see as being at their core based on empowerment and enabling?

How can your empowering within the parameters of your work lead you to worship God?


Taking Your Work to Worship

How often do we try to isolate the Sunday morning worship experience from the rest of the week?  I’ve have even said from the pulpit, “Lord, allow us to concentrate on you.  Let us forget all the cares of the previous week.”  As I walk down this journey on a path to fully integrating what I believe with how I work, I’ve come to realize how absolutely wrong that is.  I am purposefully creating a dichotomy in my life.  I am isolate what I see is Holy and what I see is secular.  I am creating a schizophrenic mind when it comes to work and worship, when it come to the sacred and the rest of life.

Now, I believe that there is a place to worship God just for who He is.  This is called adoration.  Adoration is a huge part of worship.  We should be able to worship God no matter the circumstances of our lives.  However; thanksgiving is just as big a part of worship as adoration is.  Thanksgiving is worshiping God for what He has done.  Thanksgiving is simply giving thanks for specific things God has done in our lives.  We should come to worship prepared to vocally give thanks to God for what He has done in our lives within the past week.  If He has given us a job, we should give thanks.  If He has given us success within that job we should give thanks.  If He has allowed our company and our colleagues to be successful we should give thanks.  If He has prevented us from stumbling into failure either financial or ethical we should give thanks.  We should bring our week into the worship service and use it as fuel for our worship!

Following this train of thought for a little bit, led me to another question.  When was the last time God answered one of your prayers for your work?  Which begs a question.  When was the last time you prayed for your work?  Can you pray for your work?  Can you honestly ask God to make you successful in your job?  Do you ask God to help your co-workers, Christian and non-Christian, succeed?  Can you ask God for the success of your company?  Can you ask Him to help your company achieve its purpose?  Why or why not?  Are you working at a company that if they succeed God would be pleased?

I was thinking about this in my own personal life.  Now first and foremost, I work in a Christian ministry so of course I can pray that the ministry succeeds.  I try very hard to make sure that purposes of the ministry are also the purposes of God.  But I also work at Drexel University.  Can I pray that Drexel succeeds in reaching its purpose.  Drexel’s mission statement is:

To serve our students and society through comprehensive integrated academic offerings enhanced by technology, co-operative education, and clinical practice in an urban setting, with global outreach embracing research, scholarly activities, and community initiatives.

There is a lot in that statement that I can get behind in prayer.  I think it would acceptable to God that I can work to help Drexel achieve its mission and have no problem asking Him to join me in that endeavor.  Can you say that about your company?  Have you ever thought whether God would want your company to succeed or not?  If you start praying about your job then you might actually have specific answered prayers to fuel your worship next Sunday.  And instead of leaving your week outside of the worship service, you can bring it in and celebrate!

Now, I understand there may be a huge difference between what your company’s purposes is and the methods they use to fulfill it.  While I have full confidence that God would be pleased if Drexel succeeded in fulfilling its purpose, I also know that he is grieved byt some of the means in which it tries to fulfill that purpose.  This is true for every human entity, including specifically spiritual ones.  You do not have to pray that God blesses the wrong within the system.  You can pray that the system succeeds in achieving good things with good means.