Every Believer On Mission

I’m not a handyman. In fact, I’m not even close to being handy around the house. There’s a running joke that my wife is more of a handyman (or woman) than I am. I have often expressed my gratitude for being in vocational ministry for it places me around people that can often lend a helping hand, show me what needs to be done, or be hired for the project.

Here’s an observation that I’ve made regarding our culture. We live in a culture of specialists. In the previous generation, like my dad and father-in-law (who both are in their 60s), they were generalists. On top of their day job, they could change oil, replace spark plugs, lay flooring, fix minor plumbing issues, install crown molding, etc. And I’m sure that I could learn many of those things and more—by just watching YouTube—but the problem is that I don’t want to take the time to learn. I simply know there are professionals that can do it and can do it much better than me.

The notion that we live in a culture of specialists—or professionals—has infiltrated the church to the degree that many don’t see mission as their job. Mission, as many see it, is the duty of those who have been “called” or hired.  

But specialization not only hinders everyone from seeing their call to mission, but the idea of compartmentalization does as well. The tendency of our culture to categorize everything, leads to an unintended consequence of the fragmentation of life. In other words, when we don’t have one overall arching purpose that connects each category of life, we tend to see that category stand all by itself. Therefore, mission gets placed into a category. For many churches they see mission as a “program” of the church or something that believers go and do. Mission for some, isn’t seen as something that’s part of the very fabric and DNA of each individual. 

The Bible has a very different view or vision of mission.

Mission is for everyone, everywhere, all the time and to all places (peoples).

This vision of mission can be traced back to the Old Testament. In Exodus 19, while Moses is on Mt. Sinai, God speaks to him and at one point says, “…you will be my own possession out of all the peoples…and you will be my kingdom of priests and my holy nation” (Ex 19:5–6). 

Why is mission for everyone? Because God is on mission to create a people for Himself to reflect His glory—His rule and reign—throughout the created order. We see that idea in Exodus 19 when God expresses, “you will be my own possession….” If God is on mission, and God has created a people for Himself, then those who are part of His people have been grafted into His mission. Therefore, if God is on mission then all His people are born into and on that mission as well.

How is mission everywhere? If God is on mission to create a people for Himself to reflect His glory, He is going to do that through holy formation. Holy formation would involve all of life. Christopher Wright suggests, “The strong ethical demand of holiness in Old Testament Israel meant living lives of integrity, justice and compassion in every area—including personal, family, social, economic and national life” (The Mission of God’s People, 124).

This is why discipleship for New Testament believers should not be divorced from mission. Discipleship is the collision of the imago Deiand the missio Dei—as it is the process of learning what it means to be human after the likeness and image of Jesus. Being thus formed in Jesus, we are having the character of God forged in us that we might be a [holy] light to the world. As a result, how we live in all spheres of life matters missionally. 

If everything is mission, nothing really is mission…right? I disagree. I’ve heard people argue that if everything is mission then mission is watered-down to the point that nothing is mission. Given my broad understanding of mission, I don’t buy it. Why you ask? God tells Moses that His people will be a kingdom of priests. What do priests do? Mediate between God and others. Therefore, God saved a people for Himself forming and forging them into His identity and nature that they might live in a priestly, mediatorial, state between Him and the nations.

Similar language can also be found in the New Testament describing the people of God, a.k.a, the Church. Peter writes, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession…” (1 Pt 2:9). 

Such would lead me to conclude that everything that I do (in all spheres of life) matters to God—as what He is doing in me, He wants to leverage through me. In other words, how I live my life, how I relate to my family, how I treat my neighbor, how I engage the oppressed and marginalized, how I approach work, how I view and use my money, even how I leverage my social media account (and more), all are missional levers that display what God has and is doing in me through the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit.  

In closing, our vision of mission should be more comprehensive—everyone, every sphere of life, and all the time—and not specialized for professionals or compartmentalized as just a branch or department of the church.

But there’s one more thing that fully completes this vision of mission and that is the posture or direction that it takes. While such a vision of mission should first and foremost have a vertical direction—the glory of our King—it most definitely should have a horizontal direction as we direct our lives towards all ta ethne as we declare God’s glory among the nations (Ps 96:3) and proclaim the praises of the one who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Pt 2:9b). It is to this vision of mission everyone is called!

The Ministry of the Towel: Service in the Vein of Jesus

Towels play such a humble role in our lives. We use towels (whether regular or disposable) for a variety of reasons—drying off, cleaning up messes, laying on at the beach, etc. To be honest, I never really think of towels that often, yet they are so ingrained into the rhythms of my everyday life.

This past Sunday I asked the question, “What if towels (regular or disposable) ceased to exist?” How would their absence affect our lives? Not to be overdramatic here, but we would be dirtier, filthier, nastier, and messier. Could you imagine having to drip dry every day after exiting the shower? Could you imagine not having anything to clean the toilet with—especially the one where your 11-year-old has a tough time aiming 🙂

Thus, when thinking about the ministry of the towel, I’m sure we would all agree it makes us go WOW! Towels do so much to enhance our lives for the better.

Jesus, in John 13, takes upon Himself the ministry of the towel. Before sharing the Passover meal, Jesus disrobes his outer garments and wraps a towel around his waist, and after filling a basin full of water begins washing the disciples stinky, nasty, bunion-infested, feet. In doing so, Jesus assumes one of the lowliest positions and postures of the day—a Gentile servant/slave.

But why on earth would he serve like this?

Before answering this question, I think it’s important to understand why other philosophies, religions, and people serve today, which will show the distinction between their service and Jesus’ service (and the kind of service His followers should embrace).

  1. Atheists serve for self-fulfillment and exaltation. Given that Atheists have no over-arching purpose in life other than self-glory and satisfaction, their service—if they do serve others—is for their own benefit and fulfillment.
  2. Most religions who advocate service, do so for the purposes of gaining God’s favor, blessing, and even salvation. They serve not to [ultimately] give, but to [ultimately] receive. They give their time, talents, and treasures—their lives—as payment and penance to satisfy God.
  3. Some serve out of moral compassion. It’s embedded within human nature to have moral compassion since we are created in God’s image. Usually service out of moral compassion is demonstrated in parents, family, friends, or a tragedy—whether natural disaster, terrorists attack, death, etc.—that grips our heart.
  4. Some serve because they are forced or compensated. Some may call this the service industry. We pay people to serve us—massage our feet, clean our hotel rooms, give us manis and pedis, collect our trash, clean our house, wash our car, or cut our grass.
  5. Some serve out of pride. We call these people “posers.” They are trying to be someone they are not. They give the impression that they are a servant, serving at the pleasure of other people, but what they are really doing is serving themselves.
  6. Some serve out of insecurity. We call these people “people-pleasers.” People-pleasers constantly serve others through either their humble acts or their conciliatory attitude. Their motives for doing so is to build up their security (or self-esteem) in the eyes of what other people—whether their boss, friends, spouse, etc.—think of them.
  7. Some serve to get a return. We call these people “shark-investors.” They see others as investments. Thus, they serve others only to the degree of their return, or what they will get back. A phrase that corresponds with this kind of service is, “I’ll scratch your back, if you scratch mine.” Many politicians would fit into the category. They serve people and promise to do such and such in exchange for their support and vote.
  8. Some serve to elevate their position and notoriety. We call these people “brown-nosers.” Brown-nosers constantly serve people in an attempt to be noticed to the degree that something good might happen to them—get a promotion, a raise, or an invitation to be in the “cool” crowd.

These are some of the many reasons why people serve others today. Yet, this is not why Jesus wrapped a towel around his waist and served His disciples by washing their feet. And these are not the reasons why we should serve and love people today. In observing Jesus’ service and love in John 13, there are at least three reasons why Jesus radically and humbly served and loved others. And these become the reasons why we should radically and humbly serve and love others today.

First, our love and service should be in the vein of Jesus’ love and service on the cross. When we serve, we should be demonstrating the way Jesus loved and served people when He went to the cross to die for the sins of the world. As such, our service and love should be sacrificial, selfless, and costly. Our service and love should strive to make Christ known among both our neighbors and the nations.

In addition, our love and service should be done from a place of need not convenience. We live in a culture of convenience; thus, we serve, love, and give if it’s convenient. Yet, this is not the way of the towel ministry of the Jesus. Jesus served from a place of need—seeing that we were sheep without a shepherd, seeing that we were broken in need of healing, seeing that we were separated from a holy God in need of a bridge—and willingly and humbly lowered himself in the most inconvenient way to meet our need!

When it comes to serving and loving our family, friends, church, community, city, and world, we must realize that it will be an inconvenience.

If we wait to radically serve and love people when it is convenient, we will be waiting a lifetime.

Second, our love and service should seek to enhance one’s condition. In other words, those that God has placed around us (be it our spouse, children, co-workers, employees, company, community, orphans, widows, widowers, families, etc.) should be better off as a result of our presence and service in their life. That night when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, practically speaking, they were cleaner. Their lives had been enhanced to some degree.

When we serve and love others, one of the goals should be to enhance or elevate their lives in some way.

Enhancement, or flourishing, can be multifaceted; it can be emotional, spiritual, physical, social, financial, vocational, etc.

For instance, James 5:16, 19 states, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. . . . My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” If one follows this verse, they will be serving and loving another brother or sister to the degree that their life is spiritually enhanced.

Another example of serving and loving to the point of enhancing one’s life can take place when a financial savvy person, who manages their money well, teaches another person how to manage their finances and become a good steward. Through their love and service of teaching and mentoring in the area of finance they enhance and elevate that person’s financial acuity.

Third, our love and service should tangibly demonstrate God’s desire as well as our desire to be in relationship with that person. In other words, Jesus doesn’t call our love and service to be done at a distance, but to be done up close and personal. Jesus tells Peter that if he doesn’t let Him clean his feet than Peter has no share, no connection, no relationship with Him. While Jesus is communicating a deeper truth about the need for continual confession and cleansing that allows Jesus, the gospel, to continually renew us, He is also communicating that the ministry of the towel (love and service) is personal and relational.

Jesus served in such a way that He expressed His deep desire to know us—to be personally and intimately connected to us.

Later in the Gospel of John Jesus exclaimed, “Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Jesus served in such a way that it became a tangible and practical invitation for people to become part of the kingdom and family of God. Thus, our service and love today should be a tangible and practical invitation for people to know us, but even more importantly for people to know our great God and King and become part of His family.

While this type of love and service can take on various manifestations, I ran across a story about Eric Liddell—The “Flying Scotsman” and the famous Olympic gold medalists who refused to run on Sundays—that powerfully illustrates this type of love and service.

What some may not know about Eric Liddell is that he became a missionary to China. While in China WWII broke out. After Japan invaded China, Eric and his family traveled back to Canada for a furlough and thought about just staying there to wait out the war. However, God moved so powerfully in their lives that they simply couldn’t stay in the safety and security of Canada. As a result, they returned to China.

After their return it became extremely dangerous for the family, especially since Eric’s wife was pregnant with their third child. After spending time in prayer, they decided that Eric’s wife and children would return to Canada while he stayed back serving in China. That would be the last time he would ever see his family.

Eventually things got worse in China for Eric and all other foreigners. Since Japan considered them enemy nationals they were sent to an imprisonment camp. While there, without his family, he served the people of the camp. He helped clean the communal toilets for hygiene purposes. He taught the camp school, organized various sports for the kids, and even planned worship services. He also looked after 300 orphans who were in the camp.

As time passed in the camp, people started growing weary of the difficult conditions. Many people became unhappy, selfish, and even started stealing food. However, Eric didn’t. He stayed positive and cheerful, teaching others to love their enemies—including the Japanese.

One of the stories that struck me about Eric Liddell while in this imprisonment camp was about a 17-year-old who had completely worn out his shoes. Knowing that this young man had no shoes Eric wrapped up his running shoes as a gift and handed them to this teenager. The historic shoes that once wrapped the feet of a gold medalist, now had been taken off and put on a 17-year-old teenager with dirty feet.

That’s the purpose of the ministry of the towel. It’s to take off our shoes and put them on other people’s feet! It’s about taking what is so meaningful and special to us (time, talents, and treasure), and imparting it to others. It’s about giving and serving from the perceived need not our personal convenience. It’s about serving at the pleasure of and for the glory of the king!

I’m certain that Eric served and loved people because he felt the same way serving as he felt when he ran…”he felt the pleasure of God.”

The prison camp was better off because of Eric’s presence. That young man’s life was enhanced as a result of Eric’s love and service. In fact, because of Eric’s extraordinary love and service, one man promised God if he survived the war he would become a missionary to Japan. Think about it. One man was so moved by Eric’s life of service and love that he was willing to give his life to go to the country that had caused so much hurt and heartache.

In closing, are we serving and loving in such a way that we point back to the love and service of Jesus on the cross? Are we serving and loving in such a way that it enhances the lives of those around us? And are we serving and loving in such a personal way that we are inviting people to join the family of God?

When we serve and love in such ways we take upon ourselves the ministry of the towel which makes people go WOW—not because of who we are, but because of who Christ is in and through us!

Jack Bauer and Christian Discipleship

I don’t know about anyone else, but I was thrilled to see the show, 24, come back on the air. I remember when the first season of 24 came out—I was hooked. For me, it is easy to get hooked with the 24-hour day format, the intense drama and suspense, and the unstoppable hero, Jack Bauer. Jack Bauer is sort of like the Chuck Norris of the 21st Century. You don’t want to mess with Jack Bauer—even the dark is afraid of Jack. [Ok, I know, that was lame]. As I have begun watching season 9, I cannot help but to draw some similarities between the character of Jack Bauer and (true) Christian Discipleship. Here are six similarites, in no particular order, between the character of Jack Bauer and what true Christian discipleship should be.

  1. Jack is serious about his calling. Whether Jack is officially working for the government, or a government fugitive, he believes his duty is to protect the United States and her leaders, and hold people accountable for their injustices.
  2. Jack is sacrificial about his calling. He willingly offers his life for the sake of others. In fact, he is willing to break the law and break policy to save others, as well as to subject himself to the consequences. He relinquishes his freedom for the sake of others’ freedom.
  3. Jack is determined to complete the mission. I think this is one of the things that resonate with me. It doesn’t matter how tough, difficult, costly the mission, Jack is determined to see it through. And he is willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish the mission.
  4. Jack is caring towards others. Throughout the seasons, he cares about those around him, both his family and his friends. Not only that, I always find it odd that when he holds innocent people hostage he is so cordial and nice to them. He says, “please,” and “thank you.” I could only imagine if that was real life what would be going through people’s minds.
  5. Jack is seen as both a blessing and a curse, a traitor and a patriot. Since his allegiance is to his calling (mentioned above) there are times where the U.S. government sees him as a threat and a nuisance; then when all the dust settles, and disaster is avoided (because of Jack), they thank him personally, privately, or from a distance.
  6. Jack is offensive against the enemy. He understands the enemy, and the threat the enemy poses. Since his goal is to stop the advancement of the enemy’s mission, he doesn’t wait for them to attack, he takes the battle straight to them.

These traits of (the character) Jack Bauer should be traits possessed by followers of Jesus. Just think if believers and churches were like Jack Bauer.

  • What if followers of Jesus were serious about their identity and their calling as the redeemed saints of God who have been called out of the world only to have been sent back into the world to reflect the glory of King Jesus by living and sharing his gospel in all aspects of their life?
  • What if followers of Jesus were sacrificial about their calling and mission that King Jesus has sent them on? What if they were truly willing to pick up their death sentence (the cross) and follow Jesus wherever he leads? What if the church was willing to break their own rules, red-tape, traditions, preferences, and policies for the sake of the glory of God and his mission in the world? What if followers of Jesus relinquished their freedom for the sake of others’ salvation?
  • What if followers of Jesus were determined to accomplish the mission of taking the gospel to the nations? What if we didn’t back down or quit when things got tough, but we pressed on all the more—doing whatever it takes?
  • What if followers of Jesus really cared about others, both in the church and outside the church? What if we treated others with great care, concern, and honor? What if we highly valued the life of others, both spiritually and physically?
  • What if followers of Jesus were really seen as both a blessing and a curse, just as the first century church was? What if we were a blessing to those whom we served, aided, loved, and encouraged; while at the same time we were seen as a curse to those who felt threatened by the influence and impact of the gospel through us?
  • What if we were truly offensive rather than passive in our engagement with the enemy—the god of this world (2 Cor 4:4)? What if we took the battle to him, on his turf, in the larger culture? What if we didn’t operate as if we were on an isolated island away from everyone else, but really lived sent lives individually, corporately, and institutionally? What if we engaged in everyday life, in everyday spheres of life?

If we followed Christ as the character Jack Bauer lived out his calling, I believe the church would see greater results of people coming to know Jesus. I believe the church would see a larger, deeper, and wider impact in their communities and cities. I believe the church would experience the power of God in ways they haven’t seen in quite a long time. As it sits, there are not that many Jack Bauers, nor are there that many workers for the harvest. Nevertheless, it’s not too late to begin right now being this type of church, this type of follower of Jesus.

A Roadblock to Making Wiser and Godlier Decisions

This past Sunday we defined the central hub, or core, of our decision-making process. For believers the central hub of our decision-making was emulated by our great God and King, Jesus, when he prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Jesus prayed this prayer as he contemplated taking upon himself the wrath of God for the sins of the world. Jesus’ decision was the most intense, stressful, troubling decision this world has ever seen, and will ever see. No matter how intense or painful our decisions have been or will be, they will never be like the one Jesus faced in the garden of Gethsemane. Nevertheless, there were five truths we took away from his prayer that can help us define the core of our decision-making. Here they are:

1)   Jesus’ prayer is motivated by a love for the Father. When it comes to our decisions, “What’s the motivation for our decision?” Who do we ultimately want to please in making this decision? For Jesus he wanted to please, honor, and glorify his Father.

2)   Jesus’ prayer reflects the desire to do the will of God. When it comes to our decisions, “What’s the end goal; what do we want to accomplish in making this decision?” For Jesus, in order to please, honor, and glorify the Father he desired to do the will of the Father. The Father’s will became his guide, his directional map, for his decision to take upon himself the wrath of God.

3)   Jesus’ prayer is voiced from a position of glad submission to the Father. When it comes to our decisions, “Who are we gladly, humbly, and joyfully submitting to?” To phrase this question another way, “How’s our attitude in making a decision?” For Jesus, we know that he approached the cross with joy and glad submission to the Father. The author of Hebrews writes, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame….” Paul also writes, that Jesus “being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

4)   Jesus’ prayer, honestly uttered and faithfully executed required great sacrifice. When it comes to our decisions, “Have we sacrificed this decision on the altar of God’s glory?” Or you may ask this question, “How high of a price are we willing to pay to make the best, the wisest, the godliest decision?”

5)   Jesus’ prayer, honestly uttered and faithfully executed advanced the mission of God. When it comes to our decisions, “What mission does our decisions advance?” For Jesus, his decision to embrace the cross—absorbing the wrath of God for our sin—advanced the mission of God in the world.

When it comes to making the best, wisest, godliest decisions there are many roadblocks we face. In short, I want to address one roadblock. Here it is: we have a problem with submitting ourselves to making the best decisions with great humility, gladness, and joy. Every decision, no matter how weighty or how difficult, should be enacted with humble, glad, and joyful submission. However, this can only happen when we are intimately connected with the Father and have a great love for him and his will.

To be honest, I wish this would be something my children would learn. If your children are like mine, when we ask them to do something, the decision to do it is wrought with stomping, huffing, puffing, whining, and complaining. They may make the decision to do what we desire, but not in humble, glad, joyful submission. They make it because we have modified their behavior in some way.

Truthfully, the reason why many believers fail to obey and make the better, wiser, godlier decisions in life is because their “Christianity” has been manufactured through behavioral modification rather than developed through an intimate love relationship with the Father.

In other words, modified “Christian” behavior follows through on the easy external decisions like praying, giving, attending church, reading the bible, or being moral and living a good decent life. These decisions are fairly easy for they are external decisions that do not require a lot of sacrifice, but that can be modified and manufactured. However, the hard decisions are not easily modified. Decisions like, loving others (even those not like us), forgiving others (those who have wronged us), telling others about Jesus, being kind and generous, not blowing up, putting effort into a struggling marriage, asking the question does God want me to stay in this marriage, saying no to a very flirtatious relationship that is dangerous, fessing up to an addiction, honestly assessing our taxes, putting the right amount of hours on our time sheet, saying no to a peer-pressure situation, asking God what job he wants us to take, asking God is this the best use of his finances, how do I respond to this email, how do I respond to this disease, etc.

In these more difficult internal, heart-revealing decisions, the only way we will become more consistent in making better, wiser, healthier, and godlier decisions is if we humbly, gladly, and joyfully submit ourselves to the glory and will of God. This does not come by modifying our external behaviors, but by living in a vibrant, grateful, thankful, and intimate relationship with Jesus. This kind of relationship with Jesus leads to a humble, glad, joyful spirit and attitude.

Does this define your attitude, your spirit, when it comes to you making the best, wisest, healthiest, and godliest decision? If not, you may want to check your relationship with Jesus. 

Means to an End

There’s always a means to an end. For instance, our careers (or vocations) serve as a means to an end. But, to what end do they serve? The end varies depending on the person. For some, that end is money or prestige; for others it can be satisfaction, giftedness, or life’s purpose. When it comes to Jesus, his Word, or his church, have we ever thought about what the end goal is? In other words, what is the ultimate end goal of the means of Jesus being our king, us reading his Word, and us being united with his bride, the church? In all honesty there are two types believers that have the same means, but differing end goals.

The First Type. For some believers the above means (Jesus, his Word, and his church) serve towards the end of self-gratification, personal piety, personal satisfaction, and personal fulfillment. In other words, the end goal of the means is self. The above means that serve to this self-centered end can usually manifest it in people that seem to rest once they are “saved.” There is no urgency to see other people saved; in their opinion they are good—and that’s all that matters.

In addition, this type of believer seems to utilize Scripture as the ultimate self-help therapy, soaking up all the information and knowledge only to apply it to themselves while using their newfound knowledge as a judgement stick against everyone else who is not living like them. As a result they go around beating people with their judgement stick. Furthermore, this type of believer seems to make church all about them—their likes and preferences—as if the church should orbit around their wants and desires. Therefore, if the service isn’t what they think it should be, they can become upset; if the music isn’t what they think it should be, they can become upset; if the programs don’t support or line up with what they think they should be, they can become upset. And when they do become disturbed, their disturbance results in others’ disturbance, because they feel the need to communicate it to others.

In the end, this type of believer views church more as a “place,” a religious vending machine, where they go to get their needs met. The actions, attitude, and emotions of this type of believer speak volumes that the most important thing is not whether or not the gospel is being preached, God is being glorified, people are being saved, but that they are satisfied. To borrow a line from Paul, “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Phil 3:19).

The Second Type. For other believers, Jesus, his word, and his church serve as means to glorify God and partner with him on his mission of redeeming the world as well as a people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. In other words, Jesus, his word, and his church are not means to their end, but means to the end of God’s glory and his mission. While they certainly have personal benefits and satisfaction, the ultimate end of these means has God’s glory and his mission in the cross-hairs. This perception and paradigm shift is contrasted from the first type of believer.

For the second type of believer, their salvation ignites a grace-centered passion that motivates and mobilizes them to want to share Jesus with others. They live with an awareness of lostness and an intentionality of how they can reach and penetrate that lostness. In other words, they are constantly thinking about how they can reach others with the gospel that reached them.

In addition, this type of believer doesn’t view Scripture as a self-help remedy that solely applies to them in an effort to be a “better you,” but understands Scripture as the living Word of Jesus that conforms them into his image with the aim of making them salt and light in the world. In other words, Scriptural intake is not so much about making them (an individual) better, but making them more missional. They understand that God is conforming them into the image of Jesus in the world, in order for them to reflect his glory in a way that displays the gospel and foreshadows his coming kingdom.

Furthermore, those who have this paradigm shift in thinking, view church not as a place they go for spiritual and religious consumption, but view church as a people they belong to for spiritual and missional fueling. Instead of looking at church as a religious vending machine that exists for their preferences, they see church as a people they grow, give, and go with. In other words, they are active and contributive within the life of the people of God (the church).

Jesus, his Word, and his church are a means to an end. If not careful we all, including myself, can drift to viewing Jesus, his Word, and his church as a means to our “personal” end. Having a healthy daily dose of the gospel, reminding ourself of his work in our life and his mission in the world, will help to either move us or keep us as the type of believer that sees Jesus, his Word, and his church as a means for us to glorify God and partner with him in his mission in the world.

My Life: A Clanging Cymbal or Beautiful Music?

If your kids are like mine, at some point they scream. Not only do they scream, but they keep on screaming. It is noisy, loud, obnoxious, and quite irritating. On the other hand, there are times when we are in the car, or at home, where they break out into a beautiful rendition of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” “Burning in My Soul,” or “One Thing Remains,” as well as a host of other songs. As they sing, there is a sweetness, a pureness, and a beauty accompanied behind a a five and seven year old singing.

Today, I am reminded how important it is for our lives, the way we move, live, speak, act, and respond in and to this world to match up with the beauty and glory of what we believe. If we believe that Jesus is the King of Glory who has come to set things right–in this world and in our lives–it is imperative that we allow him to live through us in this world. If not, what happens is that our lives, our actions, our responses, our movement, and our speaking becomes like the noisy sounds of children yelling at the top of their lungs. And we all know, there is nothing beautiful, harmonious, and sweet about that. If our lives are lived like a noisy sound of a child yelling, there will be this constant rejection and ignorance of Christ based upon the noise coming out of his children.

However, on the other hand, if our lives become this sweet, pleasant, harmonious sound of children singing, we may gain the attention of those around us. In fact, we may peak their interests enough (through the way we live, move, act, speak, and respond in an to the world) that they want to hear more about the origin of the songs coming from our life. When we do, we will be able to tell them that our sounds, our singing, our living come from our great God and King, Jesus.

So, the question becomes how can we make sure that our lives are not a clanging cymbal, but a sweet, pleasant, harmonious sound of praise emanating from our lives? Paul gives us the answer in 1 Corinthians 13. The answer is simply love. We can have all the spiritual giftedness, understand the Bible backwards and forwards, give as much money as we want, sacrifice to great lengths for spiritual advancement, but if we do not have love, we are just a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” Therefore, for our lives to be sweet, pleasant, and harmonious we must love. And our love must be vertical before it is horizontal. We must love God with all our heart, soul, and might, so that we may love our neighbor as ourselves. For when we love God, his love flows through us as a beautiful symphony of praise, disseminating beautiful music from all areas of our life.

In conclusion, are you, the way you are living, a noisy gong and clanging cymbal like that of a screaming child, which is leaving a bad aftertaste in the mouths of those who do not know Christ? Or, is your life a beautiful symphony of sweet, pleasant, harmonious music like that of a young child singing their little hearts out, which is spreading the life, light, and love of Christ? May our lives produce the sweet, pleasant, harmonious, beautiful, and powerful music of Christ and how he is reversing the curse of sin and conforming our lives as he intended them to be. I think we will come to find that people will respond much better to this music rather than the other.

Imaging God in our Work

This past Sunday in my message I spoke to the fact that part of our function as image bearers—created in the image of God—was to participate in work, or in culture making. When God provides Adam and Eve with their tasks, one of them included “subduing” the earth as they were being fruitful, multiplying, and filling the earth. “Subdue” is a very strong word signifying that humans are to take the raw materials of the world and with intensity and intentionality cultivate. This function of cultivation—subduing the earth—mirrors and reflects what God did earlier in the Genesis narrative. He takes the shell and framework of the created order that he created, namely the heavens and earth, and begins to bring shape, clarity, definition, and filling to it. In other words, God goes to work. His workweek consisted of a six-day workweek with a rest on the seventh. In addition, after each day of work he declared what he had done, good; and on the final day of work, he looked around at the completed canvas and declared it very good.

I believe that the creation account including God’s creation of the created order as well as God’s creation of man in his image and providing them functions brings great clarity and understanding to our work/vocation today. Our work is a function, a task, by which we as image bearers of God reflect the goodness and glory of God. It is a way in which we are distinct and special from all other creatures and aspects of his creation. In addition, our vocational function is good. Work is not evil; work is not a result of the fall, or the sin of man. Work originated with God and existed prior to the fall. Therefore, we can rest assure that what we do vocationally and culturally is inherently good. With our work and vocationally being inherently good as well as a function of imaging God, work therefore should be meaningful, purposeful, satisfying, and fulfilling. Furthermore, our work should be done with the perspective of how it benefits and blesses others. In other words, our work should be exercised for God’s glory and the world’s good.

But how can we know that we our honoring and glorifying the Lord with our work, or with our vocation? In other words, how can we know that we are imaging God in our work? I think there are at least six ways we honor and glorify God in our work and vocation.

1)   In order to honor and glorify God in our work we must guard against entering into a vocation or work, or guard against going to work simply for a paycheck. While I completely understand that we must provide financially for our needs and the needs of our family, this cannot be the fixed object by which our work and what we do revolves. If so, we have made an idol out of both work and money. We are worshipping the work for what it provides, while at the same time worshipping the money by which we earn. I believe that in order to honor and glorify God with and in our work (even if it is not our first choice), our central purpose—the fixed object of which our work and money revolve—must be the glory of God. We must work unto and for him, thus working in a manner that both pleases and honors him. Therefore, work is so much more than a paycheck, or something that we have to do to make a living. It is something that has great dignity and value. As Tim Keller has written, “We were built for work and the dignity it gives us as human beings, regardless of its status or pay. . . .  And every Christian should be able to identify, with conviction and satisfaction, the ways in which his or her work participates with God in his creativity and cultivation.”

2)   Having a passion for what we do is another way we can honor and glorify God in our work. How one’s love and passion are displayed stems from the desire to enhance what you do and make it better. In other words, you want what you do to be done with excellence. When it comes to God’s work in creation, he didn’t withhold his best. He brought creation into existence and went to work making it better, more functional, more harmonious, and more beautiful. You could say that God enhanced creation and made it better. Thus, his desire to enhance and make it better stemmed from his love and passion for the created order. When we think of how many hours we spend at our work or vocation, which can be in the upper range of 60-70+ hours, I pray that it is something we love doing. [I am well aware of the fact there may be a season, or seasons, in one’s life where they have to work in a job they may not necessarily would have chosen, but does so in order to provide, or in order to get to where they believe God wants them to be. In fact, there may be people that feel stuck in a job they would not prefer.] Even still, I believe we should approach our work with a love and passion, which leads to our work being done with excellence. If we don’t have a passion, a love for what we do, or for the very essence of work itself, it will be difficult (although not impossible) to approach our work with excellence as well as a desire to enhance it—thereby reflecting the goodness and dignity of work.

3)   Giving our best is another way in which we can honor and glorify the Lord in our work. If we don’t approach our work with the intention of giving our best, or giving our all, then we fail at reflecting the Lord. Not only does the Lord give his best in his creation, but he also gave all in the work of redemption. Not only does giving our best (our all) glorify God, but giving our best also honors our vocation as well as our employer. When it comes to our work our expectations should be higher on our self than any other person would put on us. This means even if we have a bad boss or leader over us, we give our best to the Lord. As Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians, “Slaves (or servants), obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Col 3:22-24).

4)   Seeing how our work helps, benefits, and blesses others enables us to honor and glorify the Lord. This idea stems from the purpose of our existence—for God’s glory and the world’s good. Therefore, we should see how our work does good in and for the world. From construction to counseling, from dentistry to doorman, from stay-at-home-mom to salesman, we should see how our work and our vocation blesses, benefits, and helps others. As we remember the good our work does in and for the world it gives us the perspective that we are not serving ourselves but rather the Lord and others. Take a second and think about how your work and vocation blesses others.

5)    Looking for ways we can manifest and advance the gospel in our work and vocation can also enable us to honor and glorify the Lord. Manifesting the gospel in our work and vocation means that we look for ways to be redemptive and distinct in our work. In other words, we are looking for ways that the gospel should change our work and/or our work habits. Advancing the gospel in our work and vocation means that we are looking for ways to share the gospel with those God places around us. This allows us to see that we do not have to be in “vocational ministry,” nor do we have to go on a “mission trip” to live a life on mission. God has intentionally and purposely gifted us talents as well as planted us where we are to live a life that manifests and advances the gospel. It is absolutely false and a lie that God cannot use you to advance his mission in the world there in the workplace, or the marketplace. There is no such thing as the dichotomy between the sacred and secular. God is just as alive and active in the workplace as he is in our corporate worship services, community projects, and structured mission trips.

6)   Living in a state of gratitude and thanksgiving for our talents and gifts, as well as our work, allows us to bring honor and glory to God. James writes that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” I would contend that “every good gift and every perfect gift” would include our work, talents, and gifts that God has granted us. Therefore, as we work in the world for the glory of God and the good of others we are constantly thanking and praising God for his gifts and talents he has bestowed on us.

For extra reading on Work and Vocational Calling see:

–       Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work. New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2012.

–       Gene Edward Veith Jr., God At Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2002.

–       Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2008.

–       R. Paul Stevens, The Other Six Days: Vocation, Work, and Ministry in Biblical Perspective. Grand Rapids, MI: William Eerdmans Publishing, 1999.

–       Mark L. Russell, The Missional Entrepreneur: Principles and Practices for Business as Mission. Birmingham, AL: New Hope Publishers, 2010.