Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Faith and Work


          For many of us the holidays offer a break from normal routines.  A break from work may be just the time to do some reflection on work itself.  I have had a lot of jobs in my life, from white collar to blue collar, from the exciting to the repetitive and the mundane. I wish I could say that I have always had a positive attitude about all my jobs, but the reality is that I have had jobs I hated, and have done work that left me feeling completely dehumanized.  One of the potential tragedies about church ministry is that there can easily become a secular/sacred dichotomy in which my normal work-a-day world has no relation to my faith; there can become a large spiritual gap between Sunday and Monday.  It behooves church leaders to bring some solid teaching for parishioners as to how to deal with living for God in any kind of employment.  The following are some things I have found to be helpful in not only coping with work, but in thriving as a Christian in my jobs.

          First, a Reformed perspective on work has been tremendously helpful for me. The Reformers, like John Calvin, eliminated the long held medieval distinction between sacred work and secular work. They elevated all vocations into a calling blessed by God. All work is significant because God himself engaged in the work of creation. Work also involves, for the Reformers, worship. That is, we worship God through obedience to him in our jobs; our attitude makes work meaningful. Work, furthermore, provides a context for our continual learning about God. Our job, if we let it, can cultivate godliness, moderation, perseverance, and self-control. Thus, any job has the potential to transform us.

          Second, we have opportunities to integrate our faith and work so that we don't end up having a working world and another world outside of work where the two never meet. David Miller in his book God at Work offers four ways of bringing our faith and our jobs together: connecting biblical ethics to concrete applications in the marketplace; seeing the workplace as a mission field to reach the lost; finding meaning and purpose in work through a Christian worldview; and, using my job as a means of personal change through working with others in community and fellowship.

          Yes, all work involves a certain amount of toil and difficulty. But seeing it as the possibility of sharing in the work that God wants to do on this earth can help us in those times when we feel like we are going nowhere. In a day when the level of satisfaction for so many in their jobs is low, we need to recover looking at our vocation from a more biblical point of view. If we can adopt this outlook it can be the means of transforming society for the better and bringing glory to God.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Aliens and Strangers

          It isn’t on the top of the New York Times best-seller list.  It isn’t featured on holiday book lists for Christian stores.  It is a topic that gets scant attention in church literature, and not much focus in a lot of sermons and preacher podcasts.  It isn’t much discussed in leadership team meetings, and might only get mentioned in the narthex after church in a gossip session, oops, I mean as a “prayer request.” I am talking about ministry to people who are "different". That is, the stranger, those that are not in the mainstream. It may be the depressed and withdrawn teenager, the gay individual, the one who is shunned for not being cool, or is just not "right in the head" in some way, the ones who dress differently, and, of course, the unattractive, the not very smart, the inarticulate, the social misfit, and sometimes even the handicapped. Or they might be actual persons from other cultures and nations. The list could go on. My point here is that in building a ministry, these people are usually not included. After all, we don’t perceive that they have anything to offer us.

          This is, quite simply, contrary to the gospel of grace that we preach. A persistent theme throughout Scripture is that of the alien. God told the Israelites to remember the stranger because they once were aliens in Egypt (Exodus 23:9; Leviticus 19:33). Jesus ups the ante by telling us to actively love such persons (Matthew 5:43, 22:39). Paul takes this further by exhorting believers to show hospitality, which is, literally, the love of strangers (Romans 12:13).

          Here are some questions that ought to penetrate our ministry paradigms: Am I in touch with my own strangeness and alien nature? Do I have the capacity to see the image of God in others very different from me? How can I become a voice for the voiceless? Will we struggle to be hospitable to all people?

           James said that true religion consists of caring for orphans and widows (James 1:27). The reason he points these two out is that, when we minister to these type of people, they have absolutely no means of reciprocating and giving back. So, here is grace at its finest: just as God in Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, so we can mirror the very character of the Lord in extending ministry with no strings attached to those who are in need.

          Perhaps we need a different evaluative grid of our personal and corporate ministries. How about if we base our measurements in grace? Who are the strangers God has placed in your life? How may you show hospitality to them?