Archives For Spiritual Life


My first job out of college was as a staff auditor for a CPA firm.
As far as accounting firms go this one was pretty good, but it only took two busy seasons for me to realize this wasn’t what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. One Christmas Eve, I found myself 3 stories high on a cherry picker in an unheated warehouse doing an inventory count for a manufacturing company in northern Indiana.

  1. Take widget out of one box.
  2. Put hash mark on inventory sheet.
  3. Shiver from the cold.
  4. Place widget in second box.
  5. Blow on frozen fingers.
  6. Lose will to live.
  7. Repeat.

Surely this was some cosmic punishment for sins I didn’t even know I committed! (I was 23, so yes, I was overdramatic).

We experience difficulty, frustration, and purposeless in our work as part of this fallen world, and so most Christians assume work must be a result of sin. It’s an unfortunate reality we just have to put up with here on this earth, but one day “when we all get to heaven” work will be cast into the lake of fire with the devil and all his minions, and there will be much rejoicing!

Nothing could be further from the truth. Here’s a jaw-dropping discovery:

In the beginning there was work!

Work was part of God’s original design for mankind. Before you think this is some conspiracy perpetrated by your boss, I can prove it to you:

Genesis 2:1-3 (ESV, emphasis mine) – “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation…”

(Now look at this….this might be the most important part)

Genesis 2:15 (ESV, emphasis mine) – “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”

We’re in Genesis chapter 2. The tree and the apple and the fall of man doesn’t happen until chapter 3! So what does that mean? Work is not some post-fall punishment for sin, it’s part of God’s original design for mankind. The brokenness with which we experience work is the result of sin, but not the work itself. This is exciting stuff!

Contrary to Warner Bros. cartoon theology (you know, where Wile E. Coyote falls off the cliff and finally ends up floating on a cloud in a robe playing a harp), we weren’t created to sit around and binge-watch Netflix all day. We were created to dream and build and serve and cultivate and problem solve – to make culture and add value to the world around us – we were created to work!

In the beginning, there was work! Work is not punishment, it’s purpose. This is foundational to good work theology. I know the 23-year-old version of me could’ve benefited greatly from this understanding up on top of that warehouse lift all those years ago. But no matter where you are on your work journey, it’s never too late to replant your roots in the truth.

This article was originally posted at The Stone Table, a resourcing community for faith, work, and missions.

 

My first job out of college was as a staff auditor for a CPA firm. As far as accounting firms go this one was pretty good, but it only took two busy seasons for me to realize this wasn’t what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. One Christmas Eve, I found myself 3 stories high on a cherry picker in an unheated warehouse doing an inventory count for a manufacturing company in northern Indiana.

  1. Take widget out of one box.
  2. Put hash mark on inventory sheet.
  3. Shiver from the cold.
  4. Place widget in second box.
  5. Blow on frozen fingers.
  6. Lose will to live.
  7. Repeat.

Surely this was some cosmic punishment for sins I didn’t even know I committed! (I was 23, so yes, I was overdramatic).

We experience difficulty, frustration, and purposeless in our work as part of this fallen world, and so most Christians assume work must be a result of sin. It’s an unfortunate reality we just have to put up with here on this earth, but one day “when we all get to heaven” work will be cast into the lake of fire with the devil and all his minions, and there will be much rejoicing!

Nothing could be further from the truth. Here’s a jaw-dropping discovery:

In the beginning there was work!

Work was part of God’s original design for mankind. Before you think this is some conspiracy perpetrated by your boss, I can prove it to you:

Genesis 2:1-3 (ESV, emphasis mine) – “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation…”

(Now look at this….this might be the most important part)

Genesis 2:15 (ESV, emphasis mine) – “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”

We’re in Genesis chapter 2. The tree and the apple and the fall of man doesn’t happen until chapter 3! So what does that mean? Work is not some post-fall punishment for sin, it’s part of God’s original design for mankind. The brokenness with which we experience work is the result of sin, but not the work itself. This is exciting stuff!

Contrary to Warner Bros. cartoon theology (you know, where Wile E. Coyote falls off the cliff and finally ends up floating on a cloud in a robe playing a harp), we weren’t created to sit around and binge-watch Netflix all day. We were created to dream and build and serve and cultivate and problem solve – to make culture and add value to the world around us – we were created to work!

In the beginning, there was work! Work is not punishment, it’s purpose. This is foundational to good work theology. I know the 23-year-old version of me could’ve benefited greatly from this understanding up on top of that warehouse lift all those years ago. But no matter where you are on your work journey, it’s never too late to replant your roots in the truth.

This article was originally posted at The Stone Table, a resourcing community for faith, work, and missions.

 

It’s hard to jump into a new television series in season 3. You have no context for the characters, why they act the way the do, how they’re connected to one another, or where they’re going. Perhaps you can piece together enough to get your bearings, but you miss so much depth in the storyline by beginning in the middle.

Thanks to Hulu, Netflix, and other streaming services, starting a TV series mid-stream is now a thing of the past. Unfortunately, when it comes to understanding our everyday work from a Christian standpoint, most of us have jumped in at “season 3.” We’re only viewing a small portion of the Grand Storyline. We’ve “started in the middle,” and so we lack context and struggle to find meaning. We don’t know where the story began or where it’s heading, and perhaps worst of all, we haven’t even identified the main character yet.

If we want good “work theology,” if we want to discover how our faith and our day-jobs collide, we have to go back to the beginning. We have to re-discover the origins. We have to place our current reality inside a much Bigger Plot.

When most of us think of faith and work, we primarily think about applying “biblical principles” to our current work experience. We pick out moral teachings on greed and honesty, leadership examples like Nehemiah “rebuilding the walls,” or practical wisdom from Proverbs, and try to implement them like a how-to manual of tips, suggestions, or inspiration. And that’s a noble pursuit.

But ultimately, these efforts are more about trying to write God into our stories rather than understanding we have been so graciously written into His. We are living in the unfolding storyline of God’s Grand Narrative! But our self-absorption zeroes in on our individual chapters, and so we’re never able to grasp the full meaning and depth of what’s really happening or the roles we’ve been designed to play.

Before we can talk about the practical, everyday reality of faith and work, we have to zoom out. Way out. We have to see the whole arc of God’s storyline clearly. If you want more meaning in your work, more purpose in your 8-5, less dread when the alarm goes off on Monday morning, you first have to place your story inside of God’s story.

Creation >> Fall >> Redemption >> Consummation

Why did God create us in the first place? What in the world went wrong? What did God do to fix it? Where is all this heading?

These aren’t new questions or discoveries, they’re recapturing the historical roots of Christianity from which everything beautiful grows. The faith and work journey starts here.

This article was originally posted at The Stone Table, a resourcing community for faith, work, and missions.

 

Humans have a fascinating propensity to swing the pendulum. Like an instinctive throwback to our childhood days on the school playground, we almost find joy in stomach butterflies created by the repetitive back and forth. When we see an area of abuse, misuse, brokenness, or failure, we assume the opposite is the answer. We prescribe to offset the abuse with equal balance, rather than seeking to return it to wholeness and original design.

Not even the Gospel of Jesus Christ is immune to this phenomenon.

I see two main ways we completely miss the message of the Gospel – two swings of the pendulum, two opposite extremes, two ways of taking a portion of the message and turning it into the whole message – and I believe both are hijacking humanity’s understanding of true Christianity.

The first we’ll call Moralism. Or Legalism. Pharisaism (if you like big theological words). This side of the pendulum is typically associated with religious people, and understandably so. But moralism isn’t a religious problem, it’s a human problem.

Moralism screams, “There is a standard and I will meet it! In many ways, moralism the default setting of the human heart. We instinctively celebrate the meritocracy of those who “get it right” and malign those who so obviously and pitifully fall short of the standard. The only problem for moralists is that Scripture clearly says we all miss the standard.

Here are a few ways the moralism side of the pendulum swings away from the true Gospel:

  1. Moralism creates horizontal comparison and always leads to pride or despair. In Luke 18, the Pharisee arrogantly prays, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people.” Last week on our way to dinner, my wife told me I was driving way too fast. My instinctive reaction was to remind her which of the two of us has more speeding tickets! My comparison was no longer with the posted speed limit, but with my wife’s driving record. This is what moralism does. We no longer compare ourselves to the Father’s standard but with other fallen people. When that comparison is favorable, we feel a sense of self-righteous pride. When it’s unfavorable, we fall into shame and condemnation. This isn’t the message of the Gospel.
  2. Moralism dumbs down God’s standard of righteousness to an attainable level. Moralists misdefine sin. They look at outward words and behaviors when Jesus so clearly looked at the heart. The Sermon on the Mount wasn’t good advice from Jesus on how to live a nice, moral life. It was intentionally crushing demands from God incarnate intended to leave us pleading “who then can be saved?” Jesus didn’t lower the standard, he upped the ante! The Gospel does not offer us a dumbed down standard of righteousness.
  3. Moralism makes ME the savior. If righteousness is a standard I can meet, then when I achieve that standard I am my own savior. As a recovering moralist, the Gospel did not really come alive to me until I had lived long enough to realize how huge God’s standard of righteousness actually is and how far short of it I actually fall. The Gospel leaves no room for self-salvation.

But the answer to religious moralism isn’t the removal of morals. The opposite arc of this pendulum is equally off-base. We’ll call it Progressivism. Or Human Enlightenment. Or antinomianism (if you once again like big theological words). If moralism says I will meet the standard, progressivism says I will REMOVE the standard. This swing is typically associated with “secular” people, but unfortunately it finding it’s way into the Church, too.

Here are a few ways the progressive side of the pendulum swings away from the true Gospel:

  1. Progressivism seeks first to remove the standard. Romans 1:21 tells us plainly, “Yes they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship as God or even give Him thanks.” Individuality is one of the dominant gods of our day. When I was a kid, my parents wanted us to stop watching TV and do something together. Now I find myself begging the family to put down their own individual entertainment devices so we can watch a TV show together! Everything is personalized, even our definition of righteousness. And like the serpent in the Garden, our personal preferences whisper deceptively in our ears, “did God really say?” The Gospel leaves no room for self-defined righteousness.
  2. Progressivism always results in the creation of a new standard.And they began to think up new ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused.” (Rom 1:21). The problem with removing God from the equation is that human beings will always worship something. As our individualized worship begins to bump up against one another, a new set of cultural standards develops with new human arbiters. Our God-stamped identities long for the truth, joy, and beauty of His Kingdom, and so we try to create it (without the King). The Gospel leaves no room for other Kings.
  3. Progressivism makes ME the savior. If I can make the standard or just remove it altogether, I become my own savior. Or perhaps I just eliminate my need for a savior altogether. The Gospel leaves no room for self-salvation.

Sound familiar? It should. Moralism and Progressivism are just two sides of the same self-righteous coin. Moralism redefines the standard in a way I am able to meet, progressivism just removes the standard altogether. Both put me at the helm, me at the center, me on the throne. Neither swing of this pendulum is the Gospel. In fact, they’re the anti-gospel.

There are three aspects to what I’ll call a “Wholistic” Gospel:

  1. The Law Crushes. The purpose of God’s Law is not just to give us great advice to live by, it’s to completely destroy any and all confidence in our flesh. If we don’t first grasp the immeasurable weight of God’s Law, then there’s no need for Grace.
  2. Grace Resurrects. As Brennan Manning so eloquently put it, “all is grace!” We are incapable of living the lives God designed us to live without the merciful gift of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is not about making bad people good, but dead people live!
  3. The Spirit Empowers. This is one element often left out of the conversation. Romans 6 tells us that the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead now dwells in us! (Chew on that for a minute). We are now empowered to live lives pleasing to God because His very Spirit dwells in our grace-resurrected bodies. It’s not our ability to meet God’s standard, but His power in us!

This is the good news. The WHOLE Gospel. Jesus Christ has done for us what we could never do for ourselves! Get off the swinging pendulum and find real life in the center of this beautiful Gospel message.

My oldest daughter wrapped up her basketball career with a gut-wrenching last minute loss in the high school state semifinals this past weekend. We knew this day was coming, we’d even talked about it openly, but for some reason no amount of mental preparation was ample enough. I’ve had to (not-so-subtly) excuse myself from more than one room the last few days, not quite sure where all the different layers of emotion were coming from.

We’re sad.

We’re joyful.

We’re grieving.

We’re thankful.

Yes. Thankful.

When we walked into the first meeting before freshman tryouts four years ago, we just hoped Emma could somehow make the team. We weren’t AAU parents. She never played on travel teams or spent time in the offseason at skills camps or with special trainers. We weren’t looking for college scholarships, we just wanted our shy kid to find a place to fit in, to make some friends, and enjoy her high school years.

As I look back, I think that accidental perspective is actually what made the experience so rich. Unlike other areas of our lives, we didn’t see our family as being owed anything. Every moment, from her first cleanup minutes off the bench as a freshman member of the JV squad, to watching her take the court as a varsity starter in the State finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse – none of it was expected. All of it was a gift. A glorious surprise we never saw coming.

I believe one of the key reasons Emma’s basketball career was so deeply fulfilling is because we experienced it with such unforeseen thankfulness.

Entitlement shrinks my world. It makes me selfish and grouchy when my expectations aren’t fulfilled. It creates a barrier between me and others.

Thankfulness opens the floodgates! It deepens my relationships and fills my heart with joy, even when things aren’t unfolding the way I planned.

What if I approached more things in life this way? 

Owed nothing.

Grateful for everything.

I want to experience more seasons of life that are so rich and full that I can’t help but weep when they’re over. What if thankfulness is the secret sauce that just might make that possible?

A few months ago I typed the following words into my MacBook’s screen saver:

“Be thankful today, even for the littlest of things.”

I want to do better. I don’t want to take anything for granted. What my daughter has experienced, the forever friendships she’s made, the incredible young woman she’s become – all of it has been such an unexpected gift.

Thank you Covenant Christian. Thank you Coach Smith and Angie, Coaches Howell, Fish, and O. Thank you to all the parents who have become dear friends, and are still willing to sit next to me in the stands even when I’m yelling irrationally at the referees. Thank you to all the beautiful girls who have loved my daughter so well and given us so much joy.

We’re thankful for it all. Every. Single. Bit. This isn’t the end, it’s a new beginning. Let’s embrace it all with thankfulness. It’s not just the best way to play basketball, it’s the richest way to live.