Monday, March 30, 2009

Being A Community Of Grace

Here is a good article from the folks over at The Resurgence:

Communities of Grace vs. Communities of Performance

By Tim Chester

I was recently asked to speak on communities of grace. So I got to thinking: What is the opposite of a community of grace? And I came to the conclusion that it's a community of performance. Communities of performance may talk a lot about grace, but they value performance—Christians who have it all figured out, churches that run smoothly, meetings that are accomplished. And so they communicate that what matters is that you perform well.

So is your community a community of performance or a community of grace? Try these diagnostic tests:

Communities of Performance
  • The leaders appear to have it all figured out
  • The community appears respectable
  • Meetings must be a polished performance
  • Failure is devastating, because identity is found in ministry
  • Actions are driven by duty
  • Conflict is suppressed or ignored
  • The focus is on orthodox behavior (letting people think they have it all figured out)
Communities of Grace
  • The leaders are vulnerable
  • The community is messy
  • Meetings are just one part of community life
  • Failure is disappointing but not devastating, because identity is found in Christ
  • Actions are driven by joy
  • Conflict is addressed in the open
  • The focus is on the affections of the heart (with a strong view of sin and grace)
In performance-oriented churches, people pretend to be okay because their standing within the church depends on it. But this is the opposite of grace. Grace acknowledges that we're all sinners, all messed up, all struggling. And grace also affirms that in Christ we all belong, all make the grade, all are welcome.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Redeeming Work, Part IV

At work, we all have good days and bad days. On the good days, you’re productive, and you’re energized by your work. You go home feeling great.

On the bad days, it takes you (at minimum) a couple of hours to get focused and convince yourself that you should get something done today. But you’re not very productive, and you’re definitely not energized by your work. You fulfill your duties and responsibilities, but just enough to get by.

So there is this tension between how we actually work and how we ought to work. We know how we ought to work, but this knowledge just doesn’t seem to be motivating us. How we actually work seems to be more like the flip of a coin: maybe we’ll have a good day, maybe not. What does the Bible have to say about all of this?

In Colossians 3:22-25, Paul writes to some slaves who were serving in households set in a first-century Greco-Roman world. They were powerless to change their status in life. Yet they were also essential to the household, and the household was seen as essential to society. In light of all this, how ought they to work for their masters?

In v. 22a, we see that the slaves were tempted to do the same thing that we do on our bad days: just enough to get by. The natural work ethic was to work hard only when their master was looking, or to win his favor.

Over against this natural work ethic, Paul issues a call to seamless living, to a life where one’s actions and attitudes are in alignment. In v. 22b, Paul instructs the Christian slaves in Colosse to work for their earthly masters “with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.” This is a call to be the same person when the master is watching as when he is not.

Godliness in the workplace is a call to seamless living. But you cannot expect to cultivate godliness in one area of your life (work) when it is absent from other areas of your life. Therefore, we must submit to the Holy Spirit’s work in sanctifying our whole person.

In v. 23, Paul goes on to say that we should do our work wholeheartedly, as unto the Lord and not unto men. Sometimes we are tempted to work as unto our boss or our co-workers or ourselves or Mammon (the personification of greed).

But consider this: if we do not work as unto the Lord, it is only because we do not see him as a worthy Master. So ask yourself: do you view Jesus as a worthy Master?

Godliness in the workplace is a call to seamless living. And why ought we to live a seamless life? Because we have one Lord (Jesus) who is Master over all of life.

In v. 24, Paul points to eternal rewards as evidence of (and motivation for) our sanctification. To be “holy” or “sanctified” means to be (1) set apart, (2) whole or complete, and (3) ordered according to God’s design. The work of the Holy Spirit is to make us whole. Only as we submit to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives can we live our lives as unto one Master, the Lord Jesus.

Godliness in the workplace is a call to seamless living, to a life lived without the seams between work/play, public/private, sacred/secular, and all the other categories that we make up.

Imagine if we began to live this way. Imagine if we each began to submit more fully to the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, leading us to live more integral lives. What would this look like?

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Redeeming Work III: Choosing the Right Job

(Disclaimer: the podcast is probably better than this outline by the grace of God)

How do you choose the right job? This is a plaguing question these days since people are extremely mobile and most have a new career every 5 years. This is partially culture, but more so indicative of people trying to find the perfect job. Hardly the dream we all had as kids. We all wanted to be firefighters, astronauts, football player, actor or actress, etc. We want to be good at what we do. We want to do something of significance and some of us want to shoot for the stars.

But reality is a little different, remember this commercial?

1) Work is a part of your identity
Part of the struggle is that work is a such a large part of our identity. How we describe ourselves and how we evaluate ourselves. In the Bible, everyone had a job. Abraham was a rancher, Noah was a shipbuilder and a farmer, David was a shepherd, a king, and a general, Jesus was a carpenter, Peter was a fishermen, Paul made tents, Luke was a physician, etc, etc, etc. Apart from Aaron and his sons, no one was just a “full time ministry.” The truth is there is no division in scripture between one’s secular job and ministry! We Protestants have fallen into the same error of the medieval Catholic Church’s division between “laity and clergy.”

What should characterize your work? Not lazy, you should have a time of rest and not work seven days a week. It should be characterized by high quality and for the common good. Lastly, it should be guided by God.

2) Knowing the Will of God

The primary passage for us to focus on is Rom 12:1-2. After previous 11 chapters of Romans Paul give an overview of Christian beliefs and from 12 on, he gives the ethical implications, beginning in verse 1.
(NIV) 1Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

This brings up the question, what are the sources for knowing God's will?
I took this list from a chapter on "Vocational Counseling" in Collins, G. R. (2007). Christian counseling: A comprehensive guide (3rd ed.) Nashville, TN: Nelson.

i. Christian maturity and character (my addition in light of Rom 12:1-2)
ii. Family and Friends
iii. Interests
iv. Aptitudes/Talents – things you have a capacity to become good at
1. Career match tests rely on the assumption that what you are good at you enjoy.
2. God’s redemptive work in my life has made me realize I am good at things I didn’t used to enjoy.

v. Skills – things you have learned to do proficiently
vi. Values
vii. Circumstances, for many of us nothing is holding us back, but not so for many others who simply do not have the opportunities most of us have.
1. Luxury of western life to even think about this
2. some Minorities and the poor do not have opportunities that many in upper classes have. It is a tremendous blessing to even have such opportunities.

viii. Scripture (my addition)
ix. Prayer (my addition)
x. God – this brings up the issue of calling (thus, to the rest of the outline)

3) The Call of God

There are four components to how discerning calling is described (this too, is from Collins, but I have seen it in many other places).
Those four are: 1. Recognition of a Need, 2. Strong desire to meet the need, 3. Ability to fill the need (not your talent, but willingness to use gifts for his purposes), 4. Growing impression of one's life's work.

Os Guiness in his excellent book, The Call gives some helpful ways to understand calling properly.
1 - Corporate and Individual, your individual calling is subordinate to the corporate calling of God's people and his kingdom purposes.
2 - Special and ordinary, supernatural calling of some vs. the ordinary calling of us all. We all have one, but we all don't get a "writing on the wall" moment. For many, it is just a burning conviction within us providentially guided by God.
3 - Central and peripheral, there are some pieces of one's calling that are essential and other that are not. To find work that fits perfectly is a blessing not a right but do its central components fulfill your greatest desires.
4 - Clarity and Mystery, through living a Christian life "be transformed by the renewing of your mind", clarity will come slowly. Yet, as Os says, you shouldn't be able to describe your calling in a single sentence. there should be some mystery and vagueness to it, so you keep pursuing it.

5) Offer Your Whole Lives as Living Sacrifices
Your work as Os says, is to give your whole life of service, to play before an Audience of One. God alone is your audience. Remember the song, "Little Drummer Boy", you play your best all the time for Him, and him alone. God will give you the grace to play your best no matter your circumstances (1 Sam 10:6-7).

Be renewed by the transformation of you mind - this is analogous to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness (Matt 6:33). Erasmus had a great quote on this, “If we would bring the Turks to Christianity, we must first be Christians.” In seeking his kingdom, to be more like Jesus, in offering our whole lives to God in everything we do, we will know the will of God. We must not become prideful in this. If you have success it is the grace of God not your own talent. Chesterton has a great quote, “For if a man can say, ‘I like to find something greater than myself,’ he may be a fool or a madman, but he has the essential. But if a man says, “I like to find something smaller than myself,’ there is only one adequate answer – ‘You couldn’t.’”

6) Conclusion
God’s will for your life is to serve him with the whole of your life and to live it in a manner worthy of the Lord Jesus Christ. He has given you a wealth of resources to discover this, but mostly you need to be transformed to think biblically and theologically about the whole of your life! Your pursuit of fulfilling God’s call on your life is to live faithfully and carry out his redemptive plan. What you do is not nearly as important as how you do it. 1 Sam 10:7; Col 3:17

Os Guiness – “The problem with Western Christians is not that they aren’t where they should be but that they aren’t what they should be where they are.” The key to finding the right job is to live the Christian life faithfully.

Monday, March 9, 2009

You Are Invited To...

Be sure to join us for a night introducing Chris & Cassie's church planting movement! Here are the vital stats:

Day: Friday, March 20

Time: 6:30-8:00pm

Place: Bear Valley Church
10001 W Jewell Ave.
Lakewood, CO 80232

Check out the website for more information.

Reading Round-Up

First up, be sure to take some time and visit the website for Chris & Cassie’s church planting movement in San Jose!

Here is something in the arts: Have you ever seen the piano played like this? Incredible.

Pastor Mark Driscoll in Seattle is doing a short series on people in church history who started their public ministry at a relatively young age. Check it out: Part I and Part II. In more contemporary times, Driscoll himself started Mars Hill Church when he was 25-years-old. Likewise, Pastor Rick Warren in California started Saddleback Church when he was just 25-years-old.

Smithsonian Magazine has a fascinating article about an archeological site that is being dated at roughly 6,000 years before Stonehenge, which is quite significant. The site is also thought by some to be located at or near the biblical location of the Garden of Eden. What do you think?

A recent survey shows that Denver non-profits are getting squeezed on both sides. “85 percent of Denver-area nonprofits are getting greater demand for their services, 44 percent are faced with declining donations, and 29 percent already have cut staff.” This is sad news, since non-profits are good for everyone. It also represents an opportunity for each of us to live more generous lives by giving sacrificially.

Beginning this year and expanding in 2010, Denver is taking part in “a new philosophy of going.” It should be interesting to see if this catches on.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Redeeming Work, Part I ... (better late than never!)

The top three activities that consume the time of Americans, in order, are (1) sleeping, (2) working, and (3) watching TV. (For more information, see the 2007 American Time Use Survey.) In fact, among working Americans, the average workweek is 53 hrs/wk.

Here at Regeneration, all of us fall into one of three categories: (1) You have a job, but it is not your dream job; (2) You have a job, and it is your dream job; or (3) You don’t have a job, but you would like to have one in the future.

Because work is such a big part of our lives, we are spending seven weeks looking at what the Bible has to say about this important subject. What is a good theology of work for God’s people?

The Bible begins with God working. Genesis 1:1 reads: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” In the beginning, God was productive. We are made in his image, and that includes working and being productive.

There are at least five things that we can produce: (1) commodities, (2) goods, (3) services, (4) experiences, and (5) transformations. (For more on this idea, check out this helpful presentation by Jim Gilmore.) Some of our jobs overlap and involve not just one of these products, but two or three of them.

The second thing that we see in the opening chapters of Genesis is that God has given us dominion over the earth. To understand this concept, notice that God does his work by first creating stuff (1:1-2), then fashioning what he has created into something with shape and form (days 1-3), then filling this creation with abundance (days 4-6), and finally ruling over creation as its sovereign.

So God creates-fashions-fills-rules his creation. Humanity, being made in God’s image, can follow this pattern. As discussed above, God’s creative work is roughly analogous to our productivity. The rest of the pattern (“fashion-fill-rule”) can then be outlined for us as follows:

1. “Fashion” - Stewarding God’s creation (the earth): We are called to steward, allocate, and maximize the earth’s resources wisely and not foolishly.

2. “Fill” - Developing God’s creation (the earth): Our job description is to bring God’s good creation to fruition. Our work should make the world better and more complete.

(Aside: This is one of our frustrations with work. Our work may not seem significant, i.e. it may not seem to make the world better and more complete. In this, it is helpful to consider that significance is not a simple thing (meaning made up of one part); it is a complex thing (meaning made up of many parts). There are at least three layers of significance: (1) That I do work, rather than being a lazy bum; (2) How I do work, i.e. attitude, excellence, integrity, and faithfulness; (3) What I do for work, i.e. how does my work make the world better and more complete?)

3. “Rule” - Ruling over God’s creation (the earth): We are called to rule over the earth in the same way that God rules and reigns over all of creation, by creating and preserving order not chaos.

But work is not just a thing of beginnings; it is a thing of eternity. One of Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels is that those who are faithful with little will be entrusted with more. It is possible that, on some level, this means those who are faithful with their resources and responsibilities in this life will be given greater resources and responsibilities in eternity. Elsewhere, Revelation 22:3 seems to indicate that we will have resources and responsibilities (re: jobs) in eternity. Think about it: if we had jobs in paradise before paradise was lost, why shouldn’t we have jobs in paradise when paradise is regained?

In summary, we were made for work. We were made to be productive and have dominion over the earth. And we will work serving God in eternity.

In conclusion, it is important to note that, although we were made for work, work is not the only thing we were made for. We were also made for worshipping God, loving our neighbors, etc. Being fully human (i.e. being sanctified) means learning by God’s grace to do each of these things well and in proper proportion to one another.

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Making the World Better & More Complete

In my message on Sunday, Feb 22, I mentioned that part of a biblical theology of work is recognizing and embracing humanity’s God-given dominion over the earth, which includes a calling to bring creation to fruition, to make the world better and more complete.

By way of illustration, I mentioned that finding solutions to our present day energy crisis would be a good example of ways to make the world better and more complete. One intriguing possibility on this front is using recent and impending advances in the field genomics to synthesize alternative fuels. Here are a couple of short presentations (approx. 20 min each) introducing this idea: (1) Genomics 101 by Barry Schuler, and (2) Craig Venter (known for his work in sequencing the human genome) shares his company’s recent and impending advances in the field of genomics. In sum, there are a lot of exciting things going on in the scientific world.

Here are a couple of other science-related talks from the same website that I really enjoyed: (1) Brian Greene on string theory, and (2) Brian Cox on his work at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.

Obviously, some (possibility even all) of the scientists mentioned above are not approaching their work from a Christian worldview. Does this make their work unfruitful for us? Or is there something we can and should still take away from it? How should we, as Christians, interact with those whose approach to life and to their work differs so much from our own? Can we affirm work that makes the world better and more complete without affirming the worldview informing it? How can we better use the Christian story as a catalyst for scientific inquiry? What do you think?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Redeeming Work II: Work Stinks but God is good.

Work isn't what I thought it would be. When I was in Junior High I realized I had a penchant for science and math and I didn't really like english. I made up my mind I wanted to be an engineer and go to the Colorado School of Mines. I achieved all of that but after a year of work with a good job in a really cool industry (telecommunications with T-Mobile), I wasn't feeling very content. I lot of it felt like a waste of time and I used virtually nothing from my degree. Considering you spend most of your time at work, this can make for a boring life. Some of the issues that contribute to the problem is that it doesn't seem to capture the whole of what it means to be human. We are creative by nature and large corporations like to streamline things and thus they place many constraints on one's creativity in a job. We are another cog in the machine. For me personally, I had a much more exciting job than many of my college buddies, and I still wasn't satisified (partially because of a calling to ministry, but that's another issue).
Many young adults feel the same way. There are a variety of reasons why we struggle with this thing called work. They begin in Genesis 3.

The effects of the curse:
After the fall of Adam and Eve God describes the effects of sin on their lives. It does not just result in death, but in a fracturing of what we were made to do, rule over the earth like God does. There are several results of this:
1) Giving birth will be more painful (Gen 3:16). This means family will be a mixed blessing with both joy and pain.
2) You will desire him and he rule over you (Gen 3:16). Work will come between the family as humans live out God's mandate to rule over creation.
3) Cursed is the ground... (Gen 3:17). Creation itself is cursed and must be worked for food and this work becomes painful.
4) producing thorns and thistles. This was an agricultural society. What we are trying to work with, will fight against us. Hardly different today, you work with computers and they often work against you.
5) You will have to work until you die (Gen 3:19) and death will be the result.

Three ways in which work is broken:
1) Work Itself is Broken.
a. We get bogged down in things that do not contribute to getting the job done.
b. You worked for a retirement plan only to watch it get destroyed in November last year.
c. What we work to accomplish, eventually breaks down no matter what we do.
2) Workers are broken.
a. We are frail and we die. We experience pain often times at the hand of the work we do to give us a better life. I went to a doctor for back trouble a few years ago and the doc told me a lot of young professionals are having back trouble these days from sitting at a desk all day long.
b. We take advantage of our job. We work too much and make it a functional savior. We leave early, steal stuff from the office, cheat on your expenses, lie to our employer, etc. I am sure you got some examples.
3) Employers are broken
a. They are not willing to do the work the give to others. There is a lot of busy work created by upper management that they would never in their right mind do. They simply "lord it over people."
b. They hire the wrong people or give good people the wrong job.
c. They abuse those they employ (not always, just the really bad ones). Over work people, pay them too little. Salary for some equals slavery.
d. If you want to get ahead, you have to make sacrifices for the company, usually your family.

Responding to Work, Ecc 2:17-26:
1) You make it your savior because you believe it is still good.
a. Ecc 2:18-22, work as hard as you want and it will amount to nothing because someone will ignore it or exchange it for new and "better" ideas.
b. Ecc 2:23, Your reward for giving everything you got to work is... sleepless nights.
c. this person is a work-a-holic.
2) You stop doing it because you see it as the curse itself
a. We were made for work, see Gen 1:28.
b. Think of Peter in Office Space
c. This is the sluggard of Proverbs 6:6-11; 10:4-5; 1 Thess 4:11-12; 2 Thess 3:6-15
d. If you don't work you don't eat and you will get your reward, nothing.
e. Being "busy" does not count as work. Your work should be something that contributes.
3) You blame it on an oppressive employer or a bad employee.
a. This is the first response of Adam and Eve. "It's not my fault."
b. "She made me do it." As if Eve was an oppressive employer.
c. "The devil made me do it." The bad guy is the reason why I messed up.

so how should we respond...

Work Stinks, but God is Good.
1) Don't stop reading, Ecc 2:24-26
a. Nothing better than to be able to eat, drink, and find satisfaction in work.
b. We were made for them so don't stop pursuing them.
c. Satisfaction in work is a gift from God. Someone works too much and has no sabbath is not satisfied and thinks by their efforts it will come instead of relying on God's grace.
d. God gives grace to those who work well. He gives greater understanding, insight, and enjoyment.
e. Those who abuse work, God will give your efforts to the righteous. The oppressed will recieve the spoils of their oppressors when the kingdom comes in all its fullness.
2) Its not the job, but the quality of your work that counts. Col 3:17
a. doing for the Lord and do it by his grace.
b. It is not what you do but how you do it. You should strive to do your best.
c. God will give you grace to do it well.

Well, those are my basic thoughts and why works stinks and how we handle it. Satisfaction in work is the grace of God and the days I worked hard, I felt the most satisfied. The days I messed around, I felt even more discontent. In the end, God will supply what we need to do our job to best of our ability. Rest in him, not in your efforts.

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