Thursday, October 29, 2015

Unashamed workman

God grant me a disciplined mind, an awestruck heart, calloused hands, and a tamed tongue, for it is with such that men are to praise you!

I often hear Christians talking about careers, and it usually sounds something like, “We need more Christian politicians!” or “we need more Christian professors in our universities!” or “We need more Christian film makers!” or “We need more Christians in entertainment/media,” or “Christians need to  really need to take back the arts!” The reasoning always seems to be that these are the things that shape culture, and so if Christians are going to shape the culture we need to actively seek out places in the fields of influence so we can reach the culture and change the world.

These are all fine trades, and I am all for having more Christians in these trades, especially if it happens by us sharing the gospel with those already working in these fields and them coming to Christ! With certain moral boundaries, I would generally say that all work is good work and so these fields are no worse than any others and it would be great for people working in those fields to repent and believe in Christ and remain in those fields! That would be awesome! But biblically, I can’t find anywhere that says it’s more and more of our children to actively pursue positions in these fields. Heck, historically I can’t even find any evidence that it’s an especially good strategy! The world certainly honors and loves these fields, and God has seen fit from time to time to powerfully use His people in such roles, but by in large God has chosen to do things different than the world expects to draw attention to Himself rather than to the men.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)

“Not many of you” of course means that some indeed were, and it is okay to be a Christian Governor, Senator, Professor, Scientist, Comedian, Musician, or CEO. If you are serving there while remaining faithful to God, to His commands, and to His people, that is great and there is no shame in that, and I pray He uses you there mightily to do great things! But generally speaking, more often than not, that isn’t how God has chosen to work in the new covenant kingdom of Jesus Christ. He chose to found it with a group of fisherman and tax collectors, house wives and healed beggars and shepherds who live in the fields with their sheep. The opposing authorities were amazed at the disciples boldness and clear biblical teaching, not because they were formally trained scholars, but because they weren’t! The early documents we have from shortly after the time of the New Testament show that the great scandal of early Christianity was that Christians were taught by butchers and tanners and weavers, and that many were coming to Christ on the bold testimony of common women. Sure, even in the early years Christians had their philosophical scholars like Justin and had politically influential converts even in the very household of Caesar, but by and large the faith was made up of people who “aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12) and who “do their work quietly and to earn their own living.” (2 Thessalonians 3:12b). The picture is simple, honest daily work, often at manual labor, paired with virtuous, humble, and generous lives. In fact, the simple generosity was key, as Paul elsewhere wrote:

“He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need." Ephesians 4:28

It is interesting that we are not only commanded NOT to steal, and instead to work for what we need. That much we might expect. But the command says something different than that. Instead of just the absence of stealing, it commands quite the opposite from stealing, actually. Even our honest work is not for ourselves, but SO THAT we will have something to freely give to others in need! Our labor is not for our own gain, but for the purpose of our brothers. Industry, simplicity, and generosity. It is the pattern to which all who are in Christ are called. Brothers and sisters, let's show the world this better way!

The purpose of our work then is not first and foremost to gain audience and influence and change the world through the greatness of our reach, but to work hard, live simple, give extravagantly. God blesses with the increase. It is for us to honor needful labor that the world does not honor, to do it with commitment and integrity, and love our neighbor enough to meet his needs, be they physical or spiritual. Be about some every day trade, but with a godly diligence and character. As one of my favorite figures in American history, George Washington Carver, once put it “Learn to do common things uncommonly well; we must always keep in mind that anything that helps fill the dinner pail is valuable.” Jesus taught us that one who wishes to be great in the kingdom must be his neighbors servant, and that the first shall be last and the last first. It is the common tradesman and worker, who the world sees at the bottom, who often has the greatest potential for virtue and Christian greatness. Normally such greatness goes unseen by the eyes of men, but often God sees fit to draw from exactly such a pool some fisherman or tent maker to be a world renounced preacher of his word. John Bunyan was a man of little formal education who made his living mending pots and pans in 17th century England. He was also a devoted Christian pastor, evangelist & author who, though writing from prison for preaching without a government license, penned one of the most influential written works of all time. "The Pilgrim's Progress" has been translated in over 200 languages and has aided in the transformation of lives the world over for hundreds of years, including my own! God doesn’t work the way we would, and He does mighty things through simple means. 

I have known cattle ranchers who travel the world in their slow seasons strengthening missionaries and preaching the gospel. I have known water treatment plant managers who quietly reach and disciple their coworkers and support local outreach with their wages for decades whose impact the world may not see, but through whom untold lives are forever changed. I have known UPS drivers who open their homes to college students and teach them the bible while their wives prepare them meals, who freely work on people’s cars and in their homes just to be of help and to display and have opportunity to share and proclaim the word of God. I have seen programmers work out arrangements with their companies so they can work remotely while moving to Africa to help orphans, delivery men spending their time on street corners giving our tracts and bibles, concrete layers pastoring churches, and countless others whose hard work at common jobs coupled lives devoted to God, to their families, to the church, and to reaching the lost have had a greater cumulative impact than could possibly be fathomed. When we realize that it’s not about us, but about what God is doing through His people as a whole, a quiet life of diligent labor, generous giving, and sacrificial devotion to a local church community becomes an awesome thing that is sadly becoming all too rare as we far too often barrow the values of the world to calculate how we can “have the greatest impact” and with the best of intentions avoid being united together as the kind of radically different people that God desires to glorify His own name in using to make Himself and His gospel known

It’s not easy, and it simply can’t be a life lived in our own comforts and given to our own amusements. Theodore Roosevelt put it well when he said, “I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil" The world won’t get it. The world shouldn’t get it. As Francis Chan says, "Something is wrong when our lives make sense to unbelievers." But in fact, God blesses such a people. God blesses such a life, and so such a life lived for Him is used by Him and accomplishes His goals, reaping great reward in the age to come, and THAT is where our rest is! Remember, we are people here in sojourn, as if resident aliens in a foreign land until our Lord comes again to consummate His kingdom, and only then does our Sabbath rest and our time of greatness come, for then we will reign with Him!

If you're still prior to the "deciding on a career" point in your life, you've got two good options. 1.) Find something productive that you particularly like doing and through sacrifice, hard work, discipline, and a willingness to put other things aside for it, get good enough at it that someone is willing to pay you to do it. 2.) Find something that people need and will pay for and through sacrifice, hard work, discipline, and a willingness to put other things aside for it, get good enough at it that you don't hate doing it anymore, can take a certain pride in it, and as a result will get paid a premium for doing it. The former sounds more pleasant than the latter, but is actually the harder road. Either way though, it requires hard work and sacrifice for something to finally "come naturally to you." Don’t spend your life trying to find some one special thing you’re great it, but rather pick some needful thing and get great enough at it to make an honest living, then live on less than make and give plenty away, and make sure to guard your time for family and the community of faith. 

If you’re already in a career, be content with it! Unless it is driving you to sin or harming your responsibilities to family or your connection to your church, work hard at it and start thinking about how to simplify your life and maximize you’re giving. Come up with ways for you and your family to serve your church family and reach out in local ministry. Maybe volunteer regularly at a homeless mission or pregnancy resource center, or go down town and hand out tracts, or mow the lawns and clean the yards of the elderly families near your home who can’t do it themselves any more. Use some of your vacation days to go on mission trips or join a disaster relief team. Read the bible to your kids daily and talk about what it means so they carry it with them when they get older. Realize that in so doing, you are joining the ranks of countless great saints of old, some whose names we know, many whom we never will, who did such things and through whom God changed the world, and is changing it still. Let’s show the world a better way.

Luke Wayne is a bi-vocational Baptist missionary in Utah and the chief editor for Perilous Trails. He holds an MDiv from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and an MA in Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist College. He has served as a church planter in Olathe, KS and a Homeless Shelter Manager in Kansas City, MO. He is also a husband, father, fisher, hiker, security officer, and raiser of livestock.  

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Object of Awe

One of my favorite works of C. S. Lewis is his autobiographical “Surprised by Joy” in which he describes how in great stories and poems and works of literature and sometimes in life itself he would experience a sort of enthralled delight and wonder that was not like pleasure or happiness, but rather something far deeper and grander and wholly different. He called it “joy.” In my own life, I called it “awe”, but I am very acquainted with what he means and his story resonated deeply with me. His life became, in part, a chase after this sensation, until finally in time he came to realize that one cannot find it by looking for it itself. It is necessarily a response to something else. This “Joy” was found only in its proper object. One might glimpse it in certain beautiful and splendid things, but even these merely pointed the way. Sadness was meant for tragedy and pain, happiness for times of favor, victory, and celebration of good fortune, affection for the company of a companion, and this joy or awe were meant for something to. It is conjured by a proper object and circumstance. About this, I once wrote these words:

“Why do we seek to stand amazed at vast things? What draws us to gaze in wonder from the shore of the ocean? Or to gasp as we look over the precipice of a canyon? Or to lie on our backs in the middle of the high desert on a clear night and stare at the countless stars as they can only be seen from that vantage? I like to think it’s because, deep down inside, we yearn to remember how small we are. We need to be diminished, and if only for one shocking instant, to stand fixated on something unimaginably vast and incredible; To be in total awe at something bigger and grander than ourselves. I think these experiences touch that nerve. They spark something in us, even if they can’t fan it full into lasting flame. They blow a brief glow into the failing embers of our souls and remind us, vaguely perhaps, of a forgotten essence of what it really is to be alive, to be human. But it doesn’t last. It can’t. I have a thought on that, too. I think it’s because these things are mere guideposts. They’re signs pointing us to the one and only true and natural object of our enduring reverence. We were made to worship.”

This joy, this awe, this wonder, this attraction to humbling grandeur, C.S. Lewis came to realize (as I also did) that this was longing inherent in man because man was meant for fellowship with God. Only in the incomparable, unspeakable majesty of the creator can we find the fulfillment of our deepest longings and our proper place in the world, and the great and beautiful and magnificent things in this life point us to that, if we do not get distracted by them and foolishly make them our idols. Paul pointed out to the Romans, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:18-20) and preached to those in Lystra “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways;  and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts 14:15-17) 

David also famously proclaimed, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard.  Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their utterances to the end of the world. In them He has placed a tent for the sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; It rejoices as a strong man to run his course. Its rising is from one end of the heavens, And its circuit to the other end of them; And there is nothing hidden from its heat.” (Psalm 19:1-6) 

Everything good and beautiful and wonderful and amazing in life praises and points us to its maker, and we find true wonder when we are drawn to marvel and praise at Him ourselves! Christian worship has long recognized this, as can be seen in our own hymns:

“Oh Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder consider all the works thy hands have made. I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, thy power throughout the universe displayed.”
“Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, all they works shall praise thy name in earth and sky and sea”
“Thou rushing wind that art so strong, Ye clouds that sail in Heaven along, O praise Him! Alleluia! Thou rising moon, in praise rejoice, Ye lights of evening, find a voice! O praise Him! O praise Him! Alleluia!”
“Summer and winter and spring time and harvest, sun, moon, and stars in their courses above, join with a nature in manifold witness to thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love”
“When through the woods and forest glades I wander, and hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees. When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur and hear the brook, and feel the gentle breeze, then sings my soul, my savior God to thee, how great thou art!”

The Christian song writers I heard growing up seemed to find cause to echo this sentiment. Rich Mullins writes, “And the wrens have returned and they're nesting, in the hollow of that oak where his heart once had been. And he lifts up his arms in a blessing for being born again. And the streams are all swollen with winter, winter
unfrozen and free to run away now. And I'm amazed when I remember who it was that built this house, and with the rocks I cry out! Be praised for all Your tenderness by these works of Your hands, suns that rise and rains that fall to bless and bring to life Your land. Look down upon this winter wheat and be glad that You have made blue for the sky and the color green that fills these fields with praise.” I remember as young teen hearing my brother’s Geoff Moore album sing, “Every mountain, every valley, your creation it surrounds me, every breath I breathe, every heart beat, every sunrise that you give to me. These and so much more, tell a story we cannot ignore. Even our own lives testify.” Reese Roper penned, “The spring in Appalachia, with flowers swaying above the fields of green. It was beautiful. Driving in New England, the road littered with bright October leaves. It was beautiful.
Close to home in an ordinary room we felt You there. It's my favorite memory. You're so beautiful to me.”

The breathtaking expanse of nature, in the inexplicable and uniquely human awe that it touches as we observe it is meant to, and ought to, drive is the praise and to bow before the greater wonder and majesty of the One whose power brought it all into existence literally from nothing, and who breathed life into us in such a way that we have to capacity to delight in it. God is awesome! May we ever see how great He is, and how small and frail we are, and bow before Him in true and humble worship! We were made for this, and there is true joy nowhere else.

Luke Wayne is a bi-vocational Baptist missionary in Utah and the chief editor for Perilous Trails. He holds an MDiv from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and an MA in Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist College. He has served as a church planter in Olathe, KS and a Homeless Shelter Manager in Kansas City, MO. He is also a husband, father, fisher, hiker, security officer, and raiser of livestock. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Alert as Guards and Watchmen

“Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” 1 Corinthians 16:13 

I make my living as a security officer. While I perform a variety of tasks, my job can really be summed up rather simply: I am paid to be alert. That’s it. Nothing else. I am here to be aware of what is going on to be prepared at any moment to respond to any threat, emergency, or suspicious variation in the normal patterns of work life on site. Sometimes it is a medical emergency within, and I need to have my first aid supplies ready, my CPR certification up to date, my personal protective equipment on me, a phone on hand to call emergency responders, and be in the frame of mind to put all of this to use when even seconds might mean life or death. It could also be a suspicious person on the premises outside whom I may need to confront or, if prudence dictates, observe from a safe distance. It may be a fire, or a power outage, or a simple spill, but it is my job to be aware of it and then to do what is needed so that no one gets hurt. Most of the time, I am not actually responding to any of these things. On most days, no situation actually happens. But as tempting as it can be, I cannot let my guard down, lest I fail to be ready on the unexpected day when something actually does come up. Complacency, a sense of ease or security, comfort, and distraction are the enemies of a guard. An emergency by itself is often easy to handle, but these agents of weakness and unreadiness will turn a problem into a crises every time. It is the duty of a guard to be on guard. If he is failing at this, any trial will overtake him.
In the earliest days of sinful man, God warned Cain before he killed his brother Able, “sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7b) Sin is an enemy ever present, an inclination in our hearts, pulsing through our flesh all through the journey this side of eternity. James warns us, “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (James 1:14-15) It is against this desire, this temptation, this selfish tendency toward sin and rebellion and against the devil who exploits this in us that we are ever at war with. We must be ever on guard, ever alert. “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) We are at war. We are watchmen on the wall always awaiting battle, and there is never a safe moment to lower out gaze.

Paul says as much in Ephesians 6 when he warns us to take up faith like a shield and to where righteousness like armor, and to take up his word as a sword for war! Indeed “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” (Ephesians 6:11-13) and again to the Romans, “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.” (Romans 13:11-13) and to the Thessalonians, “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” (1 Thessalonians 5:8) To resist sin is a fight. To be obedient and do right is to be a soldier, ever vigilant, ever devoted, trusting in our commander and ever ready for the enemy. Paul similarly compares it to a boxing match when he writes to the Corinthians, “I do not box as one beating the air, but I pummel my body and make it my slave.”

Our Lord also emphasized our need to be awake, watchful, and ready. In Luke 12:35-48, He gives the analogies of a slave awaiting his master’s return, staying up all through the night if needed so that he open the door to his master and serve him at a moment’s notice; and of a man who stands ready to defend his home from a thief at an unknown hour; and likewise of a servant who stays faithful and consistent in keeping his master’s home, even while the master is away on a long journey for unknown duration of time.  In each scenario, he compares readiness and watchfulness to avoiding sin and doing good. Similarly in Matthew 24 and 25, after speaking about His coming, Jesus gives several parables that echo the warning each time, “Be on the alert then!” and display the foolishness of those who are unprepared. In each of these chapters, watchfulness and readiness are equated with diligence in service, with humility, meeting the needs of the lowly, and putting others before ourselves.

Humble, selfless acts of charity and sacrifice may not sound like valiant warfare, but remember that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood.” This is not a physical fight but a struggle against our sinful desires exploited by a spiritual enemy. When we put others first, when we “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” (on which someone once said hangs the whole law and the prophets), and when we therefore feed the needy, cloth the destitute, house the orphan, help the weak, visit the sick and imprisoned, and preach the gospel to the those still lost in there sin, we are shifting our focus from ourselves and therefore striking a blow against the enemy of selfish desire. Here in the life of the Christian disciple, the gentleness of compassion and the fury of soldierly valor come together in the heart and acts of self sacrificial love in a sin sick world. 

As a security officer, my purpose is to see to the safety and well being of everyone else on the premises. I have to be uncomfortable so that they can be safe. I have to be concerned for them, and to be so in a way that brings no attention to myself, and that ideally goes largely unnoticed. The work is not glamorous, and is in fact the butt of many jokes, but I am to bare it with a smile and diligently look for when I am needed. This is what Jesus is calling us to, to service of others as if to Him. “That which have done to the least of these, my brothers, you have done also to me.” (Matthew 25:40)

Of course, we cannot do this on our own. It is arrogant to try, and arrogance (self centered pride) as actually the very enemy we are fighting against! We have, however, been send a counselor, a general, an empowering guide in the war who gives us a strength not our own. He transforms our heart through His presence within us, His providential work around us, and through the Scriptures that He inspired. This is the Holy Spirit of God Himself sent by the Father and by our Lord to equip, embolden, teach, and guide each of us and to unite us to one another while convicting the world of sin and therefore fighting with and for us.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.  Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality,  idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:16-26)

Qualities of selflessness and of self control are His gifts to us and His necessary work in us throughout our lives. So take heart, resist every inclination to sin trusting that your strength and resolve do not come from within your weak and imperfect self, but from the immortal, invincible, unchanging God of all creation! If God is for us, who can be against us! To battle! And as you go:

 “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.” (2 Peter 1:2-4)

Luke Wayne is a bi-vocational Baptist missionary in Utah and the chief editor for Perilous Trails. He holds an MDiv from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and an MA in Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist College. He has served as a church planter in Olathe, KS and a Homeless Shelter Manager in Kansas City, MO. He is also a husband, father, fisher, hiker, security officer, and raiser of livestock.