Everyday Faith – Bringing Faith to Work and Class

After you graduate from college, you will spend more time at work then (probably) anywhere else.  Your studies at college, the work you put into your classes, are preparing you for your career.

What does your faith that you express at church on Sunday have to do with your work throughout the rest of the week?

Sometimes Christians talk as if God cares about a few specific jobs, even calls people into those jobs.  These jobs are usually ministry, such as pastors and missionaries.  Or maybe other jobs that clearly help people, like doctors and teachers.  Does God care about or call people into other careers?

I think God does.  God is calling all people into a place of work.  College is not just preparing you for a job that has nothing to do with your faith, instead your classes are preparing you for the place where you will serve God through your work.  God calls pastors and missionaries and doctors and teachers in the same way that God calls engineers, business leaders, writers and scientists.   As Cornelius Plantinga says,

Your college education is meant to prepare you for prime citizenship in the kingdom of God…Your calling is to prepare for further calling, and to do so in a Christian community that cares as much about the kind of person you are becoming as what kind of job you will eventually get, and as much about how you will do your job as about which job you do” – Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Engaging God’s World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning and Living

Because Christians believe all people are created in God’s image and God included work among the original purpose given to humans, we believe all work can have dignity and be honorable.  Many other ancient cultures believed only the king or other powerful people were created in God’s image.  Such people would do “honorable” work which did not include physical labor like farming or really anything that broke a sweat and got your hands dirty.  One of the radical teachings of Genesis was that all people, from kings to peasants, rich to poor, were in God’s image.  And one consequence of this is that being a garbage collector or janitor is just as honorable and filled with dignity as being a college professor or pastor.

So what does it mean to apply your faith to your work?  Is it limited to living out a Christian ethic, like being honest?  Yes, but it is more than that.  It is also more than evangelizing your colleagues, trying to get them to become followers of Jesus.  Though being a good Christian witness in such a way that your colleagues may be more interested in becoming disciples of Jesus is also a good thing.

I have read a lot of books lately on this subject, and probably the best thing you could do would be to pick up such books.  Or peruse some of the websites.  I include a list at the bottom of this post.  For the teaching at CSF last night, I relied most heavily on a recent book by Tim Keller, Every Good Endeavor.

One thing Keller pointed out is that God’s spirit  both cares for the land (Psalm 65:9-10; 104:30) and convicts people of sin (John 16:8-11).  In other words, God is both a gardener and a preacher.  If we limit spiritual work to only one sort of work, we miss part of the story.

When we talk about work and career we should also talk about money.  The American dream is still alive and I am sure the hope for many of you is when you graduate from Penn State you will begin to make money.  Money is not bad, money is necessary in our world.   If everybody chose a life of poverty to become a foreign missionary, who would fund such things?  The problem with money comes in when it becomes our highest desire.   As John Knapp says, “If Scripture bears a consistent message about wealth, it is that the desire for it is never sanctioned. God permits some individuals to gain wealth, but the Old Testament is replete with warnings against desiring money or property for oneself.” – John C. Knapp. How the Church Fails Businesspeople (And What Can Be Done About It) (Kindle Locations 511-512). Kindle Edition.

Our attitude toward money ought to be that of Proverbs 30:

8 Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.

Finally, when it comes to work the most vital thing is that we find our identity in Jesus Christ.  The beauty of the Christian good news is that in Jesus Christ you are loved by God just the way you are.  All of your mess – your sins, shortcomings, brokenness, addictions – are not roadblocks to God’s love.  You are healed, forgiven, made new in Jesus.  In a world where we often strive to find our identity through status – through our job or how much is in our bank account – the Christian gospel frees us.  With confidence of who you are in Jesus Christ, you can work hard and do your best as service to him, knowing that your successes will not make you more loved and your failures will not make you less loved.

You are free.

Resources

*Creation Regained by Al Wolters

*Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller

*How the Church Fails Businesspeople by John Knapp

*Work Matters by Tom Nelson

*What is Vocation by Stephen Nichols

*Kingdom Calling by Amy Sherman

 

Work on Purpose – http://www.echoinggreen.org/work-on-purpose

Christian Business Men’s Connection – http://cbmc.com/

Christian Business Women’s Fellowship – http://cbwf.org

International Coalition of Workplace Ministries – http://www.marketplaceleaders.org/icwm/

The High Calling – http://www.thehighcalling.org/

Center for Faith and Work – http://www.faithandwork.org/

Reviews of a Couple Books on Christian Work and Vocation

In the past year I’ve been reading a lot of books on a Christian view of work.  I think helping people see that God has called them into their field of work is vitally important for both campus ministers, working with people while pursuing their education and preparing for work, and for church ministers who work with people living through their careers.

Is work just something we do to pass the time before we get to heaven?

Does applying our faith to our work just mean being honest and occasionally evangelizing (and subsequently, probably being guilty for not evangelizing enough)?

Is the work of most Christians less holy or important when compared to the work of pastors and missionaries?

Is the one week someone spends on a mission trip more “Christian” then the other 51 weeks a year at their job?

(I think the answer to all those is no.)

If I could recommend only one book to people to read on this subject, it would probably be Tim Keller’s Every Good Endeavor.  Keller covers a lot of ground, placing work within a Christian worldview.  He talks about how humans were given work immediately upon their creation, thus work is not a result of sin.  All people, created in God’s image, work.  This universality of God’s image explains why any and all people can do great work.  On the other hand, the universality of sin comes out in the fact that we often find work frustrating.  It also is seen when we realize that Christians are not automatically better works.  Sin means Christians do worse than we might hope, common grace (creation in God’s image) means everyone else does better then we might expect.

From this Keller goes on to say a lot more.  He connects it to the gospel.  While people may use work to pursue various idols from a large bank account to validation as successful, Keller shows how finding our identity in Christ frees us from such pursuits.  We are able to work, confident in who we are, and in realization all we have is a gift.  Overall this is a fantastic book.  I recommend pastors use it in a small-group setting, or even for help with a sermon series.

Another book I read recently is John Knapp’s How the Church Fails Businesspeople.  This book is more focused on the business world, compared to Keller’s broader work on work in general.  I would say this is a must-read for pastors.  Knapp’s book is filled with study results that show most church members do not come to pastors for advice with work because they feel pastors don’t get their work.   It is a quality entry and ought to be read by any who seek to integrate their faith with their work, or those of us who work in ministries where we can help others do so.

If you’re looking for still other books, I reviewed a couple more a while back: Work Matters and Love Does.  And Amy Sherman’s Kingdom Calling is also fantastic.

Everyday Faith – God and Entertainment (CSF Weekly Word)

It is so easy for us to divide our lives between the sacred and the secular.  We go to church on Sundays and CSF during the week.  But when we do all the other things that fill our lives – watch movies, study, work, hang out with friends – it is sometimes hard to see how our faith relates.  For that reason we are spending a few weeks at CSF seeking to see how our faith does relate to everyday life.

Last evening we discussed how our faith relates to our entertainment – the movies and television we watch, the music we listen to and even the books we read (please, read more books!).  The best place to start with any discussion like this is in the Bible.  When we read scripture we see that right away in the beginning God created humanity with a purpose.  Genesis 1:27-28 speaks of humans being made in God’s image which, among other things, indicates that we are little creators.  We are called to create.  This text also says humans are to care for God’s creation.  So right away, even before any mention of sin, humans are given a job to do.  Andy Crouch puts it like this in his book Culture Making: “Culture is what we make of the world. Culture is, first of all, the name for our relentless, restless human effort to take the world as it’s given to us and make something else” (23).

The next phase of the story is the entry of sin into the world.  Due to the choices of humans, God’s good creation became broken.  God brings healing to creation through Jesus Christ.  Too often we limit what Jesus did to only individual salvation and forgiveness.  Yet when we think of the big picture, we see that Jesus’ redemption applies to all of culture.  Every area of life, including our entertainment, is affected.   We see this hope for the redemption of all aspects of culture in Revelation 21:23-26:

23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”

What is amazing, even mind-blowing, is verse 26.  In the midst of this picture of heaven, the new creation, we are told the glory of the nations are brought in.  This means that any good of human culture will survive the cleansing fire of judgment.  Somehow Jesus’ redemption applies to songs and art.

This story points us to a few important truths to keep in mind as we think about our entertainment.  First, since all people are created in God’s image and tasked with creating culture, we may find truth that points to God (the Truth) in unlikely places.  In other words, when we listen to music made by people who claim no allegiance to God, we should expect to be surprised in finding echoes of truth there.  Second, since all people are affected by sin, we discover that even so-called “Christian” artists are flawed and sometimes create sub-par art.

In his book Culture Making, Andy Crouch lists a number of approaches Christians have taken to culture:

Condemning – This view looks at movies and music and simply condemns.  Though some things do deserve condemnation (pornography has no redeeming qualities), in general this view is an over-simplification.  It ignores those twin truths above (all people in God’s image, universality of sin) and seeks to say that some things are all good and some are all bad.

Copying – This view just takes what is popular in culture and copies it.  I remember seeing a chart at a Christian bookstore once with a list of secular bands and the corresponding Christian band.  If you like Pearl Jam, here is the “Christian” Pearl Jam.  Copying also seems to over-simplify, as if sanitizing things makes it all good.  It forgets, as condemning does, that sin affects all so even “Christian” music is flawed and even that “secular” music may point to truth.  Also, mere copying is not true art.  I think this is why many see Christian art as shallow.  Rather then being creative, it is mimicking someone else’s creativity.

Consuming – I believe this is where most Christian college students are.  This is to just consume whatever entertainment everyone else does.  So we watch the same movies, listen to the same music and don’t really think about how it relates to our faith.  If we are going to apply our faith to our everyday life, to love God with all our mind, we need to go beyond this.  Remember, Jesus’ work is not just about individual salvation and forgiveness.  If you think it is, your God is too small.  Jesus’ redemption relates to every detail of lives.

Critiquing – We need to take the next step and think about what we consume.  This doesn’t mean we can never enjoy movies or music because now we have an assignment.  It doesn’t mean you have to be the annoying guy who over-analyzes everything.  It simply means to not turn your brain or your faith off when you watch a movie.  Every movie has a message and we need to be aware of that message.

Crouch gives some good questions to think about to help start this process:

Questions to ask:

(1) What does this cultural artifact assume about the way the world is?

(2) What does this cultural artifact assume about the way the world should be? What vision of the future animated its creators?

(3) What does this cultural artifact make possible? What can people do or imagine, thanks to this artifact, that they could not before?

(4) what does this cultural artifact make impossible (or at least very difficult)? What activities and experiences that were previously part of the human experience become all but impossible in the wake of

(5) What new forms of culture are created in response to this artifact? What is cultivated and created that could not have been before?

Last night I gave some examples of specific movies and television shows (The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, The Hunger Games, Gran Torino) and lessons/truths/messages I see in each of them.  My encouragement to you is to think these things through when you consume entertainment.  In this, you will be applying your faith to more of life and growing as a disciple of Jesus.

Along with that, I suspect many of you spend a lot of time with entertainment.  My second encouragement then is to turn off the movies and music and spend some time reading the Bible.  Because to apply your faith to these things well, you need to know the Jesus you have faith in.

 

 

 

Questioning Your Way to Faith – Review

Peter Kazmaier’s first book was a gripping novel, The Halcyon Disclocation, that combined science fiction and fantasy with a bit of religion and philosophy thrown in.  I believe I referred to this book as Lewis-esque in my review a few months back.  When I saw that Peter was releasing another book, I thought it would be the sequel.  At first I was a bit disappointed, until I realized the sort of book it was.

One reason someone like CS Lewis was so successful as a Christian apologist was because he wrote great novels as well as good reflections on Christian life, theology and apologetics.  Lewis was no dry academic.  Kazmaier is the same way.  He is clearly a smart guy, having been a professor of chemistry for much of his life.  His thoughts on science and faith specifically, and Christian apologetics in general, are helpful.  But what works best is that he places his apologetic reflections into the Halcyon universe.

Questioning Your Way to Faith takes place prior to The Halcyon Dislocation.  It is an extended discussion between two characters in the later book, Al and Floyd.  Al is supposedly a “nerdy” Christian but he hikes, sails and goes fishing a lot for a stereotypical nerd.  Floyd is Al’s friend and an atheist.  But Floyd is having a crisis of faith (or non-faith) as he discovered his recently deceased grandmother was, despite her intelligence, a Christian.  Floyd approaches Al to ask how smart people can be Christians.  From then on their discussion covers a lot of typical apologetic topics – problem of evil, existence of god, science and faith.

The best value in this book is its real-life setting.  Many apologetic books I have read are interesting…to people who read apologetics books.  But when you actually talk to people in the real world, the text book answer is not always sufficient.  People don’t always need or want a point-by-point case for Christianity.  Like Floyd, people have specific questions which require specific answers.  Sometimes these answers may line up with the standard apologetics book, but not always.  The real world, as Al and Floyd discover in their adventures in Halcyon, is a topsy-turvy place!

Overall, I recommend this book for all people interested in the big questions of life.  We need more writers like Peter who can give us both good stories as well as profound theological and philosophical insights.

What is My Purpose – CSF Weekly Word

What is my purpose in life? What does God want me to do?

Over the summer I asked students, via Facebook, to suggest some topics for study this fall.  One student asked those questions, and they seemed like the perfect lead-in to the entire semester.  So last night at CSF we tackled those questions.

My answer was simply – your purpose is to become more like Jesus.

I recall being in college and constantly thinking about my future career, who I would marry, whether I would marry anyone, where I would live and so on.  Behind all of this was the question, what does God want in these things?  I often prayed, asking God for answers.  When I spoke to the students last night, I shared that while I think God does care about such things, and we ought to pray about them, they are secondary things.  We run into trouble when we make secondary things – jobs, relationships – into primary things.

We all share the same common purpose, to become more like Jesus.  But what does that mean?  The story of scripture is a good place to start: God created a good creation and placed humans in it to care for it and to live in relationship with God and one another.  The first humans turned away from this purpose and all creation became broken and diseased.  It makes me think of my backyard: it would be like me going away and leaving a student in charge of my backyard.  While I am gone this student, instead of caring for it, doesn’t water the plants, leaves the dog poop laying around and for good measure throws rocks on top of my flowers.

Immediately after God’s world become corrupted, we read that God mounted a rescue operation.  God chose the people of Israel to be agents in restoring creation to God.  In the story of scripture we see the Israelites, who are charged with bringing healing, are actually infected with the virus too.  So they are unable to fully live out the mission God gave them.  Into this situation stepped Jesus, the true Israelite who does live out that mission.  Even though the powers that be kill Jesus, God raised him from the dead.  This resurrection is the vindication, showing that Jesus’ way of life is the way to live.

So as we become like Jesus we are called to be God’s agents of bringing healing, restoration and salvation into the world.  This is our primary purpose and we can do this regardless of whatever else we do in life.  You can accomplish this purpose whether married or single, whether in the same job for decades or often promoted.

This makes me think of how we Christians believe Jesus is fully God and fully human.  Too often I learned this as simply something to believe so as not to be seen as a heretic.  But if it is true it means that the more we become like Jesus, the more human we become.  In other words, we are not fully human yet ourselves, our purpose is to get there.  And the more we become like Jesus, the more we become like God our Creator (though we’ll never be God of course).

There are steps we can take as we move towards this purpose: making the choice each day to spend time with God, allowing our faith to affect all of our life from our classes to our friendships, and actions we can do to bring healing and restoration right here on campus.  As the semester moves forward, we will work through these things together.

The question to end with is: knowing what our purpose is, what are we going to do now?

Dear Pastor Friends and Other Christians Who Like to Think – You Should Read David Bentley Hart

David Bentley Hart is an Eastern Orthodox theologian and philosopher.  His book The Beauty of the Infinite was one of the most difficult, and rewarding, books I have read.  I highly recommend his other works as well.

If you are going to start reading Hart, the best book to pick up might be his collection of essays titled, Provocations and Laments.  Like any collection of essays, it is a bit uneven.  The essay, “Christ and Nothing” begins the book and also serves as a great overview of The Beauty of the Infinite.  After reading that essay, I felt that I got some points in the book better then I had when I first read it.  That said, you don’t have to buy Provocations and Laments to get many of the essays.  For example, you can get Christ and Nothing online for free.

After you read that essay, give yourself about six months and work through The Beauty of the Infinite.  Unless you are a professional philosopher, the first 150 pages are incredibly confusing.  Read it with your tablet nearby to look up words, philosophers and ideas.  But if you can get through that, the payoff is some of the best theology I have read.  You can see my review here.

If I have made The Beauty of the Infinite sound too scary, start with his shorter book The Doors of the Sea: Where was God in the Tsunami?  This book came about as a response to secular critics who argue God cannot exist in light of natural evils such as the Asian tsunami in 2004.  If you want to get a taste of that book, you can read the essay “Tsunami and Theodicy,” also included in Provocations and Laments, here.

I first heard of Hart when he released the book Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies in response to the so-called “new atheists”.  In some ways this title is a bit misleading, as it is a not a point-by-point response.  Instead it is an argument that Christianity, rather than coming into an enlightened ancient world and bringing about a dark age, brought a cultural revolution that created so much of the good we take for granted today.  If you enjoy history, this would be for you.  The question Hart leaves us with is that if our culture rejects Christianity, can it keep the moral vestiges that we have forgotten are rooted in Christianity.  For example, Christianity brought forth a view that said all people have value, even the poor, weak and disabled.  This led to hospitals and other good things.  Many who reject Christianity today still believe all people have value, but if that view rose historically in connection with Christianity, can we be sure it will remain?

Finally, if you want to read more of Hart’s incisive grilling of the new atheists, check out the essay “Daniel Dennett Hunts the Snark“.

Read More Children’s Books and the World Will Be a Better Place

I spend my mornings chasing a rambunctious toddler around the house.  Each day is a joy as we eat breakfast, run errands, play, have fun and then eat lunch.  By the time I put her down for a nap at 1 PM I am also ready for a nap.  But her nap time is my time to do work at my “other” job.  I often spend her nap time preparing sermons and Bible studies as well as necessary administrative work related to ministry.

Usually I take a few minutes before diving into all of that to see what’s going on in the world – check Facebook, a news site or two, check my reader to see if any interesting blog posts have come through.  Sometimes I discover that, at least in the little corner of the Internet that is the Christian blogosphere, the sky is falling!  Some well-known Christian pastor writes a blog post or article or has a new book coming out.  It is on a controversial subject.  Or it is on a non-controversial subject but manages to create controversy anyway. I see four or five blog posts in my feed commenting on this article. On Twitter people are sparring back and forth on it.

My daughter is napping…maybe i should rethink my decision not to take a nap too.

Recently a thought crossed my mind – if we all read more children’s books, the world would be such a better place.  Just moments before logging onto the net and discovering the controversy of the day, I am reading book after book to my daughter.  Like me she loves to read, so she will request 10-12 books prior to her nap.

I love it.

There are the classics, by the likes of Dr. Seuss.  Green Eggs and Ham is my favorite, not only is it funny but it offers a good lesson – try new things!  Then there are newer authors that were not around when I was a kid.  Two of the best are Sandra Boynton and Mo Willems.

Sandra Boynton books are made for the littlest of readers and are hilarious in featuring the antics of our animal friends.  Snuggle Puppy warms my heart.  Tickle Time leads to a tickle war.  And I am pretty sure the reason my daughter’s favorite animal is the hippo is because of Boynton books.  There is The Belly Button Book where we learn that hippos love their belly-b’s.  In But Not the Hippopotamus we see the poor hippo being left out of everything.  Finally, in Hippos Go Berserk we see a grand hippo party as the hippos go crazy!

 

While she still loves the board books, my daughter’s new favorite (or is it my favorite…) is Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggy series.  Gerald, the elephant, and Piggy, the pig are best friends.  They share many adventures – the time a bird builds a nest on Gerald’s head, the conundrum Gerald faces as he decides whether or not to share his ice cream, and the fun they have as they prepare for a car ride only to realize they have no cars (because a pig with a car, that would be silly!).

I think I might enjoy reading these children’s books way too much!  This morning I even encouraged her to take a few to the park in her backpack, so we could read on a bench if she needed a break from the swings and see-saws.  But I think children’s books are good for the soul.  Their frequent silliness would make even the hardest heart laugh.  I think we all need more silliness in our lives.  We need a world where hippos parade around with their belly buttons out, elephants and pigs are friends, cats wander into your house and cause a ruckus…and where a little Siamese cat named Skippy John Jones thinks he is a Chihuahua.

Maybe if we all read these silly books more we’d have more fun and the world would be a better place.

What is your favorite children’s book?

Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey (Review)

Every day I look at my two-year-old daughter and imagine what kind of person she will become.  What career will she pursue?  What sort of friends will she have?  What books will she like?  My prayer is that whatever such specifics are that she will live a life in service and discipleship to Jesus Christ.

Perhaps for this reason I have found myself drawn to reading more books and blogs by Christian women.  I remember noticing the book Girl Meets God by Lauren Winner years ago and assuming, based on the title, that it was written for women.   It seemed that Christian publishers gave us two sorts of books – books by men for men and women and books by women for women.  When a friend urged me to read Winner’s book, noting that it was not a book targeted at only females, I did and I loved it.  Now I recommend it to people as one of my favorites, though with an unfortunate title.

Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey is another book that male readers may walk past, assuming it is for women.  I hope this does not happen, for it is a spectacular book that any Christian, male or female, would benefit from reading.   There are certainly parts of the book where Bessey appears to be directing her words to women.  Yet as a whole the book is fantastic for men or women.

Bessey does not want to write just another book on whether women can serve in pastoral ministry, reciting the same old passages from either side of the debate.  She does bring up some such passages and does offer her opinion on them, but her book is so much more than that.  This is what is best about it – it is not an argument for women to be in ministry, it is a vision-casting of a church where both men and women serve alongside each other using their gifts to create the kingdom of God on earth.

So many times throughout the book I found myself whispering amen.  There is a hurting world out there, a world broken by injustice and oppression, sin and death.  Jesus came into this world bringing the long promised healing of such things.  The church, as Jesus’ representative, continues this mission.

How much more could the church do if we did not relegate half of humanity to the sidelines?  A church that limits women in how they can use their gifts is like a football team playing with just an offense or a band doing a concert with half its members.  Why try such things?  Let us as the community of God’s people unleash our sisters in Christ on the world, using their gifts to serve.

My hope is that this book is read by many.  Ladies, read this book and be empowered.  That said, I feel a desire to give a special urging to men – read this book.  It is easy for us pastors to read theology and ministry books mostly by  men.  One of the first steps for men, who have so long been in power in the church, to empower women is to listen.  So take time to listen to Sarah Bessey.  Not only is the book inspiring, she is a fantastic writer and thus it is a joy to read.

I can’t help but think of my daughter as I read books like this.  This is the sort of book I would want to give her as a Christian teenager in about 14 years.  Or maybe in 14 years books like this won’t be necessary, because the hopes and dreams contained within it will have been achieved.

I received a free advanced copy of this book from NetGalley for purposes of review.