The Work of Life.

The command to follow Jesus is so simple and yet so profound. How in our busy lives are we called to follow Jesus? What does it look like and how can we possibly carry out that task as we engage the world? This may be the great mystery that plagues the western church. How do we, as professionals, follow Jesus in all that we do?

The answer is simple when we break it down through a strictly theological lens. We do everything for the glory of God! While this is the correct answer, the details matter. What does it mean to do everything to the glory of God, or more appropriately, how do we do everything to His glory and for His namesake?

Before we can get into the practical application, we have to engage the heart around the action. Jesus continues to go after the hearts of the people that He engages and He currently is going after yours. This is an important point, not one to gloss over because it sounds like the Sunday school answer. It’s important because it’s the calling that has been placed on your heart as a believer in Christ. That is, to engage the hearts of the people that are in your life. You can do that at work, at home, in school, or even at the supermarket. Everything you do, gives you the ability to engage people, whom need to hear and see the Truth.

Understanding that premise, we can now start to functionally structure our lives around the mission of God while carrying out the tasks and demands of everyday life.

The question is, are you willing to engage in God’s mission in everything you do?

Just thinking about that question causes us to start refocusing our systems around the things that matter. Suddenly, our task managers end up with prayer lists on them. Our calendars start to reflect engagements with people, rather than boring and mundane meetings. Our days carry a different weight to them, a lighter weight, because we know that God himself is doing work through the work that we do. It gives us a sense of duty and honor to serve the God that saves and it pushes us to work with excellence because we know that our God is excellent. It fundamentally changes how we approach work and life. In fact, it erases that line.

I find David Allen’s work on this subject to be spot on. That is, that there is a lie that we have believed that there needs to be a work/life balance. To David, and I agree, the two can’t be separated. Work is life and life is work. Within the context of the Gospel, this all makes sense. We are constantly engaged in the mission of God (work), whether we are in the office or at home. While this may be daunting to think about, it actually frees us up to deeply engage relationships and deeply engage the Spirit throughout the day.

It doesn’t matter your workload, or if you have to work late. You are working for His glory. You are free to continue to work at home if the situation arises and you are free to take that lunch break to go out with a friend. This idea of freedom, had the potential to increase your overall production because the most cognitive of senses you are allowing your brain to recharge during those breaks. Switching tasks based upon your contexts if a vastly more productive model than the 9-to-5 model and the cognitive pressure of attempting to box work into a specific time.

Take some time to think about how you engage the work of life and the life of work. How would your life be different if you deeply engaged relationships, looking for areas to speak the Truth into?

Deep Work Questions:

1. How would your life change if you engaged in the mission of Jesus in everything that you do?
2. How could you utilize your productivity tools, to enhance your overall worship?
3. What barriers do you have to overcome to engage the mission while you are living?
4. Who is God calling you to engage in your natural rhythms?
5. How does your understanding of God’s excellence drive you to excellence?

Living Above the American Dream

Your performance will drive you into a never-ending cycle of needing to do more. Trusting in His performance will drive you to rest.

Last week, while walking through the book of Romans, I was struck by something in the sermon.

Your performance will drive you into a never-ending cycle of needing to do more. Trusting in His performance will drive you to rest.

As I’ve pondered this quote over the past week I’ve started to form a framework that combines the best in productivity research and Gospel centrality. I have to admit, I’m a bit of a junky when it comes to cognitive research, especially in the productivity space. I find the way that God created us fascinating and inspiring. In a real sense, I believe that it’s imperative as Christian’s to start to understand our culture, the world around us, and how we can productively engage our lives for the Glory of the one true Kind.

The real question is this, are you stressed, overworked, tired, or have absolutely no margin in your life?

This is the American reality, at least it’s the reality that I observe and work through, each and every day. To put it in context, I’m a bi-vocational pastor with a family, and a job that requires on-call and off-hours work. My wife works/goes to school and our son is 2. Essentially, we negotiate our lives through shared calendars and the few special hours that we get to spend with each other. This, of course, is a season, but one that we have been hanging out in for the last two years. The reality is, our life doesn’t seem to the abnormal. If you replace the various aspects of our lives, with all the things that you have going on in your life, I’m confident that you will also see that your life is not that dissimilar to ours.

You might be asking at this point, why. Why even have this conversation, because this is just life. Working parents, young kids, life on life ministry. The reason behind starting this conversation is because unfortunately, (or fortunately), this is only the tip of the ice burg in terms what is competing for our cognitive, emotional and spiritual spaces. If the leading research is correct, our addictions to social media, text messaging, emails, and everything else that pulls our attention off the mission is staggering.

You may be wondering what that particular mission is and luckily it is far more simple than our lives.

Make the name of Jesus famous in everything.

I plan on writing through a lot of the processes and thoughts here. With each post, we will end with some Deep Work questions. Things to think about, ponder, and engage.

Deep Work Questions:

1. What in your life are you doing that is draining your energy?
2. What in your life do you do that recharges your battery?
3. Where do you spend the majority of your time?
4. What would you do if you could free up your time?
5. What systems do you have in place for organization and planning?

Thy Kingdom Come

Last week I had the privilege of teaching how God formed his family in the Exodus story and what it means to the Church today.  We talked at length about how God has called His family to live as a distinct community within the pagan world.  As soon as we get the audio you will be able to find the three sessions at porterbrookstl.com. 

The Spirit has done an amazing amount of work on my heart in this area, pressing out what the distinct community actually looks like.  It’s one thing to study, exegete and preach what a community is suppose to look like.  It’s an entirely different exercise to pastor the local church to the same goal.  After teaching Sunday on the Festival of Booths, the Lord continued to work on my heart.  What does it look like to live dependent on God, faithful to His word and engaged in community?  What does it look like to be called as an empowered community distinct in and with the pagan world?

It didn’t take long for the exercise to become a reality.  How does the church engage the world with something like gender identity?  It’s a hot button issue, now that Target has chosen to allow open restrooms to our friends that identify with a different gender.  This of course has become a moral outrage in the Christian communities that I have the privileged of being involved it.  Not that the communities as a whole are outwardly making statements, but as many things in the social ecosystem, one persons comments can be taken as the opinion of the majority.

I’ve seen the arguments, the Bible teaches that this is wrong.  God made Adam and Eve, not Adam that identifies as Eve or even an Eve that identifies as Adam.  It doesn’t take much to see that sexuality is something that is deeply important to God.  So the question begs why?

I believe that we find at least a hint of why in the book of Ephesians.

Wives and Husbands Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:22-33 ESV)

We clearly see here that Paul draws an analogy to relationship between a husband and a wife and Christ and the Church.  There is an implicit sexual nature to the analogy because the one thing that a husband and a wife have that is explicit to the relationship is sex.  Biblically, sex is for the marriage, a bond that is meant to be shared and nurtured through the physical act of consummation.  As a Christian this teaching shouldn’t be new or anything ground breaking.  I’m making the case for the moral outrage.  The issue with attempting to draw the moral backlash from these verses is that God through Paul is speaking about the relationship between a man and a woman whom has been called by God to be in the family of God.  Someone who’s heart has been changed by the super natural act of the Holy Spirit described in Ezekiel 36:

I Will Put My Spirit Within You “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord GOD; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel. (Ezekiel 36:22-32 ESV)

So the question still begs, how does the Christian react?  Again, the answer can be found in Ephesians 5.

Walk in Love Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. (Ephesians 5:1-5 ESV)

We are to walk in love and be imitators of God.  The same God that came down and loved us when we were enemies of Him.  When we hated Him to the point of death on a cross, He loved us.  Our job as the church is not to make some moral outrage and boycott Target, that is the reaction of the world.  That’s the reaction of a pagan nation when something doesn’t go politically the way that they feel is right.  Do we boycott McDonalds because they help in the sin of gluttony?  Do we boycott every business that hires people what are living together but are not married?  Of course not, so the issue isn’t in fact a moral issue.

So what is the real issue?  The real issue is our hearts, Christians.  We only want to love, when it’s convenient and comfortable for us.  Someone who looks very different or has a completely different world view causes tension in our hearts and it’s a tension that we want to avoid.  How can I love this person whom looks and acts counter-cultural to my own beliefs?  And in that statement lies the very insidious sin in our hearts.  We still believe that the faith that was given to us was for us and in reality, the faith that was given to you as a gift from God is the faith causes you to engage a culture that is not like your own with the same love and grace that Christ engaged you with.

Or have we so quickly forgotten  the Gospel that saved us, is saving us and propels us into the world?

 

 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. (Galatians 1:6-7 ESV)

Morning Thoughts

The Way of Love

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

(1 Corinthians 13:1-7 ESV)

There is something about living the Christian life that should be appealing to anyone and everyone that encounters the Gospel.  Something that is so genuine, so open and so free that it is just pouring out of every member of the body.  The something is love.  As I sat last night and pondered over the words in this passage, begging for wisdom and guidance I recognized something within the words.  Paul is talking to the church in Corinth, a church that was so eager to use their spiritual gifts that they started to misuse them.  Paul’s words, His guidance was not to throw the gifts out, but to pursue them.  His exhortation down that line starts in 14, but the premise starts here.  The Way of Love.
As I read the words, I have to recognize two things.  First, Paul is again reiterating that regardless of the gifts and the talents that we have, without love they are nothing.  This is nothing new, as Christians we should know and operate out of love.  There is something much deeper going on in the words though, something that pulls at the strings of our character.  If we read the well quoted passage about the qualities of love, and we put into context of our character we find that the passage digs into our souls.  The deepest parts of who we are, and why we do what we do.
Our character should be patient and kind; it does not envy or boast; it’s not arrogant or rude.
In a series of passages that talks about our spiritual gifts, we find that the apostle Paul is writing for an inward reflection, of an outward response.  If our character is love, that is who we are on the deepest level, it’s qualities will be reflected outwardly towards everyone.
So, my prayer for this morning reads something like this:
Father,
I know that my heart needs to be focused and refocused on the finished work of the Cross.  Your Son took my place, took my punishment and my guilt on that day.  He defeated sin and death, an accomplishment that only He could do.  I know that my heart doesn’t always reflect the nature of love, the perfect nature of Jesus.  I beg Father, that you continue work in my heart, that you continue to press me deeper into the Gospel and that you teach me how to love Your bride.  Let my character reflect Your nature, let my actions and my gifts flow from a heart that is deeply in love with You.  Wrap me in your arms, hold me, so that I might know the love that can only come from you.  Amen.

The Gospel to the Streets

Walking through some teaching last night with a few of people made me realize that there is a disconnect, a misguided nature to the way that we teach Biblical truths to the people that God has placed in our paths. This disconnect isn’t inherently wrong, nor does it present itself as a heart issue per se, but it opens up conversation and teaching at a much deeper level. The issue is not with the curriculum that we are teaching but how we apply the teaching and the response to the truths that we are hearing.

Let’s flesh this out a bit. Last night we are working through the advanced year for Porterbrook. If you aren’t engaged in Porterbrook, find a learning site and go. We are talking about the Cross and the theological beauty of the scandal. The depth of the teaching is unreal. The implications are mind boggling and irrational, counter intuitive to the progressive society that we live in. As a group we can clearly define what grace is, and the happenings of the cross and this is where we find the disconnect. With all the teachings that we went over, we as a group struggled to be able to reteach or reframe all the teaching in language that mattered in our culture. We essentially have been taking great theological teaching and letting it die on our own domes (that’s brains in an urban culture).

Questions like; “How can you translate this for the people in your culture?” and “Can you explain this to me if I’m struggling with the nature of the cross?” turned out to be very pressing. Our group, had a difficult time breaking down the knowledge of the Gospel and turning it inside out. If we are going to fulfill the Great Commission we are going to have to turn the teaching inside out.

I love the phrase “turning the teaching inside out,” because it conveys the nature of the Gospel in a way that people can understand. As we peer into the Word, the Gospel infects our hearts, it changes us. We learn the deep truths, as we engage not only the Word but teachings from the word. It goes inside us. To develop disciples that internal engagement has to reflect and turn outward. It’s the nature of the Gospel. So our teaching has engage that reflection, it has to engage the mind and the heart. Our focus cannot be simply on learning, but on the teaching aspect as well. It’s in the nature of a disciple to teach, and reproduce.

Here are a few things to ponder before your teaching, regardless of the medium.

  1. As a teacher, are you using theoretical language? Is your language conducive for reteaching? Are you pressing out how to teach the information? Are you using real world examples or are you relying on Christian language to reinforce your points?
  2. Do your people really understand the material or are they just there? How can you format the teaching time to best engage your people? Is it time to step back and make sure that everyone is on the same page?
  3. How is the Gospel speaking into the hearts of your people? You can turn the knowledge inside out, if it’s not really getting to the inside. Where are your people at in their daily devotions?
  4. What’s going on in the lives of the people you’re shepherding? How can you leverage daily living as teaching moments? How is the Gospel speaking into their current situations?
  5. Are you teaching our of your personal experience with the Gospel and whatever curriculum that you are working out of? Do you have stories and life events where the teaching as greatly effected you?

These are just a few of the questions that we should be asking ourselves as we are preparing to teach. The glory of the Gospel is that we can’t add anything to it, to make it work. We can however teach it in ways that press our people deeper in to mission, deeper into community and just plain deeper in.

How are you getting the Gospel to your streets?

Wild and Wrecked

I have to admit that last week was rough and this week seemly is rougher, but something is different. Something is different, because I’m different. Last week I was bent on taking on the world. I was going to do something about everything. It was me against the world, and I was going to walk out all the world problems in a fit of rage.

This week someone said something to me, a comment that changed my prospective across the board. It’s not like it’s the first time that this particular person has said something like this to me, in fact I’m pretty sure that it’s the rock that smacked my soul around during sermon prep.

God is God and He loves His people, regardless of what side they are on currently. 

In the midst of war zones in Iraq, St. Louis and Israel, (just to name the headlines)  God loves His people and my job is simply to pray and witness the Good News of the Gospel.  The change that is so invigorating in my life, so undeniably real, that I cannot help but tell someone about it.   And that leaves me humbled in complete submission to the Creator.  

Who am I and where did I go?  That seems to be the question lingering in the air, the question that ultimately falls back into what is my identity in.  Does Christ define me or have I attempted to hijack my identity again?  It all boils down to who I rest under, is it Adam or is it Christ.  If it is Christ, I walk out my prayer in humble submission to the one that paid it all.  I begin to see people differently, and my thoughts and actions are transformed through my interactions with the living God.  If I rest in Adam, my thoughts and my actions reflect the broken nature of my flesh.

Let us not forget our identities as we walk out our faith, minute by minute, day by day.  

Total Depravity and Fellowship

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

Sometimes it’s hard to recognize just how relient we are on Christ.  It’s so apparent when something doesn’t go right, or life gets stressed beyond where we are comfortable.   This is where we find ourselves in complete depravity, needing everything from the Creator. If we look deeply in the words that Paul wrote to the Corinthians we see that he found great joy in feeling completely in need.

This week in the Basic Series, we talked about fellowship which ultimately comes down to the interpersonal relationship that we have with Jesus.  It seems counterintuitive to think that an ‘internal’ relationship is directly responsible for our external ‘fellowship’, but through the scriptures I think that we can see how it directly plays out.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for  my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Fellowship is about relationship, and relationships are built around trust.  Trust is built off of mutual vulnerability, allowing others to see and feel our depravity.  It’s incredibly scary and it causes us to pull back.  But God.  His power is made perfect in our weakness, as we see above.  He wants us to recognize that it’s not in the fellowship that we as a group are made strong, it’s in Him.  See the relationship with Jesus works different than the relationship or fellowship that you have with your friends or even with the Church.  God himself came down in human form, vulnerable to sin and capable of death.  His resurrection defeated death and sin, so we can rest him him.  There doesn’t have to be mutual vulnerability because like the song, His love never fails.  Fellowship will fail, friendship will fail, but God…. our love fails,

“For  God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not  perish but have eternal life.    For  God did not send his Son into the world  to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because  God is love.  In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that  God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love,  not that we have loved God  but that he loved us and sent his Son to be  the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and  his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:8-13)

Paul can, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that  the power of Christ may rest upon me.” because he knew that God’s grace and sovereignty never fails.  His love never fails.  If we continue to breakdown how these passages lace back into our vertical relationship with Christ we see that God is love, and

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.  For  we know in part and we prophesy in part,  but  when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.  When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.  For  now we see in a mirror dimly, but  then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as  I have been fully known.  So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:8-13)

The greatest gift from God is love.  The power of Christ is love.  Without the power of the Holy Spirit we cannot love even one person.  We can’t love ourselves, we can’t love our kids, we can’t love our friends, we cannot love.  You can’t have fellowship, and you definitely can’t have true communion without the power of the Holy Spirit.

The passage in James continues to reenforce this point.

Count it all joy, my brothers,  when you meet trials  of various kinds, for you know that  the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be  perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

Count it all joy, my brothers (community), when you meet trials of various kinds (depravity), for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness (love).  And let steadfastness (love) have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  Depravity looks ugly and it is.  We are all capable of murder, but it’s God’s grace and continuing sanctification working through us that provides us with a glimpse of what it’s like to love.  Through that insight we can start and work towards loving each other in community.  True fellowship.  It’s through his gospel that we find love, the words of his scripture and a interpretation of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

So my challenge today is that we focus on our interpersonal relationship with Jesus.  We work towards a greater communion with Him so that we can have a greater communion with His bride.