Work is Calling

Do you have one of those 9-5 jobs, or midnight to 8 am jobs? Or, maybe you are subject to your employer’s whim of whenever they need you. Do you enjoy what you are paid to do? Does it satisfy your need to be creative or productive while serving others? Maybe you wonder if your career has any meaning at all, or is it something to be endured like a dentist appointment.

Our work, our vocation, having a job to do was God’s plan from the start. It is one of the ways, if not the primary way, through which we accomplish our purpose here in the earth. I know, you probably have been taught our prime directive was to evangelize the heathens. Do you remember the first job description in history?

The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. Genesis 2:15 NLT

This charge to care for and cultivate was considered the prime role for the newly minted man. We were (and are) created with purpose, creativity and destiny. Anything that occupies our time and energy apart from pursuing and engaging with this assignment can only result in short term satisfaction at best, and long term frustration in the end. At worst, a woman or man will be conflicted about her/his reason for existence and end it all leaving only a life of self-indulgence and guilt as a legacy.

For some, a career is merely a job that provides a paycheck, healthcare, a two week vacation and a bit of retirement. We go home and forget the hard work, the overbearing boss and the never-ending tasks of each dreary day.

But, we are created with purpose and intent. Through vocation, avocation and work we live out that purpose. We contribute, through the work we do, to the greater good of culture, to our deep satisfaction and the purpose of God’s Kingdom, Shalom, by discovering the work that we are created and gifted to do and do it.

Lest you think I’m suggesting all work and no play are the only options, I truly believe play is a huge piece of a satisfying life. (Read: The Well-Played Life by Leonard Sweet) Most religions take themselves too seriously and forget that the creation story proves God himself loves a good time. Christianity has a recent history of emphasizing the seriousness of piety at the expense of richly enjoying the life God gave us.

Activity, or keeping busy, isn’t enough. Having a highly honored position or profile or being recognized by the masses isn’t the measure of faithful service, either. Festus, of Gunsmoke fame was heard to have said, “I think our national symbol should be a mule. Now the eagle is a beautiful bird and all, but I just think he should be down here on the ground where the work is bein’ did.” What he says so well is that the bird of popularity and veneration often doesn’t get as much done as an animal that is generally ignored, or worse.

Until the Reformation of the 16th century, Christianity was heavily influenced by Platonic inspired theology. Strong gnostic dualism shaped the way they looked at creation. Anything material was evil. Depriving oneself of things and being spiritually minded alone was good. Consequently, people who wanted to pursue the spiritual life denied themselves all physical possessions and pleasures in favor of poverty and prayer.

This led to monasticism being perceived as the highest form of spirituality and individual piety the highest form of worship. Unfortunately, these well-meaning individuals deserted society in order to seek personal enlightenment in solitude and temptation avoidance.

But finding rewarding work that promotes and advances the kingdom values and then pursuing that task faithfully in community is what accomplishes our calling and purpose. It is about actually making progressive strides by whatever sized increments toward Shalom in this world through divine directive. To quote Martin Luther; “God milks his cows by those farmers he has assigned to that task.”

Further, God gives us great latitude in how we participate in Kingdom bringing efforts. He has given us the capacity to dream, invent, build, mend, organize and harmonize. Our creative minds are inspired by God and energized by faith to not only be, but do!

Our doing is not ordered by rules or authoritarian constraints of our faith but is animated and freed to do whatever our creative minds and hearts dream up that serve to make disciples and a better world.

Rather than instructing godly people to flee this evil world, the gospel urges Christians to remain engaged in the world so that they might reform their various vocations for the glory of God. Heaven is a Place on Earth: Michael Wittmer

It seems that there is a wide range of human creativity in our works of faith. St. Paul gives space to those who have God inspired ideas by invoking His blessings on those works. What kind of works? Those that minds of faith have dreamed up. They are acts of creativity that promote and extend the Kingdom. Ideas that are wholesome and bring joy and service to humanity; those activities that are building relationships, healing brokenness in humanity and the earth are what the Kingdom seeks.

Because we know that this extraordinary day is just ahead, we pray for you all the time—pray that our God will make you fit for what he’s called you to be, pray that he’ll fill your good ideas and acts of faith with his own energy so that it all amounts to something. If your life honors the name of Jesus, he will honor you. Grace is behind and through all of this, our God giving himself freely, the Master, Jesus Christ, giving himself freely. (2 Thessalonians 1:11, 12 MSG)

So carry on with milking, making, marketing, mining, ministering or plowing with your ass. Do it with a renewed passion out of your calling and gifting. Do it with assurance that it is God-inspired and directed. Be creative. Be successful. Be fulfilled.

Back, in Style!

Driving back from a long time away, I’m half listening to my offspring’s offspring singing Hark the Herald Angels Sing for the ‘leventy-eth time when I catch what admittedly my hardness of hearing suddenly seems to be hearing.

“ . . . Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners back in style.”

At first awareness, I laugh. Well, the history of God and sinners has always been the predominant narrative of culture, even when powers that be distract us from this most important conversation. Since Genesis chapter 3, God’s story of attractive love has been both underlying and overshadowing his creation.

I can assume from the little bit of the history of civilization that I know, there have been times, eras maybe, that the story of redemption was “out of style.”

We know from a review of the ancient Israelite stories that they were “on again, off again” in their loyalty to JHWH, seeming to prefer and cultivate a flair for other stylish gods.

Immediately following Jesus’ murder, persecution came into vogue, by which the dominant culture tried to force all subjects to dress the same and have the same worship style. Live like a Roman and worship the Emperor as god. The true God was relegated to the closet.

Later, Constantine brought God back into style; he made it chic to be Christian. God is once again in! Churches fit for kingly worship were erected. Complex administrative flow charts became the thing to design. Smart and stylish fashions were created and pompous rituals invented for the elite to meet and show off. But like all apparel and customs eventually do, the fickle consumer or power hungry despot always clamors for something new and improved to dazzle the crowds.

There were long extended eras when the fad was turn or burn. “Look like us, act like us, believe like us, buy our baubles and worship our gods because that’s what we’re selling.” Take the Dark Ages, for example. Years passed when the good news message was shrouded by misguided crusaders for the richly clothed. God’s Kingdom pattern for a joy-filled life was again hidden in the back of the closet.

There are many examples in human history that show this capricious dynamic in spiritual drama. This, of course, is an abridged version of the ongoing story of this dance between God and his human creation.

Then, in the middle of the last century, after a solid showing of the Holy Spirit where common folks clothed themselves with holiness, some provocateurs of cheap, imported, knock-off grace paraded their wares on the catwalk of Christianity. Many bought into the look and feel of a look-alike at a fraction of the cost. It was described by St. Paul as “a form of Godliness but denying the power.”

One could be seen and thought well of, even wow other believers, by displaying the latest adornments and add-ons of Christian comportment. Best dressed and accessorized with the finest worship show technology, the quickest to share your prayer language or slaying in the Spirit skills or the most skilled with theological put-downs. Not all, but too many of our fellow travelers have been swindled by the look of popular faith instead of dressing in the relational robes of authenticity, congruence and integrity.

As I think now about her singing I am suddenly reminded of the supplanted word in that song; reconciled. That is what the whole story is really about. Not how we look or dress, not about ostentatious, self-centered posturing to distract God from our real condition. He knows you and me and loves and calls us to himself anyway.

Reconciliation needs to be back in style. It is what will escort Shalom and the Kingdom into our culture eager for relevance and purpose. Restoration, repairing, mending and healing are all words that convey what God has been trying to effect in his beloved creation since snakeskin became passé.

God and sinners ARE back in style! If you and I can set aside our robes of ambivalent, apathetic, filthy or obsolete shrouds of spiritual death, and be reconciled to God, we will be in a position to influence and lead culture to dress in right relationship with the king whose birth we celebrate this week.

I wish a Joyous Christmas Season to you all. May you be especially blessed and dressed in his righteousness alone.

Your Kingdom Come!

Shalom Revisited – 2

Can I share a sequel to last week’s post? Thank you. I knew you would (smile).

I am feeling that the air, the atmosphere, is pregnant with promise. I have hope for the future. Do you?

Is there a breath-holding anticipation for what is imminent?

Is your spirit incubating a word from God, a desire or a dream that has yet to realize maturity? I mean a personal word or promise God gave you. A call or assignment that you do not yet possess?

I believe we are coming into a large place, a season, where the Kingdom is budding into a very real manifestation. It has always been here since Jesus brought it but he intended that it would flourish and develop into rule, not exception.

“Well, I don’t know,” you say. “I don’t see the world headed that way. It’s running a million miles an hour away from God,” you say; and you would be right. However, the spirit that now controls this world is resisting vehemently because it is in the death throes of final demise.

I think we will witness a change in the world systems and governance very soon. But there are some qualifiers to our ability to see and participate. If you have read this far, you probably have met the first one. This clip unpacks it:

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. (John 3:3-5 NLT)

Here, I think, Jesus is saying that to “see” the Kingdom of God he is not necessarily referring to someday in the future. The Kingdom is here and now, as he says in another place. Therefore, we will see and enter the Kingdom of God only if and when, we are born again. But that is exactly when we can see it, when we are born again; if we know how to look for it and what to look for.

Seeing the Kingdom will open our eyes to God’s activity in the present world, of which we are a part. Nick and his friends saw the miraculous signs but that was not the Kingdom of God, only signs that the kingdom was present.

Jesus showed signs and miracles all through his life as evidence that the kingdom was present but there is another dimension to the kingdom that only “born again” people can see.

One may enter the Kingdom of God and enjoy its blessings and experience the movement and spirit of the King of that Kingdom when they are born into that Kingdom.

The next step is to participate in the advent of the Kingdom; to facilitate, to partner with; to position our lives by aligning with God in this advance to Shalom.

What is the deepest, hidden, most impossible dream of yours; to win the Powerball lottery, to have the girl or man in your fantasy, to be a huge philanthropist, to see poverty erased in your lifetime? Maybe it is to witness a major move of Holy Spirit?

May I share mine? I realize this makes me quite vulnerable but I can’t acquiesce anymore about my heart cry. I long to live under an open Heaven, to have His wisdom and Presence with and in me and touch the sick and bring healing. I want to live in purity and use my gifts to assist my community of faith to witness and participate in His Kingdom coming into our local world.

It happened, you know, a few years back, not long after Jesus was talking to Nick. Jesus went back to be with his Father. He showed his apprentices the ropes and then, like all good teachers, left them to actualize the mission.

Picture the new, improved, made-over Peter strolling to the House of Worship to pray. The sun is bright that day as he walks past some of the many beggars, the sick and diseased folk. Suddenly, after he passes, his shadow has fallen across many of them and they jump up completely healed! Luke says it this way:

As a result of the apostles’ work, sick people were brought out into the streets on beds and mats so that Peter’s shadow might fall across some of them as he went by. Crowds came from the villages around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those possessed by evil spirits, and they were all healed. (‭Acts of the Apostles‬ ‭5‬:‭15-16‬ NLT)‬‬‬

Then there are the stories of Paul building tents on his days off from preaching or writing epistles. People sneak up (or just ask him) for his sweatband or a piece of his workshop apron and “unusual miracles” happen.

God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles. When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled. (‭Acts of the Apostles‬ ‭19‬:‭11-12‬ NLT) ‬‬‬

Right! That was then and this is now. I forgot.

Oh wait! His Kingdom is returning to invade and saturate this very realm!

Throughout centuries of periodic showings; sometimes more, (Great Awakening, G.A. II, Wales Revival, Azusa Street Revival and others) sometimes less, (Dark Ages, Inquisition, corrupt churches, Bakker, Swaggart, Haggard, Mars Hill debacle, etc., etc.) God still loves people and conveys His Spirit and power to and through willing, pure hearted, imperfect believers.

So, does anticipating such a visitation arouse your mind? When last was your heart moved at its core; your spirit quickened with the scent of His Presence?

We all must become engaged in the place we are so that we may influence and steward our call; be it the Church, the political sphere, business, community events, whatever.

If you haven’t yet come into what you feel is your ultimate assignment, then join me in preparing your heart. Let go of lesser values. Release others from your expectations. Live by faith and the living promise of your personal Word, not doubting its validity or its certain realization.

You know, you can’t win if you don’t play.

Shalom Revisited

This season, Christmas season, is a time when each year we celebrate that pivotal moment in all of earth’s history. This is that singular event that God had planned from the first audible and visible beauty of creation. This moment, Jesus’ Nativity, is when God moved into the neighborhood and became like us so we could become like Him. A few years later, He invited a rag-tag group of guys to join him in learning about his world to teach them how to change ours. He called this new environment the Kingdom of God.

This blog is based on exploring what Shalom and the Kingdom of God might look like. Today I want to flesh out that continuing adventure a little and maybe process for myself, what I imagine the Kingdom could be. I have only a misty, vague image of what this might look like. You probably have some additional insight which I would love to hear.

When I read scripture that explicitly states such amazing, prophetic words such as “I will pour my spirit out on all flesh” (humanity, of course) or, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” and “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” and “all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord,” then I have a hard time with the purveyors of spiritual doom.

Reminds me of a scene in the animated movie, Khumba, which I have watched more than any adult needs to with my granddaughter. On the trail up to see the eagle on the mountaintop for some direction, Khumba encounters some small, furry animals who are beating on rocks and chanting, “Doom, doom, doom,” warning him not to go up there. (Of course, they are fearful of an imaginary, self-created problem.)

But, back to the future. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) There is an amazing word in Isaiah that foretells what I see to be the Kingdom government in full force; and as I understand it, yes, this will be here on earth.

For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever….

Wow! How will that happen? Well, this describes what I see as an environment of Shalom. Peace, justice, mercy and righteousness rule. Jesus is in complete control and we, the saints of God will rule with Him. The enemies of God have been crushed and all people will come under and into the Shalom of God.

Remember, all people will be included. That means Western/European cultures, Muslim and Asian peoples and their cultures, African, Indian and all other people groups will be under His influence. But they will not be unwilling subjects, for there will be no conflict nor resistance from anyone.

What we see in our world now; chaos from competing religions and contentious politics, greed from corporations driven by evil covenants to control the world and a religious spirit that has fomented more wars on this planet than any other motivation, these will all be subsumed and brought to submission under a loving and righteous God. (Whew, take a breath, doc!)

OK, think about this theological boondoggle. For over a hundred years the church has had an escapist mentality. We talk and preach about heaven and how we want to leave here and go there. We sing songs about the glorious streets of gold and evoke tears of joy and anticipation from our hearers as they long for a better world than this evil, self-indulgent one they despise.

But I think we have had it wrong. We have been escapists alright, but what we have been escaping from is our calling as children of the living God.

“We confuse our destiny with our assignment. Our destiny is to go to Heaven; our assignment is to bring Heaven to earth.” -Bill Johnson

If, in some twisted sense of theology, we rejoice when things in this world get worse, our charge to bring his kingdom into this world becomes improbable and pointless. This mindset is rooted in our wrong-headed perception that “this is just a sign of the times.” What this does is give our world, the world we have condemned, a wrong view of His world.

God doesn’t despise this world; He hasn’t given up on it like we have. He loves each and every human as well as the earth He created. Yes, it has become blighted by sin but because of love He provided redemption and gave us the keys to His Kingdom (likely not a ring of skeleton keys but prophetic keys of insight and revelation). I believe He will bring to pass all of the prophetic scriptures that promise He will restore and redeem all, including making a new heaven and a new earth. And He plans to establish a righteous government right here!

Our mission, our assignment in this world is not to get ready to leave it; it is to save it.

Over many years and because of a false view of God we have completely abdicated our calling and sought the self-centered satisfaction of saving our own skins to the loss of the lost. So we need to get back to making way for the Kingdom and pursuing an environment of Shalom. We must start loving all humanity into a community of faith and back out into a world that cries for redemption and healing from pain.

Unless you want to spend your time beating on rocks.

Of Gardening

Do you have a green thumb? Good! I need some help with my tomatoes. I have constant trouble with weeds and I don’t even water them. I don’t know where they come from; I only know there must be weed seeds down under that I can’t see.

Our heart garden has similar character-istics. In our future, and our past, lie seeds of fear, anxiety and worry. We water and nurture them by agreeing with their proposition and affirming what they represent. Only faith and trust can frustrate their germination into an unwanted patch of thistles and briars.

These seeds of potential grief are in each of us. They are planted there by generations past of whom many existed but never really lived. Let me back up a bit.

Many of our fathers and mothers lived very difficult lives. Every day was a struggle to survive. Not all had this experience but very few in my social circle have always had lots of money. However, even those with means had challenges of character; we all have challenges of character. This is what the fruit of these seeds attack; our character. So really, I am not referring to an individual’s ability to buy happiness but the ability to live happy, fulfilled and faith-full lives, irrespective of the stuff.

How do these seeds present when they mature into full bloom? Many ways.

Because of fear and anxiety many of us never live into our God-inspired dreams. We fret, worry and live below and apart from the blessings, calling and provision for which we have been created.

Sometimes we may not be ready to step into our ultimate calling because we have not dealt with character issues in our own lives. We miss the life of Shalom because we cannot trust His Ways fully. (Remember, more than simply peace, Shalom means an environment that is welcoming of the Kingdom of God; a state of being.) So, we are afraid to believe in the process, or even fail to participate in the process of forming our character.

Have you ever faced a temptation and failed? Yeah, so have I. Ever have a “moment” where you recognized that you failed the same thing last time? Yup!

“Get to the point, doc!”

Well, what do you think is happening in these moments? God is trying to get us to pass the test of character so we can move on and into our calling. For me, I need to learn to avoid situations that weaken my resolve and dedication to my calling. These can bring doubt about my call, chase away Holy Spirit and blunt my effectiveness in prayer or ministry.

Another way we allow these seeds of unbelief to invade our garden is fear of provision. Other words, we don’t trust that God is in control and will supply all our needs. I’ve seen extreme examples that manifest in things like hoarding. This type of fear and worry attacks and destroys character.

The heart of man cannot hoard. His brain or his hand may gather into its box and hoard, but the moment the thing has passed into the box, the heart has lost it and is hungry again. If a man would have, it is the Giver he must have;…Therefore all that He makes must be free to come and go through the heart of His child; he can enjoy it only as it passes, can enjoy only its life, its soul, its vision, its meaning, not itself. – George McDonald

I need to trust His provision and that He will supply all my needs, even though I can’t see it. When I do trust, my character is purified because I refuse to let fear and anxiety grow into weeds that control me.

Another thing that these evil seeds feed is immediate gratification. Because we don’t trust God for our future we want to grasp and clutch everything we can for fear of missing out. There is a difference between living in the moment and living for the moment. The first may affirm a life lived in faith, the latter borders on Hedonism. Let me explain.

One of the most difficult things to be done in our culture is to enjoy each moment as it comes; to be present with life. Driving, working, doing laundry, helping with a child’s homework; all can be experienced and enjoyed more fully when we devote our attention to the task or event at hand. In my mind this is living in the moment.

Living for the moment may mean we mortgage the future for present consumption. The system of credit in our world has been devastating and been the cause of ruin to the character of many. Yes, it has enabled us to have and enjoy things we otherwise would not. It has also been the source of conflict in marriages, families and on a larger scale, national financial instability. Fear of missing out on something, anxiety and worry when the payments cannot be met . . . see those seeds sprouting?

There are many other fears and anxieties. The fear of loss of control, reputation, beauty, health, status, wealth; there is even the loss of eternal salvation from not being good enough.

Someone once told me, “Worry is grief by faith.” It also prevents us from entering into that place of greatest joy; God’s best.

It is faith that takes us through uncertainty by simply enabling us to live and accept God’s purpose and plan. Yes, it is the building of character through that exercise of faith that brings us into our destiny. Can we live in the dark existence of unknowing without allowing fear and worry to grow? Can we live in faith alone? Living with a faith that takes us into and through our existence of tension, turmoil and conflict develops within us the ability to accept our living so.

Now where did I put that Roundup?