Do You Live to Work or Work to Live?

Do you live to work or work to live? We live in a world in which people typically err on one of two extremes when it comes to the elusive work-life balance.

Some live to work

It’s not uncommon for people—whether they wear a white collar, a blue collar, no collar, or even in a pastor’s collar—to work 60, 70, or 80 hours a week. When I was in college, I worked as a courier at a law firm. Several partners and associates had couches, blankets, pillows, and spare suits in their offices because they regularly spent the night. Last week, I spoke to a medical student who easily clocks 70 hours each week and rarely gets to see her husband and child. Some are required to spend many hours at work. For the majority, obsessive work—and the success, status, wealth, and accolades it brings—is a choice.

Some work to live

We tend to think that this is the holier of the two extremes. However, sometimes it is simply an excuse for laziness or the result of a time-consuming hobby or a commitment to maintain the façade of a life of wealth and leisure. I worked at a nonprofit organization in Indy several years ago. I was amazed by how anxiously my coworkers watched the clock each afternoon, waiting for happy hour to begin, and by how much they talked about the weekend they just completed or the weekend they were planning. They didn’t want to be there. And, their attitude was reflected in their work.

I’ve reflected upon this question a lot of times: Should I live to work or work to live? I have come to believe the answer is “Yes!” We live to work and we work to live.

Three essential truths apply.

God shaped us to work and create

God formed us in his own image and placed us within an intricate system that requires our care, cultivation, and stewardship. He also placed us in a lush paradise full of inspiration and with plenty of space in which to dream, create, build, and express ourselves. God’s creation mandate charges us with the responsibility to rule over the earth as his representatives, to fill the earth, to subdue it by bringing it into order, and to make it a place in which humanity can flourish. It is a good, right, and holy thing to give oneself to honest work that provides for people, creates excellent products, and contributes to the common good. We are being faithful to God when we work well.

God shaped us to require rest

God established a rhythm for life when, after creating the heavens and the earth, he rested on the seventh day and made it holy. Did God rest because he was exhausted? Absolutely not! He possesses immeasurable, inexhaustible strength. The Creator did not require rest. But, because he knew that his creation and the creatures therein would require regular relaxation, reflection, and recreation, he set aside one day a week and commanded those who worship him to honor it. We are human beings, not machines. And, as such, we require a regular routine to remember that we depend upon God, to enjoy time with the people he has put in our lives, to enjoy the world he created for us, to re-calibrate our hearts and souls, and to worship him.

We must resist making work or leisure an idol

Our sinful bent toward idolatry—giving the honor, praise, and priority to anything that is not God—is really at the heart of this whole issue. Work is a false god. Free time is a lousy lord. Neither deserves to reside on the throne of our hearts. That place is reserved for God alone. If we’re serving either the god of work or the lord of leisure, we’ll never experience the peace, purpose, and wholeness we can only find in Christ.

So, as a stranger and alien, how do you spend your work time and free time? When you’re at work, work with all your heart as if you’re serving the Lord and not just your boss or your board (see Colossians 3:23-24). When you have free time, let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, be thankful, reflect on God’s great love, and do it all in the name of Jesus (see Colossians 3:12-17).

Christian friends, we live to work. We also work to live. And we do it all to the glory of God.

[This post originally appeared on the PCC staff blog.]

The Thrill of Hope

The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn’

This lyric comes from one of my favorite Christmas carols: “O Holy Night.” I’ve always been captivated by the curious phrase, the thrill of hope. I’ve always wondered something. What is it, exactly, that makes hope thrilling?

Thrilling isn’t usually how we think about hope:

We hear about false hope all of the time.

People use the word hopefully when they really want something to happen (but they’re pretty sure it won’t).

Some use the word hope frequently because they’re positive people who like to express a general sense of optimism.

We talk about hope as a feeling or a vaguely positive emotion one experiences from time to time.

We’re quick to point out when someone has lost hope or gives up hope.

If we’re being honest, the idea of hope being thrilling is odd. Roller coasters are thrilling. A basketball game that goes into overtime is thrilling. Bungee jumping is thrilling (I’ve heard). How can hope be thrilling?

I believe it all comes down to what or whom is the object of our hope. Hope can be thrilling as long as it is built on something that is trustworthy and sure.

Hope isn’t thrilling if it is built on my desire to see the Colts to win the Super Bowl. It’s not thrilling if I’m brimming with confidence that my favorite politician will keep all of his or her promises when he or she is in office. Hope doesn’t thrill if it depends upon seeing my lottery numbers on the screen. And, hope doesn’t thrill when I’m leaning all of my weight on a job, a hobby, or a relationship for a sense of purpose or wholeness.

Hope is thrilling, however, if it is built on something true, real, right, and good.

What is hope?

When Christians talk about hope, the thrilling kind of hope from the Christmas song, we aren’t attempting to manifest something that isn’t real. We’re not engaged in wishful thinking or conjuring up what we wish for by the power of positive thinking. We’re not being irrational, weak, or dishonest. Nor are we ignoring or making light of the obvious pain, angst, suffering, and brokenness of the world in which we live. When Christians talk about hope, we’re making a powerful statement about the truest truths, the real-est realities, and the certain-est certainties. Real hope is built upon the truth of what God has done and the absolute certitude, on that basis, that he will do what he has promised to do.

The thrill of hope

Hope is thrilling—at Christmastime and throughout the year—because the reality of that miracle-baby in the manger is the God-man on the cross, the risen and eternal Savior. We can be thrilled will hope because we know that he will return to bring us home.

I pray that your heart leaps with joy, anticipation, and excitement this Christmas, that you experience the thrill of hope about which you’ll sing.

O holy night the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angels’ voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born

All the Poor and Powerless

One of my favorite songs is called “All the Poor and Powerless” by All Sons and Daughters.

The opening verse states:

All the poor and powerless
And all the lost and lonely
And all the thieves will come confess
And know that You are holy
And know that You are holy

Those who end up knowing that God is good—because he rescues them—are the poor, powerless, lost, lonely thieves who recognize their need for him. But, so often, we deceive ourselves into thinking that the rich and powerful people who seem to know exactly where they’re headed and who are constantly surrounded by a merry crowd of friends are the ones who are blessed by God, the ones who know his strength, goodness, and power.

We can’t know God’s riches until we have tasted poverty, his power until we are powerless. And, we won’t be found or filled with the most faithful of friendships until we are lost and lonely.

That’s precisely why God has always had a place in his heart for people who are marginalized and oppressed. He loves people who are foreigners and aliens, outcast, shunned, destitute, and abandoned. He loves children who cannot defend themselves. He honors the weak and wounded.

As his people, are you glorying in your own strength and righteousness? Or, do you recognize your own poverty and desperate need for him? Are you tempted to recline in your righteousness, enjoying all you’ve been blessed with? Or, in your weakness, do you join God in his mission to redeem and restore others who are lost and lonely, poor and powerless?

We’ll only experience God’s holiness and goodness, his favor and provision, when we join him.

The Best Antidote to Unhealthy Theology

A few days ago, a member at my church got in touch with me about some unhealthy theology that a loved one of hers was beginning to wade into. This person had stumbled across a theologian whose teaching had raised her suspicions. She was determined to understand the teaching she was dealing with and she wanted to be able to point her loved one toward better alternatives.

She was right to be concerned.

Her loved one had stumbled across the late Clark Pinnock and some of his writings about a concept called open theism. This is the teaching that some aspects of the future remain unknown, at least with certainty, to God. While Pinnock and other open theists state that parts of the future are unknown to God, the Bible says otherwise. God is omniscient. “God fully knows himself and all things actual and possible in one simple and eternal act” (Grudem, 1994, p. 190).

  • God knows himself so when he reveals himself to us we can trust him.
  • God knows all things including the entire realm of possibilities that may result from the hundreds of choices each of us make every single day.
  • And, God knows all of it in one panorama; where we see one or two pixels at a time he sees the entire sweep of history all at once and in high-definition.

Wow!

I don’t know about you. It’s comforting to me to know that we serve a God who is wise enough to know everything that has, is, or will ever happen and, at the same time, good enough that he allows his creatures to experience free will. We err greatly when we believe and teach, as Pinnock did, that our own choices trump God’s knowledge. And we err greatly when we believe and teach, as some have done, that God’s omniscience reduces us to mere puppets on a string or resigns us to hopeless fatalism. God is good and wise enough to hold both of those tensions in perfect, divine balance.

So, what’s the best antidote to unhealthy theology?

When I consider all of this, I can’t help but think that it’s pure wonder. What else can you do? How else can you react? Since we serve a God this great, there’s little else to do than to be in awe.

Each of us may carry around elements of unhealthy theology. Hold them up to the light of the truth of God’s character. Wonder at his grandeur and goodness. That’s the best antidote to unhealthy theology.


Reference: Grudem, W. (1994). Systematic theology: An introduction to biblical doctrine. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

How to Forgive Someone Who Hasn’t Asked

how-to-forgive

Have you ever sensed the need to forgive someone who has harmed you? Forgiveness is easier when they apologize. But, what if they’re oblivious or unrepentant?

Lately, I’ve done some thinking and praying about how to forgive someone who hasn’t asked. Before we get to that, we have to be clear about why we would consider forgiveness in the first place.

Why forgive?

In the wake of being wronged, forgiveness is the last thing most people consider. We don’t want to sacrifice the sense of justice and control we receive from the anger we harbor and we don’t want to make ourselves vulnerable or weak all over again.

There are many who scoff at the idea of forgiveness. But, as a Christian, it has to be different for me. So, why forgive. I can think of three reasons.

1. We forgive to avoid the sin of hatred.

Immediately after saying that [biblegateway passage=”Matthew 5:3-11″ display=”God blesses”] the merciful, the meek, and those who make peace, Jesus talks about the corrosive nature of hatred and how, ultimately, it’s [biblegateway passage=”Matthew 5:21-22″ display=”equivalent to murder”]. We must not harbor or nurture resentment, anger, and unforgiveness. It imprisons us. If we are to be the kind of people God wants us to be, we must resist the gravitational pull of hatred and choose to forgive. To condemn, to keep a record of wrongs, to harbor resentment, and to loathe someone is contrary to [biblegateway passage=”Matthew 22:36-40″ display=”God’s will for us”].

2. We forgive to follow Jesus’ example.

Jesus never sinned. He never broke the law. He blessed, healed, taught, and loved. But, he experienced the jealousy of the religious leaders, the betrayal of his closest friends, and the brutality of the Romans. And, he went to the cross. This is stunning: his last breaths weren’t used to plead his case or to curse his murderers; in his final breaths [biblegateway passage=”Luke 23:33-34″ display=”he asked God to forgive”]. And he asks me to follow him.

3. We forgive because we’re forgiven.

I have wronged God too many times to count. But, because of his mercy, grace, and love, and because of Jesus, I have been forgiven. And, if you’re a believer, you have received the same. We choose to be [biblegateway passage=”Colossians 3:12-14″ display=”the kind of people who forgive”] because we’ve been forgiven.

Now that we know why forgiveness is on the table—and why Christians ought to pursue it—we can consider our question.

How do you forgive someone who hasn’t asked?

In the midst of a recent conversation about a fellow believer who mistreated me in the past, Kelly asked me, “Could you sit next to that person and take communion together?” After a flash of defensiveness surged through me, I had to admit to my insightful wife that I could not. This person hasn’t asked for forgiveness. As far as I know, this person has no sense of wrongdoing or responsibility. This person is someone I have very little chance of seeing again. However, if I am to genuinely live my faith, it is incumbent upon me to forgive.

So, here’s the process I’m allowing the Spirit to lead me through by God’s grace. It’s what I’d recommend to you if you have a wrong to forgive.

1. Understand how you have been wronged.

Your mind, like mine, has a way of either maximizing or minimizing traumatic events. Therefore, it’s vital to be clear about what happened. Pray through the situation. What led up to it? What was the sequence of events? What was said or done? Write it down on a list or in a journal. Be comprehensive. Refuse to gloss things over or to reason away. You were hurt. Understand it for what it is. (And, this is a great time to own your personal responsibility for what happened, even if it’s ever so small.)

2. Pray for healing.

Once you’ve acknowledged precisely how you have been hurt and have felt the weight of it, you’re ready to allow God to heal it. The process may take ages; it may happen piece-by-piece, layer-by-layer. Or it might be instantaneous. That’s not the point. The point is that God is the only one who can remove it. And he will.

3. Eliminate residual hatred.

Your healing won’t be complete as long as you’re harboring one shred of hatred, resentment, or condemnation. If hate isn’t removed, it grows. Pray about it. Journal about it. Confess it to a friend (without gossiping). Do whatever you need to do to get rid of it.

4. Release the offender’s debt.

Finally, there will come a time when you must release the debt that your offender owes. They may never understand that they’ve hurt you. They may think you’re foolish. No matter. If they refuse to exit the prison you’ve unlocked, that is up to them. The point is that you’re no longer the one keeping them there.

For a myriad of reasons, it might not be advisable—or even safe—to communicate your forgiveness to your offender. That’s OK. You can offer forgiveness without personal contact. Write a letter and burn it on the fireplace. Head out into the woods and voice your forgiveness to the foliage. Give it a voice and walk away.

In instances, it might be necessary to communicate forgiveness face-to-face or in a letter. If you have that chance, be prayerful, humble, merciful, and honest. State the ways in which you were wronged, share about your journey toward forgiveness, and utter these three words: “I forgive you.” Then, walk away from what you’ve dropped and refuse to pick it up again.

5. If possible, seek reconciliation.

If it’s not safe to contact your offender, your journey is complete. But if reconciliation is a possibility, leave the door open and embrace it if it comes. A reconciled relationship is a beautiful picture of the Gospel. If you can sit beside that person one day and commune together once more, what a wonderful thing that would be.

I’ll let this disclaimer be my final word on the topic of reconciliation: Reconcile with care. Your brave act of forgiveness doesn’t require you to make yourself vulnerable to becoming a victim again. It’s OK if the relationship has to change or if you have to be careful to abide by wisely placed boundaries.

What about you?

Are you holding someone in your debt? Do you need to offer forgiveness?

7 Reasons Weekly Worship is Vital

Central Indiana woke up to our first semi-substantial snowfall of 2016 this morning. And, while I don’t expect many to relate to what I’m about to say, I’m going to say it anyway.

Sunday snow stinks!

Any other day of the week, no problem. If it snows on Tuesday, we cancel school and everyone is happy. If it happens on a Saturday, everyone grabs a sled and heads to the hill at the park. But, to a minister, snow on a Sunday morning is a huge disappointment. It means that a large number of people will miss out on weekly worship. Some people shouldn’t be out in the snow; for senior adults venturing out can be quite risky. For the vast majority of people, heading to church in the snow poses no real threat. Grateful for the convenient excuse, many will simply choose to stay home.

As I was driving to the church in the snow this morning, a verse kept coming to mind:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching, ([biblegateway passage=”Hebrews 10:24-25″]).

Let’s state the obvious: some have given up the habit of meeting together. Regular church attendance, even for many mature believers, simply isn’t a priority. It’s not a new phenomenon; it’s at least as old as the letter to the Hebrews. But it’s a problem we must continue to guard against.

So, whatever the weather happens to be when you wake up each Sunday morning, consider making weekly worship a priority. Here are 7 reasons weekly worship is vital.

1. Weekly worship is a counter-cultural statement.

The world may scoff at us, cast aspersions on the Church, or look down upon us for believing old myths and wives’ tales from an antiquated book. But we know better. We demonstrate the reality—and utter goodness—of God by deliberately and faithfully participating in the Body of Christ.

2. Our spiritual formation depends upon it.

Think about all you encounter on a Sunday morning: prayer, gospel-centered teaching and preaching, encouraging interactions with fellow believers, communion, people making spiritual decisions, opportunities to serve one another by meeting needs. All of those elements happen on a typical Sunday and all of them are essential for your spiritual formation. Even though you can get bits and pieces of these things elsewhere, there’s no substitute for experiencing them at corporate worship.

3. We meet Jesus in worship.

I belong to a church tradition that sets aside time each week to observe communion, the Lord’s Supper. There’s something deep and mysterious about the experience of meeting Jesus during the quiet moments of communion, along with brothers and sisters in Christ. It is transformational and, therefore, not to be missed. (I chose the word transformational purposefully for I cannot think of a better way to describe it.)

4. Weekly worship clarifies our priorities.

We prioritize what we value. For our friends and neighbors who aren’t yet believers, Sunday is just another day. For us it is far from an ordinary day. It’s an opportunity to set aside the first hours of the brand-new week for what is most important to us. It’s a way to demonstrate that we are God’s people. He’s the one we value most. And, we show that he has first place in our lives by giving him the first few hours of our week.

5. We encourage one another in worship.

Meeting together in worship gives us a regular opportunity to go beyond the small talk that pervades most of our public interactions. We designate time during worship services for purposeful interactions and we linger before and after services to fellowship on a deeper level. Together, we celebrate joys, meet needs, carry burdens, share wisdom, pray, counsel, and care.

6. We can exercise our gifts in worship.

Attending church is about so much more than passive participation, just being there. It’s about active involvement, using the gifts of the Spirit to make the experience excellent for all who are present. Ninety-five percent of what happens at worship has nothing to do with the preacher or worship leader. Worship is such a sweet experience because of the thoughtful Bible teacher, the encouraging nursery worker, the hospitable greeter, the creative musician, the dedicated parking lot attendant, and the wise welcome center worker. As we serve one another, the whole body becomes healthy, it grows, and it is full of love.

7. We build up the church for which Jesus died.

Finally, Jesus died for the church. His death, burial, and resurrection is the cornerstone upon which she is built. He established her. He sustains her. And, one day, he will return to claim her as his bride. Certainly, we can and should do all we can do to build up the church he loves.

What about you?

Is weekly worship a value you hold dear? If so, what impact has it made? If not, what’s keeping you from becoming committed to weekly worship?

Have You Prayed for a Terrorist Lately?

how-to-pray-for-terrorists

My family got into an interesting conversation on Thanksgiving in the light of the terrorist attacks in Paris. Yesterday’s San Bernardino massacre brought that conversation back to mind. The topic: What should the US do about the Islamic State?

I mostly listened during that conversation. When I did speak up (as ministers are wont to do) I shared about a provocative article I had recently read.

My point was that, as Christians, we ought to think carefully about the stance we take and that we ought to dedicate ourselves first to prayer. My sweet wife, who after nearly 20 years together has learned to call my bluff when I get a little too preachy, asked me if I had been praying for terrorists or if I was just being sanctimonious.

I hadn’t. I was.

In the aftermath of Paris and San Bernardino, I will begin. No more simply knowing what’s right and failing to do what’s right.

Prayer’s precedent

There is, after all, precedent for Christians assuming a prayerful role in the face of great violence. The book of Acts tells of a terrorist who dedicated himself to use whatever means necessary to stamp out the fledgling Church. The persecuted Church certainly knew and applied these words:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven,” (Jesus, in [biblegateway passage=”Matthew 5:43-45″]).

Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Although the Bible doesn’t make this explicit, because they were taking their cues from Jesus, I believe the persecuted Christians prayed fervently for Saul of Tarsus, the terrorist who was gutting the Church in the name of God.

God [biblegateway passage=”1 Timothy 1:12-17″ display=”answered their prayers”] and turned that murderous zealot into the greatest church planter, theologian, and leader the Church has known in the last 2,000 years.

Is it possible that there’s another Saul of Tarsus who needs the prayers of the Church?

Have you prayed for a terrorist lately?

As my thoughts are becoming clearer on this issue, here are a number of the things I will be praying about. Will you join me in praying for these five things?

Pray for your heart

Begin here. It’s way too easy to give in to the anger and fear that terrorist acts have produced. And, if we’re not careful, we can find ourselves becoming hateful and bigoted. Pray for a heart that is sensitive enough to draw in sadness and pain and pump out faith, hope, love, and peace.

Pray for political leaders

We may disagree with our leaders. We might believe they’re too militant or too pacifistic, too interventionist or too isolationist, too sympathetic or not sympathetic enough, too concerned with retaining votes, or completely wrong-headed. No matter how we feel, it’s still our responsibility to pray for them. Pray for wisdom. Resolve. Strength. For wise advisers and for proper support. Pray that the God who gave them their authority would work through them.

Pray for the Gospel to advance

The only thing that can change the heart of a terrorist—of any sinner for that matter—is the transformative power of the Gospel of Jesus. Pray that the Gospel is preached powerfully.  Pray that its messengers are protected by God and favored by their hearers. Pray that the Holy Spirit invades hostile territory and does a work beyond anything we could ask or imagine.

Pray for the Church to shine

Whether it’s the faith of Christians facing persecution, the hospitality shown by Christians welcoming refugees, the ministry of believers in working for the good of their communities, or day-to-day conversations sprinkled with grace and truth, pray that the Church has an opportunity display God’s love in tangible, winsome, and effective ways.

Pray for God to receive glory

No matter how dark the situation, God’s glory has the power to drive it away. Pray for him to be seen, known, honored, and glorified in these dark times. One day, his glory will be known to every soul and every knee will bow.

What about you?

The news is bad. It’s getting worse. There’s only one solution: a massive renovation of the hearts of mankind. And, the road leading to that renovation is—and always has been—paved with the prayers of the saints.

What about you? Will you pray first? Will you keep praying?