Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Crooked Sticks

How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways (Romans 11:33).

The name Alexander Cruden may not mean much to you. I just finished reading a short article about him written by John Piper, and the story seems worth sharing.[1]

Cruden compiled one of the earliest concordances of the King James Bible. This is staggering when you consider the fact that he began his work in the mid 1720s. No computer programs of any kind aided his painstaking labor. Cruden took the King James Bible, all 777, 746 words of it, and documented where each word of the text occurred. This means that he meticulously tracked a word like “him” and noted that it appeared 6,667 times in the KJV. Can you imagine doing this?

Keep in mind that this was not Cruden’s full-time day job. He was not a pastor engaged in regular teaching of the bible. He was not a professor of Greek or Hebrew or theology in a school of divinity or a seminary. Cruden earned his living as a proofreader, or “corrector of the press.” After a day of keeping his nose to the prose, he would go home and sift through every little word of the bible. Along the way he generated more extensive explanatory essays, composing a 4000 word article on the word “synagogue.”

By now you’re thinking, “Someone would have to be crazy to do that kind of thing.” In Cruden’s case you’d not be far from wrong. Institutionalized four times in his life, Cruden was not a stable person. Today we would speak of him as one with mental illness. Among his bizarre behaviors was a tendency to propose marriage to women he didn’t know. Today we’d call him a stalker. This was a strange man indeed.

But here’s the thing: Cruden’s Concordance has never been out of print. It has been issued in hundreds of editions, and you can find it today if you’re so inclined. This means that over the years untold thousands of people have been helped as they seek to explore the scriptures in greater depth. Piper concluded his article this way:

What encourages me about this is to realize that God’s ways are strange. “How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways” (Romans 11:33). And in this strangeness sinful and sick and broken people fit into God’s designs . . . Beware of belittling God’s crooked sticks. With them he may write the message that makes a thousand people glad (Piper, “The Good, Insane Concordance Maker,” May 11, 2005).

One of the greatest obstacles to seriously engaging “my95” is the idea that God only uses particularly gifted and capable people who do particularly influential or significant work. The example of Alexander Cruden proves the error of both of those ideas. Cruden did a mundane, obscure and thankless work for many years. He himself was hardly the picture of health. No one looked to him as a role model or dreamed of becoming like him.

The point of Cruden’s story is simple and obvious. If God can and does use a man like Alexander Cruden, God can and will use you.

You’ve got issues? So what. Everyone has issues. Not doing something exciting or lucrative, not shaping young minds or saving lives? So what. The smallest task, when given to our creator, can have ramifications that we may never know about. That’s because our sovereign God’s ways are not our ways, his judgments unsearchable and beyond understanding.

We give you thanks, O God, that you are not limited by our imperfections and flaws. The future you have for us is not thwarted by the past we can’t change or get back. Your willingness to use us exceeds our own willingness to be used by you. We offer ourselves and our work to you today, thankful that you use the foolish things of this world to shame the wise. Use us just so today, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] Piper’s article summarized Timothy Larsen’s review of a biography of Cruden written by Julia Keay.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

With Urgency

You are the salt of the earth . . . you are the light of the world (Matthew 5: 13, 14).

We’ve reduced these wonderful words of Jesus to mere poetry; an inspirational metaphor or image, but little more. Is it possible that when Jesus spoke these words he wasn’t simply giving us a picture, but rather giving us a command? We would do well to recover the urgency in these words. Not unlike the kind of urgency that drew Dietrich Bonhoeffer back to Nazi Germany from a safe parish ministry in England.

In 1933 Adolph Hitler was solidifying unchallenged power in Germany and the protestant church was capitulating, willingly swept up in the nationalism Hitler so skillfully stoked. Not all Christians in Germany were pleased with what was happening to their country, among them a young theologian by the name of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Frustrated with the inner workings of the German church and the refusal of the church to stand up to Hitler, Bonhoeffer left Germany and went to pastor a German speaking congregation in London. The situation for the church in Germany continued to deteriorate, and in November of 1933 Bonhoeffer received a letter from the renowned theologian Karl Barth. The pointed message from Barth to his former student: You must return to Germany. Barth wrote

You must now let go of all these intellectual flourishes and special considerations, however interesting they may be, and think of only one thing – that you are a German, that the house of your church is on fire, that you know enough and can say what you know well enough to be able to help, and that you really must return to your post by next ship (Letter from Karl Barth to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, November 1933).

That’s urgency.

God likewise has given you a post in this world. Whether in a law firm or a classroom or a clinic or a playroom littered with toys, you have a post. And Jesus has said that wherever that post may be, we are to be salt and light in the world. The conviction beneath “my95” is that all of you can do this. As Barth said to Bonhoeffer, you know enough. You don’t need a seminary degree to be salt and light. And you can say what you know in a way that is fitting and effective in the place God has you.

If “ my95” is, to borrow Barth’s words, an “intellectual flourish” then our faith will not likely impact our world. Our influence will be confined to the length of a pew and the height of a steeple. But Jesus has given us an identity that carries a mandate. You are the salt of the earth, the light of the world.

Assume your post again today, and this time with urgency.

Lord Jesus, help me to live this day with urgency – not an anxious need to make things happen or to control what others think and do, but an intense desire to be salt and light and make a difference in the place you’ve given me. May others see something in my life that draws them to you, and may you be honored in all that they see. Amen.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Take It All

For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it (Mark 8:35).

Ever had one of those moments when something you haven’t thought of for years somehow manages to penetrate your consciousness; something you thought you’d forgotten, something you’d forgotten you ever knew? I had one of those moments yesterday at the My95 gathering in Kellett Chapel – and by the way, if you haven’t made plans to attend one of these gatherings, you need to seriously re-think your plans. Honestly, it’s worth every bit if the 120 minutes you’ll invest (gatherings continue through this week; there’s a link below to help you sign up for one).

But I digress. The moment I experienced there in Kellett Chapel came when we were singing a very familiar hymn just before we received communion. They hymn is variously called “Take My Life” or “Take My Life and Let it Be” or most thoroughly “Take My Life and Let it Be Consecrated.” You get the idea.

We’re singing this hymn and suddenly I’m back in church on a Sunday night, my dad at the pulpit giving us the hymn number. A revival preacher at heart, my dad nevertheless understood that people were not always enthusiastic about walking the aisle. So, usually at the end of a Sunday night service, Dad would finish his sermon and then have us sing “Take My Life.” He’d ask us to stay seated until the verses spoke of some kind of commitment we wanted to make.

You may recall the drift of the hymn text: Take my hands . . . take my words . . . take my treasure . . . and so on. When the hymn mentioned a part of ourselves and our lives that we needed to commit or re-commit to Jesus, we’d stand up. Life-long Presbyterians may be horrified at this – but I loved it because it was a way to do something and stay in the pew. Very safe, a non-committal commitment.

Sometimes on oppressively hot summer days, you’ll catch a breeze from out of nowhere. It won’t last very long, but it comes as a gift, cooling your face, a touch of April in the middle of August. My moment was like that. The slightest movement of the Spirit that gave me sense of the grace that has been mine since childhood. I felt deep affection for my father who turns 73 this summer and still preaches every week. I felt a profound gratitude for the heritage of faith passed on to me by parents and the community of God’s people, Baptist, Presbyterian and otherwise.

And I also sensed that what we most need to sing and say to God is “take it all.” I understand very well what my Dad was asking us to do on those occasional Sunday nights. We struggle to offer some parts of life more than others. Some gladly give their silver and gold, but inflict wounds with their words or harbor dark things in their minds. The answer is to take it all, all that we are, and offer it up to God.

What pieces of your life do you hold back, if any? Jesus told us we truly find life when we’re willing to lose it. Let your prayer today be an invitation for God to take it all.

Lord Jesus – take my life and let be set apart for you today. Take my possessions, my strength, my words and thoughts, my relationships – everything I cherish and hold dear. Take it all and use it as you see fit, for the glory of your name and your purposes in the world. Amen.

Friday, April 25, 2008


So will I ever sing praises to your name as I perform my vows day after day (Psalm 61:8 ESV).

While “routine” isn’t a word I would choose to describe my life, my life is made up of a collection of routines. Patterns emerge that are repeated, sometimes weekly, sometimes daily. I’m always the first one up in the morning, making the coffee, getting in some time in the study before rousting the rest of the household to life. On Sunday nights we order pizza and watch “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” The rhythm of the week is marked by Wednesday nights at church, and Sunday mornings at church. The bulletin for the upcoming Sunday is reviewed every Monday afternoon. We have staff lunch on the first and third Wednesdays of the month.

On most weeks, these repeated patterns feel good to me, like a well worn pair of jeans that I wouldn’t throw away for anything. But there are times when the routines seem, well . . . routine. I don’t know who said it – but I’ve heard that the hardest thing about life is that it’s just so daily. You won’t find that line in the book of Proverbs, but it is good wisdom. Routines can be deadening. Boredom sets in. All the real living gets bleached out of life.

And when it comes to our walk with God and our understanding of what it means to live a robust life of faith, routines are like Novocain to the soul. We know our souls are there, we just can’t feel them.

This leads us to the following conclusion: if we could ditch the routines, we could really know God. We could truly live with a sense of God’s presence. We could get close to God. But for these dishes in the sink, and practices to run to, and clothes to be folded, and bulletins to be proofed, and cars that need an oil change, and baths to be overseen, and teacher conferences to attend - were it not for all this daily-ness, we could live a vibrant spiritual life.

But this conclusion is wrong. We don’t find God by losing routines and patterns and obligations. We don’t become more spiritual by becoming less predictable. We don’t get deep by getting free. If anything, the opposite is true. God is found and grace is received in the midst of ordinariness. We demonstrate a likeness to God in our own faithfulness and steadfast commitments.

The Psalmist seems to have experienced the right mingling of exuberant praise and daily faithfulness. The words of Psalm 61:8 clearly come from one who has discovered what it means to worship in the midst of the daily performance of vows. The vows the Psalmist kept may have been religious vows of some kind – but I think of other kinds of vows that we keep day after day.

Showing up for work . . . calling your mother . . . getting in line for car pool yet one more time . . . balancing the books . . . meeting with clients. . . a kiss goodnight for your child. When done often enough the presence of the Holy eventually disappears from these things, slowly and over time, like the smell of a new car.

But Psalm 61:8 is a reality check. Life, even in its most familiar forms, need not be experienced as empty routine. We can live with a heart full of praise even as we keep our commitments and perform our vows day after day. Praise and daily-ness belong together. What vows will you keep today? What will you do that you’ve done a thousand times before? Do it with a heart of praise. Worship can grow in the dirt of the daily.

Gracious God, the day before me looks all too familiar. I’ve been here before, and because I’ve been here before I easily forget that you are here now. Grant the gift of your Holy Spirit that in the living of this day and the routines that come with it, I may praise you with a thankful and glad heart, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Minus 95: Losing the Biggest Part of Your Life

This is what the Lord Almighty says to all those I carried into exile . . . Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce . . . seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile (Jeremiah 29: 4-7).

Let’s do the math again.

A small percentage of your week is spent in church. Whatever that percentage might be, it is certainly well spent, but it’s a small percentage no matter how you slice it. We’re calling it the 5%.

That leaves 95% of your week spent doing other things. The life of faith finds true expression in that 95%. At work, at home, at leisure, whatever a typical week involves – that’s where you live the Jesus way. Following Jesus happens in the 95.

But what happens when the 95 is lost?

Of course, literally speaking, the time on the clock that makes up your 95 can’t be lost. But sometimes the life you’ve known, the activities and endeavors that define your 95 can seem to vanish. Here one week, gone the next.

What happens to your 95 when you’ve lost your job? What happens to your 95 when you lose a marriage? What happens to your 95 when you lose the physical capacity to do the things you’ve always enjoyed doing? What happens to your 95 when your spouse slowly loses the memory of the life you’ve shared?

There’s a biblical word that captures this kind of experience. The word is “exile.” God’s people went through a period of exile and this experience is told in different places in the Hebrew Scriptures. The essence of exile is dislocation. Everything that has defined life – the large piece we’re calling “my95” – is taken away.

To be in exile is to lose your place, your people, your practices of worship and play. Whatever it is that makes you “you” is gone.

In Jeremiah 29 we read about two ways of responding to exile that were placed before God’s people. On one hand there was a prophet by the name of Shemaiah who basically encouraged the people by telling them that they would soon get home and things would soon get better. His message was about waiting for the old ways, the old 95, to be restored again.

In contrast there was the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah basically said, don’t waste time waiting for the old 95 to come back again. Live your life now. Embrace the 95 God has given you today. Build houses, plant gardens, get married, have babies. Live the life God has given you today, not the life you used to have, not the life you wish you had.

Jeremiah’s message was hard to hear, but it had the ring of truth. A truth that’s worth hearing when it seems that the 95 you’ve known is no longer your 95. As difficult as it may be, the life you have today is a life that can bring honor God. You may feel dislocated, lost, bereft of the 95 you worked hard to achieve – but God is with you in the life you have today, in the place where you find yourself right now.

So do the things life demands of you today. If you have a job, go to work. If not, look for work yet another day. Mow your grass. Hug your children. List the errands and get them done. Live the life you have right now. In the simple bravery of living this day, God meets you with grace.

I give you thanks, O God, that life is not defined by my plans and expectations, but by your grace. Give me strength for the simple and ordinary tasks of this day. Remind me that the life I have today comes to me by your hand. Make my heart brave to live it well, and make me thankful in everything this day will bring. Amen.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Difficult Places

Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah: “Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there.” (1 Kings 17:2-4)

I’ll never forget the Easter when the power went out in the church. Resurrection day had dawned dark and blustery. The heavy rains had stopped by the time I made the drive to the far west side of Houston where I served a shrinking congregation as interim pastor. The place sometimes left a pall of depression on me on an average week and this dreary Easter seemed par for the course. Things didn’t get much better when half way through the Sunday school hour the lights went out in the building.

On that Holiest of days, the most celebratory Sunday of the year, I was on the brink of bitter. When the lights went out I groused silently that it seemed a fitting metaphor for the entire church. I despised my place. Not the people – the place.

Meanwhile on the other side of town, in stunning contrast to the struggling place where I served, my wife was serving on the staff of Houston’s First Presbyterian Church. I frequently went to First Pres events and special services. It is easily one of the finest churches in the country. Moving back and forth between my interim Sunday morning ministry and the ministry of First Pres was like being whipsawed between two entirely different worlds.

I loved my work, the preaching and teaching and shepherding people. I didn’t like my place. I was regularly exposed to the resources and talent and facilities of another place, and in my small hard heart I complained. I allowed my lust for someplace else to be stoked, while throwing fuel on my discontent with the place God had given me.

Maybe some of you are doing work today that you love, but you’re doing it in a place you can barely tolerate. As hard as it is for us to learn, the place God gives us to work is just as significant as the work itself because every place is a setting in which God wants to be present. God may put you in a difficult place, but there is grace to be found even there.

The power of Elijah’s words and deeds are unmatched in the pages of the Old Testament. But his impressive prophetic resume is marked by difficult and obscure places. He is a Tishbite from Tishbe (where is that?). He engages a wicked King in direct confrontation and then goes to hide in a ditch somewhere east of the Jordan; not an enviable post for an up and coming prophet.

But in that place of hiding, out of the way, removed from the action, God was present. God provided water from the brook and meat delivered by ravens. And when that water dried up, God had another place waiting. Another place and another plan.

Even in the difficult places God provides a brook to sustain us. This doesn’t make the place less difficult, but it does make it more holy. There are no God-forsaken places, and that includes the place where you are today.

Even in the difficult places, O God, your grace is real. Help me to see the brook you’ve provided in my own place, the sign of your presence and care that sustains me in dry seasons and barren places. Help me to re-vision my place as a place where you are actively working out your purposes. Amen.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Practicing the Presence

Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws (Psalm 119:64).

I’ve been planning to introduce this person to you since the “my95” series began. I’ve been stalling, waiting for the right moment, the right day. Now that the “my95” series is nearly over it’s clear to me that there won’t be a right moment, or that there’s wisdom in the familiar “no time like the present.” So here’s my introduction.

He is known to us simply as Brother Lawrence. We know very little about him. He was born Nicholas Herman in Lorraine, served for a time in the military, became a Christian at the age of 18, and then at some point entered a Carmelite monastery near Paris. This obscure monk gave us one of the classic pieces of Christian literature, a work that remains in print to this day. First published in 1693, Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God is a gift to followers of Jesus, especially those seeking to understand their ordinary daily life as an arena for God’s activity.

Brother Lawrence worked in the monastery kitchen, and the discipline of “Practicing the Presence” allowed him to keep company with God at his labors just as intimately as in the chapel service or in his private devotions. Lawrence wrote

It is not needful always to be in church to be with God. We can make a chapel of our heart, to which we can from time to time withdraw to have gentle, humble, loving communion with him. Everyone is able to have these familiar conversations with God, some more, some less – he knows our capabilities. Perhaps he only waits for us to make one whole hearted resolve.

A little over three hundred years ago, a Carmelite cook was writing about “my95.” In many ways his book could be a resource for us in our own efforts to live a whole life of faith. If nothing else, this much is obvious: the presence of God can be practiced.

Maybe we can go a step further. Not only can the presence of God be practiced, it must be – or we’ll never grasp the heart of “my95.”

Any endeavor in which excellence is displayed – singing, acting, golfing, teaching, surgery, cabinet building – all demonstrations of excellence are buttressed by a repetition of basic skills. Those who work and perform with excellence have practiced. They have executed certain behaviors over and over and over again.

If we want to live our faith effectively in the marketplace, if we want to partner with God in the daily tasks of our lives, we will need to practice the presence of God.

For Lawrence this meant a deliberate focus of thought on God. We’re not monks, and the demands of your mini-van or office are far from a cloistered life, but you can practice God’s presence.

You practice praying for a coworker, or praying before a meeting. You practice being a thankful person. You commit a piece of scripture to memory. You make yourself turn off the radio for those last minutes of your commute, entering the closest thing you can find to silence.

The possibilities are many – but the practice is yours alone to carry out. Lawrence was probably right. God is waiting for us to give it a try. He promises to be present.

As this day begins, O God, I invite you to be present with me. I pray for the help of your spirit that I might be present to you. Teach me what it means to practice your presence in the details of my life. Amen.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Servants

. . . and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew (John 2:9).

Jesus said that he didn’t come to be served but to serve. We’d expect Jesus to say something like that. After all, he’s Jesus. We nod approval when Jesus says it, but we mumble the words when we speak them. Truth is, we like being served.

Some of you live out your vocation in your home and it seems like you serve all the time. Making sure meals are planned and clothes are ready and practices are made and play dates are kept. Serve, serve, serve. Being served would be wonderful. In fact, you crave it.

For those of you in the marketplace, the more competence you demonstrate in your chosen field of work, the more likely you’ll attain a position where others serve you. You’ll accumulate a roster of employees and assistants who are there to help you be effective. It’s a mark of success, others serving you. And it feels pretty good.

But no matter what you do or where you do it, the presence of God is made real when you practice the discipline of serving. Taking the role of servant puts you in the middle of what God is doing, transforming a job into a calling. Exhibit ‘A’: Jesus’ first miracle in John 2:1-11.

There at a wedding party in Cana of Galilee a crisis developed when the host ran out of wine. Mary presents the problem to Jesus (whether as observation or request is a matter of scholarly debate). Jesus remedies the problem by turning water into wine, and very good wine at that (2:10).

This story is familiar to me, but it isn’t necessarily clear. The meaning of the event is elusive. However, towards the end of the story, when the servants take the water-now-become-wine to the master of the banquet, John slips in a short comment; a comment that bestows great dignity on the servant role. The master of the banquet did not know where the wine had come from, but “the servants who had drawn the water knew.”

The servants, quiet and unnoticed, faithful and obedient – they are in on the action. They know what has happened. They know where the new wine has come from, and from whom it has come. No one else seems to know. The host of the feast does not know – he’s clearly surprised and delighted, but he isn’t truly aware. We don’t hear anything more about Mary, so we’re not really sure what she knows or when she learns of what has taken place. The crowd is clearly oblivious, some of them having had too much wine by this point in the celebration (2:10). The disciples know something since this event or “sign” leads to their putting their faith in Jesus (2:11). But they seem to be observers, or they learn of the event second-hand.

But the servants are in on the action, participants in what Jesus is doing.

Being a servant is hard. It’s hard because it’s easily unnoticed and overlooked. The role of the servant does little to evoke excitement. Servants receive instruction (“do whatever he tells you”) and carry out tasks (“draw some out and take it”). Yet, it is the servants who are in on the action. They participate directly in what Jesus doing. And that is very exciting.

If the Monday in front of you feels like a thousand other Mondays, transform it by getting in on the action. How and with whom will you assume the role of a servant today?

Lord Jesus, you didn’t cling to your God-status, though it was yours to claim. You made yourself nothing and took the form of a servant. I resist that, fearful of what it might cost in the workplace, resentful of how it goes unnoticed at home. Change my heart and teach me to be a servant so that I may get in on what you are doing around me today. Amen.

Friday, April 18, 2008

A Spirituality of Work

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24).

Some of you aren’t buying it - the whole “my95” thing, that is. You’re not arguing or offering rebuttals or whispering criticisms, but you know your place better than anyone, and the walls between the 95 and the 5 are thick and high. That’s just the way it is.

Granted, this isn’t a rejection of the idea. You’re just being honest about what you experience day in and day out. Your work is just that: work. You love God and want to follow Jesus faithfully, but work doesn’t help you do that. The tasks cost you sleep and make you irritable. Maybe you’re surrounded by people who at the very least are disinterested in matters of faith. Some of them are outright hostile to all things religious.

You believe that the 95% of your life spent out of church is an arena for God’s activity. But here it is, another Friday, and you look back over the week and it’s just not happening.

Still, what happens in the workplace is a critical piece of our spiritual formation. Eugene Peterson explains this and suggests a course of action we might do well to consider.

It’s difficult to cultivate a sense of wonder in the workplace. Knowledge and competence are the key values here. We don’t want any surprises. We’re trained and then paid to know what we’re doing . . . So how do we who work for a living and spend a huge hunk of our time each week in a workplace that is unfriendly to wonder cultivate wonder, the resurrection wonder in which spiritual formation thrives? To those who take the Bible seriously as the text for our spiritual formation, the answer is unequivocal: Keep the Sabbath Holy. (Eugene H. Peterson, Living the Resurrection, 31-39).

Peterson goes on to suggest that our capacity to see God in the workplace “requires some detachment from the workplace.” That detachment is at the heart of Sabbath keeping. What Peterson wisely points out is that work will remain just work unless we adopt some very specific practices that teach us how to see God and serve God during the week.

It’s one thing to believe that our work is ministry that can bring glory to God. It’s another thing entirely to execute our work in such a way that it actually becomes ministry. We need more than a theology of work. We need a spirituality of work.

There are well tested and long practiced disciplines that will help you live “my95.” Your capacity to detect God in every detail of the week grows as you adopt certain habits of action and thought. “My95” is a verb – a way of life. We’ll think more about that at our “my95” gatherings (PPC members).

For today we begin with a very basic discipline: meditation on scripture. Read the verse above, Psalm 118:24. Take enough time to repeat it to yourself. Ponder the idea of being glad in this day. What about this day might make you glad? What steals joy? Ask God specifically for the gift of joy and gladness in the day ahead of you.

Too often, O Lord, I think I am responsible for making my days. I think my choices, my plans, and my circumstances define and shape my days. Remind me that each day is yours to give; you have made it and entrusted it to me. I give you thanks. Help me to live this day with gladness and joy, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Speaking of Mergers . . .

“This is what the Kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how” (Mark 4:26-27).

Finally, after months of speculation, negotiation, legal wrangling and cryptic comments to the media, Delta and Northwest Airlines have announced a merger. This announcement has been long in the making. Some saw it coming. Some are celebrating. Some are not. The two most common reactions to the news appear to be questions (what will this mean) and anxieties (expect air fares to go up).

The prevalence of merger mania on the airwaves is shaping the way I’m thinking about “my95” this morning. Jesus gave us a parable or word picture that describes the life of faith as a merger.

This is important for us because our thinking about God’s work and our work typically looks like an attachment of one to the other, not a merger. Most often, faith gets attached to work as something that sustains us or helps us as we enter the fray of the weekday world, conducting business and trying to love our families and be decent citizens.

We’re doing the work, making things happen, with God faithfully in the wings to help us when things get s little too intense or when we need some help. That’s not untrue, it’s just inadequate.

Jesus saw it differently. We go out to sow – and that sowing is expressed in many different ways. The field may be office or home, but the nature of sowing is that it demands that we exert great effort.

And yet, our sowing depends on something beyond us. Our efforts, our work, are carried out within the mysterious context of God’s work. This means that while we move through the daily rhythm of sleeping and rising, something imperceptible and of great magnitude is happening. In the darkness of the earth the seed we sow and the effort we expend is giving rise to God’s reign in the world – what Jesus called the Kingdom.

God is working in your work, and as you work you participate in God’s own work. This is the ultimate merger. It’s big news. And just like the Delta-Northwest announcement this merger elicits the same reactions.

We have questions. We honestly don’t see how this works; how our daily activity counts as sowing seeds for God’s kingdom. We can’t imagine that God is actually at work in our work. And we have some fears. People who enter the workplace to intentionally sow seed for the kingdom are held in disdain, or so we think.

The details of the Delta – Northwest merger weren’t worked out overnight. Perhaps we expect too much if we think that this merger of our work and God’s is something accomplished with a sermon series a few morning devotionals. That’s why we’re asking you to attend a “my95” gathering in Kellett Chapel (if you're a member of PPC).

These gatherings are intended to be a focused period of time that allows you to iron out the specifics of the most important merger happening in the world today. You are a participant in what God is doing. God is fully present and active in what you are doing. Does that raise some questions? Good! Come to Kellett Chapel and let’s talk merger.

Lord Jesus, help me to see this day as you see it. You are at work in all things, quietly and faithfully carrying out your mission of bringing this world back to yourself. I want to be a part of that work. Give me strength to sow seeds that will be fruitful in your mission. Amen.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

"My95" and Eli Stone

And afterward I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions (Joel 2:28).

I’m voting for Eli Stone as the poster child for “my95.” The chances of getting buy-in from our session may be slim – but I’m casting my vote anyway and declaring that Eli Stone captures the heart of “my95.”

In case some of you don’t have the slightest idea who Eli Stone is, I applaud your lack of interest in TV watching. Nevertheless, allow me a brief introduction.

Eli Stone is the lead character in a new TV series about an Associate in large law firm (Eli) and the sudden onset of visions that impact his life in very concrete ways. Eli’s physician brother diagnoses a brain aneurism and explains the visions with science, an anomaly in the brain. But that doesn’t cut it for Eli. The visions are too purposeful – as if something is guiding him, directing him, working through him for greater things than simply making massive amounts of money.

Granted, Eli’s visions have nothing to do with Jesus. Whereas Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up and John on Patmos saw a slain lamb seated on a throne, Eli Stone sees George Michael singing “You Gotta Have Faith.” On one level, perhaps several levels, the premise of the show is absurd. I think most of the large Atlanta law firms would have fired Eli after episode one. Absurdities aside, the show is good entertainment and it even has something to teach those of us who are trying to sort out all the implications of following Jesus in the work place.

Eli is a man who sees that there is another dimension to life, a spiritual dimension that is constantly invading the work-a-day world. Spiritual realities shape litigation and litigation has spiritual implications. The same can be said for any endeavor. The workings of God’s Spirit shape meetings and lesson plans and struggles to get car seats properly installed. And all of those things have spiritual power in your life – they are the raw material God uses to shape the image of Jesus in you.

Visions of the Cherubim and Seraphim, or of George Michael for that matter, are not likely to interrupt our days. Eli Stone offers us little in that regard. But what we can do is live every day expectant, filled with wonder. Eli Stone spends a good part of every episode walking around stunned, slack jawed, mouth hanging open with amazement. We should all go through our days with such a sense of wonder.

As you go through this day take a careful look at what’s around you. Pay attention to who is around you. There’s always more going on than you can grasp as you move quickly from one task to the next. Your world – the office, the school, the home – is inundated with the presence of the Holy. This is truth, not television.

Ever present God, give me eyes to see what you are doing in the familiar rhythms of my day. Give me a heart that is expectant and a mind full of wonder. Above all, let my soul be full of love for you and for your world. Work through me in ways that exceed anything I can imagine. I will be your glad servant this day, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Thinking "My95" . . . Watching the Masters

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24)

Confession time . . . again. I’m thinking about “my95” and trying to write a devotional while watching the final round of the Masters. Unless you’re an avid golfer, that doesn’t sound very spiritual. If you are an avid golfer, watching the final round is simply a continuation of Sunday morning worship. It’s akin to prayer.

I’m not a golfer. “You never watch golf,” my wife observed with barely disguised puzzlement. She’s right. But for some reason, I enjoy watching this. It’s not a spiritual experience for me, but there’s a spirituality of golf just as there is of everything else, including whatever you have planned for this day.

Today you’ll have to make judgments about how to best do what you’ve been given to do. You’ll look at the contour of the land, the break in the green. You’ll discern what’s going on around you, see the movement of the wind, read people, listen to inflections of voice, choose your words.

You’ll make some moves that don’t go so well and then move on to the next thing, learning from what didn’t go right. You’ll make your best shot knowing that ultimately you can’t control the flight of the ball. You’ll focus and think and exert your best energies, and in all of that perhaps you’ll pray – even if briefly.

Many of us will never pick up a club, but there’s plenty we share in common with the names on the leader board. Right now as I watch the wind is playing havoc with some of the shots being made. Jesus spoke of the Spirit as wind. Every day we enter the world and pay attention to the movements of that wind, the work of the Spirit.

Earlier today I saw a brief interview with Gary Player in which he was reflecting on his 1978 Masters victory. Remembering that 1978 win and his record of playing in 51 Masters Tournaments, Player used a word that’s basic to the language of faith. He spoke of gratitude. Player spoke of the 1978 victory as a temporary trust, something given to him for a time. His response: gratitude.

Gratitude is a basic spiritual discipline that sanctifies – makes holy – the most ordinary of our days.

Take a moment and think through the day, and as you do so remind yourself that this day has been entrusted to you. Give thanks for the day, not only as it starts but as it unfolds. Give thanks for wide fairways and nasty water hazards. This is the day the Lord has made. Rejoice and be glad in it.

As the day wears on, O God, my thankfulness often wears out. Remind me that the tasks of this day are entrusted to me as a gift. Help me to live this day well, with gladness and gratitude, bringing you honor in all things. Amen.

Friday, April 11, 2008

At Home

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” (Mark 5:18-19)

He was clothed and in his right mind, and that had not been true of him for quite some time.

The one who had been carefully avoided was now drawing spectators. The pig farmers had made their way back to town from the remote area where they tended the herd, spreading the story of Jesus and the town crazy. The man was sane again.

“No way . . . I’ve got to see this.” Thus gathered a crowd of gossip mongers; the insatiably curious came out to see the one they had feared, the one they had told stories about, the one they had written off as hopelessly self-destructive.

They were almost right. He was being destroyed, but it wasn’t entirely his own doing. Something had long ago taken up residence in this man’s soul and then it started trashing the place. Inwardly tormented, the town crazy became increasingly alienated from everyone and everything around him.

He left his home, much to the relief of his wife and children who never knew when his rage would erupt and scorch them like lava. He left the town, living among the tombs, the death caves somehow amplifying his cries.

And then Jesus came to the region of the Gerasenes and changed all of that. Whatever had ravaged and possessed this tomb-dweller was now gone and he was whole, clothed and in his right mind. A simple tunic covered the lacerated flesh of his chest and arms where he had punished himself with sharp stones. His voice, raspy from the screaming, made normal conversation as if seated with a friend over wine.

He had been given back to himself. Jesus had done this, and this man would follow Jesus anywhere. He was ready to go. In fact, he begged to go. But Jesus wouldn’t let him. “Go home to your family.”

Sometimes following Jesus is hardest in the places that are closest.

When we discover that God is on a mission it seems only right that following this God will take someplace – and usually that means someplace else. Go to a people you don’t know, find a new job, explore a new place. God’s call requires this of us and biblical example backs it up. Again, remember Jonah’s story or Paul’s or Peter’s.

But just as often God invites us into his mission, not by sending us to a people we do not know, but by sending us back to people who know us – sometimes far too well. Following Jesus can be especially challenging at home. Our families won’t allow us to get away with “playing Christian.”

Those closest to us get the anger we vent, they tolerate neglect when we’re distracted and busy, they know our history. The hardest thing Jesus can ask of us is “Go home to your family.”

Regardless of how you define your work, Jesus asks every one of us to “go home” and live our faith with people who will always love us and at times simply tolerate us. What will it take today for you to show those closest to you what the Lord has done for you?

Our desire, Lord Jesus, is to follow you in every aspect of our lives, including our homes. Forgive our failures with those we love most deeply. Help us to live with them in such a way that your work in our lives is evident and real. Amen.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Avoidance Strategies

But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish . . . (Jonah 1:3)

Remember Jonah? He’s the Hebrew prophet who had serious issues with a nation called Nineveh. Jonah, it turns out, was a bigot. It should come as no surprise to us then that God had a special assignment for Jonah . . . in Nineveh. Jonah had another career plan in mind and this made for a great story that I won’t tell here.

Another such story happens many centuries later. Gregory of Nazianzus – also known as Gregory the Great – was born in 330 A.D. in a region we know as central Turkey. He was the son of a Bishop and a child of privilege. He was devout even as a child, and as he grew so did his yearning for the contemplative life. Elijah and John the Baptist were his biblical role models.

Gregory was ordained to the priesthood, but this was done against his will. As one who had to pass written tests and meet committees in order to be ordained, I’m not exactly sure how that happened. His pastor-father needed some help and that was certainly a factor. But Gregory wanted something other than the headaches of dealing with and tending to the church. He responded to his ordination by running away and hiding out for a while, no doubt praying fervently and attempting to convince God that a major celestial error had been made. Sounds familiar.

Jonah said, “I won’t.” Gregory said, “I can’t.” One man lacked compassion in his heart. The other lacked courage in his soul. One man sinned in his outright refusal to obey. The other man sinned in his misguided humility.

These avoidance strategies are not peculiar to prophet and priest. God calls men and women in every walk of life, and every walk of life presents its own distractions and challenges to that calling. But if in fact God calls, then we must answer.

In many ways things are simpler when we keep the 5% of our life that we give to spiritual matters neatly fenced from the 95% that we spend in other endeavors: raising kids, cleaning the basement, reviewing contracts, landscaping a yard.

Living a life of faith that is whole, moving seamlessly between the 5% and the 95%, that’s what we find difficult.

And strangely, sometimes the 5% of life that we designate as religious becomes an avoidance strategy. Having tipped the hat to God by going to church, we avoid our calling in the world and make our way through the week according to a different agenda.

Karl Barth has been quoted a saying that religion is our last great defense against God. Jonah and Gregory prove him right. Jonah and Gregory, for a time, allowed their religion to get in the way of a life of obedient faith. What they did then, we still do now.

When it comes to living your faith in the 95%, are you aware of any avoidance strategies? What kinds of barriers keep the 5% and the 95% cleanly sliced apart in your experience?

Lord Jesus, I want the 5% and the 95% of my life to combine and be wholly yours. Forgive my efforts to avoid the calling to serve you in every area of my life. Help me with my fears and overcome my hardness of heart. I will be yours today in all that I do. Amen.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Rose Man

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord . . . (Colossians 3:23).

He stands on a little concrete island at West Paces Ferry Road and Northside Parkway. There on that little patch of cement where I pull up to make a right hand turn he carries out his vocation. He probably wouldn’t call it that. But he’s there often, and as best I can tell he’s been doing this for years. Surrounded by buckets of roses and a makeshift piece of signage that reads “Roses $15.00,” he stands and rocks back and forth from one foot to the other. There’s no place to walk on that little island of concrete, but he doesn’t seem to mind.

In fact, that’s what strikes me. He truly enjoys what he’s doing.

I have no idea how his sales figures look, but he doesn’t seem too worried about that. Too much else is happening. There are people in cars, the traffic, movement, energy. The rose man is into the scene, occasionally directing traffic, nodding at cars like a self-appointed greeter. This man looks like he’s having fun, whether he sells any roses or not.

I sometimes roll up to where he is to make my right hand turn onto Northside Parkway. I might wave. He always nods or waves back, pleased to be acknowledged. I saw him last night, and a question came to my mind. Did I enjoy what I did today the way he seems to enjoy selling those roses?

Every day at the intersection of West Paces and Northside Parkway thousands of people navigate the traffic as they face their day. Some are on their way to stores or car pool lines. Others are making their way to work downtown or in Buckhead. Some of those commuters sit at the light dreading their day, stressed and tense in their jobs, late for a meeting, kids screaming in the back seat. And right next to them on a concrete island is a guy selling roses from a bucket and having a big time of it.

Of course, I really have no idea if the rose man is enjoying his time on the concrete island. All I know is what I see, and it makes me wonder what others see when I’m making my way through the tasks of an ordinary day.

The rose man is a vivid reminder for me of what it means to see my daily life (the 95%) as holy. There’s more going on in any given moment than the task at hand. Selling roses from a bucket is just a small piece of the daily drama at West Paces and Northside Parkway. The rose man seems to relish the whole experience, not just a task.

And so God is always working, doing things around us that we easily ignore. God wants to use us in ways that go beyond the mere completion of a task. Each day invites us into a sacred drama. The stage can be a simple as a concrete island.

What stage have you been placed on today? Are you consumed with the tasks or are you relishing the drama unfolding in your home, in your office, in the lives of those around you today? God is at work right where you are, and someone might be watching you. Enjoy!

Too often, O God, we allow the demands of our work to obscure the drama of your work. Teach us to see your presence in the tasks you’ve given us, in the lives of people around us, and in the setting where you’ve placed us. Help us to embrace with delight the gift of this day and the work we’ve been given to do. May our work be a witness we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Collar Color

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let him rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all creatures that move along the ground (Genesis 1:26).

I made up my mind early on that I wanted to work in air conditioning. By that I mean in an air-conditioned environment, cool rooms, carpeted floors. Perhaps some adult contemporary radio playing quietly overhead.

My first job was in a warehouse that manufactured gaskets. My best friend’s Dad owned the company and we were given summer jobs. Did I mention it was summer . . . in a warehouse? I spent a fair amount of time cataloging metal dies that were used on the machines that cut the gaskets. There were days when I actually operated the machinery that did the gasket cutting. I placed the large sheet of material in the press, placed the die over the material, and then hit the buttons that made the press push the die into the material and presto – a gasket!

I punched a clock in the morning and in the afternoon. I ate my lunch from a paper sack. I drenched my t-shirts as the summer days wore on. I was working.

And all the while I was keenly aware of the door near the time clock that went to the office area; the air-conditioned office area. Those cool rooms were sometimes empty for a full hour at noon while people went out to lunch. The walls were void of the grey metallic time clocks. That looked good to me. I probably wouldn’t be manufacturing gaskets, but wherever I happened to be, I’d be working in the air-conditioning. No question about it.

Somewhere along the way I picked up designations that separated the sweltering warehouse from the air-conditioned offices: White Collar and Blue collar.

And on the day I learned to think about work in these terms, the devil was pleased.

These terms delight Satan because they can shape the way we think about people. There’s a subtle superiority, a hint of disdain. It runs both ways. White collar people can think this way about blue collar workers, and blue collar workers can be equally disdainful of the white collar crowd.

But not only does this kind of thinking distort how we look at people, it distorts the very nature of work itself. Some jobs become “less than.” Other jobs are dismissed as “posh.” Stay at homes and the employed harbor jealousies for entirely opposite reasons.

In our preoccupation with the color of someone’s collar, we miss the nature of their calling. We quietly deny what God did at creation in making all people in his image and giving them work to do. As our attention shifts from collar to calling, we see that nothing is dismissed as beneath the creator’s purposes. No one is left out of the invitation to co-labor with God. God gives us a calling, and that calling trumps the nature of our daily labor and whether we wear a tie or bib overalls.

You may cross paths with someone today whose work is very different from your own. Practice ignoring the collar and dignifying their calling.

Creator God, you made us in your image and you gave us work to do. Forgive us for the superficial ways we view each other and our shallow understanding of the different jobs that we do. Remind us all of our common calling and empower us to live out the calling you’ve given us in the particular setting of our daily work. Amen.

Monday, April 07, 2008

You Define the Work

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything I will pay back four times the amount.” (Luke 19:8)

Some of the best theological education I ever received was imparted to me long before I knew what a seminary was. It wasn’t learned from a book or from a lecture. No, these lessons were learned at a very early age. The pedagogical method was singing and simple rhyme.

Zacchaeus was a wee little man
And a wee little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
For the Lord he wanted to see.

And I especially relished the part where we would stop singing and speak with a commanding voice:

Zacchaeus you come down! (Now singing again) for I’m going to your house today.

Professionally speaking, Zacchaeus and his ilk were not highly regarded. Crook, sleaze, shyster, these were the kinds of words murmured by reluctant customers. And everyone, at some point, was a customer of Rome’s tax collecting bureau.

From what we can tell, Zacchaeus had done well as an agent of the state. At least he had done well enough to be widely despised and snubbed. Joining the public along Jericho’s streets to get a look at Jesus, his height and reputation combined to keep him several rows removed from the action. His physical stature made it hard to see over the shoulders of others. His reputation made others only too glad to ignore him.

You know how the story goes. “Lunch with Jesus” had not popped up on the blackberry that morning. However, perched conspicuously in a tree near the parade route, Zacchaeus caught the eye of the popular teacher. Jesus extended the invitation. Really it was more like an announcement. Zacchaeus came out of the tree, apparently not too worried about surprising his wife with guest for lunch.

As the afternoon hours unfolded something happened to Zacchaeus. Simply put: Jesus changed his life. Zacchaeus made some significant business decisions, not the least of which was returning dishonest profits four times over. The man who went back to the office wasn’t he same man who left it to go be a curbside spectator.

The man changed . . . but not his job.

This may surprise us. We can read Luke’s story over and over again and it’s clear that Zacchaeus is a changed man – but he doesn’t change jobs. He meets Jesus and starts doing his job differently.

Before Jesus the job had defined him: crook, sleaze, shyster. After Jesus, he defined the job.

There are really no such things as spiritually friendly professions – and this includes varieties of church work. Jobs don’t make us spiritual, they don’t make us carnal. Your daily routine in the house, the relentless list of errands does not keep you from ongoing fellowship with Jesus today. You define the job. Jesus changes hearts, and that changes everything we do, no matter where, no matter what.

Gracious God, change me by your Spirit today so that everything I do will be done in your company and for your glory. Let me hear your voice telling me who I am; let that identity define my day, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, April 04, 2008

God's Delight in You

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).

Moses had a burning bush. Jonah had a three day prayer retreat in the belly of a great fish. Paul was knocked to the ground and left blind for a few days. Isaiah was undone by a temple vision. Gideon got dry ground and wet fleece one day, wet ground and dry fleece the next. That kind of call from God is hard to miss, a no-brainer.

The whole idea of calling would be easier if God would just be clear. So many biblical characters received unmistakable callings. We, however, are often left to grapple with things like salaries and benefits, schools, commute time, lost income from staying home, where we fit in the org chart and our positioning for future opportunities. Absent the blinding light and burning bush, we don’t take our own calling seriously.

We’d love a divine GPS system – but looking for heaven-sent signs is risky and we don’t always correctly interpret the signs we see. Case in point: Martin Luther.

Luther graduated from the University of Erfurt in 1505 and immediately began preparing for a career in law. His Father had bent over backwards to make sure Martin had every opportunity, and there was no question that Hans Luther wanted his boy Martin to be a lawyer. You couldn’t do much better than a career in law.

But on July 2, 1505 Luther was walking back to Erfurt after a visit home when he was caught outside in a thunderstorm. A bolt of lightening knocked him to the ground and in his fear he cried out “Help me St. Anne, I will become a Monk!” It was a vow that he kept, grieving his Father. Luther entered the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt and began the journey that would take him from monk to reformer of the Church.

There’s nothing to suggest that Luther regretted his vocation as a theologian. However, he looked back on his decision to enter the monastery as a sin. It was a sin because it was a response to fear, not to grace. Luther believed that to make God happy, he needed to do something religious: become a monk, pray more.

That kind of thinking lingers. There’s a nagging suspicion that God is most pleased with us when we do religious things. As a result, too many people live with the notion that their work is something that Gods merely tolerates, knowing that our bills need to be paid and our families need to eat.

But Luther had it wrong, and so do we.

What God truly delights in is people – people and not simply their jobs. What we do with life is our way of responding to God’s delight in us. God created us, gave us certain gifts and abilities, wired us with particular inclinations and capacities. The way we spend our days is our expression of who God made us to be.

Raising a toddler, showing a house, prescribing medications, filing a brief, preparing bag lunches – God delights in all of this when we do it as a response to God’s grace at work in us. Even Luther came to see this. In a 1522 writing titled “The Estate of Marriage” Luther noted that God and angels smile when a man changes a diaper.

You don’t do religious things to cause God to delight in you. God’s delight created you, just as you are. God delights in you, and whatever you do today can be done to God’s glory.

In all that I do today, O Lord, let me know of your pleasure. Help me to live this day as an act of worship – an expression of my own delight in you because of your abundant grace to me. Amen.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Nets and Tents

At once they left their nets and followed him (Mark 1:18).

We were not idle when we were with you . . . On the contrary we worked day and night, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you (2 Thess. 3:7-8).

Jesus says, “Follow me.” The Christian understanding of calling is no more complicated than that; a simple invitation to follow, to live the Jesus way, to become like our teacher. What Jesus said then he says today. Every one of us, no matter where we are or what we do, has a calling. “Follow me.”

The struggle comes in knowing exactly how to do that.

When Peter heard that call he left his work. Same with James and John. The gospel of Mark states this with brevity. “They left their nets and followed him” (Mark 1:18).

When Paul heard the same call he developed his skills as a tent maker. This is easily eclipsed by Paul’s work as a missionary and church planter – religious work. But Paul never made a living from religion. He makes it clear that he worked to support himself. He labored day and night so as not to be a burden to anyone.

Following Jesus means that we live in a constant rhythm of letting go and holding on, of releasing and receiving. Sometimes we follow Jesus the way Peter did. We hear the call to follow and we sense that our obedience will take to some new place, a new endeavor, a work we’ve not done before.

And sometimes we follow like Paul. We engage our work as a way of strengthening our witness. It’s true that Paul was a preacher – and a powerful one at that. But Paul validated his preaching by pointing to his labor, the craft of tent making. His words about Jesus were backed up by his work. When Paul wanted to defend his work as a missionary, he pointed to the life he lived among people and the way he worked.

Where are you in this rhythm today?

Some of you are following Jesus and sensing that this means making some changes. You hear our Lord’s call ands it seems to be pulling you to a different place, a different work. You may be like Peter, currently settled in familiar work that you do very well. But somehow Jesus is calling you to leave the nets. This can be unnerving, but sometimes the Spirit does this.

Others of you hear the call to follow Jesus, and being obedient means that you need to stay where you are and do your work with excellence. Your witness to others is rooted in the way you do your work.

What is clear about both the nets (Peter) and the tents (Paul) is that work is never seen as barrier or hindrance to the life of faith. Spirituality is not nurtured by escaping the weight of the net or the stitching of the tent – the ordinary and mundane tasks. Jesus may redefine your work. Jesus may reinforce the work you are already doing. Either way, the way you expend your energy between breakfast and bedtime is a sacred gift.

Today, Lord Jesus, I will follow you by doing my work to the best of my ability. As I work, help me to discern how you are leading me. If you are calling me to a new thing, give me courage to do it. If you would have me bear witness in this place, help me to work with renewed energy. And in all my work, I will give you thanks for the calling to be your follower wherever I am. Amen.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

God's Work in Yours

Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).

I wasn’t at my best. I was tired and ready to get home. With only a couple of hours left in my 3:00 – 11:00 p.m. shift I received a call asking for a chaplain to come to the family waiting area near the surgical unit.

As a pastor, I have a fairly decent grasp on the theological significance of work. I once preached a Labor Day weekend sermon titled “You Look like You Could Use a Vocation.” I liked that one. Now, with a renewed focus on missional theology, I’m learning all about partnering with God and participating in what God is doing in the world around me. Good stuff.

But here’s the truth: when that call came to go the family waiting room on the surgical floor I didn’t want to partner with anybody in anything. That’s probably not something a pastor ought to say out loud – but there are days when being a chaplain isn’t too different from being a radiology technician. Sometimes you’re glad to be headed home.

But it wasn’t time for that. Someone up on the surgical floor needed a chaplain, and on that night that happened to be me. So I went. There I found a man by himself, visibly anxious. Introductions were made. We sat down and he told me the story of how his wife and been brought to Dallas from an East Texas hospital for emergency surgery on her heart. I listened and thought to myself that this situation didn’t sound good. We were going to be there a while.

This waiting room was a windowless box. We sat in the quiet; I asked occasional questions about his wife, learned more about her illness. Every few minutes he’d ask me to pray . . . again. Every few minutes he’d ask me to walk to the nurses’ desk and check on the progress of the surgery. Of course I’d do so even though I knew that they probably didn’t have updates for us every fifteen minutes.

The remaining hours of my shift crept by. I watched the clock, hate to say. Finally the midnight chaplain arrived. Introductions were made again. I made my way to the parking lot for my 40 minute drive back to Fort Worth.

When I returned to the hospital for my next shift, I noted on the patient list that the woman who had been in surgery that night was still a patient. She had made it. This time, with a little more genuine caring in my heart, I went to check on her.

I’ll never forget the response of her husband when I entered her room. Of course she had no clue who I was. But her husband embraced me and wept – all the emotion and tension of those hours coming back to him when he remembered our hours of sitting. “He sat with me when you were in surgery,” he explained to his wife.

I guess I’ve never forgotten that for this reason: I felt embarrassed by the warm reception he gave me when I had been so perfunctory in my work. I knew I hadn’t been a very good chaplain that night. But he didn’t seem to know that. He was thankful. The hours of quiet and occasional conversation had meant something to him.

One of the things we’ll say often during “my95” is that God can use you in your work to impact another life. This has little to do with how you feel on any given day, and that includes this day. You may be tired, you may be distracted, you may be bored, you may be energized. God takes what you offer every day and does something with it beyond your awareness.

God is at work in your work – not because your work is always excellent, but because God is always faithful.

Use me today as you see fit, O Lord. I offer my work to you and ask you to use it to impact someone else according to your will for them. I thank you for the gift of being involved in what you are doing in the lives of others. Strengthen me to do my best work, trusting in the faithfulness of your work in all things. Amen.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


“Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.” (John 4:29)

She didn’t mind talking with others. Being talked about was what she sought to avoid. The women who gathered at the well in the cooler morning hours were always polite enough – but it was a strained politeness. Smiles stretched a little too tight, lips that hissed poorly concealed whispers. Not having to deal with that was worth laboring in the noon heat.

But on this day she noticed a stranger, standing at the well as if waiting. Waiting for someone. Waiting for her? He asked her for a drink. On one hand this was not surprising. After all, it was hot and he had no way to draw water for himself. On the other hand, his request was very surprising – a Jewish man speaking with a Samaritan woman.

He made easy conversation, as if he genuinely liked her. He spoke of water, the kind of water that satisfied so that she’d never thirst again. This sounded good. What a relief to never have to make that walk again. How good to be done with the tedium of that daily task.

“Sir, if you’ve got that kind of water, then give it to me. I’ll gladly give up this job and never make the walk back here again.”

And here the stranger changes the subject. “Go get your husband.”

“Uh, well . . . I don’t have a husband.”

“You’re right about that. But you’ve tried the husband thing with five different men. Now you’ve got a man, but no husband.

Jesus begins talking about her life. He begins naming her real thirsts, her deepest yearnings. Love and intimacy, shame and failure. And as Jesus speaks to her about her life, she begins to speak to Jesus about religion: a debate about worship; masking real life with theological discussion. Is God in the Jerusalem temple or here on this mountain?

But Jesus’ interest in this woman, and in us, extends beyond the place of worship. Jesus is interested in our living. The tedious daily walk to the well is the place where Jesus shows up. There he speaks to our deepest thirsts. Jesus makes himself known to us not only in sanctuaries, but in boardrooms and bedrooms, airport terminals and malls. The way we negotiate a deal and discipline a child matter deeply to Jesus.

When the Samaritan woman returns to her village, something has changed. She’s no longer avoiding people. Instead she’s calling them out, extending an invitation. “Come and meet a man who told me everything I ever did.” Everything we’ve ever done. That’s where we truly encounter Jesus. What does everything include for you today? .

Everything matters to you, O God. So help me to look for you in everything: in my wins and losses, in every blessing and burden, in the stress and dullness of my schedule, in the face of a friend and the presence of a stranger. Use every detail of this day to draw me closer to you. Amen