“The Prayer of Antipas”?

July 30, 2005

Revelation 2:13, addressed to the Church in Pergamum, contains this passing reference to an individual named Antipas:

I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my
name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my
faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.

So far as I know, this single verse is the only reference to Antipas in the bible – but, as any list of bestselling Christian books will tell you, he is not the only character in scripture that is described in passsing.

Here is the question of the day: how is it that an isolated verse about a character who is made wealthy can become the subject of tremendous discussion, while this verse about Antipas (whose single act of faithfulness models that of Jesus himself) is barely known?

Advertisements

Faithfulness

July 28, 2005

On Sunday morning, I’ll be talking about the idea of “faithfulness” as one of the characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit.

What I’m quickly discovering, though, is that, compared to the other characteristics in Galations 5, this one is a little odd. Things like goodness, love, peace, and kindness are easy to grasp. Its easy to appreciate their intrinsic value… but what does it mean for the Spirit to exhibit the quality of faithfulness in the way I live out my life?

Does it just mean, as some say, that it means I am dependable and responsible? I suppose so. But that answer seems a little two-dimensional to me, and it doesn’t seem to fit well into the context of Galatians. Shouldn’t there be more to it than that? (Dogs are dependable, but I don’t think this passage is saying the Spirit will help me have the “dependable” quality of a dog.)

Here are my (few) scattered thoughts ont he subject so far:

I don’t think it is a mistake that the characteristic of “faithfulness” finds its way into a book where Paul is primarily concerned about the faithlessness of people who have traded the gospel in for legalism. To Paul, remaining faithful to a gospel which includes all people – as opposed to drawing arbitrary lines to decide whose “in” and whose “out” – is a pretty powerful idea. Faithfulness, then, is measured by a person’s willingness to accept/include all of those who seek out the Kingdom, as opposed to those who decide to put up walls and draw lines to keep “us” separated from “them”. (Or could it be – because I’m deep into McLaren’s Generous Orthodoxy right now – I am stretching things a bit?)

I also think that it is interesting that, at least in the New Testament, people who are characterized as faithful tend to be those that are being beaten and/or killed (think about Jesus, Paul himself, and Antipas, the faithful witness of Revelation 2). Faithfulness ususally doesn’t lead to comfortable places, at least, in the New Testament.

It may be that one of the reasons its so hard for me to get a handle on this subject is because the faithfulness of God – an idea that is explored rather extensively throughout scripture – isn’t something that gets a lot of attention in my faith tradition these days. Maybe the key is to understand the nature of God’s faithfulness, and then to reflect on how that faithfulness becomes a living expression in the world through the Spirit-filled disciple.

Have a look at Michah 7. I love the possibilities of talking about faithfulness as fruit in this text. (Hint: the word “godly” in verse 2 can also be translated “faithful”).

So: whats missing here? Anyone want to help me out? What does it mean for the Spirit to express himself through the quality of faithfulness on our lives?


Music Explosion

July 26, 2005

I’ve written before about my love for contemporary Christian music, especially the modern worship movement. I know its pretty uninteresting stuff for a lot of people, because they’ve listened to pop/rock for all of their lives, and it strikes them as kind-of cheesy. But, as I’ve mentioned before, a lot of it is new to me, since I have never had significant exposure to this style of music.

For the next month, it looks like there will be an explosion of new CDs from a lot of my favorite artists. Here’s a sampling:

July 26 (today) – Big Daddy Weave‘s What I Was Made For. I’m not a lover of country music, but for some reason this band’s acoustic country/pop sound has always appealed to me.

August 2 – Jeff Deyo‘s Surrender. (You can listen to samples here). This is Jeff’s first live album since departing from SONICFLOOd. Deyo is well known for his desire to create carefully produced studio albums, but SONICPRAISe – the only live album that was recorded by the original SF members – is one of my favorite modern worship albums because it is live. I think worship music just works best on live albums most of the time.

August 16 – Todd Agnew’s Reflection of Something. Agnew’s gravely voice and powerful, vertically-oriented lyrics and arrangements are a favorite in our house.

August 23 – Chris Rice‘s Amusing. Rice records some really nice, folk-song type music.

August 30 – Casting CrownsLifesong. Almost every song off of their first album was a huge radio hit. Who isn’t going to be buying this one?

August 30 – Bart Millard’s Hymned. Millard is the lead singer for MercyMe. This will be a solo project containing – you guessed it – hymns.

August 30 – Audio Adrenaline’s Until My Heart Caves In. I love AA’s guitar-charged sounds, though most of their ballads (with the exception of Ocean Floor) don’t quite work for me.

There’s no way I’m going to be able to buy all of these, but I’ll be picking up Deyo’s and Agnew’s albums for sure.


A Footnote on Tithing

July 22, 2005

Since the idea of giving was so important to my posts on the redemption of work, can I offer a quick footnote on the subject of tithing?

I have convictions on this subject that I’m pretty sure are in conflict with those that I am hearing expressed these days. I hope you will understand that it is difficult for me to say anything on this subject, because of my respect for the people who are expressing these ideas. Some of them are my friends. Others are people who have said a great many things over the years on other subjects that have been very meaningful and influential for me. Others are people whose examples of Christ-likeness make it hard for me to be disagreeable with anything they say.

But I also feel strongly about this subject, so rather than just letting the whole thing slide (as I’m tempted), and rather than trying to lay out a series of propositions with what I think are good proof texts (as I am also tempted), I will just pose a few questions. This way, perhaps, we can start a conversation about the subject, rather than drawing lines in the sand.

These really are questions, by the way. They are probably a little too argumentative, to be sure, but I don’t mean to use them as sarcasm. Nor are they intended to be purely rhetorical.

Here they are:

1. When Christians tell other Christians that God requires them to tithe, isn’t that an implicit rejection of the gospel, in the same way that early efforts to circumcise gentile Christians was a rejection of the gospel in favor of the Mosaic law? (If you don’t follow what I’m asking here, read the book of Galatians in its entirety – even if you don’t think the comparison is fair, at least you will get the gist of my question. And it is in this issue, by the way, where most of my concern on this subject lies).

2. If we are really going to be faithful to Old Testament requirements about giving, won’t we end up requiring people to give a lot more than 10% of their income? Didn’t God require sacrifices and offerings in addition to the tithe? If we are going to assume that the “giving” requirements of the Old Testament still bind us, shouldn’t we be looking for parallels to all of the law’s requirements for giving as well?

3.Didn’t Jesus teach that, at least for some, all of one’s riches must be surrendered for the poor? Even if we don’t agree that this concept is universal, isn’t it better to encourage people to be moving in that direction? Isn’t that a more Kingdom-like way to behave?

4. Can an emphasis on tithing create an unspoken ceiling on people’s giving? A place where people who have a lot of income can feel complacent about their discipleship? Doesn’t it also encourage people who tithe to be self-righteous about it?

5. What about those in our faith communities who are truly poor? Or those who desperately need money for medicine, food, or shelter? Doesn’t it make more sense that, in a spiritual community that models the gospel, the rest of the community should be taking care of them, rather than requiring them to give up what little income they have?

6. Why aren’t the New Testament’s exhortations (1) to give cheerfully, (2) to give in proportion to the way God has blessed us, (3) to view ourselves as stewards of that which belongs to God, and (4) to give sacrificially, more appropriate ways to discuss giving? (All of these ideas are more closely tied to the gospel, and they seem less legalistic to me.)


The Redemption of Work #3: How You Do What You Do

July 20, 2005

Work is redeemed when its fruits are put to work in the Kingdom of God. It is also redeemed when you begin to find your identity in Kingdom work, rather than work that earns money.

If the second point is true, then your identity as someone who does Kingdom work will naturally have implications on the way you go about doing work that goes on from 8 to 5 on weekdays.

The implications of Kingdom work on 8-5 work is the subject of this post.

I chose to make this point last because there is a great danger that – if you don’t understand the other things that I’ve already talked about – you will not fully understand how those points flow into the issue of how discipleship is taken into the workplace.

Here is the danger:

A lot of people are talking about Christianity in the workplace these days. In most Christian bookstores, you will probably find a few books about “practicing Christianity in the workplace.” Likewise, at Christian conferences, you can often attend lectures on similar subjects. The people offering advice in these books and lectures are – as far as I can tell, always – successful businessmen in nice suits, who drive nice cars, and who make oodles of money. They talk about how important it is to have integrity in the way you work, to treat people ethically, and to be a generally nice person. I have often seen/heard such people proudly declare that it is the use of Christian values in their organizations that has made them successful. “Being a good Christian is good business as well,” they say.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m glad that there are financially successful people who follow Jesus, and who try to translate their values into the way they do business. God can do great things from the fruit of their work! (See the first post in this series). And I don’t object to allowing them to talk about what they are doing, if it is being done in a way that helps to create a dialog among business owners about how they go about running their businesses.

But I think it does a disservice to our faith communities if these people are held up as examples in a way which suggests that wealth and success will always be the natural result of following Jesus. And, honestly, it worries me that the wrong message is being conveyed when rich white guys are continuously presented as the “experts” on what it means to follow Jesus in the workplace, primarily based on the credibility of their financial or professional success and their visibilty in their faith community

How about books and/or workshop presentations from some folks like this…
1. Somebody who started a busuiness, but it failed because of an unanticipated response from the market. He talks about how God sustained him through his faith community as the business went sour, and how God has been faithful to him even though things didn’t work out as he would have liked.
2. Somebody who left a $150,000 a year job to take a $60,000 a year job, because she wanted to have more time to nurture her children and to work on the board of and as a volunteer for a local homeless shelter.
3. Somebody who built up a business and then sold it so that he could give the profits from the sale to a fund to help fight the spread of AIDS in Africa. He is now doing the same thing with a new business.
4. Somebody who got fired for pilfering money from her employer, who talks about how God used the experience to call her to a stronger faith-walk.
5. Somebody who left a lucrative partnership because he disagreed with the values that were reflected in decisions that were being made by his partners. He talks about how he makes less money now, but about how God still sustains him and gives him purpose in life.
6. Somebody who left a lucrative medical practice to do medical missions in the third world.

All of these stories represent, in one sense or another, ways that God can act to redeem work. Without discounting the achievements of believers who are financially successful, I wish that publishers and workshop organizers could find a way to also give voice to those who have been chewed up and spit out by harsh mechanisms that value economic productivity over the character of Christ. Their stories are equally as valid, and such people can give inspiration and hope to those who are on the outside looking in at the world of five figure cars, 5000 square foot homes, and six figure incomes.

The implications of taking discipleship in the workplace reach way beyond simple formulas that say “following Jesus = big bucks in the business world” (though, as I’ve said already, I’m happy for those who have had such an experience). Those implications sometimes call us to give up power, to surrender advancement, and to turn down income because other things are more important – far more important – than what you do from 8-5.

So, if Max the Bear were to ask me how to escape his dilemma and become a real bear, here, in a short, pithy, grandfatherly advice-like form, is what I would say to him:

“Find a place to work and a way to work that leaves space, in both your income and in your free time, for God to work through you in the world. Take care of your family. Pay your bills. Avoid debt as much as possible. Live as simply as you can. Ask God to help you to identify the kind-of work you can do for Him. Or ask him to bless you in something that you already want to do for His Kingdom, and start doing it. Let that work define you, and you will quickly find that you are no longer a bear-rat – that you are becoming a bear again. (For those who haven’t followed this series from the start, I’m sorry: you’ll have to read the story, linked above, to follow that last sentence).

When you do go to work (the 8-5 type of work), act with integrity and treat people the way you judge Jesus would have treated them. This often won’t be hard if you find your new identity, one which is not tied to work. However, you will still make mistakes. You will not always be perfect. Don’t be afraid to let people see you struggle with those imperfections. It is much better for them to see an honest picture of someone who is in the midst of transformation into Christ-likeness than it is for them to see a facade of perfection, which is easily penetrated and quickly branded as hypocrisy.

Don’t cheat your employers, customers, or clients. Instead, give them good value for the money they pay you for your work, but find a way to do that without letting work consume you. This means that you shouldn’t try to do too much. That will lead to pressure and busy-ness that will distract you from your real work. Instead, focus on doing fewer things as well as you possibly can.”

The last two paragraphs summarize my feelings on the subject of “how you do what you do,” but do it in the overall context of my convictions about the way that we are redeemed from work. They are also a work in progress. I’m sure that over time I will come up with more that I would add to it, and I would probably change or delete some of it. But it reflects, fairly accurately, where my questions about work and its redemption have taken me up to this point.

How about you? How would you add to or modify this advice?


The Redemption of Work #2: A New Job

July 19, 2005

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake for they were fishermen. ”Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

For those who are at wits end because of the difficulty and stresses of work, there is something really cool going on in this story. Here, Jesus takes people who were doing the stinky, salty, wet, dangerous, low-paying, sometimes cold, sometimes hot, always exhausting work of fishing (I’m guessing, not a very “fulfilling” career), and asks them to join him in the work of the Kingdom of God.

By the way, this doesn’t mean that they stopped fishing (the stinky kind) altogether. There are several stories that follow this one which tell us that Peter and Andrew eventually had to pull out the nets again, probably to earn a few bucks. So, if you are looking for a magical experience that liberates you from ever having to do your own type of stinky, salty, wet work again, this story won’t deliver what you’re looking for.

But it also might deliver something much, much better.

The thing that I love about this story is that – from here on out – Peter and Andrew no longer have to think of themselves as (the stinky kind of) fishermen. They were about to take on a new identity that would change their purpose in the world. True work, for them, was about to become something entirely new, and something that – though far from easy – would be much more meaningful and joyful to them.

Think about this for a minute. How much do you know about Peter’s fishing techniques? How about Matthew – what kind-of tax collector was he? How much do you know about what Bartholomew did for a living? How about those tents that were made by Priscilla and Aquilla? Were they good tents? Would you want to spend a rainy night in them?

We don’t know any of these characters based on what they did for a living. We know and understand them based on their relationship with Jesus and how they continued his mission in the world after he was gone.

So this is today’s good news for those who are caught in the mundane, work-a-day world: your identity is no longer tied to your work. Your work isn’t what defines who you are. Your identity now flows from your participation in the work of God in the world.

Workaholics: rejoice! No longer do you have the pressure of being a hyper-productive, big-buck earning superman. There is a place where you can be loved, regardless of whether you can produce anything.

Cubicle dwellers: take heart! You may never climb very far up your firm’s ladder. You may never have the corner office, or the six figure paycheck, or the massive stock options. That’s okay, because what happens in your office doesn’t determine who you are any longer.

Minimum wage earners: things are looking up! It doesn’t matter whether you wear a suit to work, where you live, what you drive, or even whether you own a car. Those things don’t define you any longer. There is something much more important about you.

I won’t dwell on this point, but the reality of a new identity, not tied to work, has a corresponding down-side for those who are attached to the prestige that comes from well-paying or highly respected jobs. They have more to give up before they can find greater riches and identity in the work of God, and they will struggle with that surrender.

God can free us from everything that ties us to work. Our need to be respected because of the kind of work we do? Gone. Our compulsive desire to have a certain amount of income to buy the stuff we need or pay for the debts we have incurred? Gone. Our need to feel like we are being more productive than others in some kind-of contest of personal merit? Gone.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t work. It simply means that we don’t have to be tied to our work in ways that make us feel like we are slaves to it. Work is still an important thing, to be sure, because it feeds our families and furthers God’s work in the world (again, see my prior post). In that sense, we should take work quite seriously. But, once we have been called, work is no longer the thing that our lives are about. We can take it or leave it, and we’ll still be the same persons. Our businesses can crash and burn. Our clients can desert us. Our new boss can run us out because he doesn’t like something about us. And we’re still okay, because we aren’t so tightly bound to our work that it controls who we are, making us miserable.

There is another side to this: God is also calling you to a new kind-of work. Not the paying kind-of work, but work that furthers the same ends that Jesus sought in his ministry. And probably, it is only when you find that work, and become passionate about it, that you are going to begin to think of yourself differently, finding freedom from the cursed work of this world.

Not surprisingly, you may find that there is a relationship between what you do for paying work and what you are being asked to do in your real work. For example, I started practicing law because I have some modest abilities to work with words and ideas, and to interpret other people’s ideas in one context (for example, case law) so that they can be reapplied in other contexts, where I am asked to be an advocate for someone. Now, I’m discovering more and more that God is blessing the things that I do in His work that have to do with the expression of words and ideas, and how they are used in new contexts. That doesn’t mean that I don’t do other things as well. It just means that – just as Peter and Andrew were still fishing in a sense – so I am also still advocating, even when I don’t need a law license to do it.

Here is the way I would re-cast the story of the calling of Peter and Andrew in my own life:

As Jesus was walking through the building, he saw Matt. He was sitting at a desk, typing a brief on his computer, because he was a litigator. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to be an advocate for the Kingdom of Heaven.” At once he left his desk and followed Jesus.

(By the way, in writing that last sentence, I don’t mean to imply that I’ve somehow reached a level where I’ve “dropped everything” to follow Jesus, as it seems Peter and Andrew did. But I do think that the last sentence is an expression of the direction of my life, a direction that has only been made possible because God is immensely patient with me.)

How about you? Would anyone care to write the story of your own calling? How can God save you from your own ties to your occupation? How is he calling you to new work that furthers the mission of Jesus?


The Redemption of Work #1: Show Him the Money!

July 16, 2005

A few weeks back, I started writing about work and its relationship with God’s redemptive plan. All of the time-consuming activity associated with our Fort Worth mission trip provided the perfect excuse/cover for me to avoid what is the hardest part of the whole subject. But that excuse is pretty much gone, now, so I guess I need to get back to it.

For those who have joined us recently, here is a brief roadmap to the theblogogy of work that I developed in previous entries:

1. There is a very strong cultural myth that runs through the fabric of American society which suggests that work can be this wonderful, fulfilling experience. This is why women thought it was a great thing when they got to become part of the workplace a few decades back. The idea is that – if you find the right thing to do – you can “enjoy” your work.
2. The experiences that most people have with work are largely the opposite of the cultural myth: work is unpleasant and difficult. Consequently, people think that there is something wrong with them because work isn’t this fulfilling, happy experience.
3. We shouldn’t expect work to be pleasant. Scripture tells us that work in this world is cursed, and common sense tells us that the only reason we are doing it is because someone else doesn’t enjoy it (or else they would do it for themselves).
4. Worse yet, in chasing greater and greater economic power, those of us who are employed in the business and professional world are often forced to become people that we don’t want to be to achieve our financial goals, or even just to hang on to our debt-saturated standards of living.
5. Likewise, the econmic power that we acquire after we sell ourselves out to our careers isn’t nearly as satisfying as we expect it to be. (I explored a lot of the ideas that I’ve summarized so far in the Parable of Max the Bear and some related commentary).
6. Work involves economic relationships, which means that people’s value is based on their usefulness to each other. Employers use employees to turn profits. Employees use employers to get paychecks. In most economic relationships, everyone prefers to give as little as possible and to take as much as they can possibly take from each other.
7. Needless to say, these types of relationships are not based on the primacy of love for one’s neighbor, a principle that rests at the center of God’s redemptive purposes.
8. But here the good news of the gospel comes into play: if work is closedly tied to the curse, that means God must also be redeeming work, along with the rest of creation. Indeed, many of the parables that appear in Matthew strongly suggest that work – uncursed – is something that will continue in the new creation.
9. If the redemption of work is like that which is portrayed in scripture, we can expect that it will have an already dimension and a not yet dimension. That is, while we anticipate a day when work is fully redeemed, we should be experiencing that redemption in the here and now.

All of this brings me to the annoyingly practical and disquieting question of how God’s redemptive purposes manifest themselves in the type of work that goes on from 8-5 on weekdays in office buildings, cubicles, and delivery trucks. How is God reaching into the tedium, annoyances, stresses, and frustrations of human occupations to redeem what is happening there?

As I’ve already said – this is the place where I have been a little stumped. And its taken me some time to find answers that feel honest and faithful to both experience and scripture. In a way, these answers don’t add up to anything really profound, and they certainly aren’t original ones. But they are worth examining in this context.

So, having belabored the set-up of the next series of entries for way too long, here is my first reflection on the redemption of work:

When it comes to our jobs, could it be that God is calling us – first and foremost – to show him the money?

If the Kingdom of God has to do with God being in power, and if the primary function of our work is to acquire economic power, then any time that ANY of the money that comes from a paycheck or business is taken and put into use for the Kingdom, something profound is happening.

This is the most direct way I can think of that the Kingdom can be manifested as a result of work – anyone’s work. You go into the world, doing what you do best in exchange for money. Then, rather than being put to use to buy bigger houses or nicer cars or cooler gadgets, your money is used to advance the Kingdom: helping the impoverished, providing protection to orphans and widows, and feeding the starving. In essence, to the extent the money generated by your job or business is put to use in the Kingdom, you are working in the Kingdom. Every day. Just by doing what you do.

The implications of this line of thought can lead to places that are so radical that most of us don’t want to think about it very much. Lets face it: most of our income goes to taking care of ourselves and our famlies. But I don’t think this point can be ignored.

Also, even if you take this line of thought down more comfortable paths, it still has some pretty serious implications. Where does the money generated by your job go? If it is for your home, how is your home being used to further the Kingdom? If it is for food or clothes, how are those things being shared with others? If it is for cool gadgets (my particular obsession), can they somehow be used/shared to benefit others? How is that country club membership bringing the Kingdom into the world?

I think that a lot of us are searching for answers about our work that relate to HOW work is done. We want a formula that tells us how God will make us feel better about work because of the way we go about it, or because of how we influence others while we work. And I WILL explore that idea, with a few serious caveats, in a couple of posts. But if you’re not willing to consider the issue of where the product of your work goes in light of Jesus’ example and teachings, the rest of the answers quickly become lame cop-outs.

In the end, the question is: what are you working for? Why are you working? Your work is being redeemed when – as a result of your work – the Kingdom is being advanced. And if the best thing your job or business does is generate money (as it ought), then you can’t ignore the implications that flow from the issue of how that money is used for Kingdom purposes.

Thoughts anyone?