Serving Millennials on the Journey Toward Significant Life
Sign up to receive blog posts via email and receive a free eBook!

Transformed Not Performed

One of the over-arching themes in my book Why Holiness Matters is the idea that holiness is not something we attain, it is a gift imparted to us through the work of Christ. In the book I described holiness as the outward reality of an inward affection. Meaning holiness isn’t first new behaviors, it’s a transformed heart.

Taking this a step further, it is the purity of Jesus which is extended to those who choose to follow Him. Often I hear people describe holiness in terms of behavior, but holiness is primarily something of God, a perfect purity. And if this is true then holiness is not a possible reality in any human life separated from God.

To put it another way, we are holy through the transformative work of Jesus. We are transformed, rather being excellent behavioral performers.

This is a fitting way to focus our thoughts during Holy Week. Life achievements and personal accomplishments in life and in connection to God, come through God, and his gift-giving to us. Paul gives great emphasis to this in saying, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). 

Holiness is rarely framed in this way. More often holiness is brought up in terms of human action and decision-making. Keeping all this in mind I was surprised when The Bible Project released their latest video, this one on “holiness.” In the video, they describe holiness in a way that was similar to how I came to understand it and then emphasized it in my book. They nailed some critical ideas surrounding holiness.

Check out the video and support this wonderful ministry. Tim and Jon do incredible work. I use their videos all the time.

(if you cannot see or play the video, head here to watch it)

  • Share on Tumblr

Please Pray For Me

prayerMy Facebook feed is full of people asking for prayer. I know plenty of people who ask for prayer regarding every life event. I know others who share a few new prayer requests every time they come to their small group.

“My brother is looking for a job. Please pray for him.” Or,

“Our dog has been ill for a few days, please pray for her.” Or,

“I can tell I have a cold coming on, please pray for me.”

You’re already anticipating my banter and angst against this. Let me slow your roll.

The Good

I’m not one of these kinds of people. I ask for prayer publicly about twice a year. This is 80% about pride. I don’t want to appear weak. Asking for prayer conveys the need for help. “I don’t need help,” or so I think. But this is also because I’m a pastor. I feel a responsibility to be a strong shepherd to support the flock. Yes, I realize that isn’t always a helpful mentality.

Scripture tells us to present our requests to the Lord, and this same Scripture is largely speaking to communities of people, meaning we should present our requests to the Lord in the context of connection with others. Whether this be on Facebook, or in a small group, or on your church’s comment card, we must be people who are open enough with each other to present our petitions and praises to the Lord, together, forgoing isolation.

We would do well to learn from brothers and sisters who readily ask others for prayer.

The Bad

I must also mention that sometimes it is godly to keep our prayer requests to ourselves, especially in overly public settings, such as online social sites. Prudence often comes from wisdom.

What I notice is these same people who are seeking prayer support for a myriad of issues tend not to pursue prayer for others with the same zeal. It is this insular prayer framework that exemplifies the prayer life of many a Christian. “God I’m thankful for this. God I need your help with this. God I need a miracle here. Amen.” It’s all focused on self.

In all this, the mindset Paul writes about in Philippians 2:3 seems helpful: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” If prayer is primarily first about ourselves and making sure we are the ones being supported by others, we’ve turned prayer into a conceited act.

The Conclusion

Of course, you could come to the conclusion that it’s just easier to never present prayer requests with others—avoid the drama, sort of thing. But that would miss out on the importance of bearing our burdens with one another (Galatians 6:2).

I’m not sure what the exact conclusion to all this should be, but I would hope your desire in prayer is first to establish intimacy with God, and then to care for others. Please, tell others how to pray for you, but first take the initiative to ask them how you can pray for and support them.

(Image: kevron2001 via Getty Images)

  • Share on Tumblr

Empowering the Church For Faith at Work

redeeming work portlandI’m spending the day at Redeeming Work in Portland, a conversation hosted by Christianity Today and Leadership Journal, focused on the intersection of faith and work. I’m excited to announce (in a few weeks) a few things that will be happening here next month in a similar vein as this. Subscribe here to be notified about that.

Check out my post from earlier today if you’d like to see notes from sessions 1 and 2. Here’s sessions 3 and 4:

AJ Sherrill Equipping the Saints: Empowering the Church For Faith at Work

Focus passage: 2nd Corinthians 5:17-20, the ministry of reconciliation.

When it comes to moving forward, begin with the end in mind and work backward.

Influence involves three separate areas: people, products, policies.

People

“God must like ordinary folk—he made so many of us.” Abraham Lincoln

Never grumble, never gossip, choose to glorify God. When we commit to these things, over-time we become trustworthy. This isn’t spectacular, but it is faithful. And doing faithful things is always the beginning for something spectacular.

The ministry of reconciliation is not just for the elite and powerful.

Products

Example: mid-level management, one step above the bottom, a place of greater influence

Think through the questions: what impact on culture is your work having? What are we saying about human dignity? What are we saying about “the good life”?

Policies

The words used to shape the direction of the future. Upper level management, executive management.

There is no work environment that is culturally or socially neutral. Organizations and cultures are dynamic, not static. They change based on who is in the room.

Connecting and Collaborating

Trinity Grace Church example:

  • Industry Renewal Nights: various sectors of industry are given opportunity to connect at events, twice a year.
  • Industry Roundtables: focus one specific industry, staff organized and served but lay led, invite trusted industry leaders to engage other industry workers on collaboration ideas.

We get easily tired of talk and conversations. When it comes to connecting and collaboration, conversations are never the end goal but they always the beginning. Genesis 1 and John 1 begin with a conversation. Conversations get things moving.

Kevin Palau “The Life of the Church: Learning to Work With the Community”

Seasons of Service: leverage churches and organizations to serve the communities around them.

What have they learned in the past decade?

  • The need for a long term vision and commitment to serving the city (20+ years…). The problems took decades to develop, so the work of service will take decades for trust to be built.
  • The utmost importance of establishing relationships. Their work of getting churches to collaborate is key to extending reach and relationships for the common good.
  • The significance of celebrating and accelerating what God is already doing in the city. It’s so easy to overlook and move past what God is already doing. Just doing the work of telling the story of how God is moving gives space for people to catch the vision for the future. Help tell the stories of what others are doing, rather than finding ways to take credit.
  • The value of embracing unlikely partnerships and being willing to set aside our differences both inside and outside the church in order to serve.
  • The importance of truly believing that the “Good News” is good news for our city. If it hasn’t been a transformative Good News for us, it can’t be Good News for them.
  • Share on Tumblr

Identity Expressed Through Work, Not Achieved Through Work

redeeming work portland

I’m spending the day at Redeeming Work in Portland. A conversation hosted by Christianity Today and Leadership Journal, focused on the intersection of faith and work. This is a subject of passion for me after meeting with so many who hate their jobs and see no kingdom fulfillment in them. But I’m also here in preparation for a few things that will be happening here next month, subscribe here to be notified about that.

I’ll be sharing a few posts throughout the day, as I’m able. Check out Leadership Journal’s page for more resources on these subjects.

Sessions 1 and 2:

Skye Jethani “The Evolution of Faith and Work

“As a pastor I was too preoccupied with my calling instead of their calling.”

“There’s a gap between our functional Bibles and the actual Bible.”

This causes 3 blindspots:

Creation

  • In our functional Bible creation starts in Genesis 3. We miss the good of what God created.
  • The cultural creation mandate comes before the marriage mandate.

Calling

  • “I didn’t have a theology of calling.”
  • False dichotomy between the work of heaven (clergy) vs. the work of earth (laborers).
  • Puritan theology of calling
    • highest: union with God
    • common: commands to all people
    • specific: unique to the individual

Consummation

  • We focus on the idea of discontinuity, i.e. “Nothing on earth has an enduring presence.”
  • Instead, the reality is “what we do now actually matters.”
  • Our false focus discredits callings aside from evangelism, work of heaven.

Summary:

  • Recognize your blind spots
  • Avoid sacred/secular divide
  • Embrace the full scope of God’s redemption

AJ Sherrill “Equipping the Saint: Shaping Vocational Imagination

In the late 1800s the best/most desired answer to the question “what do you do?” was “Nothing.”

In today’s world the best/most desired answer to the question “what do you do?” is always connected to work.

Identity is provided through work.

We put a disproportionate weight on occupation as it relates to vocation.

Cultivate a new focus in these areas:

Identity

  • Genesis 1 presents God as the creative one, one who acts, does.
  • “God didn’t achieve identity through work. God expressed identity through work.”

Imagination

  • “Whether your occupation is great or little…do you dare to think of it together with the responsibility of eternity.” -Kierkegaard
  • The Empire State Building was originally designed with the secondary focus of being a blimp dock for sightseers.
  • “A mature imagination discerns what is not, but longs to be.”
  • Pastor as curator, not controller.

Eucharist

  • A practice to be formed through
  • A reminder that matter, matters.
  • A reminder that God loves moving through the ordinary, mundane.

Summary: weekly church gatherings are one of the last remaining places gathering people from all sectors of life, we must inspire something from them.

  • Share on Tumblr

A Conversation About the Intersection of Faith and Work

Mt Angel Abbey viewLast week I spent an hour with my friend Paul Pastor at the Mt. Angel Abbey. Aside from the great view on a beautiful day, we discussed the topics surrounding an upcoming event put on by Christianity Today and Leadership Journal on faith and work.

The event is in Portland, and as a reader of this blog, I’m able to offer you $40 off the Redeeming Work event! When you register here, just enter promotional code BL40.

Here’s my conversation with Paul Pastor, one of the speakers at Redeeming Work (check out his website and Twitter profile):

Tyler: Why is it important for Christians to focus on the intersection of faith and work?

Paul: Several reasons.

1. Work occupies so much of our lives. So any theology or pastoral practice that doesn’t speak toward our work misses a key component of life.

2. For emerging adults today, many of our questions and angst about identity come out in the conversations surrounding work.

3. I’ve heard from many pastors who feel ill-equipped to handle the questions and struggles of their congregants. What we’re doing with Redeeming Work is offering theological foundation and practical pastoral guidance within a local context to help change that.

What would you say to the Christian who doesn’t see any aspect of faith in their work?

The Bible’s vision of creation is one where everything has the capacity for sacredness. Even though the world and our work are suffering as the result of a broken and bent world, “there’s no creature whatsoever that does not have a beam of God’s glory in it” (Richard Sibbes, para.). That principle, the idea that God is everywhere, and his presence sanctifies, it turns the streets we sweep, and the toilets we scrub, and the stocks we broker, and the engines we tune, and the people we teach, it all turns all of that, all of creation, into beams of God’s glory. That’s the source of our inspiration for work: seeing God at work in all things.

That can sound like a thin answer, and there are many ways that I’d caveat it. For those, join us for the Portland Redeeming Work event on March 10th and let’s chat in person.

What are some ways that Christians understand work in an unChristian way?

First, if they act as if it doesn’t exist. Often we do this out of fear. Some pastors fear that if the implications of this conversation came to fruition in their church, it would diminish volunteerism within the church, or the level of involvement within the local church for what some see as “sacred work.”

Within this, we sometimes propagate a stark sacred/secular divide, where we see “ministry work” as sacred work, in the church, and all other callings, careers, or jobs as just . . . work. This is theologically flimsy and pastorally damaging.

The other way we get this wrong is by having the conversation without recognizing the difficult areas inherent in it. Such as:

  • This can be a conversation for privileged people (people who have time, education, and interest to sit around and think deep thoughts about the work behind the paycheck).
  • The systemic and ethical implications of work.
  • Making work exclusively a personal (not a communal conversation).
  • Passing over Christian callings that much of the world ignores or devalues (stay at home parent, service employee, blue collar worker, assembly line worker, and so on).

How would you encourage people who can’t make the event but care about seeing conversations like this happen in their context?

Read a few books on this subject to get new language and vocabulary. This gives you the ability to see new things and to grow in life for your context.

Everybody works in a “contribution” capacity, even many who aren’t necessarily “compensated” for their work–stay-at-home parents, for example. Listen to and affirm diverse callings.

Start a conversation with your pastoral staff to push your church toward putting greater emphasis and focus on the faith/work conversation. Be willing to discover what this means for you–that Christ has come to redeem all things, including the work of our hands, hearts, and minds.

If you’re in a pastoral role, listen to the people in your congregation. Ask questions of people that take more than a “yes” or “no” response. Visit people at their place of employment. Devote sermons and small group time toward issues of work and career.

Don’t see this as the next big thing for your church to “go through,” but important for the life of the church. Our commitment to this should become a lifelong desire to value people and their callings.

What books, individuals, organizations are engaging these conversations well?

Organizations:

Books/writing:

  • Share on Tumblr

Life Wins

For the entire length of my Christian faith I’ve always placed a high priority on a few simple, quiet moments of reading, prayer, quietness, and meditation. In high school we called this JAM time. In college we called it quiet time. As an adult I simply think of it as soul cultivation.

In these moments I care about much more than simply broadening my knowledge about God, but for the purposes of my thoughts here let’s consider this emphasis on “quiet times” to reflect a push by Christians to know God deeply. Pastors encourage daily discipleship in some form of this quiet time. Reading Scripture, prayer, etc. Studies even support this. Christians who do daily reading of the Bible have a stronger connection to God than those who do not.

Pastors encourage daily discipleship in some form of this quiet time. Reading Scripture, prayer, etc. Studies even support this. Christians who do daily reading of the Bible have a stronger connection to God than those who do not.

I do not disagree with this devotional emphasis, but I wonder whether these kinds of things become misunderstood as the holiest things. If knowledge of God and emotional connection to God are the barometers we use, we walk dangerously close to the Gnostics of New Testament times, whom the writers of the NT consistently had in view.

I make it a daily practice to process through my interactions with people before I go to sleep. How quickly I said hi in passing to a friend. Did I listen well as an acquaintance shared about their latest struggle? My struggles in these areas push me to do better, to care more. However, I rarely consider these interactions to be the holiest things. But of course, Scripture teaches otherwise.

It is not knowledge that was moved by the affections of God, it was flesh. God sent His Son. His affections for us were connected to physical and fleshly things, the holiest things.

If knowledge and connection are not the goals of soul cultivation, what is the goal? Most people would answer, love. This is the Great Commandment: love God, love people (Matthew 22:36-40).

When it comes to eternity and the summation of the Christian faith, many use the phrase “love wins.” But I think this is incomplete. Let me explain.

God showed the vivaciousness of his love through flesh. Flesh and the sacrifice of it are the ultimate outpouring of love. Love, as an intangible emotion, must be expressed in tangible ways. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

The conclusion of God’s love is life.

How can this be so?

It’s what God’s love first births. Genesis 1 and 2 recount the creation of the world and mankind. God speaks, life and light are breathed into dust and darkness. Life is God’s first expression of love, and his final expression of love is eternal life.

Eugene Peterson says, “Every time a baby is born the gospel is preached.”

The summation of the Christian faith is not love wins, it’s life wins.

first family of four picture

Over the past few months my son has gotten into the habit of walking over to me as I stare at the screen on my phone. He’ll extend his arm and hand, reaching out for me. “Daddy! Backa-ball” He wants to play. I’ll grab his hand, and he’ll lead me into the living room and hand me the small, plastic basketball.

It’s easy to see these moments as necessary things. My son needs and wants attention, love, and care. I must, necessarily, give these things to him. But what if it’s more than that? What if it’s these moments that are the holiest?

Not the quiet, Jesus-and-me time. Not the moments of sharing God’s Word to hoards of people willing to listen. The simple moment, wrestling with my son as I teach him how to play defense next to the three-foot tall backa-ball hoop.

I got to be part of another one of those holy moments of life recently, as my wife and I welcomed our daughter into the world. Labor and birth are messy, noisy, painful things. But they are chalk-full of holy. Flesh entering into the world.

If Jesus teaches us anything, it’s that the holiest moments are not found in quiet meditation. No, the holiest moments are when two Images of God crash into each other.

Please welcome Adelynne Joy Braun into our world. Born January 29th. 8 lbs. 1 oz. 20.5 inches long. We anticipate many more holy moments ahead as we love and care for her, with your support.

adelynne

 

  • Share on Tumblr
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. © 2014 by Tyler Braun. Designed and coded by Paul Bae...