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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:

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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

 

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Sneak Peek of My Latest Project

I have an exciting opportunity to throw your way today. But first, a bit of the back story (or, you can just scroll to the bottom and read about the sneak preview).

worship_bandIt seems I’m consistently having conversations with worship pastors and individuals who help lead worship at their local church, and ultimately these conversations end up focusing on which songs our churches are singing. We throw out a rearranged old hymn our church has enjoyed, or just the latest new song people have seemed to engage with. Most often, though, we end up sharing the same songs.

I want people in my church to know the songs the church at large is singing, but I also wonder what we’re missing. Every church is singing songs by Chris Tomlin and Hillsong. But most churches don’t have the band composition to pull off those songs well.

Why aren’t most churches singing songs by The Brilliance (one of my favorites) or by Sojourn Music (a church always rearranging mostly lost hymns of old)? The answer is because these bands don’t have the marketing budget.

My friend and I have been working on a project that we think addresses some of these concerns. It gives space for small-name worship band to get their great music in front of people. It gives space for Chris Tomlin’s latest great song to be appreciated as well. The goal isn’t to kick out the big name artists, but it’s the put them on a level playing field with other quality artists and their songs.

The goal in all this is for the church to sing more widely. Nearly all of the churches I’m in contact with have a severely limited set of songs their congregation knows. I want to see that expand. And we hope this website helps provide an easy way for people to find great music.

So what does this mean for you? Sneak peek of what?

For a couple weeks I’m giving you an exclusive preview of this website we’ve put together. No one else is going to know about this project. A small thank you for being a loyal reader.

Vote up your favorite songs. Add some of your own songs to the mix. Give me any feedback you have.

Where should you go?

http://worshipsongs.me

Enjoy friends.

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Will I Write Another Book?

Why-Holiness-MattersEver since releasing my first traditionally published book with Moody back in August 2012, the number one question asked of me and my writing is, “Are you going to write another book?” It’s an interesting question because authors don’t simply choose to write a book or not, there’s plenty of other factors involved in publishing a book with a reputable organization.

The short answer to the question is simple: yes, someday I hope to write another book.

But not right now.

Behind the answer are two complex reasons.

1. Sales matter. Good books don’t always sell well.

I talked with a friend over a year ago who has published one book, and who happens to be well entrenched in the book publishing world. He has a great reputation. He has a graduate degree in writing. People love working with him. But his first published book did not sell well enough for any publisher to want to work with him for the time being. He said, “I’ll need to wait a decade to publish another book.”

I’m not sure my situation is the same, but it is similar. I feel good about the sales of Why Holiness Matters, and I’m indebted to so many of you who bought copies and encouraged others to do so as well. I’m proud of the book. But the sales are simply not strong enough for publishers to come knocking on my door.

Of course, I’ve yet to mention that people read differently today than they did 10 years ago. Book sales are changing. The target is moving. Philip Yancey recently lamented all these changes, saying the golden era of publishing is over. The internet and ebooks have forever changed the book publishing industry. No longer can you expect to make a living by writing books. Outside of a select few, it is not feasible.

2. Wisdom tells me not to publish.

Over a year ago Tim Keller encouraged pastors not to publish until the last 1/3 of their lifetime. Since then I’ve had numerous conversations on the subject. Originally I completely disagreed. If writing is an artform, publishing is part of the honing process, I believed. But I’ve changed my mind, for now (yes, that’s my hedging a bit, cause I waffle on things like this).

What Christian publishing needs is fewer books, of increasing quality, rather than the current situation where publishers will move forward with anyone who has the “platform” to support a book launch. This will never happen unless wise Christian men and women recognize that despite their ability to publish, they should not, for now.

I don’t like the way publishing a book influenced my soul. I was prepared for success. I desired it, dreamed of it. Maybe even more than I desired God to minister to me throughout the book writing process, I desired to put together a meaningful product. Never did I realize the idolatry within me as I focused on the product instead of obedience.

Age doesn’t necessarily grant wisdom, but it does provide perspective, the kind of perspective I didn’t have while writing. Keller’s advice, along with the thoughts of wise people around me, tells me that I don’t need to force the issue of publishing another book. The first opportunity fell into my lap through God’s timing, and I trust the next one will similarly.

In short, whenever I write another book I want it to be the kind of book I notice none of myself in, the kind of book that can’t help but minister to others, because it leaks of Jesus, and not of me. And until I’m at that place in life I’ll continue to hone my craft of writing in other ways.

Blessings to you and yours. Thanks for reading.

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This Good Friday World

Revelation 22:2 “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.”

ground-decay-1

Christian theology gets warped when the focus of God’s primary dwelling place is heaven, not earth. When Christians see their ultimate goal as being with God up in the clouds, they become escapists who ignore the importance of the physical earth in God’s plan of salvation and redemption.

John’s writing in Revelation is from the perspective of someone on earth, and he is being given a vision of the new Jerusalem, the place where God will dwell with His people, the new heaven, and it is coming down to earth. 

So the typical perspective on heaven as being a place Christians retreat to, is not what the Bible teaches. In fact, heaven will happen here, on earth, as God renews this earth. His kingdom reign here on earth as already begun. This is often called inaugurated eschatology, or more simply, the beginning of the end is already happening, or the already but not yet. We can already taste this, but it is not yet fully here.

What most of us have is a very weak understanding of heaven. A “take me up into the clouds” view of heaven if you will. And what John’s apocalyptic vision written for us in Revelation teaches is that heaven will be here on earth. Heaven will come down to us here on earth. And when we couple this with what we know about Jesus after His resurrection, and what Paul teaches in 1st Corinthians 15, we know that heaven will be physical.

So what does that mean for the Christian life here and now?

NT Wright, in his book Surprised By Hope describes us stonemasons working on a large cathedral. “The architect and the builder have the great design for the cathedral. The stonemason is just told, ‘You’ve got to carve this bit of stone in this way.’ And the stonemason does that and then later looks up and sees his stone halfway up in the cathedral and thinks, ‘Wow! That’s my little bit up there! And look, I now see how it fits into the greater pattern.’ We are building, like the stonemason, for the kingdom rather than us actually doing the building itself.”

The Christian has an opportunity to reflect the kingdom that is here, and also point toward the kingdom that is coming. We are Easter people who are living on the other side of the resurrection of Christ. He has announced his kingdom, and the hope that life in Christ can bring.

And we live in a Good Friday world, a world full of despair, broken homes and broken families, people lost in sin, and God is asking for the light that lives within us to shout the announcement that the kingdom is here and it is coming

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Up In Flames

Last Friday afternoon a guy from church called me frantically asking if our church building was on fire. I was confused. “Of course not,” I thought. But I, of course, was not at the building either. A few phone calls later it was confirmed that a small fire had started. Didn’t sound too bad.

I arrived 45 minutes later to smoke pouring out of every open window in the entire building. So much for small fire. As I later learned, most often a fire causes its damage through smoke, not flame.

new harvest church fire 2015

No one was hurt, or even in danger of being hurt. The fire crews saved the sanctuary from total destruction. You begin to ask yourself, was this even a big deal? You feel shaken, unsettled, but needlessly? Hard to say when you have 1,000 different emotions all colliding at the same time.

I had planned to speak on Old Testament worship this past Sunday, so the joke quickly became that I had planned to discuss burnt offerings, but a church fire wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.

For nearly half of our church’s existence we have been a mobile church, setting up and tearing down each weekend. So the current situation isn’t unusual to our church body, but you couldn’t help but wonder how the people would respond.

On Sunday I shared this thought after we gathered:

A fire may have kicked us out of our building for a while but the church is alive and well.

new harvest church stephens January 2015

Any church with a consistent meeting place has a tendency to turn a building into the church. A local church body needs a gathering place, but this space is not the church, only a place of common meeting. But how quickly this space becomes “the church,” instead of “a building.”

This Sunday the church showed Holy Spirit power and Trinitarian unity as we gathered. We are a living, breathing example of how God refines us through the fire.

For those of you who have prayed for us, thank you and please continue to.

The best days are ahead.

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