Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What Should I Do? Thoughts on Career and Decision-Making

Below is part of an email from a friend:

If you are open to fielding blog topics, and if you think it would connect with other readers, I would be interested in hearing your thoughts (and rebukes) as they relate to vocational calling, and to ministry calling (if you see any differences between the two). You could also just call this making decisions, especially those that come with multiple options (A, B, C, D, E, etc.).

It's a big topic, and people and life are messy, but some running questions...
  • Do you see both objective (outside of us--affirmation of gifts, skills; encouragement from others, etc.) and subjective (inside of us--passions, desires, hatreds, etc.) elements to the process?
  • If so, would you weigh one element stronger than the other? Do you see an appropriate biblical balance? For example, a local pastor visiting BCS last week urged us sem. guys to consider 90% objective / 10% subjective ratio. He wasn't trying to be numerically accurate as much as just wanting to get the impression across that we should rely heavily on others.

I answer:

Yes, the topic is big and people and life are messy. But there is I think substantial help for us in Scripture. Here's what comes immediately to mind:

1. The Scriptures affirm both objective and subjective reasons for doing what we do. For example, when the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy on qualifying elders, he began with the candidate's subjective desires (1 Ti 3:1). Peter refers to the same (1 Pe 5:2). However, the Apostles also required observable objective evidence of a man's gifting for the role (1 Ti 3; Tit 1).  In addition, I would point us to Ecclesiastes which teaches us to receive from God the ability to enjoy our labor and the fruit of it. This implies that our work is potentially subjectively enjoyable and that our fitness for it contributes to our objectively being fruitful in it. Clearly God has designed each of us with particular strengths. And since God wastes nothing, perhaps we should seek vocations that employ those abilities which will contribute to our being fulfilled in "the tasks God has given us to do under the sun" (see Ec). Also, since what is good for one part of the body is good for the whole body (1 Co 12),  my fulfillment in my work will positively affect others. I could trace some of those ways, but I don't want to here.
2. Understand the purpose of work. Work is good as we see in the early chapters of Genesis that God is the first Worker and a part of bearing His image is to work. Work is a pre-Fall part of the flawless creation order. The Apostle Paul tells the Ephesian Christians to work so that they have something to give away (Ep 4:28). He also tells us to work to provide for our families (1 Ti 5:8) and he rebukes those who will not work (1 Ti 5:8; 2 Th 3:11). It is not necessary to work for money for your work to be honorable. Paul did much of his ministry for free, working as a tent maker to provide for himself (1 Co 4 & 9). And much of the work done by the noble woman described in Proverbs 31 is not for income. It's for a well-ordered and well-cared for home and family. I say all of this to say that while God will give us the ability to enjoy our labor and the fruit of it (see Ec), our jobs are not designed to be all-satisfying or the primary source of our gladness.
3. We normally don't know the particulars of what God is doing. Therefore, we can't trace in any detail how He uses us in our work. So I would strive not to go overboard in my introspection concerning these things. I think doing what we like and are good at is a fine thing as long as we don't close ourselves off to entering into new fields if we are led there by God. God is up to ten thousand things that we do not see (Mk 4:26-29); and His ways are inscrutable (Ro 11:33-36).
4. One big way God leads us is by the counsel and testimony of the church who affirms our strengthens and reveals our weaknesses. We also get guidance by God's manipulation of circumstances. For example, when the Apostle Paul wanted to go into Bithynia he could not because "the Spirit of Jesus did not permit him". I don't know all that means, but clearly Paul was stopped by God from moving into a work in Bithynia. Other times Paul was allowed into a city and was fruitful. Sometimes he was allowed into a city but was quite unfruitful. We don't control much of anything. I say this to say I think it's fine to knock on lots of doors of opportunity and see which ones are opened to us. I would simply pursue my interests in the ways I am able and pray for God's work to get me where He wants me. And I would listen to those who know me best when I ask them for advice on vocational pursuits.
5. The will of God gets worked out in a relationship, not on a road map. What I mean is that the Bible would urge us to trust God, do what we know to do, and not get paralyzed with anxiety over making the "right" choice. The kind of decision making we're discussing is not in the moral category. It's not right to be a preacher and wrong to be something else. It's not right to go to that city and wrong to go to another. The call of the Christian life is always to trust God in all things. Again, live up to what you know and God will get you where He wants you, and probably for purposes you will never fully appreciate or even hear of. And remember that the foundational work of God is one of character, not action. He means to make us like Jesus (Ro 8:29-30). When Paul wants to give a summary statement of the work of God for the elect, He speaks of our sanctification, not our vocation. And God can make us, and will make us, conform to the character of Christ no matter where we find ourselves and in what field of labor. We should rest in that.
6. Make a decision. At the end of the day you'll simply have to choose something. Use your mind. Pray and think. You know yourself. Or as Solomon would say it, "Ponder the path of your feet, then all your ways will be sure" (Pr 4:26).
7. Realize there is to be a loving otherness to your work choices. This is true because your work has to do with people besides yourself, particularly your immediate family and your church family. This is basic to the neighbor love commanded by Jesus and the Apostles (Mt 22:39; Php 2:4; 1 Co 13). Do what is good for others. That's what is good for you. And, now changing direction a bit, we must consider the church. The church and our weekly gatherings are primary ways by which God sanctifies His people (this assumes our gatherings are ordered according to Scripture, which I know is not a safe assumption). We are designed to conform to Christ within a community of like-minded believers of diverse abilities. This reality is affirmed throughout the Bible. So for me to think I am of a kind that can afford to miss gathering regularly ("regularly" normally means "weekly") is not a thought the Bible affirms. Nor is it biblical to assert, through some wrong sense of humility, that my absence from church gatherings does not hurt my church; that what I bring to the church family will not be missed. The Bible clearly teaches us contrary to this (in 1 Co 12 and He 10 for example). So to work a job that demands I regularly miss the Lord's Day gatherings of Christ's church is, I think, unwise.There may be some exceptions to this (fire fighters, police officers, medical doctors, etc) in which case I would urge weekly gatherings of some kind with at least a remnant of the church body (small groups, mid-week gathering, etc).

There is more to say for sure. But hopefully this bit helps.

"In all labor there is profit, But mere talk leads only to poverty."
Proverbs 14:22-24

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Work God Does Through His Word

The translators and editors of the world's first Study Bible wrote concerning Scripture that, "It is the light to our paths, the key of the kingdom of heaven, our comfort in affliction, our shield and sword against Satan, the school of all wisdom, the glass wherein we behold God's face, the testimony of his favor, and the only food and nourishment of our souls." (From the Introduction to the1560 Edition of the Geneva Bible).

No wonder they gave their lives to learning and doing Scripture, and promoting its exaltation in the church of England.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Good Things Mean God Is

Do not be deceived my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. 
James 1:16-18

If you ask the Bible why we have good things, the answer is that God, who is good, gives them to us. Without the God of the Bible there would be nothing, let alone good somethings. If the world were random having evolved as the naturalists and evolutionists tell us, would there be so many good things? I  don't think so. I hypothesize that there would be only what is necessary for survival but nothing for joyfulness. The design would be radically different; or, I should say, because there would be no design there would be no goodness. Our bodies would work, but without taste buds. We could procreate, but without intimacy and orgasms. I imagine you see where I'm heading with this. If God is the source of all goodness, then a world without Him is not good.

In the verses above the good and perfect gift being described is the gift of salvation from sin and its effects and consequences. But James means for us to recognize God not only as the giver of redemption, but also the giver of every good gift and every perfect gift. This text came to mind this morning when I was preparing my second of three breakfasts -- a banana slathered with Peter Pan crunchy peanut butter. I thanked God for that food combination believing that wondrous concoction to be a good gift from my Heavenly Father. And He gave it to me to enjoy (1 Ti 6:17). Food is fuel. Our bodies are designed to run on the stuff. Isn't it a gift that we get to like the fuel, not just consume it? God could have given lots of fuels that all taste the same, and/or taste bad, and/or have no taste at all. But He did the good and generous thing -- He gave a variety, with different tastes, textures, smells, etc. That's good.

Consider the many good things you have and enjoy. And consider the perfect salvation He gives in His Son Jesus Christ. And know that God is.

When He opens His hand, we are filled with good things.
Ps 104:27-28

Thursday, March 8, 2012

God Is Not Ever-Suffering

I've been talking a bit about the existence of the God of the Bible and a person's belief in it. And in doing that I've spent a small amount of space describing those who take the atheistic or agnostic position. God's titles for such folks are "fools", "scoffers", and "scorners". And here's what I read this morning on the matter:

"The LORD's curse is on the house of the wicked, but He blesses the dwelling of the righteous. Toward the scorners He is scornful, but to the humble He gives favor. The wise will inherit honor, but fools get disgrace" -- Proverbs 3:33-35.

The Bible declares God to be patient, loving, slow to anger, and long-suffering. It does not declare Him to be ever-suffering. He will not strive with a person endlessly (Ge 6:3), as His flooding of the world proves.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Do Hard Things

I'm beginning a new exercise practice today -- P90X -- Extreme Home Fitness. I've been a gym guy; but the truth is I've never regularly liked going. It's been mostly about discipline. So I want to take a shot at something new that may be more useful, more convenient, and less expensive. And since my gym membership has expired, this seems a fine time for the change.

The pic is of my daughter's "exercise mat". She wants to help Daddy work out. And since I have a mat, she must have one also. Her mat is unoccupied because about 9 seconds into the workout she informed me she needed a drink and a snack. She's 4, so it's not a huge deal. But it caused me to think about how often I avoid hard things -- the physical for sure, but also the spiritual. Not unlike the physical realm, spiritual progress requires regular exertion. The Apostle Paul told Timothy to train himself for the purpose of godliness. Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value in every way, holding promise for the present life and for the life to come (1 Ti 4:6-8). 

Training in godliness means not only employing the spiritual disciplines, but having the hard conversations and hard confrontations. It means cultivating the humility that receives sound correction (Ja 4:1-12), and cultivating the love that gives it (Ga 6:1-3). Jesus said that His way of life is the "compressed way" (Mt 7:13-14). But it's also the liberating way, producing a particular kind of ease and rest (Mt 11:28-30; cf Ga 5:1). The Christian life is hard, but it's not Jesus that makes it that way. It's me, and my sinfulness. The way of Jesus is the way of the light burden (Mt 11:28-30; cf 1 Jn 5:3). 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

"What's Worse?", Asks the Rock Star.

". . . I don't know what's worse: natural disasters or these wolves in sheep's clothes pastors. Now damn it I'm scared to send my children to church. Amen, Amen." -- Kid Rock

Admittedly, not all of the song's lyrics are rooted in truth. And, admittedly, Kid Rock shouldn't send, but take, his children to church gatherings. And, admittedly, Kid Rock is no Christian theologian or even necessarily a Christian. However, he does make a good point in the contemplation cited above. I in no way want to minimize the horrors wrought by natural disasters. But I do want to state that the wolves masquerading as sheep do the most damage to the church of Jesus Christ. This is what Jesus and the Apostles warn us of repeatedly. Because it's the attacks that come from the inside that are so destructive, even beyond this temporal world. I saw it again just this week.

"I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them." -- The Apostle Paul to the Ephesian Pastors, Ac 20:29-30

"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.You will recognize them by their fruits. . ." -- Jesus the Lord to His followers, Mt 7:15-16

Hear this: those who do the greatest damage to the body and bride of Christ are very often the ones least expected to do it. They are schemers, working in secret, staying out of the light of public scrutiny and speaking out of both sides of their mouths. And if ever confronted with their wiles they simply look you in the face and lie, and then they lie, and then they lie again. They must work ever harder to cover their deceit because their pride and arrogance won't let them repent. 

We should labor and pray for their humiliation (Ps 35). In the covenant God has made with His people, He promises to take their enemies as His own (Ge 12). I mean to hold Him to that in prayer. Isn't that what prayer is in part -- asking God to do what He says He wants to do (1 Jn 5)?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Know Your Limitations

This morning, while contemplating a perplexing and potentially enraging turn of events, the following was a part of what I read from God:

"Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools. Say not, 'Why were the former days better than these?' For it is not from wisdom that you ask this. Wisdom is good with an inheritance, an advantage to those who see the sun. For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money, and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it. Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked? In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him. In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing." --Ec 7:8-15

We must learn to think and pray in line with such realities.