In Brief: Work Matters

2016 - Work MattersTitle: Work Matters
Author: Tom Nelson

Pages: 203 (plus notes)

Because of a forthcoming Sunday school series on the topic of vocation, I have been on the lookout for simple but helpful writings to supplement our secondary resource. I came across this book by Tom Nelson at the college library. Because of the author’s association with TEDS (I have much respect for the institution!), the recommendation by Ravi Zacharias, and the trendy cover (by which, sadly, you can occasionally judge an actual book), I decided to give it a shot.

I am glad I read the book, and I would gladly have given it 4 stars had it not been for the 9th chapter. Sadly, I considered 2 stars because of the 9th chapter. Harsh? Perhaps. But there are certain subjects that have such an effect on me.

I’ll start with the merits, and there are many:

Nelson is faithful to advocate for a “robust doctrine of vocation.” He is personally and pastorally committed to connecting Sunday worship to Monday work. I am a fan of this aspect of his ideology. Far too many churches elevate Sunday at the expense of the other six days of the week, providing an experience instead of equipping the saints to live. Nelson is determined to reclaim Sunday as not only a day of worship, but also of thankfulness, encouragement, and preparation for a life of worship. After all, if worship means to ascribe worth, then certainly we should desire to ascribe worth to the person and work of Christ through a life of faith by God’s grace.

 

“It is not a question of whether we are being formed spiritually, but rather, are we being spiritually formed in the inexhaustible riches of the gospel as we live and work in the already and not yet kingdom reign of Christ.” (p. 107)

 

Even if not by conscious decision, Christians live in danger of equating church work with ministry. Nelson advocates (I would say, rightly so) the intentional application of matters of the gospel to the many and varied vocational callings of Christians. The church does not exist that the world may run to us, but rather we are called to be the body of Christ exactly where the Lord finds us. If we fail to communicate God’s good – and now redeemed – plan for everyday work, our brothers and sisters in the faith may struggle with dissatisfaction and discontent at the life and means provided by God’s grace, wishing away six of every seven days just to get back to Sunday.

Nelson also strongly defends God’s common grace, and the connection between work and the common good. The value in work is found, not in compensation or benefits, but rather in God-ordained human contribution to the common good of creation. Early in the work, Nelson pronounces the value of work like this:

 

“Not only would the crown of creation (referring to humanity) have joyful intimacy with their Creator, but they would also be given the joyful privilege of contributing to the work of God in his good world.” (p. 24 emphasis mine)

 

God provides for his creation through common means. Human connection is one such glorious means. We use the gifts and talents endowed to us as a contribution, an offering to the benefit of the Father’s world. This was God’s plan. In Christ, we have the opportunity again to find the true value of work as a gift of God, an avenue of sacrificial worship in his name, and a distinct way to love others. Our misunderstanding (or sinful dismissal) of the value of every vocational calling leads us to undervalue work, or worse yet to undervalue the image-bearers God has gifted to perform the work.

Nelson also spends time on the significance of work in the believer’s sanctification. Work provides one crucible in which the Christian is sanctified, molded in holiness through common trials and successes. Considering the hours of life spent in vocation, a failure to understand the value of work could easily result in decades wasted with regard to the intentional pursuit of Christ and Christlikeness. If we believe ministry and worship only happen on Sunday, then we will surely downplay the spiritual significance of work.

It is in the matter of trials that I offer my only disappointment in the book. Chapter nine addresses the challenges of work, the dangers and temptations of working in a fallen world. From matters of honesty to sexuality, the workplace is yet another setting in which humanity unfortunately displays the depth and outworking of original sin. I do not disagree with Nelson’s premise, but rather his proposed remedy. For a book that so heavily leans on the gospel as God’s means of redeeming work, Nelson leaves Jesus out of the discussion of temptation.

Blatantly absent is the account of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness. Absent is the reality that a Christian’s ability to resist temptation comes from Christ who endured temptation on our behalf (Hebrews 4:14-16). Absent is the necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit in convicting our hearts. And, sadly, absent is the hope born of the sacrificial blood of Christ, offered for a world full of failures. There is none who is righteous – no not one. 

Subtly, and tragically, present is a works-based righteousness through the mishandling of prominent Old Testament personalities. Daniel made good decisions, so should you. Joseph made good decisions, so should you. Moses made good decisions, so should you, because God blesses good decisions. Chapter nine presents these men as flawless models to emulate, instead of sinners in need of God’s grace. Chapter nine presents these men as heroes to worship rather than sinful and fatally flawed forerunners of the only authentic hero. Daniel’s good decisions were filthy rags without the sacrifice of Christ (Isaiah 58), as were those of Joseph and Moses. Even their finest work required the purity of Jesus. By the account of chapter 9, God may provide the trap door to escape temptation, but you can take care of the rest on your own.

I would strongly argue for the removal of chapter 9, or better yet crafting it anew in light of grace.

 

In conclusion, the book is good, but not great. I would argue that it lays a wonderful foundation, but that it casts a dangerous gaze away from Christ at a critical junction.

 

 

“All vocations are intended by God to manifest his love in the world.” (Thomas Merton – p. 19)

  “If it falls to your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep the streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, like Shakespeare wrote poetry, like Beethoven composed music; sweep streets so well that all the host of Heaven and earth will have to pause and say, “Here lived a great street sweeper, who swept his job well.” (Martin Luther King, Jr. – p. 83)

 

 

 

For other brief reviews, keep an eye on my Reading page.

On Corruption and Conversion: The Great Divorce #11

Even though I have been behind schedule, I cannot help but write briefly on the second half of Chapter 11. In a story that, thus far, has provided heartache and conviction, I felt I had to comment, even if only for a moment, on that one story of great joy!

As the Writer and his teacher move away from Pam, the mother who struggled with bitterness over her son’s death, they have a bit of a conversation followed by a magnificent encounter.

 

“Brass is mistaken for gold more easily than clay is… it is a stronger angel, and therefore, when it falls, a fiercer devil.” (MacDonald) 

 

The love of a mother for her child is far closer to godly than is the depravity of lust. Because of this, the love of a mother for her child can also more easily be mistaken for something godly than can the depravity of lust. Because of this, it is entirely possible that the love of a mother for her child could be a greater hindrance to faith than can the depravity of lust. That lust is sinful is without argument, even from a secular perspective. I have read articles recently, spoken without mention or mind towards God, condemning the danger of lust. To argue, though, that mother-love is dangerous, is to tread on far more brittle ground.

To further the comparison, the writer and MacDonald then encounter a man and his lust, portrayed as a red lizard fixed upon his shoulder. The man is speaking with an angel who is pleading for redemption. Redemption, though, will come with pain. The lizard must die. The process will hurt. But the result will be glorious.

 

“Every natural love will rise again and live forever in this country: but none will rise again until it has been buried.” (MacDonald) 

 

Finally, a ghost who chooses redemption! A ghost who chooses freedom! A ghost who chooses Christ! It’s a moment to stand up and cheer. The country itself rejoices, a song rising from the rocks, hills, and trees.

So what about that lizard? How is it that the lizard became a mighty steed? And what about the mother and her love?

Sin is the corruption of something God intended for good. Idolatry is a corruption of true worship, substituting something created for the Creator. Murder (or even anger) is a corruption of the image of God. Lust is a corruption of real love. In Adam, every heart is sinful, which means that the seeds of goodness created and implanted by God have been corrupted and manifest in deadly ways. It stands to reason, then, that when sinners come to salvation in Christ, the corrupt seeds find life anew in him. Worship is rightly directed towards God again. The image of God is restored, changing views of self and others. Love itself is redeemed and expressed rightly with an eye towards God, who is love.

And so the lizard became a steed. The sinful corruption was buried, here crushed by the flaming hand of the angel, and then granted resurrection in purity. What had been distorted was now right again.

 

“Ye must ask, if the risen body even of appetite is as grand a horse as ye saw, what would the risen body of maternal love or friendship be?” (MacDonald) 

 

By showing the steed rising from the lizard, we are not merely meant to marvel at the redemption of such a sin. Instead, by MacDonald’s words we are left to wonder what might be if Pam’s mother-love found conversion in Christ? How glorious would such love be if the stain of corruption is lifted and new life reigns? In my previous post, I quoted the words of the Lord, illustrating that our corrupt love must appear as hatred in comparison to our love of God in Christ Jesus. Many might protest such an instruction, but Lewis here illustrates the result of surrender to the supremacy of Christ.

Conversion.

Redemption.

Resurrection.

Love incorruptible.

Greater than a lizard becoming a steed.

Love fueled by God who is love.

Love moved by Christ who gave his life.

Love powered by the Holy Spirit.

Real love.

 

 

You can visit the Summer Reading page by clicking here, or by opening the menu at the top right.

 

 

 

 

For Shame: The Great Divorce #7

Shame: (n.) a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.
I’ve often thought one of the most remarkable sentences in the Bible to be Genesis 2:25. They were naked, and they felt no shame. Adam & Eve, married in the garden, naked before each other and God – yet feeling no shame. They were quite visible in every sense of the word. No clothes. No sin. Nothing to hide. Nothing to fear. Knowing and being known.

Incomprehensible.

In our current state, we cannot fathom this feeling. In the moments following, everything fell apart when our first parents chose sin and self over God. Humanity’s heritage is now steeped in sin and the accompanying shame. Pain. Humiliation. Distress.

Shame is something that is stirred. Our sinful nature guides us to hide all things unacceptable. When those things are brought into the light, there is inevitable pain. As the pain surfaces, we have a choice: carry it or bury it.

 

“Friend, you see I’m not dressed at all.” (the Bright Person)

 

This chapter features an interesting perspective of shame as the well-dressed Ghost encounters a Bright Person. There’s a delightful irony in that the well-dressed Ghost is, um, well-dressed, while the Bright Person is quite naked. But it is the Ghost who feels shame. She believes it to be far worse to be transparent in heaven than to be naked on earth. To bear her ghostliness in the presence of the Bright People is more than she is willing to endure.

The Bright Person tries to encourage her. Bear your shame just long enough to take the first step, and you’ll find the burden lifted. An hour later you won’t care. A day later you’ll be laughing about it. But give in to the moment. Drink that cup to the bottom and take the first step. In fact, the Bright Person offers to walk along, to lift as much of the burden as possible, everything short of carrying her. But it starts with a single step.

 

“Friend, could you, only for a moment, fix your mind on something not yourself?” (the Bright Person)

 

When our focus is inward, it’s hard to see goodness beyond that first step. It’s hard to see healing beyond the first momentary glimpse of pain.

The gospel introduces life to the carry or bury scenario. Carry that shame… to the cross. Lift your eyes to the heavens, fix your gaze on Jesus who bore sin and shame in his death. Fix your mind and your heart on the one who has overcome, and surrender. That moment of pain is real – the moment of conviction at the realization that we’ve offended our holy God. That moment of shame is real, an awakened conscience in the face of what God has done in response to what we have done. Powerful.

There is relief in taking the first step towards the cross. The burden is not erased in that first step, for our sinful flesh remains. But the burden begins to lift. An hour passes, then a day. Jesus is fully capable of turning shame into joy through a gift of redemption.

 

“But, I tell you, they’ll see me.” (the well-dressed Ghost)

 

I can’t help but think of the tragedy of the modern altar call. Maybe some pastors will share my sentiment. Bow your heads, close your eyes. I have to be honest, I have a problem with these words. So many churches. So many events. So many pastors invite people to respond to the gospel with heads down and eyes closed.

Billy Graham once said something like this: If Jesus died publicly on a cross for you, the least you can do is respond to him in kind. In fact, I would add, because he died publicly for you, he enables you to respond in kind. Because he bore infinite shame, he can carry yours in that moment of surrender.

8148552878_586f703d52_zMaybe I’m wrong here, but I believe the ultra-private altar call has consequences. By inviting people to respond in hiding, is it possible that we’re burying shame? Is it possible that we’re adding the gospel  to the list of things to be ashamed of? Could it be that people need to take a first step in order to surrender the burden of shame and find true healing?

When I first heard Billy Graham’s words, I vowed never again to ask people to hide when they respond to the gospel. I remember saying I didn’t want people to be embarrassed. I didn’t want them to be singled out. The honest truth is that I didn’t believe Jesus could carry them through a moment like that. I didn’t believe the church or the event to be a safe enough place for the gospel I was preaching.

I’ve since watched individuals stand alone in a crowd of hundreds in response to Jesus. I’ve watched people stand up, walk to the front and drop to their knees. I’ve watched people drink that cup of shame and be exposed as a sinner. It is glorious. It is the moment the Bright Person and the Writer were waiting to see. I can honestly say I’m thankful that others have been around to witness my moments of brokenness and inadequacy. I don’t recall ever waking up thinking, “I hope someone sees me weep today.” But I do recall waking up the next day thinking, “I’m glad somebody was there to see what happened.”

 

“My suspense was strained up to the height.” (the Writer)

 

Like the Writer, I have had moments of wondering, inwardly pleading that somebody would face the moment and surrender. I felt that my own destiny hung on her reply. I can honestly say, I understand that feeling.

Lewis leaves us with the delightful tension of an unresolved situation. The Writer walks away, the interview incomplete. How nice.

 

 

You can visit the Summer Reading page by clicking here, or by opening the menu at the top right.