Theology of Work


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S (Scripture): Ecclesiastes 5:13 There is a grievous ill that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owners to their hurt, 14 and those riches were lost in a bad venture; though they are parents of children, they have nothing in their hands. 15 As they came from their mother’s womb, so they shall go again, naked as they came; they shall take nothing for their toil, which they may carry away with their hands. 16 This also is a grievous ill: just as they came, so shall they go; and what gain do they have from toiling for the wind? 17 Besides, all their days they eat in darkness, in much vexation and sickness and resentment.

18 This is what I have seen to be good: it is fitting to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of the life God gives us; for this is our lot. 19 Likewise all to whom God gives wealth and possessions and whom he enables to enjoy them, and to accept their lot and find enjoyment in their toil—this is the gift of God. 20 For they will scarcely brood over the days of their lives, because God keeps them occupied with the joy of their hearts.

O (Observation):  Solomon has seen what wealth can do to a person.  Wealth can turn a person inward, caring only for himself or herself.   To what end?   To a cold and lonely end.    When a rich person dies, that person cannot take their earthly goods with them.   Toiling is not bad…but if one toils to gain more things…one does so in vain.  

But Solomon gives us another view of toil: joy in contentment.   Brooding over the work gains nothing.   Instead, find the work God has called each to do, and in that, find joy!

A (Application): I continue to be amazed at our capitalistic society in the US and the growing discontent we have in our lives.   The gadgets and gizmos and vacations we all desire can drive us away from contentment and towards a poor view of our work:  work = money for stuff.   

The joy of work gives us purpose and a way to contribute to society.   The wonderful part of capitalism is the opportunity to explore any of your callings and to seek to be paid for it.   However, the downfall of capitalism is that those who cannot work, or those who cannot see work as something to be enjoyed decide that they don’t fit in, and thus, end up on the streets or living off of handouts.  

I pray that everyone find the inherent dignity in all of humanity.   I pray that everyone find the calling God has instilled in them.  I pray that we are all compassionate enough help those whose work does not allow them enough pay to live on their own.   

I pray that we all enjoy our work for the sake of bringing God glory!

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to be thankful and grateful for our callings in this world!  Amen.

What is This All For?

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S (Scripture): Ecclesiastes  2:24 There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God; 25 for apart from him[d] who can eat or who can have enjoyment? 26 For to the one who pleases him God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy; but to the sinner he gives the work of gathering and heaping, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a chasing after wind.

O (Observation): In all of his wisdom, Solomon has tracked down the purpose and the results of all ventures: eating, drinking, toil, study, war, etc.  And what is his conclusion?  “Vanity!  All is vanity!”

Nothing will last forever, according to Solomon.   Not riches or fame or conquest or control.  Nothing.   So, in the meantime, what should one do?  Eat, drink, and be merry!

A (Application):  I try so hard not to feel like I have to convince everyone that my way is right…but some itch under my skin keeps me irritated.   I can disagree with someone in person, and not try to win that conversation…but for minutes, or sometimes for hours, I try to win the argument in my head, or figure out what I could have said differently or better.  

But to what end?   What difference would it make?   

I’m not advocating for giving up…just to shift the reason for keeping my wheels turning.  

Why not shift from “trying to win,” to trying to make more clear my reasons for believing what I believe.  In other words: my journey does not have to be for the vain purpose of “winning,” but simply for the enjoyment of the pursuit of truth and understanding of my faith.  

May we all pursue the work of the Spirit, which brings joy and hope.   May we avoid vain pursuits…or at least enjoy life as it comes.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, your wisdom is above all.  May we enjoy the pursuit of said wisdom.  Amen.  

This Land is God’s Land…Not “Ours” – thoughts on Stewardship

S (Scripture): 1 Chronicles 29:1 King David said to the entire assembly: “My son Solomon, the one whom God has chosen, is just an inexperienced young man, and the task is great, for this palace is not for man, but for the Lord God. 2 So I have made every effort to provide what is needed for the temple of my God, including the gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, as well as a large amount of onyx, settings of antimony and other stones, all kinds of precious stones, and alabaster. 3 Now, to show my commitment to the temple of my God, I donate my personal treasure of gold and silver to the temple of my God, in addition to all that I have already supplied for this holy temple. 4 This includes 3,000 talents of gold from Ophir and 7,000 talents of refined silver for overlaying the walls of the buildings, 5 for gold and silver items, and for all the work of the craftsmen. Who else wants to contribute to the Lord today?”

6 The leaders of the families, the leaders of the Israelite tribes, the commanders of units of a thousand and a hundred, and the supervisors of the king’s work contributed willingly…9 The people were delighted with their donations, for they contributed to the Lord with a willing attitude; King David was also very happy…

14 [David praised the Lord, saying:] “But who am I and who are my people, that we should be in a position to contribute this much? Indeed, everything comes from you, and we have simply given back to you what is yours. 15 For we are resident foreigners and nomads in your presence, like all our ancestors; our days are like a shadow on the earth, without security. 16 O Lord our God, all this wealth, which we have collected to build a temple for you to honor your holy name, comes from you; it all belongs to you. ”

O (Observation):  Some key stewardship principals lived out by King David, as God’s  people embark on the building of a new and glorious temple for God.   King David wanted to build it, himself, but was told by God that his son, Solomon, would build it.  To support this effort – like a good leader – he decided to give not only from the Israel’s treasury, but also from his personal treasures.  

King David’s generous example gives inspiration to the people to do the same. Good leaders ask their followers to do something that the leader himself or herself is willing to do.  The result: joyful givers. 

Not only does David help his people to know how to give joyfully, but also to recognize that their treasures and their land are not – and never have been – “their” land.  Instead, this is all God’s money and God’s land – and God’s people are but nomads resting in their places for a while, and they are simply temporary stewards of God’s treasures. 

A (Application):  My family is one of the top 3 giving units in our congregation for 2016.   We struggled to get here…but with an attitude such as David’s, and faith that God will see us through, we are here…and we struggle to make sure we can stay here.   It takes faith.   It takes effort.  It takes intentionality.  And even though I’m writing about it, it takes humility.  

I don’t talk about this often, but if David thinks it’s okay to worry about…then maybe it’s okay for me to discuss it here. : )

This is a joyful opportunity to recognize some excellent stewardship principals from David. We are all but nomads…yes, even God’s people.  Whether it’s Israel, North America, Scandinavia, Germany, wherever…we are all but nomads, regardless of our length of our stay.   And those who have been in places before us…some we have displaced…and how so?  In the name of God?  Well, sometimes yes, shamefully so – taking God’s name in vain to declare something “ours.”

We have what we have in this life (land, liberty, money, pursuit of happiness) not for our own selfish sake…but to give God glory and to help others in need through hospitality and generosity.  

By sharing our place in giving to the congregation I serve, in putting our treasures where our hearts are, we are saying to the congregation: this is God’s, not ours, and we trust God will continue to give to us what we need as a family…and trust that provision will come.   

How is your struggle with giving to the church, the community, to neighbors in need?   If you ever want my help to figure out how to make progress in your giving, please let me know.   I’m happy to help, and to keep your information confidential.   Pray on it.  

P (Prayer): Lord, you give us our daily bread.  Help us all to realize this.  Amen.  

Serving With Nothing, With Plenty


S (Scripture): 1 Chronicles 22:5b So David made extensive preparations before he died.
6 He summoned his son Solomon and charged him to build a temple for the Lord God of Israel.

11 “Now, my son, may the Lord be with you! May you succeed and build a temple for the Lord your God, just as he announced you would. 12 Only may the Lord give you insight and understanding when he places you in charge of Israel, so you may obey the law of the Lord your God. 13 Then you will succeed, if you carefully obey the rules and regulations which the Lord ordered Moses to give to Israel. Be strong and brave! Don’t be afraid and don’t panic! 14 Now, look, I have made every effort to supply what is needed to build the Lord’s temple.”

O (Observation): David wanted to build a house for the Lord, but the Lord refused this request. David had too much blood on his hands to be the one to build a house for the Lord. Instead God had a plan to use his son, Solomon, to build the temple. 

God promised that Solomon would be in a place of peace and that God would keep his enemies from him while he was building the temple.  

While being one of the chosen ones through which a great lineage would come, David still had a rough go of it in his later years – especially with that whole thing with Bathsheba and her husband. Not to mention all of the people David killed at the Lord’s command.

Solomon, instead, through no doing of his own, would be the one to build this temple.  Not only this, but his supplies were pretty much already in place!  David had gathered tons of gold, silver, bronze, and many other building supplies.   

Solomon was born into this family, at this time, with these supplies…and a command from God.  He was born into quite the setting.  Sometimes, you just get put in the right situation.  (Yes, he had quite a lot of work before him, but he was setup quite nicely.)

A (Application):  Barry Switzer once said: “Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple.”

Barry Switzer was a college football and pro football coach who is a sort of rags-to-riches kind of a story, who related better to players who grew up poor (like himself) than to those born into riches.   

This is not a post about Barry Switzer, but I thought of this Switzer quote as I was reading this Old Testament text above from 1 Chr 22.  Sometimes we just find ourselves in a situation from which we will benefit greatly.  Sometimes we just find ourselves in a situation in which we are simply trying to survive.

David grew up as the runt of the litter, but eventually was called upon to serve God. Solomon found himself in the midst of riches and in a position of power, and was called upon to serve God.

Stories like that of David and Solomon – along with the Switzer quote above – remind me that we can find ourselves in either those situations throughout our lives. We may find that we don’t have much to work with, but we’re still called to serve. We may find that we have everything we need, and we are called to serve with those resources.  In either case, we are called to serve, and to do so humbly and with intentionality.  

We are called to take our current situation, give thanks to God for whatever we might have – even if it is only the air we breathe -and do what we can with that.  Coming from a life of privilege, these words may seem a bit empty, and I get that.  

I was most certainly born on third base, by the world’s standards.  So I see myself mostly as Solomon – given what I need and working hard to use those resources.  Part of my call, then, is to speak for those who have little, who have no voice, who are shunned or looked down upon.  In this way, I strive to steward my gifts and talents and position of power in order to help those who cannot get a seat at the table.   Not only this, but I strive to encourage others to do the same.  

I am far from perfect, but I strive to be a strong and humble leader for the Lord.    

What is your role?  Have you struggled with being more like David or like Solomon?   What are you doing to steward what God has given to you?

P (Prayer):  Lord, help me to use what you’ve given to me for the sake of others.  Amen. 

Let’s Talk Suicide Prevention

 


(A special note: I know that this post is completely random in terms of the direction I normally go, but I felt called to share this today, as I was contemplating our text, along with what it means to be a people of hope.)

S (Scripture): 1 Kings 11:9 The Lord was angry with Solomon because he had shifted his allegiance away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him on two occasions 10 and had warned him about this very thing, so that he would not follow other gods. But he did not obey the Lord’s command. 11 So the Lord said to Solomon, “Because you insist on doing these things and have not kept the covenantal rules I gave you, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant. 12 However, for your father David’s sake I will not do this while you are alive. I will tear it away from your son’s hand instead. 13 But I will not tear away the entire kingdom; I will leave your son one tribe for my servant David’s sake and for the sake of my chosen city Jerusalem.”

O (Observation):  Solomon done messed up!  He’s gotten a little full of himself.  The Lord warned him not to marry a foreigner, in order that Solomon might start worshipping the gods of his foreign wives.    Well, Solomon does exactly that:  he marries many women not from Israel, and he starts worshipping other gods and idols.  

God’s response?  God will keep the promise that God made to King David (2 Samuel 7:16 “Your house and your kingdom will stand before me permanently; your dynasty will be permanent”).  Even as badly as Solomon messed things up…God would still keep the hope of bringing forth from David a special line of succession…a dynasty that would last – a dynasty that reaches its fulfillment in Jesus the Christ. 

That’s not to say Solomon’s glory will last.  Indeed, most of the people of Israel would suffer and be lost.   But one glimmer of hope remains…thanks to God’s promise to David.  

A (Application):  How messed up can our lives get?   Can’t we reach a point where we say, “Enough is enough!”?   Tragically, some people go so far as to successfully complete a suicide, because they cannot see a way forward.  Indeed, my heart breaks for the families of those who complete a suicide.  And my heart aches for those who struggle with this challenge. 

I know it’s hard to see HOPE sometimes, but today’s text reminds me that we can get to the point where we feel like we’ve messed up so much, that our life isn’t worth living.   Or that things around us are so messed up, that life’s not worth living.  But God doesn’t give up on us.   God finds a way to make peace with our past and guides us into the way of peace.  That road might be rocky, but God is our guide.  

One of the highest causes of death amongst those ages 15-24 is suicide.   My hope is that all folks who are considering suicide would reach out for help.  And those who see these signs in others would take action.  

By the way, here are some great resources for suicide prevention information and actions steps:

We are a people of hope and we are called to help one another in time of need.  Whether that means we seek counsel when loved ones die from suicide, or we reach out to help a loved one because they are crying out for help, we can do our best to help. 

And sometimes, sadly, no signs are given, no indication given that someone is considering taking his or her own life.   And so we try to find a way forward…trusting that God will keep us in our time of need. 

I don’t write about this often (or maybe ever), so please consider tracking this post or sharing the phone numbers or links I posted above.  You never know whose life you might be saving.   Let us be hopeful people, despite our shortcomings.   

P (Prayer): Lord, we don’t know how to respond sometimes to the suffering in our hearts, in our loved ones, and in the world.  Guide us through the most treacherous of times, and remind us of the hope we have in you, through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.  Amen.  

Heavenly-Minded

  S (Scripture): Proverbs 1:1 The Proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
1:2 To learn wisdom and moral instruction, and to discern wise counsel.
1:3 To receive moral instruction in skillful living, in righteousness, justice, and equity.
1:4 To impart shrewdness to the morally naive, and a discerning plan to the young person.

O (Observation): King Solomon desired wisdom above all else, even above wealth and strength, when he was annointed as the king of Israel.   In the Proverbs, he shares his wisdom. 

Wisdom, moral instruction, and shrewdness are the core elements of the proverbs.  

A (Application):  I have to admit that I have not spent much time in the Proverbs lately, so I’m looking forward to this journey.  

The element that jumps out at me is v. 4: To impart shrewdness to the morally naive

For much of my life, I’ve heard the phrase, “Don’t be so heavenly-minded, that you are no earthly-good.”  Perhaps this phrase is supported by Solomon’s notion of shrewdness.  To be shrewd is to guard against naïveté. And Solomon focuses on those who are morally naive. 

I would consider myself more morally naive than not.  I tend to think that things will work themselves out.  I’d rather sit back and let others lead the way.   Of course, that’s not what God made us for.  

We are God’s hands and feet in this world.  We are not to sit back, but rather, use the gifts we are given for the sake of the other.  We are naive if we think things will just work themselves out.  God gave us brains…(and arms, and hands, and feet) so let’s use them! 

God’s Work. Our Hands. Sunday is September 13, 2015.   This is the ELCA’s initiative for an annual day of service in our local communities.   Last year, one such project was to help out at the Way of Hope – a women and children’s shelter.  We played with youngsters to give their parents some rest. 

We hope to help again this year, using some of the wisdom bestowed upon us by our Lord above.  

What opportunities have you seen in which you can put some of Solomon’s wisdom to use?

P (Prayer): Lord, give us discerning minds and wisdom to know how to enact your justice in this world. Amen. 

This Apple Fell Far From the Tree

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S (Scripture): 2 Chronicles 10:13 King Rehoboam (Solomon’s son) responded to the people harshly. He rejected the advice of the older men 10:14 and followed the advice of the younger ones. He said, “My father imposed heavy demands on you; I will make them even heavier. My father punished you with ordinary whips; I will punish you with whips that really sting your flesh.” 10:15 The king refused to listen to the people, because God was instigating this turn of events so that he might bring to pass the prophetic announcement he had made through Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam son of Nebat.
10:16 When all Israel saw that the king refused to listen to them, the people answered the king, “We have no portion in David – no share in the son of Jesse! Return to your homes, O Israel! Now, look after your own dynasty, O David!” So all Israel returned to their homes.

O (Observation): Putting pressure on people was the idea of Rehoboam’s young advisors. The people wanted a little bit of a reprieve after having worked so hard for Solomon to prepare supplies for the temple that was built for the Lord.

Siding with the young advisors, Rehoboam’s response is to be more harsh and more demanding.

That doesn’t work out too well. Of course, the Lord seems to be behind this stubbornness, but something important is highlighted here: the relationship between a leader and a follower.

A (Application): As a parent, as a pastor, as a coach, I always get the urge to bark orders and tell people where to go, what to do, how to do it, what to think. One problem is that people (adults and children) rarely respond well to orders just for the sake of orders. When people don’t have a good reason to respond…they won’t follow.

More importantly, when people only respond to orders (in the church), they can easily become militant to a fault. The militant followers can start judging others’ beliefs if they are different than their own.

Also, when a follower follows out of fear, rather than love, the loyalty of that follower constantly shifts to the strongest, most wealthy, or most influential person/ideal.

True influence, true love, does not force, coerce, or demand. Instead, influence and love are concerned with release, forgiveness, and a vision for the greater good. (See 1 Corinthians 13 for more about the nature of love in community.)

Where have you led well? Can you name others whom you follow that are leading out of love and forgiveness?

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to discern how we might lead out of love, rather than fear. And when leaders lead with fear, help us to stand together against oppression. Amen.