Tag Archives: N.T. Wright

God At Work: Not In Vain

Jesus at the office

“If you’re a city planner, there is a New Jerusalem, If you’re a lawyer there will be a time of perfect righteousness and justice. The way we view the not yet will inevitably impact the way we respond in the here and now.” -Tim Keller

For the past few months, I’ve written on the importance of vocation and why it matters to reconsider what we do in light of what we believe. I want to conclude this series in the next week, but first I want to point out something that I think many of us familiar with the Scriptures miss.

A few years ago I was hanging out with some quilting ladies at The Hills Church (a much wilder experience than you might think) and they were telling me about what they’ve done over the years. Every week a couple of dozen ladies sit down and make blankets for the under-priviledged. They give their quilts to the mentally handicapped, the orphans, kids in the cancer wards, basically anyone who needs to keep warm. And after hearing their stories this is what I told them.

Work is Meaningless

If you’ve never read the book of Ecclesiastes, I highly recommend it. It’s not a real pick me up book, (in fact Rabbi’s used to ask people to wash their hands after they read it) but it is incredibly honest. One of the more interesting things about Ecclesiasties is how it portrays work.

Because it doesn’t seem to think to highly about anything we do with our lives. One Old Testament Scholar, Tremper Longman believes that Ecclesiasties is written in a literary form of “fictional autobiography.”

Basically what that means is that Ecclesiastes is like a parody (it’s like the Colbert Report of the Old Testament) it’s setting up the most honest way of talking about the world, but just because it’s honest doesn’t mean it tells the whole truth. Because Ecclesiasties has a pretty dark view of work.

It knows that work, no matter how great we think our job is, can never really deliver on it’s promises.

I don’t know about you, but my work keeps me up at night worrying about what I’m missing out on, Jesus seems to be able to sleep through storms. I don’t know about you but my work can easily turn into idolatry.

My ambition can seduce me into thinking that I’m working for my family and friends, when really it’s tricking me into neglecting them. Because no matter what we do, and no matter how well we do it, eventually all work is in vain…no matter how well you build the house eventually entropy sets in, no matter how well you cook or paint or create eventually it will pass…From the perspective of eternity it seems like all labor is meaningless.

Work can be very, very vain.

And anyone who’s ever lived knows that Ecclesiastes is of course right, but it isn’t telling the whole truth.

Ends and Means

It is no accident that Jesus in his first sermon he ever preaches, starts by quoting the prophetic vision of Jubilee and then suggests that this is what he is doing in the world. Jesus is bringing in of the Kingdom, involves work. Jesus sees a Kingdom of God that informs our work. A Christian definition of work will take into account where history is going in God’s hands. So In 1st Corinthians 15, Paul gives us the longest treatise on the resurrection in the whole Bible. It’s one of my favorite chapters in all of Scripture. It’s about the world being set right, everything is how it should be, death is no longer a factor. But Paul chooses to end this chapter in a strange way. He says:

“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

Which is kind of a strange way to end this chapter isn’t it? He ends by talking about our work. If the resurrection is about going to another place in the sky, than this doesn’t make sense. But if it is something else, sometime about this world being renewed, than that changes everything. Because what you do here and now matters.Heaven and Earth

So back to those quilting ladies…this is what I told them. I told them what they did would matter forever. The resurrection means that every quilt they made is going to have echoes into eternity. Look at one of my favorite quotes from N.T. Wright about our work in relation to the resurrection:

“You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that is about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on a fire…You are-strange as it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself-accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude and kindness, every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course ever prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world-all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make. That is the logic of the mission of God.”

Did you catch that? The things we do with our life will find their way, through the resurrecting power of God, into forever.

Your work is important, not just because you can contribute to church, but because you get to partner with God! The resurrection of the world means that some of the best ministries, don’t have the word ministry in them!

There’s not some work that is spiritual and some work that is earthly, there is only work that partners with God, and work that refuses to.

So take heart plumbers and musicians, take heart teachers and doctors, take heart electricians and carpenters.

Because your Labor is in the Lord, and your work is not in Vain.

God at Work: Serving the World

“Everybody wants to change the world, nobody wants to do the dishes.” -Shane Claiborne

“It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” -Yogi Berra

Jesus at the office

One of the most notable ways that humans have changed the world in the last hundred years is the way we talk about changing the world. In the 19th century nobody was really talking like this. In the 19th century there were only four books written with a mention of “changing the world.” In the last few decades we’ve written over a million!

Confidence Monitors

Andy Crouch in his book Culture Makers gives a few examples of these books, The Riddle of the Compass: The Invention that Changed the World. Twelve Lesbians Who Changed the World, Five Speeches That Changed the World , or my favorite  Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World.

When did we start letting this get by our editors? Does anybody really think Mauve changed the world?

But under these titles and over-used language is an idea that runs deep in our bones. The world is not right, and we can change it. 

But can we? Really? My generation has a lot of confidence. We grew up on Mr. Roger’s telling us we were special and we believed him. Often we forget that we are just one of seven billion people who are alive today. And that really our lives, at their best, are just a small drop in a ocean of God’s reality.

There are 1.5 Million books that in the Harvard Library that are about Changing the world.

And not one of them was written before 1900.

Andy Crouch has a great word of caution for all us world changers though. He points out that none of us know what we are really doing. We had no idea that inventing the Freeway would create the Fast-food phenomenon and the rise of obesity, or that the invention of the phone would make also lead to children moving away from families.change-the-world

We have not come to terms with the fact that for all our best intentions the world will change us, much more than we will change it. In the words of Andy Crouch:

“Beware of world Changers, they have not yet learned the true meaning of sin.”

In the Palace, Under The Cross

Growing up one of my favorite stories was Esther. It’s a story that can rival any Disney screenplay because it’s got everything: good vs. evil, powerful vs. weak, romance and humor, and a girl who is asked to risk everything to save the people she loves.

If you’ve never heard the story, go back and read it sometime, it is brilliant. But the part I want to emphasize today is when Ester finds out that her husband the King is going to kill the Jews (without knowing she is one of them). Her uncle talks her into telling the King that she is also a Jew. Even though she could die too.

But she does it, she leverages the little bit of influence she has to serve the few people she can. Even though it could cost her her life. In fact, this is what Ester says:

Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

If I perish, I perish.

Did you know that Ester is called Queen 14 times in this book, and 13 of those times come after she lays her life on the line!

Her initial instincts are for self-preservation and safety, but when she risks her own life in service to the greater good, she suddenly becomes known as the queen.

This is the theme of the Bible, it is the undoing of the original sin of pride and hubris. We don’t know the unintended consequences for what we do…and what starts with the greatest intentions can turn into a destructive force. Unless we are willing to change the way we think about changing the world.

Because Sacrificial Service is the way of Jesus, the way God is going to change the world is going to be through this way. It will be by men and women laying down their lives in service and sacrifice for the common good.

I love the way that N.T. Wright says this:

If we are to be kingdom-announceres, modeling the new way of being human, we are also to be cross bearers. This is a strange and dark theme that is also our birthright as followers of Jesus. Shaping our world is never for a Christian a matter of going out arrogantly thinking we can just get on with the job reorganizing the world according to some model we have in mind. It is a matter of sharing and bearing the pain and puzzlement of the world so that the crucified love of God in Christ may be brought to bear healingly upon the world at exactly that point…Because as he himself said, following him involves taking up the cross, we should expect, as the New Testament tells us repeatedly, that to build on his foundation will be to find the cross etched into the patter of our life and work over and over again.

So stop trying to change the world, serve it.

Inspi(re)ality #1: The Local Church

So this won’t be for everyone. I’ve wanted for the past few months to start a blog series on practical ministry stuff for other preachers and ministers and local church volunteers. I’d like to write down somewhere some of the stuff that I’ve learned and am learning, and I’d also like to try and pass it on to people who are serving in ministry. And here’s why I think, even though I’m pretty young and new at this, I still might be able to do it.

In one of his books, the great author Malcolm Gladwell talks about what he calls the curse of knowledge. His basic idea is that after a while of doing things, we eventually forget the wisdom that we learned along the way. It becomes more natural, and what was once quite difficult to do has now become second nature.

I’m not anywhere near there yet.

Each week I spend writing a sermon, planning a series, doing funerals, trying to get out in the community, visiting people in the hospital or prison, dealing with criticism, learning to play and enjoy my family with proper boundaries between Church and home…all of these things I still consistently struggle with.

But I also recognize that I have been given some great gifts over the past decade of my life. Because of luck of the draw, I’ve been blessed with great mentors and friendships with people who are brilliant leaders, pastors, thinkers and preachers. I was blessed to work on a preaching team with Rick Atchley for several years, I’ve been blessed to work at two  large and healthy churches that care about the right things, and have had regular access to tremendous resources and people who have taught me more than I could have ever learned any other way. And since I haven’t been doing this long enough to forget what I learned I wanted to try and pass on some of these great pieces of wisdom that I have learned, and am in the process of learning, to my friends in ministry in other places in the world.

This will be a blog series that will last about a year, and we will try and cover everything from how I learned to plan a sermon series to how I learned to do a funeral.Don’t think I’m trying to say I’ve got ministry figured out, but I do know some people that are a lot further on this journey and have been helpful to me.  I plan to have several different video interviews on here with people who I’ve learned a lot from, like Rick Atchley and Jeff Childers, to Chris Seidman & Randy Harris and a local funeral director (they’re not the same person) as well as a local hospital chaplain, a local prison chaplain and several others.  Continue reading Inspi(re)ality #1: The Local Church

Your First Love

When I was a junior at Harding, I was able to spend a semester in Greece studying the ancient world of the Bible. We got to go to the different places that Paul’s missionary journey took him, and we even got to go on a cruise of the places where Revelation was written from and to. And my favorite of all these places was Ephesus(pictured above).

The Ephesian artifacts were by far the most substantial. It almost felt like the whole city still had pieces that remained standing. So you could walk through and see the face of a giant Library or the homes of where Christians used to live…marked out by the subversive symbols to identify themselves to other Christians. We saw the amphitheater where Paul started a riot. We even saw a sign carved in stone for where the bordello was. After all, it is the oldest profession on earth.

It was fascinating to be there. If you stood there long enough, you could just close your eyes and almost hear the sounds of the hustle and bustle of the daily life on a busy city in the first century.

So John, the author of Revelation, is in exile on an island called Patmos. He’s living in a cave (I know. I took the tour and saw where our tour guide swore he laid his head every night). He’s been put there by the authorities because he’s been deemed a troublemaker. And rather then make him a martyr, they decide to just take him out of commission. They remove his voice from the equation. Because in exile, John can’t do any damage to them there. Right?

But John doesn’t give up. He writes this letter about the cosmic realities that are all around them. About how Jesus is the world’s rightful ruler, and He holds the keys of life and death. And then John does some pastoral work. He writes 7 churches on how to live into that reality. And the first one is the church at Ephesus.

He commends them for all that they’ve got going on. They’re doctrinally sound, they hate people talking about God poorly. They do good deeds often, they have suffered for the sake of the Kingdom of God and not turned away. If the church in Ephesus had a website, you would love their talking points. Who wouldn’t want to be at a church like that?

But Jesus has got one thing against them. They’ve lost their first love.

Sure they are right about doctrines, but in all the wrong ways. Continue reading Your First Love

(Script)ure.

The Whole Sweep Of Scripture from The Work Of The People on Vimeo.

If you were to read just the first few chapters of Genesis and then the last few chapters of Revelation, there’s a chance you would recognize that these two authors, separated by thousands of years, and a million cultural differences, were writing in a conversation with one another. Revelation was a distinct, separate book at the time. It wasn’t bound by leather into a collection with 65 other books. It stood on it’s own.

But that’s what makes the whole Scripture so interesting. Because these books were written indepedently, but they are not independent. They depend on each other, they are interwoven, sharing themes and language….and most importantly, a story.

I love N.T. Wright’s point here. “We must learn to read the parts in light of the whole.” Continue reading (Script)ure.

Kenosis

When I was in college, I had a Bible professor bring this idea up to me over lunch one day. And I initially thought that he was a heretic. To be fair, I actually assumed that a lot my first two years at Harding. I didn’t understand the tradition that God had given us of being able to wrestle with and question Him. So my first couple of years in school,  my major was Witch Hunting. Continue reading Kenosis

The Purpose of Worship

So right after Leslie and I had gotten married, we lived in Searcy for one final semester before moving to Texas. We had  broken free of the shackles of curfew, and we went crazy. Of course by crazy, I mean that we went to Wal-Mart after midnight. And that’s where this story picks up.

Because it was at Wal-Mart, in the notebook aisle, that a guy, that we had never met before, came up to us and said this:

“I think God is an insecure Hypocrite.” Continue reading The Purpose of Worship

Love Never Fails

So there is this one time in the book of Acts, where Paul is in the middle of this kind of sham trial. He’s in front of the Sanhedrein, the Jewish religious leaders of his day, and he’s facing the death penalty. It’s got to be a stressful situation to say the least. And to make the situation even worst, at one point, Paul gets unfairly slapped in the face. Continue reading Love Never Fails

The Silence of Caesar

So this is my last post on the end of Acts, and I’d like to point out something here that I haven’t in the previous two posts. Acts has a really strange ending. If you think about it, Luke ends his story in a really bizarre way. It’d be like watching Luke Skywalker headed into blowing up the Death Star and all of a sudden the credits start rolling. But there is a reason that Acts ends this way. Continue reading The Silence of Caesar

Genesis, Burbank, and Fletch

N.T Wright has been one of my favorite Theologians for the past several years, and I’m interested to hear what you think about his comments here on Genesis 1-2. Listen carefully to what he’s saying because he’s not arguing against God creating the world, but rather against a flat reading of the text that turns Genesis into a running argument against Charles Darwin or Enlightenment for that matter. What’s your thoughts on this? Can you see where he’s coming from? What do you think is gained or lost with this kind of reading of these chapters? Continue reading Genesis, Burbank, and Fletch