Monday, April 16, 2007

Marketplace Spirituality- RPC 2007 Men's Retreat

Our church had a great men's retreat this past Friday eve and Saturday morning. Other than being too short, it was a very profitable 16 hours. My good friend Patric Knaak (Gospel Resources Coordinator with World Harvest Mission)shared his biblically based thoughts about how our jobs are supposed to make us more like Jesus. The consistent theme running through his teaching was how the gospel applies to every area of our lives, especially including our careers. Attached to this reality is the gracious progression of sin, cross, and redemption. Here's some highlights from each of the three sessions:

Session One: Our Sin and Our Careers

Using Isaiah 44:6-22, Patric noted how idolatry is like feasting on ashes. Sounds awful to begin with, but eventually it becomes "normal". Feasting on ashes causes us to grow malnourished, emaciated, and eventually die. The Isaiah passage vividly depicts the foolishness of worshiping idols-

Isaiah 44:17-22 And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, "Deliver me, for you are my god!" [18] They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. [19] No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, "Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?" [20] He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, "Is there not a lie in my right hand?" [21] Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you; you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me. [22] I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.

In order to view our jobs rightly, we have to acknowledge our propensity toward idolatry. We may not make actual carved statues to worship, but we certainly tend toward worshiping things that are not God- which is idolatry. Patric noted that idols lead us to false worship, distort our reality, and enslave our affections. The Isaiah passage depicts idols which are wood, metal, and stone. They represent things that will supposedly give comfort, control, security, etc. Obviously these are false gods and lead to heartache, despair, and hardship. Idols for us could be our career, money, education, reputation, or accomplishments. In the same way wooden idols are worshiped and relied upon, so also are these modern idols tempting us to give devotion to them.

Very importantly, Patric pointed out that idols are not in themselves evil, but are made so by our misplaced affections toward them. As a working definition,

"Idols are good and basic things which have been elevated to being ultimate things, leading to false worship, distorted views of reality, and enslaved affections."

He delineated between Surface idols and Deep idols so as to show us what drives our actions. Surface idols include our reputation, salary, influence, title, authority, lifestyle, etc. Deep idols (that which drives pursuit of surface idols) are comfort, control, security, success, and approval. Instead of mastering these things, they have the ability to master us. That's what idols do. When we believe that things, rather than the One True, Living God will make us happy, we are in serious peril.

Session Two: The Cross and Our Careers

Continuing the "Cross" part of the "Sin-Cross-Redemption" continuum, Patric addressed our sin problem with our only sure hope- the cross of Christ for me. Here Patric sited Romans 5-

Romans 5:6-11 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. [7] For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— [8] but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. [9] Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. [10] For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. [11] More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Paul is telling us that God's love for us is so great, so strong, so overwhelming that when we were still his enemies, still rebellious, orphaned children who would not and could not respond to his love, that it is precisely here that God chose to pay the price for our sins! Further, Christ has paid for all our sins, past, present, and future. Not just my sins up until I became a Christian- all of my sins, for all of my life! Patric noted the three key aspects of Christ's work on our behalf- First, His love for us. Second, His forgiveness of our sins. Third, His righteousness given to us.

When our perspective is reoriented in light of what God has provided by the cross of Christ, our jobs and other things take their proper place, they cease to be idols. They remain "good and basic" things. In light of the cross, we are able to look at ourselves, our jobs, and our identity in a whole new way. Patric closed this session with a profound statement- Without a clear understanding of what has been accomplished for you on the cross, our idols will always seem to provide more for us than God.

Session Three- Our New Identities and Our Career

Our chief sin is idolatry. Our sin is met totally by Christ's work on the cross for us. This means redemption can be applied in all areas of our lives, especially our careers. Patric asked a few provocative questions:

1. Do you think God wants you to be successful at your job?

2. Do you think He wants you to be a winner? get promotions? make more money? Become well known in your work place?

3. What are the best things we can ask for from God when it comes to our jobs?

4. What is it that Jesus would want us to ask for, for ourselves?

The answer to these questions can be stated this way- The very best thing that God could do for you- and is in fact doing for you even now- is to make you perfectly like Christ. One of the primary means that he is using to accomplish this is through your career. Patric sited a poignant passage of Scripture-

Philippians 3:7-11 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. [8] Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ [9] and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— [10] that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, [11] that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Christ-likeness for the glory of God is the goal of redemption. God uses our jobs to accomplish this. What does being more like Jesus mean? Simply put, it includes being secure as sons of God. Being more like Jesus also includes total dependence on the Father. Further, being like Jesus means loving others in such a way that they can clearly see how much God loves us and what He has done for us in Christ.

Perhaps the most valuable teaching came in Patric's final a word on the tools God uses to accomplish Christ-likeness in our lives. God will use several tools to make us more like Jesus. He uses the tool of success. If success will make us grow closer to Him, He'll use it as a sanctifying tool in our lives. He also uses the tool of failure! If causing us to fail in our job will make us grow closer to Him, trust Him more, be more like Him, then He does want us to be a failure!

Final Applications:

* Understand that every success in our work and every setback has the possibility-humanly speaking- to bring us closer to God or to push us farther away.

*God is zealously pursuing a program of spiritual formation in our lives. Everything-especially our jobs- is something He desires to use to make us more like Christ.

*Begin to look for God's "fingerprints" to determine what He is trying to teach us. Success and failure in our jobs are tools God will use equally.

*When it comes to our careers, it isn't all about you! God has cleverly camouflaged you as a workman, engineer, salesman, lawyer, manager, etc. so you can reach those around you with the gospel.


Frontier Forest said...

This was indeed a most amazing men’s renewal retreat! (I like to say, “Spiritual Advance.”) As Pastor Tony shared, “The most valuable teaching came in Patric's final a word on the tools God uses to accomplish Christ-likeness in our lives. God will use several tools to make us more like Jesus. He uses the tool of success. If success will make us grow closer to Him, He'll use it as a sanctifying tool in our lives. He also uses the tool of failure! If causing us to fail in our job will make us grow closer to Him, trust Him more, be more like Him, then He does want us to be a failure!”
All too often, the church of today loves to lavishly display “Hollywood Evangelism!” That is recruiting some high profile sports or celebrity figure, who has recently come to faith; having them share a testimony of how they made millions of dollars, ruined their lives on drugs and loose living, but now being “saved,” they have special abilities and the money to set the world on fire for Jesus! But the most disturbing message shared is usually how lucky God is to have them now on their team!
This is not a healthy look at the “victory in failure” yielding to spiritual success. These folks leave the weak and new believers wanting… with the idea, “If only I could be a Christian just like him or her?”
What I received most from Patric’s powerful teaching was a close, Biblical look at my own failures. Seeing how for years, building false idols of self-importance is “wood hey and stubble, tried in the fire and burned as chaff!” For me, success means the freedom to fail and then grow! Humbly using such personal experiences to strengthen the brethren! I see failure, in my own life, as a refreshing release from God, allowing me to grow and become more like HIM. To sum up what I will take away from this great weekend, “Serving Christ in the work place is about learning who you are and why you are there. Servant leadership is all about Him… and it’s not about me!”

Anonymous said...

So, does this mean that whatever job we have it is what God has planned for our lives, for whatever purpose that may be, or more specifically to make us more like Christ? Everything that happens to us there is designed to trigger a response in us to bring to light some sin or flaw that needs to be taken away for us to be more Christ like and lead us to further sanctifiaction and character building?

So instead of hating my job I should see it as being exactly where God wants me to be for His purpose, I just may not ever know what this purpose is?

AJF said...

If a person hates his or her job, it would be best to find a different one, if possible.

Regardless of what we feel about our jobs, God uses it to make us more like Christ. That's the point. Further, God is pursuing a program of sanctification in the lives of all His children. Jobs are a big part of this.

Mark Davis said...

I've been in more than one job that I thought I truly hated, and I've learned from those experiences. We ought to be very careful when we say we hate our jobs. As providers for the families we're called to lead, our jobs represent a primary channel of God's providence. In other words, a job is a gift from God. Having realized that some time ago, I look at things differently. If I'm told to "always give thanks to God the Father", I can't leave my job out of the deal.

When I'm tempted to hate my job, I'm reacting to a real problem. The question is, what's the problem? There are only two sources: either me or the job. More often than not, I've lost perspective, and started expecting more from my job than I should. I've elevated my job to an improper status, as we discussed at the retreat. My job has become an idol, and when it fails to deliver, it makes me angry. My job isn't making me happy, so I hate it. My job isn't making me feel safe, so I hate it. And so on.

If the problem is really with the job, then it's either with the people or with the work. If it's the work, maybe there's something else I could or should be doing, and in that case, I would do well to look for a new opportunity or career.

If the problem is with the people, then many options present themselves. Perhaps my calling in the moment is to live a Christ-like life before my co-workers, and suffer for a time. Perhaps I'm in the situation to provide salt and light, to show love and mercy, to encourage others in like affliction. Or maybe I'm just there long enough to get a killer resume together? Only the Lord knows, and we are His patient subjects.