Yearly Archives: 2017

Some Wisdom Amidst the Noise, Part 1

With the contentious political environment, compression of events and the overwhelming amount of data we are all juggle, gaining perspective is an important virtue. I offer the following as reflections that I hope will refresh and renew, stimulate sound thinking and compel kind action. Enjoy – and pass on!

Dear political opponents: state objections to candidates and policies based on principles, not memes and reactionary obstruction.
Dear thoughtful conservatives and progressives: stop labeling and shutting down arguments and seek principled compromise and proximate justice. Let’s all grow up.

There is a “more excellent way” than our current anger: it is agape love that is holy and humble, selfless and serving, uniting deep compassion with durable convictions.

A guiding question for each day: How have I added value to someone’s life?

Labeling keeps us from listening. We can learn even from “opponents.” Look past age, class, color, ideology and listen to the ideas, facts and logic. You may also make a new friend in the process.

“Searching for a heart of gold.” Neil Young describes our longing for integrity – especially in politics, Left or Right. The search begins in my own soul: “Create in me a clean heart, O God…”

A More Excellent Way: Restoring Civility in the USA

There is “a more excellent way” through our hatred, polarization and violence. Please ponder the following:

Being conservative is not fascist, racist, sexist or xenophobic. It means limited government, free markets and certain traditional values. Being liberal does not make you an atheist, communist or hater. You are more sanguine about the role of government and long for international agencies to improve human life.

Violent and vocal opponents of liberty are stifling free expression, threatening the lives of any who will not tow a narrow ideological line.

There is a more excellent way – the way of agape love that is passionate and principled about human flourishing.

Love means wanting the best for all and thinking deeply and acting decisively for that goal.
Love means risking debate because freedom of conscience/religion is the first freedom and more precious than hurt feelings.
Love means listening to the stories of real people next door, not just passing on media memes.
Love means looking for the best in others while recognizing the worst in ourselves.
Love means self-discipline, especially of emotions and words and that can wound deeply.
Love engages in peacemaking, from college classrooms to war zones, from family disputes to economic and environmental issues.

Whether “alt-right” or “progressive”, Republican, Democrat, Green or Independent, let’s foster civility and honest debate and refuse to give in to intolerance. Let’s end the tired nostalgia of the Right – that somehow life was better in the 1950s or 1960s – before millions could vote. Let’s end the tired revisionism and fantasies of the left – that America is fundamentally evil and any traditions are suspect.

Let’s create a fresh history, humbly learning from the heroic deeds of our mothers and fathers and repenting of the injustices of others. Time for creativity, not collectivism, fresh thinking, not slogans, ethical service, not agitation.

A more excellent way is possible.

Immigration. Ellis Island 2017: 11 Principles for Shaping Compassionate and Principled Policy

  1.  Compassion and hospitality are compatible with the rule of law and national sovereignty.
  2.  Citizenship matters and voting is for citizens.
  3.  Violent felons should be deported and known gang and terrorist affiliations are reason to reject applications.
  4.  For all desiring legal status – from student visas to work permits to citizenship: the process can be streamlined and improved, with reasonable vetting and follow-through.
  5.  For the current undocumented residents: if you desire long-term residency, come out of the shadows and begin the normalization process, without fear of deportation (if you are free from criminal activity). Businesses will be penalized for failure to comply with the law. There must be a statute of limitations for welfare benefits and students must maintain visas. American citizens and legal residents will receive priority for scholarships and registrations in classes at colleges, universities and trade schools.
  6.  Enforce the Mexican border well and demand reciprocal cooperation against the drug cartels and governmental corruption. Reject all racism and revisionism from radical groups like La Raza that aim to subvert American values.
  7.  Anyone of any faith or none that calls for the subversion of the American government and human liberty is not welcome. Background checks and careful questions can help keep terrorism at bay.
  8.  Islamic leaders must reject violent jihad and the imposition of Sharia Law as a parallel system for their communities in all but the narrowest religious matters. Religious liberty is the first freedom…and it creates the ability for all people to commit to any faith or none without fear. There must never be “no go” zones for civilians or law enforcement and no suppression of non-violent free speech. A Christian evangelist or a Jewish Rabbi should feel safe in any neighborhood of Dearborn, MI.
  9.  Both political parties and business leaders must come clean and stop the dishonesty. Democrats are happy with more voters and swelling welfare rolls, increasing governmental reach. Republicans and some libertarians love the cheaper labor, from service to technology, thus un- or under employing millions of qualified citizens. E-verify and priority for American citizens as workers must be part of our policy.
  10.  No more sanctuary cities or campuses…there is no need if the system is reformed and people are welcome.
  11.  Finally, create Hospitality Centers along all borders and other points of entry and foster a welcoming and safe environment. Work with local and state governments, business and non-profit and religious groups to transition refugees to sustainable work so the welfare and medical systems are not overwhelmed.

We can create a new history of compassion and safety for both citizens and immigrants, residents and refugees. Let’s stop the shouting and get to work.

Discovering Personal Vocation

Every person is more than their current job description or social role. God’s gifts and grace allows a new sociology as we discover deeper purpose than mere survival.

Being alive to God, emotionally healthy and enjoying healthy relationships are foundational to our sense of purpose and doing good work in the world.

Vocation in history and 21st century expression

The term “vocation” comes from the Latin, “vocare” – to call or receive a call. For almost two millennia in Christian-influenced communities and cultures, vocation referred to a religious calling: a monastic order, missionary work or parish labor. During the medieval era, vocation expanded beyond the clerical and embraced medicine (the doctor), the law (the attorney) and teaching (the professor/teacher). Other occupations were respected, but not given the same status.

The Reformation rekindled the priesthood of all believers (Exodus 19 and I Peter 2) and started honoring everyday work as a calling from God. Martin Luther’s delightful observation that Christian shoemaking is not about adding crosses to shoes but making good shoes was a breakthrough for workers in all classes. In most gospel-centered communities we are seeing better elevation and empowerment of all believers, without despising the important callings of those set apart by Christ to nourish the Body and make him known locally and globally (Ephesians 4).

Toward Clarity: Understanding Our Vocation(s)

With this context in mind, let’s define vocation and occupation – each in one sentence.

Vocation(s): General and specific callings from God that edify the Body, enhance the world and transcend current occupational assignments.

Occupation(s): Everyday labor for the glory of God and good of others that expresses our vocation(s) while not itself being the full expression of our callings.

A key text for integration: Colossians 3:17-24: Whatever our current role in the family or society, let’s do all for the glory of God as a servant of Christ.

All believers have three or four vocations – callings from God that supersede job descriptions, class, gender, race or national identity.

The first and greatest vocation is God’s calling to enter a relationship with the Triune Lord through Jesus Christ. This is the “general calling” to repentance and faith (Acts 2-3, Romans 10) unto salvation, with Spirit-infused faith, hope and love engendering security about identity and destiny (Romans 5-8). Obedience to this vocation begins with the Great Commandment of Jesus to love God with all our being and love our neighbors unselfishly as ourselves (Matthew 22, John 13-17). This vocation – our “first love” (Revelation 2) – is also demonstrated in obedience to the Great Commission as God’s people share their faith across the street and around the world (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8).

The second vocation consists of discovering and doing the “good works” designed by Jesus Christ for each believer (Ephesians 2:8-10; 3:3-10; 4:1-16). These works include our daily tasks but are more than job assignments. These works include discovering and expressing our gifts (Romans 12; I Corinthians 12-14; Ephesians 4; I Timothy 2) and wisely investing the resources our Lord has entrusted to us (Matthew 25). Some of these good works are found within Christian gatherings. Others are expressed in and through the public and private work done all day. Here is where integration of vocation and occupation occur. I may be called as an elder and teacher in my church. My daily job as a customer service manager will allow me to use my vocational gifts for the business while not allowing the business to define my life. Conversely, I am no less as elder, pastor, apostle or prophet if I sustain myself and my family with daily labor outside the largesse of the church!

A third area of vocation: God calls his people to specific domains that are part of God’s providential ordering of society, from labor to leadership, intellectual and cultural domains and all sorts of jobs. We should never rain on the parade of a believer excited about any kind of daily work! What we can do is expand their sense of calling while affirming the goodness of their daily work. People may discover this calling accidentally or deliberately learn about their field(s) of impact for God’s kingdom.

Quoting Christian thinker Francis Schaeffer, when we see God’s activity in all of life, there are “no little people” – only particular assignments. For example, there are people gifted with concrete artisan abilities and others with abstract intellectual gifts…and many with various combinations of desires and abilities. Shaping personal and family mission around God-given capacities (which can grow) and dreams makes life richer and more adaptable.

An aside: While awaiting the fullness of one’s calling or dream job, it is vital that women and men wake up each day and offer their work as worship. We are all more than our job title, but we never outgrow daily labor and serving people with excellence and integrity.

The fourth vocation is for married couples: God’s calling here includes covenant fidelity, shared mission and, if so blessed, the nurture of the next natural generation in the ways of God. Single women and men have advantages and challenges in their estate (I Corinthians 7) and married spouses must sacrifice for each other’s good (Ephesians 5:22-33). The biological family designed by the Creator is the norm for most. Today, this norm is now questioned, rejected and scorned by many, regardless of countless studies as well as biblical affirmation. For believers, marriage and family constitute a true vocation.

In sum, believers have four vocations or callings, even as (demonstrated below) they work at many occupations:

  • Called to Christ and his kingdom and mission – making disciples
  • Called to specific good works designed by God for the church and society
  • Called to specific domains of influence for God’s glory and the good of the world
  • If married, called to family fidelity; and if with children, called to nurture the next generation

The above order is not placing work over family or ministry over care for spouse or children – it is movement from general/universal vocations to more particular ones. These are not a list of priorities, but facets of a beautiful life God has designed.

Next week we will connect this detailed understanding of calling/vocation to our everyday work – and discover great peace!