Tag Archives: identity

The Way Forward, Part Four: Sanity about Being Human

We are in an anthropological crisis. What does it mean to be human? Do male and female identity have any meaning? What does “the science” say about human identity? Is the biological family still the key unit of society or do children belong to “the collective?” For people of faith, how do truth and toleration unite for a peaceful world?

In coming essays, I will speak to the issues of sexual identity and practice in more detail. For this work, I want to offer three guiding principles for a sane way forward regarding human identity and how we see “the other.” I am writing as a Christian, and as a public thinker desiring for all others the liberties that I claim for myself. Having firm theological convictions is not intolerance.

The first step toward sanity is love and respect for every individual we meet. Love means that we desire their best. Respect in this context is seeing identity and potential, not necessarily instant trust. The reason we love and respect each person is that they are created in God’s image. Every person possesses inherent value, regardless of class or culture, gender or race, ability or social situation. The Bible’s opening chapter contains the most dignifying words about being human (selections from Genesis 1:26-28):

“Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness.
And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea
and over the birds of the heavens
and over the livestock and over all the earth…

God created humankind in his own image,
in the image of God, he created him,
male and female he created them.”

And God blessed them. And God said to them
“Be fruitful and multiply…”

Notice the order of the poetry. We are created in God’s image. We are given work to do: overseeing (not exploiting) creation. And thirdly, we do this as male and female, equally bearing God’s image/likeness. Identity, purpose, gender…the order matters! From the earliest moments of recorded history to the present, people of all cultures and faiths and have found ways to misinterpret, rebel, and subvert this beautiful passage. We allow blood and soil to lead to subjugation of other groups. Sinful structures define male and female in ways that oppress the latter and pervert the former. The church has mostly failed in her history of welcoming men and women as equal partners and inviting all classes and cultures into a beautiful community of love and justice. There is hope…and it is found in the second principle.

The second step in the path forward is understanding that the person and work of Jesus Christ creates a new humanity liberated from the unjust ideologies and systems created by power-hungry sinful people. The Christ Event includes:

  • The divine affirmation of the goodness of being human – in body and spirit – for in Jesus Christ, God is forever one of us! (John 1:1-18)
  • The joy of Jesus as he willingly offers himself as the ransom of liberation and reconciling sacrifice, atoning for the sins of the whole world. (Mark 10:45; Romans 3:21-31; I John 2:1-2) Everyone we meet is worth Jesus’ sacrifice.
  • Jesus’ resurrection announces victory over death and hopelessness, and offers a preview of our future. (Romans 8:28-30; Colossians 1:15-22). Everyone we meet can receive the gift of salvation and be part of a new community anticipating the future.
  • The Holy Spirit is God in and with the church, empowering her for worship and witness, comforting and convicting of sin, and giving gifts to all, regardless of past transgressions or particular identities. (Acts 2-4, 11-15; I Corinthians 12-14; Ephesians 1:13-14)

The third guiding insight for sanity about being human is the biblical hope of a new community of joy and justice, embracing all cultures and empowering worship and work on a renewed earth. The poetry of Revelation offers these visions for all who believe (Revelation 5:9; 7:9; 21:3):

You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals,
Because you were slain,
And with your blood you purchased for God
Persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priest to serve our God,
And they will reign on the earth.
And there before me was a great multitude that no one could count,
From every nation, tribe, people, and language,
Standing before the throne and before the Lamb.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“Look! God’s dwelling place in now among the people, and he will dwell with them.”

This destiny is not automatic, for this future rests on people freely saying yes to the good news of Jesus Christ. This said, we have a beautiful trifecta of truth guiding our relationships. Everyone we meet is made in God’s image. Everyone we meet is worth the sacrifice of Jesus. Everyone we meet can enjoy a destiny that is anticipated today in community.

Let’s ground our thinking and actions in God’s design, deliverance, and destiny instead of our preferences and prejudices and we can foster foretastes of a beautiful future.

Some Reflections As We Go About Our Days

Pause. Breathe. Pray. Love your neighbor through your good work and acts of kindness. Read history. Stay alert to opportunities to serve. Foster justice. Turn off the media for a day and discover normal blood pressure.

Freedom of conscience is the first freedom.

Yes, I do want all around me to place their faith in Jesus Christ. This is an invitation, not intolerance, a voluntary act welcoming a believer into a new identity and sociology, not a political party or enslaving ideology.

And I affirm the liberty of those of other philosophies and religious to debate, share and digress from me. While we dialogue and evangelize, let’s make our neighborhoods flourish and be friends even with our deep differences.

Breaking free of generational oppression (cultural, economic, racial, social, spiritual) is a work of divine power…most often expressed through healthy relationships. As people of faith, hope and love, we have huge social capital – and when we intentionally make friends, the world changes. Every transformational story includes at least once inspiring relationship. Perhaps we are that person for someone.

2 challenges for today:
Libertarians: will you consider the common good and advocate for ethics and unselfishness as part of true liberty? You cannot unite Ayn Rand and Judeo-Christian values.

Socialists: your compassion must be united with economic sense. Removal of incentives chases creativity and innovation away and a large government class is no substitute for entrepreneurship.
There are better paths than these extremes.

Common Sense…Not so “Common”

Almost daily I hear or read friends saying, “Can’t people have common sense? Doesn’t everybody know that [fill in ‘fact’ here]?” The problem is that “common” is under question in every category. From family structure to journalistic objectivity, from core values to affirming simple facts about the world, there is little agreement on reality and truth, even on simple events or observations!

There are three crises underneath the loss of common sense: 1) Abandonment of reverence for God…and therefore absolute truth beyond ourselves; 2) Chaotic anthropology, with gender and identity constantly changing; and 3) Subjective epistemology that ends us with insipid assertions such as, “Well, my opinion is just as valid as yours.”

Here are some commonsense observations as one contribution to restored sanity:

Emotional reactions are easy. Wise responses to our world require reflection. Let’s all pause before speaking or writing.

A decade of empirical global research has concluded that if basic food, shelter and water are present…happiness is a choice.

Life is much more delightful when we think of serving others, not ourselves.

Let’s restore common sense, one thoughtful word, one kind act and one moment of clear thinking at a time.

Justice is Social: Advocacy with Humility

Dear justice warriors,
Advocacy for justice concerning class, gender, race and religion is vital. The key principle underlying effective progress is the dignity of the human person, with all the natural rights inherent in her or his being. I am first a human being made in God’s image, uniquely fashioned and able to contribute. Only after this identity is secured can we then speak wisely about secondary facets of identity, oppression, privilege and responsibility. May we see each person we encounter as a gift and listen deeply for those places of connection and cooperation.

For every necessary prophetic word against evil may we offer a visionary word of hope and justice. As we protest current realities, may we promote a vision of flourishing, articulating what “there” looks like.

Either/Or extremist thinking keeps us from principled compromise and wisdom for the common good. Praying today for all local, state and federal leaders to worry less about sound bites and more about stewardship.
Always hopeful because there is only one God who loves all.

 

 

 

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!