A Crisis of Work

This week I sat and listened to a struggling unemployed young man who has basically given up hope on finding work. I also sat and listened to an upwardly mobile executive who is drowning in the weight of responsibilities on her shoulders at work.

We have a work crisis…check out these statistics:

…Only 33.7% of Americans are engaged at work
…13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work
…84% of Christians who are 18-29 years old have no idea how the Bible relates to their field or professional life
…10 million men in America are unemployed or have stopped looking for work altogether
…21% of American adults have no religious identity, up from 15% in 2008

Jeff Haanen (Founder and Executive Director of the Denver Institute for Faith & Work) says:  “We have two enormous problems facing us at work. One one side, we undervalue work. Gallup polls show that only 13 percent of employees worldwide are “engaged” in their jobs — that is, they are consistently emotionally invested in, and focused on creating value for, their organizations. 63 percent are not engaged and 24 percent are actively disengaged. Perhaps even more concerning is that the labor participation rate in America has steadily been dropping for the past 50 years. Today, about 10 million prime age men (25-54) are either unemployed or have dropped out of the workforce altogether — not even looking for work. Our attitudes about work have drifted significantly from historic ideas about calling. On the other side, many of the upwardly mobile nearly worship their work. It becomes our primary source of meaning and value – until one day our hearts tell us the pursuit of mere career success has left us spiritually empty.”

We have lost a healthy understanding of work, and specifically how our faith can and should influence our work. God calls us to engage our entire lives to the pursuit of the Kingdom of God, and that must necessarily include our work.

Monday Morning Faith

Your work is an essential part of what it means to be created in God’s image.

You’ve probably heard the proverb about giving a man a fish versus teaching a man to fish. We all understand the value of a person working. But why is it so important for people to work? Is it simply because a vibrant workforce is good for society? The economy works better for me if you have a job? Or is there something more inherent about work that compels us all to want to do good, beneficial work?

In the opening words of the Bible we see God doing work. The creation poem of Genesis 1 is an ode to the work of God. We see God laboring as he brings everything into being. In the very beginning, God worked. God is not like the early pagan deities who were personified as lazy; lounging around in the heavenly realm all day. The God of Genesis 1-2 is a working God.

As the Creation poem nears its climax, God says, “Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us so that they may take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on earth.” (v. 26)

Humanity bears the image of God. What is this image? What is the purpose for which God creates the man and woman? In order for them to “take charge” of all Creation. Humanity, like the One in whose image we are created, is designed to be workers. We are created to work. There is paid work and unpaid work. Your work is your love made visible in the world. Whether you run a company, serve coffee, serve on a board, stay at home with your kids, create products, or volunteer at the community center, your work is your love made visible. We are created to be co-creators with God in this world.

The word “sorry”

“Say ‘sorry’ to your sister,” I say to my son after he accidentally spills her milk. “Sor-rry” he says in a two syllable, angry tone. He doesn’t want to admit error, he doesn’t want to apologize. He is like me at times.

The word “Sorry” is a powerful word, one that is not very often utilized in our public lexicon today. It is a word that assumes a blow to the ego, something that not many people (no matter what their spiritual or religious background) are ready or willing to do. Sorry, and all that comes with it is possibly the most difficult of the words that we will look at in this month’s sermon series.

Some people think that the word Sorry suggests weakness and is, therefore, a sentiment to be avoided. To admit wrongdoing and the need to apologize and make an amends is to open oneself up to ridicule and judgment.

Some Christ followers may think since Jesus died on the cross for our sins the word Sorry is not a word that needs to be lived on a daily basis. They may think that the need to say Sorry suggests a lack of faith in God’s forgiveness.

The Good News is a paradox. To live the word Sorry is to express weakness, but it is in that weakness that strength is found. It is in the acknowledgment of our need for restoration that abundant life is found. When Sorry becomes a central theme of our life, we are joining Christ on the cross and journeying towards resurrection.

Help, I’m a mere mortal like everyone else

There were tears in my eyes as the therapist looked at me and asked, “Is it ok for you to get a “C-“? Is it ok for you to be a mere mortal like everyone else?” That was the moment I realized that I have a hard time admitting weakness and I have a hard time asking for help. What a gift these words were to me, what an eye-opening moment in my life!

The word “HELP runs very counter-intuitive to the culture of today. We live in a society that is obsessed with individualism and self-sufficiency. We idolize the self-made person and tend to see dependency as a moral deficiency. The idea of asking for help is often offensive to our sensibilities.

Some folks in our world today may see the idea of asking for HELP, especially seeking help from God, as not only a sign of weakness but also a sign of delusion. It may be necessary from time to time to ask for help from qualified professionals, but to seek help from a deity is just dumb. When we must ask for help, we ask those who are qualified, not those who we can’t see. We don’t step out on faith when seeking help, we rely on proof of expertise.

Other people may have no problem asking God for HELP. However, this may not necessarily carry over to asking others for help. The idea is that if I pray and ask God for help, then the help will come. This may be the case, but more times than not God might be giving us the help we need through the people around us if only we asked them. For many, asking God for help is easy, asking others for help is hard.

The Gospel is that asking for HELP from God or from others does not imply that we have a moral deficiency. It simply means we are finite humans; you are a mere mortal like everyone else. The Good News is that we CAN ask for help. God wants us to ask for help, because God is the Great Helper. As Paul says, when we are weak, then we can see the strength of God.

5 Words to Change Your Life: “THANKS”

The word THANKS may be one of the most powerful words of this series. If more people were to embrace a life of THANKS, the world may very well be drastically different.

Most people recognize that gratitude and wonder are positive attributes to have. However, many are hesitant to embrace these attitudes towards life due to a cynicism that says there are too many things wrong with the world to be grateful. Gratitude and wonder, for some, may feel like a resignation to injustices and legitimate problems.

Another misuse (especially in the church!) is that gratitude and wonder are equated with receiving God’s blessing. As in, “If I am blessed by God, I will feel grateful.” In other words, I am only grateful when I feel I am in control and things are going my way.

The Gospel is that we are all already blessed beyond measure by the God who loves us. An attitude of gratitude and a disposition of wonder simply open us up to see those blessings more clearly and consistently.

Join us this Sunday as we explore how the word THANKS can change our lives.

WOW: a word to change our lives

The word WOW is so central to our lives. WOW gets to the core of what it means to be a fully-alive human.

Some people may think that to live the word WOW is to find pleasure in the things of this world. Wow, check out my new car! Wow, have you seen her new kitchen? Wow, that is an incredible investment! For some people, “WOW” is to be surprised by the joy of creation. The pursuit of pleasure elicits happiness found through enjoyment of the material creation.

Others may think that the word WOW is to be reserved for the hereafter. For these folks, it is believed that Joy and the experience of eternal life are what happens after you die. The idea of life after death takes emphasis over experiencing abundant life before death.

The Good News is that Jesus rose from the dead to offer us eternal life now. Life that is full of WOW moments, full of deep experiences of Joy. The Gospel is that you and I are invited to live within the gracious love of God, the source of all that is good.

Join us this Sunday as we explore how WOW is a word that can change our lives.

Need some divine therapy?

Thomas Keating calls contemplative prayer the divine therapy. We are all in need of therapy. Our overwhelming feelings, confusing emotions, and need for perspective regularly send us out in search of the latest and greatest podcasts, books, sermons, TED talks, therapists, self-help articles, and “guides” of every kind. The sheer amount of time and money we spend on “therapy” in our world today is staggering. If you know me at all, you know how much I value counseling, life coaching, and spiritual direction. I have all three of these people in my life and I am immeasurably grateful for them.  

However, there is a tendency in most of us to externalize our personal growth. We often think if we just find that right thing, then all will be well. We often mistakenly think that if there is not outward, visible progress in our lives then we must not be growing. This is a mistake because some of God’s best work in our lives comes from periods of waiting. When we are waiting, we may feel like maybe God went away. When we are waiting we may not feel God moving at all. When we are waiting, we may wonder if this restlessness will ever end.

Great saints of the past have spoken of purgation, illumination, and union. Purgation (a purging) is that place where we are being stripped of everything that isn’t God. It can be painful, it can feel lonely, and we can wonder if illumination and light will ever come again. In these moments, we are like the caterpillar in its cocoon. We are waiting, and in this waiting – in fact only in this dark space – some wonderful things can be born if we will let them be. There is both a surrender and a fight inside the cocoon. There is a struggle inside that must occur. The wings of a butterfly become strong and colorful because of that struggle, from that time in darkness. If we cut the cocoon open early, freeing the caterpillar from its struggle, we will see a butterfly that is both colorless and powerless to fly. We must surrender on some level and resist the urge that comes to cut the cocoon shell prematurely. Sometimes we cut our own cocoon shell and we leave the present moment by numbing our pain with addiction, busyness, or spiritually bypassing the pain altogether. God patiently and gently invites us back to the present, the only place where His presence resides. The beauty and the power in our lives often come from God’s work in the dark.

Many of us think of prayer as something we need to do. We think of it as a time for us to accomplish something. I’ve prayed today, check, now what is next? Contemplative prayer is more of a relationship than a task. As one mentor of mine recently said, “It is like laying in a hammock with your lover.” Imagine praying as “hammock time” with God! It is more of a passive work. Some of the most important things that happen in our lives may be invisible but they are no less real.

G.K. Chesterton once said, “When trees are waving wildly in the wind, one group of people thinks that it is the wind that moves the trees; the other group thinks that the motion of the trees creates the wind.” In our world, we are trained to trust in the material, trained to think that it must be the tree moving that has created the wind, because the tree is what we can see with our eyes. God’s spirit, who moves freely like the wind, is every bit as real as the trees that sway in His mighty breath.

God is patient, kind, and always near. St. Augustine said, “God is more near to you than you are to yourself.” God abides, always, it is we who are often absent. May you draw near to the One whose love for you knows no limit, and may you lounge in the hammock with the lover of your soul today.