Consecrating Our Work Unto the Lord
The following is the text of the sermon that I preached at Eternity Church in Richmond, VA on January 30, 2022:
Consecrating Our Work Unto the Lord
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.
17 And to Adam he said,…. cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread,
30 Then Moses said to the people of Israel, “See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; 31 and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, 32 to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, 33 in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft.
37 Bezalel made the ark of acacia wood. Two cubits and a half was its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. 2 And he overlaid it with pure gold inside and outside, and made a molding of gold around it.
27 They also made the coats, woven of fine linen, for Aaron and his sons, 28 and the turban of fine linen, and the caps of fine linen, and the linen undergarments of fine twined linen, 29 and the sash of fine twined linen and of blue and purple and scarlet yarns, embroidered with needlework, as the Lord had commanded Moses.
30 They made the plate of the holy crown of pure gold, and wrote on it an inscription, like the engraving of a signet, “Holy to the Lord.” 31 And they tied to it a cord of blue to fasten it on the turban above, as the Lord had commanded Moses.
17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.
17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
1 Peter 4:10
10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
My First Job
Do you remember your first job? My first job was working as a waiter and dishwasher at Gayton Terrace, an assisted living community in the far West End of Henrico County. I was in high school at the time, about to get my learner’s permit for driving, and my parents were not the type to pass out free cash to their kids. Not that they had much anyway. So the first few months on the job, my mother drove me to and from work.
On that first day, I showed up at the kitchen of this assisted living home of about a hundred residents. The dining hall manager handed me my nametag, a maroon apron, and taught me how to use a punch clock (“ka-chunk”). I was set to earn a cool $4.25 an hour – minimum wage in 1995. Once I set foot in the kitchen, the first task I was given was loading and running the dishwasher.
Now, I don’t know if anyone here has experience with washing dishes in a commercial kitchen, but it is not glamorous. You scrape other’s people food off plates, liquids are splashing everywhere, the massive dishwasher is loud and hot. I learned the ropes and they left me alone with the dishwasher for the rest of my three-hour shift (the maximum number of hours a minor could work on a school night).
I still remember that three-hour period fairly clearly to this day. The reason is because it was not at all what I expected work to feel like in this world. Sure, my parents raised me to work hard, do my chores, and find satisfaction in a job well done. But this felt different. Here in the Gayton Terrace kitchen I found myself cleaning other peoples’ dishes and submitting to orders from bosses that were not my parents. I felt a very palpable sense of despair during those three hours – because I reasoned that I was going to have to work for the rest of my life to provide for myself and make a living. And no matter the work I envisioned myself doing for the rest of my life, I figured it would be hard and toilsome, like scrubbing the dishes of strangers.
In hindsight, I can guess that my despair stemmed from two sources: first is the fact that I am a human and work on this earth is hard and not always fun. Secondly (and related to the first), I was raised in the church, where more often than not the meaning and theology of work is cast in the light of Genesis chapter 3 rather than Genesis chapters 1 and 2.
Work in Genesis 1-3
Let me explain. Have you ever seen a painting or depiction of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden? If you do a quick survey of Adam and Eve in art history, there are generally two categories of paintings: before the Fall (when they sinned against God by partaking of the forbidden fruit) and after the Fall. The “before the Fall” paintings usually show Adam and Eve lounging (or maybe strolling) in the verdant paradise garden as if they’re on the promenade deck of a luxury cruise ship, surrounded by happy creatures and colorful foliage. The “after the Fall” paintings depict Adam and Eve in some state of shame, darkness, or performing grueling labor upon the land outside the boundaries of Eden. Now, the image of Adam and Eve toiling by the sweat of their brows is a Biblical one. After they sinned, the Lord did said to Adam: “…cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread…”
We often view the work of our hands – our Monday through Friday work in such a light. It is true that human work has been tainted and cursed by the fallenness of humanity. But work is not the result of fallenness. Let me say that a different way: while work and labor can be toilsome, difficult, and even exploitative when abused by bad actors, work itself is not inherently an evil thing. I want to make the case that work is inherently of God – that work is originally sacred – and that our vocational endeavors, from banking to preaching to grandparenting, can and should be redeemed by Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and consecrated up unto God the Father as a holy sacrificial offering.
Here is how we know that work is originally good and of God. In Genesis chapter 1, God is the first one who works when he creates the universe. In Genesis 2, we know this creating is considered work because he rested “from all his work” on the seventh day (Gen 2:2). Even nature works: God mandated the land to “produce vegetation” (Gen 1:11) while he ordered the moon and sun to administer over the night and day (Gen 1:14-18). He also orders the humans to work. He called them to “rule” over the creatures (Gen 1:26), to “be fruitful and increase in number,” and to “subdue” the earth (Gen 1:28).
But in Genesis 2:15, we see a very telling verse that I believe that many of those artists of history missed out on when depicting Adam and Eve in the garden before the Fall. The text says in Genesis 2:15: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” You see, even before we sinned, we were called to steward God’s creation and to create within it. There is, therefore, such as thing as sanctified work. Yes, our sin came and messed up work. But God in his redemptive love through Jesus Christ has called us to work in our Father’s world in ways that bring heaven to earth. Where there is darkness in work, we can bring light. Where there is brokenness in the world of work, we can bring healing. Where there is chaos in the marketplace, we can bring order. Where there is division and injustice in the workplace, we can be the bearers of reconciliation and righteousness – infused with the resurrection power of God, who, according to Romans 4:17, “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.”
Cobblers and Street Sweepers
I believe this redemptive approach to our working lives applies to all levels of work and most any type of work. The apostle Paul says in Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Martin Luther the Reformer said in the 1500s:
“Therefore, just as Those who are now called ‘spiritual’ – priests, bishops or popes – are neither different from other Christians nor superior to them….A cobbler, a smith, a farmer, each has the work and office of his trade, and yet they are all alike consecrated priests and bishops, and every one by means of his own work or office must benefit and serve every other, that in this way many kinds of work may be done for the bodily and spiritual welfare of the community, even as all the members of the body serve one another.”[i]
Several centuries later, another Martin Luther, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, said something very similar:
If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne (leon-teen) Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.’[ii]
One day I was mowing grass in my front yard and my postal worker came walking up the sidewalk to deliver our mail. I powered down the mower to greet him and we exchanged pleasantries. His name is Nestor, and he has always been a friendly, faithful, dedicated postal worker. He handed me some letters and turned around to head to the next house. As he walked away, I thanked him for his great work as a postal carrier. He responded, “I do it for the Lord!”
I didn’t stop him to ask what he meant by that. He was on a delivery schedule after all. But as I turned my mower back on and zig-zagged through my yard I couldn’t help but ponder that one line from a postal service worker. I don’t even know if I needed to ask him what he meant, though, because he already exhibited what “doing it for the Lord” means in the way I have witnessed his work – cheerful, humble, dedicated, and service-minded. It also caused me to wonder about the inherent sacredness found in his work (and other kinds of work as well). Think about it – the role of his work is that of serving others by delivering messages from one person to another. In the redemptive imagination, his work is that of an angel. Angels deliver messages. That is important work. That is sacred work. I believe this exercise in imagination can apply to most jobs. Think about a certain job and you can see the shadow of heaven behind it. Doctors bring healing. Lawyers and judges seek justice. Financial advisors help people steward resources. Street sweepers provide sanitation, safety, and beauty. The list goes on. Of course, any of these jobs (yours and mine included) can be abused for evil. But as Christians I believe we are called to be the ambassadors of the redemptive work of heaven in whatever work we find ourselves on this earth.
1 Peter 4:10
We have all been endowed with different gifts, talents, abilities, and resources in this world. Our calling is to steward those things to the ends of serving others and bringing glory to God, no matter the task. Listen to Peter’s first letter:
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 4:10-11).
Theologian Frederick Buechner said it this way: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”[iii] And you may recall the film Chariots of Fire, in which the Olympic runner and believer in Christ Eric Liddell said, “[God] made me fast and when I run I feel his pleasure.”[iv] He was speaking to his sister, who wanted him to become a missionary to China. He did eventually serve in China, but he wanted to make a point to his sister that for him, competitive running was just as sacred a calling as serving as a missionary in China. He ran unto the Lord.
Bezalel Made the Ark
What does that look like in your daily work, whatever it may be? How can you view your daily endeavors as unto the Lord? We find clues in our main passage today – the story of the artist Bezalel. Bezalel was the head artisan for the tabernacle – the mobile sanctuary used by Moses and the Hebrew people as they wandered through the desert. Bezalel and his team fashioned the curtains, the lampstand, the priestly garments, the altars and other creative details of the sanctuary. But his most well-known piece is arguably the ark of the covenant itself – the cherubim adorned golden chest that contained the ten commandments and other relics important to the spiritual life of Israel. Here is the passage from Exodus 35:
30 Then Moses said to the people of Israel, “See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; 31 and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, 32 to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, 33 in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft (Ex 35:30-33).
This is an example of God calling someone to specific work in the Old Testament. It displays that there are multiple meanings of calling in Scripture, depending on the context. For example, the primary calling of all believers is to, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “belong wholly” to Jesus Christ.[v] In fact, when Paul opens his letter to the church in Rome, he plainly says, “And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ” (Rom 1:6, NIV). But we also see God calling people to specific tasks and roles in Scripture, as exemplified here in the story of Bezalel. God called Bezalel to be an artist. God gifted him with the necessary talents and skills to fulfill his calling. And part of his calling as an artist was to fashion the ark of the covenant.
This is also the first time in Scripture that someone is said to be filled with the Spirit of God, which I find very interesting.[vi] It is the first time the specific verb for “filled”[vii] appears in relation to the Spirit of God. After Bezalel and his colleagues crafted the artistic elements for the tabernacle, Moses hosted a bit of a grand opening service for this tent of meeting. When he did so, the text says, “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Ex 40:34). And that was the same Hebrew verb for “filled” as the one used for Bezalel’s filling of the Spirit.[viii]Thus, the work of the Spirit-filled artisan filled the sanctuary that would then be filled with the Spirit of God himself. God is at once the beginning, middle, and end of the work of our hands.
In fact, if you read all the way near the end of Exodus, you will find that Bezalel and his artist collective also made the garments for the priests (Aaron and his sons), including a golden crown for Aaron. Bezalel’s team etched an inscription in the crown: “Holy to the Lord.” What if we as Christians could follow in the example of Bezalel and metaphorically etch “Holy to the Lord” on everything that passes through our hands in our daily work?
I asked a moment ago what this might look like for our working lives in the 21st Century. And when I say “working lives,” I’m not talking only about traditional nine-to-five work that involves a paycheck (though it includes that too). I’m also talking about raising children, caring for elderly parents, volunteerism, and pretty much any endeavor in life that involves creating things, serving others, or otherwise making order out of the chaos of life. How can we consecrate our work unto the Lord and let the Holy Spirit fill the work of our hands in all we do? Allow me an example from a ventriloquist friend of mine.
Yes, when you’re a juggler like me you have lots of weird friends, including ventriloquists. Oftentimes circus people like us feel inadequate or insignificant in the grand scheme of life. What do we really have to offer? Does our work matter? Is there anything remotely sacred about the absurd? We tend to think so. One day, my friend Gary did some visitation rounds at his local children’s hospital. He’s a believer, but he wasn’t preaching to or praying with patients in the traditional definition of those terms. He was simply going in and doing little puppet acts for the children to bring joy and laughter in an otherwise difficult situation for them and their families. Gary visited a quiet little boy named Tommy. Gary did a few banter jokes with his puppet: “…I can’t believe you would say something like that. If you were my child, I’d give you poison” to which the puppet replied, “If I was your child, I’d take the poison!” Tommy suddenly broke his silence and pointed at the puppet: “I really like him!” Gary then recounted the powerful moment that followed, and I quote Gary here:
And then the room…something changes in the room. And somebody comes over and grabs my arm and says, ‘Keep him talking!’ So, I have the puppet say, ‘So what’s your name?’… ‘My name is Tommy,’ or whatever it was. So that turns out, the little boy had not said anything for months. So now the kid is talking to the ventriloquist puppet. So now the people are saying, like, whispering in my ear, ‘Ask him if it hurts.’ You know, [in puppet voice] ‘Does it hurt?’… [Tommy replies], ‘Yes.’ [end quote]
Gary said they then did this whole back-and-forth conversation between the doctor and Tommy with Gary and his puppet as the intermediaries. Gary and his God-given talent built a bridge that no one else could. Where doctors, nurses, and who knows how many other people were unable to get through to this suffering child, the puppet could. God had gifted Gary with skills that the world may view as childish in order to facilitate giving voice to a voiceless child. That is what I view as a sacred calling. That is a believer who does their work unto the Lord – faithfully administering the gifts he’s been given to serve others and ultimately to bring glory to God. And you never know when in your steadfast faithfulness to the call, God will do something miraculous right before your eyes.[ix]
When I was in college, I had the privilege of spending a semester studying abroad in Jerusalem. While there, I found opportunities to perform my juggling show at various venues. One was for a Palestinian elementary school in Bethlehem. The night before my show, I could hear gun and tank fire volleying between Jerusalem and Bethlehem – very close to where I was. It was the year 2000, and what came to be known as “The Second Intifada” was raging between the Israelis and the Palestinians. In the morning, the headmaster of the school came and picked me up at my school. On the way to the show, he drove me through a town that had suffered a lot of the destruction I had heard the night before. It was very sad – a big hole in a building from a rocket, people sweeping up glass in the street. We then went to the nearby school for my show. There was nothing extraordinary about my show. I performed some tricks and told some jokes. The children laughed and expressed joy. After the show, the headmaster thanked me for bringing a smile to their faces that day. He said, “They really needed that, because during recess, they play funeral.” Death was their day-to-day experience in the real world. My show was a brief interruption to their darkness and brought a glimmer of light to their day. You see, you never know when the work of your hands, no matter how insignificant it feels (I mean, how many things are more insignificant than juggling?), will touch other people in a way that brings a little bit of heaven to earth for them.
Every Square Inch
In closing, I want to invite you to think about your own daily work, whatever it may be. You may or may not see your daily work as your vocational calling. Maybe you’re still searching for what that is in your life. No matter where you are on that journey, I still believe we can consecrate our daily work unto the Lord as an offering of praise unto Him. We can ask for the Holy Spirit to fill us and fill our work with the light and life of God – so that others in the world may be served by our giftings, our talents, our skills, and our work. I wish I could have told my 15-year-old self that even in washing dishes for assisted living folks can I be the hands of Jesus….scrubbing, cleaning, praying, and worshipping through each load of the dishwasher. There was a 17th century monk known as Brother Lawrence. When he served in the kitchen as cook and dishwasher, he didn’t like it at first either. But he learned to enjoy the work when he saw it through the lens of doing “everything for the love of God, asking as often as possible for grace to do [the] work.”[x] We can, like Nestor the mailman, “do it all for Jesus.” Abraham Kuyper, who eventually became the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, said in a speech in 1880, “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”[xi] Yes, Jesus is over every work, including the washing of dishes in a steaming kitchen at a retirement home when I was fifteen years old.
As Christians, we lay hands on missionaries and ministers as they go out into the fields of their vocational ministry, and we should. But what if we extended that prayer support into all fields of work? Below is a prayer I wrote as a corporate prayer of the people of God offering their daily work unto the Lord. I provide it here as one way in which the local church can offer commissioning prayers for people in all kinds of work:
We offer unto you our daily work.
Fill us with your Spirit.
Sanctify the work of our hands,
That our roles, positions, vocations, and labors,
Would be done for your glory.
May our endeavors serve the needs of those around us
And fill your earth with healing, justice, reconciliation, and love.
Help us to steward our callings,
That they may be an acceptable offering of praise back unto you.
[i] Martin Luther, “An Open Letter to The Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate.” First published 1520. Introduction and Translation by C. M. Jacobs. Works of Martin Luther: With Introductions and Notes. Volume II (Philadelphia, PA: A. J. Holman Company, 1915). Accessed Feb 27, 2020. http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/luther/web/nblty-03.html.
[ii] This quote comes from a speech by Dr. King to students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia, PA in 1967. See https://youtu.be/kmsAxX84cjQ (quote starts at time-stamp 10:50) for the speech.
[iii] Buechner, Fredrick. 1993. Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC. Revised and Expanded. New York, NY: Harper Collins, p. 199.
[iv] The scriptwriter for Chariots of Fire, Colin Welland, should technically be credited with the quote. There is no source of Eric Liddell saying or writing this quote in real life. Welland said in a letter to an inquiry about the quote that he came up with it for the film. But he believed that it reflected how Eric Liddell felt. See https://www.veritesport.org/?page=welland for the source of this information, including a link to an image of Welland’s signed statement about the quote (Hugh Hudson, director. Chariots of Fire. Original screenplay by Colin Welland, 20th Century Fox, 1981).
[v] Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Ethics (New York, NY: Touchstone, 1995), p. 253.
[vi] Technically, the first time is the parallel passage to this one found in Exodus 31:1-11. The Hebrew term for “filled” in these passages is male (Strong’s 4390 and Goodrick-Kholenberger number 4848).
[vii] Hebrew male or mala (Strong’s 4390).
[ix] Jesse Joyner, “Holy Fools” (PhD Dissertation, Trinity International University, 2021), pp. 150-151. https://www.proquest.com/docview/2622316783/74D2F35035A24815PQ/1.
[x] This quote comes from Brother Lawrence’s friend, Joseph de Beaufort, in his description of Brother Lawrence (Brother Lawrence. The Practice of the Presence of God. Springdale, PA: Whitaker House, 1992, p. 12).
[xi] James D. Bratt, ed. Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), pp. 13, 461, 488.
“Holy Fools”: Exploring the Journey of Calling for Christian Variety Performers
I am happy to announce that my PhD dissertation has been published to ProQuest, an academic database for published research.
I have made the dissertation open source, which means anyone anywhere can access the full content free of charge.
Here is the full dissertation: https://www.proquest.com/dissertations-theses/holy-fools-exploring-journey-calling-christian/docview/2622316783/se-2
Please share far and wide. I am very much excited about this research and the future projects that may come out of it.
Here is the abstract:
The purpose of this study was to explore the experience of a lived calling for Christian variety performers. A basic qualitative study method was employed to conduct hour-long semi-structured interviews with thirty seasoned variety performers (jugglers, magicians, ventriloquists, clowns, and other similar entertainers) who ascribe to the Christian faith and claim to live out a life calling through their vocations. All the participants live and work in North America except for one who lives in England. The findings were evaluated through a theoretical framework of theology, vocational meaning-making, and socio-cultural learning theory. Prior research has shown that a calling-oriented approach to one’s work can lead to deep levels of satisfaction, meaning, and engagement in one’s work (Duffy et al. 2018, 423). But research has also unearthed what are known as “dark sides” to calling (Duffy and Dik 2013, 433). This study found both positive and negative experiences related to living out one’s calling as well. Based on the findings from this study, the major themes were named as journey, joy, community, and oblation. Calling was found to be an ongoing journey. The variety performers expressed the purpose of their work, both intrinsically and extrinsically, in terms of joy. The participants described the essential role of community in their lived callings, identified in this study as the vocational support system. Finally, this study found that each participant viewed their calling as an oblation (Maslow 1967, 94), something they wholistically offer back to God as a sacrificial offering. Implications for practice and suggestions for future study are discussed.
Coming Soon: “Holy Fools”
My PhD dissertation will be available to the public very soon!
I am so excited to share that my full 274-page PhD dissertation will be available (for free) to the public very soon. Stay tuned for the details. The title is “Holy Fools”: Exploring the Journey of Calling for Christian Variety Performers.
I didn’t know this ahead of time, but when I went to upload my dissertation to the academic database (ProQuest) through my library, I was able to choose whether I wanted my dissertation to be made public or kept behind a paywall.
The paywall option means my dissertation would have been available only to people with academic institution access (certain educators and students) unless they paid to see my dissertation (which I think would cost like $20 or $30 just to see it).
In my own research journey, I ran into such paywalls when looking for sources. I was blessed to have institutional access through my library, so I could request pretty much anything and get anything. But it was nice to find open source research out in the wild because it meant I was able to download the PDF instantly without making a library request for it. Of course there is plenty of crap out there for free on the internet, but there are also some very reliable and useful sources available for free out there as well. One skill in research is to be able to tell the difference.
There are many people around the world who do not have such access to academic literature and would benefit from such access. I myself was thrilled to have free access to Harvard scholar Jan Ziolkowski’s six-volume The Juggler of Notre Dame research for my dissertation. He made all six volumes free online through Open Book Publishers. You can choose to purchase the physical copies. But the PDFs are all freely available online.
I was inspired by the way Ziolkowski (and others) offered their research online without a paywall. I’ve heard that academic research/journals is a big-money industry that does not always look out first for the authors and researchers.
So I chose the open source option on ProQuest. It meant that I gave up any potential royalties I could earn from ProQuest had I chosen the paywall option. I want my work to be available to as many people as possible for as long as possible. I worked hard so that my work could be of service to the world.
In all honestly, probably only my Mom and two other random humans out there in the world would pay for my dissertation, so why not disseminate it far and wide!? Call me a fool for doing so, but see my dissertation for more on that 🙂
Here is a little sneak peak of my editing process (and the abstract if you’re interested). I’ve been making the final touches for the past few weeks. But it is now in the hands of my library. Once they approve the formatting, it should go live soon thereafter. I can’t wait to share it with you!
Teaching kids a Biblical view of work
I recently attended a conference called the Faith at Work Summit. It was an exciting three days of speakers and workshops exploring the meaning of work through the lens of the Christian faith. Christians often separate (either intentionally or unintentionally) their Sunday morning life from their Monday through Friday life. This conference asks how Christians can live out their faith every day of the week no matter what their work in life may be.
I sat in on a workshop called Faith at Work for Kids and Youth, facilitated by Helen Kim. I was encouraged by her focus on children regarding this topic, because normally we hear only about how adults are forming an understanding of how to integrate their faith into their work-life. But like many important topics in life, the earlier you start the training, the better.
So Helen wrote a curriculum that teaches kids about the Biblical foundation of work through God’s eyes. Not only that, but she offers the curriculum for FREE. You can download it and use it today by visiting this link: https://www.gospelshapedfamily.com/product/gods-story-of-work-for-kids/
The reason I get excited about this is because I feel that sometimes the church does a disservice to children when we communicate to them (either explicitly or implicitly) that only pastors or missionaries are the “spiritual” callings in life and that when someone is “called to ministry,” these are their options. We need to instead communicate to children that we are all called to minister in whatever job/career path down which He leads us. The work of a missionary is good work. But so is the work of an engineer or the work of a professional tuba player. We are called to different types of work in this life to serve God and others through that work. Together we are building towards a heavenly Kingdom that will be consummated in due time with the return of Jesus.
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17 (ESV)
Did God the Father Abandon Jesus on the Cross?
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
guest post by Russell Joyner
Why would Jesus say something that sounds so discouraging? In Jewish tradition, in a moment of great distress, one should pray. When all looks hopeless, pray. When you can’t think of what to pray, then recite one of the pre-approved inspired prayers.
In first century Israel, In the middle of the afternoon, around three PM, Jews would stop for prayer. Somebody was supposed to call together at least ten Jewish men (constituting a minyun / quorum), then lead out in a Hebrew prayer, preferably one memorized from Scripture. Those who knew the prayer were supposed to corporately join in out loud.
Matthew 27:46 tells us “At about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice…” The ninth hour after sunrise is the time to offer the afternoon prayer. Nobody else took the leadership to select one of the psalms to pray. So Jesus took the lead, and started the prayer. When 1st century Hebrews started reciting Scripture, they did not use the number references like we do (chapter and verse numbers). The opening phrase also served as the title of the prayer. Jesus was inviting those standing around the foot of the cross to join him in one of the most dynamic petitions for deliverance ever written, very likely penned by King David himself.
Psalm 22 is a classic example of a “Prayer of Lament” (along with about two dozen in the Book of Psalms). The Biblical lament expresses a desperate situation, but the whole point is to confess that the situation can be changed by the LORD. The lament psalms raise a cry out of the depths, fully believing that God has the power to lift a person up, around or through the pit & to set the believer’s feet firmly upon the rock. Therefore, these Biblical laments are ultimately expressions of praise; admitting circumstances are at their worst, yet praising God for his faithful presence & deliverance. Things may look bad, but my God is sufficient for me. In each case, the complaining lament is shown to be invalid as a truth statement within the prayer itself.
Psalm 13:1 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
Psalm 13:5-6 But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.
Psalm 74:1 Why have you rejected us forever, O God? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture?
Psalm 74:12 But you, O God, are my king from of old; you bring salvation upon the earth.
While the complaint truly springs from genuine human anguish, once the individual looks at the lamentable circumstances through God’s eyes, the logical fallacy becomes clear.
Psalm 22 opens up with this address & complaint: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, & am not silent.”
Some have taken that statement at face value, to conclude that God the Father did in fact forsake Jesus. I must go wherever the evidence leads me, and the evidence leads me to say “NO”!
- The ultimate message of Psalm 22 was trust in Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness: God will deliver.
- The way God has revealed himself consistently throughout Scripture:
- Immanuel literally means, “God With Us”
- The name Yahweh can be translated, “I Am Faithfully Present”
- Deuteronomy 31:6 – “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
- Psalm 94:14 – “I will not forsake my inheritance.”
- The opening lines of psalms were used as titles, therefore, mention of title invokes the whole prayer.
- Psalm 22:24 itself tells us “For He has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him, but has listened to his cry for help.” The initial complaint is corrected by the forthtelling prophecy.
- New Testament confirmation:
- Matthew 27 quotes four times from Psalm 22; Matthew understood the whole represented by the part.
- “When he offered up prayers & petitions w/loud cries & tears to the one who could save him, He was heard” (Hebrews 5:7).
Jesus gave his life willingly. He knew the ultimate message of Psalm 22 was trust in Yahweh’s faithfulness. He also recognized the lament psalm for what it was: a prayer of praise in the midst of lamentable circumstances. Not a hopeless lamentation.
The evidence & example of Christ leads us to be more willing to express ourselves to God openly without white-washing our problems. The prayer closet is the place to freely and firmly make your complaint and appeal. When we are at our wit’s end, Psalm 22 can guide us in taking our problems to the LORD. Don’t despair!
APPLICATION: Do not build your view of God on your feelings, but upon the WORD of God….The BIBLE. The true & living God has revealed himself to us in the Scripture, that we might know him & obey him.
Stewards of the Story
Last night, I was working with my seven year-old daughter on a Bible verse that she is trying to memorize. The verse spoke about the “fear of God” and we had a good discussion about the definition of the word “fear” in that context. While that alone is a whole other discussion, the point I want to make here is that while we were discussing that topic, a number of other theological topics came up in our discussion. I noticed that she was engaged and interested in hearing my take on this grand story of God. Then a powerful thought hit me: “Wow, here I am passing on a story that has endured for generations and I am just a tiny little steward of this story in the course of history.”
It was a humbling thought.
It was also very encouraging. It is exciting to be a part of something so much bigger than myself. God’s story precedes me and it will endure long after my time on this earth. It is my job to care for it, stay true to it, be transformed by it, and pass it on to those after me – so they can do the same for the generations after them.
James Earl Massey wrote a book in 2006 called Stewards of the Story: The Task of Preaching (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press). The title alone is a gripping reminder that preachers (and, I would add, Christians in general) are responsible to pass on the story of God in accurate form from one generation to the next. Like a family heirloom, the story of God is a priceless narrative that neither begins nor ends with our generation. It was given to us and we have the duty of preserving it and passing it on to those who outlive us.
In the foreword to Massey’s book, Timothy George writes…
“Stewards are trustees, into whose care and responsibility something precious – in this case, something infinitely precious – has been entrusted. In the most basic sense, trustees are not “owners” of the prized bequest they have received. Rather, they hold the bequest in trust, and they have a fiduciary responsibility to pass it on intact to those who will one day receive it in turn from them” (xiii).
God’s story is first and foremost the Biblical story that was at one time transmitted via oral tradition but then put to text over the course of many centuries. But passing on God’s story to our children also means telling them of the great things God has done in our lives and in the lives of saints throughout history.
We will not hide them from their descendants;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
his power, and the wonders he has done (Psalm 78:4, NIV)
Remember the “telephone game” from when we were kids? A line of kids would have to preserve a sentence from the start of the line to the end of the line by each kid whispering it into the ear of the person next to them. The sentence was almost always completely butchered by the time it reached the end of the line, often unrecognizable from the original statement.
God’s story is way more valuable than the statements given in a telephone game. That’s why oral tradition was a very strict art in ancient times. And when we were able to write it all down, God gave us the gift of holding onto this story in a textual form that was painstakingly written, copied, and preserved by prophets, rabbis, monks, and then the printing press.
Our job as followers of God is to painstakingly preserve this story in it’s original form and pass it on as such. I always say that in preaching and teaching the best strategy is to stick to the Word. It’s hard to go wrong when we stick to God’s Word. We get sloppy and misdirect our hearers if we start making stuff up and/or talk about whatever we think is right and accurate.
Stick to the Word. Hold it close to your heart. Let it transform you. Pass it on in it’s original form. And teach others to do the same.
Scripture Memory for Kids
I have an acronym for scripture memory that I use at camps: MVOTW. It stands for “Memory Verse of the Week.” You pronounce it, “muh-vah-twuh.” Kids love saying it and we put motions to the words to help us remember whatever verse we are working on. Most camps and vacation Bible schools have a theme verse or main verse for the week. So I review that verse multiple times a day with the kids. I have found it to be a very effective way to teach kids how to memorize Scripture. One year, some girls recited a MVOTW to me that they had learned two or three years prior. They still remembered the words and the motions.
So if you lead your kids in a MVOTW, put some motions to each word or phrase (try to put in some or all American Sign Language if you can). Then quote the scripture reference, and finish it off with a hearty, “muh-vah-twuh!” It works. Trust me.
Here is a video of a group doing the MVOTW at Highland Lakes Camp in Texas last summer:
What Cain and Jesus Share
What?! You’re comparing Cain, the first murderer, to Jesus? How dare you!
Follow me here. I was writing a paper about ministry with children and I suddenly discovered in the Cain and Abel story something I had never seen before…
You probably already knew that Cain was the first child to be born (remember, Adam and Eve were created). But what Eve said upon his birth is pretty remarkable. She said something that leads us to conclude that Cain and Jesus were both gifts of God’s grace, each in a unique way.
Here’s the excerpt from my paper….
When we look at Scripture, the first children in the Bible were Cain and Abel. Their parents, Adam and Eve, had already been banished from the Garden of Eden due to their disobedience and sin towards God (Gen 3:16-24). In this new reality of paradise lost, Adam and Eve conceived their first child, Cain. Despite having a broken relationship with God, Eve proclaims, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man” (Gen 4:1; italics mine). These are the first post-Edenic words spoken in Scripture, which I believe speaks to the significance of ministry with children. In this newly fallen world, our predecessor Eve viewed children as a gift from God. Even Cain’s name in Hebrew is a wordplay intended to sound like the word for “to bring forth” (Coppes 1980, 797-798). This means that God’s first gift of grace following our sin was a child. We turned from God, and the way he extended an offer of grace was through a baby.
Does that sound familiar? Thousands of years later, despite our sin, God gifted us all with the baby Jesus Christ as the ultimate gift of His grace.
This establishes the point that children are both a gift from God as well a means of God’s grace to adults (and other children, for that matter). Most adults in this world and in the church community understand that children are a gift, but how often do we view them as channels through which God extends His grace? When we view children in this way, we realize that as adults, we need children as much as they need us.
Coppes, Leonard J. “Cain.” Theological wordbook of the old testament. Vol 2. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke eds. Chicago: Moody Press, 1980.
The Family Prayer Corner
Yesterday, I worked together with my five-year old daughter to set up a little prayer station in our house. My wife and I got the idea from her school, which uses a lot of hands-on activities that teach kids about spirituality.
I’ve always been a little skeptical of creating ritualistic prayer spaces because I want kids to know that they can pray anywhere, anytime, all the time.
But, I went ahead and tried this prayer corner idea and I was amazed at how excited my daughter got about it. There was something tangible she could do and touch while she did something that is very deep, abstract, and invisible. Truth be told, my wife and I got excited about praying at the prayer station too. As adults, we often treat prayer as a perfunctory chore. But this prayer station helps touch the human senses in ways that provides concrete metaphors for unseen realities.
So far, it has done wonders for us in terms of reminding us to pray and as a gathering point for our family to joyfully pray together.
Here’s what we did:
- We got a glass plate and a miniature clear glass jar (like a small Mason jar).
- We found some smooth decorative rocks that we had in a drawer. For you, these could be any kind of rocks. We call them the “prayer rocks.”
- We placed the prayer rocks around the jar on the plate.
- We found a battery-powered votive candle (that you can get at any hobby/craft store) and placed it on one end of the plate.
- We explained the idea to our daughter and allowed her to to choose a spot in the house to put the prayer station.
Here’s the way to use it:
- Whenever anyone wants to, they can go to the prayer station for as long or as short of a time they like. You can go alone or with someone else. It is always voluntary. And it should never be something we “show off” to look spiritual (Matthew 6:5-6).
- Light the votive candle.
- Grab a rock and say a prayer. There is nothing magical or spiritual in the rock. But it can help us focus and act as reminder that God hears our every little prayer. The rock can also be a symbol that God is our rock and our foundation. The prayer can be either silent or out loud. You can take whatever posture you like.
- Drop the prayer rock in the jar and stay as long as you like. There’s something about the sound of the glass bead rocks in the glass jar that adds a sort of song to the prayer.
- Turn off the votive candle.
- When the jar is full or the all the rocks are used up, re-set the rocks to the original position of being spread around the empty jar. Before you re-set it, take in the sight of the full jar as a reminder of all the prayers that God has heard and His faithfulness to answer.
If you try this, I would encourage you to put your own spin or family personality on this station. Also, though we haven’t added the following yet, I think it would be helpful to have some prayers on hand nearby in a drawer if someone wants to pray a pre-written prayer (either from Scripture or a good prayer book). You could also frame the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) and place it at the prayer station.
This could also easily be turned into a Worship Response Station for large groups at church or at camp. You could set up tables with small rocks all over them. Have the kids say a prayer and then place (not throw 🙂 the rocks in a wooden bowl or a similar type of container.
I still firmly believe in prayer as something we can do anywhere and anytime (John 4:21-24). But even Jesus spoke of the prayer closet (Matthew 6:6) and he himself had the Garden of Gethsemane (“Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives” – Luke 22:39). So why not create a Gethsemane in our homes for our families, the very foundational place of spiritual growth for our children?
Want more ideas for crafts and stations for children’s ministry in the church and in the home? Sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter here.
Talking to Kids About Martin Luther King, Jr.
The great thing about a holiday is not just the fact that many people get the day off, but it also carves a memorial into the annual calendar that commemorates something or someone that we as a society deem important. When children see that they have a day off of school and that people are celebrating something, many of them naturally ask, “why?”
That is why holidays are brilliant. They ensure that certain topics and values will be passed down through the generations. Even if the adults forget to cover a certain topic in raising children, the holiday topics will almost always come up (year after year) and the children will learn about them.
For Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we are reminded of the great values of love, respect, diversity, overcoming the impossible, justice, faith, courage, community, and all sorts of other positive teachable topics. What comes with his story is also the harsh truth of sin and darkness in the world – topics such as hate, racism, injustice, murder, terrorism, and the like.
We told our daughter (who is five now) that there was no school on Monday because it was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. That sparked her curiosity about the subject. She had already learned a little about him in school recently, but she wanted to know more when we were talking about it in the car.
Here are some of the things she asked (progressively as I was answering each question:
“What did he do?”
“Is he still alive?”
“How did he die?”
“Why did someone kill him?”
“Where was he when he died?”
As you can see, she was very curious about his life and the circumstances of his death. I chose not to sugarcoat anything and answer her in a very honest matter-of-fact way. She may be five, but I have learned that even young children are ready to hear about the harsh realities of this sinful world in which we live. Of course I’m not graphic in describing how he died, but I tried to be straightforward about it – and she was able to understand and handle it well.
Before I show you how I answered, I wanted to jot down a few ideas on what I feel are helpful things to keep in mind when speaking to young children about tough, dark subjects. I don’t claim to have all the answers. I’m just sharing what appeared to work with our daughter…..
- Be honest – the worst thing we can do to our children is lie to them and make them think there is nothing bad or evil in the world. They will wake up to that reality someday and it is best if they hear it first from their parents.
- Be straightforward – I don’t see any value in beating around the bush or creating a fog of confusion in her mind by using ambiguous generalizations such as “we need to be nice to other people.” It’s better to be specific and use MLK Day (and every other day) to combat racism in its face and talk with children as early as possible about treating everyone with love and respect no matter their skin color.
- Be God-focused – we believe in God. So did Martin Luther King, Jr. In fact, he was known for saying that the arc of the universe curves towards justice. And that curve is because of the hand of God. Full justice and love may not be evident at this moment, but God’s finger is pointing in that direction. We shall follow, and he shall lead.
Here is the gist of the answers I gave:
“What did he do?” A lot of people are mean to other people just because of the color of their skin. He challenged those ideas and gave a speech about a dream he had. He had a dream that little girls of different skin colors would hold hands and play together in the playground. And guess what? That dream came true (I said that not to say that all is well, but to point to the example that she knows, which is the fact that she does play with and hold hands with children of different skin colors). Now there are no more laws that black people need to use different water fountains or bathrooms than white people. (We will continue to explain to her that not all things are completely better between people of different skin colors and there is still a lot of work to do to make sure there is equality and community amongst our diversity in this nation).
“Is he still alive?” No.
“How did he die?” Somebody shot him with a gun and killed him.
“Why did someone kill him?” The man hated him and did not like what Martin Luther King, Jr. taught and wanted to keep doing things that were very bad for black people.
“Where was he when he died?” I think he was on a balcony of a motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
I added, “We believe that God made all people – and that he made all different colors of skin. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a pastor who believed in God and that God was going to bring justice to this earth over the course of history.”
Let us press on in every fight against injustice and trust in the grace of God as we follow Him on the journey towards justice.