When discussing the Christian call to service, we often hear references to Matthew 25, where Jesus speaks of a King who separates “sheep” from “goats” – those who are willing from those who refuse.
To the sheep, the King offers the following:
Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
To the goats, the King says, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
It’s all very hearty, but the final line is what seems to stick in popular discourse: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (more…)
In an interview with Eater, celebrity chef Alton Brown was asked how his faith and religion play into his professional life. Brown is a “born-again Christian,” though he finds the term overly redundant.
His answer is rather edifying, offering a good example of the type of attitude and orientation we as Christians are called to assume:
As far as other decisions, my wife runs the company. We try not to make any big decisions about the direction of this company or my career without praying about it. We try to listen to what God says to us pretty hard and we say no to a lot of things because of that. We’re not rich and that’s because if we don’t get a clear feeling for what we ought to be doing, we don’t do it. We turn down endorsements. We say no to things. You know, none of this is mine. For some reason I am being trusted with it and I take the stewardship of it really, really seriously.
This nestles quite nicely with the excerpt I recently shared on Christian conscience, which Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef describe as the “watchful monitor” of stewardship. Consider also its resemblance to DeKoster and Berghoef’s approach to Christian stewardship in general:
The believer, because he is a true believer, knows very well that he owes God everything: “For the world is mine, and all that is in it” (Ps. 50:12). God has first claim by right of ownership to everything each of us calls his own. To ask with the psalmist, “How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me?” (116:12) can only be completely answered by the acknowledgment: “All, Lord, is thine!”…
…God makes man the master of his temporal household. Like all stewards, man is not the owner. He is the overseer. For three score years and ten, more or less as the case may be, each of us is steward over those talents and those pounds allotted us by divine providence…As each has managed his stewardship, so will he be judged: “Well done, my good servant!” or, “But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me” (Luke 19:17, 27). The quality of stewardship depends on obedience to the Master’s will. The steward who does not obey the Master’s law rejects the Master’s authority and serves another. Our stewardship is the test: Do we mean to serve God or mammon, the Lord or the Devil?
In Faithful in All God’s House, Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef define stewardship as ‘willed acts of service that, not only make and sustain the fabric of civilization and culture, but also develop the soul.’ The authors contend that ‘while the object of work is destined to perish, the soul formed by daily decision to do work carries over into eternity.’ As we allow God to use us to change the world, he is quietly but continually conforming us to his likeness.
I have already weighed in on the recent hubbub over whether bakers, florists, and photographers should be compelled by law to serve ends they deem unethical and in violation of their consciences.
Over at First Things, Eric Teetsel of the Manhattan Declaration offers some helpful embellishment on that last bit — conscience — arguing that Christians ought to be far less blind and arbitrary when it comes to the shape and scope of their stewardship and service.
As for the case at hand (whether to attend or service particular weddings), Teetsel offers the following:
Have you prayed about it? How is the Holy Spirit leading you? Do you feel you can attend the service without compromising your responsibility to be a witness to the Truth? Will attending enable you to continue a Gospel presence in the person’s life? If so, then perhaps you should go…
…Individuals may be led one way or another according to their conscience. One may feel they can provide the service without endorsing or celebrating the event; another may feel the opposite. Religious freedom and the right of conscience preserve the rights of individuals to come to their own conclusions in such circumstances.
Of course not every act of commerce amounts to an assessment of the moral nature of homosexuality. But every so often a creator is asked to use their talents for something their conscience cannot abide. It may be a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony, or a cake in a lewd shape, or a cake celebrating abortion. In those instances, the Bible fails to provide an absolute answer. What is a Christian to do? The answer is a matter of individual conscience. Not whether Christians should or should not do something, but whether they must do something.
Yet when it comes to nearly everycase the Christian encounters, that first paragraph is a rather helpful introduction to the types of questions we should be asking. From setting wages and prices, to innovating new products and services, to the ends those outputs elevate, conscience is integral to rightly ordering our efforts. (more…)
To make its argument, the video assumes the worst about wage-setters, describing Edgar the Employer as Edgar the Exploiter: one who cares only about “making profit” and even dreams about paying his employees less. I have yet to meet such a miser, even in my dark days behind the McDonald’s fry vat, but surely he exists. (more…)
Over at Desiring God blog, Sam Crabtree offers 16 simple principles, each accompanied by Scripture, to help reorient our thinking about the work of our hands, particularly among those in executive and administrative roles.
Highlighting our persistent human tendency to neglect our Creator, Crabtree cautions against the subtle temptation to begin operating “as if we really can execute on our tasks all by our lonesome, without the constant help of our God.” What distinguishes a distinctly Christian executive?
6. God-centered work is not work with God as an appendage or afterthought.
He is the core, the root, the source, the origin, the power, the point of it all.
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. (Acts 17:24–25)
8. God-centeredness implies, requires, and builds humility.
What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? (1 Corinthians 4:7) (more…)
I recently shared a lengthy excerpt from Faithful in All God’s House, highlighting the investment-return motif that appears throughout the Bible. “All of God’s gifts to mankind are as a divine investment on which the investor expects full return,” write Berghoef and DeKoster.
Several readers pushed back on the analogy, interpreting it to mean that God rolls out his divine plan according to earthbound assumptions, as if “prudent investment” means being beholden to the outputs of a narrow, materialistic cost-benefit analysis.
It’s troubling on many levels that “prudent investment” has come to reckon imaginations of something so imprudent for so many. We humans, the “agents of return,” are called to live within a framework much more varied, complex, and mysterious than the confines of a Wall Street banker, despite those times when such considerations have their place. We serve a God of love, and just as that love is deep and distinct from distorted human variations, we are called to live and think and act according to an economy not of our own constructing. (more…)
Olsen proceeds to offer a lengthy critique of what the GOP thinks working-class whites want to hear, focusing on three key messages that fall short. Reihan Salam does us a nice service by briefly summarizing these points, pairing each with its uncomfortable counterpoint:
While white working class voters aren’t pro-government, they are anxious about their deteriorating labor market position, and so they’re not necessarily inclined to celebrate entrepreneurship and the free market. (more…)
Earlier this week, Michael Hendrix offered some striking commentary on the economic future of millennials, fearing that many in our generation are in a similar position as “the horse at the advent of the automobile.”
The economic horizon is shifting, and with such changes come new opportunities. Yet rather than being energized and agile in response, many are content to simply shrug and plod along.
As Hendrix concludes, there’s hope in the reality that we are not horses, but creative, spiritual beings, fashioned in the image of God:
It isn’t so much that we’ll have winners and losers that gets me. It’s that many millennials aren’t facing up to the tough choices they’ll need to make to align their visions with reality. When the internal combustion engine came along and rendered horsepower to the pages of Motor Trend, these animals had little choice over their fate. We are different. We can look square-eyed into a future of vast change. We can work hard at the tasks set before us, for we were made to do so. Put another way, we can avoid the glue factory.
The basic idea of the American Dream has come under scrutiny in recent years — most strongly, it seems, from various corners of the church. And though some critiques are clumsier than others, all seem to point to at least one critical reality: With increased prosperity comes increased temptation to give way to an overly individualized and materialistic understanding of vocation and calling. Where our ancestors seized economic opportunity through hard work and service, paving the way for a more comfortable life, we now show a propensity to conflate the former (opportunity) with the latter (a 4-bedroom house in the burbs). (more…)
Peter Greer has spent his life doing good, from serving refugees in the Congo to leading HOPE International, a Christian-based network of microfinance institutions operating in 16 countries around the world. Yet as Greer argues in his latest book, The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good, “service and charity have a dark side.”
Pointing to a study by Fuller Seminary’s Dr. J. Robert Clinton, Greer notes that “only one out of three biblical leaders maintained a dynamic faith that enabled them to avoid abusing their power or doing something harmful to themselves and others.” From King David’s power trip with Bathsheba and Uriah to Jonah’s end-of-life anger and selfishness, the Bible is filled with examples of self-destruction amid service.
“When I looked to Scripture for guidance, what I found troubled me,” Greer writes. “Men and women who had heard from God—who even performed amazing miracles—were just as likely to blow it as everyone else.”
And alas, in all of our discussions about how to best serve our neighbors, how often do we focus on surface-level externalities to the neglect of the human heart? How often do we narrow down our “metrics for success” to exclude any discussion or contemplation about the motivations driving our actions or the potential for pitfalls along the way? (more…)