Sunday, March 28, 2010

Christian Workers: Are they different?

I was in the business world for thirty years. I have interviewed hundreds of applicants for jobs. I have hired and I reluctantly fired. I have trained many new employees. I have worked with believers and unbelievers. However, in my experience there has been no consistent difference between the behavior of those who professed Christianity and those who didn’t. Sometimes the unbelievers acted like Christians, and sometimes the Christians acted like unbelievers. Sometimes the Christians acted with exemplary character, and sometimes their character was embarrassing. But, in my experience the difference between Christian and non-Christian was not consistently discernable. For example, I do not know any businesses that seeks to hire Evangelicals because there is a consistent pattern of enhanced honesty, diligence, dependability, or teachabellness. That is tragic. Something is broken.

It has not always been this way. During the Reformation of the sixteenth century a group of Protestants, known as the Anabaptists, split from Roman Catholicism and the emerging Lutherans. In the sixteenth century everyone was baptized at birth. However, the Anabaptists believed that believer’s baptism was the appropriate way to respond to a conversion. The name “Anabaptists” referred to this belief.

The Anabaptists had some peculiar beliefs. Some rejected the Old Testament. Others were pacifists, or rejected the differences between men and women. For these beliefs, and especially their practice of rebaptism, they were bitterly persecuted. Many Anabaptists excelled in moral holiness. Nowhere was this more conspicuous than in their work habits. They were thrifty, loyal, hard working, humble, productive, and obedient to their employers. They handled responsibility well. They were trustworthy.

In his book, The Anabaptist Story, William Estep describes their exceptional work ethic. To prove it he quotes the criticism of one of their Roman Catholic enemies.

“Anabaptists who come to the Lords in Moravia are preferred before others. The Lords do not desire to read or even see the certificates of their previous training being satisfied to know that the elders of the church considered them qualified to fill the position in question…Is not this blindness? Never do they promote [Roman Catholics] without definite knowledge concerning them, and yet such favors do they show the Anabaptists.”

The Catholic critic continued,

“The Anabaptists have the greatest favor amongst the nobility. They have the preference as managers of estates, be it dairy or wheat farms, mills, tile yards, gardens, or anything else. They are appointed by them to high positions in the castles such as manager, steward, and keeper… The Lords must pay the Anabaptists larger salaries and wages than the [Catholics] who have formerly held the same position.”

The Anabaptist story is a reason for this blog.  I want someone to complain that Evangelical Protestants are getting all the high paying jobs because their moral behavior is so exemplary. I want to hear Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Buddhists, and secular unbelievers complain that all the good jobs go to Evangelical Protestants, that the gospel has affected them so powerfully that they are more trustworthy, more loyal, more productive, and more dependable than non-Evangelicals.

That should be the case. The gospel should make us humble, hard working, productive, teachable, and easy to work with. It should inspire trustworthiness, gratitude, and a servant’s towards our employers, customers, and our fellow employees. That this is the exception, and not consistently true, should trouble us. That employers throughout North America are not eagerly seeking Evangelicals to fill their positions speaks loudly about the failure of the church to preach and apply the gospel to a very large segment of our daily lives—our secular vocations.

Lets ask God for grace to bring glory, praise, and honor to him through our vocations.

Monday, March 22, 2010

No Utopia on Earth

It is important for Christians to view politics in the light of Genesis three. No system, whether Dictatorship, Republic, or Democracy, is free from the corrupting influence of sin. Men are sinners. As a result all political structures in this fallen world are doomed to ultimate failure.

At the end of the 18th century Alexander Fraser Tyler (1742-1813) wrote the following insightful comment. “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government…It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury. From that time on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the results that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.” (Quoted by Richards, in Money, Greed, and God, pg 107-08).

We are witnessing the fulfillment of Tyler's prophecy. We have discovered how to vote ourselves money from the public treasury, and there is not enough to satisfy our lusts, so we borrow.  The "each person for himself" mentality is destroying us. Each congressional district wants money from the federal government, and we are willing to take it with little thought for the good of the country.

Meanwhile the national debt is $40,000 for each man, woman, child even while the income per capita is down in the $21,000 range. At 5% we pay $2,000 interest on the federal debt for every person in America, and the debt is growing. A family of five would need to pay $10,000 in income taxes just to cover the interest on our debt.

All of this portends a less than desirable future. In this environment national wealth cannot continue to grow and the freedoms that we so cherish will diminish.

As Christians how should we react? We should put our hope in God and the world to come. All of this is God's judgment on a faithless culture and a self-centered church. There will be a utopia, but it will not be this side of the resurrection. God will create "New Heavens and Earth," and there righteousness, not greed, will reaign supreme.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Jesus Made In America

I recently finished Steven Nichol's book Jesus Made In America. Nichols is a church historian. His books are always well-written and insightful. This book is no exception. The subtitle, "A cultural history From the Puritans to the Passion of the Christ," is a good description.

The doctrine of Christ, Christology, is complicated. Easy answers, and pius over simplications just don't do the subject justice. However, according to Nichols, that is exactly what Americans have done since the 1750s.

The story starts with the Puritans and their highwater, Jonathan Edwards. Edwards preached a multi-faceted, robustly complex Christ. Christ was not a stuffed teddy bear on the end of his bed. Yes, God's love is infinite, and it appears most clearly in the life and ministry of God's Son. But the Puritans also stressed other dimensions.

Christ is our judge. Christ is one with the Father. He is angry with unrepentant sinners. On the Day of Judgment unbelievers will cry out to the rocks to bury them and hide them from the wrath of the Lamb (Rev. 6:16). "The wrath of the Lamb" says it all. What could be more upside down than a Lamb with wrath?

According to Nichols, since the Puritan era, Jesus has not fared as well. Successive chapters cover the Revolutionary War period, the Civil War era, the early 20th century, and the Jesus movement of the 1960s. Nichols book is worth reading and ruminating over. We want the Jesus made in the Bible, not the Jesus Made in America!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Does God Need People?

What is God like? How can we know him?

One place to start is with God's aseity. Aseity is a fancy word that just means "without need," or "underived." Someone that has aseity exists out of nothing.

God has aseity. In Moses encounter with the burning bush two instances of it appear. First he sees a flaming bush. It is on fire, but the bush is not being consumed. In fact the bush seems to be completely unaffected. "And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed." (Exodus 3:2-3). The "angel of the Lord" is often a synonym for the preincarnate Christ.

God converses with Moses from the bush. Eventually Moses asks the Voice to identify himself. God responds, "I am who I am.”...“Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you" (Exodus 3:14).

Here are two demonstrations of Aseity. The first is the "angel of the Lord" represented by a flame that does not need fuel. "The bush was burning, yet it was not consumed." In other words, the flame burned from an infinite supply of energy arising from within itself. Its energy is underived, that is, it does not depend upon something outside of itself. The flame is completely self-sufficient. It will burn forever on its self. 

The second demonstration of Aseity is God's Name, "I Am who I am," or just "I am." It means that God is the self existent one who has always been and will always be. He is dependent upon nothing. he needs nothing. He is self-sufficient within himself.

By contrast, everything in the universe is dependent. It all derives from God. Creation has a beginning and an end, a source outside of itself. But God dwells outside of time. He has no begining. He has no end. He is derived from nothing. He just is. He needs nothing. He is "I am who I am."

Why is this important to us? There are at least three reasons. First, God's aseity means that he did not create to fulfill some inner need in himself. He has no needs, no voids, no unfulfilled longings, no incompletions. So why did he create? He created us for his glory. "Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory" (Isaiah 43:6-7).

Second, if God has aseity he must be infinitely and unchangeably happy. In fact, he is utterly filled up with joy in the presence of the Trinitarian community, a joy that never slacks, never diminishes, nor ever needs to be replenished. That is why "joy" is the second fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22). The Holy Spirit is undiminished, exuberant joy. The more we dwell in him, live in him, the more joy we also will experience. That is why Heaven will be a realm of "Joy inexpressible and full of glory" (1 Pet. 1:8). God will be there.

Third, God's aseity means that need does not motivate his love. There is not an iota of selfishness in God. This is impossible for us to comprehend. We do nothing without need. But God sent His Son to die on a Roman Cross when he had no needs, when our salvation could add nothing to his happiness. How can we understand such selflessness?

All of this Paul deftly summed up in his immortal conclusion to Romans 11. "Who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen." (Romans 11:35-36).

Let us bow down and worship the God whose flame needs no external fuel , the One who calls himself "I am that I am."

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

God Tests Faith

The second to fourth verses of the first chapter of James warns us that God will test us.  "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."

Only those whose faith rests on the twin pillars of God's sovereignty and God's goodness will be equipped to pass the tests God allows in our lives.

Immense human suffering caused three architects of the modernism to reject the idea that God is both good and sovereign. The effect on the modern world has been cataclysmic. The event was the Great Lisbon Earthquake.

It took place on 1 November 1755, at around 10:24 in the morning. It was followed by a tsunami and fires, which caused near-total destruction of Lisbon and adjoining areas. Geologists today estimate the Lisbon earthquake approached magnitude 9 on the moment magnitude scale. Estimates place the death toll in Lisbon alone between 10,000 and 100,000 people, making it one of the deadliest earthquakes in history.

The Lisbon earthquake was a contributing cause of the Enlightenment, a philosophical movement that conquered the 19th and 20th centuries. When its three architects; Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-78); Voltaire (1694-1778); and Immanuel Kant 1724-1804), saw the human suffering that occurred they did not "count it all joy." Instead, they abandoned confidence that God is both sovereign and good. After the earthquake these three turned their backs on the goodness of God.

They failed James test.

In the same way, God will allow suffering. He will bring problems into our lives. When the happens we will be tempted. Is God really good? Can we really trust him?

The ultimate reason to trust God in the midst of suffering is the cross of Christ. There God showed himself, in the words of Paul Billheimer, the chief sufferer in the universe. The cross says God is willing and able to suffer with us, and God is willing to use suffering for our good and his glory.

Is that your confidence today?