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Friday, August 21, 2009

Why Polish Brass on a Sinking Ship?

Growing up in church, I often heard the Great Commission of Matthew 28 quoted, but little mention was made of the First Commission of Genesis 1.

In the Great Commission, Jesus says: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you… "

This was often quoted in reference to missionaries, which may explain why I reduced the message to: “Go tell people how they can be saved, so that when they die, they can go to heaven.”
To my impressionable mind, soul-saving was the only real reason for living, and the only legitimate purpose for Christians to remain on earth after they got saved.

The First Commission of Genesis 1:26-28—where God commissioned humans to govern over all the earth—was far off my radar. After all, it is a commission to rule over this material world, and somehow I got the impression the material world was something I should not take very seriously.

Songs to that effect filled my young mind: “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through...;” “Turn your eyes upon Jesus…and the things of earth will grow strangely dim…” “Some glad morning when this life is ‘ore, I’ll fly away…”

Heaven was the focus—not Earth. “Why polish brass on a sinking ship?” This didn’t leave many occupational choices for me. If I was going to do something truly God-honoring with my life, my choices were limited to being a pastor or a missionary.

Have you ever felt this way? If so, I’d like to journey with you. The comments and questions that you provide will help to move our conversation along.


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  1. Christian, you are a great communicator. Happy blogging onwards! Jim

  2. When I was 18, my thoughts and goals were similar. I did not want to join the military and die for my country, I did not want to go into business and die for $, I wanted to join God's army as a missionary and die for him.

    After 15 years of trying to make that happen, I'm pressing forward now living missionaly where Jesus has me while owning my own business! What a releif!

    At the same time, I belive it's Biblical to be good stewards (conservationist as opposed to preservationist/environmentalist) of creation as read in Genesis.

    I continue to chew on these topics, but my understanding of the main goal is to love Jesus and be like him missionally while providing for your family - vocational ministry or not.

  3. If brass could live forever in heaven if it was completely shined, we should help polish as much as we could before the ship sinks! Don't you think?? Dale.

  4. Great to see your blog. We need to send more people to it, perhaps when we do the radio interview with you. At the moment, I am speaking at Camp-of-the-Woods (New York) and won't be back in Dallas until next week.

  5. Your thought-provoking blog opens a yummy can of worms.

    Yesterday I had the fun of re-connecting with a friend of 30 years ago. In our reminiscing she said, "I remember when I was getting divorced 20 years ago you had some particular things to say to me." I remembered my instant response and spouting mouth.

    Now, having walked in her shoes I have learned some wisdom. Be it relationship with another, or relationship to the material world, I agree...whatever I do, I do it conscious in the here and now not for the future, acknowledging Holy Spirit's presence.

    Body, soul and spirit. I like the way the Eastern world view doesn't compartmentalize it all. What we do in the material world with our "bodies" is intertwined with soul and spirit. How easily I forget.

    Yeah, having been on the "missionary" path and then not, and having what I thought was a forever marriage dissolve, could have been a faith breaker. But let's be honest. It's messy being human. I'm thrilled my God is patient and his love oozes over into my life if I let it.

    When Heaven is the focus, we are just "preaching to the choir" and many of us just put on our Sunday best to sing for the pats on the back.

    Now Earth... mixed up, messed up glorious Earth.

    Ya know, God could have rigged it all differently. He could have waited for the computer age, started a new on-line business and had his son blogg us via heaven and done a final sacrifice for all on YouTube in one fell swoop.

    But he decided to get messy and experience the human factor.

    Earthly work matters. There's nothing like a fish cookout on the beach and sharing it with friends and strangers.

    Kay LaVergne Jaz

  6. What a wonderful blog. Today I walked several miles in a beautiful wooded park with my with my lovely wife, enjoyed the cool air and the warm sun, heard God's word with His people, and embraced many who don't yet know God......I think it's nice living in eternity being apart of God's mission and purpose in this imperfect realm that will be redeemed someday.

  7. When I was 12,at a farewell potluck for our pastor, his wife zeroed in on me and said: "We're expecting to hear great things from you in days to come, Larry." Even as a pre-teen I knew what she meant. It would be a "great thing" if I became a pastor or missionary. In college, this issue became a struggle. I argued with God. I wanted to go into "full-time Christian service." But God was insisting I take a regular job. Somewhere along the line I came to understand my motives. Becoming a pastor or missionary almost guaranteed significance and recognition with the Christian community--hardly a taking up my cross and denying myself! Thank God, he won the argument. I worked for state government for 11 years and served as a self-employed seminar instructor for 17.

  8. Let me tell you a quick story, Christian. I just returned from the Democratic Republic of Congo where we're starting a massive training project for 77,000 Christian school teachers.

    The missionaries there in the early days had the philosophy you describe. Many Christians avoided starting businesses, getting involved in government, etc.

    But right next to our hotel was a beautiful new apartment complex. These units rent to UN officials for 1500 to 5000 USD per month (you read that right--it's a poverty stricken country but lots of money is being spent there).

    Guess who owns these apartments? A forward-thinking Muslim group that is raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars in profits. Guess what they're doing with the money? Starting schools--the most beautiful schools the people have ever seen. And once the schools are thriving? Building mosques.

    If Christians don't start thinking differently, the writing is already on the wall.

  9. Jeff,

    I have an African friend who grew up in a Muslim family. He was disowned at the age of 13 when he became a follower of Christ through the influence of a Christian teacher.

    He tells me that in his area (Northern Kenya and Southern Ethiopia), the Muslims are coming into towns, assessing the needs, and then starting businesses to meet those needs. They are also providing small-business loans for others to start businesses. But you have to be a Muslim to receive these loans.

    He is witnessing whole villages being converted to Islam through such means.

    He tells me the Christians are "losing" in Africa.

    One reason they are "losing" is because among the Christians, it is commonly held that the road to spiritual maturity leads to quitting your job and becoming a "preacher."

    The idea of running a business or becoming active in civil service is considered "worldly," and such things are to be "put aside."

    I'll say more about this matter in future postings.

  10. Great post, Christian. We forget that the Scripture begin with humans as image bearers, and not humans as sinners. Accordingly, redemption language in Scripture is always "re" words: redeem, renew, regenerate, reconcile, repent, restore, etc. The "re" implies return - to what? Our humanness.

    I would suggest the language of "being a Christian" is getting in the way. I think Christ saves us to be human, not from it!

    My favorite line on this is from Bonhoeffer, from Letters and Papers in Prison:
    "During the last year or so I've come to know and understand more and more the profound this-worldliness of Christianity. The Christian is not a homo religiosus but simply a man, as Jesus was a man....I thought that I could acquire faith by trying to live a holy life, or something like that.....I discovered later, and I'm still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith." (p.369)

  11. It's time for Christians become "wise as serpents and harmless as doves." We should be the ones operating successful businesses, funding Christ-centered education (in the U.S. as well as abroad), and building churches. We could accomplish much IF we worked "as one" and "unto the Lord" in ALL things.

    Valarie Rice

  12. I always thought that when we die as Christians, we'd go to heaven to live with Jesus forever. However, Revelation 21:1-4 clearly indicates that the New Jerusalem comes down OUT OF HEAVEN to the new earth. The amazing announcement is not that we go to live with God, but that He is going to come to live with us.
    It is a new heaven and a new earth that has all traces of sin removed, but it is, nevertheless, the new earth where we will spend eternity. All the images of "heaven" that I had regarding streets of gold, etc. are connected to this special place that Jesus has gone to prepare in heaven for delivery to earth--the ultimate pre-fab home!
    I've spent too much time thinking of getting away from here and not enough time thinking about how God intends to fulfill the good plans that He has for the place that He created as the home for all people. What God starts, He always finishes. Not even our sin can thwart His good purposes.
    The Father was willing to send Jesus to die for us although we choose to be His enemies, reject His love and misuse His gifts. He has promised to finish the work of making His children just like Jesus. Why would we doubt that He will fulfill His purposes for all the rest of His good creation that has been polluted and abused through no choice of its own.

  13. Hello Christian,
    Yes, I have felt that way. Growing up in a 7-generation pastor/missionary family I always felt the call to full-time ministry. I was fortunate to have the influence of my wonderful earthly father who said, "Son, we're all called to full-time ministry. We were created for God's glory, so no matter what you do, make it your full-time ministry to serve the Lord." When I received Jesus at 23 and then later went into the restaurant business, I committed it to the Lord and it was my ministry. My verse for my business was John 6:27: "I work not for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life." It was only after 25 years that the Lord called me into full-time pastoral ministry.
    Thanks for the ways you bless our lives. Paul

  14. Hi Christian,
    Thanks for the invite! I'm pleased to respond to your blog. Spirituality cannot be measured by what we do, but by who we are. Our faithfulness to fully express the image of God will take all of us vocationally in different directions for each of us bears a unique aspect of God's image. God formed us before we were born, instructed parents to raise us according to our unique "bent," and desires each of us to make a complimentary, redemptive contribution to others as many members, but one body (diverse, but united).
    To compartmentalize our faith and elevate the non-material entity and pursuits over the material entity and pursuits weakens the Body.

  15. Congratulations to you Christian and to your wife on your new venture.
    I am so grateful to some special friends of mine who thought it more important to reach out from their Christian group to pattern for me what it means to be a lover of God and a lover to others who have yet to know Him. As an agnostic for 32 years, the message that God loves broken people and has promised them life to the full through his Son is indeed wonderful news. Now, through Gods mercy and grace, he has prepared me to go into the world and do life and share with other irregular people, like myself, the good news! Is there any greater pleasure?

  16. Chris,
    The reason most people use the polishing brass rationale for doing so little in our world is due to the dispensational eschatology running rampant in the churches. Christians believe they will be raptured out of the worldly mess. You bring up the commission to men to take dominion over the earth. God wants us to have victory in this world as we make disciples of the nations. I believe in the partial preterist view of eschatology which does believe that we will have the victory as we stand for the Lord. We are not just to evangelize but also live out our lives in all areas of life as disciples. As we do, God will homor such lifestyles with victories in the world. Such lifestyles require a Christian worldview as you teach about so ably.

    Great idea for a blog.

  17. T.M Moore pointed out in his ViewPoint devotional in the 4-26-09 issue that when God's people cry out that He will raise up a leader among them. And I can't remember if it was Chuck Colson or T.M. again who made the point that in every age of history God raises up a people to carry His word on. I believe that the people we are discussing here could very well be the ones in this age. People who have everyday careers making extraordinary effort to follow the calling or burden on their lives God has given them. The affect of a christian in the trenches of life reaching out to those around them is astronomical in its significance. As my wife so kindly remarked to me one day as I was agonizing over the very question, "how do I serve God when I am so involved in making a living, being a father, husband, son, son-in-law, etc.." She said "Its called Tent-making". Well I say, join me will you, Let's Tent-make.
    Thanks for the Invite Christian, the topic is encouraging.
    Josh Smith

  18. Rather than beginning with John 3--"You must be born again" or with Genesis 1--"Have dominion," I suggest we begin with John 1 and the Logos who is the Revelatory and Mediating Word of God. If we go through the Light of Life, the rest makes sense.

    One thought gained through Richard Pratt's book Designed for Dignity: Most of us probably see the image bearing task in Genesis 1 as being God's representatives--having dominion. Pratt adds the first part of the mandate "Be fruitful." He writes that part of imaging God is populating the earth with image bearers so that God's reflection is everywhere. So it's not just about having babies. It's adopting, teaching, being a youth worker--'creating' images of God in whatever way we can. The tie-in to the Great Commission is obvious. A pretty cool new insight for me.

  19. Chris:
    Thanks for the invitation; I like your blog!
    I'm much impressed lately with the significance of the way God made the world--by His Word. He maintains it also by His Word. That means He is talking to us in and through it. Think of Psalm 19 for example. Then what we do in and with it should be a response to Him. That means a deepening love for Him and for my neighbor. Keep up the good work!
    Al 8-25-09. 11:30 A.M.

  20. Al,

    I am so blessed to have you contribute! You have opened my eyes to so many of God's truths over the years.

    And I am not the only one you have touched! Hundreds (no, thousands) around the world could say the same thing.

    For those readers who may not know it, Dr. Albert E. Greene, Jr., began mentoring me in "biblical worldview" about 35 year ago, as a graduate student at Seattle Pacific University. Dr. Greene is in his 90s now.

    SO good to hear from you, Al! Please contribute again! The door is always open.

    Kathy sends her greetings.

  21. Added you to my favorites list! We keep having people read your book "Assumptions". Truly foundational stuff. Thanks.

  22. Nicely done Christian! I look forward to being part of the discussion in the years to come.


  23. Nice to read comments from old friends, as well as other thoughtful people. I was especially interested in the comments about Muslims in Africa, which we witnessed in our time there. I also recommend "Three Cups of Tea" as a book that illustrates the opportunity to combat Islam and terrorists through building schools. All very "earthly" activity with huge spiritual impact!