Monthly Archives: September 2017

Love and Work

What does love have to do with work? 

If we like to do something, we are more inclined to do it.  People who love playing the piano are more inclined to put in the effort to practice in order to be a good piano player.  People who love to do a sport, whether a team sport like basketball, or an individual sport like golf, are more willing to do the hard work necessary to excel.

This also is true for our work.  When I graduated from college, I went to work for a large international oil company in their marketing department.  After six months of going through their training program, I came to realize that I didn’t like the kind of work I would be doing and decided to resign and go to law school.  The company suggested that I work in the credit department which required no travel.  This then allowed me to go to law school in an evening program at the University of Missouri at Kansas City.

While in law school a law clerk position to one of the company attorneys opened up and I spent the next couple of years serving in that capacity.  After graduation I was offered a staff attorney position and worked in the company’s legal department for most of my 38 year career.  During this entire time I was blessed with interesting and challenging work.  I loved my work and as a result, was motivated to work hard, often putting in long hours and seeking to be the best possible attorney I was capable of being.

St. Augustine has an interesting take on the end of John’s gospel where Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him and then commands him to feed and take care of his sheep.  Augustine observes that Jesus was asking Peter how much he loved him, and then gave him work to do; “for the greater one’s love is, the easier is the work.”

Jesus knew that the work he was giving Peter of heading up his church would be difficult, require great sacrifice and eventually lead to Peter being crucified according to church tradition.   Only out of great love for Jesus and the Father, would Peter be able to do the work of feeding and taking care of God’s sheep.

God is the author of work.  He put us in the garden of his creation “to work and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:15)  He creates us with varied skills and abilities that enable us to do a vast array of tasks so that we may “take care of” and be good stewards of all the needs of creation.  Our individual work serves as a thread in the larger fabric of civilization, each thread contributing to the strength of the whole cloth.

Jesus calls us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to demonstrate that love by following him and imitating him in our actions and words. (Mark 12:30; Luke 9:23)  His love and grace lighten the burden of our work.

The more we love God, the easier the task. The more we love God, the more grace to complete the work.

A More Innocent Time

This past weekend I attended my 60th high school class reunion in Mason City, Iowa.  Mason City is a town of about 30,000 in northern Iowa, known mostly for being the model for River City in Meredith Wilson’s musical, Music Man.

Out of a class of 340, one hundred ten of us showed up from California to Virginia and Texas to Idaho.  We came to catch up with old friends, become reacquainted with others we didn’t know so well and relive memories from long ago.

What was noteworthy about our gathering was that everyone had a genuine interest in one another.  There were no agendas.  There was no competition in the sharing about family or what was going on in people’s lives.  People shared more about family than careers or past accomplishments.  There was no discussion involving politics, the public arena or world affairs.

We reminisced about a more innocent time when as children we could walk several blocks to our elementary schools without our parents and concerns for safety.  We could ride our bikes to any part of town at any time of day or night without worry of being mugged or molested.

We still said the pledge of allegiance in our schools “as one nation under God,” and we sang Christmas carols at Christmas concerts.   God was not banned from the public square and the Christmas crèche still appeared in the town’s Central Park.

We said grace at our Saturday evening dinner, and remembered the 95 members of our class who have passed from this life to the next in a beautiful slide show.

We parted Saturday evening with lots of hugs and well wishes, realizing that for those of us who came from quite a distance, it might be the last time we will see one another.

In reflecting on the weekend, what struck me was that everyone present had worked hard all their lives at whatever their occupation was, raised and loved their families to the third, and in one case, even the fourth generation.  Whatever their religious faith or background, they evidenced a belief in God.  They experienced the challenges and blessings of life, but were still motivated to do the right thing.

As the psalmist said, “You have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.” (Psalm 61:4)

St. Paul may have described the situation even better when he said, “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  So we fix our eyes on not what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  (1 Corinthians 4:16, 18)

Erroneous Presumptions

How often do we sell God short?  How often do we presume that he can’t or won’t act in a given situation?

In the Gospel of Mark, this happened with the friends of Jairus, a synagogue ruler whose twelve-year-old daughter was dying.  Jairus had come to Jesus pleading for him to come and lay hands on his daughter and heal her.  Shortly thereafter, Jairus’ friends who had been at his house came to say, “Your daughter is dead.  Why bother the teacher anymore?”

Jesus ignored the friends and said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”  Jesus then went with Jairus to his house, and found people crying and wailing loudly.  He said, “Why all this commotion and wailing?  The child is not dead but asleep.”  But they laughed at him.  He put everyone out of the house, except for Jairus, his wife, Peter, James and John.  He went to where the daughter was, took her hand, and said, “Little girl, I say to you get!” Immediately the daughter stood up and everyone was completely astonished. (Mark 5:45-56)

Like the friends of Jairus, we too, may sell God short and presume that he can’t do something or won’t act in response to our prayers.  Therefore, we forgo praying for a loved one with a serious or terminal illness; we observe the actions of a friend and presume that our prayers for conversion will have no effect; we refrain from praying that God will change the heart of an adversary, or the course of a hurricane; we neglect to ask God to give us the right words to diffuse a controversy. 

Dr. Sheri Donaldson, who specializes in physical therapy at an outpatient rehabilitation center in Phoenix, tells the following story of Ashley, a co-worker.  Ashley has to have an MRI every two years in connection with brain tumor surgery she had a few years ago.  It is always a time of anxiety for her because there was a piece of the tumor that could not be reached in the surgery and continues to be seen on the MRI.  She always fears that a new MRI may show the tumor growing.

When the time came for Ashley to have another MRI, Sheri asked a small group of women that she meets with every Wednesday to pray in the name of Jesus that the tumor would be gone.  It just so happened that Sheri got to see Ashley just before she left for her appointment.  “I kept asking the Lord,” Sheri said, “if the he really wanted me to share our prayer with her and literally put my hand on her forehead.  I didn’t want to hurt her with an incorrect word.  Well, there she was, all by herself, telling me it was time and looking very nervous.  I shared with her that our group had prayed that the MRI would show that the tumor would be gone.  Then I placed my hand on her forehead and blessed her. She gave me a hug and went out the door.

“The next time we saw each other, I was walking down the hallway past her office when she yelled, ‘Sheri, the tumor is gone!’”

Sheri concludes, “This experience has also had an impact on me.  I am much more alert to whether the Lord wants me to reach out to others and be available to talk with them and to pray with them if the need arises. (Hope for the Workplace, p.105-106)

“Don’t be afraid,” Jesus says. “Just believe.”

Light Piercing Darkness

Jay's Evacuation,IMG_8523For more than a week we have been seeing pictures out of Houston of a veritable flotilla of flat bottom boats rescuing people stranded in their homes by the rising waters of Hurricane Harvey.

This became personal to me when I learned last week that my brother, Jay and his wife Sharon, were among those that needed to be rescued from their home in the suburb of Kingwood.  What made this particularly challenging is that my brother is wheel chair bound with a serious heart condition and a medical pack continuously delivering medication to his heart, further complicated by a broken hip. 

Through a remarkable set of circumstances it appears that God’s protective arm was always close at hand.  Fortunately, my brother’s daughter, Chris was at their house as the waters started to rise and approach the front doorstep.  She happened to look out the front of the house and saw a man in a boat proceeding down their street.  She hailed him down and said she needed help in evacuating her parents.  She explained that my brother could not get out of his wheel chair, and somehow had to be lifted into the boat, wheel chair and all.

She was told not to worry, that he would go get help.  He returned with three other men who lifted my brother and his wheel chair into the boat.  They then walked the boat through a swift current to higher ground quite some distance away.

God’s provision for Jay and Sharon did not end with the rescue.  Friends from their church took them in and gave up their first floor master bedroom.  A co-worker of their daughter referred them to a contractor who specializes in flood cleanup and restoration whom they were able to hire immediately instead of ending up on some other contractor’s waiting list.

The water reached five feet in their first floor, destroying nearly all furniture, appliances, personal possessions, and their car.  The furniture and other items tumbled from room to room.  Almost nothing was found in the room in which it had been placed.  Yesterday as the workmen and their daughters were cleaning up, someone brought a large bucket with the label, “The Blessing Bucket from God’s Pit Crew” with the following message, “We pray that the contents will bless you.”  Among the contents was a new NIV Bible, the very kind of Bible Sharon lost in the flood.

One final vignette…Sharon  had a couple of electronic candles on high book shelves beside the fire place that could be turned on by a remote control.  As the workmen were cleaning up yesterday, a couple of the candles came on and started to flicker.  The remote was nowhere to be found.  No one knows how they came on.   Sharon thought the candles were letting the workmen know that in spite of all that has happened, the light of Christ was still present.  The number of volunteers and circumstances would seem to confirm his presence.

“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.” (Matthew  25:35-36)