Working for God, Inc.

Don’t You Have to Be a Pastor to Serve God??

When I first became a follower of Christ, I was young and foolish and in high school. At the time, I was trying to decide what to major in as I was preparing to launch into college and from there, into the rest of my life. A heady challenge for a 17-year old. Anyway, for a brief period of time, I had made up my mind to become a pastor, maybe because a youth pastor had helped me navigate the thorny path I was hacking my way through in order to find answers to even more important life questions, such as:

  • Who is God? Is He important in my life? If so, why?
  • How do you count Him? Is he one or is He three? And why does that matter?
  • Why have so many rotten things been done in His name? Are those things His fault?

OK, well, now that I’ve brought these little questions up, I’m going to move on since they are beside the point I’m wandering toward.

So, what is the point? I’ll get there, but the reason I bring up this decision to become a pastor is because at the time, when I was a baby Christian, I thought you needed to work as a pastor in order to serve God with the abilities He gave you. I chuckle at that naïve notion now (like so many things I was convinced of in high school).

What I’ve learned since is that God does in fact want us to use the skills, abilities, experiences, and opportunities He has given us to serve Him wherever He has placed us. This does not have to be in a job that appears to be related to the church in any way. In fact, the Apostle Paul wrote about this on several occasions, including:

Borrowed from YouVersion: https://my.bible.com/verse-of-the-day/COL.3.23/56515?version=111

And:

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Paul, in his letter to the Romans (12:4-8, NIV)

At some point in my career and growth as a Christ-follower, these truths became evident to me. Ever since then, I have tried my best to work and lead in my secular jobs in a way that glorifies God and, in my own little way, further advances God’s Kingdom here on earth. Like the saying goes, What people see in me may be the closest thing some people see to the Bible. If that’s the case, I realized, I’d better make sure that my treatment of people is interwoven with the same respect and love that Jesus showed them when He died on the cross for them before they even knew Him.

It’s a tall order, for sure, and impossible for someone like me to carry out on my own, so I thank God for His grace and patience with me every time I fall short. And I am learning to thank Him also for putting me in difficult and challenging situations, giving me greater opportunities to depend on Him to bring me through them while (hopefully) looking more like a light in the darkness than the darkness itself.

Wait, you mean thank Him for tough situations? Well, yeah. Nobody (especially not God) ever said this would be easy. And I did say I’m still learning…

Anyway, all of this is my way of meandering to the answer to my initial question: No, you do not need to be a pastor to serve God. We all can and should serve with excellence wherever we are working as though we work for God. You never know how or when or with whom God will use our meager offerings to bring someone with into relationship with Him.

Caution: Be Careful What You Ask For

There’s something to keep in mind here, though. If you pray about serving God, His answer may not be what you expect (which is true of any conversation we have with God). Sure, it might just be helping you to keep doing what you’re doing, only better (since you’re doing it for God’s glory). But God may also take you places or into roles you never anticipated.

Think about it. Jesus turned fishermen and a tax collector into authors, leaders, and preachers, none of which had probably been part of their career plans. He took a Pharisee who was trying to kill Christ followers and turned him into the most prolific author in the New Testament, proclaiming the very Gospel he had been trying to eradicate.

God’s answers to our prayers often look strange to us. But that’s OK with God, even if it makes us think He’s not answering.

So just be aware that when you talk to God about this, He just might answer you! So buckle up and enjoy the exciting ride into the unknown!

Perspective from a New Friend

The term “God, Inc.” was brought to my attention (and possibly coined) by someone with whom I have recently become acquainted, Chad Burmeister. I thought I’d take a moment to write about him and how he approaches this idea of working for God in the secular workspace (so it’s not just me talking about my experience with this).

As one of the most recent steps in his distinguished career trajectory, in 2017 Chad founded and is CEO of ScaleX.ai, which offers a tool leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to help companies of all sizes grow sales. I recently had an opportunity to interview him for a side business I’m working on. As it happens (well, actually, I don’t believe in coincidences, so it must be a God thing), some of his answers fit in well with this blog, hence my reason for bringing him up here.

Although Chad serves God faithfully in his secular company, he also felt called to start up two additional faith-based companies. The first is a non-profit and podcast called “Living a Better Story“, which asks the question, “You’re living a good story, but what if you could be living a better one?” The second is a recently launched and exciting mobile app called 77Pray, which is creating a network of followers of Christ encouraging and praying for one another with the goal of growing closer to God. The “77” refers to Matthew 7:7:

Borrowed from YouVersion: https://my.bible.com/verse-of-the-day/MAT.7.7/46342?version=111

I have downloaded the app and subscribed. It’s really exciting to see Believers networking in this way and for this purpose! It’s definitely worth checking out. Go Chad!

Anyway, as you can imagine, I have developed a great deal of respect for my new friend Chad. Here are a few of the really cool thoughts Chad shared with me in our interview which, among other things, inspired me to publish this particular blog (all quotes are copyright © 2021 by Chad Burmeister).

When I asked him about living out his faith in the secular business world, this is how he responded:

There are people who want to see you succeed and those who want to see you fail (it must make them feel better). To me, when you focus on listening to God, and doing work for his Kingdom (heaven on earth), and when you see things happen for his glory, it’s truly rewarding.

Chad Burmeister

I love that, “when you see things happen for his glory, it’s truly rewarding”. How’s that for a performance bonus? When I asked him how he came to be someone who takes action to shape his life into what he wants it to be and why he thinks others don’t do that, he said,

God didn’t create everyone to take action. He created all of us with unique traits that can be leveraged into the whole. That said, what I’ve found is that it helps to 1) complete your past, 2) tell the truth about your current reality, and 3) live a better story. Many of us live in the past or worry too much about the future (me included). Living A Better Story was purpose built to help people solve for that.

Chad Burmeister

Finally, I asked Chad what he looks forward to in the future. This was his response:

Working for God. When you work for a company, or even yourself, it’s not as rewarding as knowing you are employed by God, Inc. Seriously, think about that for a minute. I’ve interviewed 50+ people on the Living A Better Story podcast, a few of them said they actually “work for God”. I love the sound of that, and so now I do too!

Chad Burmeister

Obviously the term “God, Inc.” really resonated with me since I named this blog post after it!

So that’s it for today. We should all go forth and do great things to further the advance of heaven on earth in the service of the most loyal and sacrificial boss ever!

Posted in Christian, Faith | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

There’s Only One Metahuman

A guy I connected with recently in association with my “day job” and other endeavors recommended that I read Deepak Chopra’s book, “Metahuman“. My new friend is a very smart guy and is also a follower of Christ, so I took up his suggestion. I finished the book today, and immediately afterward, felt compelled (maybe called by God?) to write about it in my blog post for the week. So here I am. And I think there’s a reason why I felt compelled to write about, which I’ll explain in a little bit.

I found the book to be engaging and challenging (meaning, not for the faint of heart and not a light read to wrap up your summer reading list). Dr. Chopra’s basic assertion in the book is that whether we realize it or not, we are all part of a universal consciousness, which is responsible for the creation of actual reality. This is in contrast to what he refers to as the virtual reality in which we generally live and allow ourselves to accept as true reality. Dr. Chopra invites readers to awaken from our virtual reality, and in so doing, open the door to becoming “metahuman” (leveraging the Greek word, “meta,” which means “beyond”), which is to say that we tap into our unlimited potential via our connectedness to this universal consciousness.

As a child, Chopra attended Catholic school in New Delhi, India. Being in India, he also learned the Indian traditions and Hindu stories. And in the process of studying to become a medical doctor, he naturally engaged in a great deal of scientific learning and research. Interestingly, though, his mystical and metaphysical approach that led him to this idea of a universal consciousness flies in the face of Christianity, Hinduism, and even the modern-day religion of science.

For anyone who has seen the movie “The Matrix”, the journey to enlightenment Chopra describes in this book feels like the red pill/blue pill speech that Morpheus gives to Neo.

Borrowed from Pinterest: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/f3/a9/83/f3a9835cf584a51d4ce35bc1edc32948.jpg

I actually think Chopra has a lot of great ideas in this book. I believe there is something like a universal consciousness that can help us live beyond ourselves and achieve great things we never thought possible. But here’s the thing: we call that God.

There have been countless documented cases of people tapping into God’s power through prayer and accomplishing supernatural outcomes, which we call miracles.

Chopra joins others from secular society who lump Christianity in with all other world religions, which they characterize using terms like old-fashioned, superstition, and mythology. But these are people who, if they have even bothered to investigate that which they seem to have all figured out, may have learned about God, which misses the mark entirely. It is less important to God that we know all about Him than it is that we know Him. Ours is not a God whom we use to magically explain all the things we don’t understand. In fact, anyone who knows Him knows that it’s not really important to Him that we understand the world or everything He is up to.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV)

The previous paragraph sounds much more bitter than I had intended. I just can’t think of a good way to make my point without using such stark language. I have to confess, as a human being, I sometimes get frustrated with the way secular society characterizes followers of Christ as morons who are stuck in the dark ages. But this blog is not a place for me to express my grievances; it is meant only to be a place where I encourage Believers (including myself) with the messages God puts on my heart. So I am calling myself out here the way Jesus would, quoting the verses immediately preceding the one I just included above:

Seek the Lord
while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

Isaiah 55:6-7 (NIV)

OK, so I am reminded that I need to pray for people who haven’t yet turned to God.

Returning to “Metahuman”, in my humble opinion, the biggest problem with this book is that Chopra is inviting people to tap into the spiritual power of the universal consciousness (God) without the knowledge of good and evil that only God possesses. The enlightenment one achieves in the process of becoming metahuman knows no morality since the concepts of good and evil are human constructs created to govern what he refers to as the virtual reality we all inhabit. This is scary.

It didn’t go so well for that last one who tried to call himself equal with God without being “weighed down” by morality. God changed his name from Lucifer to Satan and kicked him and his buddies out of heaven. Here is someone who had celebrated being in the presence of God with the other angels, but in the end he wanted the power of God more than he wanted to be in relationship with God.

That’s how strong the allure is of trying to achieve this god-like state.

But does this mean that God does not want us to tap into His great power? Certainly not!

He sent us His Son, the only true metahuman who is at the same time just human, to show us how to tap into God’s power simply by being in relationship with Him. Jesus didn’t use magic tricks–he used prayer to tap into the Father’s power. Here’s an example when he raised Lazarus from the dead:

Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

Jesus, in John 11:41

And he told us that we can do the same thing:

“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Jesus, in Matthew 17:20 (NIV)

“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

Jesus, in John 14:12-14 (NIV)

So that’s it. This is why I felt compelled to write this post today. Jesus is the only true metahuman, but he can guide us safely on the path toward a faith that enables us to tap into the power of God. That is awakening; it is the true enlightenment this world needs.

The question is, who will take the red pill so they can understand the Truth?

Posted in Christian, Faith, Miracles | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Power of One + God

This post serves as an exclamation point of encouragement to follow my submissions over the last two weeks, in which I talked about the challenge of trying to be God’s light in the darkness of this world when we can’t even get out of our own way. The goal of this blog, after all, is to both challenge us (myself included) and to encourage us (also inclusive of me) as we take up the tall order of trying to bring God’s blessings to those we encounter in our daily lives. So I want to make sure to serve a healthy dose of encouragement today.

And here’s the thing: God takes every offering we give, no matter how meager or faulty or awkward, and multiplies it for His greater purposes. He polishes it, patiently smoothing out the rough edges to create a work of art greater than what we could have done on our own.

We are all incomplete jigsaw puzzles. God, in a combination of His great power and His great love for us, fills in all the missing pieces to make us whole. This is God’s plan to help each of us limp across the finish line of this broken world carrying all of our hurts and fears and other imperfections until we are renewed and restored in His presence to who He intended us to be.

The Apostle Paul describes it like this in his second letter to the church at Corinth. He mentions the mysterious thorn in his flesh, which he asked God three times to heal. This is the response he received from God:

Borrowed from YouVersion: https://my.bible.com/verse-of-the-day/2CO.12.9/2190?version=111

And in a very typical Paul fashion, this is the conclusion he reaches:

Borrowed from YouVersion: https://my.bible.com/verse-of-the-day/2CO.12.9/24414?version=111

All this is to say that God’s power is more than enough to work in us and through us despite whatever frailties or other limitations we bring to the equation. Thank God for that!

Here’s how Paul summarizes this great news in another of his letters:

Bible Verse of the Day - day 214 - image 472 (Philippians 4:13)
Borrowed from YouVersion: https://my.bible.com/verse-of-the-day/PHP.4.13/472?version=111

Moving back in time to the Old Testament, the Prophet Isaiah also had something to say about God’s power and strength working in and through us when we serve Him:

Borrowed from YouVersion: https://my.bible.com/verse-of-the-day/ISA.40.31/393?version=111

OK, one more quotation about this, but this time not from the Bible. It comes from a Christian author I enjoy, Annie Dillard:

Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.”

Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters (New York: Harper & Row, 1982), pp. 40-41. With thanks to PaulVK, in whose blog I located the version of this quote I like best.

Here’s the bottom line: if we make ourselves living offerings to God–which is really just another way of saying that we do everything in our daily lives in such a way that it glorifies Him and shows Him our gratitude for all that He has done for us–He will take what little we have to offer and multiply it many times over. So we don’t have to worry about our own strength (or lack thereof), but rather we can depend on God’s power to achieve great things for His kingdom through us!

How great is our God??

Posted in Christian, Faith | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Light in Our Own Darkness, Part 2

Yes, God whispers. But although He may not usually speak loudly to us, He will sometimes whisper the same thing to us twice. Or three times. Or three thousand.

Until we finally catch on.

He’s patient that way. And maddeningly polite–where we would like for Him to whack us on the head with an umbrella and shout into our ears the answers to our prayers and explanations for all the other stuff that doesn’t make sense, He instead forces us to focus on Him, to concentrate on discerning His quiet voice through the din and clanging of this world. This is our God, who chose to speak to Elijah in a still small voice instead of a mighty wind, earthquake, or fire (1 Kings 19:12).

I’ll apologize in advance for taking such a meandering path to get to my point today, but writing the previous paragraph reminded me of a very old Swedish man I played chess against a long, long time ago in a place far, far way–sometime in the last century, in fact, in a fabled land known as California. This ancient Swede had lost most of his teeth, and maybe even most of his English words. He spoke animatedly to me during our match. Trouble was, I could hardly make out a word of what he was saying. OK, here’s a confession long overdue: I really didn’t understand anything he said. Not a mumble. I wasn’t convinced he was actually even trying to speak English. So I politely nodded my head and laughed occasionally, trying my best to give the impression that I was fluent in toothless Swedish muttering.

Anyway, here’s the point of that little detour: how often do we politely nod and laugh occasionally to try to give the impression that we are fluent in the whisperings of God?

And, actually, that’s not even my point for today. Here’s where I was going with all this: I think, but I can’t be sure, that God whispered something to me week, and I believe I am supposed to share it here with you.

Last week I wrote about the dark rivers we all have running through our hearts. And try as we may, we can’t seem to vanquish them altogether, due mostly to our fallen nature, and with slimy assists from Satan, who would like nothing more than to knock us off our trajectories toward heaven.

person standing and looking at moon
Photo by Tony Detroit on Unsplash

Then this past week, in my journey through the Bible with Brian Hardin and the Daily Audio Bible family, one of the readings included Romans 7. This is the passage where Paul–the Apostle Paul, who wrote at least half of the New Testament–laments about his sinful nature:

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

Apostle Paul in Romans 7:14-25

So what’s the message here? There are 2 key points:

  1. Although God would never wink and look the other way while we sin, He does remind us here that even someone as great as Paul grappled with the dark river running through his heart. Meaning, even though we should seek His help to turn away from sin, when we do give in to our sinful nature, we should remember to turn to God in confession. And when we do that, we should forgive ourselves because He has forgiven us. But remember, we cannot take this as a carte blanche pass to keep on sinning (Paul talks about this as well).
  2. Although God would never wink and look the other way while we sin, He does ultimately deliver us from the eternal punishment we deserve by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ our Lord! I know this theme is sort of woven through item #1, but it’s such important great news that it bears repeating on its own.

So that’s it, the good news–the Gospel–boiled down to its core: God loves us so much that He gave us a ticket out of our vicious cycle of sin, at the cost of His own Son. We have only to accept the gift of grace and mercy.

book of John page
Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash

If this offer to save us from ourselves doesn’t convince this ailing world how much God loves us, I don’t know what will.

Posted in Christian, Faith | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Light in Our Own Darkness

We are called by our God to, each in our own way and as His ambassadors, be a light in the darkness of this world. The good news–and at the same time, the challenge–about this is that we each are imperfect reflections of our all-powerful and always-perfect God. Jars of clay who have been dashed against the stone floor of our sin and brokenness and are slowly being rebuilt into something more closely resembling Jesus.

So, hopefully, we try to be God’s light in the darkness at our workplaces, in our neighborhoods, on social media. For our friends and, yes, even (or especially!) with our families. Sometimes we succeed in clear and direct ways, small and large. Other times we crash and burn–or think we do–and perhaps wonder why we even tried. Maybe God can’t use me after all…

But here’s the thing:

  1. God loves to work through people who seem to be unlikely conduits of His Love, Grace, or Action. Moses was a murderer. King David was, too, and added adulterer to his resume. Jonah really didn’t want to help the people of Nineveh be saved from destruction. The Apostle Peter was so impetuous, he seemed to act first, then think later. Paul tried to do away with followers of Christ. Yet God used all of these people in powerful ways. If He used them, He can use you and me. It’s not about what we can do, it’s about what God can achieve working through us when we cooperate with him.
  2. God can take our failures and work beautiful miracles through them. So even though our efforts may not lead the the outcomes that we expected, they can lead to the outcomes God intended, which is better in the end anyway.

OK, so all this so far is about us being imperfect, flickering candles illuminating the darkness in the world around us.

But what about the darkness that wells up all to easily within us? We each have dark rivers flowing within our hearts. And to be clear, I’m not pointing the finger at any individual–this is all of us, including me. Jesus was the only perfect human being who ever lived. So the rest of us are stuck battling it out in the gap between who we want to be and who we really are.

I am trying my hardest, begging for help from God, to be a better human, the person He sees me become when I reach my final destination, in His presence. Some moments of some days, I feel myself growing in that direction, I feel Him working in me and through me, drawing me closer to Him.

But then there are other moments… I sometimes think to myself, How could I be so close, walking in lock-step with God one moment, only to get distracted and fall away a few moments later?

That’s the evil one at work. A lion, as Peter put it, prowling around looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). The master deceiver, he is quite skilled at distracting us from our mission of loving God and loving others. And he should be good at it–he’s been at it for thousands of years, starting with Adam and Eve in Eden.

It would help us all to remember that the closer we become to resembling Jesus, the more the enemy hates that. So the more he will attack us to try to knock us off the narrow road toward heaven and God’s presence upon which we now journey. The sobering flip side of this is that if you don’t feel under some sort of spiritual attack by the evil one, it may mean the he doesn’t see you as a threat to his kingdom of darkness.

But make no mistake: we cannot use that as an excuse for bad behavior, for giving in to sin. As Jesus’ brother James warns us:

Borrowed from YouVersion: https://my.bible.com/verse-of-the-day/JAS.4.7/651?version=111

So what are we to make of this pickle we’re in? We want to stay close to God and bring his Light to the darkness of the world, yet we struggle with the darkness within us, which threatens to undermine our closeness to God and anything we try to do in His name.

Well, for one thing, here’s some good news for us: God’s grace and love abound. They are more than enough to cover ALL of our imperfections and failures as though they never happened. There is nothing that makes gratitude overflow from my heart more than that. He takes our feeble, inept attempts at shining His light in the darkness and turns them into floodlights illuminating His glory and compassion for this world.

lighthouse photograph
Photo by Clement Souchet on Unsplash

There’s a Japanese saying I like: “Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight.” Borrowing that for the purpose of my message here, picture God saying to us, “Sin seven times, be forgiven eight.” God’s love and mercy for us overflows whatever we can ask or imagine.

left human palm close-up photography
Photo by Dyu – Ha on Unsplash

And here’s one more thing. I have sometimes wondered why God doesn’t allow those of us who want to live in close relationship with Him to stop sinning once and for all. I mean, why wouldn’t God want to grant us this request? Evidently, King David wondered something similar to this when he wrote Psalm 139:

Borrowed from YouVersion: https://my.bible.com/verse-of-the-day/PSA.139.24/697?version=111

He follows this up with the request, “See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:24 (NIV))

Here’s my theory about this: I believe that if God granted our request never to sin again, we would eventually end up believing that we ourselves are responsible for our sinlessness instead of giving God the glory and thanks for that.

And here is why I believe this. When His people were wandering in the desert for 40 years, as recounted in Numbers, God gave them manna to eat, but only enough for one day at a time. Jesus, in giving us the Lord’s Prayer, taught us to ask for our daily bread. I think that at least part of the reason He gives us things only in small doses is to help us remember that He is the only source of Life and everything glorious and worthwhile that we have. This helps us resist the temptation to believe that we can achieve anything important and eternal without Him.

That, my friends, is a blessing, since it keeps us aware of how much we need God. He’s much better at being God than we are!

Posted in Christian, Faith | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

The One with All the Answers

Yesterday I had the opportunity to participate in the self-inflicted punishment known as “golf” (coincidentally, a four-letter word) with my son-in-law and a friend of his. Ever since I started having kids, golf became only an occasional pastime for me, so I generally subscribe to the quote, “Golf is a good walk spoiled” (which is usually incorrectly attributed to Mark Twain, according to Quote Investigator, who seems to indicate that it’s best to attribute it to no one–i.e., anonymous).

person holding golf club
Photo by Christoph Keil on Unsplash

So even though my golf game is dreadful, I nevertheless make my best attempt to not let it spoil my walk. I intentionally take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of nature (since I’m usually in amongst trees or by the water!), the glorious sunshine, fresh air, Colorado’s azure summertime sky. While this practice doesn’t improve my score (and may even make it worse), it does make it so I savor such outings regardless of the (very big and bad) number on my scorecard.

green grass field near green trees under white sky during daytime
Photo by Matthew McBrayer on Unsplash

During yesterday’s round, a gentle breeze carried a seed for a cottonwood tree right past me, floating and twirling freely yet aimlessly. This made me think of us–you and me, our society.

Each one of us floats freely yet aimlessly through our lives, like the cottonwood seed. They all land eventually, and so do we. But which ones actually take root and are grounded strong enough to become a tall, majestic cottonwood tree?

Photo by Simon Rae on Unsplash

It all depends on the soil we find.

This in turn relies on whom we pose our life questions to.

Some people ask “the universe”, and when they hear nothing in return, either conclude there is no God or perhaps concede that there is some sort of formless, nameless spiritual force working in random ways in the world.

“The universe” is not the place to go for answers. Space is, by definition, void.

There are those who may have had some sense that there is a God, but they end up trusting what their secular friends say about this more than what they learned from their parents or in Sunday school. Maybe they believe their bad experiences in life, some of which may involve Christians behaving badly (sadly, all too common an occurrence), and conclude there can’t possibly be a loving God who allows all these bad things to happen to them or in this world.

Friends who claim to have all the answers but really don’t are not a good place to go with your life questions.

One big temptation in our culture is to chase after fame and fortune to answer our life questions. There is nothing wrong with fame and fortune in and of themselves, but when we believe that the answers to life’s important questions can be found in them, they turn into idols. Similarly, when we worship those who have achieved them (actors and actresses, star athletes, politicians–the list goes on) and believe everything they say as the gospel truth, we have placed too much faith in people who are as broken as we are (sometimes more so). The actor Jim Carrey, a modern-day Solomon (who had it all and then nearly lost it all from looking for answers in all the wrong places), had this to say about it:

The World Best Quotes: "I hope everybody could get rich and famous and will have everything they ...
Borrowed from theworldbestquotes.blogspot.com

Evidently, life’s answers are not to be found in fame or fortune.

Some people ask their life questions of social media. Those who look here for answers find an endless variety of guidance, much of which is utter nonsense. But there are also nuggets of truth to be found (like here in this blog!). The trouble is, how is anyone supposed to sort out which answers are rooted in Truth and which are rubbish?

My observation is that it has turned into an echo chamber–people believe whatever they want to believe and post vitriolic responses to others who say things contrary to what they want to hear. Another thought is that there is a strong temptation to explore and believe nearly anything so long as it departs from the Judeo-Christian values upon which this country was founded. This makes me think of this admonition from the Apostle Peter:

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

1 Peter 5:8 (NIV)
brown lion
Photo by Keyur Nandaniya on Unsplash

It would appear, then, that social media is not the place to go for answers since most of them are ridiculous and clearly not life-giving.

So here’s the thing: God is still God. God is still in control, regardless of what it seems like in the news (who mainly report stories of the evil one’s sneaky and nefarious actions in the world and largely ignore endless good being done in the name of God around the world).

We already know how the story ends.

But why is that? Why us?

Because we know where to go for answers.

God is the Answer Man, and we have the faith to believe that. We have learned to trust in the Lord with all our heart and not to lean on our own understanding, as Solomon suggested:

Borrowed from YouVersion: https://my.bible.com/verse-of-the-day/PRO.3.5/10780?version=111

Trust in the Lord
with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV, emphasis added)

We have learned or will learn that when God appears to not answer our prayers, he really is in the process of answering them or has already answered them. Sometimes (often) the answer may not look like what we hoped or expected, but then we remember that he is God and we are not. His ways are higher than our ways and sometimes (often) beyond our comprehension. We have learned or will learn that sometimes the answer is “no”, instead of mistaking that as not an answer.

I am confident that anyone who investigates the Bible with an open mind will realize that it is the source of Truth and Life, and that God has all the answers to our life questions. This is true even of avowed atheists, such as what happened with Lee Strobel (who chronicled his journey in his book, “The Case for Christ”) and C.S. Lewis (famous for his “Chronicles of Narnia” books, he tells the story of his journey from atheist to believer in “Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life”).

So in the end, the only way an aimless seed builds roots deep enough to sustain a thriving tree is to find its way into fertile, life-giving soil. If you are a follower of Christ, you are there. And now your calling (and mine), among other things, is to help others find the truth of that nourishing soil of our God, the One with All the Answers.

grayscale photography of dandelion flower
Photo by Herbert Goetsch on Unsplash

Author’s note: the links I provided in the above post to the books by Lee Strobel and C.S. Lewis are affiliate links. What this means is that if you follow one of these links, you will be taken to the Amazon store for an internet venture I have started up on the side. If you purchase one of the books, that company will receive a very small commission. This will be at no extra cost to you–the transaction will look exactly the same to you as if you went directly to Amazon and purchased it there. Although I have no intention of trying to monetize this blog, I thought there would be no harm in including links like this since there is no impact to you. However, in the spirit of transparency, I nevertheless wanted to mention that this was the case. If this is offensive to you, please let me know by leaving a (hopefully polite) comment, and of course, feel free to avoid following the links.

Posted in Christian, Faith | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Declaration of Dependence

Here in the USA, July 4th marks the date our nation was founded. 245 years ago, 13 small colonies banded together to defiantly shake their collective fist in the face of the King of England, who at the time was the biggest bully on the planet. And against all odds, this young nation survived the onslaught that volleyed forth from the greatest military in the world.

The fact that America began with the signing of the Declaration of Independence by representatives from these 13 original colonies has perhaps to some extent caused the notion of independence to become highly prized in our culture. To one degree or another, many of us like to not depend on anyone else for anything. We don’t like to be told what to do. We are the Marlboro Man or Amelia Earhart.

To depend on someone else is a sign of weakness.

Or is it?

It may surprise many of us who have not read the Declaration of Independence since middle school or high school (if ever) that our precious founding document ends with this sentence:

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

from the U.S. Declaration of Independence (emphasis added)

Wait a minute. So, we’re supposed to rely (depend) on God for his providence and protection?

I guess we’re not so independent after all–only independent from the tyranny of England’s King George III.

And here’s another thing: in addition to the need to return to needing God as a nation, if the isolation over the past year (plus) due to COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is this:

We need each other, too.

girl holding umbrella on grass field
Photo by J W on Unsplash

Evidently, the founding fathers thought so as well, since they ended our nation’s founding document with a statement confirming that our lives and fortunes are inextricably intertwined. Meaning, we need each other.

Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

So, to summarize, our nation’s foundational document declares our independence from England but dependence on God and each other.

Oh, OK, I’m good with that. What about you?

Copyright © 2021 by David K. Carpenter Photography
Posted in Christian, Faith | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Hand in Hand

Copyright © 2021 by David K. Carpenter Photography

In church today, as I stood there holding my wife’s hand, it occurred to me how funny it is that our hands line up the way they do, given that I’m almost a foot taller than she is. This must have been part of God’s design for us, that our hands would line up when hanging at our sides no matter how tall we are.

This also got me thinking about references to God holding our hands. In Psalm 73, Asaph (the author) speaks lovingly about God for helping him resist the temptation to envy wicked people who seemed to be prospering without fearing the Lord:

Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:23-26 (NIV, emphasis added)

The picture the poet is painting here is of God standing by our side, always helping us. The love language is something I would like to have come up with to utter to my wife–in other words, very intimate and grateful for the steady presence by my side.

So in a sense, even though God is infinitely taller than I am, his arms are just the right length so that my hand slides comfortably into his.

How cool is that?

Also, there must be a reason why Asaph mentions that God holds him by his right hand. Asaph was a worship leader during the time of Kings David and Solomon. I wonder if this could have been the reason why he mentioned his right hand: soldiers in those days generally held their weapons in their right hands, so by referring to God holding his right hand, I wonder if he was alluding to the fact that God is his protector, so while holding onto God’s hand, he wouldn’t need a weapon. Asaph himself may not have been a soldier, but it seems possible that everyone hearing this song could have made the connection.

Or perhaps this: a musician generally needs her/his right hand to play her/his instrument. In this case, the reference could have been to stop whatever it is you are doing when the opportunity presents itself to take God’s hand and thank him for his steady and strong presence in our lives.

One more possibility: since the next verse refers to God’s guidance, I wonder if this couldn’t also hint at a willingness to follow wherever God leads and guides us to go. Hopefully all of us, at one time or another when we were very young, felt the loving grip of a parent’s hand around ours, leading us away from danger and toward safety. Of course, sometimes that safety may have looked like danger to us–a doctor’s or dentist’s office, a first day of school–but we went because that’s where mom or dad was leading us.

That sounds strangely like being open to going wherever God wants us to go….

Posted in Christian, Faith | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

4 Things I Learned About God from Being a Dad

There can, of course, never be any comparison between my fathering skills and those of our Heavenly Father, so I’m not trying to draw any such parallel. That out of the way, I’ll point out a few lessons I’ve learned about God from my 26+ years of fatherhood.

Me and my family enjoying the Colorado mountains. I always say that the gray in my beard is a gift from my wife and kids, but they don’t think I’m all that funny
This is the day we added a son-in-law to our crew
That’s me ducking to make sure I don’t block the view of Neuschwanstein castle in Germany

1. I did the best I could raising my children, then I turned them loose on the world

God has blessed me with 3 children, and now he has thrown a son-in-law into the mix. With my 3 kids, I wish I could say I always did everything right as their dad, but that would be a dad-sized fib. Regardless, within my own constraints as a broken person living in a broken world, I did the best I could to raise them with all the love and patience I could muster. My wife and I tried to teach them and model for them good behavior, showing love and grace for others as much as we could.

But then there came various times in their lives as they grew up that we had to take them somewhere and leave them there, temporarily abandoning them to someone else’s care–a teacher, a friend’s mom, a coach, etc. This was a challenge for many reasons, not the least of which was that we hoped they would exhibit appropriate behavior, such as do the right thing even when we weren’t there to watch them and nudge them in that direction.

So, God pursues us and draws into his presence. As we grow in relationship with him, he guides us and stretches us and teaches us to do the right thing even when nobody is looking. I can imagine him holding his breath the first time we are doing something to serve him. “Oh, I hope he remembers to say thank you…” or (maybe more accurately) “Gosh, I hope he doesn’t screw this up…

2. I long to help them when they struggle, but it’s usually best for them if I wait for them to ask for help

Anyone who has ever been a parent has surely experienced this. Although we didn’t usually cause the challenges they faced, our children nevertheless encountered many obstacles throughout their youth. As older, more experienced humans, we usually knew what to do to fix those situations for them. Thankfully, though, we usually managed to keep ourselves from doing so, knowing that if we always fixed everything for them, they wouldn’t know how to look after themselves when they reached adulthood.

Similarly, God usually hasn’t caused the messes we find ourselves in. And no matter how much we beg him to fix them for us, he most often gives us the tools we need to solve the problems ourselves (and/or blesses us with others to help us through them), enabling us to grow and hopefully make better decisions going forward. As the Apostle Paul put it:

Bible Verse of the Day - day 173 - image 5759 (Romans 5:4)
Borrowed from YouVersion: https://www.bible.com/verse-of-the-day/ROM.5.4/5759?version=111

3. I want to be in relationship with them because they like being around me, not because of what I can do for them

Although we all have our moments, I generally genuinely like being with these people I had a hand in creating and raising. One of the hardest things about being a parent, in my experience, has been teaching them and shaping them to prepare them to one day leave us. But my hope has always been that we would have a good enough relationship that they would still want to spend time with me occasionally. While I feel like I do have good relationships with them, I also feel like with two out of the three of them, the only time I really hear from them is when they need something from me. I am always glad to help them, but it still breaks my heart that this is the only time they reach out to me.

Hmm, so I wonder how God feels when the only time we talk to him is when we need something from him. What he has done for us and what he is to us are infinitely more than what I have done for my kids and what I am to them, so it’s easy to imagine that his heart breaks infinitely more than mine does when I feel like only a resource to my kids.

Although this is not in the Bible, the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks the question, “What is the chief end of man?” The answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” (emphasis added)

Yes, I believe strongly that God wants us to enjoy him. Although we should still revere and respect him as the Powerful Creator of the Universe, we should also want to spend time with him because we enjoy him. There must be a reason why Jesus referred to God the Father using the intimate term, “Abba”, which in Aramaic was something akin to “Daddy.”

If enjoyment is not part of your relationship with God to the point where you want to spend time with him, then I suggest you ask him to help you find that with him.

4. I love them no matter what

Each of my kids and I have gone through some rough patches (some rougher than others). But at the end of it all, I still love them. While I may not always like them (or, more accurately, the things they do or say), I can’t imagine there is anything they could ever do that would make it so I don’t love them.

And if I–an imperfect man–feel this way about my kids, just imagine how our Perfect God feels about us, his children. Actually, we don’t have to imagine since he showed us:

Bible Verse of the Day - day 173 - image 510 (Romans 5:8)
Borrowed from YouVersion: https://www.bible.com/verse-of-the-day/ROM.5.8/510?version=111

Posted in Christian, Faith | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

I am God’s Little Toe, Which Means I Can Do a Lot

I had the honor and privilege to officiate my niece’s wedding over the weekend. I was not an ordained pastor, so I went through the process of getting ordained online. While opportunities for humor abound in this scenario (I couldn’t stop thinking of Joey in “Friends” as I was going through the ordination process), I was determined to treat it with the sobriety and respect it warranted, given that the goal was to usher the young couple into a blessed union of holy matrimony.

Here’s where I’m going with this: it really got me thinking about calling. The irony of the situation is that right after I became a new Believer in high school, I had considered becoming a pastor. The trouble I ran into in answering this calling, though, was twofold:

  1. At the time, I knew nothing about calling and the faithfulness associated therewith–either from my side (trusting God enough to follow your calling regardless how crazy it seemed, like Noah building a giant boat when there was no water in sight) or trusting God enough to know that he will bless your answer to his calling in such a way that the outcome will be exactly what he had in mind (not necessarily what you had in mind, though, like Jonah preaching a message of repentance to the people of Nineveh so God wouldn’t destroy them, and they listened to him, much to his bitter disappointment!).
  2. Several encounters I had in college with mature believers behaving badly. At the time, I was immature enough in my faith that I thought followers of Christ had to be perfect, or at least way better behaved than the average person. I laugh at the thought now, after being a Believer for about 4 decades. Oh, I know we are called to try to be like Jesus, and believe me, I do try, but I have also come to learn that it’s impossible to reach that high bar. That’s why we need grace, and why we should all be so grateful that we are floating in an ocean of it. I’m also thankful that the Bible overflows with stories of other well-intended screw-ups who God nevertheless manages to achieve his great purposes through, despite their imperfections. But anyway, at the time, not knowing what I know now (a phrase I associate with hard-earned wisdom), it really rattled my faith, knocking me off the course of becoming a pastor.

So what’s the deal with calling anyway? What does it mean to be called by God to do something? And if I miss God’s call, will he leave a message? Meaning, will I have other chances to serve him?

Here’s what the Apostle Paul had to say about calling:

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Apostle Paul, in Romans 12:3-8 (NIV)

According to Paul, then, we all have a gift–which is to say, a calling–that God has given to us. Does that mean that if I don’t fulfill my purpose, that thing won’t get done? Maybe, but I also think of my hands. I’m right-handed, but a few times in my life I’ve broken my right arm, so I was unable to write with that hand. Although my handwriting was far more labored and far less legible when I did it with my left hand, I was still able to do it.

So, I wonder how many burning bushes God had to create before someone answered the call. And was Moses the first choice? The fifth?

Regarding the connection between God’s calling and the gifts he has given to us, my favorite quote on the topic comes from Eric Liddell, made famous by the 1980s movie “Chariots of Fire” (definitely worth watching, although watching it with subtitles isn’t a bad idea if you aren’t used to “the other English” they speak in the UK):

17 Best images about Christian inspiration on Pinterest ...

So whatever it is that makes you feel God’s pleasure when you’re doing it, that’s the way he wired you, so it’s safe to assume it’s your calling.

So do we have only one calling?

I really don’t think so. Most of the people I know are really good at more than one thing. And many of the named people in the Bible are as well. I think I am, too. So are you, I’ll bet. Returning to Paul’s analogy comparing the Body of Christ (the universal body of believers) to a human body, most of our body parts have more than one function (for example, I took a break from typing to scratch a bug bite I seemed to have acquired earlier in the evening).

Anyway, bringing this back to where I started, was God calling me to be a pastor when I was in high school? I don’t know, and I may never know until I get to ask him myself. One thing I’ve learned since then, though, is there have been plenty of callings along the way, many chances for me to serve him. Something else I’ve learned is that God’s callings may not look anything like what we think it should, but it’s important that we answer when he calls. He is a creative God, and he made us to be creative people. With his help and our imaginations, there isn’t anything we can’t achieve.

One last thing: our calling doesn’t always have to save the world or save a people-group or save the whales, even though God does use people to do these things. God would be fine with a calling that helps only one other person–a spouse, a child, a friend, a neighbor. In God’s economy, it could be that one person your calling helps who then goes on to save a people-group. It’s OK if we’re “just” God’s little toe–we can still do great things to help others and further God’s Kingdom on earth.

So whatever it is that God is calling you to do–whatever makes you feel his pleasure when you do it–that’s what you need to find a way to do. You never know whom you might be blessing when you do it.

Or maybe sometimes you do. Maybe a couple ends up married when you answer a call 40 years after it first came in….

Posted in Christian, Faith | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment