Last April, I wrote about the importance of adopting a life “purpose statement”; a succinct phrase that defines the focus of everything I do. It is an attempt to answer the philosophical question, “Why am I here?” To be honest, I did not write my purpose statement – God gave it to me. And, ever since that morning, I ask God daily to help me live this out in every facet of my life, whether at home, at work, on the road… No matter where I am or what I am doing, this is the man I seek to be:
I often say that I am a work in progress. Yes, even at my age, I am growing and maturing in my faith. I have come to understand that everything I do, everything I say, points to something. My sincere desire is that my something is Jesus Christ. Thankfully, as I look back over the years of my life, I see progress. Sanctification, the process of making or declaring something or someone holy, is a process and I am thankful that God is working that process in me. Am I perfect? Heck, no. Am I holy? Working on that.
I started this blog several years ago with the mission of (hopefully) being a source of inspiration and motivation to Christians working in the secular world. What I have found is that the process of writing these posts blesses me. In 2022, I seek to be more diligent here. This is part of my Bible study. It is part of my maturation process. Even as I type this, I smile at the notion that God is teaching me. Right now.
How about you? Do you have a Purpose Statement? If so, how are you nurturing it? What is God doing in your life? I pray that all who read this will be drawn closer to the Lord, day by day, and that each of us who claim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will let our lights shine so that we are a blessing to all whom God brings into our lives.
On September 10, 2001, I started a new job in Roanoke, Virginia. My wife and two young children were in Houston as our transition began. On September 11, 2001, all hell broke loose as terrorists attacked our nation in a most horrific fashion. We all remember where we were and what we were doing as those horrible events unfurled. Today, 20 years later, my memory of that day is as vivid as it was then.
Do you remember what it was like when we woke up on September 12? How we shed our stereotypical feelings about Democrats and Republicans, people of other races and creeds, and came together as Americans to mourn our collective loss and embark on recovery together? I do. And as I sit here this morning, September 11, 2021, I am sad for all who lost loved ones that day. I also ask myself, why does it take a disaster like 9/11 to bring us together?
A few days ago, during my morning Bible reading, God offered this reminder through the words of the Apostle Paul:
Today, our nation is more divided than at any time I can recall over my nearly sixty years of life. Hatred and vitriol permeate our media, and they seem to dominate social media as well. Indeed, the Evil One is wreaking havoc in our nation and world today. Which makes it incredibly important for God’s people to be in His Word and in prayer.
I cannot control what others think, feel or say. I cannot control others’ attitudes towards their neighbors. But I can seek to be light in this present darkness. And here, in this succinct little verse, God presents a sound foundational building block. Can you imagine the transition that would take place in our country if all who claim Christ as Savior sought to approach every aspect of life with this as our compass? I can. I carry this verse in my heart. And I challenge all Christians to do likewise.
Ministry can happen at work. Ministry does happen at work
I have come to realize over time that my words and actions always point to something. Good or bad, beautiful or ugly, helpful or harmful, they point to something. My words and my actions reveal to the world my true heart. And, if my words and actions are not aligned with what I know and profess to be true as a Christian, indeed, if my words and actions do not reveal Jesus to the world around me, my witness is tarnished and my ministry is ineffective. Nothing would please me more than to know that God worked through me as I go about my daily work, even despite my personal faults and shortcomings.
I pray a version of this prayer most mornings:
The responsibility I feel in serving God in my workplace manifests itself it two broad ways:
There are believers at the office. Each is at a different place in his or her journey with God. I want to seek them out and form relationships for mutual support, encouragement, and accountability. Additionally, I desire to do nothing that would distract from or impede their growth in Christ. With God’s help, my light will shine in such a way that believers here will see it and be drawn to me as I am drawn to them. It is important that Christians know they are not alone at work. And, as David prayed in today’s text, may my believing coworkers not be disgraced because of me.
There are nonbelievers at the office. Jesus said that the harvest is ripe but the workers are few (Matt 9:37). I know many who do not know the Lord, and it pains me to think about where they will spend eternity outside of faith in Jesus. This is tough. I am at work. Actively seeking to share the Gospel with coworkers is frowned upon in the least, and could cost me my job in the worst. But, there are no rules against living out the fruits of the Spirit. There are no rules against kindness, respect, honor and humility. There are no rules against civility, politeness, laughter or fun. I believe God can work wonders through my conduct. And, should it open a door through which a nonbeliever walks with a question, there are no rules against my offering an honest answer. As David prayed in today’s text, may those who seek You not be put to shame because of me.
Ministry can happen at work. Ministry does happen at work. My life’s mission is that those around me would see Jesus through my words and actions. There are no rules against that. Additionally, my objective as a Christian is to know other Christians in my workplace so we can encourage each other to do likewise. One light can shine brightly. Many lights, shining collectively, can offset much darkness. Work is ministry. That is why I am here.
If you are a Christian working in the secular world, I would love to connect with you. Let’s encourage one another. Let’s do ministry together.
Prayer: Gracious Heavenly Father, Go with me to work today. Help me to let my light shine, that others would see You through my words and actions. Show me likeminded coworkers who know You and love You, that we might serve you at work together. In Jesus’s name. AMEN.
God knows what each of us are going through and He goes through it with us. That, for one, is something for which to be thankful!
Happy Thanksgiving! Or is it? While this is the favorite holiday of many, including yours truly, I am sure there are many who would just as soon skip Thanksgiving and maybe even Christmas this year and go straight to 2021. Indeed, 2020 has been a challenging year to say the least. And, as I write this, the long-promised November surge in COVID-19 cases seems to be well underway. Many are ill, too many have perished, healthcare providers are tired and stressed, and all of us likely suffer from pandemic fatigue to some extent. So, given all of this, what are we to do with Thanksgiving 2020?
This may be easier for some of us than for others this year. But, as believers, we know that God is in control. Jesus is Lord and reigns today. Even through COVID. Even through social unrest. Even through temporal death and sadness. Jesus reigns. He has not relinquished control. He will never leave us nor forsake us. This is true for all who believe, no matter what difficulties and challenges we have faced this year. Dear friends, we must cling to Him when times are rough. God knows what each of us are going through and He goes through it with us. That, for one, is something for which to be thankful!
As I look back on 2020, I am reminded that I have much to be thankful for. I am thankful for my faith in the One True God who loves me despite all my faults and shortcomings to the point of sending Jesus to die for my sins. I am thankful that God reveals Himself through His Word, the Bible, and through His creation. I am thankful for my family. I am thankful for my church and I am thankful for my friends. I am thankful for the technology that allows us to connect with one another when social distancing is our temporary normal. I am thankful for a rewarding and satisfying career. I am thankful for good health. I am thankful for all who work diligently to keep us safe and for those who give selflessly to care for those suffering illness. I am thankful that I live in the great state of Texas and the greatest country on earth.
Have you had a rough year? Has 2020 dealt you more blows than you feel you can handle? If so, know that I care and I am praying for you. As Christians, we are to build each other up. We are to support and encourage one another in good times and bad. I hope you find some encouragement in this little piece. And I hope you can find a few things for which to give thanks. Even this year. Even in these trying times.
May God bless all who read this, and I pray that each of you have a very Happy Thanksgiving.
Have you ever felt Jesus’ presence? I am a “people person” – one who thrives in the presence of others. To be sure, I enjoy my alone time. But there is an energy, a spirit of unity that I feel when I am gathered with other believers.
The earliest recollection I have of feeling Jesus’ presence in a very real way was in August, 1977, at fifteen years old. We moved from Minnesota to Katy, Texas that July. We visited what would become our home church, Memorial Lutheran Church of Katy, soon after moving in. After our very first visit, the church’s pastor came to our house to welcome us to town and to Memorial. Although we hadn’t yet joined the church, Pastor Loomis invited my sister and me to join the youth group on their annual beach retreat to Matagorda, TX the following weekend. With some degree of apprehension we accepted the invitation. The group welcomed us as if we had been with them for years. The fellowship we enjoyed over the weekend was like nothing I had experienced before. Sunday morning, we worshipped on the fishing pier overlooking the river on which the house was situated. There, for the first time, I knew Jesus is real.
Through my high school years, my church, and more specifically, my youth group and its adult leaders, were grounding elements in my life. I felt called into professional ministry, and enrolled at Concordia Lutheran College in Austin for pre-seminary studies. At Concordia, I received a top-flight education as I earned a Bachelors Degree in General Studies. More important, though, were the friendships I gained over those four years. Countless times, whether in class, in chapel, or in small groups, I felt Jesus’ presence with us. The unity among my Concordia friends is grounded in Christ, and that unity still flourishes today.
Now, here we are. 2020. COVID-19. I don’t have to recap the story here; we have all lived it. In March, when churches closed due to pandemic, the phenomenon we call online church emerged. It grew and developed into a major force in the church. At first I really enjoyed it. I have several friends who pastor churches all over the country and I enjoyed visiting their churches online and hearing them preach the Gospel. Over time, I found that I didn’t necessarily have to tune in at the exact time of worship; many were available on YouTube and other media (still are) and I could watch at my convenience. Yes, I could watch…. For me, online worship was not participatory; I felt that I was observing from the outside and I longed to gather together. In person. At my church.
I am not knocking online worship. It is an incredible blessing for those with high risk factors to COVID-19 and I thank God for the technology and expertise that makes online worship a high quality and blessed experience. But, it does not replace the in-person gathering of Christians to lift our voices in praise, hear the Word together and partake of the Sacraments. I am so thankful that many churches, including my church family at Grace Presbyterian Church in Houston, are once again gathering in person while maintaining their online presence for those who cannot safely partake.
One of the things I love most about this promise from Jesus is the fact that it is not limited to gatherings in church. When believers gather to share a meal, when we gather for a simple visit, even when we gather for a Zoom happy hour as a few of us from Concordia did last Friday – this promise is true. Jesus is with us. We encourage each other, we support each other, and the unity in Christ that we share is fortified.
Indeed, I love this promise from Jesus, and I know it to be true. This evening, for the first time in about eight months, I will join with other choristers at my church in a rehearsal for this Sunday’s worship service. We will be a smaller number than usual. We will be socially distanced. We will wear masks. And… We will sing. We will be together. Jesus will be there, too. And I can hardly wait!
The calling of the Christian to do all we do to the glory of God is not a litmus test on which our position with God will be determined.
How do you approach life? Yesterday, in my daily Bible reading, this familiar passage really resonated and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31 NASB
The words whatever and all are two of the most inclusive words in the English language. I don’t see that this passage leaves any room to carve out an aspect of my life and exclude God from it. Not that that is my intent, but to be perfectly honest, it does happen sometimes. There is the Jeff that people encounter at church. There is the Jeff that people encounter at work. There is the Jeff that my family encounters at home. And, there is the Jeff that people encounter in social settings. Years ago, these four Jeffs could be radically different. I don’t think that is what God wants from us.
I am reminded this morning of the greatest gift offered to humankind: the gift of salvation through the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. If there is one truth on which I can hang my hat it is this: that I am a sinner, completely unworthy of any relationship with God because of my sin. God sought me out and gave me the gift of faith. Jesus, God incarnate, came to earth as a man to be sacrificed as payment in full for the sins I have committed – yesterday, today and tomorrow. Through His sacrifice, I am redeemed. I am made worthy to be in relationship with God. I will enjoy eternity with Him in Heaven.
Friends, THIS. CHANGES. EVERYTHING!
The calling of the Christian to do all we do to the glory of God is not a litmus test on which our position with God will be determined. Not at all. My seeking to do whatever I do to His glory is in direct response to the gift of salvation He has given me through His Son. That’s it! God wants me to enjoy my life. He desires my worship and involvement in my church. He wants me to enjoy and excel in my work. He wants me to love my family and be a blessing to them. And He wants me to enjoy the many relationships He has given me. When I view each of these through the lens of the Gospel, the natural response is to strive to do whatever I do to the glory of God. Yes, I will mess things up. Yes, I will say things I want to take back. Yes, I will make mistakes. Yes, I will sin. And, yes, I am forgiven!
Gracious Heavenly Father, I thank you this morning for the gift of faith. I thank you that Jesus died on the cross to free me from the bondage of my sins and place me in relationship with You. I give you this day, and I give you this week. I pray that your holy angel would be with me, that all my doings and life may please You. And I pray that my very life would be a witness to all with whom I come into contact, that they would see You through me and give You all honor, glory and praise. Indeed, Lord, help me to do all I do to Your glory. In Jesus’ name I pray. AMEN.
As one reads through this book, the author’s point is revealed: Life lived absent of God is futile. Life lived in relationship with God is fulfilling.
I remember as a boy a commercial jingle for a fast food chain that started, “Eat, drink and be merry!” This chain is famous for its ice cream treats and, indeed, as a youngster it was always a treat when my parents would give in and take us to Dairy Queen to enjoy one of their sweet, sugary concoctions. Truth be told, I still enjoy the occasional visit; drive through almost any small town in Texas and you will likely see the DQ sign somewhere along the main drag. What better way to enjoy the Texas countryside than an ice cold shake (vanilla is my fav)?
“Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward.”
Do you enjoy your work? Do you enjoy your life? Did you know that God wants us to enjoy life? He does. Now, we must be careful here. This is one verse that is easy to take out of context and go way off the rails with how we apply it to life. Pull this out of the context of the whole of Scripture and it appears to be a license for gluttony, drunkenness and “whatever”. Taken within the context of the whole of Scripture and we quickly realize that is not the message here at all. So, what is the message?
Let’s work backwards through the verse. “This is his reward.” According to Merriam Webster, a reward is “Something that is given in return for good or evil done or received or that is offered or given for some service or attainment.”1 What is the reward here? The reward is to “eat, drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor.” Simply put, to enjoy the fruits of our labor. This is not a careless free-for-all; it is, however, an expression of joy.
The writer of Ecclesiastes writes much about the futilities of this life. He goes on about the vanities of life. The lack of purpose of life. But as one reads through this book, the author’s point is revealed: Life lived absent of God is futile. Life lived in relationship with God is fulfilling. Daily toil with no perceived purpose is futile. Daily work with an attitude towards service to God is fulfilling. And in the midst of all this, he tells us to enjoy the fruits of our labor, for that is our reward. It is not a license to sin, but it is a reminder to enjoy life’s blessings.
A fictional young man named Ferris Bueller summed it up quite well:
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.“2
[Ferris Bueller’s Day Off]
As strange as it may seem to quote Ferris Bueller in seeking to understand a passage of Scripture, I think young Ferris hit this one square on the head. A wise person once said, “Stop and smell the roses.” I think that about sums it up.
So – here are some things I enjoy “under the sun”:
I enjoy the relationships of family and friends.
I enjoy a Blanton’s bourbon on a large rock after a long day of work.
I enjoy a thick steak accompanied by a bold Cabernet Sauvignon at a fine restaurant with family, friends and coworkers.
I enjoy a long walk on the beach (yes, I really do).
I enjoy the fresh air of the early morning.
I enjoy boarding an airplane to travel someplace new or someplace familiar.
I enjoy watching an Astros baseball game at Minute Maid Park, and I really look forward to the day when we fans can return.
I enjoy reading and meditating on God’s Word. That is partly why I write this blog. In fact, I am enjoying listing things I enjoy!
I enjoy live music and dancing a two-step to a good country band.
I enjoy reminiscing with my friends from Concordia days.
I enjoy singing in the choir.
I could go on. As I write this, I am reminded of how much I enjoy my life and that God wants me to enjoy my life. What a blessing that is!
We demonstrated that a variety of musical styles can contribute together to a very meaningful and God-honoring worship service.
I love music of almost every genre. My favorites in the secular world include classic rock, country, classic pop and easy listening. My favorite station on Pandora is Dinner Party Radio. I like musicals, both on stage and film. Music brings joy to my life. It is an important part of my life. And, you know what? It is important to God, too.
“David and the commanders of the army set apart for the service some of the sons of Asaph and of Heman and of Jeduthun, who were to prophesy with lyres, harps and cymbals;”
1 Chronicles 25:1
As I read through the Bible I am struck by the number of times music is mentioned. The entire 25th chapter of 1 Chronicles describes how the various roles around music were assigned in the Jerusalem temple. The Chronicles can admittedly be some dry reading. But what I see in these books is a characteristic of God around organization, both in terms of keeping records and setting up the temple for the worship of God. Chapter 25 of 1 Chronicles is all about the music, and it concludes by telling us that 288 priests were assigned to provide the music for worship. That is a significant investment of talent!
Sadly, musical preference often causes division in the modern church. Believers sometimes argue about music, even leaving one church for other over musical style. Me? I grew up with the worship service built around a chanted “high church” liturgy. The liturgy I grew up with in the Lutheran church comes straight from Scripture; we use God’s Words in worship! I grew up singing beautiful hymns accompanied by a majestic pipe organ played by skilled hands and feet. These styles of worship seem to be diminishing in popularity, but they are still offered in many churches today.
My church offers a beautiful and meaningful “traditional” worship service each Sunday. I sing in the Chancel Choir. It is a God-honoring worship service. We also worship in more contemporary fashion led by a praise band that, quite frankly, can rock! Our band plays traditional hymns and they play modern worship songs as well. Some in the congregation sing along while others soak up the music as they worship God. Me? I’m a singer. I like to sing. This more modern style of worship is also meaningful. It also honors God. And I like it, too.
It saddens me, though, that churches sometimes divide over musical style. My church, for example, offers “contemporary” worship and “traditional” worship. These services take place at different times on Sunday mornings. This is a common phenomenon these days. And it bothers me. While music is clearly important to God as evidenced by the number of mentions in Scripture, it was never intended to divide us. But, if we are honest, we have to acknowledge that some of the more heated discussions that flare up in a church are around musical style and taste. Indeed, musical style for some is sacred ground on which another must not tread.
Houston, as you know, was hard hit by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. During the months that followed the storm, my church offered one service each Sunday morning due to the number of members impacted by the storm and unable to attend worship. The service was “blended” musically. The pipe organ played beautiful hymns, the Chance Choir offered an anthem, and the praise band led much of the music with the praise team leading much of the singing. It was amazing! We demonstrated that a variety of musical styles can contribute together to a very meaningful and God-honoring worship service. Many of our members (myself included) were disappointed when the time came a few months later to resume our normal worship schedule – contemporary at 9:00 and traditional at 11:15.
I may be stepping on some toes here, and that is not my intent. I’m simply suggesting that we believers keep an open mind when it comes to musical style in church. Let us not allow this to become a point of contention or division. Music that glorifies God and honors His Word should be embraced, whether accompanied by a majestic pipe organ and led by a choir, or accompanied by a praise band and led by a praise team. I find great joy in both. Both can coexist. Until then, on many Sundays, I attend both services: contemporary and traditional.
“Sing to the Lord a new song; Sing to the Lord all the earth!”
Sunday morning. I haven’t been to church in months, thanks to COVID-19. It is easy to feel a bit disconnected from my church family. Of course, my church offers worship online and our production team does a stellar job of offering a quality and meaningful worship experience. But it is still not the same. And, sometimes, I let that get me down.
“May the God of hope fill you with all JOY and PEACE as you trust in Him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Romans 15:13 NASB
I needed this passage this morning. To be sure, I cannot wait to go back to church. But, for now, I am thankful for the technology that exists and the talent God gave many for using the technology that allows us to worship, although remotely, together.
Christian friends, it is important that we keep our habits of worship, study and sacrament – in person or online. The JOY and PEACE we know through the Lord is not diminished just because we cannot gather together for a time. My prayer for you this morning is just that. Reread it. And read it again. And let the Holy Spirit work His power in your life.
God bless you all and may each of you have a blessed Lord’s Day.
I have found it helpful to constantly remind myself that every person on this earth is loved by God — Every. Single. Person.
Based on what I see on the news and in social media, I perceive a significant absence of peace in our society these days. And that bothers me. Of course, we cannot control the thoughts, feelings or behavior of others. So what is the Christian to do?
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”
Romans 12:18 NASB
Well, for starters, we can seek to influence others for Christ. Each of us has our own sphere of influence – people we interact with by various means for a variety of reasons. Why not begin within that sphere? There are many ways we believers can strive to influence others for Christ. Seeking peace is one of those. Striving to be a peacekeeper is one way we, as Christians, can let our lights shine in this lost and dark world. Does this mean we allow others to trample, abuse or hurt us? I don’t think so. But some examples of seeking peace include sincere listening and contemplation, seeking reasoning over argument, and not allowing ourselves to be drawn into pointless exchanges or conflict.
The weight of the world is not placed on our shoulders here:
“If possible…” – As I said earlier, we cannot control the thoughts, feelings or behaviors of others. We cannot control others’ motives. Some seem to relish conflict, even thrive in it. Modern day social media has its trolls, “a person who intentionally antagonizes others online by posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive content” as defined by Merriam-Webster. Is it possible to seek peace with someone whose chief motive seems to be to stir the proverbial pot? Maybe. When I encounter such people online, I think of these two words, “If possible…” and scroll on by. It’s interesting, though – I used to block trolls until a pastor friend reminded me that, sometimes, the troll is very person who most needs to hear your message.
“As far as it depends on you…” I believe God wants us to engage our world. We cannot expect to let our lights shine for the Lord if we hide them. As hard as it may be at times, we are to rise above the fray, not allowing others to drag us into a pointless exchange of insults or one-upmanship. People notice when we behave differently from the world. I pray every morning that God will help me let my light shine as Jesus commanded (Matt 5:16). God is faithful; He will answer that prayer. But, at the end of the day, if my efforts bear no fruit because the person I’ve encountered is not interested in peace, it’s OK. I’ve done my part, and honored God by having done so.
I have found it helpful to constantly remind myself that every person on this earth is loved by God — Every. Single. Person. I find, when I try to view others through that lens, it becomes a bit easier to rise above the fray and be Jesus to my little sphere of influence.
Seek to be at peace with others, if possible, and as far as it depends on you. What a great way to honor our Great and Mighty God as we seek to be salt and light to this lost and fallen, but also big and beautiful, world!