Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Have We Lost Our Mind


Dave Chong

Given the huge amount of waking hours we spent at work, it seems rather strange that "secular work" occupies such a vague place amongst Christians. A graphic designer friend of mine was once told by well-meaning folks that he should not be involved in three types of jobs:

  • an artist (due to widespread worldly temptation)

  • a politician (because it's 'dirty')

  • or a lawyer (to avoid the lure of wealth)

Sometimes it seems like there is a caste system of spiritual work with missionaries and pastors at the top, followed by people-helping professionals (like doctors, teachers, nurses) and, in descending order, "barely-religious" jobs (such as lawyers, politicians and jazz musicians) close to the bottom!

Although my friend enjoys doing creative special effects for movies, he can't shake off the guilt that it is something unspiritual, if not explicitly sinful. He inhabits two separate "worlds", shifting from an ordinary life as an "artist" on weekdays to a religious life as a Christian on Sundays. He aptly described his incongruent existence as having "split personality" or "schizophrenia".

If we are not a "full time worker" in church, does that make us only "part-time" Christians?Even if the example is a bit dramatic, we often talk about work being valuable only as a platform that opens up opportunities to share the gospel. Indeed witness should take place naturally in the context of relationships in offices, factories and cafeteria. However, our labor itself has intrinsic God-honoring significance and dignity.

It is not just a material necessity to put food on the table.Lesslie Newbigin called this common sacred/secular divide in our lives as "the cultural captivity of the church". As a result, "religious truth" is kept in the private sphere of faith, locked away from the public realms of knowledge and facts.

For example, a Christian high school teacher told her class: "The heart is what we use for religion, while the brain is what we use for science". (or business plans!)One clear effect of secluding our faith in a private corner lies in how we treat our vocation in the marketplace. So how do we liberate ourselves from our cultural captivity?To start with, we need to have our minds renewed with a full-orbed Christian worldview or a biblically informed perspective on all reality.

Simply put, it is a mental map that guides how we live and understand the world. It answers fundamental questions of life:

  • Where did we come from?

  • Who am I?

  • What went wrong with the world?

  • Why are we here?

  • What can we do about evil?

  • Where are we going?

But this is not just an academic, intellectual game. It is rooted in the Great Commandment (Matt 22:38) to love the Lord with our whole being - body, emotion, mind.Like every aspect of character transformation, the renewal of our minds can be painful and hard work. But it is also an act of devotion and service to the Lord of all life.In her book "Total Truth", Nancy Pearcey offered us a practical toolbox so we could make sense of "work" through the lens of Creation, Fall and Redemption.Creation:

At the very beginning, God Himself rolled up His sleeves and worked creatively to get the universe up and running. (Genesis 1:1) Then He graciously gave Adam and Eve their first job description as His partners in eco-management - ruling, caring and stewarding the earth (Genesis 1:26-28). As Marvin Wrong wrote, "Without a human cultivator, every field and garden degenerates into wilderness. In other words, it's only Eden if you have a gardener. Without one, what you have is the Amazon". Work itself is designed as part of God's good gift of creation, not a curse.Fall: But due to sin, work is not always fulfilling or rewarding (Genesis 3:18). It is often characterized by abuses like overwork, shirk, bribery, office politics and exploitation of others. In this fallen world, we often struggle to maintain our ethical convictions and personal integrity in the face of evil.

Redemption: Yet when Christ came to redeem us from sin, He did not abandon the creation for otherworldly pursuits. His kingdom extends not only to a private corner called 'religion' but to every facet of public life as well. Instead, we will have resurrected bodies in the new heaven and new earth where everything is more real than before. We won't "lepak" around playing harps in floating clouds, but would enjoy sanctified work as meaningful expression of who God made us to be. Therefore, as His followers, the rhythm of work and rest in our lives today ought to give out hints of what that future redeemed world looks like.Equipped with a biblical worldview, we could live with the conviction that all Christians are gifted and called to be "full-time workers" for the Kingdom in the world. That doesn't mean that all Christians should escape "secular" work to join "sacred" ministry.But it does mean that if you are a software designer, you are an "ordained software designer". You have been summoned by God to serve Him in that specific sphere of activity.

Or, if you are an "ordained lawyer", you are called to prayerfully explore how your discipline shows signs of rebellion against or submission to Christ's Lordship. An "ordained environmentalist" ought to read the Scripture not just devotionally, but actively apply the biblical mandate for creation care in his work.Whatever our vocation, we need to learn to think and live "Christianly" in areas specific to what we are called to do – media, education, politics, business or the arts. In humility and boldness, we should creatively integrate the biblical worldview with our occupations . It is not easy in practice. Ultimately, every single job (even missionaries!) has its unique challenges in the form of temptations, 'dirty' politics and/or money.

That's why we are "in but not of the world".With God's grace and other Christ-disciples, we could embrace a congruent, integrated and holistic "faith that works" (James 2:22). Don't settle for a fragmented existence torn between the secular and sacred "worlds".

Confidence and Arrogance

Do you remember what Khairy said just before the Permatang Pauh elections? "We will crush Anwar"


Living Lee

Confidence is when you say “I can do it” (with God’s help if you are a believer).

Paul proclaimed “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil 2:23). It is a combination of great ability tempered with great humility.

Paul encouraged timid young Timothy to be bold in the Lord (2 Timothy 1:7) for God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. This boldness in the Lord that all Christians should cultivate is totally unlike the arrogant confidence of the self-made man of the world. The popular song“I did it my way”encapsulates such arrogant self-confidence.

Arrogance is to think that you are untouchable. Samson was gifted with great strength which also brought about his downfall because it made him think that he was invincible (Judges 16:20). It is pride in self and its achievements based on one’s own efforts. Nebuchadnezzer (Daniel 4:30) and later Herod (Acts 12:21-23) are biblical examples of this. Pride goes before a fall. In more recent times, the twelth general elections on 8.3.2008 in Malaysia have shown the ruling party what arrogance can cost them. Arrogance is riding roughshod over others and not being considerate of them. Arrogance is boastfulness. It leads to one’s downfall.

We want bold but humble Christians who acknowledge that the source of their strength is God. Such Christians do not depend on their own strength to succeed. Instead they discover with Paul the wonderful experience expressed in 2 Corinthians 12: 9 and 10 “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why for Christ’s sake, I delight in

  • weaknesses,

  • insults,

  • hardships,

  • persecutions,

  • difficulties.

For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Dear believer, the temptation to be proud and arrogant is very strong especially in the marketplace where success is instantly rewarded. The successful are placed on a pedestal and everyone praises them and looks up to them. We are reminded not to let such praise get to our heads when we are successful. Let us give all glory to God and remain humble dependent servant-leaders of His who are called to serve and not to be served (Luke 22:25-27).