How to Share Your Faith at Work

As a Christian, you are a fully credentialed ambassador of the empire of Jesus, High King of the universe. God has entrusted to you the message of reconciliation, the good news that Jesus reconciles rebels to God. That's as true from 9-5 Monday through Friday as it is for any other hour of your life. When you go to church, you're an ambassador for the King. When you hang out with friends, you're an ambassador for the King. When you go to work, meet with a client, participate in a meeting, work on a project, drive a nail, create a blueprint, welcome a customer, or write a white paper, you're still an ambassador for the King.

Evangelism isn't the primary purpose for our work. Scripture reveals to us all kinds of purposes and motivations for our work. However, we shouldn't kid ourselves. One of the purposes is evangelism. We're ambassadors for our King always, including the time we're at our jobs.

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So how can we faithfully share the gospel with people at work? Here are five suggestions.

1. Just do good work as a Christian.

When you get a chance to speak the gospel to one of your coworkers, make sure you've already been backing it up by being a good worker yourself. Build a reputation as a person who works with purpose, creativity, kindness, and encouragement. Then, when you get to share the gospel, people will see how you reflect the character of your King.

Practically, you can hold up your vocational challenges to the light of the gospel and ponder how you can approach them "as working for the Lord" (Col. 3:23). Would Jesus have you cut corners on that project? Would he have you defraud that client by doing that job on the cheap? Would he have you rip into your employees when they make mistakes, even stupid ones? Would he have you mope through the day in a spirit of resentment and anger? No. He'd have you confront your challenges with faith that, ultimately, they're all coming from his hand. Amid it all, he'd have you "shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life" (Phil. 2:16). Then the gospel you speak will be confirmed in the eyes of those watching you.

2. Learn to put God on the table.

Yes, just throw him out there! Let people know in natural, easygoing, confident ways that you're a Christian. Why do so many believers try to keep their Christianity a secret? We all want someone to approach us and ask about Christianity (since that saves us the awkward experience of having to start that conversation ourselves), but often we go out of our way not to give them any opportunity to do so.

When someone asks what you did over the weekend, tell them you went to church. Mention the Bible study you attend on Tuesday nights. Don't just mumble, "I'm sorry I can't come to your birthday party; I'm busy." Say, "I can't come because I'm scheduled to work at my church's clothes closet this weekend." You don't have to be obnoxious or irresponsible about it. Just make sure you identify yourself publicly with Jesus. Let people know somehow you're a Christian and don't mentally censor your Christianity out of your interactions and conversations. You'll be amazed at how often people will take the opportunity to press in on the little piece of information you've just offered. People are often more interested in spiritual things than you think. They just need a bit of permission from you to feel free to talk about it.

3. Build relationships beyond the office.

Strive to break through the personal/professional boundaries that can form between you and your coworkers. Of course, you shouldn't let your relationships become inappropriate in any way. However, if you're going to share the gospel with someone, you'll eventually have to talk to them about something other than the job.

Really, it's not too difficult to do. Grab a cup of coffee after work. Ask questions that go beyond the shallow chitchat that often marks offices. Give some information about yourself that encourages the other person to open up as well. Talk about your family. Be honest about some of the struggles in your life or talk about some of your hopes for the future. In time, by your questions, your openness, and your interest in their life, you'll communicate you care far more deeply about them than just the talents they contribute to the company. You care about them for them. They'll be much more likely to listen to you discuss the gospel if they know they're not just another cog in your professional machine.

4. Use the witness of the church.

As you build relationships with people, look for ways to involve other believers from your church as well. One of the greatest witnesses to the gospel on the planet is the love Christians have for one another (John 13:34-35). If you and some friends from church are going to be hanging out together, invite one of your coworkers to come along. The conversation doesn't have to be explicitly spiritual. Sometimes interactions between a group of normal, interesting, fun, intelligent Christians will change a person's entire perspective about Christianity. Also invite coworkers to your church's worship services. Let them see what it's like for a group of Christians to gather and take their faith seriously. Many have never seen anything like that, and experiencing it can raise all kinds of good questions in their minds. Jesus called his followers to gather together into churches for a reason. Your church family can be an enormous evangelistic resource. Let them be coworkers with you as you hold firmly to the word of life in your workplace.

5. Have a "mission field" mindset about your work.

Have you considered one of the reasons God may have deployed you to your job is so you can break into a particular subculture with gospel grace? Throughout our society there are countless groups of people who share much in common simply because they work in the same field. They speak the same jargon; they struggle with the same issues; they ask many of the same questions. And sadly, in many of those subcultures the truth of the gospel is a rarity. For example, I imagine I (Sebastian) am one of only a tiny number of Christians working in the creative internet space today. That means I have the privilege of helping to break into that subculture with the good news. What specific group has the King deployed you to work among each day? Architects? Teachers? Auto salespeople? Thinking about the mission that way helps us not get discouraged by the thought of the millions who need salvation. Rather, we're energized by the thought that our King has deployed us to a specific network of friends and relationships into which we can speak truths seldom heard.

You could also consider taking your job to another part of the world, even places where it may be difficult for career missionaries to go. The globalization of the business world is one of the most important developments in the history of missions. Companies are expanding internationally and looking for professionals, experts, and entrepreneurs to open up new markets where none has existed. Why not consider being an engineer in Shanghai? Why not do your business in Dubai, Istanbul, or Moscow, where millions of persons from hundreds of nationalities live and work each day? These places need a strong gospel witness. Career missionaries already in these cities will be deeply encouraged by other Christians moving there and putting their hands to the plow.

Editors' note: This excerpt is adapted from Greg Gilbert and Sebastian Traeger's new book, The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Lives (Zondervan) [interview | free study guide | website | Twitter].

What if Your 20s Weren't What You Expected?

In the past couple of months, I've had a number of heavy conversations with friends about the realities of life. We've talked about the heartaches of infertility, questions about parenting, devastating breakups, marriage conflicts, unwanted singleness, and struggles with sexuality. A few friends have been abruptly fired from ministry positions, and others have left overseas posts because of difficulties with leadership. More than one dream job has turned out to be not so dreamy after all.

From a distance, it seems like everything has fallen into place for these highly educated people, mostly raised in middle-class church families. Much has gone well for them, and many are leaders in their communities. Without knowing their stories, you wouldn't know their 20s weren't all they thought they were going to be. Throughout our conversations, a consistent theme has emerged: we didn't expect these years to be so hard. Most of us realize we that we believed big problems weren't supposed to come so early in life, and real troubles were for an older crowd. Whether we knew it or not, we imagined our 20s to be carefree and blissfully happy, with the track of "We Are Young" playing during a video montage of road trips, pub nights, and crazy adventures. How were we so wrong?

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To Change the World

Somewhere between elementary school self-esteem talks, Jesus Freaks youth group lessons, and "you can single-handedly evangelize the 10/40 window" college mission conferences, we were pumped up and ready to change the world. We anticipated picture-perfect marriages and families after we signed our commitments at True Love Waits and kissed dating good-bye. What could go wrong when we had the prayer of Jabez on our side and enough Christian T-shirts to win the world to Jesus? We were doing our part with sponsored children, the 30-Hour Famine, and prayer vigils for the persecuted church. God would certainly give us the good life with all of that sacrifice, wouldn't he?

Although we consistently asked what would Jesus do, no one told us how important it was to learn how he dealt with suffering. While we may have escaped much of the suffering of the world and generations past, we weren't equipped to deal with the realities of life. We had categories for the American dream and grand ministry experiences, but many of us didn't have a framework to endure deaths of siblings, financial hardship, cancer, or family conflict. Here we are, 10 years later, trying to deal with hard things and coming to terms with our own sin, and the harsh fact that suffering isn't ageist after all.

It's not my intent to blame-shift, which is another thing we do so well, to play the victim and rage against the machine when we don't get what we want. We need to take responsibility for our role in our delusions, buying into pop Christian culture instead of the Bible, believing the larger cultural claims that youth is the highest good. This isn't an excuse for our poor responses to hardship or for not listening when someone tried to tell us truth. We must own our cynicism and bitterness against the church, even if we have accurately identified some real ways it contributed to the illusion that life would fall into perfectly into place for us.

Grieve Shattered Dreams

Instead, I'm calling us to suffer well, to realize we are not in ultimate control, although many of us have vast amounts of freedom and choices. We need to learn to grieve our shattered dreams, to understand and absorb sadness, to sit with unanswered questions and learn about trusting God in this space without sugar-coating the truth. Although we may not be thinking about knee replacements right now, we need to know that we live in a broken world, and soon enough our bodies will break down too. We need to put to death our expectations of a perfect life, prepare for things to be hard, and realize the fall has affected every part of the world. We need to learn that there is nowhere we can escape from sin, because we can't escape from ourselves. We need to learn to bring our regrets to Jesus, that he can meet us in our shame if we have wasted years of our lives.

But we also need to grow new expectations, ones that wait for God to show up in ways we couldn't imagine, to expect seasons of joy and grace in the midst of difficulties. We need courage to find new dreams when our old ones aren't happening. When I think about these conversations with friends puzzling over our lives, the best parts have been talking about the ways our hard circumstances have brought new life, how the severe mercy of God has forced us to wrestle with the deep truths of Scripture, and how we long for heaven more than we ever would have if life had gone as we wished.

We've also talked about how we need to hear from the older generations, how they have faced hard things and fought for faith. We need their perspective, their wisdom, their words spoken into our lives. We want to hear more from our pastors and leaders about how they move though struggles. We wish the church were more honest, that we didn't feel alone there in our addictions and sin and heartbreak, that we could walk in and be real. Most of us don't care all that much about the music style and building aesthetics. We long for transparent relationships with people who are willing to enter our mess and point us to Jesus. This is how we most want the church to be relevant.

Many of us are investing in the next generation in some way, hoping to show them a real and true picture of life, to teach them that even the "best" years of their lives will include heartache and pain. We want them to have all the excitable idealism of being young, but we want that enthusiasm to be met with wisdom and tempered with reality. Most of all, we want to tell them of all the good we found along the way, how we learned to live again, and how we look to our next decades with hope that God is making something new out of our crushed expectations.

Against the Separation of Marriage and State

It's been a tumultuous year in the battle over marriage. We're losing, and we need a new strategy. The good news is, almost everyone has now seen this need. The bad news is, just as we are leaving behind the dangers of overconfidence, we are facing the dangers of discouragement.

At this tough time, we must be especially careful to avoid wishful thinking. More and more Christians think they have found an easy way out of our marriage dilemmas through a "separation of marriage and state." The idea is to avoid a political debate about marriage by removing that question from the realm of law, policy, and regulation. Let anyone who wants to call themselves married call themselves married, and keep government entirely out of it.

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Don't get me wrong---such an approach would not be the worst possible outcome of the current debate. It would probably be better than full-blown legal institutionalization of gay marriage. Politicians and activists need not fight to the death for perfection; their job is to obtain the most palatable result from a menu of alternatives that is always imperfect and often downright unappetizing. In the coming years, something like a separation of marriage and state is likely to be the least-worst among the bad selection of possible outcomes in many localities.

But many supporters of natural marriage are starting to think a separation of marriage and state is actually the most desirable policy on the merits. If that view prevails, we will have made a considerable error; one that will tend to lead us into even worse errors far beyond the marriage debate. "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good" is sound advice. But it is equally important not to mistake the good---still less the only-sort-of-okay, or even the lousy-but-it's-the-best-we-can-get---for the perfect.

No End

To begin, a separation of marriage and state would not end the political battle over marriage. The vast legal and regulatory apparatus of the modern state does millions of things every day that require it to make assumptions about who is married. From divorce and child custody courts to health care policy to government employee benefits, any serious attempt to make government agnostic about marriage would require policymakers, bureaucrats, and lawyers to make literally millions of decisions about how each of these specific questions would now be handled under the new rules.

There is no way to make those decisions without creating unpredictable and intensely painful disruptions in the lives of large numbers of people. Inevitably, neither side of the marriage debate would be satisfied with the results of the process. Each side would demand that the questions be settled more favorably for its constituencies. And none of these decisions would ever be permanently settled, because both sides will always have opportunities to reopen areas of debate and keep fighting for more turf.

The fact that you can't actually avoid a political battle over marriage points to a deeper problem: the attempt to separate marriage and state would institutionalize a false view of reality. The existence of civil government presupposes the existence of natural marriage. People form political communities to serve social needs that only arise after households already exist.

This is not an exclusively Christian teaching. Until just the other day, it was the prevailing view in every human civilization, including those in which homosexuality was accepted. For ancients like Aristotle and Confucius, political society exists essentially to mediate between households. For moderns like Locke, the natural law that human life is to be protected and increased leads us first to get married and have children, and only later to form governments that help us protect and increase life more effectively.

A separation of marriage and state would institutionalize the view that government need not presuppose natural marriage. That error would probably be less damaging than the error of gay marriage. But it would still have bad consequences.

All About Individuals

For all the important differences between ancient and modern views, they agree that the political community is not something we create because we want to get something for ourselves out of it; it's something we create because we want life and justice to increase. A society that really practiced a separation of marriage and state would come to think---even more strongly than our culture already does---that politics is not about how a community can order its shared life for justice and flourishing. Politics would become, even more than it already is, all about how individuals can satisfy their desires. This is a major contributor to almost every public problem we have today, from the economic crisis to the breakdown of the family to the inability of government to perform even its most basic tasks.

The attempt to make government neutral regarding marriage would also encourage the broader cultural illusion that government is, or can be, morally neutral. People want to be able to live in peace with their neighbors, but public moral commitments that are shared in common make them uncomfortable. The desire for morally neutral government is an attempt to have our cake and eat it, too. It is what lies behind both the collapse of integrity in public institutions and the relentless campaign to force believers to live like secularists whenever they are in public. A separation of marriage and state would encourage this cultural environment further.

For all these reasons, a separation of marriage and state would not be a stable, permanent solution to the marriage dilemma. It's not clear at this point what would be, although some promising ideas have been proposed. We do have to find a way to live in peace with our gay neighbors, accepting them with love as equal citizens. In time, their cultural narrative will fall apart. Until then, we have a messy political problem to navigate---and it does no good to try to avoid the inevitable.

Delicate Tastes

I can think of maybe one sermon I've heard on the subject of gluttony. Whether for fear of shaming portlier parishioners, or because our pastors have noticed how much closer the pulpit has moved to their own waistlines, it's not a subject we address much in church. Yet precisely for that reason our thinking on the issue has become so shallow and one-dimensional, leaving the church, especially our affluent, North American congregations, exposed to a much less obvious, and all the more deceptive form of the temptation.

I have to admit that I struggle with gluttony. Yet those who know me probably wouldn't suspect it. Indeed, I'm tempted to deny it myself because I don't tend to have a weight issue, nor do I find myself eating to excess regularly---well, not since the holidays at least. All the same, this is a sin I'm beginning to realize I need to be increasingly watchful against.

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Of course, that confession only makes sense when you understand that there's more than one way of being a glutton. I'll let C. S. Lewis explain what I mean.

Gluttony of Nice Things

In his 17th letter, Uncle Screwtape corrects his protégé tempter Wormwood's disdain for the enticement towards a lesser sin like gluttony. While Wormwood is wont to write it off, Screwtape says he has misunderstood both its efficacy, scope, and versatility:

One of the great achievements of the last hundred years has been to deaden the human conscience on that subject, so that by now you will hardly find a sermon preached or a conscience troubled about it in the whole length and breadth of Europe. This has largely been effected by concentrating all our efforts on gluttony of Delicacy, not gluttony of Excess. Your patient's mother, as I learn from the dossier and you might have learned from Glubose, is a good example. She would be astonished---one day, I hope, will be---to learn that her whole life is enslaved to this kind of sensuality, which is quite concealed from her by the fact that the quantities involved are small. But what do quantities matter, provided we can use a human belly and palate to produce querulousness, impatience, uncharitableness, and self-concern? (The Screwtape Letters, Letter 17)

Lewis here exposes the gluttony of delicacy. He goes on to describe the way the old woman's "All I want" desires, where all I want is a tea that's "properly" made, or a dish that's "properly" cooked, to the point where she makes her own life and the lives of all around her miserable because of her obsession with having her food measure up to her exacting standard. To be a glutton isn't simply to be driven to overeating, but to make one's stomach one's god (Phil. 3:19). And there are a number of ways of doing so.

In this, per usual, Lewis is drawing on the broader Christian moral tradition and contemporizing with great wisdom and perceptive care. You can find the same sort of distinction made by Thomas Aquinas, who distinguished between inordinate desire in eating with respect to (1) "sumptuousness," (2) quality or "daintiness," or (3) excess (Summa, 2.2.Q.148, 4). Kevin DeYoung calls our attention to a number of other examples in his recent, perceptive article on the issue.

Which brings me to today.

Delicate Tastes

I don't know about you, but the area I live in (Orange County), has gone full-blown into foodie-ism (not to be confused with fideism). Everywhere you turn, new specialty food shops and markets are popping up. Chain restaurants are going down in flames, and rising from the ashes are gastropubs with craft beer and burgers made with cheeses whose names seem to recall the fallen houses of the French aristocracy. Besides tasting better, most of it also boasts the merits of being ethically grown, grass-fed, hormone-free, and overall better for you.

Believe me, I'm not complaining. It's mostly wonderful. For Christians there is a proper place for health concerns---certainly place for buying "ethical" food. What's more, we can make a strong case for preferring fine cheese to a bag of MSG-laced Funyuns.

That said, I've come to suspect the gluttony of nice things, or daintiness, lurking in our increasing appreciation for finer cultural goods. It's one thing to be careful about how you eat and cultivate your palate. But it's quite another when you can only drink just the right artisanal coffee (Starbucks isn't good enough anymore) or can't cope with a salad made with anything less than the freshest backyard-grown kale.

There are times when, and I say this especially with respect to my young evangelical friends, our newfound appreciation for the finer things can be turn into cover for an idolatry of the palate. While initially innocuous, this temptation easily turns into a obnoxious form of "food righteousness," by which you are justified (or damned) by your choice of cereal. (True story: my friends have, at times, dubbed me a Beerisee.) Or, for others, it may lead to an excuse for a poor stewardship of funds, justifying excessive spending because it's on "necessities" like food, as David Brooks has chronicled. Again, this temptation is so brilliant because it's so easy to write off.

Lewis suggests this gluttony can be "gradually turned into habit," such that we come to "the state in which the denial of any one indulgence---it matters not which, champagne or tea, sole colbert or cigarettes---"will put us out of sorts, and then our "charity, justice, and obedience are all at your [the tempter's] mercy." Indeed, the more I give myself over to the gluttony of nice things, the more the idea of sacrificially taking up my cross and risking discomfort the sake of the gospel on becomes unthinkable. I mean, what if they don't have my favorite roast there?

Not a Matter of Food and Drink

Once again, there's nothing wrong with cultivating a nuanced, healthy, ethical taste for God's creation. These are gifts to be received with thanksgiving and enjoyed to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). And yet, as disciples of Jesus, we must take care not to be ruled by our stomachs, but by the God who made them.

Instead of vainly seeking our joy in the temporary satisfaction of an increasingly persnickety palate, we ought turn our eyes to the meal Jesus gave us. In the Lord's Supper Jesus invites us to cultivate a taste for the true food that satisfies the deep hunger of our souls. "For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him" (John 6:56). In the bread he gives us his own body, broken for us, and in the cup, his blood shed for our sins---indeed, through our union with him, in the Supper we are invited to feast on nothing less than Christ himself.

In Christ the Father sets a table for his children that allows them to eat food as if they were not famished (1 Cor. 7:29-30), because they are being increasingly conformed to the image of the one whose "meat is to do the will of him" who sent him (John 4:35), not the will of their belly.

Bitter Breakups and Divine Closure: Our Pain and His Providence

I remember my first failed relationship. I was in junior high and enamored with a girl one year my senior. One day I mustered up the courage to approach her and asked if she would be my girlfriend. Though we hardly knew each other, she said yes.

No one should be surprised that the relationship ended shortly thereafter. Nevertheless, my depraved 14-year-old mind and heart thought that I was in love, and when we broke up, it hurt.

I cringe at the memories of singing love songs (think Usher in 2001) while sobbing in my room, wondering why it had to end.

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Frankly, it was pathetic.

Good, Bad, and Bitter Breakups

Shake your head if you must, but many of us have endured similar experiences in our adult years. Accruing countless breakups before marriage has become the norm.

Many times, we can look back on a relationship and thank God for clearly and providentially intervening. I know I can. But other broken relationships don't readily prompt our thanks.

Perhaps you have dated, courted, or were interested in someone you wanted to marry. Instead the relationship ended, leaving you bitter at the other party or even at God. Maybe the other person is someone you still respect to this day. Or you never got closure and have no idea why it didn't work out.

Ending a relationship without clear reasons or with unanswered questions is tough. I've met many godly young singles still crushed from past relationships. Many of us are acquainted with the feeling of abandonment by a significant other. We have questions. We often demand answers.

The Holy Scriptures offer help. A healthy understanding of God's providence is essential to gaining perspective on our bitter breakups.

Pain and Providence

Recently, I visited a church where the pastor preached on the providence of God and the children of Israel. As he unpacked the first few verses of Exodus, he pointed back to Genesis to show the ways we often overlook God's beautiful providence in the trials and tribulations of this present life.

He talked about Joseph, pointing out how this young man was sold into slavery in a twist of fate that God appointed to prevent the death of Joseph's brothers (and the future nation of Israel) from famine by bringing them to Egypt.

Many of us lack this robust understanding of God's providence. We see it as something that protects us from pain but not something that takes us through pain for our own good. As the pastor rightly observed, for us, providence has become a nickname for "luck."

Providentially Present

So how should a biblical view of providence affect the way we view break ups and failed relationships?

A proper understanding of biblical providence sees God's presence in our pain. When we lose someone significant, feelings of loneliness and abandonment invade our thoughts and emotions. Even if we're surrounded with loved ones who care for us, their words of encouragement and attempts to provide closure rarely bring us comfort. What we really need is divine presence.

Sadly, when we think of God, we sometimes struggle to believe he's near to us. We picture God as a cold dictator, distant and unconcerned with our earthly relationships, bored with our lives and bothered by our troubles. The Holy Scriptures contradict this thinking, reminding us that his hand will lead us and his right hand shall hold us (Ps. 139:10). He's present.

Elisabeth Elliot, author and two-time widow, testifies to this comfort when she writes, "I am not a theologian or a scholar, but I am very aware of the fact that pain is necessary to all of us. In my own life, I think I can honestly say that out of the deepest pain has come the strongest conviction of the presence of God and the love of God."

Providentially Active

However, God isn't simply present and passive. He is alive and therefore present and active. While in college, I was discipled under the umbrella of Reformed University Fellowship. Our campus minister constantly reminded us that in all things, at all times, "God is at work."

The Dutch Reformed theologian and scholar Herman Bavinck taught that the Bible presents a God who is constantly at work in the lives of his people. While Scripture describes the almighty acts of God, it at the same time praises them, in order that we may know the God of the universe is always at work for our good and ultimately his glory.

God is active in our breakups. Scripture is clear that he doesn't just stand nearby watching the affairs of our life unfold, but he in fact orchestrates them (Gen. 45:5; Deut. 8:18; Prov. 21:1). He does so in a way that doesn't violate our moral responsibility, but he is involved.

If we affirm that God is good and loving (Ps. 107:1), we can find comfort in the reality that he is in control of our lives. Why? We, with Joseph, realize that even what is meant for our harm by others, God means it for our good. This can only mean one thing: For those of us in Christ Jesus, our break ups are meant for our good.

Providence and the Gospel

According to the gospel, God is present in the incarnate Lord Jesus and active in his perfect life, death, resurrection, return, and consummation. We wait on the latter two, yet even as we wait "we are sealed with the promised Holy Spirit who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it" (Eph. 1:14) upon Christ's return. Through the Holy Spirit who lives inside of you, God is present and active.

A biblical understanding of providence, according to Bavinck, makes

us grateful when things go well and patient when things go against us, prompts us to rest with childlike submission in the guidance of the Lord and at the same time arouses us from our inertia to the highest levels of activity. In all circumstances of life, it gives us good confidence in our faithful God and Father that he will provide whatever we need for body and soul and that he will turn to our good whatever adversity he sends us in this sad world, since he is able to do this as almighty God and desires to do this as a faithful Father.

In times of deep distress and pain that a broken heart can sometimes bring, rest in the reality that your Father in heaven is good and gives good gifts to those who ask him (Matt. 7:11). A biblical understanding of providence should move us to contentedly trust the hand of God-even when it comes to breakups.

Struggling to Love in the Face of Evil

Even when life is "easy" it is hard to show mercy to our fellow sinners. When enjoying order, safety, and congeniality, serving others can still be a challenge. But when you are drowning in poverty, murder, violence, lawlessness, sickness, injustice, pain, and desperation, showing mercy to sinners amplifies the sin in yourself. As a sinner, it is difficult to love someone who doesn't return your love. So how do you respond when the one you hope to serve desires to kill you?

Our full-time team of a dozen missionaries serves in Honduras. This country is incredibly hard to live in, let alone minister to. For five years running Honduras has been the most murderous country in the world. Its people are the second-poorest in the Western Hemisphere. The average first birth occurs at 15 years of age. Hospitals are closed, police are outgunned, pastors are driven from the country, babies starve, treatable illnesses lead to death, and indifference and apathy are endemic.

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Our fences have barbed wire, our windows have bars, our yards have attack dogs. The ladies on our team are not allowed exercise outdoors or live alone. Our kids can't walk to the corner store or carry mobile phones. Missionaries on our team have suffered burglaries, armed robberies, and had guns put to our heads. Ministry is not easy in Honduras.

Better than Fleeting Comfort

How on earth are we supposed to love a culture that refuses to love itself? And, more importantly to our sin nature, how are we supposed to show mercy to a people who want to harm us? Our mission team has been studying Acts, that ghastly book that tells about missionaries like Paul and Peter and Barnabas, who get chased out of town, beaten, stoned, imprisoned, and continue to plant churches, preach the gospel, and show mercy to those who disparage them. The same book points out my sins and provides examples of a good missionary to whom I will never measure up.

The great theologians understood Christians are called to experience pain, and to endure it, because God is worth so much more than our fleeting comfort and pleasure. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the World War II martyr for Christ, described a Christian as "someone who shares the sufferings of God in the world." Augustine taught, "It is not the punishment but the cause that makes the martyr." Hudson Taylor, the pioneering 19th-century missionary to China, proclaimed, "For our Master's sake, may he make us willing to do or suffer all his will." And John Calvin explained, "You must submit to supreme suffering in order to discover the completion of joy."

Suffering is not a new concept; it is just new to us. Scripture addressed these issues long ago. God is by no means unaware of our pain (Ex. 3:7), and he calls us to endure our sufferings and continue in our service to him (2 Tim. 4:5). We know God will not give us more than we can endure (1 Cor. 10:13), and we understand the Lord prepares his servants for battle (Ps. 144:1). God knows we can endure more than we think we can in his strength. We, on the other hand, have our doubts. Some days the battle just wears us down, and even if we think we can endure another day, we just don't want to.

Not Absolved

Our doubt, pain, and discomfort do not absolve Christians of our responsibility to spread the saving grace of Christ and show his mercy to the needy. Tim Keller stated, "If you look down at the poor and stay aloof from their suffering, you have not really understood or experienced God's grace." We were never promised lack of pain or suffering, only the unwavering knowledge that the Creator of the universe loves us.

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When we struggle with safety and security and still get out of bed every morning to toil in the name of Christ, he receives an extra measure of glory from our labors. How fortunate to experience suffering that results in God's glory, pain that expands God's name, and persecution that points towards heaven! John Piper said, "This is God's universal purpose for all Christian suffering: more contentment in God and less satisfaction in the world." Indeed, our bodies and souls belong to the Lord. Our worship of Christ includes offering our entire life to God. Our joy comes in service when we obey his commands.

Be it money, comfort, family, or friends, mission work entails sacrifice. God calls us to be willing to give all we have. As with all other Christians, missionaries must die to self, forego personal gain, and submit to Christ. No matter the cost we are called to serve the Lord. "They gave our Master a crown of thorns," Martin Luther wrote. "Why do we hope for a crown of roses?"

Why Youth Ministers Need to Be Theologians

We expect a certain level of theological sophistication from our preaching pastors. They must at least know church history, systematic theology, and hopefully some Greek and Hebrew so they can properly interpret and apply the biblical text. We're confident that when we approach them with questions about the canonization of Scripture, the implications of the incarnation, and the doctrine of the body and sexuality, their learning will aid us in responding faithfully to such pressing questions in our culture.

If anything the world bears down with even greater ferocity on the fledging faith of Christian youth. So why should we expect less theological rigor from our youth pastors who serve them through teaching, counseling, and more? Every youth minister needs to be a theologian, whether formally or informally equipped to handle God's Word with integrity and care.

This new 10-minute video feature insights from David Plant, director of youth ministry at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City; Cameron Cole, director of youth ministries at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama; and Liz Edrington, who is pursuing her master's degree in counseling from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. All three serve on the board of advisers for Rooted, which aims to transform student ministry by fostering grace-driven and cross-centered leaders through rich theological and contextual engagement.

This year's Rooted conference on "Truth in a World of Mixed Messages" runs October 9 to 11 in New York City and features Andrew Wilson as the keynote speaker.

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