A Job or A Calling?

I used to think there wasn’t much of a difference between a job, a career, and a calling. I bet you didn’t know that my first job was in an orange juice factory, but I got canned. I just couldn’t concentrate. Then I went up north and worked as a lumberjack, but honestly I couldn’t cut it so they gave me the axe. Finally I tried an inside job and was trained as a tailor, but it soon became obvious that I wasn’t suited for it. (You know I’m kidding, don’t you?) I did have other “real” jobs like working at Burger King, being a lifeguard at the ocean, and on the maintenance crew at a hospital. None of these had my heart, but they paid the bills while I was in seminary.

Unfortunately, it does sound like a familiar scenario for many who go from job to job trying to find something that suits (oops) them. This is very confusing to many men in our culture (and a growing number of women) who tend to define themselves by their occupation. We need to cut through this confusion and first establish our “calling.”

Dr. Timothy Butler of the Harvard Business School acknowledges this: “There are three words that tend to be used interchangeably- and shouldn’t be. They are “vocation,” “career,” and “job.” Vocation is the most profound of the three because it has to do with your calling. It is what you are doing in life that makes a difference for you, that builds meaning for you, that you can look back on in your later years to see the impact you’ve made on the world. A calling is something you have to listen for.”

I would define a job as something you do to pay the bills. I think that a career is also working for the paycheck, but there are usually more opportunities for advancement and training in your field that bring a longer term vision for a professional future.

A calling, however, is where your skill, passion, and gift-mix are so interconnected that you may feel you could make a difference in this world. One of my friends, Paul Sweas, gave me a quote that I think is terrific: “A job/career is what you are paid for. A calling is what you are made for.” What have you been made for? I think that is more important than asking yourself what you would like to do for a living.

There are some for whom a job (and even a career) not only pays the bills, but enables them to fulfill their calling in another area. Many have called it “tent making,” replicating the Apostle Paul who literally made tents to support himself while doing ministry. For others, their calling also translates into a job and a career, like it has for me after 47 years in pastoral ministry. But what really matters is our calling.

This will be my last semester of having “a job”. I will be stepping down as Chaplain of Wheaton College Graduate School. What will I do in “retirement”?  I have no idea. But there is one thing I know that will not change — my calling, as a Pastor. How that will be played out in the future is my next great adventure. Who knows, maybe I’ll be a chaplain in an orange juice factory– this time I’ll concentrate!

Clever Quips, Quotes, and Smore…

I like to collect clever quips, quotes, and statistics. Here are some for your enjoyment:

“USA Today has come out with a new survey – apparently, three out of every four people make up 75% of the population.” (David Letterman) “The trouble with a rat race is that even when you win, you’re still a rat.” (Lily Tomlin) “Committee – a group of people who individually can do nothing but as a group decide that nothing can be done.” (Fred Allen) “When the path ahead of you is uphill, surrounded by rough spots, hazards and obstacles: use a pitching wedge.” (Lee Brachen) “If pro is opposite of con, then what is the opposite of progress?” (think about that and say Amen!)

“It is believed that Shakespeare was 46 around the time that the King James Version of the Bible was written. In Psalm 46, the 46th word from the first word is “shake”and the 46th word from the last word is spear.” (hmm) “A child can go only so far in life without potty training. It is not mere coincidence that six of the last seven presidents were potty trained, not to mention nearly half of the nation’s state legislators.” (Dave Berry, on how statistics can be used to prove anything)

“I know statistically if you don’t get married, you’re less likely to get divorced.” (Craig Ferguson) “If at first you don’t succeed, destroy all evidence that you tried.” (unknown)Isn’t Disney World just a people trap operated by a mouse?” (anonymous) “If 75% of all accidents happen within 5 miles of home, why not move 10 miles away?” (anonymous)

“I’m not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” (Woody Allen) “I never forget a face, but in your case I’ll make an exception.” (Groucho Marx) “We need a 12-step group for compulsive talkers. They could call it On Anon Anon. (Paula Poundstone) “What do you do when you see an endangered animal eating an endangered plant?” (George Carlin)

Finally some anonymous ones:

“The last thing I want to do is insult you. But it IS on the list.” “Letting the cat out of the bag is a whole lot easier than putting it back in.” “Treat each day as your last; one day you will be right.” “Help stamp out, eliminate, and abolish redundancy”! “Jesus loves you, it’s everyone else who thinks your an idiot.” “Why did the chicken go to the seance? To get to the other side.” “How do you make a tissue dance? Put a little boogie in it.” “Sometimes I just want to go to IKEA, hide in a wardrobe, and wait for someone to open it and yell ‘Welcome to Narnia!'”

Finally (this time I mean it), in honor of Valentines Day:

“I looked in my wallet and it was empty. I looked in my pockets and they were empty. Then I looked in my heart and found you, and realized that you had taken all my money.” “People say you can’t live without love. But I think oxygen is more important.” “Isn’t it ironic that we have Valentines Day at the height of flu season?”  “Will you be my Valentine? That was a rhetorical question, you have no choice- we’re married.”  “Love one another as I have loved you.” (Jesus) “We love because he first loved us.” (St John)

 

 

 

 

What God cannot do (2)

While we believe that God is All-Powerful, we also believe that there are some things that God cannot do. That statement may come as a surprise, but skeptics and atheists alike love to propose such things, so let’s beat them to the punch.

We have already mentioned in a previous post that God is limited by things that are illogical. The questions whether God could make a rock so big that he could not lift it or make a snowball so big he could not roll it are illogical – not even logical contradictions. Why in the world would anyone (let alone God) want to do these things in the first place? Such questions remind me of the character Herod in the rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar.” He wanted to meet Jesus so he could ask him to walk across his swimming pool. And just as Herod’s interview was met with silence by Jesus, so questions like these do not merit serious consideration.

There is another more serious consideration, however, that is often used to question the All Powerfulness of God. Since most of the evil in this world comes from other humans, and if God created humanity as free moral beings, why could he not have created them free but without the ability to abuse that freedom? Another form of the question might be to ask why God allows people do such terrible things without stepping in to prevent those things from happening?

These questions are not merely exercises in intellectual gymnastics. They often come from an honest response to tragedy and pain that has been inflicted by wrong-headed or wrong-hearted people. Why did God allow this holocaust, this abuse, this injustice to take place? We are not struggling with why God created us free moral beings and not robots, but with why God allows the evil to exist that flows from the exercise of that freedom.

I think we already know the answer. If we are free in our choices, then implicit in that freedom is the ability to choose evil. CS Lewis said “…God is good; that He made all things good and for the sake of of their goodness; … one of the good things He made, namely, the free will of rational creatures, by its very nature included the possibility of evil; and that creatures , availing themselves of that possibility, have become evil” (The Problem of Pain, 69).

We like the idea of being free to live and choose as we please, but then we hold God responsible when he doesn’t stop people from doing terrible things that are consequent of that freedom. What do we then expect God to do when people freely act in an evil way? Do we expect a club to turn into spaghetti, a knife into a cucumber, a bullet into a paintball before they strike and do harm? If he did these things would we really be free, and how evil would the deed have to be before he intervened? After all, shouldn’t we be allowed to live as we please just as long as we don’t hurt others?

To sum up: God cannot grant us freedom and withhold freedom at the same time; create human beings free without giving them the ability to abuse that freedom. It is a logical impossibility, much like making a surface that is both smooth and rough at the same time. (JonTal Murphy)

Someday, in God’s heavenly kingdom, we will be recreated to always freely choose to do good – just like Jesus. However, he did not create us that way originally. We were created as free moral beings with sinless natures, with the potential of using that freedom to choose good or evil. We chose evil, and our natures have become corrupted.

We can continue to argue with how God made the world, but we cannot blame him for the evil we freely do to one another. We can also marvel at how his Sovereign power can restrain evil (Job 1:12; 2:6; Rom 8:20-23); how, in his Providence, he can make good come out of evil (Gen 50:20; Rom 8:28, 29); and how he dealt a fatal blow to evil through Christ’s death and resurrection (1 Cor 15:50-57; Col 2:15, 16).

But there is one more thing that God cannot do…next blog.

 

What God cannot do…

We believe that God is All-Powerful. Have you ever had anyone say to you, “OK, then, can God create a rock so big that he cannot lift it or a snowball so heavy that he cannot throw it?” Ah, trick questions, but they have filled cynics with glee and provided Christians with head-scratcher for centuries. I couldn’t trace who first asked the rock question, but did find that it is  part of a larger system of questions composing “the omnipotence paradox,” which actually dated back to the Middle Ages. They were addressed by Christian Theologians like Thomas Aquinas and even the Muslim Scholar Averroes. Enough history…

The point I am going to make here may surprise you but I believe that there are things that God cannot do.  Some theologians have tried to explain these paradoxes by making a distinction between power and ability. In the words, God’s power can make the big rock- no problemo – but he does not have the ability to lift it because he cannot do what simply cannot be done.

Clear as mud? Let me get more specific. God cannot do those things which are limited by the illogical. I am not saying that God is limited by the laws of logic because he is Logic. Just as he is Love, he is also Mind, Intelligence. Thus God is limited by that which is not logical.

For example, Aquinas said, “God cannot make the things that are, never to have been.” In other words, God cannot make something that has happened to “unhappen.” While he forgives the sins of the past and does not deal with us according to them in Christ (treating us just-as-if-ied never sinned), he cannot make us so that we never committed those sins in the first place. In the same way, God cannot make a square circle, a giant midget, a jumbo shrimp (sorry- that’s an oxymoron) or a rock so big that he cannot lift it. These concepts are not even “things”; they are contradictions that have no reality.

This “limitation” is actually an encouragement to my faith. I believe that God does not use his power to play around with things that do not matter, like some immature wizard. But his power is demonstrated in things that directly affect us, such as Creating the universe and Redeeming sinful people like me, through Jesus Christ  (Colossians 1:13-20).

I’ll let you think about this and maybe you can come up with some other things that God cannot do. By the way, I’ve got two more… later.

What God cannot do (3)

We have discussed the fact that God cannot do that which is illogical (make a rock so big he cannot move it), and he cannot do that which is a logical contradiction (make us free moral agents and prevent us from choosing evil at the same time).

There is one more thing that God cannot do. God cannot do anything that morally contradicts his own nature. For those of you who have studied philosophy, I am not going to get into the Euthyphro Dilemma or argue the Divine Command Theory. Suffice it to say, that the Bible reveals that what we know of goodness, rightness, justice, morality, ethics, law, etc., flow from the very nature of God. How can I grasp goodness apart from a God who is good? How do I really understand social justice apart from a God who is just?

To digress: A question that is often debated is relevant here; can someone be good (moral) without God? Well, yes and no; how’s that for being definitive? By saying yes, I mean that a person can be a moral person without believing in God. Atheists can be good people from a human point of view. However, by saying no, I mean that if God did not exist we would not know what good or right means in an absolute sense. Every culture might have its own code of “ethics,” but this code would have little significance in another culture. Thus there would be no Geneva Conventions, International Tribunals, International Criminal Courts (Hague), or International Courts of Justice (UN) because there would be no common understanding of morality by which justice could be determined.

Back to our main point: God, therefore, cannot do anything that is contrary to his own moral nature. In Hebrews 6: 18, it says that God cannot lie; Psalm 89:34, God cannot break his promise. James 1:13 says that God cannot be tempted with evil nor can he tempt anyone to do evil. In 2 Timothy 2:13 we read that God cannot deny himself, which in the context means that God can never be faithless or untrustworthy. Habakkuk 1:13 states that God “cannot look upon evil,” which means that he cannot approve of evil. Finally, in Malachi 3:6 God declares “For I the Lord do not change…” God is eternally consistent with himself; he is not subject to mood swings and never reconfigures himself for a new generation.

“It would be appropriate to say God cannot do what is incongruous with himself. He is morally prohibited from doing what is not right because that would be disconsonant with his own (nature) of rightness. The limitation on his ability…is not logical but moral.” (JonTal Murphree, Loving God and a Suffering World, 31)

In summary, there are 3 things that God cannot do: God cannot do that which is illogical (make something that has happened never to have happened); he cannot do that which is a logical contradiction (make a square circle); God cannot do anything that is against his own moral nature (he cannot lie).

Now, what are things God can do? Find out for yourself and read the Bible!

 

 

Benedictus

Benedictus        Zechariah’s psalm or song in Luke 1:68-79 contains prophetic insight.  It is one of the four canticles or songs in Luke’s gospel. Each named according to the first word (Latin) in the songs: Mary’s song (Magnificat, my soul magnifies the Lord), Simeon’s song (Nunc Dimittis, now dismiss your servant), the Angels’ song (Nolite Timere, do not be afraid), and Zechariah’s song (Benedictus, Praise to the Lord).  Let’s look a little more closely at Zechariah’s song because it sets forth some characteristics of the kind of people we ought to be.

This song was sung by a mature and pious man who still had a lot to learn about God. It shows us that no matter what level of spiritual maturity we have obtained, we still need to grow. Perhaps Zechariah’s heart had grown indifferent towards God, because of the routines of ministry or being a priest and thinking he knew pretty much everything. Maybe he was preoccupied with his own life circumstances and a little angry that he had not been blessed with a child after all he had done for God.  How many of us who have been Christians for a long time have stopped learning and growing, and have become indifferent towards God?

Do you ever look back at a previous time in your life when you were more passionate about your faith than you are now?  Maybe you have some lingering issues with God and feel he has not dealt fairly with you after all your years of service. What will it take for you to have a growth spurt and to sing your own Benedictus?

Zechariah grew by keeping his mouth shut, listening to the Word of God, and then obeying it.  This seems to be a spiritual principle in times of uncertainty.  Psalm 46:10, Be still and know that I am God.  When was the last time you kept your mouth shut in God’s presence, just listened to Him speak through His Word, and then said, “yes sir.”

This song was sung by a man who was striving to understand his time-bound circumstances over against the timeless coming of the Messiah. At that time Israel was dominated by the iron hand of Rome. Zechariah catches a vision that God was going to give him a son, John the Baptist, who would prepare the way for the Messiah. This Messiah, Jesus Christ, would redeem his people and save them from their enemies and all who hated them. Zechariah had this perspective that God’s salvation was both spiritual and physical; redemption from sin and deliverance from the abusive power of Rome.

At Christmas-time, 2018, our concerns differ from those of Zechariah’s. We may not fear Rome, but we may fear the economy, the turbulent political situation and the direction of our nation, home-grown terrorism, the greatest refugee crisis since WW2, racial injustice, and gang violence on the streets of our cities. We may fear our own life-dominating issues such as disease, substance abuse, sexual addiction, or marriage and family crises.  Jesus Christ has come in order to save us from our sin, to deliver us from those things that dominate us, and to usher in a kingdom where peace, righteousness, and justice reign.

Pie in the sky? Ted Turner once said, “Almost every religion talks about a savior coming.  When you look in the mirror in the morning, you’re looking at the savior.  Nobody else is going to save you but yourself.” (Christian Century, Dec. 20-27, 2000)

However, the reality that most people in time will have the bottom drop out of their lives and will realize that they cannot save themselves.  Most will feel overwhelmed because we live in such a crazy world where there really are no safe places or super heroes who will save us. But to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, because of His tender mercies, God has sent a Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.  And when we acknowledge our trust in Christ, even though things are not yet perfect and there is a lot of pain yet to be faced, we can still sing Praise to the Lord…because He has redeemed His people and has raised up salvation for us from the house of his servant David…to rescue us from the hand of our enemies and to enable us to serve him without fear.

This song was sung by a man who believed in a God who keeps His Promise. In fact, three of the four songs of Luke’s gospel revolve around the theme of God keeping His Promise. Mary acknowledged that through the birth of Messiah, God was remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever. When Simeon saw the Christ child, he said, Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, now dismiss your servant in peace. And Zechariah praised God because, in the Messiah, He was granting salvation for the house of David as he said through his holy prophets long ago… remember(ring) his covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham. God keep His promises.  In fact Zechariah’s name means “God remembers” and Elizabeth’s name means “God’s oath.”

It had been 400 years since God last spoke to Israel through the prophets.  His last words were, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord.  He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers (Malachi 4:5, 6), and here in John the Baptist, was the fulfillment of that prophecy. Jesus called him the Elijah who was to come (Matthew 11:14).

We can also be assured that even though it has been 2,000 years since Jesus said that He was going to return, God will remember His Promise. God is not slack in keeping his promise…He is being patient…not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

Even so, Come Lord Jesus…