To His Glory…

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.

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image credit: YouVersion Bible App

(c) workisministry 2020

Enjoying Life “Under the Sun”

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.”

Ecclesiastes 5:18

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!

What do you enjoy “under the sun”?

Soli DEO Gloria!

(c) workisministry 2020

1“Reward.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/reward. Accessed 11 Aug. 2020.

2Hughes, John, et al. Ferris Bueller’s day off. Hollywood, CA: Paramount Pictures Corp, 1987.

Church Music: Unity or Division?

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!”

Psalm 96:1 NIV

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image credit YouVersion

(c) workisministry 2020

Blessing Aug 2, 2020

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.

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image Credit: YouVersion

(c) workisministry 2020

Seeking Peace

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!

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image credit: YouVersion

(c) workisministry 2020

Strong Gentleness

We live in a very competitive society. Our competitiveness plays out in sports, business, on the road… really in virtually every aspect of our lives. Recently, I’ve noticed an ugly competitiveness becoming more prevalent in our society. It is on full display in the news and on social media; so much so that I have taken a hiatus from most of the major news networks and two of the most popular social media platforms. Competition can be healthy. But taken too far, it can do great harm.

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

Ephesians 4:2 NLT

In his sermon on gentleness last Sunday, pastor Trey Little of Grace Presbyterian Church here in Houston described gentleness as a strength. Indeed, in a society that often interprets gentleness as a weakness, it is a strength wrapped in peace. I couldn’t agree more.

Considering recent events in our country, it appears that gentleness and humility, to a large extent, have been thrown out the proverbial window. We see anger and violence playing out in the streets of many cities across the country. We see friendships destroyed as polarized views become insurmountable walls. And, as I stated earlier, we see people lashing out at one another on social media as anger increasingly becomes the rule of the day. This is not good, and it certainly isn’t healthy – not for our society and not for us individually.

I, for one, feel that we need more gentleness and humility in our society. As pastor Little said, we are to handle people, all people, with care. Isn’t this a much more positive approach to life and its challenges?

As I consider my reentry onto Facebook and Twitter, I am thinking about how I will reconstruct my experience so the anger and divisiveness is in the background as attitudes of gentleness, humility, love and patience take center stage. We Christians are to be Jesus to our world. We are to let our lights shine so that the world looks upon us and gives glory to our Father in heaven (see Matthew 5:14-16 and Sunday’s post here). That is my mission in business. It is my mission on social media. It is my mission here. Indeed, it is my mission in life.

Gentleness… Humility… Patience… Love...

Let’s do this. Let’s BE this.

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image credit: YouVersion Bible App

(c) workisministry 2020

Let Your Light Shine…

I have read these words of Jesus many times. I read them again just a few days ago, and they resonated with me in a big and wonderful way.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden, nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16

I have written before about what I call my “walking witness”. Everything I say and do points to something or someone. My words and my actions reveal my heart. When people look upon one another and observe the way we conduct ourselves, they draw conclusions about the base motivations that drive the behaviors. What message am I conveying to those around me when I speak or when I act? To whom do my words and actions point? Are my words and actions helpful or are they a hindrance? Most importantly, does my conduct point others to Jesus, or does it point them elsewhere?

2020 has been a very trying year so far. The world has been impacted heavily, in so many ways, by COVID-19. As we began to see improvement in disease spread and reducing death counts, the tragic murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis occurred. Following that, peaceful protests descended into violent riots, with the livelihoods of innocent citizens destroyed as large swaths of many of America’s greatest cities descended into chaos. The lawlessness and disorder continues in several cities today as the level of anger across our nation seems to be increasing exponentially.

If there was ever a time when God’s people need to let our lights shine, that time is now.

As the events of 2020 unfolded, I found myself sucked into the anger and divisiveness in ample display on Facebook and Twitter. News feeds that were once dominated by life events and useful information have become platforms for sowing divisiveness and disunity. Well-intended expressions of position are attacked by those in opposition, sometimes in ugly and threatening ways. I found myself drawn into this. As I review my own posts and comments to posts of others, I am dismayed and even disturbed by several of them. Indeed, these social media platforms I once enjoyed became snares. How does one deal with a snare? Snares and traps are best avoided by staying away or removing them altogether. So I decided to exit. I logged off of both platforms and deleted their applications from my devices. In the 12 days since I began my hiatus from Facebook and Twitter, the anger and frustration I felt have quickly disappeared. I decided I would not return.

Then, just a few days ago, I read these words of Jesus. I quickly realized that I had allowed the world to extinguish my light, at least on these huge platforms that reach millions of people. I realized that the world needs the light of the Gospel to pierce the darkness of sin, despair and chaos. I realized that the easy way out is to stay away and keep quiet. But God doesn’t call us to take the easy way out. He doesn’t call us to stay away and keep quiet. He calls us to be the light of the world, shining brightly from the lampstand of the Gospel so that the world, through me and through you, can see Jesus.

At some point, I will return to Facebook and Twitter. But before I do, I am prayerfully considering how I will reconstruct and recraft my experiences to avoid the snares of anger and divisiveness while being the light my Lord calls me to be. I will let my light shine in such a way that those on Facebook and Twitter see my posts and glorify my Father who is in heaven. In so doing, I hope to be a witness to my Lord while once again enjoying the personal connections of so many friends and loved ones.

If there was ever a time when God’s people need to let our lights shine, that time is now. May God direct my words and actions as I prepare to relight my lamp.

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image credit; YouVersion Bible App

(c) workisministry 2020

I’m Reminded…

I’m reminded over the past few days that I have no tolerance for lawlessness and chaos.

Sadly, I’ve learned over the past few days that many seem fine with lawlessness and chaos, as long as it helps achieve some objective.

I’m reminded over the past few days of just how precious life is – every life. Black, white, brown, pre-born, and how each of these deserve to be protected.

I’m reminded over the past few days that government leaders are human beings in need of prayer support from the faithful.

I’m reminded over the past few days that my political views differ greatly from those of many people important to me, and that I still treasure their friendships.

I’m reminded over the past few days that evil is ready to take God’s place when we open the door and invite it in. We see this playing out in many great cities across our country.

I’m reminded over the past few days that this is my Father’s world, and even in the midst of human chaos, Jesus is on His throne.

I’m reminded over the past few days of just how vast and ripe is the harvest of souls for Christ; that He loves each and every one of them, and how badly I want to be salt and light to this lost and fallen world.

I went to bed angry last night. I woke up angry this morning. This is no way to live. My prayers this morning are for our nation, our elected officials, and for those charged with keeping the peace. I also pray that we Christians would rise above the fray and be Jesus to our world. We can do better. We must do better. In Christ, we will do better.

Soli DEO Gloria.

(c) workisministry 2020

Kindness

How are you doing? Are you worried about, or frightened of, COVID-19? Are you frustrated at having been locked down for a long period of time? Are you out of work? Perhaps you’ve lost a loved one? How are you doing?

“Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.”

Proverbs 12:25 NASB

I know people in each of the situations I asked about. Some are more anxious and worried than others. Some are frustrated while others are downright angry. There is much disagreement over how we as individuals and as a society should conduct ourselves in this COVID-19 era. All too often, these differing positions yield resentment and division among smart people; even people with family ties or otherwise strong friendships. And this does none of us any good.

This succinct little proverb reminds us that, when others are experiencing difficulty, kindness is king. Even when we disagree, it is vitally important that we seek to understand and seek to be kind.

Let each of us pledge to take this into our day – today and every day.

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image credit: YouVersion Bible App

(c) workisministry 2020

I Shook His Hand

I shook a neighbor’s hand yesterday. That’s right. In this era of social distancing and sideways glances, my neighbor offered his hand and I shook it. And, after shaking his hand, I threw my hands into the air and shouted, “Thank you, Jesus!” All who were with us laughed. And everybody understood.

So here is the story. After dinner, my wife and I took a walk in our neighborhood. As with most evenings, there were many neighbors outside enjoying the relative cool of the evening. One street over from us is a house with living space over the garage similar to ours. The homeowners happened to be outside and we asked them about the french doors and balcony on the front of their garage space, as we have been considering doing something similar. A conversation about living upstairs during post-Harvey home repairs ensued. At the end of the conversation, as we prepared to continue our walk, our neighbor extended his hand to me and said, “It is a pleasure to meet you. My name is George.”

George and I stood there a moment and looked at each other. I could tell he had somewhat reflexively offered his hand and wondered if perhaps he did so out of habit, not really intending to shake my hand. After meeting his gaze for just a few seconds I said, “I’ll shake your hand,” and I shook it. We exchanged a good, firm handshake. Just like I do routinely before and after business meetings. Just like I do routinely upon meeting a new acquaintance. And I can tell you that that good, firm handshake was therapeutic.

A business colleague recently posted this on LinkedIn:

“With the “new normal”, handshakes may become a thing of the past. We will each need a new way to greet-elbow bump, foot touch etc.”

Upon reading this post, I had to pause and think about that. Is this what COVID is doing to our society? Are we destined to live lives in which we view others as a cesspool of germs, afraid to interact and afraid to have contact? While I understand and generally support the social distancing measures currently in place, I reject the notion that social distancing must somehow become a permanent fixture of human life. Having said that, my intention here is not to stir up controversy, but simply to offer a more hopeful view of our post-COVID future. All inspired by the handshake I exchanged with my neighbor yesterday evening. That wonderful, therapeutic handshake.

Friends, I believe that God is doing some amazing work amid these strange and crazy times, and that He will reveal it in His good and perfect timing. For me, I have already gained a strengthened appreciation for my friendships and for human interaction in general. And, while I am thankful for the technology that allows us to remain connected remotely, I look forward to someday shaking your hand once again. If you choose not to reciprocate, that’s OK; I will respect your choice and take no offense. If you choose to accept, be ready to accept a good, hearty firm handshake in the spirit of human connection.

Soli DEO Gloria!

(c) workisministry 2020