September 19, 2015

Saturday Morning Post

It is a beautiful day here in sunny Phoenix. It is going to be another warm day (around 100-102), and while this is not-so-normal for September, it is not as bad as it has been this past summer. Our humidity is down, somewhere only in the low teens, so while the afternoons warm up quite a bit, the overall feeling is not oppressive. Next week, the forecast looks to be mid-90s. What a welcome relief!

I slept soundly last night, and I am feeling pretty good today. I woke up early, thanks to Winston, who likes the fact that three days each week, I am up at 5:30 a.m. However, on Saturday-Sunday, I want to sleep in. I need to make sure he gets the memo for tomorrow! Still, I woke up refreshed, and that is a good thing. My back is a bit sore and stiff, but overall, I am feeling well. It is a good thing, too, since my schedule at school seems to be settling into a routine, but my courses at Regent are picking up steam. LOL! Why is that such a surprise?

Overall, my semester seems to be going well, and for that, I am thankful. I got paid yesterday (woohoo!), and at the least for the next couple months, my income is satisfactory to cover my expenses. I am thankful for the courses I am teaching, even if I am not crazy about one of the classes or the day-to-day work. In truth, I was praying about this today, and I thanked the Lord for this work. I mean, 10 years ago, I would have worked 6-12 weeks on a website design and been paid a whole lot less than what I am making now for 15 weeks of work. I guess you could say that I have come up in the world (LOL!) In truth, the work I do is far more satisfying than anything else I have done. I was praying over this yesterday, talking with the Lord on my way home, and I confessed to Him that I have been grumbling about the kind of work He has me doing right now. I know, crazy, right? How blessed am I, and yet here I am grumbling to the Lord for His provision! Sigh! Flesh!

Work for Profit or for the Lord

As I was driving home last night, I was praying over my path, you know, where I am right now and all. I was telling the Lord how I never imagined that this is where I would be today. I mean, I really never imagined I would be teaching all. I had assumed that "ship had floated" already some 25 years earlier. But, the Lord chose to bless me with this opportunity to do this work and here I am now. I am a teacher, and I am thanking the Lord for this blessing. The thought struck me as I was thanking Him for His provision that I am right where He planted me. Yes, you see, in His beautiful garden, He chose to plant me as a teacher. Thank you, Jesus! I love the fact that this is what I get to do every semester, and that I get to work at a college/university, teaching young people how to write and how to communicate. It is not rocket science for sure, and I am not discovering some new cure for a horrible disease. I am not saving people from burning buildings or even building those buildings from brick and mortar. No, I am spending my days helping them learn how to write well formed sentences, paragraphs, and essays, and I am teaching them the value of strong interpersonal communication skill. In short, I am helping them to be prepared for life by giving them practical help in practical areas. It might not be exciting, but I get to look into the faces of 100 students each day, and be there for them, in whatever little way I can. It is nice work, satisfying work, and hopefully, practical work that will prepare them to do whatever the Lord has called them to do. I am blessed to be able to do it at my age, and to be able to work in this profession for a while before I retire. I do wish I would have started this earlier in my career, but then the work I did in other areas has helped me, I think, become a better educator in the long run. Yes, I was thanking the Lord for this blessed opportunity, and for providing rich and rewarding work for me to do.

Some Context

This past week, I read Dorothy Sayers' classic work, "Letters to a Diminished Church" for my COM 709 Theology course at Regent University. This class has been wonderful, I mean just wonderful. I saved it for my last semester only because I had heard that it was one of the most challenging courses in my program -- lots of reading and writing -- so I thought I had best save it until I was a more seasoned doctoral student. In truth, I am glad I did because my worldview, mindset, and overall appreciation of communication as a discipline has changed over the past three years of study. I am in a different place than when I first started this program. In many ways, I have grown as a scholar and as a person! I think differently now, and because of my mind shift, I am better able to grasp the significance of these works in light of the authors contribution to communication study. That, my friends, was a very long digression that had nothing whatsoever to do with Sayer's collection of essays!

Sayers work is interesting. If you are not familiar with her writing as a fictional crime writer, then here is a brief introduction. Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957) is an English author, essayist, and lay-theologian (similar to C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton) and is best known for her Lord Peter Wimsey stories that take place during the lead up to and years surrounding WWII. She is also well known as an essayist, and her collection of essays on various topics of interest to her during the war years, focus most specifically on her concerns about the stature of the church and its negligent stance on the teaching of doctrine and the preaching of doctrine.

Although her writing is witty, and at times pointed, it is her concern for the Christian man and woman, especially the uneducated and the Biblically illiterate, that is of such poignant value. You see, Sayers believed that once the church stopped teaching doctrine (as in a statement of belief) the church as a whole began to sink into a pool of mediocrity and faulty thinking. Her point was that the early reliance on creeds, specifically the Apostles Creed, helped Christians, old and new, to understand the theology behind what they said they believed. In her view, the church was relying too much on personal experience, and less on doctrine and dogma (beliefs that are held to be incontrovertible or undisputed).

It is an interesting point of view considering when she first made it. You see, the modern church faces a similar foundational crisis, one which Charlotte Mason would classify as the teaching of "twaddle" rather than the teaching of truth. Twaddle to Miss Mason, a 19th century English philosopher and educationalist, was the teaching of "pablum," baby food, to children long past the time for soft foods. Twaddle, in particular was considered to be fluff, worthless entertainment, suited towards the dull mind of the dull child. Likewise, Sayers argues that as the church stopped teaching doctrine (solid meat), the ability of her children to think clearly, to understand the mysteries of the Christian faith, and the grasp the significance of the Gospel deteriorated. Thus, Christians in her time as well as in our modern era, are messed up, mixed up, and confused about the truth of Scripture. In sum, Christians do not know nor do they understand what they say they believe.

The Blessing of Work

In and in between her essays on doctrine and dogma, there is one particular theme that resonates with my blog post today. Sayers expounds on her views on work, the nature of work, and the Christian's attitude toward it. You see, for many Christians, work has become synonymous with profit making. Yes, the very attitude we have toward our work is related directly to how much money we can make from it. Sayers argues for a return to the Biblical understanding of work, that our attitude toward the work we do needs to be reshaped to conform to God's standard and design. In doing so she says, Christians will find far more enjoyment, satisfaction, and eagerness in their work, whatever that work may be, and will come to see the value in their everyday labors.

I enjoyed reading this essay because it reminded me of the importance of maintaining a Biblical mindset regardless of the circumstances we might face. Sayers suggests that if we change our views on the nature of our work, on the reasons why we work, we will find more enjoyment in the tasks we do each day. I think she makes a really good point because so often we see our work as a means-to-an-end. I mean, I know that I do that often. I classify my work based on how much money I make each week. I ask myself, "is it enough?" and then I place a value on that work. In this way, I am only focused on what I get out of the work, rather than I what others get out of the work I perform. You see, from a Biblical standpoint, our work should be driven outward and not inward. It is not about what I can make, how much I can achieve, but rather our work should be driven by the satisfaction of knowing how we have blessed others in our life. It seems rather easy when you consider it this way, but Sayers argues that because we have shifted the focus from others to ourself we lose the blessing of feeling as though we are making a difference, doing something important and valuable, no matter how small or insignificant it may feel to us.

I like her approach, and I agree with her. I think that from a Biblical standpoint, our work attitude should be on ministry. No matter what job we may do, what professional vocation we engage in, we must always think about how our work impacts and influences the lives of others around us. Perhaps if we did have this mindset, we would find that our influence would be demonstrated in our workplace and among our coworkers. In truth, how many people see "Christ" at work or in our workplaces? My guess is that unless you work in a church or for a ministry organization, the likelihood that Christ is seen regularly is slim-to-nil. Now, consider that I didn't say "How many people hear about Christ or are told what the Bible says about Christ" in the workplace, but instead I said "see Him." There is a big difference. I think Christians believe that as long as they are talking about Him, then they are doing His work. This is partly true, of course, because we do need to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others. But just consider this for a moment. In teaching pedagogy, we are told that we must not tell students how to do something, but we must show them how to do it. There is a big difference. We are to demonstrate how something is done, and then through example, they will see how to do it themselves.

Most Christians, I would say, have no clue about how to teach another person about Christ. They speak about Him, talk about what He has done in their lives, how He has changed them from this miserable person to this wonderful person, etc. They don't show anyone the way, no they just point to a direction and say "go to this church or that church" and find Him. Showing Jesus requires humility, and it requires a life that has learned by example. You see, if I want to teach my students how to write a good academic essay, I first have to have experience in writing good academic essays. I can study manuals, read teacher guides, and even learn the "words to use" to tell them how to write an essay. All of this is good and well, but without having first hand experience, I cannot show them what to do. I have to relate the training material to the practical experience and then demonstrate it so that they will understand what to do. It is the nature of teaching properly, and as Christians we fail miserably in doing this work.

I think the reason we fail is two-fold. First off, we do not understand how people learn, how it is best to learn, so we think we can just "talk someone into believing." Second, because we do not understand the material ourselves, and we have not taken the material and synthesized it with our personal experience, we fall short in being able to demonstrate what we are saying. It really comes down to this: Have you experienced Jesus personally? If yes, then you are to take what you have experienced, and then share that experience in a way that aligns with the Word of God. You must be able to put the two-together. You cannot just share your experience, but you have to share both parts with another person.

Knowing What You Believe and Why

Knowing what you believe and why is the first step to sharing your faith in a real way with other people. It is sharing Jesus in a living and dynamic way. However, to do it, you must understand why you believe what you say you believe. This is more than knowing Bible verses. It is about the doctrine (the set of beliefs that support your conversion experience). Doctrine is the set of beliefs held by a person or group of people. Dogma, which gets a really bad rap, is simply taking those beliefs and accepting that they are true, incontrovertible and undisputed. The doctrine that you stand on is the beliefs that you say you hold to be true. If you agree with the Christian faith then you are saying to believe the following:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Christian church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

Now, saying you agree is one thing, but do you understand what each of these "beliefs" mean, theologically speaking? If not, then this is why we must teach doctrine, why we must bring doctrine back into the church, and why it is valuable for teaching today just as it was centuries ago. If the church, and the people who make up the church, do not know what it is that they believe, they will be lured away by false prophets and false doctrine.

Sayers, Lewis, Chesterton, and a whole host of early 20th century lay-theologians argued for the necessity of teaching orthodoxy (teaching the main tenets of the Christian faith) in the church. They did not argue for ritual, but rather they simply said that they believed that doctrine was good, that dogma was valuable, and that with the teaching of these two aspects of theology, Christians would be more sure-footed, more stable, and more secure in their faith. I agree.

So what does all this have to do with working, with the 9-to-5 work I do? A whole lot, really. What it all means is that our life, for it to have meaning, and for us to receive satisfaction from it, we must make sure our worldview is centered on the One who created us. Yes, if our worldview begins and ends with Jesus Christ, then everything we do will be ordered rightly around Him. This means that the practical work we do will be to produce character in us that serves to demonstrate Christ's love for mankind. Our work will direct our efforts, and our attitude will align with our work so that we are choosing to put on His love for others. In this way, we will be showing the world the love of Christ. Anything we say, the words we use, will match with our actions, and we will be "congruent" in how we share grace. There will be exceptions, of course, times when our flesh gets the best of us, but our testimony (what we say) will clearly match our example (what we do), and in that, we will be His ambassadors, His messengers, and His ministers wherever we work.

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