Reflections on spiritual themes (and a few other things).

Month: September 2022

Overworked, Underpaid & Underappreciated

Do you ever feel overworked and underappreciated? Had you registered that complaint with Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes, I doubt you would’ve gotten much sympathy. More likely, he would have said, “That’s life. Life’s hard. Move on.” In Ecclesiastes, Solomon reminds us that life here at ground level isn’t pretty or fair and is anything but predictable. It’s a blunt force trauma perspective on life. 

For example, in Ecclesiastes 9, Solomon describes several inequitable situations that characterize human life. In the final verses of the chapter, he emphasizes both the value of wisdom and its limitations. He says…

There was a small city with few men in it and a great king came to it, surrounded it and constructed large siegeworks against it. But there was found in it a poor wise man and he delivered the city by his wisdom, yet no one remembered that poor man. So I said, “Wisdom is better than strength.” But the wisdom of the poor man is despised, and his words are not heeded. The words of the wise heard in quietness are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good. (Ecclesiastes 9.14-18)

Every day we see situations like this. We see business leaders, politicians, and public figures who are loud, foolish, and inept. Frequently, it’s the quiet voices of their humble helpers who cover for them and save the day. The helpers get no credit and they’re soon ignored and forgotten. What’s worse, as Solomon observes, the good work these people do is often undone by a single act of folly.

So, what if you’re in one of those dead-end jobs? What if your boss doesn’t realize what a tremendous asset you are? What if you don’t get the recognition you deserve? What if nobody listens to you? What if you don’t get the raises and promotions you deserve? What if your best efforts are treated like yesterday’s emails? What if you’re overworked and underappreciated?

Solomon also provides an answer for this. He says take heart. Earlier in the chapter, he makes two other observations that, I think, balance the negativity in the rest of the chapter. In verse one he says, “For I have taken all this to my heart and explain it that righteous men, wise men, and their deeds are in the hand of God.” Then, he says in verse seven, “God has already approved your works.” 

Work life can be frustrating. You might well be ignored, marginalized, or forgotten. But there’s hope, because God sees what we do and blesses us when we work not for human approval, but for his glory.

Soldiers of Christ, Arise!

How does God deal with evil in this world?

In biblical history, God dealt with evildoers in a variety of ways. God brought Pharoah and Egypt to their knees with the plagues. God defeated the Philistines with the judges and King David. God defeated 185,000 Assyrians in one night by his angel. God made Nebuchadnezzar eat grass like a cow. God struck Herod Agrippa I with disease. God has used many methods to punish evildoers in the world. 

But there’s one other approach. God most often uses his people to address evil in the world.

In Revelation 19, Christ appears as a general mounted on a white horse, followed by a great army. He’s preparing to destroy the beast who’s been persecuting Christians in the Roman province of Asia in the first century. John has already revealed that Satan is behind this persecution. But he’s enlisted some to carry it out in real time: a best from the sea, a beast on land, a false prophet, and a harlot. In my opinion, they represent the Roman Empire, the Roman culture and economy, Roman religion, and the city of Rome herself. 

One-by-one these characters are introduced. And one-by-one, they’re destroyed. In Revelation 19, Christ is preparing to defeat the Roman political machine. With him is a sizeable army from heaven. It’s tempting to interpret this as an angelic army, but one detail suggests otherwise: the army is clothed in clean white linen (v. 14). Elsewhere in Revelation white clothing is applied to Christians. Here, this army is the faithful, redeemed, and victorious people of God. 

When John wrote this book, Christians in Asia lacked influence, prestige, money, and clout. Everyone was against them: the Romans, the Jews, the courts, and the pagans. Still, Christ used this ragtag army to defeat the most powerful entity on earth. 

This helps us in three ways. First, it gives us hope that our efforts are effective. We do the will of God, and the Lord Jesus uses us to accomplish his purposes in this wicked world. We may look like a T-ball team playing in the World Series. To God, we’re his agents of righteousness.

Second, it helps us remember our job on earth. We’re soldiers of Christ, fighting a cosmic battle against evil. We may suffer, we may even die, but we won’t be defeated. In the Lord’s army, we fight against evil every day.

Finally, it helps us trust the power of God. We have the armor of God. We wear the girdle of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.

So then, every day, we hear and answer the battle cry, “Soldiers of Christ, arise!”

A Prayer for Memphis

Blessed are you, O God our Father. You have created this world by your wisdom and might. You are the sovereign God, the only God, the God above all so-called gods. Everything in this world exists for your purpose and glory.

Blessed are you, O Son of God. You are very God and very Man. You existed from eternity in the heavens and yet you come into this world, to be bound by time, space, and human nature. In your death, resurrection, and exaltation, you have been anointed as King of kings and Lord of lords. You sit at the Father’s right hand interceding for your people, and it is through you that we call upon our Father.

Blessed are you, O Spirit of God. You know the mind of God and have revealed it. You are the one who gave life to this creation, the one who sustains and renews it to this very day. You are the down payment on our eternal hope, the Spirit who dwells in us.

We cry out to you, O God, because we are hurting. We are tired. We are afraid. We are outraged. We are confused. We are in the throes of despair. We wonder each day about the next tragedy, the next violent crime, and we wonder if or how we or our families will be affected. We try not to, but we look at others with suspicion and distrust. We do not know who the enemy is, and so rather than reach out, we recoil and retreat. 

We cry out to you, O God, because our city is gripped by violence, by murder and assault and theft and rape. Worst of all, our city is in the grip of epidemic sin. Sin and the work of Satan is behind all that we see. O Father, too many people have allowed the Devil to occupy the throne of their hearts, rather than letting You rule them. Too many operate from a posture of self-sufficiency, self-will, self-interest, and self-righteousness. Too many people love this world rather than its Creator, and they are full of greed, lawlessness, and disdain for their fellow man and woman.

O Sovereign God, we confess our sins and failures to you. As a society, we have neglected true justice. We have overlooked and become accustomed to crime. We have neglected to support the law and those who enforce it. We have neglected to teach our children and have neglected to support and encourage those who teach them. As a society, we have too often installed ungodly and self-serving leaders who turn a blind eye to corruption and injustice. Too many leaders are more interested in supporting own their parties rather than supporting what is right and true. 

And Father, even when we have tried to uphold justice, we have still been negligent in other ways. If we believe that Christ is Lord, that his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and that he rules with a righteous scepter – if we truly believe these things, why have we failed to spread the gospel to others? Why have we failed to get involved in the lives of our neighbors and friends and communities? Why have we retreated in safety rather than engaging the world around us?

Loving God, we ask that you comfort the grieving and hurting. Be with those who were injured. Heal their bodies, renew their spirits, and help them work through their emotions. Be with the families of the victims. Please, O Father, pour out your love, comfort, and hope into their hearts. Be with us as a community. Help us feel a sense of accountability to one another. Help us demonstrate the love of Christ in all that we do. Help us treat everyone we meet with dignity, love, respect, and kindness. Help us purge suspicion from our hearts and learn to build trust and goodwill with our neighbors. By all means, help us act with wisdom and caution, help us look out for one another, and help each of us work toward a stronger community. 

Righteous God, we ask that you step into this community in a powerful and immediate way. We ask you to put a stop to the madness that has permeated our community. We ask that you enable the police and city officials to effectively do their jobs. We ask that you impose upon the criminals, perpetrators, and their enablers your unmistakable justice. 

We ask you to help each citizen to be more aware of his or her role in deterring evil and restoring a sense of community. Help each of us examine our own hearts for any vestiges of moral indifference, prejudice, and hatred. Help us purge them by the power of your Word and your love. Help parents teach and support their children, to model loving, godly, and righteous living. Help children and young adults think before they act. Help them learn self-control. Help them ask for help when they need it. Help churches preach the gospel without compromise. Help them become spiritual clinics for those who struggle with sin, animosity, despair, and loneliness.

Finally, O God, we praise you for who and what you are. You are the true and living God, the only God. You are eternal, all-seeing, all-knowing, and ever present. You are holy, righteous, and just, and you are also loving, merciful, and gracious. You defend the widow and orphan, the stranger and outcast. You are our creator, sustainer, defender, and redeemer.

We thank you for your tender mercies, your daily provisions, and your constant sustenance. Despite the dark days that surround us, you provide us each day with blessings and reasons for joy and hope. Keep us humble and teach us to walk in your ways. Help set our minds on eternal, spiritual, and good things. Help us live quiet, godly, and dignified lives.

For to you, O God, belongs all power and dominion, all love and mercy, all wisdom and authority, before all time, now and forever more. 


Math & Morals

Dr. Charles Madison Sarratt (1888-1978, longtime mathematics professor and administrator at Vanderbilt University) told his students each year, “Today I am giving you two examinations, one in trigonometry, and the other in honesty. I hope you will pass both. If you must fail one, fail trigonometry. There are many good people in the world who can’t pass trigonometry, but there are no good people in the world who cannot pass the examination of honesty.”

Dr. Sarratt understood that our morals permeate every aspect of life, and that honesty is the very cornerstone of character. Negatively, he was discouraging cheating on exams. Positively, he was promoting honesty in everything.

It’s been a long time since I had to take a math test, but I’m tested in the honesty department every day. I suspect all of us are. 

Every day we’re tempted, even invited, to cut corners, to cheat, to do less than our best, to lie a little here or there, to take credit for someone else’s work. Every day we prove our honesty.

It may be on a project at work. It may be while we’re shopping. It may be in a conversation with a spouse or friend. It may be at the gym. It may be while we’re playing games or sports with others. It may be in the break room. It may be with teachers or students. It may be at church.

How can we pass the honesty exam with consistency?

First, we must be honest with God. In the Parable of the Sower Jesus described a farmer scattering seed by hand in a field. The seed fell on various kinds of soil, some good, some bad. When Jesus explained the parable, he said, “But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance” (Luke 8.15). How we respond to God and his word reveals if we’re honest.

Second, we must be honest with ourselves. Paul warned, “Let no man deceive himself.” (1 Corinthians 3.18). Have you ever lied to yourself about your weight? About your exercise habits? About your Amazon spending? About your abilities? Self-honesty is important, because if we lie to ourselves, we’ll lie to anyone.

Third, we must be honest with others. Paul said we’re to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4.15). Love is the seasoning of our communication. But the communication itself must be true, wholesome, and healthy. Lies and deceit are worse than junk food, they’re poison to the soul.

Every day we take an honesty exam. Every day we either grow in honesty or we shrink. May God help us grow in truth and honesty. 

The Life in Front of You

The life you live is the life right in front of you.

We often wish that our lives were somehow different. We can’t wait until something different and better comes along. Kids can’t wait until they can ride a bike, or go to school, or play sports. Teenagers can’t wait until they start dating, or start driving, or get a job. Young adults can’t wait to leave home, get to college, or finish college, or get that first full-time job. They can’t wait until they get married, or until they have kids, or until they own a house. Then we can’t wait for our kids grow up and leave. Then we can’t wait until our kids get married, or until we have grandkids, or until retirement. 

You get the idea.

I want to be clear, that there’s nothing wrong in looking ahead and planning. But is it possible that in constantly looking forward we miss what’s right in front of us? Do we see each moment of each day as having its own value and significance?

Jeremiah 29 records an exchange between Jeremiah the prophet and some Israelites who were already in exile. At this point the city of Jerusalem was still standing. It had already been attacked twice by the Babylonians but had not yet fallen. A group of exiles from Jerusalem who had already been taken to Babylon sent a letter to the prophet Jeremiah, asking if their exile would really last 70 years as he had prophesied. False prophets in Babylon were saying no. 

Most of Jeremiah 29 is his reply to the exiles in the form of a letter. Verses 4-7 say, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, ‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.’”

God reminded them of three things. First, they were in Babylon in exile because he sent them there, not because of some bizarre political accident. Second, by implication, they would remain there until the 70 years had ended. Third, they had the opportunity for a rich, fulfilling life right where they were – yes, even in Babylon. 

The easiest thing to do in life is wish it away. Some people spend every day wanting something better. Instead, may God give us the grace each day to live the life that’s right in front of us.

The $86,400 Gift Card

Imagine getting a special gift card for Christmas. Before you can use it, you must activate it. After you activate it, you must spend the entire balance in 24 hours. It comes preloaded with $86,400. You can’t combine it with other funds to make a larger purchase. You can’t save any for additional purchases tomorrow because the balance goes to $0.00 after 24 hours. You can’t share your card with anyone else, and others can’t share their cards with you. You may spend your funds in any way you desire. 

What would you do with such a gift card? You’d spend it of course! I think most people understand that with gift cards you use it or lose it.

In fact, you DO have something like that. It’s called TIME. Each day has 24 hours, each hour has 60 minutes, and each minute has 60 seconds. That works out to be 86,400 seconds per day. Your daily allotment of time works the same way as your imaginary gift card. You begin each day with the full amount, and at the end of the day, you have nothing leftover. You can’t save any of today’s time to use tomorrow, and you can’t borrow any of tomorrow’s time for today. You can’t give any of your time allotment to other people, and other people can’t give you theirs. You may spend your time in any way your desire.

I’m not sure why it’s the case, but most people I know have a better appreciation for money than they do for time. Perhaps it’s because money is more tangible, or at least the things it will buy are tangible. Time, on the other hand, is more of a concept, and an elusive one at that. Often the things we do with time are intangible, and the benefits are also intangible. 

Regardless of the reason, we would all do well to understand that time is one of our most valuable assets. In many ways, it’s the great equalizer. Not everyone has money or prestige or power. Everyone has time. In fact, everyone has the same amount of time available to them: 86,400 seconds per day. That’s true for me, for you, for the CEO, for the President of the United States, for Moses, and for Jesus himself. The difference isn’t the amount of time we each possess, it’s what we do with the time we possess.

Moses said, “For all our days have declined in Your fury; We have finished our years like a sigh. As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; For soon it is gone and we fly away” (Psalm 90.9-10). He was saying that life is a struggle. 

But his conclusion was more hopeful: “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to you a heart of wisdom” (v. 12).

As we begin this year, may God bless each of us with a full year’s worth of time, and an awareness of the value of time, and most of all the wisdom to use it well. 

Workplace Consistency

Because of widespread immigration, colonial America was a muddled mass of measurements. By one estimate, over 100,000 units of measure existed at the same time. For example:

  • Land could be measured in Scottish miles, Irish acres, Rhineland Ruthin (rods). 
  • Fabric in New York was purchased using the English ell (about a yard), but sold by the Flemish ell (about half a yard). 
  • The Pennsylvania bushel was wide, shallow, and heaped, while the Philadelphia bushel was deep, narrow, and level. 
  • Tobacco was sold in hogsheads, which was about 1000 pounds of tobacco packed into a 145 gallom barrel. However, the New York hogshead was smaller than the Virginia hogshead, which was smaller than the Maryland hogshead. 
  • Alcohol was measured by the brewer’s hogshead, which was about 54 gallons of beer, but about 63 gallons of wine. The measurement also varied by location.
  • Volume was typically measured in quarts, gallons, and bushels, each one having as many as eight different amounts.

Situations like these are why governments, businesses, and consumers all benefit from the use of standards. It’s why businesses implement policies and procedures: to ensure consistent quality in every facet of the workplace.

Proverbs 20.10 says, “Differing weights and differing measures, both of them are abominable to the LORD.”

Regardless of how primitive or sophisticated our business practices may be, there will always be cheaters. There will always be scoundrels who take advantage of others by taking advantage of the system. There were scams in biblical times, in colonial times, and in modern times. Proverbs 20.10 condemns dishonesty in the marketplace, both then and now.

Two things are noteworthy about Proverbs 20.10. First is the strength of the condemnation. Dishonesty is not only foolish, it’s wicked, it’s an abomination to the Lord. This is a reminder that of all the virtues we should possess, honesty and integrity are the most important. 

Second, this proverb isn’t limited to merchants. It also applies to the workplace in more general ways. Honesty on the job has plenty of applications. Do we work harder when the boss is nearby? Do we say one thing to the manager and another to our coworkers? Are we accurate when we clock in and clock out? Do we treat our favorite coworkers better than we treat our not-so-favorite ones? 

Proverbs 20.10 teaches us that wisdom demands honesty. Anything less may incur God’s wrath.

Why Do We Work?

In your lifetime, you’ll spend about 90,000 hours at work. With the possible exception of sleep, you’ll spend more time working than any other activity. It’s worth asking, then, why do we work for so long a time?

Work serves many purposes:

  • It’s a way to provide the necessities of life: food, clothing, and shelter.
  • It’s a way to provide for our future in the form of retirement savings.
  • It’s a way to provide for emergencies in the form of regular savings.
  • It’s a way to provide health insurance for ourselves and our families.
  • It’s a way to provide for the needs of others who are unable to work.
  • It’s a way to constructively occupy our time. 
  • It’s a way to contribute to our communities.

Work serves many purposes. But for all the good that manual labor does, it CANNOT ultimately secure the most important things.

The prophet Isaiah said (Isaiah 55.1-3):

“Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
And you who have no money come, buy, and eat.
Come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without cost. 
“Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And delight yourself in abundance. 
“Incline your ear and come to Me.
Listen, that you may live;
And I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
According to the faithful mercies shown to David.”

Ultimately, material things don’t satisfy our deepest desires. Food for the body is important, but food for the soul is what we need most. We may work hard, save, economize, watch our expenses, cut corners, clip coupons, and even cut back on the Amazon, and still not be satisfied. 

Through Isaiah, God invited his people to a feast that satisfied their hunger and quenched their thirst. He invited them – and us – into a relationship that that brings abundance, delight, and fulfillment. A relationship with the God whose resources are infinite. A relationship with the God who knows what we need, and who offers us even more.

Each and every day, work hard, but remember what matters most.