I’m Bored!

Life LinesI’m bored! It isn’t often that I’m able to take two days off in a row, but this week everything fell into place and I am off work today and tomorrow. The problem is I AM BORED! I have already completed my list of things to do today. I’ve finished the laundry, taken out the trash, paid the bills, balanced our accounts, completed my bible study, and had my prayer time. It is only noon and I just don’t know what to do next.

There are several things I would like to do, but I just can’t seem to get excited about them. I don’t feel like watching television, Netflix, or renting a movie. If the sun would come out I might consider golfing. I could get online and check out the posted Black Friday sales, but I like going first thing Thanksgiving morning to buy a paper, looking through the deals, and then drawing up a plan of how to put my head into the mouth of the retail lion that is Black Friday! I could also go over to the mall and try to get my Christmas shopping done early; however, my son’s list is anemic at best and I don’t want to have to make two trips, so I’ll just wait until later. I just don’t have anything to do, so I AM BORED!

So, in my boredom I began to think about what it must have been like a hundred years ago when you worked from dark to dark. You had to get up before the sun, get the fire going in the house, go out and feed the animals, milk the cows, collect the eggs, get the horses ready for working in the field, and then you could sit down and enjoy a quick breakfast. After breakfast you worked out in the field until someone brought you lunch. After your short lunch-break you would get back to work until dusk. Then you had to get the animals back into the barn, feed them, and make sure they would stay warm over night. Then you had to collect enough firewood to get you through the cold winter night, fill the lantern so you could see in the morning, and then sit down for a quick dinner. Following dinner you would spend some time with the family. Then finally it was time for bed to get a few hours sleep in preparation for another day of what you just did today, yesterday, and everyday before that!

I wonder what it was like to live that type of life? What was it like to live life knowing your survival meant doing the same thing every day? That’s when it hit me, “I know exactly what it was like.” It was SATISFYING! Without a doubt it was hard work, but to sit down at night and see the work you had completed with your hands had to be satisfying. Think about it, a creative God made us; thus it only stands to reason that we are creative beings. We find satisfaction in completing things. They may not always be easy or even what we want to do, but there is great satisfaction in marking something off your to do list. Regardless of whether you point to a white board, type on a computer, farm, or run a machine all day it is satisfying to know that you made a difference.

I spend way too much time at work each week for it to only be something I do so that I can have money to spend on my 24-48 hour weekend of “Me Time!” Life as a whole should be satisfying from Sunday through Saturday. Looking back each evening at the work of our hands should bring a smile to our face and sense of accomplishment. “Look what I was able to do today!”

It may not be working a farm, it may not have anything to do with our surviving another day, but today I finished several things that will ensure my wife has plenty of free time tomorrow to do what she wants. And, for better or worse, I wrote this post. It’s not long, it’s not deep, but it is something to think about. And that is SATISFYING!

So, what have you done today that has brought a little smile of satisfaction to your face?

Leadership Insights from a Firefighter

heart of a servant leaderOver the years I have heard many different illustrations on being a good leader. Using examples from everyday life helps to clarify the role of a leader. I think “Five Leadership Insights from a Firefighter” by Chuck Lawless is a perfect example of taking a real-life experience and applying spiritual truths. His example emphasizes the importance of a unified team.

A leader may have different responsibility than those serving with him; however, they are each an equal part of one team. They are connected like fingers to a hand and must recognize the importance and necessity of the other if they are to succeed. Often times the leader of the group gets the most recognition; nevertheless, a great leader knows how react to praise in such a way that no one on the team is jealous or feels slighted.

I have had several friends who were firefighters, and I think Dr. Lawless does a fantastic job of describing the relationship between firefighters. He also challenges church leaders to create a team of many members who form one cohesive unit working together to accomplish one purpose—making disciples.

Lawless writes:

My father was a volunteer fireman when I was a boy, and I have vivid memories of his responding to emergencies when the signal sounded. On several Halloweens I dressed as a fireman. In a somewhat odd scene, our family sometimes shared lunch at the scene of a “practice” fire when the fire department burned down dilapidated buildings.

Following in my dad’s firefighting boots, I became a volunteer firefighter in my late 40s. Little did I realize how much I would learn about church leadership by serving with that team of first responders. Here are just a few of those insights.

1. Firefighters recognize the urgency of their role. The signal sounds, the details are given, and the firefighter springs into action. He must be focused on the task at hand, for a distracted firefighter is a dangerous one. In fact, everything else stops until he returns from dealing with the emergency.

I wish that were the case with all church leaders. We have the life-giving message of Christ to proclaim to the world. The signal has already sounded, and we know the details of the emergency—millions die every year without Christ. What would happen if we really recognize the emergency and prioritize evangelism again?

2. Firefighters understand the value of teamwork. From the truck driver to the pump operator to the Rapid Intervention Team (ready at any moment to rescue a fallen firefighter), every firefighter is critical to the team. More importantly, the other firefighters recognize that fact. They are trained to watch each other’s back, seldom if ever facing a raging fire alone. The best firefighters, in fact, are those that are both trained and trusted like brothers.

Church leaders, on the other hand, tend to be lone rangers. Not only are we not trained to be team players, but we also often don’t even trust one another enough to work together. Sometimes we’re simply too arrogant to ask for help. The danger is clear: church leaders who work alone are the most liable to being shot down in the spiritual battle that ministry entails.

3. Firefighters are well trained. Firefighters are required to complete training that includes book knowledge and practical training. Only when the recruit firefighter gives evidence of his ability is he granted permission to be an official firefighter. Even then, he is expected to complete additional practical education courses in order to stay current in his profession. Veteran firefighters walk alongside new firefighters, teaching them even as they together fight a fire.

I am a seminary professor, but training future ministers requires the support of the local church. We can provide head knowledge, but we can’t offer needed practical training apart from a church where praxis occurs under the care of a veteran pastor. Yet, church leaders are seemingly so busy that they have little time for this task.

4. Firefighters love what they do. Firefighters love the exhilaration of tackling and defeating a fire. Actually, they love the fire station, the fire trucks, the fire equipment, the firefighter uniform, their firefighting squad – almost everything associated with their task. They risk their lives every time the signal sounds, but they do so because they believe in what they are doing. They know that lives depend on them.

Perhaps here is where I am most concerned about young church leaders. Young leaders recognize that the North American church is in need of much reformation. We are reaching few non-believers, and church members sometimes live so much like the world that non-believers see the church as irrelevant. Some young leaders view the church in such a negative light that they find themselves trying to change a church they don’t love. That kind of leadership is quickly draining.

5. Firefighters serve proactively. Their role is to respond to fires, but that’s not the entirety of their role. Firefighters also educate the public on fire prevention. They visit local schools to teach children about fire safety. They enforce local codes to prevent open flames. In general, firefighters are always leading proactively so they won’t have fires to put out.

Good church leaders lead that way, too. They cast vision and build teams. They proactively make disciples. They know that if their leadership is only reactionary, the church will not move forward. In fact, they know that kind of leadership is not leadership at all.

How Many Hours Can I Work?

Tim Challies puts a different spin on our responsibility to balance the time we spend between work and our families.

Challies writes:

A few weeks ago I linked to an article from Nathan Bingham titled Fathers, Stop Stealing From Your Children. Nathan was writing to fathers who are raising families in this busy and distracting world and telling them to give their children the time they need and deserve. He said that many fathers are guilty of stealing from their children: “You’re guilty when you skip breakfast with the family to prepare for that early morning meeting, when you’re distant at the dinner table because you’re resolving an issue at work in a long email conversation on your smartphone, and when you forfeit a healthy family night-time ritual because you’ve got something important to do—like write a blog post.”

This article generated some interesting and thoughtful responses and, because I had linked to it, some of them were sent my way. Some expressed frustration that Christian pastors or leaders were constantly telling them they were negligent fathers if they were not home every day on time to enjoy dinner with the family or, even better, breakfast and dinner. Another commented on the long hours many employers demand and asked, “Is that just a love of success and money? And is that feasible for a Christian to be working long hours, let’s say 50 hours week, without compromising on their faith?”

These are good questions and helpful comments. Let me sketch out just a few of my thoughts on the matter.

This Is Not a New Issue

When we look at the issue of long working hours, we can take too narrow a view of it, assuming that it is uniquely twenty-first century and first-world. However, if you look back through history you will find that it has always been the case that fathers have had to work long hours outside of the home. A man who farmed would have to give just about every waking hour, every daylight hour, to his crops and his animals. The shepherds and farmers and fishermen of Jesus’ day were not working 9-to-5 jobs. Most of them would have been working extremely long hours just to scratch out an existence. Few of these people would have had to concern themselves with an hour-long or two hour-long commute from the suburbs into the downtown core, bookending their actual work day with two or three hours of travel time.

This means that the biblical writers could have addressed this issue head-on. Paul could have written to one of the churches and said, “Fathers, you need to prioritize being home for dinner every night.” He did not. He could have mandated a forty hour work week. Again, he did not. There are commands that pertain to fathers, but none that get anywhere near this explicit. This tells us that the instructions we find in Scripture are sufficient to guide us even here and it also tells us that we have freedom in these matters—freedom to determine what is right and best in our context.

Work, Work, Work, Die

One consequence of Adam’s sin was a curse on his vocation to earn a living by tending and keeping the ground.

And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife   and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you,   ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you;   in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;   and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face   you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground,   for out of it you were taken; for you are dust,   and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19)

In other words, because of your sin, the land will now be opposed to you, it will fight against you. You will spend your whole life toiling to beat back thorns and thistles from off the soil and then at the end of it all, you’ll return to the soil. There is a kind of inevitability to it, and a kind of hopelessness. A man’s lot is to work in this world, knowing that he can never beat the system. He will eventually work himself to death.

That curse has extended far beyond farming and reaches to every vocation. The farmer faces the weeds, the pastor faces tired eyes and dead hearts, the lawyer faces long commutes and traffic jams (and that before he even gets to the office). None of us will have a life free from backbreaking (or mindbreaking or heartbreaking) labor. Work is long and hard because work is meant to be long and hard on this side of the curse. There are very few who escape it.


You Are a Father Before a [Insert Vocation Here]

I’ve always found it instructional in my own line of work that a man is qualified to be a pastor on the basis of his family life; he is not qualified to be a husband or father because of his successful ministry. It is true in any field that being a father takes priority over being a doctor or pastor or author or athlete or truck driver. Every man will need to remind himself often that his higher priority is his marriage and his family; he will need to ask himself if he is prioritizing well. He may well need to ask his wife and children and trusted friends if his priorities reflect biblical priorities.

A father needs to be willing to make difficult decisions regarding his vocation if he finds that it is interfering with his higher priorities. He may need to abandon a career or accept a lower-paying position if his current vocation is keeping him away from his wife and children too often.

You Are An Idolater

We are, as John Calvin told us, idol factories, constantly giving our ultimate loyalty to things other than God. We typically make idols out of good things—good things that rise to the status of ultimate things. Work is just the kind of good thing that constantly threatens to become an idol. Just as a man needs to ask himself where his priorities are, he also needs to ask himself where his loyalties lie.

I have known men who have worked extra jobs and extra shifts in order to allow their children to attend Christian schools, something these men determined was important enough merit time away from family. I have known men who have worked extra jobs and extra shifts in order to maintain an otherwise unsustainable lifestyle that was more than their families wanted or needed or because they wanted to rise up through the ranks, achieving status and power. Long hours may reflect good motives or bad ones, God-ward loyalties or self-centered ones. We may make an idol out of family and we may make an idol out of being away from family. The human heart is so tricky, so sneaky, so idolatrous.

Your Context Is Unique

Every family, every job, every relationship, every life stage is unique. It is up to the individual to determine how many hours he can work while still dedicating an appropriate amount of time to his wife and children (not to mention his church, his evangelistic efforts in his neighborhood, and so on). These can be difficult decisions. Thankfully the Lord has given us the Holy Spirit to guide us through the Bible, and he has given us Christian community where we can learn from and depend upon the wisdom of others. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5).

One thing to keep in mind: There are many jobs and many vocations, but the Lord gives you only one family, one opportunity to love your wife as Christ loved the church and one opportunity to raise your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Sabbath Rest

Here are a few words of wisdom by Tim Keller on our need for rest.

Keller writes:

In the Bible, Sabbath rest means to cease regularly from and to enjoy the results of your work. It provides balance: ‘Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God’ (Exodus 20:9–10). Although Sabbath rest receives a much smaller amount of time than work, it is a necessary counterbalance so that the rest of your work can be good and beneficial.

God liberated his people when they were slaves in Egypt, and in Deuteronomy 5:12–15, God ties the Sabbath to freedom from slavery. Anyone who overworks is really a slave. Anyone who cannot rest from work is a slave – to a need for success, to a materialistic culture, to exploitative employers, to parental expectations, or to all of the above. These slave masters will abuse you if you are not disciplined in the practice of Sabbath rest. Sabbath is a declaration of freedom.

Thus Sabbath is about more than external rest of the body; it is about inner rest of the soul. We need rest from the anxiety and strain of our overwork, which is really an attempt to justify ourselves—to gain the money or the status or the reputation we think we have to have. Avoiding overwork requires deep rest in Christ’s finished work for your salvation (Hebrews 4:1–10). Only then will you be able to ‘walk away’ regularly from your vocational work and rest.

Sabbath is the key to getting this balance, and Jesus identifies himself as the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:27– 28) – the Lord of Rest! Jesus urges us, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls’ (Matthew 11:28–29). One of the great blessings of the gospel is that he gives you rest that no one else will.