Theme: It’s not just religious workers that are called by God to serve. Inside or outside of the institutional church we are all called to serve God, and most of us are called to serve outside of the church, because the whole world belongs to God.
and 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12
(Starting off with a video clip from the movie Office Space)
Woman: So, where do you work, Peter?
Peter: In a bank
Woman: And yeah, what do you do there?
Peter: I sit in a cubicle and I update bank software for the 2000 switch.
Woman: What’s that?
Peter: Well, you see, they wrote all the bank software and um, to save space they used two digits for the date instead of four, so like 98 instead of 1998. So I go through these thousands of lines of code and , it doesn’t really matter. I uh, I don’t like my job and I don’t think I am going to go anymore.
Woman: You are just not going to go?
Woman: Won’t you get fired?
Peter: I don’t know, but I really don’t like it and I’m not going to go.
Woman: What, so, you’re going to quit?
Peter: Um, not really, oh I’m just going to stop going.
Woman: When did you decide all this?
Peter: About an hour ago.
Woman: Are you going to get another job?
Peter: I don’t think I would like another job.
Woman: What are you doing about money and bills and…
Peter: You know I have never really liked paying bills. I don’t think I am going to do that either (laughter).
Woman: Ah, so what do you want to do?
Peter: I want to take you out to dinner and then I want to go back to my apartment and watch Kung Fu. Do you ever watch Kung Fu?
Woman: I love Kung Fu.
Peter: Channel 39.
Peter: You should come over and watch Kung Fu tonight.
Woman: O.K. can we order lunch first?
Have you ever felt like that? Let’s be honest. I might have to have you raise your hands. Have you ever felt like just saying I’m not going to work? I see some hands. Okay. We are having a revival here. We are not the first to struggle with what it means to have a job, to work and with all the emotions, with all the ups and downs that come with that. In fact, we are going to be looking into passages where in the very earliest church for maybe different reasons than ours, they also decided what the heck, I am not going to work today.
I want to read to you in a few minutes some different, two different passages. One from the Old Testament, and one for the New that speak to the kind of situation that we might find ourselves in. But first I want to tell you about a group of people. It was late in the 1970s. It was the Louisiana Mississippi staff team for Inner Varsity Christian Fellowship. Now, these folks were doing full time student ministry and they made an exciting discovery. You see every time they got together as a staff team for a retreat or some kind of an organizational time, part of the time they would play as well. And they would play this game called “Acquire.” Now you might not be familiar with this game, because this was a board game and not a video game. And they would play this game and it involved buying and selling you know, stocks and bonds and all this business sort of stuff. And the exciting discovery that they had was that they really really really liked playing Acquire. They would play it as much as they could and in fact, they started to learn some things about themselves. They noticed that they really did it well. They played this game well, with a lot more intensity and a lot more skill than they were used to with some other friends. Well fairly soon after that, three or four members of the Louisiana Mississippi staff team of Inner Varsity left full time campus work to go into the business world. I think the question that we need to ask is, “Did they fail God by moving out of full time student ministry and into real estate investment or into industrial innovation. Did they fail God? Have they missed their calling?” So hold that question for a little while.
Now, I am called to be a pastor. If you ever talk to a pastor about you know whether they are a pastor or not, we never ever say, “I decided to be a pastor.” We never use that language. We always say, “I was called.” And part of that is because it’s a lot more than a decision. You know because you get some experience, you get some self-awareness, then you go and you get some education and then you get examinations on top of that. Other people have to look at your life and say, “Yeah we see you have what it takes.” And then finally you have to be at the point in life that somebody actually says, a congregation actually says, “We want you to come and serve God together with us.” So it’s a lot more complicated than just an individual decision. So that’s one reason we use this word call. But it’s also because in call we sense that there is another voice at work. In fact, that why we call this whole thing, we use the theological term called vocation and it comes from the Latin word vocari, which means to call. So, we talk about our vocation because we sense that developing a pattern for your whole life is a matter of not just a decision, but there is another voice in this conversation, God’s voice urging, leading, pushing us, leading us to a particular role in a particular place. Now when a secular word uses this word vocation, they really are just saying what’s your general professional path? What’s your career? But when we use it, this word vocation or this idea of call, the emphasis is on being what God created us to be and then doing what God created us to do. So I want to read to you a passage now from Genesis 1. I am going to begin at verse 27.
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said,” I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground- everything that has the breath of life in it- I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning-the sixth day.”
Here we have a picture of the fact that God created the whole universe around us, created us and created a way for this whole universe to operate and operate together in harmony. And so God as part of this big picture creates us and He creates us to be like him and He uses some words here that are amazing. He says fill the earth, subdue it and rule. Part of us being created in the image of God is that we are created to have authority. We are created to create things. We are created to shape things. We are created to make important decisions. Decisions that not only affect ourselves, but affect other people and affect the world around us. This is part of what God has done in the deepest part of who we are. And so in this picture under God, we are created to take care of and then to develop the world around us. It’s a wonderful picture. And essentially the picture here is that God has put us in charge under him, under his authority we are then the people who actually execute his will on the earth and make weighty decisions about it. So that means that we have real authority to be part of Gods plan in the world. But we have very real authority to stand in his way.
So if that’s true then it means that it is vitally important that we learn how to listen to the voice of God so that we can sense his presence shaping our lives, so that we can hear his call and that’s going to happen on two different levels. The first level where we hear the call of God is that we are first called to a relationship with God. That’s the first calling. In Genesis 1, there is this picture of humanity that has all this possibility, all this way of affecting Gods creation and responding to Gods leadership and creation. It’s a beautiful picture, but it assumes that there is a good relationship between us and God. And so that means long before we are responsible for something or called to do something, we are called first to someone and Jesus reflects that when He says, ” Come and follow me.” That’s the first call in our lives. Come and follow me. It is directly from the lips of Jesus. To be with him, to learn from him, to be in a living relationship with God, that’s our first calling.
So this Genesis 1 and 2 picture that describes humanity with all of its possibilities, all of these possibilities grow out of the fact that everything is in place in our relationship with God. And if everything is in relationship, in right relationship to God, there is harmony between us and God and harmony with the creation around us as well. But in Genesis 3 it all comes crashing down. We are not going to look at that today, but in Genesis 3 humanity breaks this relationship with God. There is no longer any harmony and so we now find ourselves in a situation where we are at war with God and more than that, we are at war with the creation, not more than that. But in addition to that we see it reflected in the fact that we are at war with creation as well: pollution, waste, unnecessary extinctions, over-farming, over-fishing, over-grazing, over-consumption, all of our excesses – the damage we do to ourselves and we do to the world that we live in. All of these things are because at the root our relationship is not right between us and God. And that’s what the Bible calls sin. So since we find ourselves in this broken relationship, the first call, the first voice we have to hear is to come, come back to God and follow Jesus. To forsake our old way of living life on our own, of always doing things our own way and to let God be God and to learn to follow before we lead. So that’s the first thing. That’s the first call.
The second call has to do with how we serve God. In other words, our second calling is ways of serving him. Now it’s easy to think that this means church work. Okay we are called to follow Jesus and then we are called to do church work, but its much more than that. Because chapter 1 of Genesis shows us the whole world is God. Everything in the world is God’s and so that means that all moral work is sacred if what we mean by sacred here is special in God’s site, because all the world belongs to God. Bookkeeping. Law. Science. Art. Childcare. Teaching. Medicine. Landscaping. Farming. Fishing. All of these things grow out of the way God has created the earth and how He has made us as well. And so it’s not just religious workers that are called. Inside or outside of the institutional church we are all called to serve God and most of us are called to serve outside of the church. Now this hasn’t always been easy for people to understand. We have all kinds of problems with this, but even in the early church there was a misunderstanding about work that came about. I want to read to you from the Book of 2nd Thessalonians. You see in this particular community there were a number of people who had decided, their logic went like this. Okay Jesus is due any minute. Paul told us that. Well if this world is on its way to being burnt up, why should we bother making pets and making pottery and being merchants in this community? Why bother to plant something if we might not make it to harvest? So the second part of their thinking was okay, so lets just spend 100% of our time in worship and prayer. Sound good? Let’s hang around whenever we can with other Christians and encourage each other in the faith. The third part of the thinking if we do this God will provide because we are sold out to doing Christian things. It makes sense. The worlds going out fast, lets give 100% to just hanging around and doing Christian things. Now seeing that happen this is what Paul writes then. Chapter 3, I am going to begin with the 6th verse.
“In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you have received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.”
Looking at this situation where there were some people in the community that said, “Hey you know we are just going to sit around and teach Christian things, think Christian things and hang around and give up our jobs.” Paul said to them, “Settle down and earn the bread that you eat.” And that’s because working at something non-churchly isn’t a waste of time. Even if Jesus is coming back, as we know He is, we don’t know when and even if it is tomorrow, God has called us to work because it’s good and it’s productive stuff and it’s commanded for us to do. So even work, work outside the church is something that is commanded for us as God’s people. And Paul even took a second job to make the point with them of how important work was.
Now a few minutes ago we looked at Office Space. He was tired of the workplace. Now our motivations might not be like these Thessalonians where it’s the eagerness in the sense that tomorrow it could be the end of the world. It might not be that, that zaps away our enthusiasm for the workplace. It might be a lot more like what happened in office space. The sheer drudgery. The fact that it’s a cubicle. The fact that we can’t see how it all works together. Or maybe it’s the fact that we don’t have a job and we are looking for one that fits us or maybe we are in the process of being educated for it and we are confused about which one it is supposed to be. There is so many things that cloud up the issues for us, that zap our sense of excitement about what we are doing out there in the world. But our lack of excitement there or excitement about what’s happening in the church. Whatever the motivation is, it should never dampen the root of our commitment to serve God in all the rest of life. Being called to pastoral ministry or mission work is wonderful stuff, but so is being called to be a chemist. Serving God well as a pastor or a church educator is a miracle of grace, but serving God well as a lawyer might be a bigger miracle of grace. They have all kinds of temptations in the workplace that pastor’s might not have. Justice. Meeting the needs of people. Creating useful or beautiful things, whether we do that inside or outside the walls of this church can be a delight to God.
So with the Inner Varsity staff members that I talked about earlier, were they wrong to leave student ministry to enter the business world? No, I don’t think so. All have been solid, moral members of the business community for years now. They have met needs in our economy. They have created jobs for others. They have treated coworkers fairly. They have invested themselves in lives. They have shared their faith. They have made strong marriages. They have raised Godly children. They have given money to the church and then they had time as well. Plenty of time to serve as deacons and elders, group leaders and teachers in their churches. And despite some hard times that all of them faced, they have had a whole lot of fun doing it. We are every bit as much Christians in the workplace, as we are Christians when we gather together here on Sunday. God doesn’t just value our offerings of praise and our monetary offerings to the church. He doesn’t just value those, he also values the every day offering of our lives as we labor in the workplace or in the home and family. And it’s not just important because we share our faith there. Now that’s vitally important, but it’s also important to do work well, because that honors God too. The work itself.
A little over 20 years ago the movie came out, “Chariots of Fire”. And it has to do with the Olympic games in the early part of the 20th century and one of the people competing in the Olympic games was this guy name Eric Little, and he was called to be a missionary to China and ultimately went to China as a missionary. But he is competing at this point in his life in the Olympic games and the people around him are kind of questioning that, saying aren’t you wasting your time? You should be visiting churches, raising support and doing all of these things? And this was his answer.
He said, “Yes God has called me to be a missionary. But he also made me fast and when I run I can feel his pleasure.”
You’ve got to believe that there are things about you, things about you, about your math ability, or your way with people, your foresight, your vision, your attention to detail, it might be your voice, might be your strength, it might be your speed, it might be your artistic ability. There are things about you that bring pleasure to God because in it God sees his own image reflected in the skills and strengths and joys of your life. So that means that all kinds of non-churchy things about us can really please God. And it will please God more as we draw closer to him. God is on a massive restoration project right now. He is calling all of creation back to himself and He is calling us back as part of that and so as we respond to this call to God and submit our lives to Him. The things that we do in our lives come more and more in harmony with the big plan of what God is doing with the world. It doesn’t mean you don’t have a lot of tough times, dry times, confusing times, times when it doesn’t come together, but as we draw close to Him in those tough times, we are drawn closer to the fact that what we do is in harmony with what He is doing, because right now God is at work in the world, in the church and outside of it, cultivating justice and beauty, protecting and providing for people, taking care of the creation around us, calling more people to know their creator through Jesus Christ. God is doing all of these things and He is calling us to participate with him in doing all of this. Because the critical thing is, it’s not just the church that belongs to Jesus Christ, it’s the whole world.
Let’s pray. Gracious God, we do believe that the whole world is yours, everything in it and that what we do is important stuff, and so Lord we pray that you guide us right now as we go in to a time of response, we pray that we might offer ourselves, our vocation and of what you have given to us, all to you and to your service, for we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.