Shift work is biblical

The prophets were not receiving texts from God on their iPhones but they still endured boring lunches, feeling tired, squabbling kids and in-laws just as we do

My ‘day job’ entails shift work on a 24 hour, 7-day a week roster. This can be a drag and there have been plenty of times when I’ve resented having to work until midnight or endure the graveyard shift. Working weekends when everyone else seems to have time off, or trying to sleep on a brilliant sunny day is no fun. I can easily slip into feeling sorry for myself, thinking that not working 9 to 5 is abnormal and unnatural.

The reality is that a huge number of people work weekends and ‘non-standard’ hours. Statistics vary, but up to 30% of the workforce in NZ, Australia, Britain, Canada and the USA work at least some hours outside of the ‘usual’ 8 am to 6 pm, Monday to Friday work week, with about 15% of workers doing the ‘graveyard shift’ as part of their schedule. In the USA about 28 million people work some non-standard hours, and almost 15 million Americans work the night shift. I’m not alone!

This is not a purely modern phenomenon. During the industrial revolution children laboured in cruel conditions during the night, night work was also common in the early 20th century in mills and factories.

In Biblical times sentries or watchmen were posted to guard cities and warn of impending danger. To ensure these sentries remained alert the night was divided into ‘watches’ and watchmen changed at set times so that fresh sentries replaced those who were becoming tired. Shepherds also remained up through the night watching over their flocks (Luke 2:8). It also seems that occasionally servants were expected to remain on duty during the night ready to serve their masters if they arrived home late (see Mark 13:34–35).

The ancient Jews divided the night into three watches: Sunset (about 6 pm) to 10 pm; a ‘middle watch’ from 10 pm to 2 am; and a ‘morning’ watch from 2 am to sunrise (about 6am). Later, under Roman rule there were four watches: sunset to 9 pm; 9 pm to midnight; midnight to 3am; and 3 am to sunrise (see Smith’s Bible Dictionary).

Even Jesus kept some weird hours at times, going for a stroll across a lake at about 4am, heading off into the hills before daylight, working seven days a week (Matthew 14:25, Mark 1:35, Luke 13:14).

My point is that while we may like to consider ourselves modern (or postmodern, or metamodern, or whatever) with our igadgets and always connected techno lifestyles, the human condition has not changed. Jesus rode a donkey, not a motorbike and the prophets were not receiving texts from God on their iPhones but they still endured boring lunches, feeling tired, squabbling kids and in-laws just as we do. Remember that even Jesus’ parents experienced miscommunication between them as to who was looking after the kids (Luke 2:41-48). If you think a negative Tweet or Facebook update about you is bad, that’s nothing compared to the embarrassment of having the incident recorded in the most widely read book of the next two thousand years!


Scripture references

Lamentations 2:19 Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the night watches! (ESV)

Judges 7:19 So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had just set the watch. (ESV)

Exodus 14:24 And in the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, (ESV)

1 Samuel 11:11 And the next day Saul put the people in three companies. And they came into the midst of the camp in the morning watch and struck down the Ammonites until the heat of the day. (ESV)

Song of Solomon 3:3 The watchmen found me as they went about in the city. “Have you seen him whom my soul loves?” (3:3 ESV)

Luke 2:8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. (ESV)

Mark 13:34-35 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— (ESV)

Matthew 14:25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. (ESV)

Mark 1:35 And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. (ESV)

Luke 13:14 But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.”

Why do Christians get so nasty?

Christians like to claim we are peaceful, sadly we are not.

If you want to witness heated debate, parliament is a good place to find it. If you want to see nasty, divisive debate, go to a church meeting or poke around on blogs written by Christians. The current hot potato is gay marriage, though women in ministry seems to also be ranking high in certain sectors, and in the US gun control is good to get a reaction.

These are all issues which should be discussed and even debated within the church, but why do people become so astonishingly nasty in their words and even actions over mere issues when we are supposedly all united in Christ?

Reading Philippians 4:7 would make me assume that Christians would be able to enter discussions about even contentious issues with a deep peace that regardless of the discussion outcome they remain secure in Christ:

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7 ESV)

This is particularly appropriate given that Paul introduced this paragraph pleading for some Christians to reach agreement on some divisive issue between them:

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. (Philippians 4:2 ESV)

Instead of agreeing, it seems that many folks take this example of disagreement in the ancient church as license to foster disagreement in the modern church. Perhaps our problem is a lack of rejoicing in the Lord, and failing to let turn over our anxieties to God in prayer?

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.(Philippians 4:4–6 ESV)


More on this topic from others:

John the Baptist gets high

Imagine spending thirty years of your life intensely focussed on what you are convinced is your entire purpose for being. The enormity of the task sometimes causes you to quiver and seriously doubt yourself, can you really pull it off? What if, in the crucial moment, you fail to perform what is expected of you? If this job is not done properly history will hate you for it!
It is the preparation which costs so much; constant vigilance, total discipline and self control, being unable to participate in most of the entertainments your peers enjoy. Every day – preparing and waiting – Oh the seemingly endless waiting.

Finally, after years of study and setting yourself aside for the task you know you are ready and the time is right to begin. With faltering voice at first you start speaking out, attempting to convince others of the message you have been given. Surprisingly the people respond. They see your sincerity, look past your idiosyncrasies and understand the message.

Well, the common people that is. The educated and wealthy start mocking and debating. They cannot see why your teaching is applicable to them, especially given their inherited position.

Yet, despite this opposition even your reputation grows until crowds are gathering to listen and act. People are taking it seriously, asking sensible questions about how to change injustice. Things are happening!

However, with the success your anxiety mounts. Things are surely going to come to a head soon but you still haven’t done the most important thing. What if you’ve missed it? What if dealing with so many people coming to listen and be changed has blinded you to the most important part of the task?

With such doubts in your mind every night you rehearse your message. Your tone is getting more strident and uncompromising. The ‘debates’ with the authorities are getting less like debates and becoming more like tirades against them. Someone is going to get real upset before too much longer!

Then it happens, after yet another heated exchange with the scribes. Looking up, the man walking towards you matches what others have described but more importantly you recognize in him an air of uncompromising sincerity. Now, after so many public speeches your words tumble out awkwardly and you hear yourself wondering out loud whether what you’d been planning to do is actually the right thing.

He smiles and reassures. Yes, your concerns are valid but stick to the plan. So it is done.

Then…

Well, words cannot describe it. Nothing you had imagined came near the actual event. But it happened, just as you had been told. Good thing the water was fairly shallow or you’d have nearly drowned! Not only the dove, but the voice also! The sign! YOU HAD JUST BAPTIZED THE SON OF GOD!

I am speculating here, but it is my guess that John the baptist – a young 30-year-old man – found it difficult to focus on his work for the rest of that day and probably was buzzing too much to sleep very well that night! The purpose God had given him in life had now been achieved!

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29–34 ESV)


Image of man jumping: iStock]

What does a man create?

A blog post by Ann Voskamp a few months ago in which she discussed the question of How Christian [women] May Create got me wondering how the process/art/work of creating might look for Christian men? Here are some musings and partly formed thoughts. Feel free to comment and give your own ideas.

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.
(Genesis 2:15 ESV)

Right from the beginning men were given a job to do. It was a nurturing, cultivating job, also a creative task in that to start with there was not so much weeding to be done in God’s garden so presumably Adam had time to implement a few ideas of his own.

As sons of Adam we create by bending creation to our will. Therefore, the results of our creating reflect both our desire and our skill. This creates a tension and often frustrations as the created reality does not match the plans in a man’s head. Perhaps this is why computer programming is a popular choice for men, in a realm created by humans bending machine code to the will of man is achievable even for men without the brawn to bend metal, timber or earth to their will.

Even after the fall Adam’s work remained the same, it just got much harder to achieve:

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 ESV)

Under the curse (Genesis 3:22), creation refuses to bow to the will of men. Therefore the strength of a man is necessary to tear open the soil, wrestle raw materials and press on against the elements. By applying wisdom a man creates new and innovative works, and at our best as a team there is no limit to what can be achieved (Genesis 11:3–6).

The prime focus of a man’s work is always provision – even if a man is an artist and has nothing to do with cultivating the ground or making food, the overall goal of his work is to generate income in order to put food on the table. We can work for noble causes and labour to create beauty or make a statement, but once our family starts to go hungry none of that holds any importance (see 1 Timothy 5:8). If providing for his family takes up all of a man he is doing a noble task – I would argue more noble than those of us who can do so by working only 40 hours a week.

Yet there is a limit to how worthwhile the works of a man can be:

What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity. There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, (Ecclesiastes 2:22–24 ESV).

For some men perhaps all they seek is to eat, drink and enjoy the fruits of their labours. But we are created for more, much more than this.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10 ESV)

To be satisfied with our own work is to settle far short of the best a man can achieve, to live beneath our purpose in Christ. We yearn for  purpose, to know that our work is for more than simply putting food on the table. The most effective way to grind a man down is to give him meaningless work that has no point to it and in which he has no choices, especially if the work involves no physical exertion but is simply pushing paper across a desk all day. Only the shallowest of men work only for money, we seek to do work that is worthwhile:

Some men know how to solve crimes, others can heal pain, paint pictures, make violins, train dogs, ride a wave, kick a ball, lay cement, design glorious buildings, make new laws. We need them all. You have things inside you to do. These lie dormant waiting to be expressed. (Steve Biddulph in Manhood)

We are created for good works that proclaim and glorify His grace. In order to achieve this the will of a man must be redeemed. For me to to the works prepared for me before I even existed I must bow my will to His will. A little created creator must submit to his own creator and say along with my Brother-redeemer, “Your will be done, not mine”.

His will is not obscure or difficult to find, we are to make disciples:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

And we are to labour to make the Kingdom of God manifest on earth:

Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
(Matthew 6:10 ESV)

Image of blacksmith: Hans Splinter

The pastoral scapegoat

After writing this post and submitting it for publishing, I realised that it does not fully reflect my thinking on the topic. Do read the two comments below the main body of the post as they illuminate this a bit. I’ve also seen the huge benefit that finally employing a part time pastor in our little church has brought and this has further changed my viewpoint. I’m leaving this post on the site as it is a reminder to me that I’ve always got much more to learn and can easily get cocky in my views.


the-pastoral-scapegoat

“We are too small to be able to afford to pay a pastor, the church will have to close.”

Bad call!

Employing a pastor is not a necessary requirement of a healthy church. In many cases it is really a convenient way to make life easier for the elders and church members.

Many small churches are struggling to balance budgets, yet the last expense to be cut is usually the pastor’s salary. As an elder myself I would never want to make a pastor redundant, but after our part-time pastor resigned a year and a half ago we did not employ anyone to replace him. Despite some doubts, our congregation is still thriving, we have an excellent Sunday school program, great sermons and heartfelt worship singing each week.

I would like for us to employ a pastor, but my reasons are largely selfish – it would make life easier for me. It would probably also tempt me to disobey God. My responsibility as an elder is to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you;” (1 Peter 5:2 ESV). I cannot push that responsibility onto someone else by casting my vote to pay them a salary from the church budget. The commission to shepherd (pastor) God’s people was given to me when I accepted the office of elder.

Likewise, no Christian can delegate their obligation to love one another onto a pastor by virtue of contributing to his salary. Responsibility for serving God’s people lies with all believers according to the grace God has given (1 Peter 4:10).

At its best, a group of believers would act in accordance with the exhortations of Romans chapter 12. Those with particular abilities use them for building up the whole group. God promises to give what we need to serve Him, so we can assume that He will place within each group the skills, or ability to acquire the skills, required to fulfill the purpose He has for that group. The leaders in such a group of believers would be:

  • Experienced
  • Stable and above reproach
  • Humble
  • Willing servants
  • Committed to the wellbeing of those in the group (see 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and 1 Peter 5:1-5).

What is missing from this picture? Plenty, if you are using contemporary churches as the measuring standard. A couple of obvious things are buildings and a pastor. But if we use the New Testament as our standard, buildings are barely mentioned and neither are pastors.

We do see elders as a required church office in the Bible, and that those who labor for the gospel and in preaching are worthy of wages for their work. It is OK to pay those who labor in ministry, but nowhere are we told that a church must employ a pastor. The responsibility for shepherding (pastoring) lies with the elders.  If we can trust God to give all we need for life and godliness, and if we believe that spiritual gifts are given for the common good of the church, then it is reasonable to assume that within each congregation of His people God provides grace to corporately fulfill His mission without dumping most of the work onto one man.

In order to follow such an ideal of church leadership we have to adjust our expectations. By accepting that God gives the grace to achieve His call on each fellowship, we also have to accept His standards and priorities for His work. We know God doesn’t judge outward appearances and that He is happy to accept people who are shunned by everyone else. So elders, brace yourselves for a shakedown of any appearance-based expectations and to be called-out on substandard shepherding.

What message is this medium giving you?

Does the tool I write with determine the message I write?

The medium is the message” according to Marshall McLuhan. I haven’t read any of his publications myself, but recently listened to an audiobook of The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion by Tim Challies in which he discusses this concept.

In a nutshell, the idea is that every medium of communication carries with it inherent constraints which determine how the content carried by that medium will be created, transmitted and received. So the way in which we receive a message is partly determined by the medium through which we receive it (i.e., text versus TV, or blog versus Bible).

My musing over this stems from a concern over whether I might be unwisely using my time writing a blog? I tend to justify it to myself with two reasons:

  1. Writing these posts gets me thinking more deeply about ‘God-stuff’ than I would do otherwise.
  2. It serves the Body of Christ to have God-glorifying content on the internet.

However, I cannot say with absolute certainty that God has ‘called’ me to blog. I could write in my own notebook in order to think deeply about God without inflicting my musings upon the world. I am not even certain that what I write is of any benefit to the Body of Christ.

So I have two questions:

  1. Is it possible to truly honour God with the medium of a blog?
  2. What is the best way to use a blog to glorify God?

Question 1 is basically a yes/no question. Question 2 may require some explanation: the format of a blog determines how the message is received. Some of the ways in which the format affects the message is that readers of web pages tend to skim rather than ponder; many blogs are entertainment so this colours how people read all blogs; there are technical constraints on how a web page can be displayed, limiting how it can look; a blog must always be viewed through a gadget (computer, ipad, phone); and so on.

The Son of God and black holes

GRO J1655-40, a black hole of about the same mass as a star. The companion star is being slowly devoured by the black hole

At the risk of sounding blasphemous, Colossians 1:19-20 makes me think of Jesus as being a bit like a black hole.

In astronomy, the idea of a black hole is that an extraordinarily large amount of matter (such as a giant star) collapses into an almost infinitely small space, generating a massive gravitational field that nothing can escape from. Similarly, when an infinite God wraps Himself in all His fullness into a single man, we have a very similar idea. (So we don’t need to be afraid of modern physics and very clever scientists – God has already “been there, done that“!)

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
(Colossians 1:19-20 ESV)

Having already enfolded Himself, the infinite, eternal One, into a couple of cells in Mary’s womb, He grew as a child into a man and every action of Jesus was an action of God. So when Jesus submitted to the nails on that cross, it was God’s blood which flowed! In that act all things were reconciled in Christ to God.

Notice also that God was pleased to do this – God did not grudgingly redeem your soul

Lensing by a black hole. Animated simulation of gravitational lensing caused by a Schwarzschild black hole going past a background galaxy.

Image of black hole and companion star: Hubble space telescope
Image of black hole lensing: Wikimedia Commons

The idolatrous discarnation of social media

I learned a new word today courtesy of Tim Challies who wrote some advice for pastors on using Facebook. He commented that there is a risk of becoming discarnate by substituting an online presence for real in-the-flesh (incarnate) interactions with people. His use of the word ‘disincarnate’ immediately caused me to think of Christ as God incarnate (as I suspect was Tim’s intention) and now the Church as the body of Christ in the world, in contrast to the strange ethereal melting pot of ideas and outbursts that is the internet and social media.

We now even even speak of having an online or virtual presence, in effect creating (or re-creating) ourselves in our own image. The innate sinful human nature so exchanges the glory of God incarnate in Christ for a cheap lie (Romans 1:21-23) that the literal images we use in social media to represent our presence are perversely called ‘avatars‘ (the manifestation of a Hindu deity).

The more I ponder this, the more abhorrent our self-idolatry and discarnation of true relationships appears to my Christian mind. God became flesh and dwelt amoung us (John 1:14), the final commission from Jesus was to (physically) “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). As Christians we are the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27) and while we are in the flesh we are to labour for the progress and joy of other believers (Philippians 1:24-25).

Both the first and second commandments of the decalogue (Exodus 20:3-4) stand opposed to the sort of virtual persona that is commonly used in social media and other realms of the internet. God delights to see truth in our inner being (Psalm 51:6) and out of such truthfulness we must not project a false image of ourselves into cyberspace.

Beyond that, we also need to humble ourselves in acknowledgment that it is only God who is omnipresent, only he can promise to be with us always (Matthew 28:20), we are finite – limited be both time and space. The nature of such limitations imposed by God should alert us to the importance of our physical lives and face-to-face relationships.

Is the era of full-time ministry over?

As a member of a ‘lay’ preaching team in our small church family, I have found that the benefit to me of preaching far outweighs the inconvenience and late nights needed to fulfill this role. We certainly miss some of the benefits of having a paid pastor, but I am increasingly wondering if being paid to ‘do ministry’ as a full-time job like any other nine-to-five job is something we should not aspire to?

In musing along this line, I came across an interesting comment from Jim Elliston who resigned from a full-time position as worship pastor for Cornerstone church in California to start a design company and now leads worship as a weekend ministry, without being paid to do so. Here are his thoughts:

I still lead worship for Cornerstone (now I’m right around 2 weekends a month), but I’ve realized that ministry and vocational ministry are 2 totally different things. I know it’s scary, but I think those in vocational ministry need to examine whether or not they are truly called to take a paycheck to do their ministry. I know that if I would have stayed in vocational ministry, I would have missed out on so much of what God has really called me to. (Interviewed by Justin Taylor.)

I do not think this should cause every pastor to resign, but it warrants consideration. Also weighing in on this topic recently was Justin Wise with a blog post called Bi-Vocationalism and the New Pastor in which he (accurately I think) says that:

the role in the “superhero” pastor is, … not “scalable” for future generations. We’ve forced our pastors to be the Every Man and Every Woman that No One is capable of being.

While New Zealand doesn’t suffer much from the mega church phenomenon of North America, the expectations of some Christians can easily become an ‘entertain me’ mindset when it really should be an attitude of servant humility and fellowship. As church membership declines and people are less inclined to entrust themselves to ‘the clergy’, perhaps the idea of ‘pastor’ as a job title will be replaced by pastoring (shepherding, guarding and guiding a flock) as a role that is shared by several people in a congregation, none of whom is paid as though it were a job.

I realize that Paul considered it appropriate for a church leader to be paid for the work they did. Yet Paul himself refused to draw a salary from the churches he established, the impression given is that as the burden of pastoring a church grew and precluded the pastor from working at paid employment and shepherding God’s people, the churches shouldered the responsibility of providing his material needs (see 1 Corinthians 9:4-18). Now we are in almost an opposite situation in many churches – the church is declining and yet still having to pay a pastor. As an employee, the pastor feels a responsibility to show he is earning his keep so becomes a Jack-of-all-trades and desperately tries to keep the church from declining any further.

Maybe God is wiping the slate clean and destroying the church structures that became a crutch which enabled people to lean upon an institution rather than Christ? Perhaps God is removing the excuse we invoke that certain things are the job of a pastor and so not our responsibility? Could it be that we are being nudged out of the comfort and complacency that the Western church has wallowed in for too long now?


Addendum

It seems that I am not alone in considering that the role of pastor needs to be re-examined. Ed Stetzer has written on this topic in Debunking the Clergification Myth, positing that the economy’s toll actually may liberate church leaders—and members. I did not know about this article until today (14 July).