How and Where Do We Devote Ourselves to the Work of the Lord?

When we do God’s work, our labor is not in vain

Devote yourself to God's work.As Paul winds down his first letter to the church in Corinth, he gives a simple command, followed by some encouragement.

He says for them—and us, by extension—to remain diligent doing God’s work. Though we may not see the results of what we do or at least not realize the full outcomes of our actions, we will not toil needlessly. Our labor will produce results.

While this command to give God 100 percent is simple in concept, the implementation presents a challenge.

What does it mean to give ourselves fully to God’s work?

Do we need to be in ministry or have a full time job at a Christian service company to do God’s work?

Can we do God’s work in a regular job? Can we do God’s work at school? At home? For our neighbors? With our family? I think the answer is “Yes.”

That brings up the next question.

What is God’s work?

I’m not being flippant. It’s a serious question.

Is the Lord’s work being a pastor or missionary? Is God’s work volunteering at church? How about helping at the local service organization?

Can we do the work of the Lord by how we live our life?

While we can use words to tell others about him, we may be able to speak more effectively if we let our actions talk for us. Isn’t that God’s work, too?

Though we can debate what it is to do the Lord’s work and in what setting we should do it, don’t let these details get in the way of the command to “give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord” for when we do, our “labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58, NIV).

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is 1 Corinthians 15, and today’s post is on 1 Corinthians 15:58.]

Do You Have These Misconceptions about Church?

Many people carry misconceptions about the purpose of church, and we need to set aside that thinking

Christians Need to Gather Together..Last Sunday in “What is Church,” I suggested we are the church. Church isn’t a place we go—not really. It’s who we are. As the church we should be about worship, community, and helping others.

There’s a lot I didn’t mention. That was intentional. Contrary to the actions and attitudes of many, here is what a church is not:

Church is Not an Obligation: We must never think of church as an obligation. Though most people, at one time or another, make a conscious decision to attend a Sunday morning gathering when they don’t feel like it, that falls under the category of being self-disciplined. But if the only reason we ever go is out of a sense of obligation, then our motivation is wrong. God is not impressed.

Yes, the Bible commands us to persist in meeting together (Hebrews 10:24-25), but that doesn’t necessarily mean a Sunday church service. I think it means hanging out with other believers. That should be fun, not an obligation to fulfill.

Church is Not a Means to Appease Guilt: Some people only attend a religious service on Sunday morning because they’d feel guilty if they stayed home. They were trained from an early age that church is what you did. If the church doors where open, they were there: Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday night prayer meeting, Thursday visitation . . .

Guilt is a powerful motivator. The avoidance of guilt can propel us to positive action, but it needs to have a benefit greater than appeasing a shame-filled conscience.

Church is Not a Routine: Many Sunday services proceed with a rote precision that attendees follow mindlessly. They come, they go through the motions, and they head home. For them the entire time holds no significance. While their body acts, their mind drifts, and their spirit remains untouched. Routine is the enemy of meaningful worship and true community.

An almost parallel aspect of routine exists, called ritual. Though the word ritual carries negative connotations, a positive aspect of ritual is one seeped in deep spiritual mystery. Some people are drawn to this type of almost-mystical ritual, a sacred practice that supernaturally connects them with the Almighty.

Church is Not a Social Club: Some people pursue church meetings as nothing more than a social gathering, void of spiritual significance. They miss the true meaning of us meeting together. They dishonor God and marginalize his community of followers.

Though one of the characteristics of us as church is community, there’s a distinction between meaningful community and a social get together. Yes, community contains a significant social aspect, but more importantly it involves intentionality in how we treat one another. The New Testament gives us over thirty “one another” commands, which starts with the expectation that we love one another.

Church is Not a Business Promotion Vehicle: Some people become members of a local church as a means for commerce. They join so they can sell, not serve. They go through the motions of worship, and their engagement with community consists only of networking for business.

When my bride and I were first married, another couple from our local congregation invited us to their house. We were ecstatic. Then my mother-in-law shared that this couple had recently signed onto a large multi-level marketing company. When I asked them directly of their intention, they confirmed my fears that we would experience a sales pitch. We didn’t go, and they never talked to us again. That’s not church. That’s not even good business.

Church is Not a Place to Amass Knowledge: For much of my life I reasoned that the real purpose of a Sunday service was to learn about God. I dismissed the worship part because it bored me. I didn’t see community because it was all social. And, as an inward looking body, we didn’t do any service. That left the sermon.

But what happens when the sermon doesn’t provide any new information? Does that mean I wasted an hour, or more? But recall the verse that says, “Knowledge puffs up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). Amassing knowledge is not the reason we should go to church. That takes me back to worship, community, and serving others.

We are the church. We gather to worship God, live in community, and serve others.

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When is the Best Time to do Good?

Helping others is one of many ways to worship God

When is the Best Time to do Good?I like the stories about Jesus helping people in need, such as by feeding them and especially by healing them. Even more I like it when Jesus confronts the religious practices of the day. We have so much to learn from his example.

It’s a bonus for me when in one action Jesus does both: helps someone and challenges religious conventions. Such is the case in today’s reading when Jesus heals a woman on the Sabbath, the Jew’s holy day of rest.

A religious authority, intent on preserving his devout heritage of keeping the Law of Moses, is quick to criticize Jesus for his miraculous act of compassion. Though Jesus does the right thing for the right reason, the Jewish synagogue leader can only see Jesus as breaking one of their long-held rules and deviating from their all-important tradition.

The church today has many rules and expectations for us to follow. Some are well intended and others are unexamined, but I suspect there are exceptions to each one, such as by helping a person in dire need.

What about skipping church to come to someone’s aid? Some people would never consider such an act, while others would never question it. What is important to remember is that we can worship God in church by singing to him and we can worship God in our community by helping someone in trouble.

Which should we choose? Perhaps the one that benefits others. And what better day than Sunday?

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Luke 13, and today’s post is on Luke 13:10-14.]

Is Being a Christian a Present Reality or a Future Hope?

Our perspective on what it means to follow Jesus shapes how we think and act

Is Being a Christian a Present Reality or a Future Hope?I’ve met people so fixated on heaven that they squander their time here on earth. Not only do they miss the opportunities before them, but they also offer a negative example to the world of what it means to be a Christian. They treat life as a burden and react to every disappointment as a stoic martyr. With long faces they measure their time on earth as an ordeal to endure, one that prevents them from obtaining heavenly bliss.

Yes, our future hope in heaven is significant, but if that’s the only reason to be a Christian, we’re missing what God wants from us and has to give us – now.

Life is a gift, an amazing gift to enjoy and to use and to share. We need to make each minute count for Jesus today, not sit in a corner and count each minute until it’s time to leave.

Years ago I largely missed the delight of my senior year in high school because I was so fixated on what was to come next. High school loomed as a time to tolerate, a hurdle to jump over, before I could move on with life. I even let relationships languish because I didn’t see them as part of my post high school reality. I lost that time and can’t reclaim it.

Yes, I can’t wait to get to heaven and enjoy eternal ecstasy, but I also can’t wait for the opportunities of each new day. In some small way I want to be the hands, the face, and the love of Jesus to those I meet. I want to encourage those who are discouraged, to help those in need, and to point those who are searching to a better way.

When Jesus told us to pray for our daily bread (Matthew 6:11), it was a reminder to take each day as it comes, one day at a time, and not rush to the next one. We need to make the most of today, whether it is our last one or we have thousands more.

God has given me my time on earth for a reason. If I don’t make the best of it, I may not be ready to fully embrace my future with him in heaven.

As the saying goes, “Today is the first day of the rest of our lives.” We need to live it to the full for Jesus.

[This is from the October issue of Peter DeHaan‘s newsletter, “Spiritually Speaking.”  Receive the complete newsletter each month.]

5 Things God Asks of Us

The book of Deuteronomy offers surprising insights into our relationship with God

5 Things God Asks of UsThe book of Deuteronomy is never high on my reading list. The seemingly endless instructions about the form and format of God’s expectations for his people vex me, especially given that Jesus fulfills the Old Testament, and today we live under a New Testament arrangement.

Yet there are surprising truths buried in this stodgy book. We can easily miss these amazing insights if we read too hurriedly – or skip the book altogether.

One such passage presents a succinct summary of what God asks of us:

  1. Fear God: Does this mean God wants his people to be afraid of him? No! He wants his people to stand in awe of him, with reverence and respect.
  2. Walk with God: God asks us to move in relationship with him, to go where he goes. The word repent (which is found throughout the Bible) implies this. It basically means to change course and follow God (and Jesus).
  3. Love God: God wants us to love him. That’s a great start. In the New Testament we see God’s love for us. Though it’s evident in the Old Testament, we can’t miss it in the New Testament.
  4. Serve God: If we fear, walk with, and love God, we will spontaneously desire to serve him. Yet to make sure we don’t miss this part of our relationship with God, he spells it out for us.
  5. Obey God: The fifth item also flows from those before it: obedience. Though obeying an authority is often dismissed in today’s culture, God is one authority who never disappoints, never falters, and never makes a mistake.

God is worthy of us doing the things he asks, starting with this passage: fear, walk, love, serve, and obey.

What items on this list surprise you? What other things does God ask of us? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Deuteronomy 10-12, and today’s post is on Deuteronomy 10:12-13.]

How Do You Affect Others?

We have an effect on everyone we meet. We can touch them in a positive way and leave them better off for whatever time we spend with them, or our interactions can have a negative impact and produce the opposite results. This might be at the store, how we drive, with our neighbors, during work, and when we’re at church. This happens through our actions, our words, and even our nonverbal communications. It’s in person, on the phone, via text, and using email.

How Do You Affect Others?

We have many opportunities to affect others. We can help them, encourage them, guide them, and pray for them. Or we can irritate them, cause them distress, criticize them, and discourage them. We can make their day a bit brighter or a tad duller. We can subtly point them to Jesus or turn them off.

Though I want to live my life with intention and have a positive effect on everyone all the time, I fear I fall short more often than not. Here’s what I recently learned about this:

We Don’t Always Know the Effect We Have On Others: A few weeks ago I was at a writers conference. I attend it every year to learn and to share. Three people surprised me by individually taking time to thank me for something I said or did for them the year before. Who would have known?

We Need to Thank People When They Impact Us: Another person thanked me for the writing newsletter I send out each week. She told me how helpful it is for her and that she looks forward to it. I thanked her for her encouragement. What I didn’t tell her was that I was quite discouraged with the newsletter: for the time it takes to do each week and my assumption that no one really cared. She refueled me to press on.

Sometimes God Leads Us to People When They Need it the Most: I also led a couple of breakout sessions at the conference. The second one did not go well. Though I know I shared useful information and provided value, I also feared I caused just as much confusion. I do know I didn’t communicate clearly: talking too fast and stumbling over my spew of words. When it was over the phrase “train wreck” kept popping into my mind.

Then our enemy, the father of lies, began his attack. My mind quickly spiraled out of control. Within an hour I had retreated to the bathroom to wallow in despair. I couldn’t think clearly and didn’t know what to do. Prayer eluded me.

When I emerged from my seclusion a friend’s gaze caught my attention. I don’t know if she beckoned me or if I was drawn to her. She thanked me for my presentation, the information I shared, and the value I provided.

She couldn’t be talking about me; surely she must be confused. But no, she had sat in the back row during my session. She was there for my train wreck but didn’t see it that way.

I thanked her profusely and told her just how much I needed to hear her words. My eyes misted over, and I gave her a hug of appreciation. Her words rejuvenated me, and the rest of the conference went great – thanks to one person willing to follow God’s prompting to search me out. She had a positive effect on me just when I needed it the most.

[This is from Peter DeHaan‘s October newsletter, “Spiritually Speaking.” Do you want to receive his complete newsletter each month?]

Serving God, College, and Student Loans

I once met a guy who wanted to work in broadcasting. So he went to college. In his four-year degree, taking some forty classes, guess how many applied to broadcasting? Just three. While having secondary benefit, his other three dozen plus classes were not preparing him for the job he sought, but they did take time and waste money.

In my post “Why I’m Against Seminary Training,” I asserted that most people don’t need to go to seminary before they become a minister or missionary. Most of the classes they endure are secondary, taking time that could be used to serve and costing money that could be better spent. The result is often student loans.

I’ve talked to many twenty-somethings who desire to give God a life of service, taking a job that may not pay much to do something that gives much, to engage in spiritually fulfilling work with lasting impact. There’s one roadblock: student loans. Their desired job won’t pay enough to cover their indebtedness, so they must take a higher paying job they don’t want and won’t enjoy so they can pay off their debt.

Some organizations require post-graduate degrees from seminary or Bible college as a prerequisite. My soul groans when I hear their expectations. A few of those classes may have direct application, but most just amass knowledge with little practical use.

When it comes to serving God in a ministry of some sort, debt is a deterrent, and college education is false preparation. What I think God wants is spiritually mature followers of Jesus, who have an intimate relationship with God the Father, and know how to follow the Holy Spirit. That is the real prerequisite, and it isn’t taught in college.

Align your life with God and he will work out the rest. That’s the best preparation for serving him.

Why I’m Against Seminary Training

The first time someone said this to me, I was both excited and dismayed: “God’s calling me to full-time ministry – so I’m going to seminary.” Though I’ve now heard it many times since, my reaction is the same.

I’m thrilled whenever anyone desires to work full time to support God’s causes. I’m equally distraught when they assume more education is a prerequisite. In fact, there’s often a requirement to first spend three years of intense theoretical study prior to action. That’s quite a detour!

I’m not against preparation. In fact, I insist on it, but unless the goal is to teach at the graduate level, I don’t see seminary as the best means to prepare. I say this, knowing that many friends have been to seminary and more are presently attending. I do my best to support them, but my insides scream, “You’re wasting your time!”

Most people don’t need more esoteric education, they need application in action. One minister recently said, “Our level of knowledge is about two years ahead of our obedience.” Others are direct: “Stop learning more about the Bible and start applying what you already know.”

Look at the disciples. How many of them had anything resembling today’s seminary training? None. Their preparation was following Jesus around, of seeing him in action, learning by doing, and applying faith to life. The closest they came to a theology class was the Sermon on the Mount, but that was practical, life-changing, perception-altering teaching, not abstruse rhetoric. Then, after three years of on-the-job training, they went out and changed the world – with God’s help, of course, but that’s the point.

Paul was likely the most educated of Jesus’ followers, but let’s be honest. How often do the things Paul wrote perplex us? I know it’s not just me. In Acts 26:24, Festus became so bewildered with Paul’s discourse that he shouted, “Your great learning is driving you insane.”

I’ve heard that ministers who don’t go to seminary are happier with their work and enjoy greater success. That’s telling. Knowing that, why would anyone want to attend seminary?

Most of us don’t need more education to serve God; we just need to do what he’s telling us to do. Now go do it!

Do You Hear the Voice of God?

Some people tell me they’ve never heard God speak to them. Of those, I suspect many actually do hear him and don’t realize it. For others, they need to train themselves to listen. And there may be a few with something blocking their ability to hear him.

Consider the Israelites in the Bible. They heard God speak and were so fearful they begged him to stop. Instead, they asked Moses to serve as an intermediary between them and God. And God did as they asked.

God ceased talking to the people and instead spoke only through selected leaders, priests, and prophets. I suspect the rest of the Old Testament would have unfolded quite differently had they not made this foolish request.

However, Jesus changed all that, allowing everyone who follows him to approach God directly and hear from him. This may be in audible words, a small whisper, or words, thoughts, and images he places in our minds.

If we aren’t hearing from God, maybe all we need to do is ask – and then listen.

[Exodus 20:19, Deuteronomy 18:16, Deuteronomy 5:23-27]

[Discover more about the Bible at A Bible A Day.com: Bible FAQs, Bible Dictionary, Books of the Bible Overview, and Bible Reading Plans.]

A Husband and Wife Team (Visiting Church #13)

The church has no website and its Facebook page is nothing more than a placeholder. Given this lack of presence on contemporary channels, our experience suggests they are a smaller, aging congregation with a traditional service. My assumption proves true.

The pastor is the first person we meet. He’s perhaps in his thirties and not a contemporary of his parishioners. As we talk, his wife arrives and we exchange introductions. She’s also the pianist and will later sing the special music. Accomplished at what she does, she plays with passion and joy. The pastor leads the singing, both vocally and visually as his hands keep time. He has a beautiful voice, which he projects with polished confidence. They make a great team.

The message is an expository teaching from the opening verses of Revelation 21, part of an ongoing series. After verse seven he checks the time and ends the service.

Afterwards he seeks us out. I enjoy our conversation, but we’re blocking people in the aisle. So when there’s a lull in conversation, I thank him for his time and wish him a good afternoon.

We turn to exit. I see his wife standing by the door, apparently in her husband’s stead, shaking hands and chatting with people as they leave. We also have an extended conversation with her. Had it not been for a previously planned family get-together, they would have invited us over for lunch. Perhaps some other time. Their suggestion honors me. Sharing a meal is a great way to make a connection and form community.

We say our goodbyes. This young couple stirs my soul, faithfully serving God as they pour themselves into this tiny church. God, bless them and their ministry.

[Read about Church #12 and Church #14, start at the beginning of our journey, or learn more about Church #13.]