Awareness & Expectations

Passage: James 5:3-4
5:3 Your gold and silver have rusted and their rust will be a witness against you. It will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have hoarded treasure! 5:4 Look, the pay you have held back from the workers who mowed your fields cries out against you, and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.


Soul Search Essay
The prior essays have been very hard. They challenged your assumptions about your work, your career, your goals and the things you trust. Many Christians fear deeply a couple of things – personal awareness and God’s expectations.

We fear awareness, because we know or at least sense at some deep level that we are seriously idolatrous. We know that while we have accepted Jesus as our savior, there are areas where we do not, do not trust him. Often, if we are successful, the numbness of success blocks our recognition of our personal idolatry. It pushes the awareness away. There is, however, often still some sense of the things we do not want to entrust to him; areas we do not feel safe with Jesus accessing. These are things, unfortunately, that we do not want to be aware of ourselves except on very, very rare occasions. We like the absence of awareness.

In fact, we aggressively avoid this awareness, because we know these things do not meet God’s expectations and are not worthy of Christ’s sacrifice. To allow ourselves to be conscious of them would be to know and admit our double mindedness, which would be very painful; perhaps even debilitatingly painful depending on the depth of our double mindedness. So, we carry on in life; avoiding a Christ career, avoiding God’s expectations and building elements into our lives that are beyond ironic. We act as if this is our life and our time. It is not.

“It is in the last days that you have hoarded treasure!”. “…the last days….” Why does James focus on that? The last days are days when the opportunity to add to the Kingdom of God still exists. Hope is still possible. Love can still be extended to others. With the summation of the last days that opportunity will end. Those who have not joined the kingdom will be lost.

Now is the time to be actively engaged in a Christ career, because the opportunity to expand the kingdom is uniquely now. Now is the time to accept that Christianity is a participatory faith. Now is the time to accept that participation is daily, hourly and continuous. Now is the time to accept that life is not about you. It is about Jesus and you. It is about Jesus’ plan…not your agenda. Life is also about us plus you. Christianity is a community faith; not a lone wolf effort.  Can you see what I am describing?  Now is the time to change how you see…not just what you look at.

How do silver and gold, careers, status, power, prestige, etc. “…witness against you?” E witness is in the meaning we give them. They are meaningful in a destructive way. They became evil means within your life. Evil enters through the eye, because it is what you focus on that consumes you. Your career, work, money, or social status cannot save or free you. They cannot save those around you. They consume you and others through your focus, through how you choose to see, what you see and how you act on that sight. They consume. They do not give. They are solutions that are not answers. Why? Because they are very destructive solutions.

“…and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.” Whose ears have been reached? Yahweh’s. Does this matter in the age of grace? Yes, it does. This letter was written in the era of grace to people living in grace. This is not the Old Testament.

Even if the book of James were in the Old Testament, all, all of the law and the prophets were summed up in loving God and loving others. These two paths of love must extend into every facet of life. Love must invade your business, must invade your society, must invade your family and more. It must radically alter the things within your sphere of influence. If you have succeeded in the worldly, anti-Christ systems of business and society, if you have done this without Jesus’ intimate participation, you do not see your workplace or relationships as a Christ-careered person would. Do you? Are you that rare exception in the church that senses and follows the Holy Spirit faithfully and consistently in the corridors of business? Praise be to Christ if you are! If not….

“It will consume your flesh like fire.” When you do come to understand the years of your idolatry, it will burn you like a fire. You will know that you have been a fool. You will know that this foolishness burned others through how you deprived them of time, attention, investment, and care. You will experience some of their pain. The foolishness burned you as well. Am I talking of purgatory in the age of grace? No. I am talking about awareness. I am talking about Christ-like eyes cast on your full life of actions, intentions and motivations with you unable to turn away. I am talking about unvarnished awareness.

I sat with a dying man when he chose a different way to see. It took his impending death to rip away the millions he had earned and for him to see the mockery that had been his life. It was hard to watch the pain in his eyes as he wrestled with what he had instilled in his children. He was horrified. He saw differently and finally knew that the evil tendrils sunk deep in his life had been what he passed on to his now adult children. He finally could see it in his life and theirs lives. He finally had the eyes of Christ and knew the grief of Christ. Yet, it was so late in his life and he was so mechanical of a Christian that he could not warn those children. He had the opportunity given by unvarnished awareness. His embarrassment and shame sadly overcame his love. He only told me; not his children. Do not follow this man. Do not.

Endure the pain of removing the tendrils now. End the accumulation of new evil. End, please, the passing on of evil. Become a Christ-careered person. Stop wasting love and grace. Invest in a career in Christ! There is no path forward to do this other than through the fire. Removal of evil is painful and embarrassing. Do it.

Christ came to knit us together into a radically different community. He came to enable us to be a radically different business person. He came to make life truly, truly meaningful. He came to bring true joy. Accept the meaningful life. Begin the removal of the idols. Participate with the Holy Spirit. Endure the pain and be transformed. Move toward true joy. Take something new into the corridors of business. Take love to those that share these corridors with you. Take the Kingdom into your business.

Captured…

Passage Colossians 2:6-8
2:6 Therefore, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 2:7 rooted and built up in him and firm in your faith just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. 2:8 Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

Soul Search Essay
I have worked in a variety of work environments and businesses – for-profit, non-profit, entrepeneurial, established businesses, family businesses, etc. I have read many business and management books. Only a very few of these books are based in scripture. Fewer secular business environments actually reflected Christ like influence. Many of the environments I worked in were populated with a scattering of Christians (I live in the Bible Belt), but from what I could tell the race to influence mentioned in the prior devotional essay was being lost by these believers. Most did not seem to know a race was even happening.

In any new social environment there is a race between you and the environment on who will influence whom more. Yes, your entry into the environment, your shared thoughts, your actions, etc. are having an impact, but are you not also adjusting your thinking and actions based on the responses to you from the environment? You are. This means you are changing, even if you do not realize it. OK, maybe you are in management and you may be a strong leader making an observable impact. Even you, however, are not unchanged by others in that environment. You do not have sufficient power to impose your will with no impact on you by other’s behaviors, even if you are the CEO. Also, your observable impact may be more in line with human tradition than Christ.

Consider your work history. How often were the relationships you have now and those you have had at work been infused with Christ-based input coming to you (again to you, not from you)? What where all the influences that you experienced? Were there Christ-based influences impacting you that were both pervasive throughout this history and defining of these environments (See footnote)? Why in the world would I ask these questions of someone in a secular business environment? Do I not understand the trends in America today? The removal of Christianity from many American forums. Do I as an author have no clue about this distancing in American businesses, whether small, medium or large? This distancing is precisely the trigger for this essay.

Since most Christians work in secular business systems led and staffed by non-Christians, these believers are at least strongly influenced and sometimes strongly controlled by evil. Whoa! Am I saying all business is evil? No. I am saying all businesses (unfortunately even ministries) have many, many deep tendrils of evil running through them.

To believe that Satan ignores or is excluded from business culture and philosophy is foolish. It is laughable. We live in an unavoidably fallen world. Falleness dominates the world. Why? Satan is the current ruler of this world and his goals are spiritual. Satan is committed to lying his way to the destruction of anything Christ-based and/or Christ-connected. Anything. One of his most effective tools at insinuating his lies into your life is your work within a business. Why?

Business offers power, money and status. These are powerful ways “…to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” The modern American business is founded on human traditions. If you disagree with me, take a serious look at your workplace. Really look hard. How many things in that environment influence you to “…continue to live your lives in [Christ], rooted and built up in him and firm in your faith just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness?” Many? Maybe a few, but do you work in an environment that actively supports your spiritual development? Or does it offer other solutions? For the vast majority of the answer is “No, it does not support my spiritual development.” Yet, work and business definitely offer solutions. Do you recognize the solutions you are being offered? The solutions are too often destructive and therefore are tremendous threats to you.

So, what is the greatest threat to your being “…rooted and built up in him…?” Success.  Success itself.  Continue in the essays to understand why I say this.

FOOTNOTE: Notice that I did not ask you if you worked in a Christian ministry. This devotion essay has nothing to do with working exclusively in a church or ministry. Most Christians do not work in ministry delivery businesses. I am addressing Christians in the secular business world, which is where most Christians work.

Emotional Safety in a Box Canyon

Devotional Passage:  Isaiah 41: 21-29 

41:21 Set forth your case, says the Lord;
bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob.
22 Let them bring them, and tell us
what is to happen.
Tell us the former things, what they are,
that we may consider them,
that we may know their outcome;
or declare to us the things to come.
23 Tell us what is to come hereafter,
that we may know that you are gods;
do good, or do harm,
that we may be dismayed and terrified.
24 Behold, you are nothing,
and your work is less than nothing;
an abomination is he who chooses you.
25 I stirred up one from the north, and he has come,
from the rising of the sun, and he shall call upon my name;
he shall trample on rulers as on mortar,
as the potter treads clay.
26 Who declared it from the beginning, that we might know,
and beforehand, that we might say, “He is right”?
There was none who declared it, none who proclaimed,
none who heard your words.
27 I was the first to say to Zion, “Behold, here they are!”
and I give to Jerusalem a herald of good news.
28 But when I look, there is no one;
among these there is no counselor
who, when I ask, gives an answer.
29 Behold, they are all a delusion;
their works are nothing;
their metal images are empty wind


Soul Search Essay

(While the focus of this thread of posts is on the older Christian in the business environment (i.e. An “older Christian” is someone who has been a Christian at least 4-5 years or more), we need to begin in the larger Christian sub-culture.  This essay deals with what we depend on in a broader scope than just the business environment.  So, let us begin with the giant of the Old Testament – Isaiah.)

If you have never been exposed to God’s (YHWH’s – YHWH means “I AM” in ancient Hebrew; in Hebrew words were strings of consonants with vowel pointing, so YHWH is the short version of the name God gave to Abraham; it is also written as Yahweh) sarcasm in preaching or teaching, the fact it exists may be surprising. Scripture documents an incredible range of God’s emotion and some of it is uncomfortable to witness. We often focus as an American Christian sub-culture on the “good” or “positive” emotions and avoid the harsher emotions in Scripture. (This is true across many denominations even though it is subtle in some.)  In doing this, we miss the encouragement of emotions such as sarcasm. Encouragement?

How in the world can sarcasm be uplifting and encouraging? Is it a model to be used in our interactions with others? Jesus is extolled in the next section of Isaiah as not “extinguishing a burning wick.” Sarcasm is an emotion that extinguishes many, many things. So, it seems that sarcasm is not being offered as a tool for our use. So, why is sarcasm used here in Isaiah?

It is offered as YHWH’s strong, legitimate emotional response to the total absurdity of idols. Why are idols absurd? Idols have no actual power. Fundamentally, this is God’s point. Idols are human made from natural materials and have no ability to impact the natural world or spiritual world. If an idol cannot move, cannot act, has no supernatural power, then it is merely an object. Yet, in Israel’s population, this reality was strongly, strongly disbelieved. In fact, idols formed a core element of the foundation of emotional safety for Israelites. How can a powerless, inert object provide emotional safety?  Delusion.

An idol’s power to give assumed safety lies in the perceived control it provides. Idols were and are created as a result of human will. A human wanted an idol.  He gave value in cash or barter for the idol’s creation. If the person is wealthy, the idol could be enhanced by using a better material than wood such as stone or perhaps a person paid for overlaying wood with silver or gold.  So, human creation and natural materials gave power to the idol via investment of a little or a great amount of financial value, but that was not the major source of an idol’s emotional power. The idol’s greatest power came from it being a culturally defined mechanism to manipulate a needy god.

The gods of Canaanite culture, Assyrian culture, Babylonion culture, in fact all of Mesopotamia god’s were not supreme beings. They were petty super beings. These cultures (as well as the Greek, Roman, etc. cultures’ gods) were understood as a conflicted group of powerful beings that needed food, drink, shelter and rest. They fought, whined, plotted and schemed. Most of all, these gods had needs. Those needs made the gods susceptible to human power. A human, such as a priest or worshiper, could provide for a god’s need and hopefully receive a positive answer to a request. Alternately the human could seek to build a reservoir of good will by faithful gifting to the god’s needs or perhaps building a resting place for the god (a temple).  It was believed that a reservoir of such goodwill gave a human the power to influence one or more super beings. The assumption was that this influence might bring safety. Did it?

For an idol to be effective for your use, the following must be true – the god must exist, the god must have needs, the idol must be an effective mechanism to meet a god’s needs, then you must attend to those needs in an effective way, the god must accept your attending, then when you have a need god must decide to act in alignment with your influence (vs another human’s influence or even another god’s actions), and finally the god must have actual power to accomplish the change or action in the natural world. Wow! What an impossible chain of events!  Even if most of the chain were true, you always, always risked being out influenced or left to rot due to some multi-God squabble.

Israelite and Canaanite idols seem preposterous as an effective safety mechanism to modern thinking. If we really think this through, we completely get YHWH’s sarcasm!  How could anyone believe this chain of events causes safety? How backward and unsophisticated these people are!

It is not like someone believing that safety comes from success, that success comes from acceptance in the right social circles, that social acceptance comes from going to the right schools, that doing the right work in the right job at the right time leads to promotion and that promotion brings wealth, status and success. After all, wealth, status and success make us safe, right?  No! That is equally preposterous!

Success, status, and wealth are simply idols. They are built by humans and rely on influence based in the needs of other, more powerful humans. The fact that our idols are derived from human social and business structures does not make them more than idols.  There is no safety in these objects.  No emotional safety.  No actual safety.

How does YHWH’s sarcasm bring encouragement?  Sarcasm from a loving, real God can surprise us.  It is unexpected.  Perhaps it even shocks us into considering the source of our emotional safety. It is in this act of considering that the truth of our foolishness can become apparent and in that apparentness we can choose. Choosing matters.  Sarcasm can create the chance to choose.  In those moments, long after our salvation decision, we can choose to abandon idols for the true power of Jesus Christ.  The power available since our rebirth.

Idols are box canyons. The only way out is to turn and leave. Yet…yet.. the very falseness of idols keep us climbing the crumbling wall of success, chopping in the forest of status, hammering the gold of wealth; seeking safety in things, rather than in one specific person. These walls, forrests, and hammers are not safe in themselves.  They can cause harm directly.  There is no real safety created by them either.  None. Only YHWH provides safety. That safety is born of God’s character expressed in the life of Jesus Christ.  Success will not teach you God’s character.  Status cuts you off from YHWH, leaving you alone in a forrest of stumps cut by others forming idols. Hammering creates noise through which a soft, calm, quiet voice does not penetrate.  There is no safety here.

Abandon your idols. Embrace the Jesus you accepted long ago.

Personal Experience

In case you were wondering, here is Why I Write.