Pointing others to Christ

daisy-quiet-lifeBy Joe LaGuardia

We Christians are called to point other people to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and draw attention to God’s glory instead of our own.

In a society that thrives on social networking, publicity, and instant communication, it is difficult to make these easy challenges a reality.

Instead of pointing people to Christ, we are too busy trying to stand up for Christ.  Instead of drawing attention to God’s glory, we build bigger schemes in drawing greater attention to ourselves.  Instead of glorifying God, we find new ways to be divisive or abrasive.

But the Bible is very clear on this issue.  Paul tells the Thessalonians, for instance, to “make it an ambition to lead a quiet life, working with your hands” (1 Thess. 4:11).  Peter gives similar advice: “Conduct yourselves honorably among the pagans . . . so that they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God on the day of God’s visitation” (1 Peter 2:12).

As a pastor and author, I am acutely aware of how being a leader, preacher, and teacher in the community creates a tension with these commands.  I realized this when I had to set up a website for my book.

I didn’t want to draw attention to myself, and I certainly was not in the habit of trying to market my writing or my book on a large scale, but I had to do it to try and get it into the hands of people who need it.  Also, I had an obligation to my co-author to try my hardest to push it.

The spotlight can be rewarding at times, but it has its burdens as well.  Sometimes I’d rather crawl in a hole with a good book to read rather than to share.

I am not the only person who has this kind of stress and conflicted feelings.  In fact, many Christians I know would rather live a quiet life than be so public with their actions.  Social media does not help the cause, that’s for sure.

Peter does not leave us hanging when we wonder how it is that we are to “live honorably” and try our hardest to draw people’s attention to God.  In fact, his first letter to the early Christian church spells out exactly how to live a life worthy of the Gospel of Jesus.

First, Peter tells us that we are born again and are to reflect the values and principles of Father God.  We spend so much time talking about being born again, however, we forget what it is that we are born into.

Peter states that we are born into the holiness of God (1 Peter 1:13-16).  This requires self-discipline and hope in Christ against steep odds.  It requires that we desire not the lusts and power of this world, but the humility and power of the cross.

Peter also encourages readers to be a “servant of God” first, and a good citizen of the community second (1 Peter 2:13-17).  Christians sometimes forget that we can glorify God by obeying the law and honoring those who are in leadership over us.

Although the Bible reminds us that all human institutions and governments are, well, human, God still expects us to lead lives of righteousness within the framework in which God has called us.  No matter if we are under the umbrella of capitalism, socialism, communism, or whatever -ism, we can still serve Christ and serve others.  If we are drawing people to God, it really doesn’t make a difference what political system we live in.

Living honorably also means being a good employee, child, parent, grandparent, and friend.   We are not to retaliate in face of persecution; nor are we to give people a hard time or a coarse word.  Instead, we are to “love one another, have a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8).

When we are divisive, attention-seeking, self-centered, and try to get our way, we work against one of the most basic commands the Bible teaches all believers.  We are, like Christ, to follow the way of the cross and point people to God’s heart instead of our own egos.

Spirituality is helpful in the workplace

bible study handsIt pays to be spiritual.

A few weeks ago, Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath wrote an opinion piece in the Sunday Review of the New York Times, that outlined factors that benefit or hinder employee productivity.

At first glance, the numbers are dismal: A majority of workers in the United States and abroad are burned out; over half of the people surveyed say that their place of employment does not provide time for creative and strategic brainstorming.

Only 36% of employees feel like their work is meaningful, while only 25% “connect” to their company’s mission.

The researchers explain that companies can turn these statistics around by being intentional in meeting four “core needs” of their employees, including physical, mental, emotional, and–oddly–spiritual needs.

This prognosis is not from a spiritual or religious bias.  Both the survey and the company that performed the survey are secular in nature.  Yet, spirituality is named as a significant factor in increasing a worker’s overall health as well as commitment to his or her job.

For this study, the researchers argued that meeting one’s spiritual needs means helping employees make meaning of their work.  They encourage companies to connect them to the larger needs in society and the demands that communities have for providing a better world.

“Employees who derive meaning and significance from their work were more than three times as likely to stay with their organizations,” they write.  Meeting a worker’s spiritual need can make “the highest single impact of any variable in our survey.”

The Bible has attested to this fact for thousands of years.  Attend any place of worship and talk to any number of clergy, and they will affirm that people are spiritual beings, and connecting to something larger than themselves is an innate part of being human.

No wonder the first of the ten commandments is to avoid putting any idol before God (Exodus 20:3).  But we are so spiritual, we bow to almost anything that provides us with a sense of meaning.

We idolize money and progress, bowing to the almighty buck because we measure success by the amount we make.

We idolize beauty, worshiping celebrities and exercise plans that promise to make us mini-gods of our own choosing.

We idolize relationships, seeking fulfillment by placing our trust in each other, hoping that the “right” person will fill that vacuous, nagging hole in our heart.

It takes a survey in the world of business to tell us something we Christians have known for years: We were made to worship a God that is the only one who can fill that empty hole in our heart.

The author of Ecclesiastes, for instance, states that one’s work and toil are burdensome, but trusting in God can make our lives meaningful and valuable.

“What gain have the workers from their toil?,” Ecclesiastes 3:9 states, “I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil” (vv. 12-13).

After Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden, God gave them various “curses” as consequences for their sin.  Eve’s consequence was the pain and hardship brought on by giving birth.

Adam’s consequence was to work and toil in an unforgiving landscape.  They faced two different kinds of labor, but labor nonetheless.

A life of spiritual formation puts this lesson in perspective.  We realize that we have to work to make ends meet, and that most forms of work–no matter how meaningful–gets burdensome at times.

Yet, God gives us the ability to connect with Him in order to make a difference in the world around us, whether we work in a cubicle or farm the land.  Building time for spiritual exercises into our work schedule will only further that connection.


The church custodian’s perspective

moppingI am convinced that every pastor needs to do the custodial duties in his or her church for a few weeks.  Nothing gives someone a greater appreciation for the church than to clean up after a busy week of worship, fellowship, and discipleship.

I had the distinct privilege of being Trinity’s custodian last month when we were in between custodial staff.  For two Friday nights in a row, I spent hours vacuuming, scrubbing, mopping, sweeping, wiping, and heavy-lifting.  It was hard work, but it was quite rewarding.

I’m not new to this kind of labor at church.  We pastors have to be gifted plumbers, electricians, and carpenters if we are to be effective stewards of our places of worship.  In fact, most of my handiwork experience came from the church: its where I learned how to change faucets, repair drywall, paint, and even build a few visitors signs.

On those two Friday evenings, however, I quickly learned that custodial is a whole other ballgame.  Cleaning an entire church, even one as small as Trinity, requires patience, concentration, and humility.  Patience because no vacuum is ever large enough to clean the sanctuary quickly; concentration because being alone with one’s thoughts can drive a person mad; and humility because you are forced to clean places you never knew (and never want to know) existed.

The experience also gave me a greater appreciation for church, the ministry that takes place there, and the ministers that fill its spaces.  The first night I spent cleaning the church, I thought about the custodians we had in the past ten years.

One long-time custodian was a first-rate minister and friend (he resigned and moved to New York).  He was a Vietnam veteran, lived in poverty on the streets of New York, recovered from alcohol and drug addiction, knew Christ in a powerful way thanks to his ever-faithful (and prophet!) wife, and was one of Trinity’s best deacons.  He started our NA program and ministered to countless families in the process.

The next custodians were a couple who spent hours (they were only paid for three hours, but always worked an average of six to eight) every weekend making sure that the church was not only clean, but a sacred space safe for people of every age.

While cleaning, they sang praises, lifted up people (by name!) in prayer, and prayed over every chair and room in preparation for Sunday worship.

On some Friday evenings, I’d even get a text from them simply stating, “I am praying for you.”  That kind of prayer can make a difference in the life of the church, and every time a guest or parishioner commented that the Holy Spirit was present on any given Sunday, I often credited the prayers of these faithful stewards.

On other occasions, when being pastor was difficult, I couldn’t help but wander to the sanctuary and simply reflect on the prayers of this team.  No wonder, then, that when my last deacon retired from the position, I asked one of these custodians (one of them has been a deacon for over a year) to be my deacon.  To be held in the prayers of another is a priceless gift.

The second time I cleaned the church, I found myself inspired to pray like the last custodians did.  I prayed for people, I prayed for our church, I prayed with gratitude of serving such a wonderful community of faith.

I prayed that the often-neglected and often-overlooked position of custodian wouldn’t bring me prestige, but would simply be a blessing for so many people who come to church and worship God unhindered by an unkempt house of prayer.

Yes, pastors need to be custodians once in a while.  It’s a reminder that the church is there for others and that God’s agenda is much larger than any single pastor’s.  It’s a blessing to help make sacred that which would simply be brick and mortar otherwise.