Friday, August 12, 2016

Finding Our Identity: What We Do Is Not Who We Are

After a year of being pretty much unemployed, save for only working one day a week, I have started a new job. It’s nothing too fancy, and it’s not at all what I thought I would be doing with my degree. I help manage an online store of a very successful e-commerce business that is growing very fast. I sit at a desk from 8AM till 4PM with only 30 minutes allotted for break time a day. It is very laid back and yet still very professional. The people are nice and the way the business is run is very impressive.

After only a week working there, I found myself thinking, “how in the world am I to do anything meaningful for the Lord while sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day, only really having contact with the three or four people in the cubicles around me?” After a year of praying for God to use me for His glory and ministry, I’m stuck here in a cubicle.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my cubicle and desk.

I thought for sure the Lord would lead me to a ministry job of some sorts that helped to make a difference in the lives of others. During the majority of my college career I was on the frontlines of war. A culture war, a spiritual war, a war determined the life or death of millions of Americans. While attending Summit Ministries, the Lord spoke to me telling me that He wanted me to go to war. After seeking the advice and counsel of several mentors, I answered God’s call. At the time, I did not know that I was going to war, but it wouldn’t take long for me to find out. This war was against death itself. The Lord called me to be a voice for the voiceless, to stand up for those who could not stand up for themselves. He called me to sand up against Abortion. Since 1973, abortion has taken the lives of over 60 million innocent human beings in America. That is ten times as many than were killed in Hitler’s Holocaust. My first step in this battle was to restart my college’s Pro-Life group. I had been involved with it briefly my freshman year but didn’t really know much about the subject. At Summit God provided me with the resources I needed to learn in order to lead this group. With the help of the Lord, and my good friend Robby, we rebuilt the group from the ground up and we accomplished a lot. We focused of educating people about abortion and helping pregnant and parenting students on campus. We had baby showers, information booths, fund raisers for our local pregnancy care center that we helped to open. The Lord was using us to accomplish great things.

I was also given the opportunity to do a 3-month internship in the nation’s capitol working with several major pro-life organizations as well as in the office of a pro-life congressman. I was in the heat of the cultural, intellectual, and spiritual battle for the equal right to life of all human beings. I saw the evil one in the faces and slogans of the angry and militant protestors who wanted the right to kill their children. I saw the affects of the evil one in the faces and tears of women and men who had been badly hurt by abortion. I met post-abortive men and women whose regret caused them to become pro-life activists. I met former abortionists and abortion clinic workers who are now standing up for the right to life. I met people who were born due to their mother’s being raped, that were told by society that because of the circumstances of their their conception, that they did not have the right to live. I even met a survivor of a failed abortion who now travels the country telling her story. I heard story after story of the terrible affects that abortion had on society. I was surrounded by death and pain. I knew that the Lord was using me to help people, and I knew that it was nothing that I could have ever done myself, it was only through His leading that I was able to help these people. I was found that I was most comfortable at war. The fields were rip for the Lord’s healing. That’s where He led me, and that’s what I was to do. I even wrote a small book that focused on getting churches and ministers educated and more involved with helping to end abortion and helping those that suffer because of it.

Students For Life Interns on the steps of the Supreme Court in July of 2014

After I graduated from college I spent a year of unemployment. During that time, I helped lead multiple Bible studies, helped to mentor and encourage many people, and share the gospel with many people. Although jobless, I was being used by the Lord to minister to people. Towards the end of my unemployment and into the beginning of my new job, the evil one placed thoughts into my mind telling me that I was useless. As I observed my situation, I realized something that I had never realized before. Many times in movies and in real life, characters and individuals that have spent time in war have a hard time adjusting back to normal life. The conflict and excitement became normal for them, they were serving a great purpose and helping to protect innocent people. When they returned to normal life, it was too dull, they felt useless, they had still had the mentality of a soldier but were not on the frontlines any more. I used to think that was a silly concept, but I finally understood it. The feeling of knowing you are being used for something great and protecting innocent people from the evil one is a rewarding feeling and, despite the horrors they face, everyday they wake up ready to serve. I now understood that. I was back home from a war that was continuing to wage on. I realized that even though I was no longer on the frontlines like I was so accustomed to, I can still contribute to the fight. I can continue to educate people about the issue of abortion, I can still volunteer at my local pregnancy care center, I can still write about it and discuss it with people. That isn’t as glorious and showy as being on the frontlines, but it is equally as important. Simply a different front to fight on.

I know, you’re probably wondering, “how does this relate to his new job that he talked about in the beginning?”. I’m glad you asked. As I previously stated, I recently started thinking, “how in the world am I to do anything meaningful for the Lord while sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day, only really having contact with the three or four people in the cubicles around me?”. I thought that I would have a job in the pro-life movement or in some type of Christian non-profit that made a difference in people’s lives. I wasn’t in it for the money, I was in it to help people. As long as I had enough to make ends meet, I was content. But alas, here I am sitting on my butt 8 hours a day. Several people I know, and a Bible verse helped me to come to terms with this quandary. Upon bringing this up to my friend and mentor, Daniel Brown, he made me realize that you don’t have to work in a ministry to have a ministry. He said something along the lines of, “Do your ministry after work, invest in people and meet with people after your work day, that’s what I do.”  That made sense. Although I can still minister to people at my work, if the opportunity presents itself, my after work hours are where I can do my ministry to others. A week later I was talking to a very inspiring pro-life advocate by the name of Jason Jones. You can read his story of how the death of his daughter through abortion changed the course of his life here.

I was asking Jason for advice on a political matter and he sent me a link to a video that he filmed a few weeks earlier. While the answer he gave answered the question I asked, it went deeper and helped me with this personal issue of ministry that I have been trying to come to terms with. In the video he sent me he was addressing conservative people who are worried about the election and don’t feel comfortable voting for Donald Trump. He pointed out that if we think that the only thing that matters in politics and saving our country is the presidential election, then we know nothing about politics. He said that if we really care about our country and our future, we should be involved in the free institutions of civil society such as our churches, our families, our neighborhoods, our communities. Jason said, “You know, we all only have so much time and so much energy. There are a lot of races and cycles, the presidential election is just one.” Not only did this answer the initial question I asked him, it made me think about my job and ministry. We all only have so much time and energy, and yes, there are a lot of opportunities for for ministry, but our place of work is only one opportunity. So what if you don’t work in a ministry position, there are tons of other places that you can minister in. That’s what I took away from what he said. God was able to use Jason’s advice on one subject to help me in another area of my life.

The last and final thing that helped me figure this thing out came to me while preparing to lead my Monday night bible study. I was reading through 1 Corinthians 9. In this letter the apostle Paul is defending his right as an apostle to get financial support from churches. Although he refuses to take anything from the church in Corinth, he tells them that he is entitled to it nonetheless.

“Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me.  Don’t we have the right to food and drink? Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living?” 
-1 Cor. 9:1-6

As much ministry as Paul and his ever- encouraging companion, Barnabas, did, they still had a day job that they worked at to receive money to live on. I’m not sure what Barnabas did, but we know that from Acts 18:3 that Paul was a tentmaker. Several times throughout his letters Paul references working (1 Cor. 4:12, 1 Thess. 2:9, and 1 Thess. 4:11). So, even the greatest missionary that ever lived, a man who dedicated his entire life to the point of death for Christ, even he had a day job that he did in addition to his amazing ministry. His day job was not what defined him, a tentmaker is not what he was most well known for. It was a minor part of his life.

All this to say, I realized that I was looking for a job in a ministry so that I could identify as this ministry or that ministry. In our society we place so much on our occupation. When you meet someone new, one of the first questions you ask them is “where do you work?” or “what do you do for a living?”. We identify people as “Andy the mechanic”, “John the college professor” or “Steven the doctor”. As a society we are to blame for identifying people as their occupations. That’s they way everyone sees it: you are what you do. Its such a huge deal. But as Christians, should we make such a big deal over where we work? Should our identities be reduced to our occupation? A friend and mentor of mine often says, “I’m not a doctor who happens to be a Christian, I’m a Christian who happens to be a doctor.”. Doctoring is what he does, but it isn’t who he is. He is a Christian. As Christians we find our identity in Christ. We are children of God (John 1:12), branches of the true vine (John 15:1-5), friends of Jesus (John 15:15), justified and redeemed (Romans 3:24), crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:6), free of condemnation (Rom. 8:1), co-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17), saints (1 Cor. 1:2), temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19), and the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). We are so much more than simply our occupation. What we do does not define or identify us.

So, let’s be like Paul, he didn’t identify as a tentmaker, he identified as many different things, all within the framework of his identity in Christ.

It’s not to say that you can’t have a ministry at work. That is totally fine. Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,”. Ephesians 6:7 says, “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people,”.  We can also be a light in a dark world at work just by having a good attitude and being kind to all people. Let everyone see something different in you. Let Christ shine through you. As my momma always says, “You might be the only Jesus that some people see.”. There are so manylittle things we can do at work that bring glory to God.

In closing, I want to share with you some wise words by Keith Krell, his identity is a Christian, but his occupation is senior pastor of Fourth Memorial Church in Spokane, WA and associate professor of biblical exposition at Moody Bible Institute–Spokane. He says,

"In 1 Thess. 2:9 Paul writes, “For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.” If you read 1 Corinthians 9, Paul makes it clear in that passage that he doesn’t consider it wrong for a man to live off the preaching of the gospel. And in 1 Timothy 5 he says that an elder who both rules and teaches is worthy of “double honor,” which presumes that elders would in fact be paid for their work. But he himself apparently worked in secular jobs wherever he went so that he would be free of any accusations about his motives. His work ethic was exemplary. Tragically, many Christians give Christianity a black-eye because of their poor work performance. This is a crying shame, since work is an expression of worship and it also serves as a powerful witness. This week, will you go to your cubicle or your classroom or home and work as unto the Lord? As you work your daily grind for the glory of God the mundane and monotonous nature of your work can become extraordinary in its kingdom impact. A little example can have a big influence.”

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