Closing the Gap – Week 34 Notes

By September 2, 2018Sermon Notes

Leadership community is what we call the men and women who lead our small groups.

We call is community because we meet together for training, encouragement, and fun…to be equiped to lead God’s people towards God’s purposes.

Leadership community Fall Kickoff is Friday night…spouses of leaders are welcome, encouraged to attend.

This year one night only…no Saturday training…very important event in our church life.

*Why announce this to everyone if it doesn’t apply to all?

  1. To highlight group life: starts this week
  2. To let you know group leaders: people like you, who have been called by God to lead, train and sacrifice to fulfill their calling well.

TIME/LABOR/LIFE

Darryl Henley was a young, rich, NFL player when he went to prison in 1995…he likely will remain there until 2035…when he will be 70 years old.

For many years he spent 22 hours a day in his cell alone.

For the past 23 winters, springs, summers, falls…Christmas, 4th of July, Labor days…he has spent his hours, his life…largely in a 7×11 cell.

It is hard to imagine what this would do to your perception of time, of life, of self.

Henley…who came from a good home, and is well educated and well spoken…wrote just last week in an article what this can do to the perception of self.

He first quoted…Blaise Pascal – a 17th century French scientist and theologian – “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” (meaning…most do not have inner peace, external problems follow from that reality)

Henley then wrote:

“One can say that most of an incarcerated man’s problems stem from his inability to sit quietly in his cell alone and believe he has worth.”

How can my life have value when it is spent sitting in a cell…doing nothing with my time but counting it, waiting for it to pass?

We tend measure our lives, largely…by our clocks and calendars and what we accomplish during our hours and days…and to a degree this is right…but imagine living in solitary confinement.

No wonder they question whether they have worth, value…prisoners like Henley, stuck in solitary cannot produce anything with their time so they can struggle to believe their lives are worth anything.

Despair and anger reigns in prisons…but there are exceptions…I’ve seen them myself.

I’ve been on prison blocks where the gospel reigns…despair and anger have lost their grip.

The gospel reverses the curse, wherever it goes

Monday is Labor Day…I know there is no news value in that.

There are different ideas as to the who and why of the origins of the Holiday

However the official statement from the department of labor says it is…

“A yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our nation.”

Labor day marks the end of “our cultural summer” (actual summer ends September 22 this year)

Most people will celebrate Labor Day not by laboring but by playing and/or resting.

It marks the end of cultural summer and the beginning (for many) of looking forward to the holiday season that begins Thanksgiving and goes through New Years.

This pattern varies in different cultures, but there are similar patterns in all cultures…seasonal rhythms…these can be good and helpful.

Especially when seen from the perspective of an overall life of “seasons” lived in the worship of and under the care of our creator…and our time and toil are his…our lives are his.

Gen. 8:22 “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”

Psa. 74:16-17 The day is yours, and yours also the night; you established the sun and moon. It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth; you made both summer and winter.

Then the seasons of a life not a year…

Is. 46:3-4 “Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”

The problem comes when we view our lives…days, weeks, years…and our labor…apart from the perspective of life a lived under God’s providence and purposes.

When our “life/labor” break loose from the Lordship of Jesus…when our days are ours, so we believe…then our lives became “chained” to the tyranny of the clock and the calendar…our work ultimately becomes meaningless.

Its easy to see how people, when they think deeply about their life and labor…eventually become cynical.

Apart from the gospel…time is only temporary and work is only toil.

  1. Work days (daily breaks)
  2. Work weeks (weekly breaks)
  3. A work year (seasonal breaks)
  4. A work life (roughly from post HS or college) through 65-72 or so that leads to “works end”
  5. Work end (leads to life end)

So you get through a work day to get through the work week to make to the weekend…do this enough times and you get to holidays (vacations) do this enough times and you get to “work-end”…or retirement.

Many count the days until the weekend or holiday, and some count the years to retirement.

But most people don’t count the years until the end of their retirement.

Here’s what Solomon said about all this:

Eccl. 1:2-6 “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.”

We measure our lives by what we do and by clocks and calendars.

This measuring is not bad in itself…without some of these measurements…we can easily squander our lives…measuring can help us stay on track.

Calendars and clocks can be useful …evaluating the work of our hands is helpful to be productive.

But ultimately we are to measure our lives by the standard of “faithfulness”

Solomon concluded the survey of his life which he considered largely wasted time and labor with this…”Now all his been heard, here is the conclusion…Fear God (live under his Lordship) and keep his commands (live in line with will and ways)…this is the whole duty(purpose) of man.” Ecc. 12:13

Paul said it like this…

“It is required that those who have been given a trust be found faithful” 1 Cor. 4:2

That is how we are to measure life and labor…faithfulness.

But faithfulness can be hard to measure…and as I said two weeks ago “When we cannot measure what is most important we make what we can measure most important.”

So we begin to measure by money, or stuff, or position, or the praise of others…or a number of other metrics that ultimately don’t really demonstrate a life well lived.

We don’t want to fall into that trap.

So let’s look at some of what Scripture tells us about what we are to give our lives…labor and our time for.

Rather than looking at a single passage we are going to survey several passages in an attempt to get a handle on an approach to our life and labor that is sane and satisfying.

  1. Sin’s curse: Life and Labor became Time and Toil

Gen. 3:17-19 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

When the original parents rebelled against God…their sinful choice had a number of negative impacts.

#1. Work became toil

Work: God “worked” not like we do…but his creative choices(work) was of course a good thing…there was no toil in it…7th day he finished his creative work.

Before the fall Adam and Eve had things to do…work.

Sure they played and they rested and ate…but they also did other creative work.

They lived in a garden and gardens require tending.

They named the animals…basic taxonomy…creative, elementary scientific work.

They built shelters, explored the land, developed art, music, tools and other good outcomes of creative work. (you see this in Gen 4…its after the Fall of Gen 3, but surely creativity and personal industry were not results of sin but part of the original design)

Think about what it might be like if humanity had given all its time, energy, and resources to other than the outcomes of sin…war, crime, greed and other such things.

Sin has consumed much of the world’s energy and enterprise.

Perhaps if they had not sinned…we would now be exploring distant galaxies

Who knows maybe “Ant Man” would be possible…and we would be exploring the “quantum realm” as well.

But sin happened…

So work became toil, as our efforts became destined for the dust.

Second, time became temporal.

#2. Time became Temporal

I know that sounds redundant but what I mean is that their physical lives now had an end.

They would return to the dust someday…just as their work would.

We don’t know how things might have gone had they not rebelled…but it appears that they had access to God’s provision that would have allowed them to live indefinitely.

Gen. 3:22-24 And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

This is not sci-fi

Humans use their creative energy and the materials God has placed on the earth to grow and develop things we use to prolong life…medicines, machines, access to better food.

God can, and evidently he did…place a resource in the garden that could have prolonged human life indefinitely.

Where is it now? God only knows…perhaps the fact that creation itself was said to have fallen with man indicates that this tree of life eventually shriveled and died itself.

It could have kept us alive…God would have kept it alive…but evidently he didn’t.

So now work is toil, and time is ticking to an end.

Both of these things create all manner of problems in human relationships: discontent, theft, war, fear, addictions and abuse.

But the gospel reverses the curse in our lives on both of these counts.

This reversal is partial now…and it will full in the future.

It is already, not yet.

Our future is not “floating, or winging through clouds…in a semi-real state of existence”

That sounds terrible.

It is a new heaven and new earth…resurrected bodies…our destiny is growth, creativity, exploration, worship, enjoyment…all of which was available to the first couple.

But our future is also now…as we walk with Jesus, closing the gap on faith and love…we experience some of the fruit of “curse reversal” in regards to both toil and time.

What does that mean for our work?

It means that as we walk with Jesus and as we embrace a theology of “faithful presence” in our homes and work places, we will experience in growing fashion a sense of calling and purpose in all aspects of our lives.

Listen: This sense of calling doesn’t require that you “make a difference” at work.

It doesn’t mean you have to start Bible studies or share the gospel at work in order for work to be significant.

That utilitarian approach to life and ministry misses the mark on the larger purpose of life.

Your purpose is not to “change the world” or “make a difference,” but rather to be found faithful.

You exist for the glory of God…God is glorified in you when you are found faithful to him.

Faithfulness will include evangelism, and discipleship and service…but it is not exclusively those things.

If you are called to look after a baby…and you do that faithfully…there is no higher, more important or valuable work you could have possibly done.

But the same is true if you paint a house, or make a meal, or design a plane, or sweep a floor.

It is important that we understand this…or we will live with perpetual discontent…and we will miss God in the day to dayness of a faithful life.

Of course, the person who is committed to being faithful and who has a growing passion for the glory of God will make a difference wherever they go, but that is a result of pursuing the larger goal of faithfulness.

If you seek to do good work in your vocation, whether it is outside the home or not, you are positioned to bring glory to God.

You may or may not “enjoy” your work, but you can find joy in your work if you will see it as part of a life of faithfulness.

If we can learn to rejoice in our sufferings (Romans 5:3), surely we can learn to rejoice in our vocations.

Even if they do not always feel as satisfying as we would prefer...part of reversing the curse is adjusting how we think AND feel about the various parts of our lives (jobs)…we have the capacity to affect both.

You may hope for a sense of purpose, impact, and meaning in your vocation and you may very well have it.

But your final sense of purpose and meaning is grounded on your relationship with God and a theology of faithfulness.

Whether you live or die, work at a job in which you find meaning or not, you live for the Lord.

When you labor in him, nothing you do is ever in vain (1 Cor. 15:58).

  1. Reverse the curse: Experience Labor that is not toil and time that is not wasted

1 Cor. 15:58 Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

Just prior to this verse, Paul writes of the surety of the resurrection from the dead and the final victory of Christ over death.

That is the context for this “therefore.”

Remember when you see a “therefore” to look and find what it is “there” “for”

Therefore since as a follower of Christ your death will not destroy the works of your life, stand firm! Be immovable! Give yourself fully to the work God has for you to do.

You can be confident that this work will not be in vain…whatever it is.

The gospel has impacted both time and toil…our time is not vain, our labor is not vain…they both matter.

Solomon feared that all he did with his time and toil would be left to a foolish heir who would squander them both.

His fears proved to be valid, because that is exactly what happened…his foolish son, split the kingdom.

The problem with Solomon’s fear is that it did not lead him to labor in the Lord, but rather it led him to cynicism about the ultimate value of his life’s work.

He didn’t pass on wisdom to his son…he was too busy believing nothing mattered.

As an old man, Solomon did come to see that what matters most at the end is what matters most all along the day.

By that time, he had squandered a good bit of his life and labors.

It’s why he cried out as an old man…”Don’t be like me…Remember your creator in the days of your youth.”

It is not necessary to waste much of your life…in this case to learn from experience is dumb…learn from God’s word and avoid the experience of a wasted life.

You do not have to fear that your life’s work will vanish into the dust of death, not if you “labor in the Lord.”

What exactly does that mean anyway? Does it only mean “evangelism, preaching, missions”?

Paul writes elsewhere what this means: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17).

It means that all we do and all we say is to be done and said in the “name of” Jesus.

Which means that we do and say these things under the great family name of Jesus, as his children, as his representatives, and for his glory.

This is single story living.

There is no “spiritual, eternal” work that belongs “upstairs” and “physical, temporal” work that belongs “downstairs.”

The two story approach to life believes that upstairs living is meaningful because it is praying, preaching, serving the needy, and giving to missions.

Meanwhile, downstairs is viewed as not meaningful in the end because it involves a job, cleaning house, changing diapers, and mowing grass.

This two-tiered approach to life is what drives each emerging generation to want to make a difference by doing something they can something they see as “significant”

This is not new, it has always been true…for the youth of Revolutionary War America, to the youth of the Vietnam era, to the Millennials.

What is seen as “making a difference” changes…but the drive has been the same…as is the disdain the next generation often feels for a “normal life” what they call status quo.

I understand and its not all bad…it can motivate the next generation to do great things.

But it can also make them foolish…and miss the ways of God.

I swore as a young man…I I was going to a make a difference, buck status quo.

So I would never live in Wichita, was not going to marry, and would definitely not pastor a church.

The problem comes when the next generation…moves into their normal lives…which most often happens.

And they believe that have “settled or compromised”…they give up on being “world changers” and despair that they have become like their parents.

So they live with discontent and disillusionment…not knowing that in fact…this is how the world is changed…normal life and labor.

Your life is to be a single story dwelling.

All you do is to be done as a member of the family of Jesus.

The implication for this is that you must “close the gap” on doing whatever you are doing with full assurance that it does have lasting value and impact.

If you feel like your day “mattered” because you helped someone in a way that seems significant to you, or it seemed to have “spiritual value”…then rejoice.

If you don’t feel like your day had any lasting significance because it was quite ordinary, devoid of any obvious “eternal” impact, then perhaps you need to change your perspective.

Every day, no matter what the content of that day, is to be lived for the glory of God and for the good others.

The difference between a day lived in vain and a day lived for Christ begins in the heart, not in what activities are on the calendar.

So ambition is not the problem, a desire to change the world is good…the problem is our ambitions are not always ordered around Christ…and revealed in faithfulness.

  1. Reverse the Curse: Order your ambition around Christ

1 Thess. 4:11-12 Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

The context of these statements involved a church that was focused on the Lord’s return.

But their focus was leading them in exactly the wrong direction.

Instead of their perspective on the “end” leading to increased faithfulness in the “now,” it led them to be restless and inattentive to their day-to-day duties.

They became idle and “meddlers.”

People without passion and purpose become bored…and they tend to create drama.

It happens in the church today…and it was true for the Church at Thessalonica.

They were not fully engaged with life themselves, so they spent their time illegitimately worrying about the lives of others…busy bodies, complainers.

The result was that those outside the church did not find their lives compelling…it hurt the gospel.

Who would find restless, idle, and meddlesome people’s lives compelling?

Throughout the history of the church the eschatological vision (return of Christ in the future) has often led to decreased faithfulness in the present.

This is a tragedy of epic proportions.

An eternal vision should empower a temporal vision.

The fact that your health, your life, your job, your possessions, and your status will all come to an end someday should lead to a passion to be found faithful with all of it now.

Don’t see this as “make it your ambition to have no ambition.”

Rather, this is “make it your ambition to be faithful.”

Have a compelling and controlling passion for faithfulness.

In every sphere of influence where God places you, be found faithful there…this should result in increased creativity and personal industry.

Whether your sphere of influence is a corporate boardroom, grade school classroom, or a cancer bed…the ultimate calling is the same…be found faithful.

This is how God changes the world…not through the epic, the flashy, the viral, the powerful, the uber talented…but through the quiet and consistent lives of God’s people…a faithful presence.

Jesus was born in nowhere, owned no house, ran no business, walked most places…died young…that was how God changed the world…and he made the world, he knows how to change it.

We can reverse the curse through gospel lives…by redeeming the time through daily work that honors God and blesses others.

Let the Lord build your life’s work

Ps. 127:1 Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.

All of your work matters or none of your work matters.

Which is true? It depends on how and why the work was done.

The Psalmist said that unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.

Isn’t this a nonsensical saying?

Is the Lord building the house or are the builders building the house? Ideally the answer is “yes!”

Every human being endeavors to “build a life”…some give up on this, some very early.

Many do so by entirely relying on their own ideas of what is real and valuable to build a life with.

They labor in vain because, in the end, all they built from their life has no final value.

When they die, what they gave their lives for is gone and their labor was in vain.

Others build their lives based on what God has revealed as being finally real and valuable.

Their labor is not vain, because in reality it was the Lord who built the life.

The balanced approach to “life building” is to labor in the Lord.

This may sound mystical and even hard to know how to apply in real life, but it really means to live life the Lord’s way.

His way is to believe what he says is real and ultimately valuable and then choose to build those values and behaviors into your life.

The imbalanced approach to “life building” is to give your life (time, talents, and treasures) for things that ultimately do not matter in the end.

Many people have seen all they built in their lives crumble in a terrible crash as the foundation gave way because it could not hold.

You need not live in fear, but you must live in wisdom. Examine your life now.

If you are not living in line with God’s will and ways, then you are building on a fault line.

In that case, it is not a matter of if but when the foundation will fail.

Continually reflect on whether it is truly the Lord who is building your life.

Conclusion:
To think of Darryl Henley can make me feel great despair.

To contemplate the heavy ticks of each every second as the hours and days and years of his life slowly dissipate…I can’t imagine.

But as I read his story, and prayed for him and thought of him…I gained another perspective.

I thought about the day that will come…when his life, your life, my life, all who live now…our lives will be over.

It appears from reading what he has written that he may faith in Christ…if that is true…then he is not to be pitied.

It is the ones who are running free outside of prison cells…and who are squandering their very lives…who are to be pitied.

The gospel is freedom…wherever it is experienced.

It doesn’t make life and labor easy…it makes them meaningful…it all matters now…when before none of it really did.

I found a Labor Day Carol that you may have believed was a Christmas Carol.

Let me read a bit of it and see if you can tell how it is appropriate for “Labor Day”

Joy the world, the Lord has come, let earth receive her king…

No more let sin and sorrow grow, nor thorns infest the ground

he comes to make his blessings flow, Far as the curse is found.

The gospel reverses the curse, wherever it is found…thorns are no longer to be the results of our labor…the glory of Christ and the good of others is our lasting fruit.

Happy Labor Day! Reverse the curse…close the gap and faith and love…revealed in daily faithfulness.

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