Why I’m Part of the Denver Institute for Faith and Work

Last year, through a mutual contact, I had the good privilege of meeting Jeff Haanen.  Jeff is a high energy fella with great passion for God, great passion for Denver, and great passion for how God intends to work through his people to bring about healing and cultural renewal to the places in which they live, move, and have their being.

As we got to know each other better, Jeff began to outline for me his dream of starting an organization that would help Christians in this city do just that.  The organization would be called “The Denver Institute for Faith and Work“, and would exist to come alongside the Church in Denver, stoking imagination and creating institutional support for helping the Body of Christ understand just how the claim of Christ upon their lives applied to the place where most people spend most of their waking, productive hours: the workplace.

Having grown up in the church, I well remember the days when receiving a “call” to “enter the Lord’s service” meant discovering a desire to preach, teach, or be a missionary.  Thankfully, those days are over.  All over Christendom, the Protestant (indeed biblical) notion of the priesthood of all believers is taking root and growing as followers of Jesus in every walk of life – from business to law to art to music to healthcare to social work to you-name-it – are learning to see their work as somehow part of the work of God in the world.  Or at the very least, they are beginning to believe that at least in principle, the work of a pastor is no less important, no less holy, than the work of, say, an elementary school teacher.

Still, much work on this frontier remains.  In the same way that simply believing that my work as a pastor has sacred value is not enough for me to do the work well – that is, in a way that is thoughtful, wise, purposive, sustainable, respectful, transformative, and the like – so it is that simply believing one’s work as an artist or entrepreneur is part of God’s desire to redeem all things is not enough to do the work well – that is, in a way that reflects God’s dream for his world and contributes to it.  More is required than mere belief.  We need thoughtful theological reflection on our areas of work.  We need mentors and teachers in our areas of work that can show us the way in which our belief in the one God who through Christ is reassembling his broken and wayward creation comes to bear on our work.  We need communities of people in our areas of work committed to supporting one another in our quest to see the glory of God shine through our labors.  We need more than mere belief.

That’s where DIFW comes in.  Their mission is “to cultivate personal and cultural renewal by applying the gospel to work” through:

  • Public Forums addressing the integration of faith and different spheres of vocation like medicine, law, technology, business and the like
  • Vocation Groups connecting Christians across the city with others in their field of work in order to discern challenges and opportunities for bringing the gospel to bear on their field and providing communal support for so doing
  • Offering Classes for churches who are interested in exploring this topic more and equipping their folks with the beginnings of the knowledge they’ll need to faithfully integrate their faith and their work
  • Hosting Church Events to do much the same
  • And Providing Project Mentoring for those interested in taking creative, entrepreneurial steps in the direction of integrating faith and work, connecting them with mentors and logistical support to turn their dreams and plans into reality

So when Jeff asked me to serve on the Church Advisory Council for DIFW, I immediately and without a shred of hesitation said yes.  The truth is, these are the kinds of things that we as a staff talk about and I as a pastor dream about implementing in my congregation often, but the realities of congregational life make getting traction on these sorts of dreams a monumental challenge.  So where another institution can come alongside not just individual churches but THE church in Denver to provide support for seeing these ideas become reality, I say “I’m all in.”

So I’m personally stoked about the recent launch of DIFW and grateful to serve on the CAC for it.  I’d encourage you to check their website (which I’ve linked to above), follow them on Twitter, “like” them on Facebook, donate to them – whatever.  I’m excited to see what God does in our city through this effort.

On “Never Forgetting”

At the risk of causing serious offense – a thought on this, the 12th anniversary of 9/11.

Like many, September 11, 2001 is a day I’ll never forget.  The phone call from my wife about a plane crashing into one of the WTC towers.  Then the images.  An all-university convocation for prayer. The lines backing up out of the gas stations.  More images.  Time standing still.  We were blindsided out of the sunny skies by a force we were only dimly aware of.  The day – and days that followed – were filled with unimaginable grief, tales of heroism, and a new national resolve.  “Never forget” became the watchword.

I suppose that when people say “Never forget”, they mean different things.  Many are simply remembering the fallen – a good and right thing to do.  But I get the impression that for others “Never forget” means something entirely different.  Or, perhaps, something more.

It means, “Never forget what they (the bad guys) did to us (the good guys).”  It is an occasion to affirm our moral superiority.  We tell and retell a narrative that divides the world into a tragic “us vs. them.”  If that is what is meant, then I object on two fronts.

I object on the theological front that in Christ there is no “us” vs. “them.”  Paul is quite clear throughout his epistles that in Christ the “us” and the “them” has been weighed in the scales and found wanting.  No serious reader of Romans and Ephesians, for instance, can walk away feeling justified in an “us vs. them” way of thinking, with “us” being the morally superior.  No.  In Christ there is only “us” – desperate for mercy.  Only “us” – failures, fallen, backwards, wayward.  Only “us” – all too ready to pull the trigger.  Only “us” – longing to live in a world where there is no one to fear, no hostility, and often clueless as to how to proceed.  No “us” and “them.”  Just “us” – bound together as the broken and terrified humanity the Son of God spilled holy blood to save.

Following from that, I object on the pragmatic front that such “us vs. them” sentimentalizing can only have the effect of reinforcing stigma and antagonism – and thereby making the world an even more unsafe place to live.  When “they” are suspicious that “us” is suspicious of “them”, and when “us” is afraid that “they” might be out to get them, then we are surely setting ourselves up for trouble.  That does not mean we are unaware of the reality and possibility of great malice – only that as a matter of posture we do not live reinforcing the stigmas and antagonisms that give rise to and amplify the violences of our world.  In Christ, we are called “peace-makers”–meaning that at a minimum, we refuse to engage in patterns of thought, postures, and activities that are sure to keep distorting and dividing the world that Christ died to pull back in shape.  

It is hard, to be blunt, to imagine Christ the Lord getting very excited about “Never Forget”, if by so saying we mean something like the sentiment I have here expressed.  It is easier, I think, to imagine him saying things like, “If your enemy is thirsty…” or “Father forgive them…” or even “Lord have mercy…”

We live in a world where things like 9/11 happen because we are bound together in systems that distort human life.  There can be no moral back-scratching among the community of those who have chosen to live under the judgment and mercy of the cross.  Only pleas.  Not for “us” against “them”.  But for all of us.

Lord have mercy.  Christ have mercy.  For we are in desperate need.

How do I know what God wants me to do?!?!

A few days ago I received an email from a gal in our congregation who was struggling with a major life decision – whether to move to her hometown to make double the money at a dream job or to stay here in Denver making half as much at a job she’s not quite as passionate about but continuing to enjoy a good life she’s built for herself here.

Her vexation was over the issue of not being clear on where God was leading her.  She’d sought the advice and counsel of friends, mentors, etc., but still – no clarity.

So she turned to ME!  Ha!  The guy who wrote the blog post a little bit ago about the road veering off in a dozen directions and being totally uncertain where to go… haha.  Life is funny like that.

Anyway, this was my response to her.  I’m posting it here because I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences with trying to figure out the age old question of how God leads us.  Comment away!  (PS – I’ve changed her name.)

Hey Sarah –

Thanks for writing, and for thinking enough of me to share this, even though we’ve never met.  Means a lot to me 🙂

So… couple things:

First, if I were you I’d try to take this out of the “what is God saying” conversation and put it in the “what do I really want out of life” conversation.  Not that you’re not still concerned about following the will of God or fulfilling God’s plan for your life or whatever… it’s just that, sometimes in Christianity we put too much emphasis on our ability to intuit the will of God as the crucial factor in whether the will of God will get accomplished in our lives or not.

In other words, we put too much of God’s plan on our shoulders, when the reality is that GOD is the one who makes good on his “plans” for our life… often (mostly?) DESPITE and sometimes even THROUGH the wacky decisions we make.  Believing that should take the pressure off.  At least it does for me.

Secondly, if you’re having trouble “hearing” God’s voice, it’s quite possible that’s because he’s not saying anything about it (ha!).  It may be that he’s putting the decision into YOUR lap, asking you, “What do you really want out of life, Sarah?”

I’m constantly amazed at how, in the Gospels, Jesus often asks people “What do you want?” or “What do you want me to do for you?”  It’s crazy.  And the REALLY crazy thing is that he almost never responds to people’s requests by saying, “Yeah, actually, I can’t do that for you.”  Usually it’s – “According to your faith” or something like that.

I tend to think that, especially as we grow and become more mature, God puts more of the onus for decision making on us.  We submit our hearts, thoughts, motivations, etc to him… and he looks back at us and says, “Lovely.  Here is life.  It is yours for the taking.  Let’s make something of it together.  How would you like it to be?”  And because our hearts have been molded for his purposes, he really can give us the freedom to put brush to the canvas of our lives…

That’s also a liberating thought, and a scary one.  I know for me, I’ve spent the majority of my life living in the uber-specific “what does God want for me in each and every situation” frame of thought… which worked when I was younger… God was often VERY specific and obvious in how he led me… but as I’ve gotten older and noticed God’s way of leading me changing (that is, it’s often less obvious and more tied to the “what do I want” question), I’ve sometimes felt insecure.  How can you possibly put this decision on ME God??!?!   It would be so much better if you just made it for me!

But that’s not maturity.  Maturity is the willingness to take responsibility for your own being and destiny.  Sometimes I think we want God to show us exactly what to do so that we don’t have to take full responsibility for our choices.  But then we negate a beautiful growth process in our lives – namely, the joy of coming into full self-possession, where we’ve taken risks, failed and succeeded, and have discovered much about ourselves and the world around us that is beautiful and surprising.

I’m not at all saying that we don’t seek God’s guidance for our lives, as you’ve done.  Rather I’m saying that when it’s not obvious, then it’s time for us to man- or woman-up and make some decisions!  And trust that God is in that… leading us in ways that are beyond our comprehension.

So having said all of that, I suppose the question becomes a bit more pragmatic.  What do you want, Sarah?  What is your vision of the good life?  Which choice moves more thoroughly in that direction?

That’s maybe not an easy question to answer.  Career advancement, working a job you’re passionate about – that’s a really good thing.  And so is friends/environment/etc.  Maybe create a list of what’s most important to you and try to weigh the decision out that way.

One thing that does strike me about your decision is that if you DID take the job and it didn’t work out, Denver’s not exactly going anywhere.  You could probably come back.  Chances are you might keep some of your friends.

But who knows… 🙂

Hope that helps.  Let me know.

Grace and peace,