Tag Archives: Task

Final Words

The words of Jeremiah end here.
Jeremiah 51:64 (NIV)

Along my journey I’ve had the privilege of officiating a  host of funerals. Some of them have been family members with whom I’ve had a life-long relationship. Many have been complete strangers to me. No matter the case, I’ve always approached these meaningful events with a desire to honor the person, her/her family, and to comfort those loved ones by telling the person’s story well.

I usually start by simply meeting with the family and asking them questions. As I listen, a story begins to emerge about the deceased, what the person did with his/her life, how he/she impacted the people around them, and what his/her journey was really about. I’ve got to be honest, sometimes the story is heart-warming, and other times it is painfully tragic. Either way, there is always a story to tell.

One of the things I’ve most appreciated about this long slog through Jeremiah’s prophetic anthology is the realization that we have a fairly thorough retrospective of Jeremiah’s 40 years of prophetic works from beginning to end. Jeremiah had a very specific message to convey throughout his career: Babylon was going to destroy his city of Jerusalem and take his people into exile. Then, Babylon would eventually suffer the same fate. When the former happens as prophesied, Jeremiah sends the latter message with a servant headed to Babylon. With that act, the editors tell us that they are Jeremiah’s final words (though the story ends with tomorrow’s final chapter).

Jeremiah’s words were never popular. He was threatened, attacked, imprisoned, left to die, and yet he always remained “on message.” He stuck doggedly to the message God gave him. When the Babylonians showed him unusual mercy for his prophetic “support” of their invasion, Jeremiah didn’t hesitate to tell them that their turn was coming. He never backed down. He completed the job. He stuck to the mission.

This morning I’m thinking about the end of Jeremiah’s words, and it’s prompting thoughts about my own life, and my own story. Someday the responsibility will likely fall on someone to listen to my family members and to sum up my story in just a few minutes of oratory. With each day of my journey I slowly pen that story. I hope it’s not unlike Jeremiah’s: sticking to the mission, completing the course set before me. More than anything, I hope the theme of the story is love.

“Labor” of Love

We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 1:3 (NIV)

Just this week our daughter Taylor publicly announced that she is pregnant with Wendy’s and my first grandchild. Her former husband, Clayton, is the father. We’ve known for several weeks, and have been eagerly engaged with her in processing this unlooked for curve in her life journey. When she showed up to tell us it came as a bit of a shock…well, a giant shock, to be honest. We had no idea that she and Clayton had seen each other while he was home from Africa. Taylor’s well-worded Facebook post nailed it: “Well, life is full of the hard, messy and unexpected. And yet experiencing all of that can also be full of goodness, beauty and purpose.”

I thought of this momentous new change in life this morning as I read the opening of Paul’s letter to Jesus’ followers in the bustling Greek seaport of Thessalonica. Paul begins his letter by expressing a trinity of goodness he and his companions observed in the Thessalonian believers:

  • work produced by faith
  • labor prompted by love
  • endurance inspired by hope

If the three motivators sound familiar, it’s because they anchor Paul’s famous discourse on love in his first letter to the believers in Corinth when he wrote, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

What really struck me however, was the fact that two synonyms were used in the triad. “Work” and “labor” can be defined in English as the same thing. So, I did a little digging into the original Greek words Paul used in this sentence. The Greek word translated as “work” (ergou) refers to more of a routine job. Think of it as daily chore on your task list that simply has to be done. The Greek word translated as “labor” (kopou) is more specifically defined as “laborious toil.”

Thus I find myself contemplating both work and labor this morning. I will “work” today analyzing a client’s phone calls, filling out an expense report, and attending a corporate Board meeting. I am doing the routine “work” of writing this blog post. I will “work” to carry out the tasks Wendy has for me on my trip to Des Moines. All of these are part of my journey of faith, doing what I need to do on the path I believe God has called me to tread on a day-by-day basis.

Both our adult daughters are out of the house and have been on their own for some time. The “work” of providing for them, making sure they’re up, making meals, doing laundry, driving them to activities, and et cetera are long over. These routine daily tasks were simple acts of faith, believing that we were raising capable young people who would be mature adults who would successfully follow the respective paths God would lead each of them. Mission accomplished.

But the labor never ends.

Last evening I happened to have conversations with both Taylor and Madison by phone. The work of parenting continues. It’s no longer the grunt work of daily provision. It’s different. It’s the loving labor of watching helplessly from a distance as they make their own decisions, choices, and occasional blunders. It’s the emotions that come from caring so deeply about lives you cannot (and should not) control. It’s the struggle of the protector in me wishing I could spare them the pains of “the hard, messy, and unexpected,” but knowing that it is that very hard, unexpected mess that teaches us the most important life lessons that lead to maturity. And so, I mostly labor from a distance as counselor, confidant, advocate, sage, comforter, cheerleader, and friend.

This morning in the quiet I’m thinking of the “work” ahead of me today and this weekend. I’m also contemplating the continued “labor” of love in the weeks and months ahead as father, and now as grandfather. I am so excited. I’ve learned along this life journey that the “hard, messy, and unexpected” usually produces life’s deepest, richest, most meaningful blessings.

The Lot Sometimes Falls to Smelly Tasks

source: James Warwick via Flickr
source: James Warwick via Flickr

Young and old alike, teacher as well as student, cast lots for their duties.
1 Chronicles 25:8 (NIV)

I have been actively involved in community theatre for a decade now and in leadership with community theatre for nine years. Wendy and I enjoy it, despite the long hours and weeks of production and the never ending tasks of administration. There is a lot to be done, and a lot of work that very few people see or realize. Wendy and I are a good team, and together we can get a lot of things accomplished.

Over the years I have been awestruck by the small company of faithful volunteers who do anything and everything to make our productions and organization successful. I have also been struck by two other types of individuals. There are a few who will only do one thing (usually acting) and refuse to do anything else for a production or the organization. Then there are a few who might be willing to do other things, but only those things that put them in control or in the spotlight. In both cases, these individuals appear to consider some tasks to be beneath them.

I found it interesting this morning that when David chose musicians for the worship, everyone cast lots for their assignment. There was no preference given to seniority and no preference given to talent. The lot was cast and they were expected to work with the team and the task they were given. There was a subtle message there for the musicians: you are no better than anyone else, and everyone is equal in the task.

No matter what your age or stage in life, I have found that there are times you may find yourself in the spotlight and there are times you may find yourself mopping up the overflowing toilet so that patrons have a clean, usable bathroom at intermission. Both tasks are necessary for the good of the whole. When the lot falls to me to pick up the mop and clothespin my nose, then it’s time to put on a smile and do the job well. In those roles, I have an audience of One and, for Him, I want to play my role well.

Chapter-a-Day Acts 18

Paul lived and worked with them, for they were tentmakers just as he was. Acts 18:3 (NLT)

I love the fact that Paul did what he had to do in order to fulfill the task God gave him. Not willing to be completely dependent on others, he worked diligently at the menial task of tent making so he could provide for himself. Coming from my Dutch Protestant heritage, I learned a lot about the worth of working hard and doing a job well no matter what the task. Being faithful with a small, menial task is generally rewarded with the opportunity to be given more responsibility with greater reward.

I’ve worked a lot of different jobs in my life. I’ve been paid to do a lot of different things:

  • Delivering newspapers
  • Babysitter
  • Lawnmower
  • Envelope stuffer
  • 35 mm film inspector/duster/splicer
  • Outbound telemarketer
  • Counter of nuts/bolts/screws for inventory
  • Corn pollinator
  • Package sorter
  • Bus boy
  • Book store clerk
  • Library clerk
  • Cook
  • Janitor
  • Driver
  • 35 mm film inspector/duster/splicer
  • Voice talent on radio commercials
  • PA Announcer for sporting events
  • Speaker
  • Writer
  • Napkin folder
  • Table setter
  • Cameraman
  • Photographer
  • Actor
  • Director
  • Administrator
  • Pastor
  • Counselor

I’m sure there’s more.

I sometimes get a kick out of people who sit in relative paralysis and endlessly wonder “what does God want me to do?” The longer I live the more I’m convinced that we are a lot like a jet ski. You can’t steer the dumb thing unless it’s moving forward.

Do something. Do anything. Just GO! God will direct you if you’re moving, working, and doing. He can’t direct us if we’re sitting dead in the water.

Chapter-a-Day Matthew 10

A cup of cold water

“This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing.” Matthew 10:42 (MSG)

Like a lot of people, I often find my brain falling prey to our popular and consumerist culture when it comes to doing things for God. The needs are so great and I’m just one more boogerhead on the bus trying to find my way home. I find myself thinking “If I want to do something for God, then it needs to be huge, attract hoardes of people and garner plenty of public attention.” Go big or go home, as the saying goes.

And so, I dream of great things I could do… and do nothing.

I love todays chapter because I can place myself in the shoes of Jesus’ young, inexperienced apprentices (Interesting thought: contrast Jesus instructions with what Donald Trump would instruct). As Jesus instructs them on what they should do, He is talking to me as well. When I read the chapter as if He’s sending me out personally to Otley or Leighton, it takes on a whole new layer of meaning.

When my life feels overwhelmed with too much to do, I often make my task list and focus on starting with one small, manageable item on the list. Then I go to the next item on the list, and then the next, and so on. When I’m overwhelmed by the big picture, I focus in on one small task. I saw Jesus same prescription in today’s chapter. Start with one random act of kindness, one kind word, one opportunity to lend a hand. Then look for another, and another.

Today, I’m looking for one small opportunity to do something for someone else.

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Chapter-a-Day Romans 13

But make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. Romans 13:11 (MSG)

I own several briefcases. I’ve amassed them over time. Several of them were given to me for my work. They are pretty ragged from years of life on the road, but I still keep them. I have a few others that I acquired for one reason or another. I like briefcases. They have all sorts of cool pockets and compartments for keeping (and losing) things.

I now have enough old briefcases that I’ve designated them to serve me in different functions of life. That way, I’m not packing and unpacking one briefcase for different needs each day. I just grab the appropriate briefcase for what I’m doing and go. I have my work briefcase, my theatre briefcase, my music briefcase, my church briefcase, and my on-the-go briefcase for random occasions that don’t fit in the major three categories. You should be impressed, this level of organization for someone as right brained as I am is just short of a miracle.

I noticed, however, that I compartmentalize my life with my briefcases. I finish my work, then put my work briefcase away. I get out my theatre briefcase for rehearsal. When rehearsal is over I put my theatre things away. Like my briefcases, my life seems to have compartments, which is the problem.

I’m noticing my penchant for treating God like a task to be compartmentalized. Read my chapter, write my post, say my prayers, then put the God briefcase away so I can take my work briefcase out.

God is not a task to be completed, and Jesus certainly isn’t an object to be taken out and put away like every other functionary item I use for my own purpose.  He is a person to be present with me in every moment. He is a friend to accompany me through each and every compartment of my day. He is Lord of my life, ever present to direct, protect, correct, and provide.

Lord have mercy on me. Forgive me for trying to shove you in a briefcase.

Chapter-a-Day 2 Chronicles 31

Everything he took up, whether it had to do with worship in God’s Temple or the carrying out of God’s Law and Commandments, he did well in a spirit of prayerful worship. He was a great success2 Chronicles 31:11 (MSG)

I was at men’s group last night and around my table we were discussing our need to pray continually. In the midst of the discussion, I had a word picture come to mind. It fits perfectly with today’s chapter.

As a husband and a dad, it’s easy to be distracted. There are so many things running through your mind and the t0-do list is never ending. As a boy, I remember running errands on Saturday mornings with my dad. I sat next to him in the car but there were times his mind seemed a million miles away. It was as if I wasn’t even there. When my daughters were young, I know they could relate the same experience when they tagged along with me. I was preoccupied with the task in which I was engaged and ignored the relationship that was right there in the car seat next to me.

Hezekiah was focused on the task, but did it in “a spirit of prayerful worship.” He was aware of God’s presence wherever he went and whatever he did. He was in active relationship and conversation with God, even in the midst of the work at hand.

Today, I’m going to keep my conversation with God going through tasks, meetings, drive time, family time, and rehearsal.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and mufan96