Richards: Let’s Work

“Dear friends,

Years ago my wife and I decided to start a family. She left the regular workforce and began volunteering with Project Literacy to fill her time. One Sunday we visited a church and also visited a class for young married couples. I’ll never forget this particular woman who walked up to us, full of confidence and even swagger, reached out her hand to shake my wife’s hand, and introduced herself—to my wife. When my wife introduced herself the woman immediately asked, “What sort of work do you do?” “I’m a homemaker,” my wife eagerly said, with all the excitement of a young woman preparing for motherhood. The woman responded tersely: “Oh. I’m an attorney.” She then pursed her lips and immediately spun on her heel and left.

We place so much emphasis on job titles and careers. Blue collar vs. white collar. Skilled labor vs. unskilled labor. Those who wear ties often look down on those who wear steel-toed boots and those who wear steel-toed boots often look down on those who wear ties. When we hear what a person does to earn a living, we assume we know so much about that person, as if that person were summed up by his or her 9-5 or 3-11 or some twelve-hour shift. We often assume that a job that requires formal education is more important, or at least more impressive, than one that entails on-the-job education. (I’m quite convinced that a construction worker receives more hours of education en route to a builder’s license than some college degrees!)

How much greater would it be if we recognized how much we need doctors and construction workers, custodians and engineers, restaurant staff and medical researchers, factory workers and office administrators. Still greater, what if we recognized that every job is a holy calling, and every life is to be lived in ministry? Consider the apostle Paul:

After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew
named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his
wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave
Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade
he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade.
And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to
persuade Jews and Greeks.
Acts 18:1–4 ESV

A tentmaker reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, trying to persuade Jews and non-Jews that Jesus is the Christ, the one who can save from sin and death. A tentmaker did this!

The simple truth is that a person’s job or career does not define him or her. A person’s job may well be how the bills get paid, yet each person has a calling that far exceeds a job title. Each one of us is called by God to represent Jesus Christ, to demonstrate through our lives—including how we do our jobs!—and to proclaim with our words the greatness of our God and Savior.

As we pray today, let’s pray for one another to represent Jesus well. Let’s pray for those who work, to do well in their assigned tasks, to work hard and with integrity. Let’s pray for those who are unemployed or underemployed, asking God to provide work for them. Pray for those who are looking for better work. Pray specifically that we will not define our value by our job titles, but that we will recognize the holy work our Lord has given us, for we are his people.

-J–T Richards

A man may be very industrious, and yet not spend his time well. There is no more fatal blunderer than he who consumes the greater part of life getting his living.
-Henry David Thoreau, naturalist and author (1817-1862)

Richards: Temporary Residents

Peter’s words to the believers in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) are important words for us today. He addresses his letter to the “elect exiles of the dispersion” (1 Peter 1:1). They are far from their true home (the new earth) and must live for their inheritance, “the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13). The fullness of their salvation waits for his return. He writes this of their responsibility as exiles in a foreign and hostile land:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a
people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the
excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his
marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s
people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received
mercy.

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the
passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your
conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak
against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify
God on the day of visitation.
1 Peter 2:9–12 ESV

Peter explains what makes them exiles in a strange land: they are a chosen group of people, a holy nation. He describes them as a royal priesthood with a specific mission: to proclaim the greatness of our God and Savior. God took a people who were natives of this world and made them into his people, which transformed them into aliens who no longer belong to this world, but to the world to come. Followers of Jesus become sojourners and exiles—temporary residents—in this world.

Peter gives them instructions for how to live as temporary residents. They must abstain from the passions of the flesh while keeping their conduct among the nations honorable. The result of living as citizens of a very different kingdom is that “on the day of visitation” they will glorify God. God’s glory will be revealed through their conversion to Jesus when the Lord “visits” them. The day of visitation may refer to either the day the Spirit of God causes them to be born again (1 Peter 1:3) or to the day of judgment. In either case they glorify God on account of their salvation.

We are all sojourners and exiles in this world. This means we hold to national identity loosely and to our citizenship in heaven tightly. We must live in such a way that we point others to the “excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light”.

As we pray today, let’s pray for one another. Pray for strength to overcome temptation, to abstain from the passions of our flesh. Let’s pray for one another to reject the lies of the evil one, the lies that promise to fulfill our every desire yet fail to ever provide anything lasting. Let’s pray that we each recognize that we are truly a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation—a people for God’s own possession. And let’s pray for those with whom we interact, that they may see God’s work in us and be moved by his Spirit to repent and believe and experience that same amazing grace that we have.”

– J–T Richards

temporary residents

Richards: Pay Attention to What the Lord Says

“In a recent conversation with a person I asked him a question. His response was puzzling: he inferred from my question that I was making an unrelated point. I assured him I was asking the question—get this—because I wanted an answer, not because I was making a point. We often assume there is something else being communicated through our words, and language often works this way. Some use language to hide or cover up what they’re actually saying, so it can be a surprise when someone speaks in a straightforward manner. The TV show “The Office” captured this well in an episode in which Kelly and Darryl briefly date one another. After Darryl was honest and straightforward with her Kelly complains to the camera:

Darryl Philbin is the most complicated man that I have ever met. I mean, who says exactly what they’re thinking? What kinda game is that?

While people can be duplicitous in their words, there is one who is never duplicitous, one who truly says what he means, and while he often does not say everything that he could say, what he does say must be taken at face value. Consider these opening words from the prophet Zechariah.

In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, son of Iddo, saying, “The LORD was very angry with your fathers. Therefore say to them, Thus declares the LORD of hosts: Return to me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets cried out, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.’ But they did not hear or pay attention to me, declares the LORD. Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever? But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not overtake your fathers? So they repented and said, ‘As the LORD of hosts purposed to deal with us for our ways and deeds, so has he dealt with us.’”

Zechariah 1:1–6 ESV

What a tangled mess of quotes! Zechariah quotes God who quotes himself who quotes the former prophets who quoted him and quoted their fathers who also quoted him. I think.

Zechariah is writing to the people in exile. They had been sent into exile because of their fathers’ refusal to repent of their evil ways. Despite Judah’s current status in exile, God says that if they will return to him, he will return to them. The sins of their fathers do not have to be continued or repeated. If they will turn from those sins and will trust in the Lord, he will be restore them to himself. God calls them to reject the unbelief of the generations that led to exile. Though God sent prophets who proclaimed his message clearly to previous generations, they rejected those prophets and their message. However, in response to God’s word to this generation, Zechariah tells us they repented. Notice closely what they say:

So they repented and said, “As the LORD of hosts purposed to deal with us for our ways and deeds, so has he dealt with us.”

Zechariah 1:6 ESV

The temple was in the process of being rebuilt when Zechariah wrote this. The generation that was returning from exile was involved in building the temple. They recognized that when God said he would restore them, he meant he would—get this—restore them. God said exactly what he meant, and he meant exactly what he said.

God has not changed. He is trustworthy. He does not speak out both sides of his mouth or with a forked tongue. There is no lying or deceit in him. He does not tell us everything he could tell us, but what he tells us is completely truthful.

Let’s praise God today for being trustworthy. His word is true. His promises of salvation and of the cosmic restoration of all things are true promises and as the returning exiles said, as the Lord purposed to deal with us, so he will deal with us. His promises of salvation and blessing will come true. So will his promises of judgment. He promises to give rest to all who come to him. He promises he would never turn away those who do come to him. 

This world is weary. We’re tired of lies and deceit. We’re tired of political slogans and dishonesty. We’re tired of trying to sort out what others really mean. Let’s rest in this today: God says exactly what he means, and every word he says can be trusted. Let’s read his word and let’s trust his promises. Let’s rest in him today.”

-J–T Richards

pay attention to what the Lord says

Richards: White Privilege

“White privilege is a measurable thing. It’s far too easy to dismiss the perceived experience of a person of color so studies have demonstrated that it is an objective, measurable reality as much as it is a subjective reality.

Numerous examples abound. A white man at a used car dealer will be offered a price that is an average of $200 lower than the black man who checked it out earlier that morning. White children aged 12-17 are more likely to use and sell drugs than black children 12-17, yet black children are about twice as likely to be prosecuted for it. When identical resumes are sent to businesses with the only difference being one has a stereotypically white-sounding name and the other has a stereotypically black-sounding name, the white resume is far more likely to get a call back than the black resume.

A similar thing is demonstrated when calling on apartment availability. “Tammy” will be told that an apartment is still available while “Tamika” will be told it is not, even though Tammy and Tamika are the same person and called five minutes apart. There are numerous studies that demonstrate these things.”

What many white folk fail to understand is that white privilege, while an established fact, is not the problem. The problem is that people of color are not given the same privilege. If Dontae went to the same college, has the same work experience, and has the same community involvement as Donald, then if Donald is called for an interview, so should Dontae. Studies demonstrate that it does not work that way. That’s a problem.

Let me add that the concept of white privilege does not mean a white man was hired simply because he was white. That’s a common rebuttal against the idea, but it is not a legitimate argument against white privilege for it misses what white privilege actually is. Most people are hired because they’re qualified. White privilege means that a man was more likely to be interviewed for the position because he was not black. That’s a problem. That is a serious problem.

To demonstrate such preferential treatment—and I’ll grant that it’s often unbeknownst to the one demonstrating it!—is contrary to God’s purposes in this world and is an attack on the image of God in man. That’s a problem.”

-J–T Richards

Richards: Silence Screams

“Try to imagine what that Saturday morning must have felt like. The disciples woke up early no doubt, as it’s unlikely they slept well, if at all. For three years they had been following Jesus, traveling all over the place.

Think of the things they had seen with their own eyes. They saw Jesus walk on water. They saw him heal the sick, sometimes with just a word while the sick person was many miles away. They saw him raise a man from the dead. They saw him quiet a storm with little more than a wave of his hand. Once, when a tax collector asked Peter whether Jesus would pay the required tax, Jesus sent him to catch a fish and the fish he caught had swallowed a coin—enough to pay the tax for both Peter and Jesus.

Think of the things they had heard with their own ears. They heard Jesus teaching the very words he—the divine Son of God—had given to Moses and to the prophets. They heard Jesus communicate God’s incredible truth to simple farmers and peasants in such a way that even those with the least education could understand him readily. They heard Jesus confound even the most educated among them with truth so profound they couldn’t comprehend its magnitude. They heard the tender words he spoke to the children that the disciples had tried to shoo away. They heard his voice cast out demons with divine power and authority.

When they woke up that Saturday morning, they could neither see him nor hear his voice, and the silence screamed. Surely there was some fear for their lives as they had been his closest disciples, but now he was dead. On a global scale, his life had been so insignificant he didn’t even have his own tomb. He was placed in one that had been lent to him until such a time as his mother and brothers could gather his bones. But even more than fear for their own lives was the absolute confusion about what had just taken place.

How could a man who could feed people miraculously be killed like this, and with no resistance? Surely he could have stopped it. If he could control nature with a spoken command, could he not have prevented his own arrest and crucifixion? He raised a man from the dead! Were they really to believe that he was powerless when the Roman soldiers scourged him and nailed him to a cross?

And what of all the hopes and dreams he had stirred up within them? Surely he was God’s Messiah! Who else could do such wonderful things that Jesus did? Who else could teach such wonderful things that Jesus did? Instead of seeing more miracles from him and instead of hearing more beautiful promises from him, the silence screamed. The silence was deafening. It was the Sabbath, after all, so no one was working. No one, that is, except for Jesus, whose death was the very work he had come to do.

Though he had told them this many times, they did not understand why he died, nor did they yet understand that Sunday was coming. Until then, the silence screamed.”

-J-T Richards