Apart from sleeping, there are few things we spend more time doing in our lifetime than work. The average is somewhere in the 90,000-hour range. That’s just over 11 years if you’re counting.
Work is consuming. And it’s rarely easy.
- 80% of people are dissatisfied with their jobs.
- 25% of employees say work is their main source of stress and 40% say their job is “very or extremely stressful.”
- 64% of Americans canceled vacations last year. One-third did it for work-related reasons.
- 25% of people check into work hourly while on vacation, via email and phone.
For something so overwhelming and often consuming for so many in our congregations, it’s interesting that work receives relatively little attention in our gathered worship services. David Miller captures the common predicament Christians find themselves in: “Many who are Christians complain of a ‘Sunday-Monday gap,’ where their Sunday worship hour bears little to no relevance to the issues they face in their Monday workplace hours.”
What difference does the gospel of Jesus make in our work? Or as Greg Gilbert and Sebastian Traeger ask the question, “How can I do my work, not just as a way to put food on the table, but as a sold-out disciple of Jesus? What’s the point of work, anyway, in a Christian’s life? Is there any meaning to it beyond providing goods and services, making money, and providing a living for myself and my family?”
Many have offered answers to these questions, and many of those answers are quite helpful. Yet they can also feel simplistic and confusing, even competing at times. Tim Keller summarizes some of the key ideas commonly advocated as the main way to apply one’s Christian faith to work:
- The way to serve God at work is to further social justice in the world.
- The way to serve God at work is to be personally honest and evangelize your colleagues.
- The way to serve God at work is just to do skillful, excellent work.
- The way to serve God at work is to create beauty.
- The way to serve God at work is to work from a Christian motivation to glorify God, seeking to engage and influence culture to that end.
- The way to serve God at work is to work with a grateful, joyful, gospel-changed heart through all the ups and downs.
- The way to serve God at work is to do whatever gives you the greatest joy and passion.
- The way to serve God at work is to make as much money as you can, so that you can be as generous as you can.
Certainly there’s a element of truth to all of these. But they can’t all be the main way at the same time, can they? What difference does the gospel of Jesus actually make for our work?
We won’t claim to sort all of this out, but we do hope to find some clarity and direction as we focus on this subject beginning in August at Westgate Church, in our series, “The Gospel at Work”:
- Aug. 2: ‘As Unto the Lord’: A Theology of Work (Genesis 2:1-3, 15; Col. 3:23-24)
- Aug. 9: True Success (Luke 12:13-21)
- Aug. 16: When Work Stops Working (Ecclesiastes 2:18-25)
- Aug. 23: A Gospel Performance Review (Ephesians 6:5-9)
- Aug. 30: Witnessing in the Workplace (1 Peter 3:8-17)
- Sept. 6: Balance: Work, Home, Church (Matthew 6:25-33)
We hope you can join us.
 See Alyson Shontell, “15 Seriously Disturbing Facts About Your Job,” Business Insider, Feb. 14, 2011. Available at: http://www.businessinsider.com/disturbing-facts-about-your-job-2011-2?op=1
 David Miller, as cited in Tom Nelson, Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 15.
 Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert, The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to our Jobs (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), 13.
 Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work (New York: Penguin Publishing Group, 2012), 21-22. Kindle Edition.
I know, I know—it’s summer. No one wants to think about school when they come to church. At the same time, summer offers just the kind of breathing room we need, between the weight of academic deadlines and the flurry of extracurricular activities, to let ourselves reflect on a few deeper questions about life and school.
Questions like: What’s the point of school anyway? What is my (or my kids’) education really for? Is this all about me—achieving my dreams, landing a great career, making my parents happy? Is it about having fun, finding approval from my friends, being the best at something, whether art or sports or grades or goofing off? Or is there something more, something deeper to this season of life? What role does my faith play? What role should it play? Is faith capable of playing any role at all?
Our goal at Westgate during the month of July is to help answer those questions by pointing us all to the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The gospel of Jesus is not only about how we can be forgiven our sins and have an eternal relationship with God (though it’s certainly not less than that); it’s also the power of God to change us and guide us right now as we seek to follow him.
So far we’ve had a chance to explore the true purpose of knowledge—not just to know more stuff, but to love God with our minds (Lk. 24:13-32); the honesty and hope Scripture offers when we find ourselves in a crisis of faith (Ps. 73); and how the gospel address our innate need for approval by rooting us in our identity in Christ (Eph. 4:17-32). (Follow the links to find these recent sermons.)
This Sunday (July 19) our Student Minister, Lawrence Klingsheim, will help us wrestle with the question of whose approval we’re living for (“Peer Pressure and the Love of God”), and on July 26, Associate Pastor Bruce Daggett will help us explore our drive to achieve (“Gospel-Centered Ambition”).
We hope you can join us.
I will never forget the punch to the stomach I felt when, just days after visiting one of my best friends in St. Louis—watching our son, Joshua, playing with Steve and Jen’s daughter, Amelia—we found out Amelia had been diagnosed with Leukemia. Sweet Amelia was just three months old. But no one could have guessed at that time how difficult the road would become. During Amelia’s fourth round of chemo, a virus attacked her brain and left her severely disabled both cognitively and physically.
This was my first up-close window into life with a disability. Amelia is eight now. She is cancer free, but her life is far from what most of us consider “normal.” She is confined to a wheel chair. She can communicate, but not with her mouth or her hands, but with her eyes—the direction she looks.
A couple summers ago, I remember standing in Steve’s kitchen and seeing the mountain of plastic syringes for feeding and for her countless medications, all sitting on the counter drying. I was struck again by how consuming and unrelenting a trial like disability can be. Their journey has been like wading out into the ocean and being caught in a barrage of crashing waves. The first one hits you by surprise, and before you can catch your breath or find your feet, you get hit again. And then again, and again, and it never seems to let up. Amelia is beautiful and beloved, and they wouldn’t exchange her for anyone. God has already used her to change so many lives. And yet her disability is a daily reminder that the world does not work the way it’s supposed to. Her pain, her suffering, is not the way it’s supposed to be.
Which raises an important question: what hope does the gospel of Jesus hold out for those whose lives are marked by disability?
Right now at Westgate we’re working our way through a series called “The Gospel for All of Life.” Our working assumption is that the good news of Jesus is universally relevant. What Christ accomplished on the cross not only rescues us from sin’s penalty, but applies to every aspect of life right now—personal life, church life, public life, school life, work life, and home life.
But is that assumption true? Does the good news of Christ really make any difference for those whose home life is marked by an often crushing disability? How does the gospel narrative give us categories for making sense of disability? How does it give us direction for loving and sharing life with those who live with disability in the church? What hope does it hold out, and what difference does that hope make?
Join us this Sunday, June 21, at Westgate Church as we look at 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 and consider the gospel and disability. We’ll also hear from one of our congregants share her story of grace raising a special needs child. Learn more about Westgate here.
O LORD, why do you cast my soul away?
Why do you hide your face from me?
Afflicted and close to death from my youth up,
I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your dreadful assaults destroy me.
They surround me like a flood all day long;
they close in on me together.
You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;
my companions have become darkness.
(Psalm 88:14-18, ESV)
If you look up the word in an English Bible concordance, you might be tempted to conclude that the Bible says nothing about “depression.” The word never occurs.
That conclusion would be a terrible mistake. Partly because it fails to realize that the absence of a particular word is not the same thing as the absence of an idea (there are lots of ways to describe what we call depression; see Psalm 88 above). And partly because drawing such a conclusion effectively cuts off those who suffer depression from what they need most—the transforming presence of God.
Depression is not a popular subject in the church. We tend to avoid what we don’t understand, and depression is notoriously complex. Worse than avoidance, depression often caries a subtle stigma. Christians are supposed to be happy, healthy, and well-adjusted, we think. If we face depression or any variety of mental illnesses, then something must be wrong with us. We’re not believing God enough, or praying enough, or reading our Bible enough, etc. We don’t dare speak honestly and openly about it, for fear of what others will think.
But the sad and potentially dangerous reality is that we’re avoiding an issue that by some estimates affects 25% of our congregation in a given year.
As Kathryn Green-McCreight, a theologian and minister who suffers from bipolar disorder, describes, “Depression is not just sadness or sorrow. Depression is not just negative thinking. Depression is not just being ‘down.’ It is being cast to the very end of your tether and, quite frankly, being dropped.”
Depression is real. Whether clinical or situational, it’s part of life in a fallen world. But if that’s true, then the gospel of Jesus has something to say about it. For God has promised to make right everything that’s wrong with this world through the cross and resurrection of his Son (cf. Col. 1:15-20).
The Bible speaks openly and honestly about the countless ways that life can fall apart. Not only the ways we mess it up through our own sin and rebellion (which can have depressive results), but the ways we feel the often impersonal effects of the fall through injury, natural disaster, disease, and yes—depression. Consider the refrain in Psalm 42–43: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Ps. 42:5, 11; 43:5).
But the Bible also speaks hope into the darkest of circumstances, as the refrain continues: “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Ps. 42:5-6, 11; 43:5).
This hope is secured through the cross and resurrection of Christ. It’s the promise that God will make all things new, that a day will come when “he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:3). It’s also the promise that God is with us today by the Holy Spirit, shining his light into the darkness and speaking the truth of the gospel to the lies that threaten to destroy us, as he leads us deeper into his presence (Ps. 43:3-4).
Because depression is complex, we should freely recognize that finding healing can be complex, too. The hope of the gospel is not mutually exclusive with counseling, therapy, or medication (especially when depression results from physiological factors). But the gospel does put all our care into context. For even as it frees us to call depression what it is, it announces its defeat. For the gospel connects us with God through Christ. And God is bigger than depression. As Jared Wilson reminds us, “You will outlast your depression, because Christ in you, the hope of glory, will outlast it.”
If we love our friends and family members, if we love our fellow congregants, we cannot afford to avoid or ignore this issue. When asked how churches can best reach out to those in the congregation who might be struggling with depression or anxiety, Rebekah Lyons answered,
“Churches can talk about it, and talk about it often. I’m a firm believer that secrets lose power when they exit the dark. Confession is a healing balm toward connectivity and we’re loved to the measure we are known. The more we name our struggles, the more others have permission to do the same. I can’t think of a more perfect medium to provide this healing community than the church.”
As a pastor, I don’t have all the answers about depression. Not even close. I do know that the gospel frees us to be honest about it, and gives us hope. And so I want to help us start the conversation, and frame it with the gospel of Jesus.
So join us this Sunday at Westgate Church as we consider Psalms 42-43, “The Gospel and Depression.”
- See, e.g., Ed Welch, “Hope for the Depressed,” Jan. 10, 2010.
- Kathryn Green-McCreight, Darkness Is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2006), 21.
- Jared Wilson, Gospel Wakefulness (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 157.
- Ed Stetzer, “Freefall to Fly: An Interview with Rebekah Lyons on Anxiety, Depression, and Freedom,” The Exchange, April 15, 2013.
Over the past few months our small New England church has watched international crises touch uncomfortably close to home. First was news that our own missionary, Dr. Rick Sacra, had contracted the deadly Ebola virus disease while serving in Liberia. It’s a strange thing to see your friend and missions partner plastered all over every major new station in the western world. Of course we were already praying and concerned, but the Ebola crisis was no longer theoretical or ephemeral; it became personal. We gathered to pray and hung on the news stations as our friend fought for his life.
And the Lord was merciful. Not only has Dr. Sacra recovered, but he arrived back in Liberia last Thursday in order to provide care at ELWA hospital in Monrovia, and help lift the burden in a country whose entire medical system has been brought to its knees. (Click here to listen to Rick and Debbie Sacra tell their story at Westgate Church last November.)
Then news came just days ago about the attacks on Christians in Niger. Niger—where not one, but two of our missionary families have been serving long term. Over the past weekend the BBC reports that 45 churches were burned, resulting in 10 deaths and 170 injuries—many of these in the capital, Niamey, where our friends live.
They shared the following pictures on their Facebook page:
We praise God that things appear to be calming down. But we’re scared and hurting for our friends. One of them reflected yesterday:
A day full of grief. Very somber atmosphere in the office with many tears and much prayer. Quiet around town as well with many neighbors wishing to communicate their own sadness for the weekend’s events. Continue to pray for wisdom for local and mission authorities as rumors fly. Continue to uphold those staggered to have lost so much that they would know the comfort and provision of Jesus. We’re praying that something beautiful will come from the flames.
It’s hard to know how to process these things from our relatively comfortable and safe position in the West. My initial emotions are anger and fear. Anger that people would terrorize and kill Christians in Niger in protest to some foolish secularists in France. And fear of what might happen to our friends as a result.
But when I think of these events through the lens of the gospel—the good news that Jesus left the glory (and safety) of heaven to lay his life down for treasonous rebels like us—those emotions are slowly replaced with humility and gratitude. Humility in remembering that but for the grace of God, there is no difference between me and the blind zeal of rioters and terrorists. And gratitude over the privilege of being partnered with such courageous missionaries, men and women who are willing to follow the model of their Savior and leave the comfort and safety of home to give their lives away for the gospel.
I’m also reminded of Hebrews 10:32-39, which speaks honestly about the sorrow and suffering that sometimes comes with our witness, but then calls us to a defiant joy and a persistent hope. Read these lines and reflect on them:
But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. (Heb. 10:32-39, ESV).
Please join me in praying for these dear men and women—for the safety, and for their hearts to be filled with joy and hope in our Great High Priest and Victorious King, Jesus Christ, to whom belongs all power and all glory.
And pray that God would indeed bring something beautiful from the flames.
THE GOD-CENTEREDNESS OF THE GOSPEL
Imagine buying tickets to go see Unbroken, the great survival story of World War II veteran Louie Zamperini. Except when the film begins, you quickly realize that it’s been replaced with somebody’s home videos.
The uproar that would ensue is not hard to imagine. Nobody wants to watch that for two hours, let alone pay money to see it. There’s only one person interested in those videos—the person who stars in them.
But so often the way we apply the gospel to our lives is exactly like this. Read more…
2015 PREACHING SERIES AT WESTGATE CHURCH
2015 marks Westgate’s fortieth year as a congregation. It’s an exciting milestone as we reflect back on all that God has done since a handful of college students from Park Street Church joined up with a small Bible study meeting in Weston. But it’s also a good occasion for us to look forward as a church, particularly as we seek God to make our vision a reality.
God has called us to be a gospel-centered community living each day on mission for Christ. But what does it really mean for the gospel to be at the center of everything? What difference should that make in our hearts, in how we do church, in our relationships at home, our aspirations at school, our attitude at work, our posture in the public square, or our global perspective?
The gospel is the good news of what God has done to establish his kingdom and deal with our sin through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ, in the power of the Spirit. But too often we view the gospel as something small and introductory—an entry point, the elementary things of faith.
The gospel is so much bigger than that. Because the grace of God in Jesus is bigger than that. It literally changes everything. As the apostle Paul points out in his letter to Titus, the same grace that saves us also teaches us to say no to sin and yes to godliness (Tit. 2:11-14; cf. 3:3-8). Or as pastor and author Tim Keller reminds us, “The gospel is not just the ABCs but the A to Z of the Christian life. It is inaccurate to think the gospel is what saves non-Christians, and then Christians mature by trying hard to live according to biblical principles. It is more accurate to say that we are saved by believing the gospel, and then we are transformed in every part of our minds, hearts, and lives by believing the gospel more deeply as life goes on” (Center Church, 48).
We are committed to the centrality of the gospel in everything. We want everything about our lives, relationships, and ministries to flow out of and point back to the good news of Jesus. For this reason, we are devoting our worship services in 2015 to exploring and applying the practical realities of the gospel for everyday life.
So if you’re in the MetroWest area of Boston, join us this year as we consider the gospel in me (Jan-Feb), the gospel in the church (Mar-Apr), the gospel at home (May-Jun), the gospel at school (Jun-Jul), the gospel at work (Aug-Sept), the gospel in the public square (Sept-Nov), and the gospel to the ends of the earth (Nov-Dec). In other words, join us as we explore and apply the gospel for all of life.