Thursday, June 12, 2014

My Kindle Highlights (And Personal Comments) from Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller

I finished Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller. And I thought it would be a good to endeavor (pun intended) to go through the quotes that I highlighted in the book and try to articulate to myself why the quotes were important enough to me to highlight in the first place.

"fingers of God"

Keller says that "fingers of God" is an old Lutheran phrase used to express what we are as we do our work, whatever that is, here on earth.  We are "fingers of God, agents of his providential love for others." Keller also says Luther and Calvin, both leaders of the Protestant reformation believed that, "God cared for, fed, clothed, sheltered, and supported the human race through our human labor... This understanding elevates the purpose of work from making a living to loving our neighbor."  I have never read anything written by Luther or Calvin. I should remedy that. 

"...a New Jerusalem, a heavenly city, which will come down to earth like a bride dressed for her husband (Revelation 21–22)."

The other day on my drive home from work at the YMCA in downtown Waterbury, I had an overwhelming affection and pride for all the old buildings, tenants, small businesses, churches, and people. I didn't see all the imperfections, dirt and decay, like I used to. Instead, I saw the noble attempts of generations of men and women to build useful, yet beautiful monuments for their families, cultures, and faiths.   Cities are, even with all their imperfections, mankind's attempt to perfect culture and that perfection of culture is what God put men and women on earth to do.  "Fill the earth and subdue it."  By subdue, of course I don't think God meant for us to pave it all over, but I do think He meant for us make the most of earth's potential, so my mind and heart have been changing about cities. 
 
"God worked for the sheer joy of it." 

This quote encompasses what Keller says about work in this book.  God Himself chose to work when He decided to create. Of course, the Bible also explains how our work became harder as a result of the curse, but that doesn't negate the fact that mankind worked before the fall, so our work itself isn't a curse. In truth, we were meant to work. These ideas have already made me even more comfortable having jobs outside the home, something I never imagined I would do. I am also much more determined to support my husband's career more than ever.  He just started work on his master's degree and I imagine it will be easier to let him devote time to that now.  I'm grateful for all the work God has given me to do and how I can support my husband in his work.

The next quote I highlighted is actually a quote by Dorothy Sayers in "Why Work?" in Creeds or Chaos, something else I may want to read.

"...work is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. It is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker’s faculties . . . the medium in which he offers himself to God.”

This is definitely how I feel before, during, and after I teach group exercise.  All my natural gifts and joys come together in that job and I feel as if I am doing something that I was created to do. I don't think I am the only person on earth who can do my job, but that particular job may be one I was given to do.  Like Eric Liddell is famously quoted as saying, "I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure."  That's how I feel when I am teaching group exercise.

"Freedom is not so much the absence of restrictions as finding the right ones, those that fit with the realities of our own nature and those of the world."

I feel as if this is a lesson the Lord has been teaching me the past few years, particularly with my diet. I had to face reality and learn to live in the world that God made, the world where I can't eat whatever I want and be free from the consequences of my choices.  Even Christians don't get to just bless their fried chicken and then live free from heart disease. And if we eat dead, processed, unhealthy foods, we will "reap what we sow" in our bodies.

"So the commandments of God in the Bible are a means of liberation, because through them God calls us to be what he built us to be."

I have been following Jesus for almost twenty years and I realized He really has taught me how to be me. I had to submit to His opinions and will, even when I thought I knew better, but I have always been glad when I have done that.  I feel as if He has shown me how to be a better woman, daughter, sister, friend, wife, and mother.  Not that I am perfect at all these things. Far from it! But I can't imagine what kind of woman, daughter, sister, friend, wife, or mother I would be without the guidance and wisdom I've received from my Lord.

Keller quotes a verse from Scripture that I am not sure I have ever noticed before this.

“I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go." Isaiah 48:17

"Many people make the mistake of thinking that work is a curse and that something else (leisure, family, or even 'spiritual' pursuits) is the only way to find meaning in life...  Your relationship with God is the most important foundation for your life, and indeed it keeps all the other factors—work, friendships and family, leisure and pleasure—from becoming so important to you that they become addicting and distorted."

I do love the balance I have found in my relationship with the Lord.  In my experience, whenever something is "off" and I am struggling internally or externally, it is usually because I am thinking, feeling, or doing something wrong, even subtly, and when the Lord shows me where I've gone wrong, I get to experience balance and peace again.    

"...we believe that lower-status or lower-paying work is an assault on our dignity. One result of this belief is that many people take jobs that they are not suited for at all, choosing to aim for careers that do not fit their gifts but promise higher wages and prestige."

As much as I love my job, I have experienced some shame over it because it is quite simple.  I know this shame doesn't come from God, so I have ignored it and I've continued to pursue excellence in my calling as simple as it is.  I know of other women who are pursuing doctorates or writing books or who are excelling so much in their careers that they are making more money than their spouses.  This quote is comforting. I have found a job that fits my gifts, makes a difference in peoples' lives, and brings me great, great, great joy. I don't know what else matters, really.  I realize I can't be anyone but who I am, so by God's grace, I am content with myself.   

“If God came into the world, what would he be like? For the ancient Greeks, he might have been a philosopher-king. The ancient Romans might have looked for a just and noble statesman. But how does the God of the Hebrews come into the world? As a carpenter.”
 
I know that Jesus was a carpenter, but I think He was also an incredible teacher.  He said, "I am the way, the truth, the life." So many human teachers sought and still seek for the answers that He claimed to just be. When I consider the claims Jesus made about Himself, I always come back to the words of Peter when He told Jesus, "Where else would we go?  You alone have the words of truth and of life. We believed and have come to know that you are the Son of God." 


"No task is too small a vessel to hold the immense dignity of work given by God."

This quote may need to go somewhere near the kitchen sink so I can be reminded when I am washing dishes... again.

"...the material creation we are called to care for is good... God takes upon himself a human body... God redeems not just the soul but the body to show how deeply "pro-physical" Christianity is."

This is another thing I feel like the Lord taught me through my weight-loss journey.  I've mentioned this before on my blog.  Thinking back, I believe I neglected my body and allowed myself to get out of shape because I didn't believe the physical world, including my body, was important enough to trouble and fuss over. I thought it was vanity.  Spiritual things were more important. But the Lord showed me that this physical world is actually connected to the spiritual one.  Reality includes spirit and flesh, so I can actually honor God by honoring by body and I grow spiritually by growing in physical discipline.  So, with that new understanding, I have a much higher view of physical fitness than I ever imagined I would have as a "spiritual" person.  

"...when businesses produce material things that enhance the welfare of the community, they are engaged in work that matters to God."

"And every Christian should be able to identify, with conviction and satisfaction, the ways in which his or her work participates with God in his creativity and cultivation."

My husband's company makes boilers that provide heat and hot water to large apartment buildings, hospitals, etc. The YMCA provides fitness classes that enhance people's health and wellness. My husband and I didn't end up working as pastors like we thought we would in undergraduate school, but none the less, our work matters to God.  

"Farming takes the physical material of soil and seed and produces food. Music takes the physics of sound and rearranges it into something beautiful and thrilling that brings meaning to life. When we take fabric and make a piece of clothing, when we push a broom and clean up a room, when we use technology to harness the forces of electricity, when we take an unformed, na├»ve human mind and teach it a subject, when we teach a couple how to resolve their relational disputes, when we take simple materials and turn them into a poignant work of art—we are continuing God’s work of forming, filling, and subduing."

This quote sheds light on why I am falling in love with culture, art, and history.  It also explains why I am falling in love with food again, too.  Cooking is another way we engage with God's creation. We take all the edible things God has given and put them together in creative ways to make nutritious, delicious, and even beautiful meals.  We had to cook two prime ribs the other day. (Two prime ribs? I know. It's a long story.) So we made one prime rib for dinner and served it to our guests. But we still had another prime rib in the fridge that really needed to be cooked before it spoiled. It is quite a lot of trouble to cook a prime rib just right, so a friend suggested I put the second prime rib in the crock pot. I told her I would never be able to live with myself if I did such a thing! It's prime rib!  I was just kidding, of course, but I did feel a sense of satisfaction taking two lovely pieces of meat and preparing them in ways that made all its best qualities come out. 

"If ministers don’t yet see business as a way of making culture and of cultivating creation, they will fail to support, appreciate, and properly lead many members of their congregation."

When my husband was called away from the ministry and into the business world, we quickly gained a new perspective on what churches expect from normal members who aren't in the ministry. It was much harder to maintain work, marriage, family, home, community, and church involvement than we ever imagined.   

"We are not to choose jobs and conduct our work to fulfill ourselves and accrue power, for being called by God to do something is empowering enough. We are to see work as a way of service to God and our neighbor, and so we should both choose and conduct our work in accordance with that purpose. The question regarding our choice of work is no longer “What will make me the most money and give me the most status?” The question must now be “How, with my existing abilities and opportunities, can I be of greatest service to other people, knowing what I do of God’s will and of human need?”

This quote encourages me. Luckily, my husband's calling (job) provide him with enough money to provide for us. So I am free to just take the job I feel called to and use my gifts to bless the people without regard to how much I make. This country is dying from poor health.  I get to be a part, perhaps just a very small part, but a part of the solution. 

"The church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him to not be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours and to come to church on Sundays. What the church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables."

This is another Sayers quote that I have read and liked before. If I am not mistaken, it is found in The Lost Tools of Learning. Sometimes I feel a guilty for spending my free time preparing my music, organizing notes for my fitness classes, creating choreography, etc., but then I remember that I am honoring the Lord by being as excellent as possible at what I do. Then I don't feel guilty. I just feel free to do what I am called to do.

"Your work is your prayer." -Lutheran leader and businessman William Diehl
 

"...the very first way to be sure you are serving God in your work is to be competent."

 And another quote I just loved from this book is actually attributed to Eric Liddell's father, 
 “You can praise the Lord by peeling a spud, if you peel it to perfection.”

"Thorns and food... Work will be both frustrating and fulfilling, and sometimes— just often enough— human work gives us a glimpse of the beauty and genius that might have been the routine characteristic of all our work, and what, by the grace of God, it will be again in the new heavens and new earth."

"Properly understood, the doctrine of sin means that believers are never as good as our true worldview should make us. Similarly, the doctrine of grace means that unbelievers are never as messed up as their false worldview should make them."

I have often felt so thankful for the work of community leaders, regardless of their faith or non-faith. Of course, I care about their souls, but it isn't like I believe they have to be Christians to do any good. And it isn't like all Christians always do good, either. 

"The complex, organic nature of our sin will still be at work making idols out of good things in our lives—such as our moral goodness, financial security, family, doctrinal purity, or pride in our culture."

I have made an idol out of my marriage, my children, my children's education, my home, etc. too many time to even count.

"Because Christians are never as good as their right beliefs should make them and non-Christians are never as bad as their wrong beliefs should make them, we will adopt a stance of critical enjoyment of human culture and its expressions in every field of work."
 
 When I think of the common grace God bestows on all mankind, regardless of faith, I think about Gracie Gold.  When she skates, I see the glory of God. Is she a believer?  I don't even know.  But she is at least one human being who is fulfilling her calling and it is glorious to behold.

"God created people, not to receive love and honor from them but to share the love, joy, honor, and glory he already had within the Trinity."

I think this answers one of the most basic questions about reality.  "Why did God create us?"  It's comforting to know He didn't need us. He just wanted to give us the opportunity of sharing in His life and His love.  

"And it is certainly true that in the Bible Christians receive many practical ethical principles for how to live and many boundary markers showing us what behavior we must completely avoid. If that were all God provided us, it would be helpful, but insufficient. Because there is a whole category missing— wisdom. According to the Bible, wisdom is more than just obeying God’s ethical norms ; it is knowing the right thing to do in the 80 percent of life’s situations in which the moral rules don’t provide the clear answer. There is no biblical law that tells you what job to take, whether to go back to school, whom to marry and befriend, when to speak out or hold your peace, whether to make the deal or walk away—yet the wrong decisions can blow up your life. How can we become wise so that we make good decisions? The Bible teaches that wisdom accumulates from several sources. First, we must not merely believe in God, but know him personally... We must know ourselves..." and "learn wisdom through experience."




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