No Yeah-But’s

561789-taekwondo-wallpapers-2500x1667-mobileI had a Taekwondo teacher who used to say that he didn’t want to hear any “yeah-but’s.” If he told a student to do something, he expected them to do it without delay or excuse. He claimed the right to unquestioning obedience by virtue of his superiority in his field.

In the gospel, we see a God who will accept no “yeah-but’s.” By his scandalous arrest, abuse, and execution, Christ declared for all time that the will of the Father must be obeyed. God isn’t just superior to us. He’s transcendent. We can’t speak of him in superlative terms. He’s primary and ultimate. His very essence creates a field of moral gravity calling for the unquestioning surrender which the Bible calls, “fear.” When we fear God, we simply give him his due. When we offer him, “yeah-but’s,” we take in hand to cast for ourselves a lesser god and give it his name.

Selective obedience not only perverts the idea of God in our minds, it also distorts our nature. We were made to fear God, not overthrow him. Our “yeah-but’s” twist our souls into beastly, ghastly, overgrown egos which stomp around this earth, blaming God for the destruction in our wake. Christ became human to restore our humanity by restoring our estimation of God’s holiness.

As believers in Christ, we’re called each day to die with Christ in small ways. We tell the truth when we know it will make us look bad or cost us relationships or opportunities. We don’t respond to the tension to speak truth with, “Yeah, God, but you know that if I do that, I’ll get fired.” Rather we confess that God is more to be feared than any consequence of obeying him.

Through his suffering, Christ demonstrated the fear of God. But he’s more than just our exemplar; he’s our savior. By his resurrection, Christ Jesus announced for all time that such abject trust in God will receive eternal reward. We can go to our own cross both figuratively and literally if necessary because God can be trusted. Not only are “yeah-buts” an affront to the very nature of God, not only do they mutilate our souls, they’re just foolish.

If God calls us to move to a high crime neighborhood and we respond, “Yeah, God, but I’m concerned that my children will come under bad influences or be attacked or even killed,” we forfeit his reward for whatever scraps we can forage and horde through this very short day which we call life.

Far from being the offer of a free ticket to heaven, the gospel calls us heavenward as it demands that we relinquish this earth. Some have suggested that faith in the gospel presents and easy alternative to conformity to a system of legal requirements. Maybe that’s true of a truncated gospel, but not the true one. The message of Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and coming return pulses with unrelenting blessed requirement.

Because of God’s mercy and patience, it might be easy for us to think that’s he’s accepted our “yeah-but’s.” He hasn’t. Every “yeah-but” that we offer God assails his holiness, corrupts our souls, and mires us in a world rolling ever faster toward the conflagration waiting at the end.

The good news is that as long as we have breath we can repent of our “yeah-but’s” and all will be forgiven. Our humanity will be restored. We can long for the coming day of his return.

 

 

Grin and Bear It

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One day at my old job I was assigned to load an “Over 70” trailer. For four hours I pulled packages that weighed at least 70lbs from a belt and loaded them onto a trailer. The next day, I came into work and lifted an ordinary package. My back immediately seized and my body locked in a half-erect stance. Following policy, I immediately reported the incident and was sent to Scotty, the center manager.

When I got to his office, he spoke first, “Are you sure you hurt yourself here?”

“Well, I spent all day yesterday lifting Over 70’s and first thing this morning my back went out, so I think I can guess what caused it.” I shot back.

“But you don’t know that it was an on-the-job injury. I’ve pulled my back leaning over in the shower or rolling over in bed.” He affirmed.

“Oh, come on…really?” I rebutted.

“I don’t think we can count this as an on the job injury. You can go home unpaid or take light duty today if you think you’re hurt too bad to do your regular work. That’s about the best I can do.” Was his definitive reply.

At this point, I’d worked for the company for thirteen years. I had been an exemplary worker (no, literally, they once punished a guy for laziness by making him watch me work). Now, after requiring me to work under unsafe conditions for an entire shift, they were going to make me take the fall for being hurt. At that moment I realized that to the company and to my superiors I didn’t matter. Nothing I’d given to company accrued the least bit of credit in their minds. At this moment they only saw me as a potential workers’ comp claim.

I opted for light duty still fuming over Scotty’s response. I shared the whole exchange with a coworker who became as livid as I was over it. Then, I remembered 1 Peter 2:18-25:

Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
“He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

I shared with my coworker that in obedience to the example of Christ I planned to work even harder for the company and not take any kind of retaliatory action. He protested, “What?! You’re just going to roll over and take it?”

He was dumbfounded and a little disgusted.

The gospel of Christ teaches us how to deal with bad bosses.

If we’ll let it, the gospel will calibrate our expectations to insulate us from those moments of confusion and outrage.

The cross of Christ indicts humanity as sinners in need of a savior. Bosses are sinners and that sinful drive will determine their actions, especially if they haven’t been regenerated by the Spirit of Christ. This gospel awareness will arm us for the barbs hurled at us from the sinful hearts of others. When our boss makes a decision that benefits him and harms us, we won’t get rattled, because we knew he was a sinner to begin with.

The acknowledgement of human sinfulness doesn’t stop with our boss, though. His actions remind us of the person we were when Christ found us and who we still are should he not hold us up every minute. Seeing our boss as a sinner doesn’t mean that we judge him as inferior to us but as just like us. Christ’s indictment on sin from the cross takes away any pretention to superiority for all time.

Paul directed Titus to coach the church in Crete along these same lines:

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good,to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone. At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. – Titus 3:1-3

 

Christ died on the cross to save us from a sinful world which is alienated from the life of God. The gospel will teach us that when we go into our workplaces, we shouldn’t expect pleasant experiences or fair treatment. We go every day into a fallen hellscape. We go not to be successful, happy, effective, recognized or any other career goal we might set for ourselves. We go to work to do battle with the forces of evil by blessing those who curse us, doing good to those who injure us. That’s the job. The rest of it is just context. If we get called out in front of everyone and face vocational consequences for just doing our best, we’ve just received a new assignment to show the world what gospel-shaped living looks like.

In addition to setting our expectations for our workday experiences and interactions, the gospel also empowers us to serve joyfully for the long haul.

Going to a toxic or unproductive work environment every day can crush our souls over time. According to the gospel, Christ, our Lord, was treated like a criminal even though he was the only innocent person to ever live. By his passion, he has forever sanctified unfair suffering as a sanctuary where his devotees can meet with him. Standing on the carpet before our boss can become an opportunity to experience Christ in a very real way. Injustice becomes a door to the divine.

Not only do we experience the grace of Christ through unfair treatment, our serene response will testify to the truth of our message. What more unnerving evidence of the truth of the gospel could their be than joyful acceptance in the midst of a tongue lashing?

Beyond the grace that flows from the cross into our difficult work relationships, the resurrection provides power to endure for the long haul. It’s one thing to withstand periodic unfair treatment. It’s quite another to pour our energies into a toxic work environment for years. Bad bosses kill careers. That’s the way it is. They often place unqualified people in positions of influence for their own personal reasons rather than based on merit or for the sake of the overall good of the business.

Christians who continually get passed over for promotions or have their achievements ignored because they refuse to join the “good ole boys” club feel the pain of passing time and the futility of their efforts. Some might suggest a job change, but that’s often not the best solution. At UPS, I was paid way more than the market mandated. I just had a bachelor of arts degree in psychology and I had a family to support. Leaving wasn’t an option. I’ve also watched people hop from job to job and every time the story was exactly the same. They left one “unfair” situation to land in another one which they would subsequently leave. After a while, people start to look side eye at your resumé if you do that long enough. Potential employers will begin to infer that you are the common denominator.

In a sinful world every workplace will feature some injustice, but the resurrection tells us that this world isn’t our destination. We don’t need to accomplish anything here. When Jesus told his disciples that he was going to Jerusalem to get crucified, Peter objected. I think he saw the potential in Jesus and couldn’t fathom that potential being taken from the earth. That’s what murderers take from people – their potential.

I sympathize with Peter, but I shouldn’t. Jesus called him, “Satan” for his concern (Matthew 16:21-23). God doesn’t need our accomplishments; just our complete trust. Only three years into his career, at the zenith of his influence, he willingly laid down his potential on the cross. The author of the letter to the Hebrews tells us why he did it:

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1b-2)

Jesus didn’t need to protect his own interests. He could completely abandon them to his Father and relinquish his very life for the joy set before him. What’s more, he calls us to follow him along that path.

We can overcome a world run by self-interested jerks through daily abandonment of our own interests into the hands of God, our faithful Father. As the difficulty of the daily grind begins to wear on us, we can find new strength in contemplating the gospel. According to the author of Hebrews, we should, “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:3)”