Faith and Work Series: Big Decision to Make? Asking “Why” Makes All the Difference

Faith and Work Series: Big Decision to Make? Asking “Why” Makes All the Difference

Many of us tend to do two things with our time: work and sleep. While finding a bunch of articles on sleep is just as exciting, the Urban Faith team will be shedding light on Faith and Work. So, for the next several weeks, we’ll be talking about careers, individual calling, entrepreneurship and all things related to connecting your God life with your job life. Be sure to check back regularly for the next Faith and Work Series feature.

 

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. —James 1:5

“How do I know _______________ (fill in the blank),” is a question I often get when I speak around the country.

How do I know what God wants me to do?
How do I know what my calling is?
How do I get this job?
How do I get out of this job?

I also get a lot of questions that begin with “What”:

What should I do to get the job I want?
What should I study at school?
What does God want me to do in this circumstance?

You get the picture…

While these are all very important questions, I want to suggest that there is an even more important question we should all be asking first and it starts with “Why.”

Asking “Why” Makes All the Difference

Comedian Michael Jr. clearly illustrates the importance of getting to “Why” in this three-minute video clip.

 

The second version of “Amazing Grace” is radically different from the first one because it comes from a different place. It come from the heart, whereas the first version comes from the head. Although beautiful, the first version could have been sung by anyone.

The incredible second version could only have been sung by someone with the experience of the man in the audience because it tapped into something he knew deeply. What Michael Jr. is suggesting in his humorous segment is that the answer to the “Why” question comes from a very different place from the answers to “How” and “What” questions.

God Is the Ultimate “Why”

C.S. Lewis attaches godly purpose to our question of “Why”  in his Reflections on the Psalms:

The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.

Lewis’s answer to this short catechism question defines not only the reason for our very existence, but for the existence of the whole creation. In the opening pages of the Bible, we find the first hint of God’s original intent—the Why—for his creation.

God’s purpose in creation was that he would be glorified by everything he created. This is why God describes the finished creation on the sixth day of the creation story as “very good.” Just as a great painting reflects the glory of the master artist, the new-born creation perfectly reflects the glory of God. He created everything for His glory, including man, the crown jewel of creation.

When we reflect God’s glory, we are doing what we were created to do.

This idea is seen throughout scripture and is reconfirmed in the book of Revelation, where John writes the words of the twenty-four elders,

You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for you have created all things, and for your pleasure they are and were created (Rev. 4:11).

To glorify him in our lives is to align our Why with our What in such a way that we reflect him in everything we do. We live our lives based on his design and his desire, as faithful stewards in all things, mindful of his presence and guidance in each step of our journey.

This is why Paul can conclude in his letter to the Corinthians,

…whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God (1 Cor.10:31).

Tim Keller brings all these ideas together in this passage from his book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering,

It fits to glorify God—it not only fits reality, because God is infinitely and supremely praiseworthy, but it fits us as nothing else does. All the beauty we have looked for in art or faces or places—and all the love we have looked for in the arms of other people—is only fully present in God himself. And so in every action by which we treat him as glorious as he is, whether through prayer, singing, trusting, obeying, or hoping, we are at once giving God his due and fulfilling our own design.

How do I know what God wants me to do? Start by asking “Why.”

 

This article is republished with permission from the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics (www.tifwe.org). IFWE is a Christian research organization committed to advancing biblical and economic principles that help individuals find fulfillment in their work and contribute to a free and flourishing society. Visit https://tifwe.org/subscribe to subscribe to the free IFWE Daily Blog.

Beyond the Lights: Celebrities and Mental Illness

Beyond the Lights: Celebrities and Mental Illness

As the conversation of mental health and illness gradually comes to the forefront of national attention, the month of May is the perfect time to raise awareness. For some reason, we tend to stigmatize mental illness and do not see it as a “real” or life-threatening illness like cancer, AIDS, or diabetes. Mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, depression, social anxiety, and schizophrenia are not made up or less important than any other disease.

In fact, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million (about 18%)—experience mental illness in a given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and unfortunately, we perceive people with a mental illness as just “crazy.”

However, what we fail to realize is that people with mental illness are more than the individuals walking down the street talking to themselves; mental illness affects everyday, functional people, and even celebrities.

In fact, the thought of a celebrity battling a mental illness might seem far-fetched for some. We tend to believe celebrities are unstoppable and perfect because they have money, power, and fame. We judge celebrities from the outside looking in and do not see them when the cameras are off and they too have to manage their emotions, thoughts, and illnesses like the average person.

Jenifer Lewis encourages others who suffer from mental illness to love themselves. Photo courtesy of Pinterest.

We love to see the hilarious, sassy, and powerful characters that Jenifer Lewis portrays in movies and shows such as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Think Like A Man, and Black-ish. But after hiding her 17-year battle with bipolar disorder and 10 years of being on medication, Lewis spoke about her mental illness on Exhale TV.

“What it is, is that you want to do it without the meds,” Lewis says. “You want to get off and say, ‘I’m healthy. I got wheat-grass and I am eating good. I can do this on my own,’ and then you throw the meds away. Don’t do that.”

Lewis also stated that her illness was triggered by the death of her father, but she encouraged people to love themselves.

The exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown, but a combination of genetics, environment, and altered brain structure and chemistry can play a role. Bipolar disorder is an episode of mood swings ranging from depressive lows to manic highs.

Manic episodes might include symptoms such as high energy, reduced need for sleep, and loss of connection to reality. Symptoms of depressive episodes might include low energy, low motivation, and loss of interest in daily activities. Mood episodes last days to months at a time and might also be associated with suicidal thoughts.

Disney Channel superstar, actress, and singer Selena Gomez struggles with anxiety, panic attacks, and depression disorders in addition to dealing with lupus.

Panic disorder is an urge of overwhelming fear and anxiety. Your heart pounds and you can’t breathe. You might even feel like you’re dying or going crazy. If left untreated, panic attacks can lead to panic disorder and other problems, according to helpguide.org.

Depression and anxiety disorders are different, but people with depression often experience symptoms similar to those of an anxiety disorder, such as nervousness, irritability, and problems sleeping and concentrating. But each disorder has its own causes and its own emotional and behavioral symptoms.

During her speech at the American Music Awards, Gomez talks about her personal struggle with anxiety and depression.

Disney Star Selena Gomez is one of many celebrities who suffer from depression and anxiety. Photo courtesy of Pinterest

“I had to stop. Cause I had everything, and I was absolutely broken inside,” Gomez confesses. “And I kept it all together enough to where I would never let you down, but I kept it too much together, to where I let myself down. I don’t want to see your bodies on Instagram, I want to see what’s in here [puts a hand on heart]. I’m not trying to get validation, nor do I need it anymore.”

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, many people who develop depression have a history of an anxiety disorder earlier in life. There is no evidence that one disorder causes the other, but clear evidence suggests that many people suffer from both disorders.

The lesson that we learn as children—don’t judge a book by its cover—is necessary when we look at people, celebrities included, with mental illness. It is important to think before you speak, learn about mental illness, and offer compassion for those who deal with these illnesses.

No amount of money, power, or fame can make you happy or protect you from a mental illness. But what we can also learn from this is that people with mental illness are not alone, and most do not allow their illness to stop them from living and achieving their dreams.

If you are feeling suicidal, please call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255. If you are depressed, struggling mentally, or know someone who is, visit National Alliance on Mental Illness or the Anxiety and Depression Association of America to find a therapist in your community as well as other resources.

A Closer Look at the Families of Mass Incarceration: Part 1

A Closer Look at the Families of Mass Incarceration: Part 1

In the first installment of a two-part series, Urban Faith Writer Katelin Hansen gives our readers an intimate, behind-the-scenes look into the lives of the family and friends of those who are incarcerated. Check back soon for Part 2 of this compelling story.

Thanks to ongoing work of justice advocates across the United States, we are increasingly aware of the devastating effects of our prison system on the millions of individuals who have been incarcerated.

In the land of freedom and liberty, we incarcerate more of our citizens per capita than any other country in the world. There has been a 500% increase in our prison population over the last 30 years, and more than one out of every 100 adults in the country is currently behind bars.

Angela Davis notes that “prisons do not disappear problems, they disappear human beings.” Through a broken system of predatory profiling, mandatory sentencing, and profit mongering, millions of individuals are being “disappeared” from their communities, and from their families.

So what is it like to be on the outside while someone you love is on the inside?

PJ, Molly, Cheryl, and Kim share their stories.

Broken Relationships

“I grew up with siblings who were always in and out of jail,” PJ remembers. “Our family was constantly interrupted. I’ve never been in prison, but I have five siblings and they have all been in prison. It’s like they were caught in a cycle and they couldn’t get out. They weren’t out for even a year sometimes.”

The first time her older brother went to jail, he was nine.

PJ notes that a system that doesn’t repair what’s broken, just perpetuates the brokenness. “The prison system doesn’t fix anything, it just stalls it,” she notes. “My godbrother went in when his daughter was a baby, and came out when she was 18. So where is that whole relationship? Not only is it him who’s being institutionalized, but there’s her whose growing up without a father.”

By her own admission, Molly went to jail quite a bit when she was younger. “I was addicted and it really affected my kids, because I was not there,” she recalls. When she was inside, Molly’s mother took care of her children. She understands that when you’re locked up, “other people are having to hold up your end.” Each time she had to explain to her mother that she was once again locked up she knew it affected her mother emotionally.

Molly is usually the one that manages the household, which meant when she wasn’t around, others were left to handle things on their own. “It can make people feel abandoned, left behind, feeling somewhat at a lost as a result of my being locked up.”

“On the other hand,” Molly recalls, “my daughter’s father used to go in and out of jail a lot, and I actually felt relieved. He was abusive. When he was locked up I was happy because that meant he was out of my hair for a bit.”

Cheryl has two loved one’s currently in the system, one already sentenced, the other waiting to go through the process. “It’s almost like going through a loss, almost like a death,” she notes. “There’s a grieving process. There is a long adjustment.”

Kim’s youngest son has been locked away for awhile. She shares that “it’s hard even to gather as a family. He was the one who was always joking and laughing.” He has lost his support system, and they have lost him.

“He and his younger sister were real close. It’s been hard for her, not having him around her. We have a grandson that was his little buddy, and now he’s not around. They were babies when he left. Now they’re getting ready to graduate high school and go off to college”

Visits

PJ recalls going to visit her siblings in jail as a kid. “I hated how dingy and dark it was,” she says. “I hated talking to them through the glass on the phone. I remember having to be picked up to see them through the window.”

She now has a nephew that’s been inside for three years, even though he only just got sentenced a year ago. She is frustrated that she hasn’t been able to talk to him for a while.

Because he was arrested in another state, PJ and her nephew are nearly 2,000 miles apart from one another. “The prison does have video visits that you can buy,” she says. “But, you have to pay with a credit card, then you have to download software, then at the time assigned you have to log on with that software.”

PJ says the system works as long as you have access to things like credit cards, computers, reliable internet, and a webcam. But, it’s still a better situation than it used to be.

“When he first got there we had to write to him on a post card,” she recalls. “We couldn’t even write a letter. That was their rule. You had to communicate on a post card.”

Kim also struggled to overcome long distances to stay connected with her son during his incarceration. When she was, in fact, able to visit, it could be difficult. “He was very angry in the beginning, so visits were hard,” Kim recalls. “He would get mad and tell us not to visit. It took a long time for him to calm down and accept.”

However, for PJ it’s a no-win situation: “They cut you off and make you feel abandoned on both sides. The people on the outside feel abandoned, and the person doing time feels abandoned. Then you’re supposed to reunify that relationship afterward. But its already been traumatized.”

Visit our site next week for Part 2 of this story.

Women bloggers spawn an evangelical ‘crisis of authority’

Women bloggers spawn an evangelical ‘crisis of authority’

(RNS) When Sarah Bessey started blogging in 2005, she saw it as a way to keep in touch with friends and family.

And that was in the early days of the Christian blogosphere, which she remembers as an “oasis of community” — strangers sharing everything from parenting tips to theology and filling comment sections with “lively and respectful” dialogue.

Flash forward to 2017.

In many places, blogging seems to have become all about personal branding. At the same time, Bessey’s blog has brought her speaking engagements and inspired two books — “Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women” and “Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith” — with a third in the works. Bessey now has nearly 43,000 followers on Twitter and about 38,000 onFacebook.

“The internet gave women like me — women who are outside of the usual power and leadership narratives and structures — a voice and a community,” Bessey told RNS by email. “We began to write and we began to find each other, we began to learn and be challenged, we began to realize we weren’t as alone as we thought we were. Blogging gave us a way past the gatekeepers of evangelicalism.”

For many Christian women, including racial minorities, and others whose voices traditionally have not been heard by or represented in institutional churches, the internet has created new platforms to teach, preach and connect.

That includes countless personal blogs and social media accounts like Bessey’s. It also includes online ministries that have grown to include offline events like Propel Women(in)courageThe Influence Network and IF:Gathering, and Bible study communities like She Reads Truth, which started as a hashtag by several online strangers to share what they were reading in the Bible and has grown to a website, app, book and specialty Bible that counted 500,000 active users last fall.

“People used to ask me, ‘Where did all these women writers and influencers come from?!’ and I’d have to laugh when I said, ‘The internet!’” Bessey wrote in her email.

But, if the furor on social media this past month is to be believed, the abundance of faith bloggers also has created what the Rev. Tish Harrison Warren  called a “crisis of authority.”

“Is literally everyone with a computer — do they equally hold authority to teach and preach?” said Warren, an Anglican priest, who wrote a commentary for Christianity Today titled “Who’s In Charge of the Christian Blogosphere?

What’s happening

The controversy started just before Easter. Writer and speaker Jen Hatmaker criticized “the systems and alliances and coded language and brand protection that poison the simple, beautiful body of Christ.” Hatmaker said she had encountered all that after affirming in an interview last fall with RNS columnist Jonathan Merritt that same-sex relationships can be holy.

A day later, Bible teacher Beth Moore tweeted that when considering the “things that need crucifying with Christ I vote personal branding. It’s gross.”

“I am so sick of it and them I could vomit,” Moore wrote.

And, after the hashtag #ThingsOnlyWomenWritersHear trended on Twitter, Bessey started #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear to “amplify the voices of women who have too often been silenced” in the church, she wrote in a Facebook post. More followed, including #ThingsOnlyBlackChristianWomenHear.

Warren said the controversy touched on nearly all of the disagreements currently roiling the waters of evangelical Christianity — one of which is complementarianism, or the belief that men and women have different roles.

“We’re talking about the history of evangelicalism, anti-institutionalism meets complementarianism meets marketing, money and power meets marginalization of minority voices — all of these things collide in this conversation,” she told RNS.

Warren said her concerns extend to the male-dominated “megachurch” model, as well.

Austin Channing Brown. Photo courtesy of Austin Channing Brown

“I think the reason — and this is why I wrote the piece — that a lot of women are going outside their congregations to the internet for discipleship, is that they don’t have women in their congregations who can come to them, not just as buddies but with pastoral authority,” Warren said.

Many women already are gifted teachers, and the institutional church should embrace them, she suggested. That’s a mutual relationship: Bloggers also should work to “build a church bigger than their own personal brand and submit to this long tradition of Christian faith.”

That’s precisely why internet platforms are so important, according to Austin Channing Brown, who writes and speaks about justice and racial reconciliation.

Not only does it give a voice to those the institutional church hasn’t — and minority women in particular often are overlooked for leadership positions, Brown said — but also, she tweeted, “important things have been said from outside denominations because denominations were all messed up.”

Not all churches and denominations confer authority through a seminary education. Brown is ordained by her Full Gospel Baptist Church denomination though she doesn’t have a traditional seminary degree.

“The church has survived the printing press, radio and televangelists. We survived the rise of non-denominational churches and megachurches. We survived generations of white men with a platform and no traditional governing body sanctioning or approving their words,” she said in an email to RNS.

“But I don’t want to frame this newest step in the democratization of influencing the church as something to be survived. Many Christians believe that the church is made better when marginalized voices bring a new narrative to old ideas.”

Why this isn’t new

Questions about authority and influence go back at least as far as 1517, as those on all sides of the conversation are fond of pointing out. After Martin Luther reportedly nailed his 95 theses to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany, they were distributed widely via new media (then, the printing press), sparking the Protestant Reformation.

“So, no, I am not worried about women with blogs becoming a crisis for the church. I suspect that we will survive, and maybe even be made better by their presence,” Brown said.

Many famous evangelicals have lacked seminary training or institutional backing. For instance, best-selling author Ann Voskamp recently noted that D.L. Moody — the 19th-century evangelist who founded the Chicago Evangelization Society, later renamed the Moody Bible Institute — had no more than a fifth-grade education.

Evangelicalism is what historian Daniel Silliman calls a “discourse community.” It has no agreed-upon definition, no creed, no single person or council who can speak for the entire movement.

“It’s a conversation, so those platforms shape the conversation,” Silliman said.

It just looks different in 2017 than it did in the world of the 1970s, when the conversation happened primarily through Christian bookstores and radio.

Bessey, the blogger, says it’s easy for someone with a recognized platform to sneer at building such a following. But she says the church is stronger when those unauthorized voices get heard.

“I know that I love Jesus and follow Jesus better when I hear why and how other people follow him — especially when I hear from people who aren’t always approved by the establishment,” she said. “God isn’t trademarked.”

Kendrick Only Half Right About God’s Judgment

Kendrick Only Half Right About God’s Judgment

Grammy Award-winning hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar is one of the most popular music stars in the nation today, with multiple songs on his new album charting in the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 songs. His single “Humble.” drew praise and critique from all sides of the Black community for its message as a corrective to pride and yet centering the conversation on his own desires as a Black man.

Recently Kendrick Lamar did an interview with hip-hop website DJ Booth, where he shared that one of his major messages in the new album D—. is that God is to be feared in a way that brings reverence and obedience. He shares that in his experience, many churches’ message is hope and forgiveness without talking about God’s requirement for obedience and judgment on sin.

He hopes his album will provoke thought and discussion of the idea that God is gracious and loving, but also a God of wrath and judgment who wants to use suffering to correct and discipline His children. Kendrick states in an email response to DJ Booth’s article:

“Our God is a loving God. Yes. He’s a merciful God. Yes. But he’s even more so a God of DISCIPLE [sic]. OBEDIENCE. A JEALOUS God. And for every conscious choice of sin, will be corrected through his discipline. Whether physical or mental. Direct or indirect. Through your sufferings, or someone that’s close to [sic] ken. It will be corrected.”

An incomplete articulation of the faith

Kendrick Lamar’s sentiment is spot on; God is both a God of love and a God of obedience, merciful and disciplinary. Kendrick’s feelings about hearing only of God’s hope, blessing, and happiness as a child, leaving him feeling empty, are all too real for many people, including Christians.

The sort of preaching that does not speak to suffering, judgment, and consequences for sin while highlighting only God’s blessing is an incomplete teaching and sharing of Christian faith. A Christianity that pushes consequences and rewards into “the sweet by-and-by” is another incomplete articulation of the faith.

However, Kendrick’s wording is a bit misleading and his implications aren’t in line with what we see revealed in Scripture in light of Christ. Mercy itself means that God chooses not to make us suffer for every conscious choice of sin.

The idea that God would inflict harm on someone close to us for sin suggests belief in curses or divine consequences on whole households that aren’t congruent with what the Old Testament reveals (Jeremiah 31:28–30; Ezekiel 18:1–3) and Jesus teaches (Matthew 16:27).

It is reasonable based on Scripture to say that sin has consequences and that it affects a family, but its effect comes directly from its cause (Romans 6:23, 7:5, James 1:14–16), such as violence causing physical and psychological harm, not indirect through a divine judgment.

It is absolutely true that God disciplines the believer, even in light of grace (Hebrews 12:3–11). But mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:12–14), and the very definition of grace through the death of Jesus Christ is that we do not get what we deserve for our sins (Ephesians 2:4–16).

Got Cheap Grace?

What Kendrick has pointed out for the church is that many people are not hearing the message of consequences for sin that leads us to repentance. We live in a society where sin is seen as tolerable, and forgiveness for sin comes without price.

In addition, suffering in Black communities is often ignored or given a bandage of hope in “our season” instead of confronted with the Gospel of Jesus. Or worse but more commonly, some Christians use “cheap grace” to justify their hypocrisy.

Jesus proclaims life in the midst of death, righteous living and resurrection as acts of resistance to worldliness and death. As a result of seeing Christians who articulate a theology of grace without repentance and that fails to address suffering of Black people, Kendrick is left to find explanation for his reality in the law of Deuteronomy instead of the grace of Christ.

Jesus called for us to be disciples, not simply to be saved. Salvation is a free gift; following Christ is costly. Hope is in Jesus our Savior to redeem us from our suffering, not in ourselves to live righteously enough to end our own suffering.

This faith is lived by the power of the Holy Spirit transforming us by grace, not by works that save us from curses. The church would be wise to hear Kendrick Lamar and others like him as they cry out for understanding and direction that addresses the suffering, immorality, and brokenness they see in the world.

Jesus does not leave us to account for our sin on our own by the power of the law. In love, He gives Christians the Holy Spirit by grace to transform us, make us holy, and empower us to live justly. However, the church must preach the Gospel of Jesus that calls us to repentance and new life, not simply blesses us with no accountability if we are to reach the Kendrick Lamars in our world.